After returning from our recent Soul Trails mountain bike safari in Mashatu, Botswana I wanted to share a few interesting facts about this country. Botswana is a country that sticks to its beliefs and cares for its people and its animals and their land. I love being able to bring guests and friends on this trip and to share with them this hidden gem and the warm people who welcome us. It makes me happy to know that I've potentially played a small part in helping Soul Trails guests with their new discovery, and this often leads them to more planned adventures and changes in their own lives.
"Judge not your beauty by the number of people who look at you, but rather by the number of people who smile at you." - African proverb
Let’s start with a bit of history: Botswana, formerly known as Betchuanaland gained their independence from Great Britain in 1966 when they turned from one of the poorest countries in Africa to now, 51 years later, one of the most prosperous. At 582,000 square kilometers and with roughly two million people within its borders it is, in relation to its size, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world and also home to the biggest concentration of African elephants. Hunting is not allowed here and there is no military presence—this rare in Africa. Botswana is also the world's leading diamond producing country and it's revenues from these diamonds which enable every Botswanan child to receive free education up to the age of thirteen.
"A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break." - African proverb
The mighty Mashatu trees (otherwise known as the Nyala-berry trees) are the local landmarks of the bush in the Tuli block. These trees are our shade, our rest stops, and our safe havens when we sleep under the stars. Some of these beauties range from 300 to 600 years old, and they create a home for an extensive ecosystem of life, including the cheeky monkeys who think it's hilarious to pee and poop on us while we sleep.
“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy & your eyes sparkling”.
"A friend is someone you share the path with." African proverb.
I met Mosa back in 2008 on one of our first guided mountain bike safaris. He was very quiet, shy, could barely ride his bike and his English was pretty limited but he cooked up a storm and helped with a bit of everything around the camp. His big smile and his friendly eyes did all the talking - we immediately connected. I gave him this beaded bracelet when we left. Now, almost 10 years later when Mosa met us at the border between Botswana and South Africa this year, he was a confident, well spoken tour guide and he still cherished the beads that I gave him.
Our worlds and cultures probably couldn’t be any further apart, yet we have this wonderful friendship brought together by our love for all things bicycles, animals, and Africa. People often ask me about my all-time favorite trails and riding locations, and I always answer by saying that it’s the connection and the experiences shared between people that determine my favorite trails or trips, not necessarily the trail itself.
"Wisdom is like a Baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it." Akan proverb
I won't lie, the roll over this rock got my heart going, and just moments before that, so did the very intense and intimate stare off I had with a warthog family. To me, what's even more impressive than both of these things is the towering Baobab tree watching over me. It is the icon of the African savannah; Africa's tree of life, the upside down tree. The Bushmen believed that the Baobab had offended God and as revenge God had planted these trees upside down. They also believed that its flowers contained spirits and that any person who plucks the flowers (which only bloom at night) will be torn apart by lions. Capable of growing for long periods of time, these giants can exceed 1500 years old and after the first 1000 years they become hollow inside. Some say they don't get truly handsome until they're almost 800 years old. They are a life giver for wildlife and act like a succulent—one single tree can hold up to 4500L of water.
"Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor." Yoruba proverb
Majestic mama leopard—in the seven times that I’ve been here at Mashatu, she’s only graced us with her presence twice. How lucky are we to be able to watch this animal go about her daily chores, which mainly involved lounging about, yawning and looking rather lazy.
"To get lost, is to learn the way." African proverb.
Mosa Masupe and Mario Masoba are our guides, trackers, extraordinary bush men and most importantly, our good friends. Both were born in Batswana (making them Bataswanan men) and their first language is Setswana, one of about eighteen tribal languages spoken in Botswana. These guys know the bush like no other and their passion for animals and bikes go hand-in-hand and is particularly infectious. Bike safaris have given them the opportunity to stay in the bush and do what they live while they make a living doing it. Mosa and Mario flank the group front and back, protecting the safari from erratic animal behaviour. Thankfully in their twelve years of guiding they have never had to shoot an animal. These two protect us from everything that moves and they teach us about the plants, trees, animal tracks, and surrounding wildlife; all while we cruise along on the game paths. It boggles my mind that their able to find their way back to camp every night but this land is in their blood.
"Wild thing, you make my heart sing
You make everything groovy, wild thing
Wild thing, I think I love you…" - The Troggs
These are lions, yes, and they’re mating—you knew that—pretty obvious, right? What you probably didn't know is that when the female is in heat and in the mood for love, lions can mate up to forty times a day and with several males! (She does look pretty annoyed and over it in this photo). Of course we had a right giggle when we saw this, but all jokes aside, this was serious business and a pretty rare sight to get a glimpse into the love life of lions...
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." African proverb.
Making the switch from being a full time racer to being a guide, a mentor and a coach takes time and patience. This is something that I’ve been practicing and learning about all year. Life isn't just about you and your racing anymore, there are so many layers, and I’m peeling them off, one layer at a time, and discovering so many hidden gems in the process. Here in the bush, going alone pretty much means death, so we stick together even during photoshoots with Sven (Martin). There are lots of valuable life lessons to be learned from these short, but powerful African proverbs.
"Always being in a hurry does not prevent death, neither does going slowly prevent living." Ibo proverb
"When elephants fight, it is the grass who suffers." African proverb
Botswana is the only African country to have a complete ban on any and all forms of hunting, and this speaks volumes about their values and morals. Rather than the hunt, they focus on promoting photographic tourism and where many African flags are red and black (representing blood, war, and liberation struggles) Botswana's is predominately colors meant to depict peace and harmony. Blue represents precious water and rain and black and white represents the people who, together, stand for racial harmony.
"I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy.” Ernest Hemingway
The gin and tonic's probably had something to do with that though ;) Swapping out post-race chocolate recovery drinks for post ride G&T sundowner’s with the guests is a lovely change of pace for me—they taste even better when drank straight out of your water bottle and your mix measurements are slightly off.
"Unity is strength, division is weakness." Swahili proverb
Africa will always be home, it’s in my blood, and will always have a special place in my heart. My satisfaction used to come from how fast I could get to the bottom of a race track and now it comes from seeing how Africa creeps into the hearts of the first timers we bring out here into the bush. This place changes people. It is different yes, but it has come at the right time in my life, encouraging others to experience an adventure like this and to hopefully have them leave with a new and alternate outlook on life. Even if only one person on every trip leaves feeling like they've grown in some way that, to me, is the sign of a successful trip.
"What you give you get, ten times over." Yoruba
Even after I leave this place a little part of me remains behind
Every time I leave this place, a little part of me remains behind, but the gains I get to take away with me from these experiences, they stay with me for a lifetime. They keep me grounded when I feel unstable, reminding me of the greater picture, of what’s important in life, where I come from, my roots & it encourages me to be a better, more compassionate human being.