Blog: Reflections on Botswana

I was sad to leave Namibia as it is a beautiful country with extremely friendly people and we had such a great time during that part of the walk.  However, Botswana has been just as fantastic but also more challenging.

Official welcoming party at the border

A day before we arrived in Botswana we received a phone call wanting to know what time we were to arrive as they wanted to welcome us at the border.  Well, welcome us they did!!  We all filed into the immigration office and started getting our passports processed but when I handed mine over, the lady said “Ah, Matt Napier, I have been waiting for you!”  and then rushed off out the back office.  We were then greeted by a number of government officials, some having driven 800km from the capital, Gaborone, just to welcome us.

The first night we camped about 7km inside Botswana at a place called Charleshill, setting up camp just behind the service station.  The next morning I woke at about 5.30am to the sound of someone speaking in the local language on a loud speaker.  Not knowing what they were saying all I could think was “shut up, some of us are trying to sleep”.  This went on every half hour and it wasn’t until I huddled around the campfire with the team that someone said to listen closely.  So I did and although I could only pick out two words – “Australia” and “Napier” – it was pretty clear that the person was informing the whole town that I had arrived and calling them to attend the official welcome later that morning.

Official welcome at Community Court (Khotja) in Charleshill

The Government Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Youth & Sport returned later that morning and escorted us to the local meeting place called a Kjotla or Customary Court.  We were welcomed by about 500 people performing their customary dance and singing.  It was an amazing way to be greeted into the country and the community loved the soccer balls that I handed over to the Chief to hand out to local schools and community groups.

From there we headed on our way to what we would later call the “Danger zone”!!  Many people at the border had questioned my route and said to be extremely careful of the lions.  We were all a little taken aback by that as we weren’t walking through any game parks and had been advised that the wildlife was mostly north of us. The area in question was about 100km up the road and lasted for about 200km.  We were unsure what to do but were lucky enough to have police guards through most of the problem area and even had two people from the Office of the President come along with us for the 5 nights we were in the “danger-zone”, they even camped with us over night.

Day 27 - Saying goodbye to our Govt escorts after 3 great days

Good campsites were hard to find so sometimes we would have to double back to camp and then drive forward to where we had finished the night before.  Most mornings I had a police escort until at least breakfast.  On the first morning, just as I was about to get out of the car at 6.30am to start walking a pack of antelope (I think they are called Orricks) came out of the bushes and nearly ran in front of the car.  I asked the driver what they were doing here and he said that the lions had probably chased them out.  Knowing I was about to get out of the car and start walking with the car following me, it was safe to say that I was scared out of my wits.  Ten of the quickest hail mary’s were said and the prayers were answered as not a single lion was spotted that morning or at all in our time in the “danger-zone”.

Several villages along the way also welcomed us with hundreds of people turning out.  It meant a lot to us to be so welcomed into the villages and the country as a whole.   We gave out dozens of soccerballs, enjoyed a range of traditional entertainment and met a huge range of people.  A truly amazing experience.

Traditional dance at official welcome to Charleshill

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to two of our support crew for reasons I won’t go into now but we were left with no choice and after surviving the “danger-zone” this added another level of uncertainty to the trip that we could have done without.  Morgan, our cameraman, stayed with us for another couple of days but then it was time for him to say goodbye as he had only planned to join us for first 5 weeks and was heading off to Europe.  It was great having him around and we enjoyed the company as he would often walk with me.

The parts of Botswana we saw are very similar to the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, long open roads with lots of trucks and often days between towns or truck stops.  While it is sad to say goodbye to Botswana, It is now time for South Africa and the 730 odd kilometres before we hit the Mozambique border.  We are expecting the weather to get a little colder but we are well rugged up at night so we should be fine and the days are usually warm and sunny.

Chief of Charleshill community with donated balls

Given that we have had such a big couple of weeks and still managing to walk 45-55km per day, crossing Botswana in just over 2 weeks, we have decided to keep going at this pace and bring the end date forward a couple of weeks.  I now plan to reach the final destination of Maputo in Mozambique on 3 August instead of 20 August.

Thanks for following and I will do another blog in a few weeks when we hope to be well over halfway across South Africa.

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