Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Thursday, 21 October 2010 14:04 UK

Stranded after breaking down in the Kalahari desert

Driving through Botswana's remote Kalahari desert, the last thing you want is for your vehicle to break down or worse still, as Jonah Fisher found out, to go up in flames.

I have just been for another inspection of our vehicle.

It does not get better with time. Nothing more can be saved.

A black pick-up has turned completely white. The tyres have gone, the windscreen has melted into the dashboard and the steering wheel now faces disconsolately towards the ground.

A few things that we had packed for the trip are still just about recognisable. For some reason I find it strangely satisfying to discover a jar of pickled gherkins.

The glass is badly warped, but it is still intact with the lid on. I open it to find about 20 perfectly-formed charcoal gherkins inside - a little reminder of the far-away comforts of home.

Jonah Fisher's burnt car
Nearly all the food and supplies went up in smoke

I am writing this under the patchy shade of one of the biggest trees in this part of the Kalahari. It is a desert of sand and shrubs - and this thorny bush is little more than 2m (6ft) high.

Gringo, my colleague, is lying in the partly melted tent that was our shelter last night, while Jumanda, our fixer, is sleeping, hat over his face, under another tree a few steps away.

Thankfully there is a breeze - keeping our small fire going and taking away some of the blazing heat of the midday sun.

Point to the very middle of Botswana on the map and you would not be far from where we are now. Stranded in the world's second largest game reserve.

Every sound, every buzz, every rustle of the tent distracts me from writing this. Everything seems like it just could be the noise of a vehicle in the distance coming to pick us up.

This trip was supposed to cover the long running conflict between the region's Khoi people - or Bushmen - and the government. Eight years ago the Bushmen were evicted from their land - not far from where I am now.

The government said it was because they could not provide schools and services in such a remote spot. Critics pointed to the presence of diamonds in the area and a rapidly expanding tourist industry.

Flames were licking out from underneath our front wheels and snaking quickly towards the back

Then, four years ago, after going to court, the Bushmen were allowed back in, but only on condition that the government would give them no help.

Now they have been back in court, demanding that they be allowed to open a borehole for water, instead of having to transport it in tankers through the desert sand.

Waiting for rescue

Getting this close to meeting them has not been easy. The Botswana government - the success story of African democracy and development - does not like this particular tale being told.

So our long journey to this hot and sandy spot began in the capital Gaborone with a series of permits to be acquired.

Then it is a day's drive to the west - and another day travelling into the centre - along roads that were often little more than rivers of deep sand.

A plane flies above Jonah Fisher's tent
Rescuers dropped reassuring notes from a plane

There is no infrastructure in the central Kalahari - so all the fuel, food and water that we would need for the next three days were packed in the back of our vehicle.

Yesterday afternoon - about 70km (50 miles) short of the Bushman settlement - the sand became too much. Our pick-up, stuffed with supplies, ground to a halt and our fixer Jumanda leapt out.

Flames were licking out from underneath our front wheels and snaking quickly towards the back.

As the fire spread, we frantically tried to grab what we could.

The cans of fuel we yanked free from the back, a satellite phone, some water - and I feel slightly guilty saying this - my cameras. Then as the tyres started to burst and the windows melt, we made our retreat.

We watched from a safe distance as our transport, shelter and food all went up in a huge belching plume of black smoke.

Dusk was falling and, having raised the alarm by satellite phone, we put up the tent and collected some wood.

Jumanda had just spotted some lion prints in the road's soft sand and a fire would apparently scare them off.

After a poor night's sleep, this morning a small plane flew overhead, pinpointing our position and dropping reassuring handwritten notes.

The nearest gate of the Botswana parks authority is not answering the phone so a tourism company, Wilderness Safaris, is now managing our rescue.

A vehicle has apparently been dispatched from their nearest camp, but it could still take a day to get here. We have no food - but it is water that is the most important resource - and we have got plenty of that.

One thing is clear. We are not going to get to speak to the Bushmen this time.

All of us are desperate to get out of the heat and get home.

But this brief and somewhat scary experience in the Kalahari has given me a new respect for the Bushmen.

While we struggle to escape, they are fighting for the right to live in this barren, isolated place, cut-off from the modern world - testament to the remarkable pull of a place that they can call home.

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