Tour Operator Rides 1000 kms To keep jobs Amidst Covid-19

By Ryan Blumton

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the tourism industry has been devastating and has led to its near collapse. Many travel and tourism operators around the country have serious the serious challenge to keep staff on the payroll and to avoid layoffs due the which would lend further damage to the economy.

However, for Big Ride Botswana, a safari operation that specialises in horse back Safaris in the Okavango Delta, the operators has to keep its employees on the payroll as well as its 40-horse fed.

This prompted Ride Botswana founder David Foot to initiate is an epic horse ride around the heartland of Botswana’s tourism area. The Big Ride is an expedition. Foot is the lead rider for the entire journey, of over 1000km.

“Ride Botswana is a safari operation specializing in safaris on horseback in the Okavango and Makgadikgadi. With the overnight collapse of tourism to Botswana due to the Coronavirus pandemic we decided we needed to do something to ensure we could continue to feed our team of 40 horses, continue to pay our loyal staff and in the long term continue to keep our company afloat so we can continue to support the local communities we work with,” Foot has noted.

Foot came up with the idea that if they challenged themselves to ride over 1000 km around northern Botswana, they could hopefully seek financial support and sponsorship from friends, family and in particular past clients.

Foot explained that he was inspired by one horseback journey of more than 700 kilometers that took place in the 1990’s from Francistown to Gumare and that many years ago people would drive cattle on horseback from Maun to Livingstone in Zambia. He however idd not believe that the particular route he and his team were taking had been done before.

“We set off from Maun on 3rd August and took 13 days to ride 440km to Kazungula. We passed through Shorobe, Sankuyo, Mababe and then all the way to the Chobe River along the eastern boundary of the Chobe National Park. This first leg of the journey went very well – I think because we and the horses were keen and fresh!” Foot said.

After a couple days rest at Bakwena Lodge, Foot and his team started south along the international boundary with Zimbabwe (known as Hunters Road) to Nata. This took them 12 days and 350km.

“Despite receiving wonderful help from Wild tracks, Eco Lodge in Pandamatenga, Pandamatenga farming community and Elephant Sands Camp this second leg was much tougher. The horses and ourselves were getting more tired and we had to send one horse home as it had stood on a wire nail.”

“The journey has been an incredible experience. We have travelled through some very wild, inhospitable, dry areas of the country at a slow place, so we have had time to really appreciate it. We have seen some amazing wildlife including riding past lions on a couple of occasions and met some wonderful people who have all been friendly, helpful and supportive.”

Foot has taken the journey accompanied by his staff. Those who had stayed behind in Maun assist with resupplying the expedition group at predetermined rendezvous points.

“I have had a top-class support team and so as the leader I have just allowed them to focus on the operational side allowing myself to focus on the health and welfare of the horses”.

Foot outlined the remainder of the trip saying, “We still need to travel around the Makgadikgadi Pans and then up the Boteti River towards home so we hope to finish by the end of September by which time I am estimating we would have completed 1300km.”

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