Botswana, Otse Hill - 4888ft / 1490m

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Having successfully climbed to the highest point in Eswatini over the previous few days I was now back at the airport hotel in Johannesburg where having spent the night I had to wake up early fly to Gaborone in Botswana at 06:00. I had pre-arranged an airport shuttle service to pick me up at 03:00 as it was only a 10 minute drive to the airport, It was still early and the airport was quite empty, so I headed straight to the check-in desk and then through security before the queues formed. I filled up my empty bottle with water and was soon on the bus that takes you to the plane.


There were only 20 of us on the bus but we were held up for 15 minutes waiting for a passenger who hadn’t made it to the gate. He finally arrived and apologised, It was a small plane with 1 seat then the aisle then 2 seats on the other side. I had managed once again to request a window seat at the check-in desk despite it only being a 35 minute flight to Gaborone. I just about managed to squeeze my bag under the empty seat next to me as it certainly wouldn’t fit in the other head bin. So a bit concerned about having no leg room on the way back lol! They just had enough time to hand out drinks and a snack on the flight before landing in Botswana.


I filled in my landing card and went through security with no problems, There was an ATM by the exit and I withdrew enough for a taxi to and from my airport and for either a cheap bus or failing that a taxi to a town near the high point if required. As I exited the airport a taxi driver approached me and asked where I was heading. I had planned on waiting for a bus that would drop me off right outside my hotel, So I said no when he told me his price as it was very expensive. My plan was to get to my hotel which was very near to the main Gaborone bus station and then catch a bus to Otse, climb the high point and then head back to my hotel by bus.


After waiting for 15 minutes at the airport with no sign or signs saying bus and no one else waiting anywhere for a bus a taxi pulled up and a woman got out. I thought that will have to do, save waiting all day. I headed over to the driver, He spoke English and he gave me a good price to go to my hotel. En route, I asked him how much it would cost to head to Otse? Just out of interest. He said he was new at the job so would have to phone the office, They replied 300 pula ~£20. This was a good price so I said so would that be 600 to Otse and back to my hotel? He said yeah, I said I would only need around 2 hours to climb the high point but he smiled and said normally It’s extra but 600 will be fine. I agreed but asked if we could stop at my hotel en route to save me carrying all of my gear with me along with popping to a shop to get a few drinks and more cash.


We arrived at my hotel just after 08:00, I headed to reception showed them my reservation but they asked me to sit down and wait for 10 minutes as they had no rooms available as it was early. I told my taxi driver I would be 10 minutes, Headed back in and after 15 minutes went to the desk who told me to just wait for 10 minutes. I said that’s no good as I have a taxi waiting. They offered to put my bag under the reception desk but it certainly wasn’t secured and I don’t have a lock on it so I declined and said I would be back later to check-in. What a waste of time but the taxi driver was understanding, It meant that upon reach the trailhead I would have to leave none essential stuff in the taxi and take a lot more than planned to the high point. We stopped at a garage just outside of town where I picked us both up a few drinks and he would be waiting along with more money.


The road from Gaborone towards Oste was still being finished but the surface was in great condition all of the way. The taxi driver told me a story I had read online beforehand about a hill near to Otse called Lovers Hill, (Lentswe la Baratani) It has a legend about two young lovers who were refused permission to marry. Despondent, they both flung themselves off the cliff to their deaths. The hill is regarded as sacred, and historically Batswana would neither climb the hill nor point to it. Just before we reached Otse, I used my GPS to indicate where I wanted to turn off down a dirt road.


We turned off and I said this is where I had planned on starting my climb. The driver said he could continue as far as he could if I liked. I said yeah that would be great as it would save be 2km each way of additional walking before and after the start. We followed a dirt track that ran alongside the perimeter fence of the Botswana police college until reaching a steeper drop about 200m from where I would start ascending. We both got out of the taxi and he looked around and said which hill are you climbing pointing at a nearby smaller one. I said no it’s over the back. I emptied all the gear out of my bag I didn’t need and could still continue my trips with if he for some reason disappeared. He then asked how long it would take me? I looked at my GPS and knew there was no route up the hill so I would be climbing through vegetation.


