Matsieng’s Footprints

A few days ago, I went to see the Matsieng Footprints, about half an hour’s drive north from Gaborone.  Matsieng is an important historical site for the Batswana who live in this area, and in previous years was used as a pilgrimage site.

Parking on the dusty side of the road under a shady morula tree, I walked for about ten minutes through the dry and overgrown bush to the small site office of the National Museum where I met  my guide for the walk to the Footprints.  At this time of year, this area at the edge of the Kalahari is slowly coming to life, and the knob thorns were in full flower along the path.  As we walked, the guide told me the story of Matsieng.

The Batswana have a rich oral tradition, which says that Matsieng is the place where the giant, one-legged ancestor of the Batswana, Matsieng, emerged from below the earth, followed by his people and by animals, both domestic and wild.  Consequently, for the last few centuries, the site of his footprints has been used as a rain-making site for the Batswana.

The site itself is a flat expanse of sandstone, with two deep and narrow holes which hold a significant amount of water, long into the dry winter months.  The 8000 square metre slab of sandstone is now crisscrossed by wooden walkways designed to protect the footprints.  The prints are faint and mostly hard to see, but are clearly representations of an oversize human foot surrounded by the smaller prints of a variety of animals.  Archaeologists now believe that these are in fact engravings in the rock, made less than 2000 years ago by the ancestors of the modern day Basarwa (Bushmen).  Some have clearly been enlarged or gone over to deepen the engraving, but erosion has significantly damaged many of the remaining prints.

Standing at the lip of one of the waterholes looking out over the flat expanse of rock, it was easier to believe the Tswana story of creation than the archaeologists’ views. There is a sense of the ancient about Matsieng, and so far from the road and the signs of civilization as we know it, a sense of truly having entered a prehistoric world.

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Dinaka Safari Lodge

I have always had a sense, even as a child, that I am privileged to live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth.  How I came to this impression I’m not sure, as my knowledge of Botswana was almost exclusively based in Gaborone, with a few early memories of Palapye and Serowe thrown in.  And my knowledge of the rest of the world was even more limited – a few trips to Johannesburg to see Granny, and one to the other grandparents in England.  What an adventurous life…  Slowly but surely, however, I am starting to explore the beautiful land in which I live, and recently came across a gem that should be shared.

My, what big teeth you have!

Let me introduce you to Dinaka Safari Lodge, a tranquil and secluded retreat in the heart of the Kalahari.  At Dinaka the rest of the world ceases to exist – and not just because there’s no cellphone reception either.  When you’re sitting in a chair, beer in hand, looking out over the main waterhole and listening to the wind rustle through the purple pods, it’s hard to remember that the rest of the world ever existed.  Days flow by with effortless ease and one begins to wonder how one ever coped with the noise and constant clatter of city life.

Of course there is another world that exists at Dinaka, the one that tourists come to see, and the one that Batswana should prize above diamonds.  This is a world that does not belong to us.  We are distinctly out of place in it and yet are privileged to be able to share it.  There is nowhere quite like the Central Kalahari for wide open blue skies stretching across an unending expanse of savannah.  On our first game drive we stopped at the top of a rise and looked for miles across the acacia-tops to a very distant horizon, bringing a sense of peace and solitude.

At this time of year, the Central Kalahari is cold and dry, with intensely bright light.  Sunset comes early, bringing grazing herds down to the waterhole.  Kudu, wildebeest, impala and gemsbok gather at the waterhole in front of Leopard Hide, where you can sit and enjoy your sundowners while enjoying the view.  At the opposite end of Dinaka, the lion come to drink at their waterhole in the early mornings.  Lion Hide is built overlooking the top pan, and is a beautiful place to have breakfast, always with the possibility of a lion encounter in the back of your mind.

My three nights at Dinaka were the most tranquil I have ever experienced.  Sitting by the fire, sharing stories with other guests, and gazing at the vastness of the night sky, I was consumed by a sense of peace and awe with the country I had seen.  Welcome to beautiful Botswana – but see it through the hidden gems of the Kalahari.