What happens when things go wrong? The end of the Landcruiser…

When it all goes wrong or maybe it’s when things don’t go how you expect….

The story of how the Landcruiser found a new home after breaking it’s gearbox, how I got stuck in Maputo with no passport amongst civil strife and I got my laptop stolen (hence few updates lately!)

The landcruiser had had its faults, something were quite annoying like a wirer burning out in Nairobi which took a few days to fix, but on the 30,000km so far that it had travelled nothing had made us stranded on the side of the road.

The old landcruiser had got us this far...

It had been down some serious roads / tracks many which I never really expected it to take so easily within its stride. But on Illia de Mozambique i heard a low grumbling noise. I checked the car over there and there was plenty of oil / grease in the right places. There was little I could do there if it was anything serious anyway. Keith, Suzie (the Australians I was travelling with) and I left for Pemba and my last trip North.

The Setting; Namialo
Namialo was one of those places that you see all over Africa, a small dusty town with maybe one or two places to eat, a bank, a small market, lots of informal street sellers and great big long trucks (often getting fixed). We may stop for a cheap lunch in places like this, but little more. Namialo was on the junction between, Pemba, Nampula and Ncala / Illia de Mozambique, I hadn’t really noticed it on the way to Illia, but Keith wanted to stop at the bank on the way to Pemba – there looked to be a long que (in fact people just seemed to hang around the bank so there probably wasn’t a que at all) so Keith changed his mind.

Namialo, trucks, road, dust and street sellers

We picked up another Australian hitchhiker also aiming for Pemba – but only 30km outside of Namialo there was serious noise from the gearbox. I decided that I needed to get back to Namialo – there was a chance that someone there could help. The Australians needed to carry on North, as Keith and Suzi had flights booked from Nairobi in two weeks – and had to cross Tanzania. After stopping a couple of landcruisers we parted company, I hear the journey to Pemba was interesting with everyone drinking in the car, including the driver! The other car drove with me, back to Namialo, 4th gear seemed to work OK and I made it back. I was taken to a garage, but told to park just outside the gate. After just looking at the car and hearing what it sounded like the mechanics decided it was the clutch plate. I was reasonably sure it was something more serious, relating to the gearbox but it made sound sense to check the clutch first (its a much cheaper part). That afternoon / evening the gearbox was taken out ready for the new clutch plate to be delivered the next morning.

None of the mechanics working on the car spoke English, we communicated through a lot of pointing and hand guesteurs. The garage where the car was outside, was also where the Frelimo (the party of the independence struggle and Government since) office was. It looked to be secure, and one of the mechanics was going to sit by it all night. The clutch plate was coming from a couple of Nigerians who owned a small motorcycle and car parts shop just round the corner. They had a brother in Nampula who would send the part. Both spoke good English and became translators. It was dark and I wanted to find somewhere to stay and eat, Peter the older of the brothers showed me the two available places. Pasado was the larger, almost a proper hotel – while the other was some rooms around the back of a bar. I decided to opt for the Pasado, after all I would be there for all that long would I? Peter was keen to show me the bars of Namialo – I wasn’t really in a position to argue (even though I just felt like going to sleep) he was the only person I had come across here who could speak English.

First stop was the truckers bar where we had stopped to look at accommodation, I had seen bars similar to this all over Africa, loud music, dancing a beer. Everyone was friendly and wanting to try out their few words of English and show me moves to the music. It was easy to forget about the landcruiser! Later on I went back to the hotel, needing some sleep. Sleep wasn’t that easy, every so often there would be a knock at the door, each time it was a quite beautiful young lady wanting to come in. With the amount of truckers around (who are one of the main transporters of HIV Aids) it would probably be a death penalty to let any of them in (let alone any moral issues..) I gave up answering the door after a while, it seemed to be a catwalk.

The Gearbox

The next morning the clutch plate arrived, and was relatively quickly replaced with the gearbox. It didn’t work and made even worse noises now. The mechanic decided it was the ‘bomba” or hydraulics. I wasn’t convinced having replaced both the input (master) and output (slave) earlier in the trip. But the mechanic spent the rest of the day taking them apart and looking at the seals. It was just wasting time really.

