It’s another year, and we had planned another ambitious trip through the African continent. After the previous year‘s successful trip through Zimbabwe, Western Zambia and Botswana, we went a bit over the top and planned a really epic journey... from Joburg to Maputo, then crossing Mozambique completely from south to north; crossing the mighty Rovuma River into Tanzania, and then heading as far north as Dar es Salaam before veering back south towards Malawi and Zambia (where we wanted to explore the east and west) then going on to Botswana to spend more time in the Delta before heading back down to Joburg.
Well, that was the theory. Reality taught us a different thing or two. After our experiences with that German T3 Syncro (SA4x4 February 2016) we decided to do exactly the same thing – get another one of those and head off. Only, this time, there was no 3.0-litre V6. Instead, there was a thing in there that I would call a bastard engine – a 1.8-litre Golf engine, bored to 2.0-litres, with a crank from a 2.0-litre, a decked head and Audi pistons. Basically, something to race around town and go to car-shows in... But perhaps not something for a 14 000km round trip?
Trouble started early, as we were driving it from Cape Town across to a friend´s place in Durban. I frowned because an oil consumption of four litres for this trip seemed a bit too much. On top of that, in the last kilometres before Durban there’d been a knock, and the engine had kept running on three cylinders only. Not good.
So, as soon as I arrived at my friend´s place, I took the spark plugs out and checked them. Number 2 was bent. I felt a shiver running down my spine: how could a spark plug be hit and bent? Normally, only by a broken piston or a faulty conrod. After a sleepless night, I decided to take off the cylinder head and take a look.
What I saw was a total shock, especially considering that I needed to prepare the whole car for the long trip and my fellow travellers were due to arrive in Joburg in a few days´ time. Piston Number 2 was broken; in fact, a big piece was missing. What to do now? I couldn´t drive the car anywhere to have it fixed, so I had to do it myself − but building engines is something I had never done before. I knew the theory − but reading something, and actually doing it, are very different things.
Luckily, a mechanic friend of mine gave me lots of hints. To cut a long story short, I took the oil sump off, loosened the conrods and saw that the bearings were completely ruined. No shortcuts there. So, that meant taking the pistons out and honing the cylinders, replacing all the pistons and rings, putting in new big-end bearings, and making up a slightly thicker head gasket to reduce compression a bit – otherwise the whole tuned engine was likely to rupture another piston.
It sounds simple, but I had a deal of trouble with a stripped thread on the bolt that holds the timing belt pulley. There were a few moments when I was close to crying and giving up. I told my friends to stay away from the workshop, as there might be flying spanners and pliers followed by loud swearing. Had there been a cliff nearby, I think our trusty old Syncro would have been a coral reef on the seabed by now.
Can you imagine how nervous I was when setting the timing, counting the leftover bolts and nuts, and starting the overhauled engine for the first time? It shook itself to life: nothing knocked, nothing exploded and nothing backfired. I was flying high: my first overhauled engine, and it worked!
Crayfish – again!
I arrived at OR Tambo airport with a fullyequipped and prepared car, and no one could have guessed at the troubles we had overcome, apart from my looking slightly slimmer and a bit stressed.
Off we went to Mozambique. I admit we were a little worried about Moz, and especially its officials and police, but we had decided to prove all of the moaners wrong and just have a good experience there. The Komatipoort border took us 20 minutes: no bribes, no obstructions, just smiles and smooth going. Even the first police checkpoints were absolutely hasslefree. When travelling through Africa, I have one main objective when it comes to police and checkpoints: I want to make them smile, at least once. No arrogance is needed; just be assertive and firm, smile a lot, and make jokes − it works in 99 percent of all cases.
Maputo was our first stop; but we are not really city people, so we spent only one night there. We wanted to get to the beach as fast as we could, so the next morning we headed towards Zavora. There, for the next three days, we enjoyed lots of diving – unfortunately without seeing manta rays – and fabulous seafood every evening. We gorged ourselves on crayfish, something we have to pay a lot for in Europe. As there weren´t many tourists in Zavora at the time, we were offered chalets for the same price as camping. No need to think much about that before accepting!
Driving through Mozambique proved to be relatively easy. We love these little towns with old Portuguese architecture (or the remains of it), and buying fresh pao and vegetables on the markets, or visiting small, rural museums.
Our next longer stop was in Vilanculos. We wanted to do some snorkelling and visit the Bazaruto Archipelago, an absolutely fascinating group of islands with white Caribbean-like beaches, clear blue water and coconut palms. At that point, we didn‘t yet know that the part ahead of us would be a very demanding one – mentally – so it was good that we relaxed a bit at the beach.
Central Mozambique Gallery
To read the full article, get the February edition of SA4x4