A Travellerspoint blog

Everything will be okay in the end...

And if it is not yet okay, it is not yet the end.

25 °C

The mornings continued to be early. The next day, 11 of us got up for a 5.30 departure back to Kruger. Five of us for a full day game drive and six of us for just a half day. As we were all in one truck for the drive back to the Kruger gate, I sat up front with the driver who I think may have thought I was lying when I told him about everything we'd seen the previous day. I knew we'd been lucky but I didn't know quite how lucky.

Arriving at the park, we split into our respective groups in separate open topped and sided vehicles for the drive. Myself and the half-day-ers were soon on a dirt track passing impala. Our driver, Goodman, told us that there were 22,000 impala in the park. That didn't surprise me as we'd seen thousands ourselves already. He did however point out the M formation in the fur on their bums and told us they were referred to as McDonalds of Kruger, or fast food. They were certainly no match for a lion or leopard, especially the horn-less females.

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Next up came a few giraffes at the side of the road an elephant and several buffalo, followed by a whole load of nothing. We drove on passing few other vehicles and seeing only birds. Goodman did point them out to us and some of them were pretty cool, including a huge owl. But we were there to see game animals, in particular I now had my heart set on seeing a cheeta. It was a cold morning, particularly with the breeze created in the open vehicle and despite the blankets Goodman had provided so, at around 9.30, we stopped for coffee at one of the camps to warm up and give him a break and caught up with the full-day-ers.

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They excitedly showed us a video they'd captured of two large rhino running across the road in front of them. Deciding that perhaps they were having better luck than us, when we reconvened, Goodman stuck close to their truck. And sure enough, within minutes we were just meters from a whole herd of elephants of all sizes including a couple of babies. Our luck was picking up. They moved slowly closer to us until eventually, a couple at a time, they began to meander slowly across the road in between what was now quite a pile up of vehicles. Clearly feeling as if their privacy had been invaded, when they got to the other side, they carried on walking and we watched the parade of giant elephant butts slowly disappear.

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They baby elephants were just the beginning; next we came across a mother and baby rhino, again just chilling at the side of a dirt road. The baby was so tiny that it's horn was just a blunt nub at this stage. We managed to get some excellent pictures all round before moving on to find three grown rhinos accompanied by one baby grazing in an open grassy area.

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Before turning around, Goodman took us in search of a lion having heard from other drivers when we breaked where some were hanging out that day. We arrived to see no lions but several vehicles clustered around. I could just about make out a face in the bush. Goodman thought they'd probably made a kill and were eating. We hung around a while but there was no movement so we began the journey back.

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It had been one early start too many for me and I slept for a while in spite of the bumping and the dust but woke up for long enough to see more giraffes, buffalo, zebras, fighting impala, rhinos and crocs on the way back.

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The drive out took a long time (Kruger covers some 2million hectares) and we arrived back, exhausted just as those who'd stayed behind were ordering lunch. I ate and then eat a bath in the corner bath tub, wallowing well beyond the point of wrinkly fingers but was surprised to find that even after a bath and two showers that day, my feet were still dirty.

And then it was time for the last supper. The lodge had prepared a BBQ for us and we ate well all together at a large table. Andrew said a few words and we presented Eddie/Hennie and Dana with thank you cards and generous tip collections for all of their hard work.

Next Dana had invited a local tribe to come and dance for us. Given the amount of dancing and singing that we'd initiated during the last two weeks, it seemed like a fitting end. The chief talked to us about how he took in orphaned children and brought them up. At one point, he'd had 42 children living with him. He wore a full leopard skin, apparently an entitlement of only a chief.

Some of the group were invited to dance with the tribe to much drum banging and foot stamping (and laughing and videoing from the rest of us).

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When the tribe changed back to their 'home-clothes' (of joggers and tshirts) and waited by their van, the rest of us, along with the chief, retired to the bar for our last night.

We ordered a round of springboks and Jan and I, a bottle of wine. As we sat outside, Dana suggested that we go around the table and each give our highlight and lowlight of the trip. It was a fitting and perfect end to the trip and, as each person had their turn, Dana added a short tribute as to what he felt each person had contributed. And everyone had.

Every person there had shaped my trip in someway or another for the better, even the Finns (who weren't there) and it wouldn't have been the same without a single one of them! And as for Dana and Eddie, the almost locals, I think we'd given them quite an adventure too.

It was our final day and we had a 'lie in' until 7am. Kim woke me up and, having re-packed the previous day, I shoved a few final bits into my bag before showering and joining the group for a slap-up breakfast. I was feeling pretty hungover after the previous night's festivities and as the rest of the group drifted off to finish packing and pay their bills, I continued to slurp coffee on the terrace. Eddie stayed to chat to me and, laughing, hugged me whilst counting my grey hairs.