Gearbox out

Gearbox out from inside the car…

That evening we pushed the car to the hotel, there seemed to be a problem with the owner of the garage and / or the Frelimo office. So it seemed like a better idea to work on the car in the hotel car park. It also meant that I could keep an eye on it.

I managed to sleep well that night, but waking up, it takes a few moments for it all to sink in, yup I’m stuck in a small town in northern Mozambique… The mechanics turned up again wanting me to buy a new ‘bomba’ i was having none of it, the noise was from something far more serious. Peter arrived and I gave the mechanics a little bit of money and he invited me to his house for lunch. I was beginning to get used to being on the back of his little Chinese motorbike. Peter would often turn up and say, ‘Let’s go’ ‘go where’ I would ask, but never get a reply. It was a good way to see how far back the town went from the main road, down the maze of dirt roads.

On one of those dirt roads we bumped into a mechanic called Compremado, he had heard about the land cruiser and wanted to work on it. I wasn’t sure about it, my head was telling me to get the car to Nampula (The nearest big town) as soon as possible. There was talk of a new mechanic in town, with proper facilities and tools- we went and had a look, and it seemed to be ok- but the guy in charge wanted around $15 an hour for work, which to me seemed massive. By this point I was certain it was the gearbox, which could take days and days to fix, adding up to a lot! I was warned that labour prices in Nampula would be even higher and getting the vehicle there would also cost a significant amount.



Compremado seemed to be on the same wavelength as me, he disagreed with the old mechanic about the hydraulic pointing to something more serious. Him and Peter also said that it was easier a cheaper to transport parts from Nampula rather than the car. I figured parts could add unto a lot, so decided to opt for the cheaper labour and get involved more myself.

Once the gearbox was out again it appeared the clutch plate had been put in the wrong way around- could it really be that simple? After getting it all back again, while the noise was less loud there was still a serious problem- must be the gearbox. By this point I was getting slightly annoyed with people not wanting to inspect the gearbox while it was out. On the third attempt I got my wish!

On my landcruiser there is a normal 5 speed gearbox and a transfer case (this changes from 2 wheel drive to 4 wheel drive and also from hi to low ratio). It was pretty easy to see that the noise was coming from the gearbox and closer inspection reveled that a bearing at the lower front part (i will put diagrams in here at some point) was destroyed. Compremado and his friends took the gearbox apart and also the lower shaft cogs where also damaged. Time for some new parts.

Yikes gearbox in 1000 pieces

Yikes gearbox im 1000 pieces

I had been doing some research on the Internet, www.ih8mud.com and www.toyodiy.com looking at different parts and what may work, and what won’t.

Nampula and the Nigerians

We (Peter, Compremado and myself) headed for Nampula by minibus. First stop was to meet all of Peter’s family at his brother (Silvester) car parts shop. They were all larger than life characters ( and all pretty massive, and loud!) and soon pointed us into the direction of a breakers yard.

There were two 4 speed gearboxes that would fit my engine, but would be too short to fit the driveshafts without modification. They opened one up and as it had been stored outside was nice and rusty inside. The shaft was also shorter than mine so couldn’t use the parts. The guy wanted $650 for a rusty gearbox that might work with some modification, I decided that there must be other options.

On the walk back to town we stopped off at another place, the guy here said he would have the part the following afternoon, but he needed to keep my sample- fine let’s see what he can do, it was getting late.

Silvester kindly offered to put us up in his house, fed me (with huge amounts of food, imported beer and whisky). When I thought the evening was winding down, it was decided that we were to go out to a club, sounded like fun as I heard lots of good things about Mozambican music. It wasn’t as disappointment, these people can dance! And dance until the earlier hours we did.

The next day I had a mobile full of new contacts for parts, I think I must have let the whole club know what was going on! It wasn’t long before SMS and phone calls started appearing. Everyone wanted my sample parts – it seemed like a night out wasn’t just good for the hip muscles, but also for finding car parts!

But it didn’t work out, the only two options where to import a 5 speed gearbox from South Africa or fix a 4 speed on all a great expense. The guy who took my part on Friday, did manage to find a similar part, but it was too different to fit. I also got the feeling that the part was stolen. The men of the car parts world in Nampula just saw me as a way of making big money.

