We first heard the noise coming from what sounded like the gearbox of our borrowed Defender as we pulled out of Dullstroom at 4am, our destination point, the 4×4 beach camp in Pomene, Mozambique, some 1,200KM away. By the time we reached Komatipoort the decision had been made to get a mechanics opinion before going further. The backyard tradesman we found was little help, and after several hours of head scratching and phone calls to colleagues, all he could do was grease up the working bits and send us on our way. The noise came and went for the next few hundred kilometres but we made it to Pomene with no further issues other than our mounting paranoia. Our return trip was a little different.
Somewhere just before Xai Xai we lost all power, eventually crawling up the smallest of hills in first gear at five thousand RPM. We rolled into the next garage and were immediately approached by a petrol attendant who assigned himself the position of translator. He called a friend, told Carl to get in a cab, and sent him into town.
Twenty minutes later Carl returned with a spare fuel pump, and a mechanic with a canvas backpack full of old tools. Our attendant translated as best he could, while the mechanic gutted the Landy, pulling out everything and anything in an attempt to get to the main fuel pump. His attempts were unsuccessful, and after an hour all he’d managed to do was drop the fuel tank and draw an impressive audience.
By this time the taxi driver who had hung around to watch the show, had called his sister who was married to an ex pat and told her there were a couple of South Africans in trouble. This guy arrived, wild and loud, with long grey hair tied in a pony. Without consultation, and rather annoyed with us for paying the mechanic for his efforts, he hooked us up and towed us to the nearest mechanic who confirmed the first mechanics diagnosis, but had no idea how to get to the pump either. Our rescuer, only too happy to repeatedly point out that we had to rely on a Toyota to get us out of this, then insisted that he tow us to his house where we could braai and stay over, then he’d tow us to the border the next day.
Seeing as we were already tied to his car, and almost too frightened to refuse this incredibly angry yet helpful stranger, we climbed into the Landy and for the next 200 odd dangerously quick kilometers Carl tried his best not to run straight into the back of the Toyota less than two meters in front of us. It was raining heavily and mud from the rear wheels of the lead vehicle plastered our windscreen, so much so that for a large part of the drive Carl had to stick his head out of the window to see what was happening.
We braaied that night in the closed campsite our captive called home, and he told us all about those ‘fucking Dutchmen cars’ he has to tow out of the sand every December, and warned us about the locals. He seemed to hate everyone equally, I liked that about him. He talked for hours, and we listened. We got the feeling that didn’t see many people on a social basis, and he used his time to voice his thoughts and share his life story, pulling out old magazines he’d written for, and making sure we knew just how evil his multiple ex wives were.
We left for the Komatipoort border post, another 200km away, straight after breakfast the next morning, stopping only once along the way. When we got to the border our dude said he’d tow us to a mechanic in Komatipoort, he was going past anyway. He did, and after we found a new mechanic, he left us there, refusing to take any petrol money insisting rather that we help the next person we see in trouble.
The mechanic in Komatipoort couldn’t get to the fuel pump either, but he had a wedding in Nelspruit the next day, and he offered to tow us to a mechanic he knew there that specialised in Land Rovers. We met him and his wife outside our B&B early the next morning, hitched up to his Toyota, and clocked another 100km on a tow rope – this would bring our freewheeling total to just under 600km.
In Nelspruit we forced a case of beer on him before he drove off, leaving us with his friend who assured us he knew exactly what to do. Due to some incorrect wiring though, he spent two days swearing and chain smoking around our Landy – which now had its wheels, back axle, and fuel tank lying beside it.
Two days later, and at the tail end of a wild night out with a guy I’d done a previous road trip through Southern Africa with, we got the call that the car was running. Five fuel pumps later, and a lot of shouting and kicking of tires, our mechanic did what the four before him couldn’t, and for the first time in nearly 600km, our Landy moved forward without the assistance of a tow rope.