After “winter” in Botswana and a couple of weeks of legitimately cool weather in the highlands of Zimbabwe, Jen and I were looking forward to the warmth of Mozambique. With warm, sandy, palm studded beaches calling our name, we crossed into Mozambique at the remote border post of Espungabera. The border crossing was fairly straightforward, though we did have to wait for the customs officer to return to the office before finally entering into Mozambique. The road dropped out off the mountains pretty quickly, and was a beautiful paved road. It was amazingly new, which surprised us. After an hour or so, we were introduced to the other extreme of Mozambican roads, a dusty, corrugated gravel road that led us to the EN1, the main north/south highway through Mozambique. While we are used to gravel roads, even bumpy ones, we did find the amount of traffic, especially big trucks, surprising. An hour and a half later, we found ourselves on the highway. Our destination, the small seaside town of Inhassoro, at a recommended place to camp, wasn’t far away, on the map. However, after only an hour on the highway, the road deteriorated to a collection of craters, to call them potholes is a major understatement. We drove more on the shoulder than the “road” surface. Needless to say, the road condition slowed us considerably, but we made it through and found our camp just after dark. We were able to walk down the beach to a restaurant for dinner, then fell asleep to the sound of waves breaking on the beach.
It was the next morning that we realized that we had pitched camp in a little slice of paradise! Camp was on a grassy lawn under flowering trees and palms, all only a few yards from the beach. We watched the local fishermen heading out as we drank our morning coffee. The site was shady enough to keep cool and sunny enough for our solar panels to keep our batteries charged. We spent a couple of days getting chores done, and just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful camp, which we had all to ourselves. If the evening breeze was too strong, we would walk down to the restaurant for dinner, instead of fighting to keep our stove lit. Here, we met Andrew, his son James, and James’ friend Campbell. These guys, from Zimbabwe, had come to the coast on a fishing trip before James and Campbell were off again, James to university in the UK, and Campbell to visit his family in London. They invited us to go fishing with them the next day, as Andrew was going to repair their truck, damaged by the combination of a big fishing boat and the cratered EN-1. We agreed, looking forward to seeing what we could catch.
Up early, we headed down the beach to meet James and Campbell for our day of fishing. It only occurred to us to ask how far offshore we were going after we boarded the boat. The guys said about 20-25 miles, which seemed fine. The fish weren’t biting though, at the handful of different spots we tried. Even though we didn’t catch any fish worth keeping, we did get to see dolphins playing around the boat and whales coming up for breath and even breaching a couple of times! At one spot, we spied a shark circling the boat, as if curious about what we were up to. The ride home, at decently high speed, helped remove most of my seasickness.
Even without catching anything that day, Andrew invited us to come back to the house for dinner that night. He seared some tuna and fried chunks of job fish, both were delicious. We enjoyed the food and the chance to chat with new people. They were curious about our travels and interested in our setup. The next day, after they had returned from fishing, they stopped by the trailer for refreshments and a tour. James was enamored with the Jeep, trying to sort out how he could get himself one. I think Campbell is working on figuring out how he can spend time traveling, an endeavor we encourage and wish him luck in accomplishing. We are grateful to have met these guys, they graciously showed us their passion for Mozambique and welcomed us into their lives.
On our last night in Inhassoro, a young South African couple, Hugo and Caro (check out their trip here) pulled into the campground. We met them briefly, chatting over a beer and commiserating about the long drive from Espungabera. They had drive from the same route from Zimbabwe that we had, we understood how they were worn out. The next morning, they came over to better see the trailer and learn a bit more about our trip. We chatted over coffee and then packed up camp. Before leaving, we swapped contact info, we might get to look them up when we return to South Africa. Our destination that day was only ~250 miles down the road, at a campground our Australian friends Paul and Julie had recommended highly. Shortly after returning to the main road, we were glad to find the potholes ended within a hour or so. We arrived at the campground to find that the cyclones (think hurricanes) that hit the Mozambican coast in February had done a lot of damage, tearing the roof completely off the restaurant and bar as well as many of the chalets. Most of the damage to the accommodations was repaired, and they were getting ready to start working on the restaurant. Camp was near the beach, under the palm trees. It was a beautiful, though shady, setting. The beach was spectacular, long, flat, and clear. Again, we were the only campers, though two of the chalets were occupied, it felt like we had the place to ourselves. While it was stunningly beautiful, we encountered a lot of mosquitos in the evening, and needed to find a sunnier spot to keep our solar panels working. We continued south after a couple of days, working our way closer to a border crossing with South Africa. We had found a couple of cracked body panels on the trailer and had arranged with the Conqueror factory to come in for warranty repairs. Unfortunately, we had not yet heard back about the claim South Africa had filed against our Carnet. Unofficially, they had said we were OK, but until they made it official, we wanted to hold off re-entering the country. This worked out for us, we could meander our way along the beautiful, tropical coast of Mozambique, hanging out on the beach and enjoying our “vacation!”