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When he left to prepare the bus for our departure, I remained alone, looking out at the view pondering the universe and thinking about what an incredible two weeks it had been. We'd been to some wonderful places, truly amazing, and experienced some outrageous adventures, but it really had been the people who'd made it so special. I could barely bring myself to leave but eventually I had to. Last to board the bus, I took my seat at the back with Kim for one last ride.

We drove back to Johannesburg via the Panorama Route. A stunning drive with a couple of stops along the way at the Blyde River Canyon, God's Window and the village if Pilgrims Rest.

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The road twisted and turned and I wasn't quite in the best physical condition to fully appreciate the scenery. Before we knew it, we were back in the land of the purple trees where our journey had began.

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But not that close. Without time to stop for lunch, we did one last 'lunch on the go' before the road became a straight highway. Eddie pulled out one last endurance driving performance and we finally pulled into Johannesburg airport at around 7pm.

The airport drop of lane isn't quite the place for goodbyes but we made the most of it. There were smiles, hugs, love and dancing before we went our separate ways - Alex, Craig, Kim and I to departures, others for a few more days in Jo'burg and others, the luckiest ones, to onwards travels. For some, it was likely to be goodbye forever, for others probably not. But one thing for sure, I'll never forget the adventure we'd shared together, the adventure that we made together. Thanks guys!

Until next time.....

Posted by madeinmold 14:08 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Best Day Ever

26 °C

Tuesday brought with it our earliest start yet. I'd been sleeping well until my alarm went off at 4.40am. I was sat outside the bus by 5, first in the queue for a good seat for our morning drive. By 5.30 we were out of the gates of the camp, sleepy eyes peeled for animals. First spot was three female giraffes nibbling less than 10 meters from the road. Dana explained to us how to identify the females from the males (little tufts of black hair atop their small curved horns vs the bald tips of the males').

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Next up was a giant solo elephant, slightly back from the road with giant tusks. Dana told us that as they get older, male elephants split from their herd and spend their final years in solitary. We saw a few impala with huge curly horns grazing at the side of the road before heading down towards the river in search of hippo and buffalo. Sadly none were to be found and it was approaching 7am so we turned back for the camp. I began to struggle to keep my eyes open so hoped that someone else was keeping watch on my side of the bus as my lids began to drop.

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In my sleepy, already-been-awake-for-3-hours-and-it's-only-7.30 haze, I heard Dana yell the world leopard from the bus. Eyes sprang open and all of us leapt to the right hand side of the bus. The leopard casually strolled in front of the bus. As he emerged on the other side, I caught a good look at it as it wandered slowly into the bush, pausing to take a look over his shoulder and allowing us all to get a good look at him (and I managed to get a picture of his bum before he disappeared). There were squeals of excitement and applause in the bus as we made our way back to the camp for breakfast. Krista, who'd been waiting to see a leopard for a while having already been on several 'safaris' in Africa, declared that this was the 'best day ever'! She had a point and by the end of the day I was in total agreement.

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We ate well and packed up, rushing to make our 9am proposed departure. When Kim and I arrived at the bus, the jack was out. We had a puncture; there was a large rip in one of the rear tyres and, under Dad's, perhaps unnecessary, instruction Eddie was changing the tyre. It was all Kim's fault; just the last evening she'd been saying that she was surprised we hadn't got a flat tyre across all the bumps. But Eddie seemed to know what he was doing and by 9.45 we were on the road again, surely by now having exhausted the full repertoire of bus journey related disasters.

It was a much cooler day, overcast with a light breeze. Gone were the high temperatures of the previous day and the strong winds. It was a perfect day for animal spotting and we were in high spirits having seen so many animals including two of the Big Five just on our morning drive.

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And what a fantastic day it was. First up, as our drive wound along one of the park's many rivers, we came across a herd of around 10 hippos. It was still cool and they hadn't yet submerged themselves under water for the day. Next to them, watching them with its mouth open was a crocodile; Dana explained to us how hippos and crocodiles frequently lived harmoniously as there was no power struggle for food. Indeed, all hippos that we came across were accompanied by a lone croc.

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We saw a lot of elephants! Both in herds and solo bulls. Impala were everywhere and no longer exciting however even Dana got excited by a Honey Badger sighting. Having worked as a game driver himself in Kruger at one time, he said he'd only spotted a handful of them in his career. As we drove, the landscape became greener, hugely different from inland Mozambique. This meant that animals wee likely to be more plentiful but also that the bush made them harder to see. But our sightings continued wit ostrich, wilder-beast and eventually, we came across a bit of a traffic jam. Lying up on a small hill of a dry riverbank, used as animal highways if the amount of dung on them was anything to go by, were three lions. This caused a lot of excitement and Eddie moved the bus back and forth helping us all to get good pictures. They were sat quietly, perhaps having just eaten, but in a prime location to keep an eye out for their next meal. Krista had shown me some incredible pictures from her previous trip, including one of a lion eating a zebra; I wasn't sure if I wanted to be around when the time came for their next kill.

