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You liked summer camp? Sleeping in tents, meeting old, making new friends. Experience adventures? Then the Magdikgadi Boogie in Botswana is the perfect place to go. It´s Summer camp for skydivers.
Forget everything you believed to know about Africa. Especially about Botswana. It´s not what you expect. It truly is a perfect holiday destination and a perfect place for a great boogie. But lets start at the beginning. For several years the parachute association of Botswana (PAB), supported by the minister for tourism and the military is organizing a small boogie with some big planes. “Stop”, you will think, “the military?” Skydiving in a totalitarian African dictatorship? No way! Wrong again! Botswana is a showcase democracy, very well developed, very safe, with English as the second national language. Due to an understandable lack of experience of the skydiving organizers, the boogie never kicked off. This is understandable given the fact that there are only 16 registered skydivers in Botswana.
Instead of suffering in silence, Essop, chairman of PAB, contacted Eugene “Pottie” Potgieter, chairman of the Johannesburg Skydiving club, who had profound experience in organizing skydiving events. So Pottie counted his assets and found that with some planes like a Casa 235 and a Hercules C130 you have to start thinking big, to be precise Big Way. So he contacted his old friend Dan BC (spare me the correct spelling of his surname), the world’s premier big way organizer. While Pottie was working out the boogie details with the PAB, Dan was putting together a team of world class wing suit flyers like Taya Weiss and camera flyers like Ralph Wilhelm. Like several other boogie participants they arrived a few days earlier to experience one of the highlights of Botswana, the wildlife. Basically all the participants had to do was to fly to Kasane in North Botswana, which is easy to reach via Johannesburg/South Africa from most major airports in the world. Once one arrived in Kasane, everything was taken care of, due to the perfect organization.
If you had booked a safari before the boogie, you were picked up at the airport and transferred to a marvelous lodge on the bank of the Chobe river, just 10 minutes from the airport. Sitting with a cool welcome drink at the riverside terrace, one could already spot wild elephants and other African wild life. After checking into the room the next point on the agenda was a sunset boat safari on the Chobe river. As the area is a sanctuary without a fence the number of wildlife is impressive. Within minutes a crocodile was sighted at the river banks. A large herd of elephants was next. If you want to see Dan BC going bananas over a very cute baby elephant playfully chasing a gazelle, you have to take that boat safari. And as this is an article about skydiving we won’t mention the 20 other species that were sighted during the 3 hours cruise, nor the more than breathtaking African sunset, or the delicious poolside BBQ.
The next morning a jeep safari was scheduled. The only problem was the not skydiver-friendly starting time at 6 a.m. But the early risers were rewarded by more wildlife, including monkeys and lions. And this all very close to the jeep. One of the lions set his eyes on Taya but then decided that she was too skinny to be a delicious meal.
Talking about meals, the author has to issue a warning. The food at the boogie was the best the author ever has tasted at such an event and everybody admitted after the boogie, that they didn’t lose any weight for sure. In the afternoon the team visited Victoria Falls in nearby Zimbabwe. The Vic-Falls are the worlds widest waterfalls with about 1 mile length and drops of over 300 feet. A soaking wet experience and a nice cooldown given the 27° C / 80 F and a complete cloudless sky. Don’t forget that August is winter in Africa and while all days during the event were beautiful like this, a light jacket is recommended of the evenings, as it cools down to a pleasant 15° C / 60 F.
After these two truly fulfilling days of amazing African wildlife and landscape the jumpers moved down to Suwa flats. This is a salt pan located 300 km / 190 miles south of Kasane. The road leading there was an experience by itself. Not because of the fairly good condition of the tarmac road itself or the left hand traffic, but because of the wildlife next to the road. Elephants, giraffes and other animals grazing right next to the road, sometimes crossing the road without warning. The site of the boogie was not what one may expect. Turning from the main road onto a dirt strip for about two kilometers the participants arrived literally in the middle of nowhere, called Suwa Salt flats. At the shore of a salt lake and endless mixture of dessert and bushes, quite similar to the area around Eloy. Those who ever landed out in Eloy, Arizona, know what this means.
But unlike in the desert in Eloy, there was a picture-perfect tent city build at the shore of the lake. It needs to be mentioned that the lake is so big, one cannot see the other shore, giving the impression of standing at the sea. But back to summer camp. Tent after tent, perfectly aligned, ready for the skydivers to move in. A decent bed with a good matress and bright, shining white linen, a chair and a little closet made you feel like your just did a time walk back to your childhood. A trailer with restroom and one with showers, both in very decent quality and cleanness, made the arrangement complete.
The highlight however was the food tent. Situated less than 10 m/ 11 yards from the lake it offered first class cuisine, far better than in any summer camp you may remember. For lunch and dinner a buffet with at least one starter plus salad, two or three main courses and a sweet and “not good for your figure” selection of desserts awaited the skydivers. So breakfast the next morning was a task for some, as there was still no room left due too much dessert the night before. However, as in summer camp, the supply of alcoholic beverages was “limited”. Fortunately the organizers were made aware of this very serious problem and promised remedial and skydiver-friendly measures for the next year.
Probably the only thing not usually found in summer camps was the portable medical clinic container, plus well trained medical staff, as the next hospital was about two hours by car away. Fortunately the only thing they had to treat was some sunburn. Even so August means winter in southern Africa and the freezing 20 to 25°C forced the locals to wear winter jackets, while Europeans enjoyed the perfect weather in their T-shirts. As the drop zone had an elevation of about 1.000 m, the landings were a little faster and the sun was burning a little more intensely, so some people caught a sunburn. Only during the night the temperatures fell down to around 10°C, which is normal in the desert at night. So in the evening and early morning a jacket was a good choice. The first day of the boogie started slowly, as the organization was running a little late, but most participants appreciated this, as those who did not do a safari prior, arrived late the night before by bus from South Africa.
