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On the start of our trip to the Serengeti we were already behind schedule. It wasn’t a good omen for our first challenge along the way: to reach Botswana’s Kubu Island in our Smart car.

Smart in Africa
Pre trip – happier times © Anton Crone

We had woken far too late, but the mojitos at the farewell – the ones with the test tubes of smoking spices – couldn’t be blamed. We were in our 40’s and should have known better. But we had behaved like teenagers and our penance was to burrow along with the morning moles on their way to work.

We narrowly missed the metal grinding collision in front of us that morning. We even missed the wall of flesh and bone that galloped across the road that night leaving a kudu shaped warning sign blazing on our retinas.  That we missed them seemed like a good omen – that our journey was “approved” by whatever or whoever runs the big show, and we were feeling invincible when we reached the edge of the Makgadikgadi pans the next day. That Brett had successfully steered the smart car through the long, sandy quagmire seemed a miracle. We celebrated, confident we would reach Kubu lsland, that the Land Rover we had brought as back up for this section was superfluous. But it was just a little further, within a smart car’s length of the pan’s hard surface, that we got stuck, deep in the sand.

Smart in Africa Kubu Island Botswana
Made it! © Anton Crone

We pushed her out and got her onto the hard pack surface of the pan and soon we were speeding along the flat surface. Things were looking up, but then we looked down and saw the fan belt bouncing across the earth, wasted and torn, just 25km short of the island.

A few innocent grains of sand must have done it when we got stuck. How dumb were we to think we could get a smart car to Kubu Island? How dumb were we not to pack a spare belt? How would we fix this strange car in this strange place? How the hell would we get to the Serengeti at this rate?

Defeated – yet finally grateful for the Landy – we hooked the smart up and towed it back past the man who guards the the entrance to the pans, but he ordered us back saying, “You have to see the island.” So we left the smart with him and carried on in the Landy to see what we had set out for. And he was right, we did have to see this island of baobab and rock that stands sentinel over an endless ocean of salt.

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On this island there was no yesterday or tomorrow; no schedule or boxes to tick. This was the perfect start to our journey, not the city of deadlines and concrete shadows.

In the fat shade of baobabs, we didn’t wonder about the next step in the journey or the ultimate goal. Only the age of the trees seemed to matter and they were as old as Africa. Beneath them, we felt young again.

And, as youngsters might do, we opened a bottle of Jim Beam that night and left far too late the next day. But there was no rush, we would get the fan belt fixed and we would get to the Serengeti, eventually. There was time in Africa, the trees had taught as that much at least.

Shenton Safaris

Former editor at Africa Geographic.