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We stopped for lunch, exhilarated by what we'd seen that day. I couldn't believe that, for a nominal park entry fee, it was possible to enter Kruger, in your own vehicle and, sticking to the main roads, see such incredible things. It was getting late since, we'd been lucky enough to get a lot of sightings, we'd spent much time stopped, oohing and aaahing.

And we had just one of the Big 5 to go. Personally, I'd be most excited about seeing zebras, giraffes and elephants. But Dana explained to us that the Big 5 (elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards and rhino) were the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. And we'd seen all but a rhino. The mood was jubilant and Dolly Parton was blasting from Andrew's iPod that had provided most of the theme tunes to the trip so far. He even had both the Lion King albums so we had a choice of film or musical.

So we got back in the bus thinking 'rhino, rhino, rhino' as we headed towards one of the park gates near to our accommodation. And then we saw it. I have no idea who spotted it first but, next to another mini traffic jam was a solitary rhino, plodding slowly around less than 5 meters from the road. Krista was right, it really was the best day ever, not just because of all the incredible things we'd seen and what an amazing experience it'd been, but because that day was amazing for everyone and we all experienced it as a group. Nobody had a bad word to say as we left the gate and made the short journey to our final lodge.

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The landscape had become progressively greener throughout the day and, as we left Kruger, Dana told us that the land we were now driving through was amongst the most fertile in South Africa. I could see why, the crops were dense and almost anything seemed to grown here. - again, a stark contrast from what we'd driven through further north in Mozambique.

When we arrived at Umbhba lodge in Hazyview, it was possibly the best accommodation yet. The singles were towards one end of the resort so Andrew, Kim, Eddie, Dana and I were all in a row. The rooms were huge with terraces overlooking a lush garden. But the best was the bathroom - one corner of the bathroom was taken up with a huge walk in shower, another with a large corner bathtub which would definitely be getting some use.

Kim and I sat on her terrace with a Hunters Dry, our new beverage of choice and watched Dana appear outside his bungalow and start to dance. There'd been an awful lot of dancing and singing on this trip that'd got us through some of the stickier moments. We were becoming aware that we were getting close to the end and, wanting to maximise time together, several of us sat on the bar terrace until last orders.

Posted by madeinmold 15:34 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

A very respectable border crossing

And so it was time to leave Mozambique and head back to Dana's homeland.

We were up at the crack of dawn for a 6am departure. I was awoken at 5am by what sounded like an attempted break-in but turned out to be Andrew in the shower. When he was done, he informed me that he'd kindly chased the frog out of the shower and it was now residing on the ceiling. I was however concerned to find that the cockroach I'd inadvertently stood on barefoot and killed during a middle-of-the-night bathroom visit and unceremoniously left upside down on its back by the toilet, had disappeared.

We had a rocky ride up the hill as the luggage trailer had been taken up the previous evening and so the aisle of the minibus was backed with suitcases and backpacks but Eddie successfully got us up the hill without getting stuck in sand and we unloaded the bus and attached and packed the trailer before successfully navigating the 6.5km of off-road road back to the N1 to continue southwards. We'd left before breakfast but the lodge had prepared us packed breakfasts of chicken burgers that cushioned our malaria pills nicely. Mr Finn, who'd already infuriated Dana, usually so chirpy, by taking the best seats on the bus, right behind his, meaning that a) they were right behind him and b) the Germans were not, asked if they'd refrigerated over night and Dana walked away from him in disgust.

It was a hot day and the sun beat down on the bus. Mozambique at 6am is a lively place as the sun has already been up for a good while and the road was already busy with pedestrians and piled high busses and trucks with all sorts of wares strapped precariously to their roofs.

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We stopped only once in Xai-Xai to pump up the tyres which had been lowered for the sand road and then we were on our way again. Kim and I had ended up on the back reseat again and as we left the N1, turning right inland at around 8.30, so our 'African massage' began again. I slept and read alternately, somehow managing some successful periods of shut-eye until I felt someone tugging at my jacket. It was Dad whose seat was in the direct line of the sun and so instead of putting him in the not-reclining-wheel-hub seat in the corner, I moved to take his place next to Sam. The aircon seemed to be struggling for the first time and I quickly began to understand why Dad had wanted to move. But I persevered, unable to sleep or read or even think clearly but watching the scenery and leaning forwards out of the direct sunlight.

