This story plays out on the penultimate day of a 21-day tour we led for a group of 16 guests from Europe. Due to a fire that damaged the resort we were meant to stay in for the night, we had to make a sudden last minute change of accommodation. The end result of this change was quite fortuitous, as we ended up staying in the most magnificent manor house, perched high up on the dunes, overlooking the Indian ocean way down below, the real icing on the cake was that we had a pod of whales come by in the morning, that put on the most amazing show for us. But that is not what this story is about. This story focuses on the events between lunch, and finally arriving at this accommodation, much later than expected.
You see, we had been travelling through a very remote part of Mozambique, nestled somewhere between the Kruger National park, and Vilanculos, followed by a couple of nights on a remote island off the coast. So by the time we got news of the unfortunate fire that destroyed our planned accommodation, we were already on route to Inhambane. The owners of the still smouldering embers we were meant to stay at, were very helpful in arranging us somewhere else to stay, they were not however very helpful in providing detailed directions of how to get there. So it was, that sometimes just after 14:00 that afternoon, we drove out of Inhambane, our bellies full to bursting with an amazing seafood lunch, in what we knew was kind of the direction we needed to be heading.
Fast forward to 16:00, and we had nearly completed the 50 odd km journey to our beach villa. In fact, if the GPS was to be believed, we were just under 900 metres away. I must stress though, that as we drew nearer and nearer, the road conditions had been rapidly deteriorating, till the point that we were following a narrow jeep track through the dunes, and the sand was getting thicker by the minute. By the time we reached the point in question, we were seriously struggling to keep up our momentum. The fact that the clients driving in rental vehicles had little to no experience of driving such roads was not helping the situation. We had been lucky though, the temperatures were reasonably low, and this meant the sand was not too soft. But now we were faced with a dune, which by this time, seemed to tower like the Himalayas over the rest of the terrain.
I was in the lead of the convoy with my very heavily laden Land Rover, and I decided to attempt this dune without stopping first to asses the terrain or to deflate tires, which I knew where too hard to allow me to make the dune. I knew, however. that if I was to stop the convoy now, I would induce an unnecessary amount of fear into the hearts of our travel companions, who had already conjured up images in their minds of us needing to spend a night on the side of the road, as they had completely lost faith in me to guide them to their accommodation for the night.
(I must at this point note that it is often important for those of us with a bit of life experience in the bush, to always keep in mind that visitors, especially visitors from the first world, can see insurmountable obstacles, where we may see only a little bit of adventure. This was definitely one of those cases, and the events that played out was as a result of this.)
So I engaged low range, selected second gear, and tackled this dune with as much gusto as I could get the TD5 to deliver. Now, as I approached the middle section of the dune, impressed with my progress so far, things started to go pear-shaped. At this point, the track makes a sharp right turn, and then immediately another to the left. Anyone who has driven dunes before should know what happens next, but for those that don’t, I will elaborate. As soon as I nudged the landies steering wheel to the right, the car began to lose momentum, almost immediately began bouncing up and down as it dug itself into the sand. That was as far as I was going to get this time around. I engaged reverse gear and slowly began making my way back down the dune. As I approached the collection of our fellow travellers standing at the base of the dune, I could feel the despair in the air.
Before I could even get out the car to address the group, I had a tall but lovable french man, let’s call him Bernie, standing by my window. Bernie was the leader of the group, and the one I had dealt with while making all the arrangements and was the de facto alpha male of the group. Most of the time, Bernie is the life of the party, and when we had other incidents, like when our catamaran got stranded on a sandbar, and we had to wait hours for the tide to come in, so we could get going again, he simply laughed and joked and made sure everyone was at ease and had a glass of wine in hand. But now he was completely out of his comfort zone and convinced we were stuck here for good. Our European comrades had no intention of heading back the way we had come and had no faith in us ever getting over this monumental dune. While I tried getting out of the car, the questions were coming at me hard and fast. What have you done? Where will we sleep? How will we ever get out of here?.
So, when I made the suggestion that all that we needed to do was let some air out of the tires, and we would be good to go, I was met with a flabbergasted look, and in a booming voice, with a heavy French accent, I was met with the words that would stay with me for some time after this, and that till this day remain an inside joke between us. “You expect me to believe, you honestly expect me to believe that we will get over this from just letting some air out the tires! You can’t even get through, now you expect this piece of shit to do it (pointing at his rental Hilux). NEVER. Come on Taun, I HAVE ALSO BEEN IN THE BUSH. Be serious.” So I was serious, and in the calmest tone I could muster, I again tried to explain the benefits of deflating our tires further. But he would have none of it. He insisted on seeing the GPS, so I showed him we were literally 956 metres away from the Villa. His mind was made up, they were leaving the cars just there, and would walk the rest of the way, leaving Gideon and myself with the task of getting five vehicles, and all the rest of the kit to the house.
As our clients grab their daypacks and started to walk up and over the dune, Gideon and I went about the business of deflating the tires of each car down to around 0.8 bar, and then one by one, we drove them, with ease I might add, up and over the dreaded sand dune, parking them a little way down the track, making sure we left enough space to get all the cars up and over. As we pulled up to the top of the dune with the last of the five cars in the convoy, Gideons old 300tdi hardtop, that was the heaviest loaded of the lot, as it carried pretty much all the kit, for the entire crew, for 21 days, our clients could be seen approaching walking back to help us drive the cars up to the house. You see, as they had arrived at the villa, they were met by the housekeeper, who verified my story about letting some air out of the tires, so with an apologetic look on his face, Bernie made his way over to me to apologise for his lack of trust, and the whole affair was laughed off. The fact that the Villa was perhaps one of the most beautiful places we had stayed on the whole adventure, and the food was on par with the aesthetic, also went a long way to restoring the spirits of everyone involved. But, those famous words, “I HAVE ALSO BEEN IN THE BUSH”, will forever stay with me, and always put a naughty little smile on my face.