Our research pointed us towards a lodge and campground just north of the Limpopo river crossing. Just at their gate, we had to put the Jeep in 4WD due to the heavy sand of the road. At reception, we found out that they had closed the lodge for the week for some improvement projects. The owner had sent a crew in to improve drainage on the road into the lodge, and we could camp if we were comfortable committing to staying at least half the week while they dug up the road. “Trapped in paradise? No problem!” We settled into a cozy campsite and explored the area. The camp is at the top of the high dune ridge running along that stretch of coastline. Walking down to the beach, we were reminded of the Oregon Coast. The shrubby bushes that grow on the dunes, the weathered wooden steps, the sound of waves crashing just out of sight, all of it transported us back. The beach itself is quite rocky and strewn with shells. While most of the shells were just fragments, we found some impressively large, whole shells. Also fun were the multicolored, cone shaped limpet shells that litter the beach. Jen worked on finding a few similarly sized to maybe make jewelry with later.
The young South African couple, Hugo and Caro, showed up, as did a couple from Canada, Mike and Sue, that we had been Emailing with as they drove down the West Africa from Europe over the last few months. It was fun to meet Mike and Sue, and to hear about their adventures in West Africa. It seems that their mellow and patient travel style made that trip much easier than others we have spoken to. We parted ways with our new friends, Mike and Sue were heading north, and Hugo and Caro had to get a tire repaired in the next big town, Xai Xai (shy shy). We agreed to meet them at another campground down the road that night and headed for the highway.
As we drove through Xai Xai, I noticed the battery light glowing on the dash. I had seen it a few weeks earlier in the trip, but then it went out, so I thought little of it. Now, it didn’t go out, and other lights started coming on. And the windows were slow to roll up or down. Then, the speedometer quit working. I realized we had a problem, but thought we could get to camp to solve it. The Jeep proved me wrong and died just outside a small village on the highway. I pulled over to the side of the road, Jen put out the mandatory warning triangles, and I popped the hood open. I knew it was either the battery or the alternator, but electrical troubleshooting isn’t my strong suit. As I stood, staring at the engine bay gathering my thoughts, a couple of guys started out way from the village just a couple hundred yards down the road. I walked out to meet them, not knowing what to expect. I said hello, in Spanish, which had worked thus far to bridge the communications gap between English and Portuguese, the national language of Mozambique. One of them replied in English and asked what the problem was. He followed that by explaining that they were the mechanics in this village and even had a workshop. Their backpack full of tools confirmed this. I explained the problem and they confirmed my diagnosis, battery or alternator problems. They said they could help me, even on a Jeep, which they had never seen. After testing the battery with one they brought to us, we were sure it was the alternator. They were ready to pull it right there on the side of the highway. I suggested charging the Jeep’s battery with their friends truck, then driving to their workshop rather than trying to do this on the side of the road. They liked this idea and quickly got the Jeep charged enough to start and drive to the workshop. I should call it a work yard, as it was a fenced in yard with a pit for getting under vehicles, and a small shed, though much safer to work here than the side of the highway. Once the alternator was out, they spun it by hand with a couple of wires to connect the poles. One sparked, the other didn’t. They were not deterred though, they took the alternator apart and found that the brushes were worn out. As I was working on this with the mechanics, Jen was reaching out to Hugo and Caro, who were just back on the road after their tire repairs. They agreed to stop and check in on us. Jen was comfortable staying alone with the Jeep, so they headed to the campground. Parts were available in the next town down the road, about 13 miles away. One of the mechanics and I jumped in a taxi bus, with 22 of our newest friends, and headed to the parts store. Once there, we found that while they didn’t have the brushes in the proper housing, we were able to find brushes and someone that would solder them into the old housing. “Let me do the talking,” said Patrick, the mechanic, “they’ll charge you twice what they’ll charge me. I’m local.” The guy soldering the parts was working out of his old pick-up. His soldering iron was a glow plug powered by the wires we held onto each pole of the truck’s battery. When the brushes didn’t fit into the housing, he sat down on the curb and rubbed the carbon brush against the concrete until it was worn enough to fit. Once the brushes were soldered into the housing, we paid the man and were off. Unable to find a taxi bus to take us, we hitched a ride in the back of a pick-up. Another hour or so and the Jeep fired up, and stayed running. When I asked the guys what I owed them for helping repair the alternator, they wouldn’t give me a number, saying “We’re sure you’ll take care of us.” All told, the parts, labor, and taxi/hitchhike costs, we payed just over $50, and spent about 4 hours to get back on the road! We thanked the guys and headed to the agreed upon next camp.
We got the campground just after dark, and after their restaurant closed for the night. Hugo and Caro guided us into a campsite and we went to bed early. They had to leave the next day, they had booked an apartment in nearby Maputo, the capital city so they could get some work and studying done. Hugo is a web developer and had a couple of new projects, and Caro was studying to get her teaching certificate. After a walk to the beach, we said goodbye to them and set about exploring. The weather for the next couple of days was windy and cloudy, limiting the effectiveness of our solar panels. Since we were waiting for South Africa to clear our Carnet, we decided to head back north, to the last camp, which had less bugs than where we were currently. This also allowed us to charge the trailer batteries with the Jeep, as we drove down the road.