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The landscape was again changing fast. Gone was the greenery of the ocean road, the sand became redder, the trees leafless and brown, the dwellings fewer and there was little evidence of any water. But despite the uncomfortable environment of the bus, time passed relatively quickly and just before 11, we were making another stop, our last one in Mozambique close to bathe border and on the edge of the Limpopo national park.

The road deteriorated further still - there was a huge amount of construction going on around a large, beautiful dam. There was a large lake to the left and the water ran gradually down in beautiful hues of blue and green to the left as we drove over the dam before being diverted again off road.

We drove 60km on the bumpiest track yet through a seemingly animal-less park to the Mozambique border. It twisted and turned, had several speed bumps, pot holes and ditches, the combined effect ensuring that anyone would struggle to break the 50kmph speed limit. I'd lent Sam my iPad to watch a movie but with the noise of the bus rattling and the bouncing (and this wasn't even on the back seat), I was surprised he managed to keep going. I moved back and forth alternating between leaning forwards out of the sun and resting back on my sweaty chair.

Eventually after an hour of nothing but noisy bumping and the occasional scrape, we approached the border post. As we exited the bus with our passports the heat and the dust was overwhelming. Whilst the others queued to exit Mozambique, I went to the bathroom and ran my arms under the taps, splashing the cold water on my face and neck. It was quite possibly the hottest and lost uncomfortable place did ever been.

Although the service was slow, getting out of Mozambique was much simpler than getting in. They had no computers at this border post but instead wrote down each of our surnames, nationalities and visa numbers in a huge log book before was walked over to the South African side.

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And getting into South Africa again was also much easier than getting into Mozambique. That side they had computers and air conditioning and before we knew it, Dana was relievedly welcoming us back to his country and doing the funky chicken dance in celebration, much to the combined amusement and distaste of the border officials.

We'd entered South Africa directly into Kruger national park. Spirits were lifted and although we were still hot and dusty, our eyes scoured the landscape for any sign of wildlife. Sam made our first spot, five or six zebras around 20m off the road in the bush - zebras really do have the worst camouflage! We clambered over each other in our excitement to take pictures as Dana advised that zebras was definitely something we'd be seeing a lot more of. And he was right, shortly later we came across a large herd accompanied by several warthogs. Next came a giraffe, spotted in the distance by Corinna, followed by a buffalo spotted by Dana.

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As we continued towards our next bathroom stop, Dana pointed out a group of hippos in the water - they were far off and could have easily been mistaken for rocks had one of them not splashed heavily every few minutes.

When we had a break, there was a 'proper shop' at one of the park lodges and I bought my first ice cream of the trip - now I was most definitely really on holiday, even if we were slowly homeward bound.

At the border, Mrs Finn had spotted Eddie's passport and asked him if his real name was Hennie... Turns out it was. One of us had clearly misheard Dana when he introduced the driver on Day 1 and, spread the word. For some reason, he'd been answering to Eddie ever since without correcting us. Even Dana was calling him Eddie now too. It was going to stick for the rest of the trip.

After our break, Dana declared that we were stopping only for Big 5 animals and, shortly before we arrived at our lodge, we spotted three or four elephants in the water below us, probably enjoying the water on a hot day.

When we eventually arrived at the lodge, it was 4pm and we'd been on the road for the full 10hours that Dana had predicted. The majority of the group opted to go out on an evening game ride whoever, having seen a few animals already and knocking there were more to come, as well as the knowledge that, once again, I didn't fancy getting back a in a vehicle of any sorts again for a while.

We checked in to basic huts, again with conical thatched roofs, washed off the day's dust, bought beers and went to sit at the viewpoint. We were up high on a cliff and from the viewpoint could see a vast, wide, rocky river bed far below. At that distance we couldn't see any animals but it still looked very Lion King. The wind gradually picked up, seeds from the tree above us hailed down on us stinging as dust blew in our eyes. But after the heat of the day we stuck it out, enjoying being cool.

The rest of the group returned at 7.30 from their game drive looking exhausted and windswept having driven around in an open sided vehicle. We ate dinner and had one of the earliest nights in a while.

Posted by madeinmold 12:28 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

You just can't make this shit up

I woke up in the morning feeling, unsurprisingly, like I'd slept deeply. Krista groaned that she'd like another two hours sleep. I apologised for my alarm going off and told her to go for it before realising where we were and that my 6.15am alarm has gone off in preparation for our 6.45 departure.

We had breakfast and were on the road by 7.45. The journey seemed to be going quickly although we had another 450k to cover as we headed back towards Xai-Xai for our last two nights at the beach before heading to Kruger.

We made a couple of short stops as we drove along Mozambique's N1 and I was beginning to feel as if I'd spent more time on Mozambique's N1 than I had on the UK's M1.

