Mozambique by Jeep

A bittersweet experience

When Eddie and Jennifer Botha headed to Mozambique’s “idyllic” beaches for a break, they expected an “idyllic” experience. But police, drunk tourists, quad bikers, thieves, beggars and crazy road conditions nearly managed to spoil their first visit to this country. At least the Jeep Wrangler 2.8 CRD Unlimited didn’t let them down

Text: Eddie Botha
Photographs: Eddie and Jennifer Botha

The original script went like this: sun, sea, an abundance of seafood, fresh air and a whole lot of holidaying. So we left Pretoria very early on Good Friday, successfully managing to beat most of the traffic flooding towards Mozambique, and KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast.

It’s a 600km drive to Kosi Bay, of which the last 100km or so on the route we took to the Mozambique border is dirt. The script required a real 4×4, and it doesn’t get much more real than a Jeep Wrangler 2.8 CRD Sahara Unlimited. With its Quadra-Coil suspension system with solid axles, coil springs and gas shock absorbers, limited slip differentials front and rear, and a pukka low-range transfer case, the Wrangler is the Chuck in Chuck Norris.

Our version was the 2.8 CRD turbodiesel. The four-cylinder engine delivers 130 kW of power and 410 Nm of torque, and ours transferred the power via a five-speed automatic gearbox.

But a diesel engine in a Wrangler?

Oh yes. All 10,7 litres per 100km of it. That’s how much the Jeep sipped over the 600km leading to the border. And like a good Jeep, it handled the dirt road in its stride.

Another integral part of the script was the Garmin N?vi 700, with international mapping. The modern GPS is fast becoming like a cellphone… one just can’t imagine how you communicated with the rest of the world before the cellphone arrived on the scene. Heck, did people actually communicate?

So the script was pretty watertight. Jeep Wrangler, Garmin GPS, bookings made at Ponta do Ouro and Bay de Abilene, and swimming costumes, suntan lotion and beach umbrella packed. The border crossing after Kosi Bay went perfectly, too. The officials even returned our greetings, and were polite.

On the Mozambique side, the sand started. And according to our carefully orchestrated script, the Wrangler hardly batted an eyelid. Within 15 minutes after crossing the border, we arrived at Ponta do Ouro.

And this was now where the first bit of Tipp-Ex was used on our perfect “Bo Derek” script: the place was a hive of activity, with fancy 4x4s criss-crossing everywhere, and quad bikes roaring past. Some 4x2s were creating mini sand storms as they struggled to maintain momentum.

Ponta do Ouro was frequented by hundreds, if not thousands, of South African tourists. It was abundantly clear that peace and quiet… well, would not be at our disposal for this leg of our journey. Our Bo Derek script was duly downgraded to Angelina Jolie level. Things were still looking good though.

We found our camping spot in between a bunch of fishermen, divers and quaders. These seem to be the main reasons people come here. Our lunch at a small nearby restaurant cost R80 per person for a sandwich and beer.

Dirt cheap… if you’re a European brandishing euros or pounds.

Meanwhile, it was raining on and off, so we were mostly tent-bound for the rest of the day. But 5am the next morning we received a wake-up call… courtesy of the noisy clatter of a tractor engine, and people shouting. Then a compressor started up. Quads and 4x4s followed. So out came the Tipp-Ex… we were one notch down on the one-to-ten scale. Charlize Theron.

There was no point in trying to sleep, so we rose to the occasion. We soon discovered the noise was emanating from a scuba diving company’s nearby storeroom, and the tractor was used to launch boats.

till, Charlize is not half bad, it was Saturday, and we decided to follow that old saying: when in Rome… So after spending a perfectly delectable morning exploring the beach, watching 4×4 after 4×4 launch boats, watching jetskis racing up and down, and eventually taking a hike to a quieter beach some distance from the main one, we decided to go and explore the area with the Jeep, especially after hearing about a sandy 4×4 play area not too far away.

There we conquered all the obstacles, except for one particularly daunting section. But as luck would have it, a bunch of intoxicated youngsters from South Africa pitched up in a Land Rover… and the sneering and taunting started.

This focussed on the Jeep, which our uninvited guests suggested is a waste-of-time 4×4. They drive a real 4×4, they kept insisting. Ignoring the drunken sneers, we proceeded to drive up the previously daunting-looking slope, followed by our jovial and enthusiastic new “friends”. Only, they did not make it up the same slope. Instead they got very stuck.

Ah, joy! That little moment certainly was worth a jump up the scale, back to the lovely Angelina!

That night we ended up at a raucous party at one of the many nightspots in the area, where about 100 South Africans and five Mozambicans partied away until the wee hours of the next morning.
5am the next morning… Yup. Tractor, shouting, compressor, quads and 4x4s. We had originally booked for three nights, but the decision was made to rather head north towards Maputo.

After breakfast we headed out onto the dirt road, with the Garmin leading us north towards the capital, a place we had heard much about, and were eager to experience. Thankfully we had the GPS… Mozambique doesn’t seem to be big on the road sign thing.

After six hours we reached the city, and entered a world of organised chaos. Wait, maybe “organised” is too strong a word: it’s just chaos. It was interesting to note the old Portuguese architectural influences though.

We were warned to keep to the speed limit, as the Mozambique police are out to make extra money from South Africans. But it was clear that nobody else cared about the speed limit. We saw South Africans jumping red traffic lights, driving recklessly and breaking the law in ways the locals could not even imagine doing.

Driving in Maputo was a dangerous exercise… we witnessed a child being hit by a vehicle driving in front of us, as well as people overtaking regardless of oncoming traffic. The Jeep’s emergency lane-changing abilities were put to the test more than once, in an effort to avoid oncoming vehicles overtaking in our lane. We were back with Charlize again.

We eventually found a tented room at a backpacker’s inn, after some searching. That night we went to the local fish market, and our dinner was prepared while we waited. While we waited though, we were inundated by people trying to sell us something, playing the “feel sorry for me” card more often than not.