Driving Mozambique: what else can go wrong?

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In the penultimate chapter of his Mozambican adventure, Niel Crafford finds himself faced with a number of challenges in remote lands

IMG_7190Well rested, we set off for Angoche. None of the information sources I had tapped into before our departure had much information about this part of our journey: no campsites were listed (except in Pebane); no one knew the condition of the roads, except that a major storm had washed away parts of them the previous year and some of the bridges might still be down. It was a long way to Quelimane – 815km to be exact.

The only point of reference I had in Angoche was the Restaurante O Pescador. Hoping to find someone in there that could speak English, we got lucky: Matt and Gabriel, both in the shipping industry, were kind enough to give me their contact details and directions to the beach, where they were convinced we would be able to camp next to a little beach bar and restaurant. Gabriel acted as our interpreter (over the phone) and arranged a price to pay two youngsters who would guard us overnight. As soon as we started setting up the camp, scores of kids showed up who stayed a mere three metres away observing our every move until night fell. Washing up after supper, I realised that we had run out of gas, so everything would have to be cooked on a fire, including boiling water for our morning coffee.

Elize stated firmly the next morning that camping where we were not sure of our safety was a no-no, so we decided to carry on past Moma, the next coastal town. The intention was to carry on to the Reserva Nacional de Gilé, where we would at least be by ourselves. This didn’t happen. The bridge over the Rio Ligonha was down. Tracks4Africa had two possible points of crossing listed: a pontoon (nowhere to be seen) and a place which stated ‘river crossing possible’. Well, it most definitely wasn’t possible! So we turned back and headed inland to the main tar road, 150km to the north-west. After crossing the same river at Alto Ligonha, we turned left towards the coast again, supposedly on a gravel road that would take us there via the Gilé reserve.

By this time, it was raining quite steadily. At the turnoff, I thought it wise to reverse a short distance and find out from the people in a parked Land Cruiser what the road was like. Not being able to see properly (the camper conversion meant I had to rely on the two side-mirrors, both streaming with rain), I ended up in a ditch. The vehicle tilted over alarmingly to Elize’s side, so much so that everyone in the vicinity came running up shouting warnings and advice. We were in a bad situation; it seemed that the car was tilting over more by the minute, most probably due to collapsing mud underneath. I tried to tell the onlookers to get up on my running board to prevent the car from toppling over but they didn’t understand. Finally, I grabbed one youngster by his shirt and hauled him up. As soon as they understood what I wanted, I three more leapt into position. Engaging low-range first gear and both rear and front diff locks, we sent up a silent prayer and I let out the clutch… It felt at first that we would topple over but turning the steering wheel to the left, the car slowly pulled out and levelled. Everyone was slapping our hands and claiming victory in a joyous way – surely this was the closest we had been to rolling over in the seven years we have been driving around in the Cruiser!

It soon started getting dark and I convinced Elize that we had to camp next to the road. She finally agreed after a bad skid on the muddy road, which almost had us ending up in another ditch. We pulled off into a disused quarry hole. Within five minutes the whole village was there, fortunately, also the chief. At first we did not believe that the woman claiming to be so was telling the truth, but everyone else confirmed that this was indeed the case. We agreed on a price so that we could be left in peace, and the deal was clinched when Elize handed her one of her garments. As soon as camp was set up, the chief spoke to the crowd and they all left; we were amazed and very thankful, knowing that we would be safe that night.

The next morning we had to turn around and once more head for the tar road, as we were informed that the bridge over the Rio Molecue was also down. Along the way, I put another plug into the tyre that had started giving us trouble in Niassa but managed to leave behind the nozzle. We were now without the ability to reinflate our tyres, quite a serious handicap in Mozambique, where filling stations are unable to pump tyres.

We had an uneventful stayover in the Gilé reserve, except for the hundreds of sand fleas that we disturbed while clearing the undergrowth to set up camp. Poor Elize was covered in about eighty bites, which almost had her in tears because of the itching. Next, we drove to Pebane. The listed beach campsite was getting ready for a big party; after all, it was Old Year’s Eve! We left and stayed at Pebane Heights B&B, away from the crowds, where we could pitch camp under a huge mango tree. A lovely old gentleman, Muito Obrigado Domingos, looked after us that night and pulled water from a well for washing the next morning.

From Pebane to Quelimane was 200km of gravel and 100km of tar road, but five kilometres before we reached the tar road, we had to turn around, since Rio Licungo had swept away the bridge and even Tracks4Africa didn’t know about it. Another 150km detour meant that we pulled into Quelimane quite late. Fortunately, the kind people at the Zalala Safari Lodge allowed us to camp next to the guardos’ house. But after supper, disaster number three struck: our fridge had stopped working. The bad roads had broken off one of the copper-gas pipes, so now we were without a fridge/freezer as well. Thank goodness, we were able to buy a 9kg gas bottle in town the next morning and it was tar all the way to Beira. In our final delivery, the good news begins!

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If you are interested in following Elize and Niel’s progress, click on this link which will take you to the Tracks4Africa vehicle tracking site.

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