There was news from Namialo that there might be a 5 speed gearbox there so by Sunday I was keen to go back. Peter wanted me to stay just for a few more hours at Silvesters so we could have a Nigerian delicacy; smoked sheeps head, know as ‘smokies’. I had heard about these in the UK, as they are illegal, something to do with the meat ( read brain) being slightly heated up in the smoking process before being cooked more thoroughly after. A food hygienist nightmare! But I was keen to try a bit, so far the Nigerian food had been really tasty. It was quite nice, but the texture of the head been hacked to bits with the brain still inside wasn’t that nice…

The Girls of Namialo
On arrival back to Namialo the hotel bar was full of girls, it appeared that my name had got around town and they all wanted to meet me… Great.. conversation was never really going to get past what is your name! Peter didn’t even know half of them, and he seemed to know all the girls in town! I managed to sneak away and sleep alone, which actually seemed to offend the hotel staff the next morning. In their broken English they asked me ‘what is wrong with our girls, you are not married, are you?’… Saying you have a girlfriend doesn’t help.

Later that day one girl called Anita dragged me away from the hotel to the market to buy fish (clearly I was paying!) she took me back to her house and dumped her sisters baby on me a cooked a great fish lunch. It seemed to be just her and her sister there, both in their late teens / early 20s. By this point I had found the wonders of google translate on my mobile phone- great quick way to have Portuguese in your pocket. It helped to develop the conversation a little bit further than what is your name? how are you? Food? Anita had lived in Namialo all her life, I couldn’t quite work it out but she didn’t seem to have any parents and when I showed her the Portuguese translations on my phone she couldn’t always seem to read it – later I noticed that she had real difficulty writing an SMS on her phone. I dont think she could read or write very well. She had also lost her little finger and part of the next finger on her left hand, she went to great lengths to hide it from me, always swooping hands over if she had to pass anything in front of me. I was curious to know how it happened, she paused and pointed to the fire. She was covered in all sorts of other scars- she clearly had had a difficult life, but was always smiling and always happy. We wondered back to the hotel to see what was happening with the car, but then she refused to leave tugging on my T-shirt. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, but one of the mechanics signaled that she wanted to wash my clothes. I gave her a few t-shirts not entirely sure if I would seem them again, but sure enough the next day she appeared with them, smelling fresh and dry. All she wanted was a tiny bit of change- fair enough. Anita would appear every so often for the rest of my time in Namialo, wanting to take my clothes to wash, make me food and try out a word of English on me. Sometimes just simple things can make you feel so much more relaxed an welcome. What ever happened to the car, my life was already had much more opportunity than Anita, she despite all her problems was able to stay positive and happy. This helped me keep in perspective the problems with the car, it after all, is just some bits of metal.

As if by magic, all the other girls disappeared no more knocks on the door at night. Maybe they just got bored, but it helped me to feel a little less conspicuous! I was always sad too see them jumping in and out of truckers cabs, locals would often point out which ones they thought had HIV, its places like here where infection rate can be as high as 80%. But there little else to do there, buying beer was cheaper in some places than a coca cola and I only found one pool table. Sometimes I would see girls watching the latest soap on the TV in the hotel (they almost certainly didnt have one at home), but all to often they were picked up by a travelling businessman.

Desperation, but a light from South Africa?

It was now a week into the breakdown and the car didn’t look like it was going anywhere soon, I was completely in the hands of the mechanics and Peter. I also often didn’t understand what was going on, because of the language barrier. I was well in touch with the outside world via the Internet, but I was vey much on my own.

It began to get slightly desperate, I wanted a way out of the situation and the mechanics and Peter wanted to make there money… What would be the solution?

I kept being told that there were gearboxes near Namialo, but it seemed to be taking a long time to actually go and see them. But then, one night, we all piled into a pick up and went off down the dirt roads. As ever, with anything to do with Namialo everyone was drinking. It was 11pm at night but when we arrived at peoples houses they were expecting us, but every time i took one look at the gearbox and knew it was 4 speed. I began to think that this would be the only option, to modify parts of the cars so that a 4spd would fit. My problem was that everyone wanted big money for these gearboxes, which were getting on for 35+ years old and may not make it to Maputo. None of them looked or felt in decent condition to warrant to price.

