It should not be long now. Thankfully it’s winter and the sun is not too hot, but still while standing on the side of the road waiting droplets of sweat begin to bead on my head. A few vehicles pass, fishtailing as they drag themselves through the thick sand. Not long now. A car passes, and then I see it. This is the one. It bounces over the bumps in the sandy track, each bump causing it to leap higher. Surely now. And then the vehicle slows and stops. Yes…we've got one. Moments later it tries to pull off, but its wheels spin in the thick sand. In seconds it sinks deeper and deeper. Yes, we've got one!
First there is the sound of breaking glass and then moments later the air is filled with the smell of wine. “I smell wine,” Sarah says. And soon we are all in agreement. There is no doubt that there is a wine smell in the air, but there's nothing we can do about it at the moment. “I can't stop here,” I say as the back seat drivers suggest I pull over. “The sand is too thick and the dense forest leaves no room to pull over.”
We are on our first adventure as part of our year long travels, out of South Africa. We are headed to a remote town not far from Ponta d'Ora in Mozambique. Crossing the border is always a fun experience. Leaving South Africa is relatively simple. It's now getting through the Mozambique side that is the challenge. We've driven from St Lucia, the secret gem of KZNs north coast and are headed up to Ponta Molangane. After beaming friendly smiles at the Mozambiquen border officials, paying our R220 for some third party insurance and answering, “about 3 bottles of wine” to the inquisitive border guard, we are on our way.
“Insane” is probably the best word to describe the change in road condition from leaving South Africa to entering Mozambique on its eastern edge. A single smooth, freshly tarred road delivered us up to the SA border post. Thick, sandy roads splitting into an inexplicable number of branching tracks explode in every direction before us. Our instructions from the accommodation we're staying say “the route...is a sandy track with little signage.” This is code for “thick beach sand tracks with no signposts”. Who would expect signs on “national roads”? The instructions encouragingly continue...“the road splits in three directions...choose the middle one” - OK, got that, we take the middle fork. However the instructions then become vague... “the road has multiple forks” code for hundreds of forks, “...don't get too anxious...they will all eventually meet up.” Are you serious? As we drive, every few minutes we're suddenly presented with a random split - left or right? Braking or slowing down in the thick sand is not a good idea so I just pick at random and go, and sometimes despite the instructions' reassurance, the tracks don't meet up as we arrive at some lone hut. Obviously this fork is a “driveway” which is inconsiderately unsignposted.
We've arrived in real Africa. This is the Africa of the movies where one expects to see herds of elephant at any moment as open grasslands and cosps of trees frame our sandy 4x4 track. It's as we're bouncing over some mini sand dunes through a thick indigenous coastal forest that we hear the wine bottles clink once again in the back of the car as they are airborne for a moment. And this time the clink is followed by the unmistakable bouquet of an unwooded Chardonnay...or is it the grassy scent of Savingnon...or is it a blend of all our wine we're smelling?
We have to wait until we exit the forest before I can pull over. These sandy national roads are of course two way roads, despite the fact that there is just enough room for a single car. We've already met an oncoming 4x4 sand ploughing a spray of dust in front of him as he slammed on brakes to stop in time.
Leaping out, it is with mounting trepidation that we carefully open the back of Pajey. Will we be in forced sobriety and sipping water for our sundowners for the next three nights or has some of our wine survived? Wine is dripping down the back of the car and reaching an ignoble end in the thick sand. “They're all broken,” Nicky declares as she gently lowers the now sodden box onto the sandy road. I swoon slightly. It must be the 30c heat not the recent news. However on further inspection its discovered the news is not as dire as first proclaimed. In fact what has happened is that our customs declaration has been implemented. “About 3 bottles of wine” is now correct. It seems there were four but now there are three. At least everything is above board.
With the fruity smell of a dearly departed Chardonnay, unwooded I think, filling the car, we continue bouncing, sliding, and guessing our way to our destination. Amazingly all roads do finally lead to Ponta Molangane and we arrive. Paradise unfurls before us.
The glass doors that welcome us into the accommodation at Baleia Azul that we're sharing with the two other families ushers us into the most spectacular view. A deck stretches out before us to a suspended pool and the unobstructed view of the endless sea beyond. It's stunning. The ride here, the adventure makes this worth it. What adventures await us here, in real Africa.
“Come on everyone, we're leaving.” There's a mad early morning scurry as everyone heads to the 4x4s. It's only about a 45 minute trip along the non-existent Mozambique roads to Ponta d'Ora. We've booked a dolphin adventure. The plan...leap onto boats, find dolphins, swim with them, be amazed. The ride to Ponta is fun as usual, as we bounce along thick sandy tracks, but we arrive unscathed. We find the Dlophin place and are soon seated wathcing a video on what we can expect. The excitement is mounting...but just before the video ends, our hopes are dashed. Someone appears and tells us that the trips are cancelled as the conditions are not good. I'm not sure if its a collective sigh of relief or disappointment, as the sea was looking a little turbulent. Either way, the action's off, and so we settle for a stroll around the town. This is Africa of the movies. Shops line a the dirt roads where vendors sell their wares. One vendor has taken up residence in a burnt down building while across the road a modern looking shop competes for attention. It's such an eccelctic mix you can't help but be drawn into the beauty and charm of the place.
“Let's head back and grab a snack at Sunset Shack,” someone suggests, as the shopping spirit dwindles. We all leap into our cars - three 4x4s in covoy and head out of Ponta. And that's when the fun starts. The car behind me suddenly seems to vanish, and so I back up to see what's happened. “Can anyone see John,” I say referring to the ML that is number two in the convoy. “There he is,” Hannah says. And there he is indeed. Belly deep in the thick sand. “Don't worry John, I'm here to rescue you.” My moment of pride is finally here. Soon I've attached a tow rope to John's beleagured ML and Pajey is ready to show his grit. Alas it does not work out as planned. Pajey, with the added weight attached to him, struggles to move. In moments the glory-to-be evaporates and Pajey...well, Pajey is belly deep in the thick sand too. Two vehicles stuck. So much for the gallant steed to the rescue.
Thankfully some locals are standing on the side of the road, amazingly with spades in hand, ready to dig us out. It's amazing their foresight, that they would be at this spot, ready and waiting with spades in hand. An hour later...lots of digging, burning clutch and money changing hands and we are all on our way again. Well, the lesson is, "this is Africa"stunn. She eats cars without a second thought. “But, the adventure is amazing,” I think to myself, as we stop at a roadside pub...OK, not a pub but a shack on the side of the road that sells R&Rs - Mozambique's iconic Rum and Rasberry drink - horribly sweet, but amazing as you sit with your feet in the sand watching the sun dip into the horizon. This is Africa, is so unique...there's nothing quite like it!