Words and pictures by William Maliepaard
Many a 4×4 enthusiast will tell you horror stories of getting stuck on the road to or from Ponta do Ouro in southern Mozambique. As the seasons change here in Ponta, the sand presents a challenge to even the most capable 4×4; in season, as more and more vehicles get bogged down, this road becomes a nightmare.
It’s worse yet if you’re towing a large boat on a heavy trailer. If the weather has been exceptionally hot and we haven’t had rain for a while, the road turns into quicksand as it is churned up by the many vehicles struggling through to Ponta. The top layer of sand is hot, and as vehicles struggle through, this sand is mixed in with lower layers along with hot air. Colder sand is transferred to the surface and this in turn is heated up before being churned to lower layers as another vehicle passes.
Through the day this process is repeated over and over, blending up hot aerated sand, which makes the sand super-slippery – there’s no resistance between the sand particles because of the hot air that’s been mixed in. To make matters worse, the middelmannetjie become more pronounced as vehicles dig deeper into the sand. So, there’s a good chance your vehicle’s chassis will ground itself if you get stuck, making for a tough recovery. You’ll have no choice but to dig your way out – remember to carry a spade!
Trailer or no trailer, the most important thing is to remember to maintain your speed through these rough areas (where you can see the sand is deep and churned up where other vehicles have been stuck,) no matter how rough this may make your ride. If you slow down, you will get stuck, so give it stick!
And don’t think your vehicle is better than anyone else’s and try to tow your trailer up steep dunes. Many people attempt this, and I can assure you that just about none of them make it, resulting in their having to be rescued – and then having to deal with upset family and friends who have had to sit in the sun because of misplaced bravado!
Don’t expect anyone to stop and help, because this will cause them to get stuck – most people driving through a difficult area will be ‘putting foot’ to get through. Locals are very aware that the damage to a clutch and engine from towing someone else out is just not worth it, especially if you haven’t agreed to pay for any of their damage/ wear and tear. So don’t get upset when people don’t assist, but hoot for you to get out of the way as they fly past. This past season was a disaster for many Ponta businesses as many of their clients got stuck in their SUVs, which don’t have much clearance. This resulted in their hosts having to send tractors out, (your only true rescue vehicle for this region) at a major cost!
The route I suggest you take, especially if you have a trailer, takes you past the airport (yes, we do have a airport) then down along the power lines to the white house midway to Ponta on the direct route. Coco Rico have conveniently marked the route with little whiteboard signs. This route is a little bit longer but is probably quicker because it is flat, with hardly any dunes to conquer. This is probably why they have chosen to tar this route when the Chinese complete the tar road (which also goes past the airport) from Ponta to the border. On your way in from the border, keep going straight past all the houses, and a construction company on your left, and wherever possible take the left road if it splits.
Once you get to a small dune, probably a kilometre or two past the border, keep to the left and do not attempt to climb this dune. This section is quite simple – when you do round the dune, you will see a plantation of gum trees on your right, which you should keep there until you reach the white house along the power lines. When you turn right at the power lines before the white house, with the plantation on your right, you should see the windsock of the airport ahead of you as you pass a large solitary tree. Once you are past the white house, the route is the same as the more difficult direct route.