In Namialo I had noticed another landcruiser which the body was quite seriously damaged, in Europe it would never see the road again, but I guessed it probably was going to repaired at some point. I still thought it would be worth trying to find the owner, I had had a sneeky look and knew that parts from the gearbox would actually fit mine, to make one good one. I asked the guys, not really getting much a response until one night when the mechanics wanted the keys. What was going to happening was the other landruiser was going to be ‘relieved’ of its gearbox, and then replaced with mine. Yikes! I obviously worked out that they were going to steel it, but decided to play a little bit dumb, pointing out that the gearboxes would not swap perfectly and internal changes needed to be done (which you cant do very easily, or well at night). The plan was shelved, partially because of this and partly because to many people knew about the plan, which made it dangerous! Phew!

I had been writing on the internet forum Toyota Landcruiser Club Southern Africa, it wasn’t long before many ideas came up to sort my problem out, including one amazingly kind offer from somebody who was going to drive a fully reconditioned gearbox from South Africa to Namialo. It nearly went through, but the cost of the gearbox was going to be massive and by this point in the journey the landcruiser had lots of other small problems, which meant that it needed a lot more work to be sold for a decent price. After two years of throwing money at this project, it was time to stop.

Other white people, trouble and arrests!
In my three weeks in Namialo, I occasionally would see other tourists on the buses going through. Buying bottles water from the local kids (who had just filled it up from the tap!). They all seemed very far away and by that point I probably looked like I had “gone bush”! One night myself and Peter were playing pool / entertaining the local kids, when two South Africans came to join us. Peter wanted to take them on and obviously with him, it was going to be for money. I wondered off to chat to the Police commander. The game was obviously close, as one of the South Africans for-fitted the game by putting his cue on the table, but they refused to give the money to Peter. He protested and in somewhat childesh way he snatched one of their mobile phones. After a bit of a scuffle, the phone and money were returned to where they were before the game of pool. Sorted or so I thought.

They next morning, at the hotel the Police Commander came to the hotel to have his usual breakfast – he spoke good English and was always interesting to chat to. I also figured that it was always good to be onside of the local police! He informed me that the South Africans were accussing Peter of not only steeling the mobile phone, but also $1000 and a driving license. He didnt seemed to believe the story himself, but he had to arrest Peter. This is going to be interesting I thought…

Peter and the Police commander didnt really see eye to eye, Peter thought the commander was corrupt and the police commander thought Peter was shady. Potentially true on both parts I thought! But on this occasion they seemed to be reasonably cooperative. The South Africans had since changed their story and forgot about the $1000, but it was still going to have to go to court. I was trying not to get involved, but Namialo is too small to hide anywhere! So I was always found, either by the Nigerians or the Police “can you come and help with….”. The court was in the district capital called Meconta.

Meconta was about 15km away on a dust road, they only time I went there was when we were looking for parts. It obviously used to be quite a grand place, with wide boulevards and impressive Portuguese buildings. It however was fading, firstly because of the war but also now because the tarmac road by passed it. Namialo, in terms of trade was more important.

The Police have no transport in Namialo so Peters Guinean friend drove the police and him to court. There was a wip round because Peter was going to have to “buy” a judge – that is how things worked here! In the end all seemed to be cleared up, but it the whole saga made me want to leave even more. I was getting too involved with small town politics.

In the last week two German couples arrived at the Passada hotel, they seemed to have been pointed in my direction. They were in two hired Toyota Hilux’s and one had been in a small crash, damaging the radiator. We swapped stories and it was generally nice to speak to people from the outside world, I was able to show them the best place to eat (read Only place to eat except for the Hotel!). Luckily for them having two cars enabled them to tow the damaged car to Nampula. I hoped they got the radiator sorted relatively quickly.

The selling of the Landcruiser

I was getting uncomfortable in Namialo, being on my guard 100% of the time was seriously tiring. I didnt want to stay in Namialo for ever and it seemed like every option that came up to fix the car had many pitfalls. Nothing looked like it would work out without either great expense and or major problem. I was coming to the conclusion that selling the car would be a good idea.

As soon as I put the idea out a buyer was found Snr Sanchez the owner of the Passado hotel I was staying in. He was of Portuguese origin, but didn’t speak any English, he wanted to buy the car and probably could fix it. He offered me good money and agreed to help with the paperwork.

Why Sell the car?

