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  • Danny Eldridge
    Danny EldridgeParticipant

    For my 50th, we planned a three-and-a-half week trip around Botswana during August. All was going well, and then, with 315 000km on the clock of my 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, the vehicle was attacked by a piece of firewood in the bush at Chobe.

    The piece of firewood had been used by dumb drivers who had got stuck in the sand − then left the wood buried in the sand. As Murphy’s Law would have it, the piece of wood went through one of the breather holes in my aftermarket bash plate, and then through the radiator, resulting in the engine overheating.

    Apparently the temp sensor on the Prado does not register overheating when there is no water in the system, until it is too late.

    Thankfully, we had a satellite phone and were able to call the Muchenje campsite where we were staying. At the time, we were travelling along a remote cutline in Chobe, with permission, but there was zero traffic and zero cell coverage.

    The officials at Muchenje helped us locate a recovery company and garage, and it was then a full-day recovery while Danmar towed us to Mario’s Garage in Kasane. From there, we were able to arrange a 4×4 hire vehicle just after 6.30pm from GKT Tours & Rentals. The people who assisted us were fantastic.

    Luckily, we had arranged a special permit (on advice from the recovery company) to drive through Chobe back to our campsite that night after dark, or we would have been stranded.

    Mario’s Garage had a radiator couriered up from Gaborone to replace the damaged one, but bubbles meant that there was a gasket leak or engine crack. We decided the quickest, most cost-effective solution was for us to drive the vehicle back, and we managed to travel off-road over 1000km to our pre-booked accommodation through Chobe, Nxai Pans and the Makgadikgadi Pans, plus over 2000km through South Africa and back to PE.

    We still managed to enjoy and complete the rest of our holiday, but it was a very slow and long trip with the engine at 1800rpm and our stopping every 50km to top up with 500ml of water.

    Back home, a gas test confirmed that there was either an engine crack or the gasket had blown. While the head was off, we decided to do a complete engine overhaul to check damage, and this is likely to cost around R60 000.

    That is on top of the R15 000 paid for the recovery, repair and vehicle hire. We are still waiting to see what insurance will pay and what they will cover.

    Before the incident, the old beast was cruising effortlessly through the remote Botswana bush, and had used not a drop of oil or water for over 5000km. I will now be looking for an aftermarket warning system to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

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