The staff and management were surprised to see us return so soon, we had only been away 3 days. The next week was spent beach combing, looking for fun shells among the rocks and hanging out in camp, and on the deck watching whales. We realized that they probably weren’t going to clear our Carnet before our Mozambican visa expired, so we decided to roll the dice and head to Johannesburg to get the trailer repairs and Jeep upgrades done. We weren’t sure how long we would be allowed to stay in South Africa, so we planned on leaving on a Saturday to stay close to the border and cross out of Mozambique on a Sunday. Along the highway, the first fuel tank ran out of fuel and I didn’t notice it until the engine started to cough and sputter, then died. I coasted to the side of the road, changed tanks, and tried to start the Jeep. Unfortunately, the fuel line was dry and it wouldn’t start. I popped the hood to bleed the air out of the system and a pick-up stopped in front of us. The driver asked if we would like a bottle of water, and if he could help. It was pretty clear that he was no stranger to vehicle repairs. When we couldn’t get it bled along the road, so he towed us, Jeep and trailer, to his workshop. He happened to work for a company that harvests and hauls sugar cane to a processing plant, and they had a shop just down the road. Once there, he had the mechanics help us out, and they got us back on the road in under an hour. We are grateful for their expertise and help. Further down the road, we got our first taste of a big city since March when we passed through Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. On our way though, we got lost when the highway around the city suddenly came to a stop, only about a mile away from the junction we were looking for. Apparently, they ran out of money to build the road and haven’t yet finished it, and the informal bypass road is muddy enough people were getting stuck in it. We backtracked and made it to the lodge at the border about 8PM. They no longer offered camping, but had a room available, so we pounced on it. It had been a long day and we were bushed!
After a good night’s sleep, we headed for the border. This is the largest and busiest border crossing we had yet encountered. As we tried to run off the “fixers” offering to show us how it was done, the customs officer saw us and jumped in. He wanted to inspect our vehicle, but after a cursory look, it became clear what he really wanted. I told him that I didnt have anything for him, we were out of cash and leaving the country. He asked why I didn’t even have any coffee for him, so I let him know how disappointed we were when the hotel didn’t have anyone working the restaurant for breakfast and we didn’t get our coffee either. He stamped our Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and turned it in as he pointed us in the direction of the Immigration desk to get our passports stamped out of the country. Though hectic, as the”fixers” wouldn’t leave us alone until we were fully stamped out and the Customs official was mildly pushy, it was a pretty quick and painless border crossing. So we thought until we got to the South African border post. Here, we were pleasantly surprised to get a 90 day visa without having to even ask. Customs though, was a different story. When they asked for our Carnet, I mistakenly admitted that we were in the process of renewing it and didn’t have one. The lady behind the counter didn’t know what to do with that and asked why we hadn’t renewed it earlier and why we didn’t have it with us. I let her know that we had to return it to the USA for the renewal process and that the agency in America hadn’t gotten our new one to us yet. Baffled, she had to find someone else to help us. I asked the supervisor for a TIP, as we know many people with foreign registered cars that entered South Africa on a TIP. They were still hung up on why I didn’t have a Carnet. Finally, they called in a manager and the manager asked all the same questions about the Carnet before showing them how to issue a TIP on their computer. After about 45 tense minutes of arguing that we didn’t have a Carnet, and weren’t going to get one, the TIP was printed and we were on our way.
After quick stop at an ATM near the border to get South African cash, we drove an hour into Nelspruit, a town we had visited on our visit in 2010. We stopped for breakfast and then fuel on our way out of town. Johannesburg was 4-5 hours away, and we wanted to be in town that night, so we could drop the trailer off the next morning. Our friends Roger and Jenny, whom we had gone to Khaudum National Park in Namibia, had said that anytime we were in Johannesburg we could stay at their house. We had been Emailing them our schedule and they were excited to see us. We pulled into their driveway just before dinner time, glad to see our friends again. Over dinner, they let us know they were leaving in two days, they had a trip planned to Ethiopia, and had just gotten word that Sudan had granted them visas too! They were going to pick up their Sudanese visas the next day and leave on Tuesday. The were meeting another couple of friends in Nairobi, Kenya, and would travel through Ethiopia and Sudan with them. We were welcome to stay as long as we liked, and would have roommates, Roger’s two sons, Lee and Kevin, lived at the house, as well as Kevin’s girlfriend, Tiffany. That night, it occurred to us this would be a stay of “firsts,” the first big city in over 6 months, the first roommates since leaving Durban, and the first time since we got the trailer that we would spend consecutive nights not staying in it.
Our return to city life was planned to be short, we wanted to quickly get through our list of repairs and get back on the road. The trailer would go to the Conqueror factory for a list of repairs, the Jeep would get a tire carrier to get the spare tire off the roof, and maybe, depending on how long Conqueror took, we would look at upgrading the suspension on the Jeep. The current set-up was designed for the lightweight factory V6 motor and axles, not our heavy diesel (nearly twice the weight of the stock engine), heavy duty axles, and additional fuel tank. It worked, but we knew it could work better. Once all that was done, we would head to Swaziland to explore before heading north through Mozambique towards Malawian and beyond. All we had to do was get a few repairs done and we would be on our way, right?