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An unplugged treat in the skies at Makgadikgadi Epic

 Our second expedition of the coveted #MakgadikgadiEpic was off the hinges (off the chain). This breath-taking skydiving event hosted by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) in partnership with Nata Community Trust, Botswana Soda Ash (BOTASH) and SkyDive Botswana, this year attracted hordes of people from all over the country as well as neighbouring states, an authentic demonstration that the BTO who is mandated to market and promote Botswana as a Premier Tourist destination of choice was truly on the right path and achieving all the set goals.

Hosted at the salty pans of Sowa Town, Makgadikgadi Epic of this year was of epic proportions, not only in audience numbers but also the sundry and varied activities which included tandem skydives, helicopter flips, horse riding, cycle tours, go-carts and fun quad bike rides.

Last year, I was invited to skydive and to also indulge in some tandem dives but due to the queasiness that comes with me being a first timer, I requested to be excused citing all sorts of fear. Look, all is not lost; I have invested in a five-year plan to finally surrender and deal with my impulses to skydive.

I also hear from the professionals themselves who had a two-year plan that they completed it this year in a historic 50-member skydiving formation – the first of its kind perhaps in Africa. Most of all these professional skydivers relate that it is an extremely safe practice even though there is a human error element in everything.

At times, we even go as far as blaming the so-called African chemistry (witchcraft) which at times I think is just a lame excuse and a myth. After foregoing an epic filled adrenaline experience of skydiving and tandem dives I rather chose the easiest route out; flying on an open chopper and enjoying the serene Makgadikgadi Epic view from above.

Luckily for me, the Okavango Air Rescue team chopper which can only load four passengers was on standby offering people a view of Makgadikgadi Epic (Sowa Town) from the top. What a time to be alive! On Friday I was told, Moagi you can fly on this machine for about 30 minutes and I jumped at this opportunity of a lifetime. I told myself, “This is doable because I had swallowed enough marbles of steel” to allay any fear of flying.

My mind started playing the movie, “Phone Booth” in oddments and the motivating factor was that of the sniper in the movie telling the cheating Steward to be a man; a phrase which echoed in my own environment. “C’mon Moagi be a man!” It was at this particular moment when I fully understood when Erica Jong said, “I have accepted fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says; turn back.”

The only gratifying moment at this particular juncture was having none other than the President of the Republic of Botswana, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse khama Ian Khama alongside his brother Minister of Environment, Conservation, Natural Resources and Tourism Tshekedi Khama.

Just one look in their direction was an added plus and remedy for my fear of flying as I braved all odds to make myself proud and grab the bull by the horns. Imagine flying atop the president’s head, what a beautiful country Botswana is? Remember he is Commander in Chief of our military, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), and I always enjoy seeing the men in the green camouflaged uniform saluting whenever they are in his presence.

The helicopter ride gave me butterflies in my stomach albeit it was too much fun. I took several beautiful shots from above despite my heart pounding out of its place. The first helicopter flips were done by the president’s marquee, perhaps as an honour, and I was truly privileged to be aboard as they experienced pilot did his thing to the merriment of those watching from the ground. The higher we went gave me true realization of our beautiful and serene country Botswana; the ever stunning flora and fauna.

Despite us being a landlocked country, the sooner one hovers above will they then realize that there are several water features intertwined with a few lakes within the terra firma, a desert, and swamps too. For me, being in the air, I truly appreciated the beauty of the flamingos flying above the dazzling lake and the wildebeest running amok on the ground away from the chopper’s revolting engine. I asked our pilot to slightly go down a bit so I can capture the incredible flamingos as well as the pink salty lake where it meets the ‘normal lake”.

This for us was an experience and a half across two important lakes, the BOTASH Conservation Park and the general venue where varied spectators teemed. As soon as we jumped off the chopper having pacified my fear of flying, amidst cheers from the excited and cheering crowd, I wanted to go straight to the presidential marquee and give him that “Mama I made it” salute!

The greatest highlight for me however, is the historic 50-member skydiving experience which for me definitely stole the show. Makgadikgadi Epic has authoritatively stamped itself as a major tourism sporting event in the Botswana social calendar. With an estimated 5000 spectators gracing this year’s edition, one can be certain that the 2018 edition will become even more epic courtesy of the buzz generated this year alone. Until then, stay tuned for more updates. See you next year, and remember, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear!”

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Moagi Madisa

"Although journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information and also the product of these activities; for me its science - our sorroundings"

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