It was 09.45, I said I will be back here at 12.00. I knew it would take a big push to get to the top and back in 2hr15 but I didn’t want to say 3 hours as I had arranged a price for 2 hours. He said he would pop into Otse and be back here at 12:00. We shook hands and I set off down the steeper section the turned left and headed straight into trees and bushes. The ground had a fantastic orange colour to it that had that wild African feel to it. It started off reasonably flat so I was just winding around rocks and prickly trees and plants, There were quite a few large animal prints and tracks noticeable on the dusty sandy ground but none were visible but I’m sure they were aware of my presence. Despite still being quite early it was starting to get hot. At times when the vegetation was less dense, the deep orange ground formed a brilliant contrast with the many green trees and plants on the horizon and blue skies.


I followed a dry river bed up a valley to the left of the highest point and then turned right and headed uphill through rocky terrain that was ok to scramble up. I was sweating profusely, but knowing I was against the clock I couldn’t afford to stop or slow down. I was having to push myself, the additional gear was slowing me down. I stopped a few times to have a drink as the sweat was beading off my face, fully aware of the time and feeling that the summit wasn’t getting any closer as the minutes ticked away. I resorted to a slower pace that would conserve energy and cool down a little, After a few more big drinks of water while winding up the steeper stony terrain avoiding thorny bushes with each step the ground started to level out.


I pushed on increasing the pace as I knew it was now possible to reach the summit within my time limit. It had been a tough climb that would have still been difficult even if I had allotted myself an additional hour or so due to there being no route and the by now blazing sun. I continued along the summit plateau until seeing a large cylinder that designates the highest point of Otse hill and the highest point in Botswana. There is a nearby hill that is stated as a similar or slightly higher on quite a few maps but several comparative GPS readings show that it is up to 10m lower than Otse hill. Success.. country high point 76.


I now had just 50 mins to get back to the taxi as I had planned with the driver. The views were truly panoramic but I didn’t have time for a rest just enough to take videos and photos before heading back along the plateau and see if I could find a quicker way down. I could see the valley and opted for a straight line of descent, but the going was slow and I kept looking at my GPS which showed I had barely moved. After contouring to the right due to ending up on top of steep cliffs I found myself in the valley on the river bed with quite a few cuts on my hands and arms from the many prickly bushes and trees I had used to descend. At one point I became overwhelmed by a strong smell which grew stronger as I descended, It turned out to be a large rotting cow that must have fell recently and had started to decompose in the heat.


I had rushed down but now needed to turn up the pace even more so and jogged on the less rocky sections whenever I could. There were large boulders on the river bed which slowed me down at times before it levelled out and meant the last few kilometres were almost constantly at a jogging pace. The downside being that paired with scrambling on the rocks and fast uneven descending my feet were by now certainly feeling it in my new boots. Despite running and winding through the bushes I was still 500m away from where I had arranged to meet the taxi driver at 12:00. I knew he would wait as he hadn’t been paid but I pushed on running as I had already put in more than enough effort to try and get there for 12:00.


A few minutes later I emerged from the bushes and could see the taxi driver just past the steeper section of the track waiting for me, he saw me and waved, Fantastic! I slowed down to a jog and then walked the final few meters uphill knowing it was job done and I could relax. The sweat was still dripping off me, So I spent 5 mins chillaxing and refilling my bag before we set off back to my hotel via SuperSpar for more replenishments. Before long we were back at my hotel where I was able to check in this time and spent some time relaxing before watching England win 7-0 that evening. The match was live on the TV in my room, All in all, a good day.


The following day I had arranged for the same taxi driver to pick me up and take me to the airport. He picked me up from the hotel at 14.10 and took me to GBE for my flight back to JNB. The flight went quickly, a larger plane so plenty of room for my bag. I had another Wimpys at the airport as a reward before heading to the Bus station to wait for my free transfer to the same airport hotel once again. I checked in the room although it wasn’t quite as nice as the previous one. After a few hours, a big creature started buzzing around my room. The only hefty thing I had to hand was the hardbacked bible on the desk. Despite the bugs impressive size it didn’t really have a chance. I watched some TV and had a comfortable night before my flight to Mauritius the following day for another country high point.