Traveling around Botswana is always a refreshing and exciting experience. Our greatest belief is that, it is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. Mind you, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” as posited by one Marcel Proust, a French novelist.
And as they say, “A picture does tell a thousand words,” hence last week, #BotswanaUnplugged was part of the selected few media houses (Gabz FM and Mmegi) who went on an thrilling sneak preview and pre-tour of Sowa Town; the venue for the upcoming and annual Makgadikgadi Epic, organised by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) in partnership with Nata Community Trust and SkyDive Botswana.
The event takes place in the premier and prominent Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, at the Nata Bird Sanctuary. The annual event offers Sports skydivers and the general public four days of epic skydiving in one of Botswana’s last great unspoiled wilderness venues – The Makgadikgadi salt pan in central Botswana.
BTO is mandated to market and promote Botswana as a Premier Tourist destination of choice, to grade and classify accommodation facilities, as well as to promote Botswana as a tourism investment destination of choice, and the looming Makgadikgadi Epic slated for 9-12 August 2017 is just one of those events that help the organisation promote and sell the Botswana tourism product to the rest of the world.
As part of the investment promotion drive, BTO is responsible for tourism diversification, both geographically as well as product offering. It is through events such as the Makgadikgadi Epic that the BTO pursues to diversify the tourism product through sports and adventure tourism.
Makgadikgadi Epic is an all rounded internationally acclaimed and spectacular event which offers adrenaline junkies and citizens alike bouts of epic skydiving experiences including other sundry and refreshing activities.
Our trip began in Gaborone on Thursday 27th July 2017, to the Limpopo Valley Airfield where the Nedbank Tour de Tuli; a fundraising mountain bike event where all funds generated, go directly to the Children in the Wilderness programme was held. The Cycle Tour took place in the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA (Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa) and gave cyclists the opportunity of cycling in remote Africa.
We will pen a memoir on that too soon but in the meantime, let’s talk Makgadikgadi Epic. Situated 160km off the A3 road, North West of Francistown, Sowa Town is a marvel jewel on its own. This locality houses the Botswana Soda Ash Mine and a private school. Sowa means salt in the language of the San (Basarwa).
The town is located near the Sua pan (also known as Sowa Pan), a salt pan where sodium carbonate (soda ash) is mined. We made a pit stop in the mall hoping to use an ATM to withdraw some cash but unfortunately there was none and we were told the nearest is in Nata. So, all of you coming down here next week, make sure you pack as many necessities as possible. Also have cash in hand just in case you need to buy a few things this side.
The serenity of this place is just awe-inspiring. Besides the wildlife that one finds at Botash Conservation Park, such as wildebeests, elephants, impalas, zebras, rhinos, flamingos and pelicans there’s also an abundance of water in the adjacent pans. If you fancy not sleeping in a tent, you can simply check into Makgadikgadi Lodge. There’s also a few guest houses to check out too.
Last year when I visited Sowa Town, it was a quick trip when we flew in with other skydivers aboard the military C130 aircraft. Guess what, almost 365 days later, the BOTASH conservation park opposite the airstrip is now a high security risk because of the rhinos that were recently donated to the park and handed by His Excellency President Ian Khama alongside his brother and the now Minister of Tourism, Tshekedi Khama.
Those who have always wanted to make the refreshing journey to the annual Makgadikgadi Epic but were simply dealt down by issues of affordability will be happy to learn that this year there’s a provision to travel by rail courtesy of Botswana Railways (BR).
The good news were announced recently by BOTASH that for the first time this year Botswana Railways will ferry citizens wanting to attend and experience the Makgadikgadi Epic extravaganza from Gaborone all the way to Sowa Town.
Those in the train will detour by the mine and perhaps travel less than 2km to reach the vast Makgadikgadi Epic camp. This is a plus for citizens and a welcome move from Botswana Railways for oiling the efforts of BTO in its relentless pursuits to diversify the tourism product through sports, leisure and adventure tourism.
During our pre-tour of Sowa Town courtesy of BTO, we also took a young drive within the game park where we came face to face with some of Botswana’s beautiful animals among them, wildebeest, flamingos and impalas. What a refreshing sight to behold! One will also be dazzled by the vast and pink salt pan before reaching the other gate which is opposite the amazing lake. The pans are filled to the brim which is good thing for those who will be coming to experience Makgadikgadi Epic.
The other good news is that within the already existing array of activities at Makgadikgadi Epic, boat cruising is also on offer within the massive 25km lake. Come and join us here from the 9-12th August 2017 for some adrenaline filled weekend including skydiving boogie and several adventure activities, courtesy of BTO, SkyDive Botswana in collaboration with the Nata Conservation Trust.
There’s just so much that the event offers. Whether you fancy going up in the sky and free-falling down to the ground below in a parachute or simply taking a boat ride in the adjacent brimming pan, grabbing a pair of binoculars and viewing various game in the nearby park; the Makgadikgadi Epic is truly a melting pot of activities for all and sundry.
For those of you who want to attend Makgadikgadi Epic as a gateway to feeding your camping lust and passion, the venue is just right. Coming from Nata for 60km on gravel road lies the Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park and inside this very park are campsites at truly give-away prices. For only P25 (citizens) and P100 (expatriates), one can relax and set up camp at the government-owned camp, which also affords one an opportunity to see the Big 5 and more. This bargain prompted us to further drive through the Palms of Zoronga and Gweta to reach and experience the park first hand.
Arriving at the park, one comes face to face with skulls of elephants and kudu horns adorning the place. At this point, our tour party is reminded to be careful of wild animals. During lucky days, one can spot a leopard, lion, zebra and an elephant – all in one game drive.
As we return to Gaborone to prepare for the upcoming Makgadikgadi Epic spectacular in a week’s time, we are all lost in thought as to what package one should go with this time around, as this year the event has a lot more to offer for everyone, including even first-timers. This year’s Makgadikgadi Epic edition is surely a must attend. Follow the hashtag #MonateOkoMakgadikgadiEpic and #botswanaunplugged for further updates.