The towns and villages seemed to congregate along this North-South highway and the main trade was to sell fruit, coconuts, coal and fuel to the passing vehicles.

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There were very few stone buildings and all homes and little stalls were reed huts nestled in clusters amongst the palms. And Vodacom and Coca Cola were doing a great marketing job; almost all of the brick buildings were painted red advertising one or the other.

Kim and I were in the back again. I tried to sleep but it was much bumpier than I remembered the journey up being. Eddie was hammering the accelerator, slowing only for the frequent police speed checks. We made a stop just before 2pm and Dana told us we were about 30mins away from the lodge. And sure enough, shortly after we turned off down a virtually unmarked dirt and sand track to the left that signposted our lodge just 6.5km away.

A few kilometres in, a blue pick-up came towards us in the opposite direction on the single track 'road'. After a short stand off, the truck began to reverse up the hill. However, after only a few metres, it stopped. Unfortunately Eddie's resolve crumbled and he decided to go around them to the right, into the soft sand of a gradual downwards slope. And before we knew it, our wheels were spinning again and we were stuck for the second time in 24hours, this time with a full house. Practiced rescuers, and in the absence of any gates to rip down, we began to collect dried palms an small rocks to put under the wheels and prepared to push again.

We weren't quite sure how to react to this latest predicament; surely this couldn't really be the second time that this was happening in 24hrs?!!

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So we huffed and we puffed and we dug the wheels and dragged rocks all to no avail. Eddie tried and tried but, this time, all the pushing in the world wasn't going to get us out and each time he tried the bus continued to skid sideways into deeper sand towards the bush digging the wheels deeper still.

Dana had wandered off to walk to the lodge and seek help but we had no idea how long far it was or how long he'd be and there wasn't even a reed hut in sight. And so most of us, especially those of us who understood the success of the previous night and the fact that, this time we had few of the tools to make a repeat performance, sat in what limited shade there was and awaited Dana's return.

A local appeared with a shovel and a machete and started to help dig the wheels. He disappeared and returned a short while later with two long poles and a stray dog. He didn't say anything, but silently got to work.

Surprisingly, the Finns weren't complaining for once and Mr Finn had even stopped doing sudoku for long enough to help. Dad chipped in here and there as he sat in the shade with a 'we shouldn't have driven into the sand' but it was a bit late for that.

We heard engines and, thinking it was Dana, jumped up excitedly. But it was a car. That drove straight on by, using the four wheel drive that we so badly required to swerve around our trailer that we'd left in the middle of the road.

The boys from the pick up that had caused the situation in the first place came back on foot, not to help, seemingly just to observe the stranded tourists.

More vehicles pass us without stopping including a police car accompanying a huge convoy, perhaps governmental vehicles complete with TV crew. And of the 15 or so cars that passed us, the only one to stop was the local TV crew, not to help but to film as we stood around waiting for Dana to return with help.

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I felt sorry for Eddie, it was a bad choice to try to go round, knowing that we didn't have four wheel drive but especially since we'd been through this just the night before. He continued to try whilst the rest of us gave up and retired to the shade.

Eventually a small red tractor appeared in the distance and we let out a cheer as Dana, our hero, became visible standing on the back having ran all the way to the lodge for help.

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With the assistance of the tractor we were quickly back on track. We rehooked the trailer and piled back in, still silent in disbelief, hot and filthy from the dust and sand. It was most definitely beer o'clock.

Arriving at the lodge we discovered it was a collection of wooden chalets down a winding and narrow collection of sand tracks. A little more assistance from the tractor and we were there.

We had two nights at East Africa Lodge and Kim, Andrew and I opted to share a chalet with the two of them in downstairs rooms and me in a cute sloping roofed attic up a rickety staircase (that became less cute when I banged my head on a low beam).

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After dropping of our luggage, we reconvened in the bar for 'lunch' - it was approaching 4pm but 'lunchtime' was in rather a state of flux on this trip. As it was almost dinner time, Kim and I opted for a liquid lunch in anticipation of a proper meal later. The restaurant/bar was also a wooden chalet high on a hill with a small trail leading up several steps to it.... Perhaps a sales tactic since by the time we reached the top we were all gasping.

There was a pleasant breeze, views over the ocean and rolling countryside and, after the events of the last 24hrs, we drank and were merry. The evening got boozy, some South African fisherman got involved (mostly with Jan) and after a true 'thank god we're alive' party, I sat on the decking with Eddie until 2am listening to his life story.

The next day, Kim and I decided that the best use of our time was to relax. Most of the group went in to Xai-Xai early to visit some local markets but we'd stopped in the town en route North the previous week and it was going to take more than the offer of a fish and fruit market to get me on that bus on a sand road again. I woke up as Andrew left, just long enough to ask him to buy me some flip flops if he saw any as I'd been shoeless since I broke mine during the first getting stuck episode and my feet had since become cut and filthy.