While it would be sad to not complete the journey in the Landcruiser, and as one person said “its a bit like shooting the horse that has carried you all through Africa, in the leg”. It really became my best option, apart from the difficulties of life in Namialo, it actually made sense in other ways. It was always going to be a problem with what to do with the car at the end of the trip. I could not legally import the car into South Africa and doing it illegally would jeopardize my Carnet. It could have been possible to sell it to some British folk who wanted to drive it back to the UK, but this could be very difficult. The car also had a number of other problems which in order to get a good price in South Africa would take time and more money to fix. It was time to move on, something that in the future, I do not regret.

How do you sell a British Car in Mozambique


I have bought and sold a fair few cars in the UK, even had a couple exported to Ireland. But selling a car in Africa surely would be more difficult!

Firstly I needed to have the money in US dollars, I couldn’t take large amounts of Mozambique Metcals out of the country, questions would certainly be asked! This seemed relatively simple for Sanchez, even though the local branch of Millennium bank was closed on the day of the agreement after the manager (who lived in Nampula) forgot his keys to open it, so it stayed close all day.

They next issue was the paperwork. The registration from my side just consisted of filling in a form to say that the car had been permanently exported. Easy. The carnet was my worry, the car had been stamped into Mozambique, but for it to be complete and not cause me problems when I got home, it either needed to be stamped out or stamped to say it had been permanently exported. We had to go to Nampula to do this, so early one morning Sanchez, myself and another guy set off (this time catching a truck rather than a minibus!). Nobody spoke English, so we wondered from office to office with me pointing at the carnet. Sanchez would every so often pay a small amount of money and fill some forms in and have official letters written. It looked like it was going well, I wonder how long it would take to get my stamp? It looked like we were going to have to wait for a few hours so we went for lunch. As ever i didn’t exactly know what was going on, as it was all in Portuguese. I decided to call a girl (Nilza) I had met in the club last time I was in Nampula, she spoke pretty good English and seemed nice enough. I didn’t really think her english was good enough to help to much with the paper work, but she might be able to give me some kind of idea. Nilza arrived and by this point Sanchez had met some friends and we all had a big, almost celebration, of a lunch. It was great, but I still didn’t have my stamp so I didn’t quite feel like celebrating yet. I set about explaining to Nilza about the carnet. For someone who hadn’t really spoken much English outside school and had no dealings with cars she understood the process incredibly well.

Unfortunately it didnt look like I was going to get my stamp today so Sanchez and I headed back for Namialo, I thought we would be back the next day. I was up early they next day, but Sanchez was not wanting to go to Nampula. He wanted to keys for the car, but I refused to give them until I got the carnet stamped. The following day I managed to get Sanchez to come to Nampula, at this stage even the sale of the car looked like it could not happen. Nilza agreed to meet us at the office, but the officials just told us to come back later in the day. Sanchez said he had some business to attend to (but he just went back to Namialo). What was I going to do now? If I couldn’t get a stamp on the carnet then I couldn’t just walk away. We went to play pool. During this time I had been emailing the RAC (UK issuing authority for the carnet) about the issue. They finally emailed me back saying that I didn’t have to worry about the stamp! RELIEF! It was the light at the end of the tunnel, I might actually get out of this mess soon.

The new owner

Snr Sanchez and Grandson

The big sale

It wasn’t just the car that needed to be sold, it was also all the kit, tools and spare parts inside the car that also needed to be sold. I planned an auction style event, knowing full well that I would only get a fraction of the value of the stuff. Nilza had come to help, I was new that Peter would have liked to be the only person there who spoke English and Portuguese. And sure enough he was halving the offer prices to me. It was a nightmare, there were too many people and I think a few small items went missing. Nilza took me to one side and explained the situation, and wanted me to talk with Sanchez. He bought all the spare parts, the mechanics bought most of the tools. The scramble over the couple of tins and dried pasta that I had was telling just how desperate some people are in this town. It was OK in the end, but I was more glad that it was over. Interestingly there was one item that actually I ended up selling for more than I bought in the first place. I had a pair of $10 walmart walking boots, I liked them but they were too heavy to carry (and too hot to wear). They eventually sold for the equivilent of $12!

