After my 40 km Gaborone-Otse hike last year, I was eager for a similar adventure. So when I saw a 30 km hike in the form of a ‘race walk’ advertised by the Y-Care Charitable Trust, I was quick to sign up. Bright and early on the 26th of January, my husband and I made our way to the Oodi Kgotla (public meeting place) where the walk was to start. After an aerobics warm-up session and a formal welcome, we set off with much enthusiasm. We had really been worried about the heat at that time of year, but with the surprise rain overnight, it was a rare overcast day – perfect for hiking.
We traversed a few cattle posts, what looked like a big chicken farm, a dry community dam and some masimo (rain fed crop fields). There were several green acacia trees and shrubs as well as quite a few flat rock outcrops with pools of water from the rain.
Even though we were just a few kilometres out of Gaborone, the earth was different – reddish-brown soil and with the recent rains, this was mixed with grey-black mud.
From time to time, we passed some grazing cattle who lifted their heads casually to acknowledge our presence. There were also a few badisa (herdsmen) who seemed surprised to see us but nonetheless greeted us very cheerfully. The round and familiar Oodi Hill was always a prominent feature in the background.
There were a few enthusiastic marshals offering water and fruits along the way. But for the most part, it felt quite desolate. There were not that many walkers on the 30 km route and we found ourselves alone for a lot of it. We followed the tracks made by a quad bike but this was not always very clear so it was always a pleasant surprise to see the distance markers with encouraging words along the way.
The last section of the walk was on the Modipane Road and was the most familiar to us but even then it seemed to stretch on forever! Our exhausted bodies found a bit of energy and the 28th and 29th km were actually our fastest! After 32 km and 05:50:53 hours, we trudged towards the Finish Line. The Kgosi (Chief) congratulated us at the end with our medals which was a great touch. And that is how the first medal of the year was earned!
My ‘Must-Haves’ For A Day Hike
Over the years and with experience, our hiking load has become a lot lighter. We only used one small backpack for our Oodi Walk. For you to truly appreciate how far we have come, I have to share this story. Several years ago, we did a 7-day hike on the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia. My boyfriend (now husband) was studying there and we thought it would be a brilliant idea to experience the Australian wilderness on foot.
This was our first big hike and we didn’t want to leave anything to chance so we packed and packed and packed! Granted, it was for a 7-day hike but I think we must have thrown in everything besides the kitchen sink, LOL. Just look at my poor overladen husband!
So with that background, I’m happy to share this ‘Essentials’ List for DAY hikes. It is simple but includes everything you’ll need. Bear in mind, this is based on Botswana’s hot climate.
1 – Quality Footwear. For the big Australian Hike, I bought some good hiking boots that have served me well for the last 14 years. Admittedly, they have not been used much! But for this hike I felt an old pair of running shoes would suffice as my boots are quite heavy and more suited to rugged terrain. Unfortunately, my running shoes did not have sufficient ankle support and traction and as the trail was very muddy I struggled a bit. Fortunately, my socks were quite thick and I didn’t get any blisters. If you are interested in hiking, I would say investing in a good pair of hiking shoes and socks is critical.
2 – Effective Sun Protection. It is so important to protect yourself from the sun and its harmful UV rays particularly in Botswana which typically has a very high UV index. Although I prefer my ‘trendy’ caps, a wide-brimmed, breathable sun hat is ideal for hiking. For my Otse Hike, I wore a cap and ended up with very bad sunburn around my ears and on the back of my neck. Long-sleeved tops are a must and always bring a pair of polarised sunglasses as the sun’s rays can seriously damage your eyes, especially when you are out for long. In both summer and winter, I would recommend regularly applying sunscreen with a 50+SPF for all exposed areas, including the lips!
3 – Good Hydration and Nutrition. It is also critical to stay hydrated on a hike. Always pack water. For this Oodi Walk, we were lucky to have water stops, but we still carried water and didn’t regret it. Also, I usually pack electrolyte powder that I mix with water to keep my electrolyte levels up. And of course, the best part about a hike is the snacking! I usually have a mix of candy and energy bars, trail mix, dried fruit, biltong, and peanuts and raisins. This helps to keep energy up and also boosts your mood as the hours drag on.
4 – Emergency Kit. I usually carry a whistle and although I’ve never had to use it, it can be useful for signalling for help. Be sure to have a charged cell phone in case you need to call someone (and one with a camera is very useful for those selfies en route!). I also always have a small basic first aid kid including small band-aids, bandages, wound cream, and painkillers. I’m very prone to headaches so headache pills for me are a must.
5 – Solid Back Pack. This is for storing all your supplies. It is really important that you are comfortable so make sure that your backpack has padded, ergonomic straps as well as hip support which helps to take weight off the shoulders and keeps you in good form especially when you are out for hours. Also pack your supplies the night before and try on the backpack to make sure you don’t have something poking you in your ribs as you walk!
6 – Sense of Humour. For me, this is probably the most important thing to bring along! When the muscles start pleading for mercy and the sun is beating down, a good dose of humour helps to keep you upbeat and plodding along.
If you are interested in hiking in Botswana, Y Care Charitable Trust hosts several hikes a year (both day and overnight) taking you to beautiful parts of the country. Their Makgadikgadi Pans Walk has been on my bucket list for years. The Jwaneng Desert Walk is also a fixed feature on Botswana’s calendar in July. I’ve done it twice and loved it (here is my 2017 recap). There are also a few hiking clubs that can be found on Facebook.
What are some of the things you take on a hike? Is there something on your list that is not on mine? What would you leave out? Are you an over-packer or do you keep things simple?