When we finally got out of bed it was 10am; the first proper lie in we'd had. And it was boiling hot (particularly in the attic), stuffy with very little wind. We are a late breakfast of huge omelettes at almost lunch time sat in the only bit of shade that we could find on the deck. It was so hot that the butter for our toast that was delivered solid straight from the fridge was pourable after just a minute in the sun.

Fed and caffeinated, we returned to our cabin for post-breakfast malaria pill taking and then we lay out on the decking enjoying the shade and reading.

After an hour, we heard voices coming down the hill. The bus had got stuck again (!), fortunately this time only at the top of the hill. Andrew presented me proudly with a pair of Mozambique flip flops. Apparently he'd been on the cusp of buying McDonalds branded ones but thankfully the others persuaded him against this. But it didn't sound like we'd missed out on anything by not going.

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The afternoon was spent in a similarly lazy fashion. After more time on the deck, I trekked back up to the restaurant and found some of the group eating a late lunch.

The only route to the beach was via the restaurant followed by a long sandy descent. When we arrived, the sea was rough and deep with what appeared to be strong currents. And the beach was littered with hundreds and hundreds of crabs in all sizes scurrying back and forth with the waves.

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The wind was up at the beach so the temperature more bearable. I found a shady spot and settled down on my towel with my book until the blowing sand became too much. Sandy as could be, Jan and I climbed back to the restaurant where we, my latest wine buddy and I, rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine before I went to de-sand.

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Getting stuck aside, it had been a very pleasant final beach stop. We had dinner all together as Dana briefed us on the following day's drive.. He certainly wasn't selling it to us... 10 hours over the border on rough roads. So after topping off the evening with springboks (shots of mint liquor and Amarullo), it was an early night. The last night we'd hear the ocean.

Posted by madeinmold 12:27 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Armageddon

27 °C

Dana had suggested that he wake us at 5am to watch the sunrise but there was little need, both Kim and I were awake at 4.45 and the sun was already peeking over the horizon. Perhaps thanks to my earplugs, perhaps thanks to the wine, I'd slept rather well. Our choice of tent proved to have been a strong decision as we could watch the sunrise through the open tent flaps without leaving our thin mattresses.

The sun rose quickly and I took a brief early morning walk to the beach before returning to the tent for another hour kip. By the time I awoke again at 6.30 the sun was high, it was beating down onto my face and it was already hot and sticky in the campsite. I collected my clothes that had been strung strategically on various twigs and had dried nicely in the breeze over night. Standing outside my tent I covered myself in suncream, bikini back on and put my few belongings back in my bag.

The crew had provided breakfast of crispy fried eggs, bread and a banana and papaya salad. There was a tub of Ricoffy instant coffee to provide Dana with his morning fix. The man seemed to exist mostly on caffeine an nicotine in copious volumes and the absence of either could have disastrous effects.

After breakfast we waded out to the boat for another days adventure - at this point we were blissfully unaware what an adventure it would turn out to be. Back on the boat we began a longer journey through deeper, but calm waters that required no zigzagging. The wind was up a little and the crew put up the sail; we had a smooth, speedy(ish) ride. An unusual island came into view as we progressed - it appeared as a sandy shape in the distance', the island of Bazaruto which looked as if it consisted largely of dunes. We landed by a large, gelatinous looking starfish, unpacked the boat and one of the crew took some thick blue netting off the boat and quickly constructed a makeshift shelter to provide us with some shade as the sun was strong, hot and relentless.

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We'd parked ourselves at the bottom of a small steep dune which I scrambled up using my hands to help, taking three steps forwards and one step back. The sand was burning hot and I was grateful for the little boat shoes we'd been given. The view from the top of the little dune was incredible - behind more dunes stretched into a high sand mountain and in front the sea stretched out, all shades of blue dotted with the rock patterns and shallow, yellower waters. The sand on the beach was whiter than white and there was no one else to be seen. The others joined us and Angie, Andrew and I set off towards sand mountain to see what was on the other side. After a couple of false summits we reached the top and the 360 views were utterly breath taking. I took back what I'd said the previous day about Margurite being the most beautiful place I'd ever been.... This was the most beautiful place I'd ever been.

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My camera couldn't do it justice, it was impossible to describe well but there were dramatic sand-cliffs, views of the neighbouring Benguera island, sandy shores and multi-tonal ocean. As Angie said, you could tell why people used to think that the earth was flat as from here, it looked as if you could sail right off the edge.

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I could have remained up there for a long time but, having had most of my suncream splashed off on the boat ride, and having climbed in just a bikini and tshirt, I could feel myself beginning to fry so I made quick work of the descent, jogging across firmer sand and sliding with the sand-avalanches down the hills.