The Escape

Sanchez fed us a wonderful chicken lunch and we planned the escape! This bit had concerened me deaply, by this point everyone in town knew what my situation was, from what I had seen over the last few weeks, I was reasonably sure someone wouldnt let me leave easily with a bag full of dollars. I wasnt going to get on a local minibus as I had a fair amount of stuff (including the Solar Panels). Peter wanted to organise a pick up to take me to his brothers in Nampula, this was the last thing I wanted to do – while it could well have been fine, it didn’t feel safe. Nilza organised another car, she knew somewhere to stay in Nampula, I figured this would be the best option as she didn’t know anyone in Namialo.

The relief in getting to Nampula was massive, it was sad to see the landcruiser stay in Namialo – but I felt released. What could possibly go wrong now?

The Solar Panels

I didn’t own the Solar Panels that were on the car, and talking with Beco Solar (who gave them to me) and SolarAid it seemed right that they should go to a good cause. I didn’t know of any projects close by in Mozambique, and I wanted a quick solution. I wanted to send them to Ethiopia, to Yenegestefa as they are in the planning stages of building a new Orphanige. Beco Solar were happy to help out, but after a day lugging them around Nampula trying to frieght them there, it proved more costly than the panels were worth. After a few days they eventually went to ActionAid, they will inform me to what happens with them in the future. My visa was running out so I had to act quickly.

To Maputo!

Maputo is over 2200km away from Nampula, I needed to sort my Visa out ASAP as the Lonely Planet warned of $100 a day fines. Nilza, was actually from Maputo and hadn’t seen here mum in 8 months wanted to come, which pleased me. It was a two day bus journey, stopping in Biera. I was tired and drained from the last few weeks, so unfortunately I didnt see much out of the window – deciding that sleep was a better option.

In Maputo I was invited to stay with Nilza’s family also called Nilza confusing. Nilza who I knew became known as Preta, which means Black in Portuguese as she was the most dark skinned. (Incidentally, Gwyn means white in English!). I also came across two other Nilza’s in Maputo…common name! Her family lived in the suburbs in pretty traditional African style shacks. But there was everything you needed and Nilza made some great food.

My poor little laptop

The following morning I realised my laptop had been stolen, I hadn’t been able to buy very secure bags in Nampula and I was more concerned about the money. It was an old laptop, which had already travelled around the world (literally) before this trip so it was more of sentimental value than anything. Luckly my external hard drive (with all the photo’s on it) was safe!

Visas and protests.

In Mozambique it can take upto a week to extend a visa. The immigration office was a cramped mad places and nobody, really knew what was going on. Nobody seemed to want to speak English and once again Preta really helped out (helping a few other English speaking tourists as well). Maputo isn’t a bad place to get stuck, there was great music and food – so it was OK.

I had been invited to stay in a posh Gallery Hotel in Catembe through my facebook group, just over the bay from Maputo. Its one of those freebies that i would be silly to turn down. The next day Preta called me saying she couldn’t meet because of some problem- couldn’t exactly work out what. Then the hotel staff informed me about the riots. Checking news agency reports it appeared that 4 people had been killed that morning in Preta’s neighbourhood. I was glad i was away from the scene, being the only white person in the area i would have almost certainly had problems and caused the family problems as well.

There were lots of scared South Africans in the hotel trying to work out ways to get home. The airport was closed, as where the main roads in an out the boats to Maputo also had stopped. Some drove cross country to Swaziland. I couldn’t leave because of my passport.

The riots where over the price of bread. In Namialo i had been charged around 20p for my first little roll- after a bit of arguing i managed to get it down to around 10p. It should have been closer to 4p…But this price is still expensive compared the Tanz, Malawi and Kenya. I couldn’t understand how locals could afford it. They often couldn’t. After a few days the riots turned more into drunken looting sessions- the currency slipped making imports even more expensive. People started to get annoyed with the rioters- and wanted to get back to daily life- which seemed to happen. The government also gave into the demands of the rioters, reducing the cost of food. I’m not sure what the long term consequences of this will be as it wont be sustainable for the government to do this.

After 2 weeks in Maputo i managed to twist someones arm off and finally get my passport. So after civil strif, major breakdowns and becoming an investor in a small scale furniture business (long story!) i made it to South Africa!

I thought when I entered Mozambique that its pretty close to South Africa now, surely nothing much could stop me getting to Cape Town now, woops!

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