Khawa turns ten in style
This past weekend I was delighted to be invited across the country by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) to a small, dusty desert village in the heart of the Kgalagadi called Khawa.
Admittedly, I am not big on travelling but new experiences are to be embraced – sort of a New Year’s resolution!
The biggest pull factor for this trip was to attend the famous Khawa Dune Challenge and Culture Festival.
The three-day fest, which ran from 28 – 30 April, was celebrating its 10th anniversary and, having cemented its place as one of the most popular events on the tourist calendar, a bumper edition was anticipated.
A weekend in the wild, the festival has become known as a cocktail of motorsports, a cultural exchange and celebration, an expedition into the desert bush as well as wholesome fun for the family.
Ultimately though, it is a celebration of the hidden gem that is Khawa, and contributes to the development of local communities.
My excitement led to me to brave the cold for a camping trip with my industry peers and build memories that will last a lifetime.
We depart in the early hours of Thursday morning with a group of vibrant journalists. There is a blend of first timers such as myself and ‘old hands’ who have visited before.
The long hours on the road (eight in total!) are wiled away in a buzz of excited chatter, as we share our expectations for the festival, while others detail their past experiences of Khawa.
However, the ‘old hands’ neglect to warn us newbies of the final 80km stretch of extremely bumpy gravel road that leads to our destination – a grueling ‘African massage’ enjoyed by some but harder to stomach for those who have filled-up on booze!
We finally arrive at the campsite were I’m pleasantly surprised to find well-kept mobile ablution stations for the public to use.
I end a long day with the unexpected pleasure of a hot shower before snuggling into bed to get a good night’s sleep ahead of tomorrow’s activities.
Friday’s schedule begins bright and early, the fun kick-starting with motorsport and friendly competitions for age categories ranging from children, teens and adults.
It was also a chance to get a first proper look at Khawa in the daylight.
We stand atop a mighty sand dune that overlooks the village center (or Central Business District as it was nicknamed) where more activities will be carried out.
The locals trickle in but the fun rides were clearly for the travelling cavalry.
Attendance was reasonable taking into account it was a work day, but I knew this was only the tip of the iceberg for the remainder of the weekend.
There were various races around the sand dune circuit, where adrenaline junkies got to take in the petrol fumes and bike stunts from dawn till dusk.
It would have been easy to stay all afternoon but lunch is calling and we retreat back to our campsite for food and a quick freshen-up in preparation for the main event later that night.
The sun sets in a haze of auburn glory, the night sky signaling the start of the polka dancing and cultural extravaganza.
This event serves as an official opening of Khawa weekend and is attended by Ministers: Phildah Kereng, Tumiso Rakgare and Lefoko Moagi, as well as area MP, Sam Brooks.
We are bang in the middle of the aforementioned CBD, huddled into a mini stadium that is packed to the rafters.
Attendees are cheering on the polka dancers, traditional dancers and poets, all of whom are masters of their art.
It is magical evening that continues well into the night, and includes a stargazing master class from the good people at Pan View Tours.
They broke down the stars into both scientific and traditionally African interpretations.
My trip has become a blend of education and entertainment!
Saturday sees us wake up just in time for sunrise as we make our bleary way to the starting point of the Khawa Dune Challenge.
Scores of motorbike and quad bike riders are lined up for a race across Khawa’s monstrous sand dunes.
The racers are waved off by Minister Phildah Kereng, the early pace-sitters disappearing into the village in a whirlwind of dust.
We have a couple of hours to explore Khawa and its various activities.
There’s no shortage of entertainment options to choose from, including: horse riding, camel riding, small stock auction, freestyle motorbike stunts and Kgalagadi Lamb Showcase launched by Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane.
As part of the activities, we climb (crawling might be more apt!) up one of the highest dunes for the 4×4 Dune Challenge.
This is where everyone with their tough off-road vehicles finally put them to the test as they drive up a race circuit with steep inclines and tight corners.
This is where the man must truly be one with the machine, or so a keen spectator remarked.
I’m sure car-lovers were livid at the floating video clips on social media of the Land Cruiser failing to make it up the dune.
Enthusiasts blasted the driver for daring to tarnish the legacy of such a formidable vehicle.
As I am not exactly the biggest motorhead, my interest lay more with the gorgeous sight of sand dunes, which are a photographers’ playground.
I was intrigued by the number of excited attendees across the village who had now almost quadrupled over night.
Khawa was alive and booming.
During our wanderings, we bump into SKI Foundation CEO, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo.
He briefly chatted with The Voice Online about the foundation and it’s initiatives in conjunction with Khawa Dune Challenge and Culture Festival (Catch the full interview online).
As the evening approaches, the energy is redirected from the village center to the music festival grounds.
Famous melodies reverberate throughout the venue, infecting all within earshot.
Spirited performances by ATI, Maxi and Chef Gustos set the crowd alight.
The dancing and music carried us well into the next morning, the perfect climax to an energy filled weekend.
As exhausted as I was from trudging up the heavy sand dunes (next year’s resolution might be to shed a few pounds!), it was an experience I will never forget; a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of the big city!
I have been informed it was even better in previous years (I wonder what, or who, was missing!).
For me though, seduced by the people and beauty of Khawa, I will surely return again one day!