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I reached the bottom, where I found Dad under the shelter guarding our belongings and looking extremely contented sipping a beer whilst Kim, Lani and Jan splashed in the shallow water. I went to join them and cool off and found them crowded around a bizarre looking sea creature, a short, fat slug like thing, white with brown spots that apparently had spat at Jan! But in that heat I couldn't be deterred from going in the sea (where she also claimed that something had 'grabbed' her - we later deduced that she'd probably stood on a ray).

After a night in a tent followed by the climb combined with the heat, I was pretty pooped so I took a nap under the shelter as the others slowly filtered back from their explorations.

The Finns bought back with them what Kim referred to as sand dollars - I've never seen anything like them before - they were slim flattish cream-coloured disks with two long holes at the top, as if perfectly designed for stringing onto a necklace. In the centre, where the disk was a bit thicker, was a perfectly formed flower grey outline of a flower. Dana told us that if you pressed I'm the centre they would break and 'set free the angel that lived inside'. Mrs Finn passed off a chipped one for me to keep, but they clearly weren't designed to leave the island as, later back on mainland, I found it shattered to dust in my bag. But hopefully the angel was now free!

Lunch again was prepared on the grill in the stern of the boat, this time garlicky pasta accompanied with squid in a tomato sauce, more salad and more popcorn. Andrew, after a brief dip in the sea, wrapped up in long trousers, as shirt and used his umbrella as a parasol as he read on the beach, occasionally handing out biscuits.

After several hours in paradise, we paddled back out to the boat again - it had a little ladder that didn't fix to anything and was unsteady with the constant lapping of the waves so many of us had become quite adept at hopping up over the sides.

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The journey was calm as we sailed towards Benguera island and followed its shoreline to stay out of the slightly rougher water. We followed the long sandy beach which was scattered with people, even what looked like a little school, were overtaken by one or two speedboats and even watched a helicopter come in to land. At one point the Ricoffy tub came out and Dana and the chef prepared creamy coffees for us which we drank from the tin cups before leaning over the side to rinse them in the sea.

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As we approached the end of the island, the crew lowered the sail and passed their bags towards the front of the boat for us to stash under the tarpaulin with our own telling us that it was about to get wet. And how right they were. We came around the corner of the island, lost its protection and were sailing sideways into the wind. Whilst the waves weren't huge and the wind not that strong, it was more than enough for the little boat to cope with. I'd sat on the right side but those on the left were getting the full force of the waves coming over the front. The crew put on their rain jackets and we knew it was about to get rough. The sickness pills came out, we 'weighed the boat' and so it began.

We were buffeted back and forth by the waves, the water inches from the sides. A couple of people put on life jackets - there weren't enough to go around but Dad and Angie couldn't swim. The boat rocked like never before. The Finns dropped to the floor and huddled under their towels and raincoats - but much to the amusement of the crew, they continued to read and do sudoku. Those at the back were taking the full force of the waves and Dana, Jan, Kim and Craig were 'weighing the boat', taking one for the team and were utterly drenched, soaked to the skin and shivering. Andrew and Krista took the brunt of it at the front as waves crashed over the bow.

Next to Corinna and I, the side of the boat made cracking noises causing a wave of fear each time it happened. Katharina peered curiously over the side, perhaps expecting to see bits of wood sticking out but there was nothing. But still the cracking continued ominously. The sky was still blue and the sun beat down but thanks to the lack of protection offered by Adriana, we felt like pirates at sea buffeted by the fiercest of storms. A strong swimmer, I was genuinely terrified and began scanning the storage boxes calculating if we had anything we could use to help keep Dad and Angie afloat should the worst happen. But Dad kept his spirits up and Sam kept telling me that until the crew looked worried, we didn't need to worry; I hadn't known the crew long enough to know their worried expressions but to me, they didn't look particularly upbeat.

Land slowly approached and, although the cracking continued, and the waves continued to pound us, once we were about a kilometre from shore my fear lessened slightly although the boat continued to heave and creak. Whilst Mozambique was unlikely to have any form of coast guard, I felt out chances of survival were slowly, very slowly improving. Soon we were only a few hundred meters from land and, as we sailed into the port, the waves disappeared completely, boats bobbed gently in the water and it was almost impossible to conceive that just minutes earlier we'd been close to being shipwrecked.

As we disembarked gladly, leaping down into the water, drenched from the 'storm' we tipped the crew generously and I think that I can safely say that we'd have all gladly taken another trip on the powerboat of sickness before we'd board Adriana again.

Dana declared that we were going to have a 'thank God we're alive' party that evening and so we stopped at the bottle shop on the way back for supplies. Dropping the couples off at CasaRex, they all declined the option of joining us for dinner, the trauma of the day requiring recovery and relaxation.

