I love the smell of the rain on the baked earth, and the way the air is alive with energy before an African storm. All this is what real, unspoilt Africa is about.
- It’s not a race, but a run. There are no placings, no positions, no podiums – this is not about speed, but about the experience. Let’s face it, in Africa no one can just go racing into the wild bush yonder, it would be irresponsible, if not suicidal, so staging a race there would be impossible. In the Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun, runners choose the group they’d be comfortable in – faster pace, medium or slower. Each group is led by a (very fit) qualified game ranger, and safety is the highest priority.
- It crosses the borders of three countries, requiring all the relevant documentation, visas and passport-stamping by customs officials – everything specially organised for the runners on the banks of the rivers that border each country. It takes one hell of a lot of planning, paperwork and preparation to coordinate such diplomatic and logistical permissions for undesignated border crossings on foot in deepest darkest Africa, and it shows just how much needs to be prepared in advance behind the scenes before an event like this can happen.
- You’re in the best hands. Like all Wildrunner’s events, everything is carefully thought through to the finest detail. Participants enjoy five-star bush treatment, from several delicious refreshment stops along each day’s route (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits, biltong, potatoes, jelly babies… not forgetting the mini peanut butter pitas, bubbly and freshly-made wraps on the wooden deck overlooking the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers), to hot showers and even a gin bar, set on a koppie above camp and overlooking the setting sun. All this, yet more than 160km away from even the nearest spaza shop. It’s impressive stuff!
Highlights from the three days:
Standing next to the mineralised fossil of a dinosaur, Massospondylus carinatus owen, which roamed the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland some 210 million years ago during the early Jurassic period. That’s a whole 65 million years before brachiosaurus stomped the earth!
- The non-competition: we ran an average of 30km a day, each group at its own comfortable pace, stopwatches and pace-markers the furthest things from our minds. It was about being out there, together, immersed in untouched Africa, running on tracks that might well been trodden for eons by the ancestors of those living there today.
- Climbing the Mapungubwe Hill onto the citadel of an ancient African kingdom that dates back to the 13th century, preceding that of Great Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe is a World Heritage Site, home to the famous gold-coated rhino that was a symbol of the power of the king of the Mapungubwe people. We then ran along the valley below the citadel, where more age-old baobabs than I could count stood guard, silent in their stature, ever-watching as they’ve done for more than a thousand years. Those baobabs have witnessed a civilisation rise and fall, they’ve shared every season for a thousand years, endured droughts and floods, watched millions of animals pass by, and still they stand guard, sentinels of that valley.
- Seeing the Limpopo River, which is usually nothing more than a wide sandy river bed dotted with a few stagnant puddles, now full and flowing from the abundant rains. Wading across the river was not nerve-wracking at all… we’d been assured that crocs aren’t so keen on shins, they prefer whole bodies. Hah, right!
- Making our way along the edge of the riverine forest as a huge herd of wildebeest galloped across the open veld to our right.
- Watching from a koppie as a herd of about 15 elephants gradually made their way along their trail – one that’s probably been trodden by ancestors of those same elephants for millenia.
- Enjoying the bountiful meals cooked over open fires by the wonderful women from the local Maramani community, under the guidance of the ever-energetic Marion. Steaming stews, freshly baked bread, pestos, cheeses, locally-grown salads and herbs – our food was hearty and delicious, perfect for post-run refuelling.
- Sunset from the gin bar on the koppie above the camp was something special. Somehow an African sunset has a majesty like no other, and every evening I quietly held my breath to hear the tiny ‘pop’ sound that giant orange-red ball makes as it gently drop below the horizon. (It does, you know, you just have to listen carefully…)