07.11.2014 - 08.11.2014
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.
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?!!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.