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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Broken brakes in Botswana

Brenda on the salt pans

Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta is said to be amongst the best in Africa for seeing big predators, so we were very excited to be driving in to the park with a 4 day permit in our hands. Moremi is also known for very sandy tracks which become impassable in the wet season due to flooding. No problem there as we were well into the dry season - or so we thought. As luck would have it, the delta is experiencing a 20 year high in water levels, so even though Botswana has had no rain in months, the rivers and swamps had all flooded their banks due to heavy rains upstream in Angola. As a result, the rustic log bridges crossing water channels on route to the campsite had all been over-whelmed.

Water crossing in the Okavango Delta

The first 'bridge' we reached was still visible under the water so we decided to drive over it anyway. My stomach lurched as we heard rotting wood collapsing under us but we made it to the other side unscathed.

However the next bridge we approached was now just a few rotten stumps forming an island in the middle of the river. We spent a while deliberating on where (and if) we should cross and eventually settled on a shallow area with plenty of reeds and water weed across the bottom (which we reasoned would hold the mud together). Unfortunately they didn't and we came to a halt about ¾ of the way across as the deep sticky mud surrounded the tyres. Luckily Brenda didn't stall and with the wheels straightened and a lot of revving we made it out. We stopped to admire our tracks, but then found that the hand-brake seemed to be stuck on. Nick rolled under the car and pulled out a fair amount of weed which appeared to fix the problem, so we drove on. However, on reaching the campsite, Nick noticed that the rear brake drum casing was scorching hot.

The failed water crossing

We proceeded to argue for the next 3 hours about what to do. There had been lion sightings within 100m of the campsite so I was desperate to go and explore -my attitude with cars is that if they keep moving then there's no problem, right? But I eventually gave in to Nick's wisdom that there must be metal grinding against metal in the brake drum which is a problem in itself, and would not be helped by more 4x4 driving and fording rivers.

Trying to fix the brakes

So after a night of listening to lions grunting around the campsite we reluctantly started to drive back out, praying that Brenda would make it as far as the nearest garage 150km away. She did, and, sods law, the brake drums miraculously fixed themselves during the drive and had returned to a pleasantly cool temperature by the time we reached the garage.

Whilst our delta experience was a bit of a fiasco, we did mange to enjoy some other parts of Botswana. The Makgadikgadi Pans (try pronouncing that!) are the remnants of a giant lake that once covered the Kalahari. All that remains now is miles and miles of perfectly flat white salt pans - kind of like the place where they do land speed records on Top Gear. Brenda is very unlikely to break any records but we still had a lot of fun whizzing around on the pans and admiring our fresh tracks in the salt.

Baobab tree Botswana

Nick, Lovemore and Brown

Another highlight was Lake Ngami, normally a dry salt pan, but transformed into a magical environment by the over-flowing flood waters from the delta. The water had flooded beyond the pan into the surrounding acacia woodland. It was bizarre to watch pelicans mingling with cattle all splashing about in ankle deep water amongst the trees. There were no tourist facilities at the newly formed lake so we stopped to ask local fishermen if we could camp wild by the lake shore. They were very welcoming and obviously amused by our poor attempts at speaking Setswana. The next morning two brothers, Lovemore and Brown, took us out in their fishing canoe, punting amongst the trees - a very surreal and relaxing experience. We rewarded them each with a hand-printed 'Camden Town to Cape Town' T-shirt. We've been too embarrassed to give these out so far (Sarah says they are a fashion crime of such severity that we could be arrested in some countries) so we were very pleased when Lovemore and Brown kissed their T-shirts joyfully and donned them with pride!

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