Regular readers know about my love affair with the automobile, and our Jeep back home in Montana plays a central role in a lot of the stories you see here. It’s always fun to score a new ride, and we’re extra excited about the 2001 5-door Mitsubishi Pajero “Exceed” we purchased from an American expat before our arrival in Botswana. Why? Well, without a capable 4×4, it’s nearly impossible to see the more remote parts of southern Africa that we love. There are a lot of adventures in store for this blue beast.
Truck nerds, read on.
Remarkably enough, the previous owner had stored our new Mitsubishi – known as the Montero in North America – only 300 meters or so (switching to metric now) from our hotel on the very same street – this was a complete coincidence. The landlord at the apartment complex where it was stashed had given the keys to the housekeeper, who handed them over with nothing more than a shrug and a smile when we introduced ourselves.
So far, we’ve put approximately 150km on the truck running a few errands around town, and a quick, two hour self-drive tour through the local nature reserve that’s about 20kms outside of Gaborone.
These are pure surface impressions – I’ll do a much more thorough write-up as soon as we get some more time behind the wheel.
- Judging by the kanji on the radio, visors, and VIN tags, I am declaring this particular Pajero to be a Japanese market vehicle. Japanese imports are quite common in Botswana, so not much of a surprise there. We are the fourth owners on this continent, the previous including our local mechanic (more on him later), and the previous visiting American scholar.
- The exterior condition is in fantastic shape – the paint is still shiny and deep, and the plastics remarkably scratch-free. It seems to suggest that this “Paj” (as they call them around here) has lived a relatively easy life. Of course, I already managed to pin-stripe the front right fender on Saturday piloting just a little too close to an acacia tree while gawking at a giraffe. I’m sure it will suffer worse in our time with us. The wing mirror, an automotive feature I’ve always wanted, is missing. But there are a lot of pick-n-pull salvage yards here, so I’ll find one eventually. The hefty doors and side-swing tailgate all shut with a satisfying “thunk” that speaks to the solidity of this particular truck.
- The interior is in similarly excellent condition. Zero funky smells, little to no wear on the seats, clean carpets, and tight panel gaps – all befitting a vehicle with only 135,000 km on it. There are a handful of broken/missing trim pieces, the latch on the center console lid is snapped off (just like the Jeep back home!), and there’s a pretty fierce rattle in the passenger-side of the dash on rough roads, but otherwise all is well inside. The window tint is nice and dark – which hopefully will keep things cool. I haven’t checked out the third row seats yet, but they’re there. It also includes a 110v AC plug and cigarette-style plug in the rear cargo area, which should prove to be handy.
- The 3.5L GDI direct injection V6 started up without drama after sitting for four weeks, and the PO left us with a full tank (90L/~23.7G) of petrol (thanks Chris!). It runs quietly and smoothly with no untoward noises. Throttle travel is long, and the tip-in is slow compared to our Jeep, but that’s just a matter of getting used to a new truck. The brakes are strong, and the brake fluid clear.
- It’s rocking the 4 speed INVECS II Sports Mode automatic transmission, which means a regular PRND, plus a gate for manual shifting through the gears. The transmission is thankfully also quiet, smooth, and free from weird behavior or noises (transmissions on these trucks can be a weak point). The transfer case includes high-range 4WD, high range 4WD with center differential lock, and low range 4WD with center diff lock. It seems to work perfectly in all modes (we had a chance to experiment them on the rough tracks in the game reserve).
- The aircon and radio are currently intermittently inoperable. The radio is not too much of a concern, but the A/C definitely is. The previous owner had noted this, so it’s not a surprise, but we’ll need to remedy that ASAP.
- Like our current President, the headlights are desperately, hopelessly dim (zing!). I think the combination of clouded lenses (typical ’90’s/’00’s plastic haze) and old bulbs is to blame. I’m going to fix this problem right away, because it gets dark here fast, and both humans and animals populate the road in great numbers. It’s best practice in Africa to avoid driving at night as much as you can, but good headlights are a must regardless.
- The gear and engine oils are fresh, as is the coolant. The most recent service invoice also notes greased drive shafts, a couple of new coils, and all new spark plugs.
- It’s riding on Hankook Dynapro A/Ts (C-class) that look to have lots of life left. I’ve never driven these particular tires before, but they seem serviceable. The spare is an older Cooper Discoverer that’s looking a little brittle and sun-baked. It might be worth replacing that one.
- The PO threw in some tools/recovery kit, including an extinguisher, safety triangles, gloves, shovel, compressor, booster cables, tire repair kits, flashlights, one fuel jerry can, and some random tools.
- The owners manual suggests that the seats can be configured to create a “lay-flat” bed – we’ll have to experiment with that because we’re still debating our camping strategy. Since it’s also our daily driver around town, it was strongly suggested that keeping our vehicle as anonymous-looking as possible reduces the chance of theft and break-ins. A roof-top tent like we have at home screams “tourist!”, but I hate sleeping in the car, especially when it’s 100 degrees out. We’ll have to weigh the options as we live with the Pajero more.
On our first off-road excursion, we spent a couple of hours near sunset yesterday exploring the Mokolodi Nature Reserve southwest of the city. It’s fairly good size (small by Botswana standards, though), and we only saw a tiny fraction of it, but we did come across absolutely monster kudus, shy impalas, baboons, Burchell’s zebra, African fish eagle, guinea fowl, francolins, and three giraffes just hanging out.
We bought a Reserve membership for about $48, which offers unlimited access for a year. The roads and tracks are just barely maintained, and some are even challenging in places, which is great. I’m sure we’ll be out there frequently, because in addition to freakin’ giraffes, cheetahs, and rhinos, the Reserve also has a pretty awesome restaurant.
Julie has a lot of prep to do before classes start on August 14 at the university, but we’re hoping to get a few days camping in the Kalahari before the semester really sets in.