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Makgadikgadi Midnight Walk

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Makgadikgadi Midnight Walk
ARMS ALOFT: Walkers celebrating as they finish the walk

It’s a Thursday afternoon when my Bureau Chief Kabelo Dipholo asks me to cover the Makgadikgadi Midnight Walk, an annual event hosted by the Y-care Charitable Trust in the Makgadikgadi Pans.

The walk starts the following evening and Dipholo points out that being one of Y-Care’s media partners The Voice can’t afford to miss the moonlight adventure.

He explains that there is no-one else to consider for the punishing 100km walk as all scribes will be covering the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Primary elections over the weekend.

As I contemplate the request, I realise that I last walked such a distance 12 years ago when I did the Tsodilo Hills walk and have not done any serious physical training since last December.

It’s a potentially daunting task but my charitable heart and love for adventure defeats common sense and I accept the assignment.

Just after four the following day I hitch a ride from Francistown to Mosu Village, former President Ian Khama’s residence, where the walk will begin and end.

I could not leave earlier as the newspaper was doing the Ghetto leg of the 25-year anniversary celebrations and I had been obliged to attend.

Makgadikgadi Midnight Walk
MEAL TIME: Enjoying a well- earned bite

Along the way I wonder if I will physically be able to complete 100km as I have not trained and will have no time to rest before the walk.

They say we will take a short break after 12kms and thereafter stop for ten minutes every six km’s and then have a long break after 24kms for a meal to replenish our energies.

We get to Mosu a few minute after five and find most of the walkers have arrived and are getting ready for the challenge ahead.

Y-Care volunteers Sheila Malale, the lead walker and Sarona Moabi, the walk coordinator, give me a brief on the walk and ask me to catch a quick meal at the table set up by the caterers.

As I eagerly queue for the food a fellow walker warns me against eating baked beans as they could cause wind in my stomach.

Moments after sunset the adventure begins.

I deliberately decide to take it easy and stay with those at the back of the 63 motley crew of walkers.

As the walk begins, I eavesdrop on conversations in which the walkers amongst other things discuss: politics, sex, the economy, sport, sex gender violence, the challenges of parenthood and sex.

As the journey progresses different perceptions of the pans in the moonlight emerge.

Some, myself included, appreciate the beauty, mystery and peace of the night.

The reflection of the moon on the pan’s surface forms a mystical silvery mirage in the semi darkness – an image as startling as it is stunning.

Some have frightful thoughts of being attacked by a wild animal and wonder which direction they will run!

Every step seems a testimony of the hard challenge we have committed out bodies to. Some regret ever leaving their homes.

The occasional fart is the only humorous thing that breaks the grinding monotony as we slowly eat up the kilometers – I say a silent thanks to my kind-hearted amigo for his bean-avoiding advice.

Makgadikgadi Midnight Walk
WE DID IT: Walkers at the finishing point

Soon some fall by the wayside and have to be carried on quadbikes to the next stop. 12 hours later, the sun having already risen high in the sky, we reach Kubu Island where we are to spend the day resting before making a U-turn in the cool of the evening.

Exhausted, we soak our feet in salted hot water and receive much-needed massages from the first aid team.

After breakfast most retire to their tents to catch some sleep, while those needing a bath hide behind the rocks and take a splash from the provided washbasins in an effort to clean their dust-kissed, weary bodies.

Having brought no tent, I find shade in the rocky hills and spread my newly purchased blanket before quickly succumbing to sleep on the hard surface.

I come to seven hours later, just in time for a late lunch, after which, like everybody else, I return to my makeshift bed.

The furthest anyone goes from camp is a few metres for photos under the gigantic, awe-inspiring, ancient baobab trees.

As we wait for the return journey we all take solace in the fact that the walk will start three hours later than the day before and this will give us more precious time to rest.

Those who are not in shape to walk back to Mosu gratefully board the bus that has come for them and wish us the best of luck.

The journey goes well except for a few more casualties along the way who finish the challenge on quads.

I am one of those. My aching groin muscles are causing me so much pain that after thirty torturous kilometers I cannot take it anymore.

Blistered, battered and bruised, I have to be ferried back to base to await the walk’s completion.

A younger, prouder version of myself would have been disappointed that I was unable to complete the journey – however, this older, wiser Dubs realises there is no shame in calling it quits after 80km, especially considering the state my battered body was in.

I am further consoled by the knowledge that there’s always next year!

I decided to take a nap when I reached base camp and was woken up by a member of the support team to welcome the walkers who are about 500 metres from the finishing point.

I grab my camera and join the applause as the triumphant walkers hit the finish line.

Lead walker Sheila congratulates everyone for their valiant effort as she hands out medals to all who took part in the walk, calling those who did not finish to be proud of themselves for their contribution to a noble cause.

“The most important thing is that you took part. There is no shame in making an effort,” she says as walkers admire their medals and starting thinking about the journey back to the comfort of their homes to proudly nurse their fatigued bodies after an adventurous weekend.