Times Digital Download: Top Gear’s Botswana Special

T-Mag Wednesday 15/August/2018 19:50 PM
By: Times News Service
Times Digital Download: Top Gear’s Botswana Special

Botswana. It’s not the first name that comes to mind when you’re planning your next holiday. But maybe it should be.
The landlocked African country – located just north of South Africa, west of Namibia and northeast of Zimbabwe and Zambia – is a haven for wildlife lovers, and is teeming with exotic species rarely found outside the Dark Continent.
But that’s not my opinion – it’s the view of three of the most well-travelled people in the world. In 2007, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s latest special episode saw them travel to Botswana, with the aim of racing across the nation and braving all of its dangers, in three second-hand cars that they had bought in Africa for less than £1,500 apiece (that’s about $2,000, or roughly OMR750. Now where in Oman are you going to get a car for that price?)
Although it’s more than 10 years old, this Top Gear episode featuring favourites Clarkson, Hammond and May is priceless, and is still watched by people all around the world.
The episode begins with the trio rolling up in their chosen vehicles. May – ever the sensible one – purchases a Mercedes from the 1980s, a car that is still much loved in Africa. Clarkson, the more aggressive, hot-headed of the three, pays tribute to the history of rally racing by opting for a Lancia Beta Coupe, and Hammond invests in a 1963 Opel Kadett.
On reaching the border with Zimbabwe (where the BBC aren’t allowed to film), the trio have been told they will need to make a perilous thousand-mile journey from the eastern border with Zimbabwe, to its western border with Namibia. There’s no sedate trek through Gaborone here: Clarkson, May and Hammond will face the crushing, almost soul-destroying, punishing conditions of the Makgadikgadi, one of the world’s largest salt pans.
Clarkson himself says it best: “If your car breaks down, you will die, if you run out of water, you will die, if you run out of fuel, you will die.” All in all a fun event, then.
But the three cars aren’t quite equipped to handle the mushy, oozy surface of the Makgadikgadi, which features rather squishy ground underneath its thin covering of hardened earth on top. At night, all of them begin removing anything that is non-essential. Well, nearly all of them: Hammond has formed an emotional attachment with his car (he’s named it Oliver) and is reluctant to hurt his little ride.
Clarkson and May on the other hand, are ruthless with their vehicles, as they rip up the additional seats, lose the hubcaps, dickies and even the glass in the windows. The next morning, as they prepare to set off, they’re greeted by the Vice President of Botswana and his group of friends. After descending from his microlight to meet them (apparently that’s normal), he says the three of them will be the first to attempt to cross the Makgadikgadi in cars, the smile on his face disappearing as he wishes them luck.
If they think that’s the end of their travails, they’re wrong. The Okavango delta is one of the world’s largest wildlife reserves, and as James May puts it, “in the Okavango, you will face lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, adders, and scorpions.” And er, honey badgers. Don’t forget the honey badgers.
Top Gear’s trip to Botswana is one of their best so far, in equal parts madcap crazy, deeply educational and downright entertaining. The chemistry between Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond is almost second to none. This line, spoken by Richard Hammond to the camera, sums it up best — “because I had nothing to do, I decided to irritate Jeremy.” On the basis of that alone, this special is definitely worth a watch.
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The Short and Skinny
Name: Top Gear: Botswana Special
Produced by: BBC
Genre: Motorsport
What it’s about: Top Gear hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May travel to Botswana and must travel across the nation in second-hand cars, facing every danger the country can throw at them. Will their ageing vehicles make it across the desert nation?
Runtime: 66 minutes
Where to watch: YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, DirecTV, Autostrada
IMDB Rating: 9.1/10