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My flight of fantasy

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Makgadikgadi Epic: Tumisang in free fall
Makgadikgadi Epic: Tumisang in free fall
Makgadikgadi Epic – Chronicles of a Travel Writer

As far as definitions go, one would be hard pressed to find a more apt description of the events that transpired this past week at the Makgadikgadi Pans.

In fact, epic is an understatement. Voice journalist Tumi Tlhabiwe chronicles his experience.

First things first – dismiss any notion of camping that you have previously harbored for this is not that experience.There will be no tales of sleeping on cold, hardened floors in tents so miniscule ant colonies would shun them.

There will be no anecdotes of torch malfunctions that render the camper engulfed in darkness.

There will be no accounts of cooking on an open fire and hoping the resultant meal is not as rare as diamonds in your back yard.

There will be no humorous stories of having to relieve yourself in the bushes and having only dry grass as toilet paper.

This dear reader is the luxurious version of what you think you know about camping.
The journey begins on Thursday 14th of July at Botswana Tourism’s headquarters at Fairgrounds in Gaborone.A group of about 20 journalists, barely awake and groggy, assemble on the 2nd floor conference room for a mandatory briefing.
Not even the bureaucracy can mask the unmistakable air of excitement engulfing the room.After a much needed coffee the briefing is adjourned and we all file to the minibus and begin our rather protracted journey to the north of the country.The duration of the trip is rather uneventful except for the rather high levels of camaraderie fuelled by libations we acquired on the way.

We arrive at Makgadikgadi at approximately 6.30pm having stopped briefly in Francistown for a quick meal.
We are immediately ushered to the arrivals tent where we are allocated individual tents for the duration of our stay.

Contrary to cinematic productions, these tents aren’t cramped one man tents equipped with nothing but a sleeping bag.

These are a backpackers dream. The tents are spacious, fitted with a single bed, neatly made up with crisp sheets, blankets and duvets.

In fact, the tent is so voluminous they have also adorned it with a mini-wardrobe where one can pack their clothes and shoes.

Upon entering my allocated tent, I immediately remove the batteries in my torch for the entirety of the tent is illuminated with a high beam solar powered lamp that casts a fluorescent ambiance.

Had I known camping could be so luxurious I would have long since been an avid camper.
Before I have time to fully unpack and adjust to my surroundings, we are informed that it’s time for dinner.

Once again I am astounded at how lavish the organizers have made it. It is not the cliché camping dinner of tinned foods and open flamed chicken. It is conversely, a scene that would not look out of place at Avani.

Set in an expansive candle-lit tent that can seat close to three hundred people, is an elongated buffet table littered with a myriad of meats that would make a vegan cringe. The buffet ranges from Ox tail and T-bones to grilled and fried chicken.

Salads are also available for the more herbivorous at heart. By the time dessert is served my belly is protruding to levels that even sumo wrestlers would mock and so I begrudgingly decline the carrot cake with caramel custard.

The official opening of the epic is on Friday and so all my peers retreat to the warmth of a camp fire where we regale each other of lies (as is usually the case when adult beverages are served).
Slumber quickly sets in however, and I retreat to my rather grandiose tent.

Before the first streak of crimson illuminates the skies, anyone interested in an early skydive is awoken for the experience.
I wake up a tad bit late and consequently jump into the van unwashed, excited and slightly nervous.

When we reach the airstrip, we are given a brief crash course on skydiving and before you know it I am strapped to a gentleman named Graham and we are ascending the skies.

I am admittedly, not proud of the events that transpired next. Due to the fact that I am seated closest to the door (which is open the duration of the flight) a near arctic chill permeates my shorts and leaves me visibly shaking to the amusement of the other sky divers.

I meekly try to explain that it’s because of the cold and not nerves but my excuses are met with rapturous laughter. Thoroughly defeated I ignore them and mentally prepare myself for the jump.

When we reach 15 000ft a green light flashes in the plane indicating that we are now at the point of no return.

I attempt to tell Graham that I have had a change of heart but he is having none of it. We slide over to the door where we dangle our feet out of the plane for 20 seconds.

Then without any warning we are freefalling at unbelievable speeds in an abyss of clouds that seem to never end.
All my facial functions abandon me at this point as saliva, mucus and tears shoot out my mouth, nose and eyes while I pray to every God I’ve ever heard of.
After about 5000ft of free-falling, Graham eventually deploys the chute and we float down to earth gradually.
It is here where I can appreciate the scenic views of the Pans from above.
When our feet eventually touch solid ground, I am brimming with a combination of euphoria and relief. The relief is short lived however, as an hour later we are once again airborne.
This time however, in safer conditions.
We board a rather vintage Russian made plane to view the salt pans which is followed by quad bike riding and a safari drive at sunset.
After dinner I head straight to my room for I had never been so jetlagged from flying in circles before.

The next day I awoke at the same time as the day before but however had a few moments to take a shower.
Hot showers and running toilets cast shade on any other camping experience I had ever been on.

After a hearty breakfast we begin the events of the day which include horse riding, helicopter rides and hot air ballooning.

After reveling in all the activities, the sun sets at the same time as my fatigue and so I take a moment to bask in the beauty of the Makgadikgadi.

The next day we set off in a southerly direction, the camaraderie replaced by a sense of somberness as we leave nature behind in favor of the concrete jungle.