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“Teagan, you’re going to Botswana this weekend. How do you feel about skydiving?” asked my editor, Sonya Schoeman. I blanched, my excitement at a change in weekend plans fizzling into a mild panic. I’m terrified of heights: a not-so-ideal quality in a Getaway photojournalist. Breathing deeply, I ignored my initial gut reaction of ‘not a chance!’ and instead forged ahead with a faltering, “Um. Okay.”

Sunrise greets the three planes, who together ferried 428 jumpers.

Sunrise greets the three planes, who together ferried 428 jumpers.

 

Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), SkyDive Botswana, Skydiversity Skydiving and Nata Conservation had pulled together an event that was the first of its kind: a skydiving ‘Boogie’ set above the abstract patterns of dried out salt pans. The event drew skydivers from across South Africa – and even internationally – as well as enthused crowds from the surrounding areas. Event activities included quad bike trails, boat rides across the massive water-filled pans, nature walks and bird watching, but the main draw cards were the skydives and tandem jumps, the latter of which were available to the public.

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Fast forward two nights, where I found myself face down on the ground with camera gear strewn around me after having tripped over an errant tent guy line.  I was out in the Makgadikgadi pans, an area roughly the size of Portugal and open to the vast skies. And it was dark. I had missed out on supper at the organisers’ tent and was sadly sniffing the remains of chops and pap in the air, all whilst adamantly not thinking about having to jump out of the sky from a height of 4200m in a few hours.

‘Are you alright?’ asked a distant voice, concerned as I brushed off my knees. I checked my lenses first before answering, heart in my throat, until I had assured myself that all was well on the glass front.

“Yes, I am. Thanks.”

I resolved to call it a night, sure that the new dawn would lift my spirits.

And it did. Sitting behind BTO Marketing Manager Jillian Blackbeard as we raced towards sunrise on her quad bike, I got my first glimpse of the much-discussed Botswana Defence Force’s massive CASA 235. Standing next to it, looking like plucky sidekicks, stood two smaller aircraft. From these three aircraft, around 70 skydivers and multiple tandem jumpers would be chucked out of the sky towards a dizzying beautiful landscape. The energy was palpable, and the land surreal. I suddenly got very, very excited for what was to come.
See the full portfolio of this incredible event in the February 2015 issue of Getaway Magazine.

 

The CASA 235 taking off, see from the safety of the PAC 750 XSTOL

The CASA 235 taking off, see from the safety of the PAC 750 XSTOL.

 

light aircraft

The CASA 235 sent sand and stone pelting behind it as it took off, making covering up and finding shelter absolutely essential.

 

skydiving

The skydivers and pilots who attended were a mix of good humour and professional expertise.

 

parachute

Jumpers and pilots ready to go.

 

ropes, parachute

Parachutes were spread and repacked carefully before each jump.

 

jump

At the risk of repeating myself, they really were a rad bunch!

 

the road, makgadigadi

Open skies and flat lands: you’re in the Makgadikgadi.

 

flamingo

This area is famous for its flocks of flamingoes, which migrate during the rainy months in their tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands.

 

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

The sandy track between two pans.

 

The dust kicked up by the CASA 235. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

The dust kicked up by the CASA 235.

 

Garai Makaya, from Skydive Botswana

Garai Makaya, from Skydive Botswana

The Makgadikgadi pans

Reflections of the Makgadikgadi.

 

The thrilled crowd revelled in each skidding land or low swoop overhead. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Around 2000 members of the public attended. Seeing skydivers and the frenzy that surrounded the event was a first for many, and the thrilled crowd revelled in each skidding land or low swoop overhead.

 

Large distances separated the campsite, main tent and runway.. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Large distances separated the campsite, main tent and runway. You needed a motorbike, quad bike or car to get between – although more often than not I ended up hitching.

 

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Skydivers descend.

 

Botswanan cowboys, style

I had meant to return on the Sunday morning, but after being offered a flight back I decided to stay a few more hours. These self-titled Rockers pitched up in a swirl of salty dust and leather tassles, clad in swag.

 

The pans as seen from above.

The pans as seen from above. I did a tandem jump with Graham Field of SkyDiversity, who’s wake is littered with legendary antics. With over 6600 jumps, 28 years of experience and multiple awards and titles, he soon put my fears to rest with his quiet confidence.

Click the cover below to find out what else is in store in the February 2015 issue of Getaway.
Getaway February Cover 2015