Following my incredible trip to Ghana, I spent a day in Gaborone, just enough time to unpack and re-pack my suitcase for the 12-hour drive to Kasane in the Chobe District of northern Botswana. Remember my marathon in Kazungula/ Kasane that was cancelled? Well… as we had already paid for accommodation and promised my dad and the kids a break from the city, we decided to travel up north anyway for a holiday. Our friends Polelo and Elisa (with their families) made the same decision so we knew we were in for an epic time!
Kasane is a small town, strategically located near the meeting point of four countries – Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Kasane is also the gateway to the famous Chobe National Park which is Botswana’s first national park (and third largest) covering 11, 700 sq. km.
It is considered by many to be one of the best national parks in Southern Africa and is home to a variety of wildlife with some of the greatest concentrations of game in Africa.
The race course of the Kazungula Bridge Marathon would have taken us across the newly built bridge between Botswana and Zambia, and would likely have also explored both Kazungula and Kasane, given the close proximity (approx. 10km) of these towns to each other.
So on the 2nd October, the day that would have been my first marathon as well as the beautiful celebration of Elisa’s birthday, Elisa, my husband and I did a 10K run through Kasane. We set off from our hotel, the Chobe Safari Lodge, around 6am and headed into town. The hotel is situated at the end of the main road – President Avenue, right by the junction to Airport Avenue.
The cloudy morning and awesome company made for very easy running and great conversation. We passed the big hotels – Chobe Marina Lodge with its cluster of colourful flowers along its wall and the aptly named Mowana Lodge with a gigantic mowana (baobab) and vibrant flags of various countries from Southern Africa decorating its front entrance.
We also ran past the police station and the district hospital, before getting to the main shops, restaurants, businesses and outdoor kiosks and markets selling traditional curios – wooden crafts, intricately woven reed baskets and colourful cloths and fabrics.
There were also a number of different tourist operators in this main section of town specialising in a variety of activities including game drives, fishing expeditions as well as boat cruises.
We took the opportunity to go down to the private jetty without all the crowds that are usually there during the day. This required some serious negotiation with the very loyal gatekeeper but after some pleasant exchanges and pleading eyes, he allowed us in for a quick photo op!
As we continued on the road, the buildings soon gave way to crop land including some irrigated inter-cropped farmland. The tall electric fences around the farms and the designated elephant corridor were stark reminders of the tough reality and unique situation that northern Botswana faces with the ever-challenging and controversial human-wildlife conflict.
We had just run past the Sefalana Warehouse and were quite close to the A33 heading to Kazungula when our watches buzzed 5km and we decided it was a good place to turn back.
Once we got back to the hotel we remembered an old Apostolic church on the Airport Road and headed there briefly. I loved the structure of the church and although the surroundings were quite bare, the pink bougainvillea shrub by the side of the church gave a colourful touch.
Elisa summed up our run brilliantly, “It was the perfect morning for a run… especially after the rain from the night before. The Kasane high street, although short, provided all… the sights, the flats and the inclines. What I loved most was running with you guys though. I didn’t realise how much I had missed it! And not only getting to run with you but also appreciating a new place together. Very special.” I couldn’t agree more and I’m so glad we drove 12 hours for this run!
Five Things To Consider When Running In Kasane
It is WILD. There are no boundary fences between the park and the town so wildlife such as elephant, hippo, antelopes, buffalo, warthogs are known to wander in and around town.
This means you can’t afford to be too adventurous with your run or venture too far out of town. So we stuck to the main road and built-up areas and avoided any unwanted altercations with wild animals! There were of course several warthogs crossing the road, always seeming to be on a very important mission with their pointed tails, distinguished moustaches and quick trot.
A Visit To The Baobab Prison. The Police Station is located just a short distance from the Chobe Safari Lodge and houses the historic Baobab Prison. This tree played a major role in the administration of justice and distribution of mail in northern Botswana. It was used as a jail before the advent of modern prisons in the area. The tree also served as a place where mail was collected and disseminated to various places in Chobe Region and beyond.
On the same plot, there is another huge baobab tree and as this is now the third baobab I’m mentioning, I should probably share the significance of baobabs! The baobab tree is known as the “tree of life” – capable of providing shelter, food and water for both animals and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions. The cork-like bark can be used for cloth and rope, the leaves for various condiments and medicines and the monkey bread fruit is rich in Vitamin C. The tree also stores hundreds of litres of water which can tapped during dry periods. Mature trees are frequently hollow providing living space for numerous animals.
Buy Some Fabulous Crafts. Kasane is a typical tourist town with several crafts for sale. You can visit the creative boutiques like The Riggly Pig or The Gift Box, or grab something from the streets like wooden crafts, both functional or decorative, art as well as fabrics.
Reward Yourself With Ice Cream. This was an unexpected find! My friend Polelo found this Italian pizza and ice-cream place called Buono & Kono in the Duncan Plaza Mall. So Ditiro and I took the kids there for ice cream! I loved the design of the place – old number plates, a beautiful metal map of Africa and a tree made of Amarula bottles as well as hand-written and wooden menus. If I lived in Kasane, this is where all my long runs would end!
Experience Botswana’s Wilderness. A visit to Kasane is not complete without a game drive or boat cruise in the park. This was our kids’ first trip to Chobe and we were so lucky with all our sightings. About ten minutes after entering the park we spotted two lionesses with four cubs by the riverside. This was always going to be difficult to top but shortly after that we saw five lion teenagers, several antelope as well as herds of elephant and buffalo. On a second drive, we saw two lionesses tucking into and then viciously fighting over a warthog. On our boat cruise, we witnessed the epic water crossing of several elephants led by their matriarch and spotted hundreds of buffalo, hippo and crocodiles, not to mention the stunning birdlife. And each day we were rewarded with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. See why Kasane is nicknamed Paradise?
On the afternoon of Elisa’s birthday, we took a special boat cruise to the Kazungula Bridge where we got to marvel its structure and design from all angles, while taking in the incredible fact that we were at the point where four different countries meet.
So we may not have run on the Kazungula Bridge but we made up for it with a wonderful cruise weaving in and around the bridge and an awesome run (and jump) in Kasane.
When life throws you lemons, make lemonade! Isn’t that how the saying goes!? I’m so glad we all decided to go ahead and make this trip – after another difficult year, we all needed it. And I think it’s safe to say without the marathon on our minds, we all had a much more relaxed time and could really be present for each other and for our gorgeous kids who got on famously. In my mother’s wise words, “Nothing is so bad, it’s not good for something!”
Have you been to Chobe National Park? Have you seen the new Kazungula Bridge? What new place have you run in recently?