The rest of us returned to Golden Sands for hot showers and then Krista, Jan and I collapsed on the sofas with our drinks still semi in shock from the day's events. Before dinner we went up to the apartment that Kim was sharing with the Germans were we drank several beers and ciders occasionally braving the strong winds that were now sweeping the balcony to take pictures of the full moon.

Sam and Dad joined us and Dad pulled the classic 'look at that' trick whilst stealing a swig of my cider as I looked in the opposite direction. I was amazed at how he'd coped with the days events, in fact a lot of the trip so far. The trip was originally booked as Sam's honeymoon however the wedding had been called off and Sam had instead brought his 68 year old father along who'd undergone heart surgery just 3 months ago and had already been in Australia for the wedding. Dad had gradually come out of his shell as the days had passed and joined in more and more - he wasn't the chattiest of fellows but came out with some classic statements and there was a lot of love for him in the group. And as for Sam, I couldn't even begin to imagine what he must have been going through but he was a ray of Australian sunshine, always upbeat, always smiling and taking great care of not just Dad but the whole group with his mini portable pharmacy that he'd brought along.

We drove out of town for dinner at a restaurant called Zombie Cucumber, just up from the sea, owned by a French and Belgian couple. Nothing works up an appetite quite like clinging on to a boat for dear life for 2hours! We ate well, we laughed, we sang and we drank occasionally experiencing a slight rocking sensation but celebrating being back on dry land in one piece.

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As we drove back in the dark, I had a seat to myself in our couple-less bus and watched the palms and the ocean pass by in black and white as we bumped along the unlit dirt road with just a crumbling down wall between us and the beach. I wondered if I'd ever come back to Mozambique. It was an incredible place, stunningly beautiful and yet the most undiscovered place I'd ever been but with a lot of the country left to see, but I doubted it.

And then Eddie missed the turning.

We continued, presumably planning on taking the next left but the sand became loose and deep and before we knew it, the wheels were spinning and we were stuck. Eddie frantically turned the wheel but there was a short steep drop from the 'road' to the beach and the harder he tried, the closer the bus spun to towards it. Just feet away, we stopped and all disembarked with serious faces into the dark; it was approaching 11pm and we were in the middle of nowhere, our bus almost hanging off the edge of the not road with a short, steep, very sandy track to get up before we reached higher ground.

Dana began to walk back to the restaurant for help as most of us started digging the loose sand away from the wheels with our hands. Exhausted by the day at sea and with a 7am start to make the next day, it was frantic, filthy work. There was no phone signal and we were several miles from Golden Sands.

Sam found a rotting old gate in the crumbling wall and began to drag planks of wood over as Andrew and I lifted rocks to stack behind the wheels. Eventually Eddie managed it get the bus away from its precarious position at the edge of the drop and there was a loud cheer as he promptly got stuck again a few feet further up. He was clearly stressing as we began the digging process again and re-placed the wood.

Dana arrived back with Bruno, the restaurant owner who'd brought with him two overall-ed workers equipped with shovels. He had a 4x4 and left the headlights on illuminating the tragic scene. After several minutes work and repositioning of the wood we were ready to try again and, as Eddie got into gear, the rest of us piled behind to push. Another whoop of victory as the bus leapt forwards a few more feet before promptly getting stuck again.

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Dana stood chain smoking and looking upset, there were already more than enough hands on deck. Eddie used his hands to dig tirelessly, devoted to the cause along with the beshoveled locals whilst a drunk Bruno alternated between barking instructions and telling us it was a lost cause and we'd have to wait for morning for a tow. But with some more digging, more smashing of the gate and positioning of wooden planks, in a cloud of sand and dust and the smell of burning rubber we gained a few more feet. Repeat. Gain a few more feet and we were practically at the top if the hill. More cheering and we're stuck now on flat ground. Covered in dust, we repeated the process once more and, what felt like over an hour later, we were free.

Filthy, exhausted and injured from our efforts, we applauded Bruno's men who'd shovelled and pushed so tirelessly for us piled back into the bus, talking little as Eddie sped us back down to Golden Sands. It wasn't quite the 'thank God we're alive party' that we'd had in mind and a few of us collapsed onto our balcony with beers to say good riddance to the day of ups and downs: most beautiful place in the world, followed by near-death-boat-experience, followed by a great Friday night dinner with wonderful friends, followed by digging barefoot in sand in the pitch black late at night. It had been a day of contrasts but Dana declared he was thoroughly glad to see the back of it. After all of that, surely the following day's 6 hour minibus drive that we'd been dreading seemed like an awesome way to spend a chilled out day. We were adventured out.

Posted by madeinmold 12:26 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

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