The majority of the jumpers were from South Africa, and Swiss, Australians, Americans, Germans and Japanese, Zimbabweans and Namibians completed the international participants. Not to forget the majority of the members of the Botswana Skydiving Association, which has, as mentioned before, 16 members. As there was a little stronger ground wind, but well monitored and within the limits, and as the uppers where unknown (remember, this is Africa), it was decided to first send a load of crash test dummies (aka the organizers). After gearing up, the jumpers hopped into a bus which carried them to the airport, which was about 3 km away. Actually it was more like a plastered runway with one shelter and a little office building, but everything in perfect condition. At the airport, the first star of the boogie was waiting, a Casa 235, able to carry 40 jumpers.
The plane, belonging to the Botswana Defense Force, is usually used for dropping Paratroopers, so the crew and the jumpmaster, besides being all very friendly and helpful, knew what they were doing. Actually the jumpmasters usually jumped out after the last boogie participant had left the plane in order to log some freefall time themselves. The tailgate of the Casa is about the size of the tailgate of a Skyvan, but hydraulically operated. And when it opened at altitude, a hush fell on the jumpers, as the view was far beyond breathtaking. Close to the airport a soda/salt factory is located. So next to the lake one can see several basins filed with water, that due to special bacteria gave the water a deep purple color. This looked like nothing most participants have ever seen before, it looked very surreal.
But as the green light came on, you know how jumpers are, nobody had eyes for the landscape anymore. But right after opening the visuals came back with full force. Some jumpers, girls of course, claimed that they also saw a pink colored basin. However this was later identified as a huge flock of Flamingos resting in one of the salt basins. Besides that ostriches and blue wildebeest were also seen from under canopy or during the bus ride to the airport. Theoretically there also could have been lions and rhinos, as the safety officer mentioned them in the briefing. Words of wisdom where: “If you are chased by a rhino, climb a tree,” while pointing out into the treeless flats. As the crash test dummies landed safely, it was time to get the groups organized. Dan BC, for sure one of if not the best Big Way organizers in the world, organized the belly jumpers, but what he did was far more than organizing, it was basically a Big Way camp. One must remember, that in southern Africa most jumpers, due to plane size, have never done anything bigger than a 10 way. So they soaked up every word Dan said. From jump to jump it was clearly visible, that learning had occurred.
The same applied to the wingsuit jumpers, who were in the more than capable hands of Taya Weiss. The afternoon of the first day as well as the second day, the Casa flew several loads consisting of belly and wingsuit jumpers and of course freeflyers.
And as if the marvelous and breathtaking views from the plane, in freefall and under canopy weren’t enough, the sunset jumps added additional beauty. From day to day more local people showed up just to watch those crazy skydivers. Several amusements like jet ski rides and tandem jumps were available plus a large party area for the locals with comedians and bands performing. Radio, Newspaper and Television were on side and so the international skydivers had to give several interviews, plus posing for thousands of pictures with the spectators. Talking about the jet ski, this needs to be mentioned, that the Botswana Defence Force not only provided the planes, but also an hovercraft airboat in case someone had a water landing. This was not necessary but helpful as one water landing proved. The jumper was on the short side of tall, so she could still stand in the lake without swimming. However the water was up to her chest, so the boat proved to be very helpful in order to get the gear and the jumper back to shore. The gear received an extensive session in the shower to get the salt out of rig, reserve and main. On the third day the participants continued having fun out of the Casa until after lunch. Then it was time for something really big. Not a big way but a big plane… Enter the Hercules C-130!
The aircraft was standing on the apron all morning making the already big Casa looking really small. So the skydivers took their time to inspect the place thoroughly and go a briefing on how to exit the plane by C-130 expert Dan BC (remember this, we will come back later to this). As the speed of the plane is above terminal on jump run, a decent briefing is an absolute must. However this speed offered the possibility for the wingsuiters to actually rise above the plane after exit.
To say the cargo bay of this plane is huge is a serious understatement. How many jump planes do you know with two beds, a permanently installed can opener and a permanently installed pencil sharpener in the cockpit? So for some takeoffs there were more skydivers in the cockpit watching the pilots than a Cessna 206 can carry skydivers.
On the last day, there was a little interruption before boarding the plane, as the President of Botswana, Ian Khama Seretse Khama, visited the event and posed for a group picture with all skydivers in front of the C-130. None of the international participants could remember a skydiving event where the democratically elected head of state visited the skydivers and chatted with them.
The last evening finished with a closing dinner with traditional Botswana food, which proved to be as delicious as heavy on the meat side. Unlike in summer camp, dinner was served on white table cloth. This had to be removed later, as it emerged, that Dan BC, even though giving a perfect briefing on how to jump from a C-130, actually never jumped that plane before this event. Dan was a C-130 virgin, which is not only a first but also the deception demanded serious punishment. The rules were simple. Whatever Dan and Pottie could drink from a can of beer in 5 seconds would be poured over their heads. Luckily someone gave them two large cans of beer, so both were soaking beer wet.
Some of the ladies then made up a rule than Dan also needs to remove his beer-soaked T-Shirt and do some pushups on the table. It’s easy to imagine the vibe in the tent. (No, we won't show pictures!)
No matter if you like summer camp or not, if you combine the Makgadikgadi Boogie in Botswana with some safari before or after the event, you will have the experience of a lifetime. No only Botswana is well worth a visit, but also the boogie with its rare and awesome planes, its unbeatable views and visuals and its great crew of load organizers make it a must-go boogie on the bucket list of every skydiver. (Dan will be back for the boogie scheduled 12-16 July 2018) For questions please contact: Epic@jsc.co.za.