Monkey Bay to Cuamba
I was up before the crack up dawn, eager to get out of there. When Wingate woke up I had already packed up all my gear, made a (charcoal) fire and boiled the kettle, purchased and hid 10kg of charcoal in my backpack and had a shower. He purposely took his time and we only left after he had his obligatory six cups of coffee, a joint or three and 10 saffris. We headed back to the town of Mangochi to fill up with gas, check the internet and buy the last of our provisions before heading out into what Wingate loved to call ‘the while-da-niss’. I had received no replies to my invitation to join me in Moz, so I sent off my last mail for some time, to let the next-of-kin know where I had been seen last in ‘civilization’.
I was still looking for a bicycle but now I had another mission, goats! Wingate had suggested the day before that we take with two or three goats, alive and bleating, all the way to the coast, where he was convinced we could trade them for unlimited seafood. We could eat a small one on the way and tether them to the side of the road at night. I was very keen to add this to my long list of stupid things I’d done, but in the end Wingate realized it would be tough to get them through the border. I nagged him to get some after the border but eventually gave up.
The border crossing was so easy, and I was pleasantly surprised at the treatment we received. The officials were the least corrupt in all of Mozambique and I hoped the rest of the North would be similar. I would be wrong, very wrong.
A South African camper was parked outside and I didn’t really want to meet its occupants. It was a ‘GP’ car from Gauteng and I was convinced only drunken Afrikaners would drive an ugly thing like that. I had seen it at our first attempt at a camp site two days before, and was sure there were boere in it.
I was surprised when the American driver said “hi ya doowin” and begged me for some rolling papers. I immediately answered defensively “I stopped smoking that shit years ago”. I whispered “we’re at a fucking international border, there are customs officers all over the place, we’ll meet up further down the road”. He quickly replied, as loud as most Americans speak, “Uhm smokin’ rollin’ tobacca, I bored it on the saad o’ da road in Zambia!”
I told him I didn’t care, that my friend had rolling papers but he also definitely had weed, so he wasn’t going to get any papers from us until later. Wingate waltzed out of the building, I told him what the guy wanted and he took the Rizzla and weed out of his front pocket and offered the yank some. He happily took several papers and then sped off into the distance. I was sure our paths would cross again.
Wingate had marked a spot on the map where a long river, a train and a bridge intersected, and thought it would make for a possible bush camp. We reached it after an hour and he had visions of grandeur which I thought were delusions. He screamed at some locals who were under the bridge, washing their bodies in the nearby river. “There are crocodiles in this water, you idiots! Get the fuck out of there!”
I reminded him that A: they were locals, and B: they spoke Portuguese.
We pressed on and couldn’t believe the state of the road. It was like riding on a mattress. The road consisted of firm red sand and nothing else.
It was the best road I had seen in months, and was even more comfortable than brand new tarred asphalt. The track was so soft that even dagga boy didn’t emit one shake or rattle (the back door regularly opened after which we would have to stop and gather the items that had fallen out, usually food).
Wingate got tired, it was hot, he needed a joint and refused to let anyone drive what was essentially his home. So we stopped under the only shade we could find, a big tree on the opposite side of the road. His army mattress was on the roof drying, as he’d spent hours washing it the day before. He had a quick nap on top while I made some lunch, canned creamy style sweet corn with warm Portuguese bread rolls.
When I first saw the mountains in the distance, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen such beauty in my life, and was puzzled how this had remained a secret, hidden from the world. I hoped it would stay that way, but Wingate had other ideas and immediately thought of setting up camp at the base of the mountain. I was happy that I was travelling through virgin territory and would probably bring my kids here in 10 years time and there would be dozens of exclusive luxury safari camps.
The new road was going to open up an alternative route for the overland trucks, who were currently driving the long and boring road from Zanzibar to Zambia seeing nothing special on the way. Now they could head South to the Rovuma river , the border between Tanzania and Mozambique. They could then see Pemba , Nacala and Nampula and then continue West to Malawi and then through Zambia, Botswana and Namibia to get to Cape Town. Wingate had it on good authority that this was in fact what they were going to do. He knew most of the overland company drivers, who had promised him business (obviously for a small commission) if he opened up a camp.
We passed through the small town of Cuamba, an important rail and road junction and the economic centre of Niassa Province. There was a lot of industry there, but no infrastructure. This was pretty much true for all of Niassa and I hoped it would stay like that for as long as possible. I searched high and low for ‘Palmar’ cigarettes, as I had remembered the brand from three years before. They were cheap and the quality was above average. All I could find was Pall Mall and nobody could explain to me what had happened to the popular Palmar. I stocked up on all sorts of deep fried sweet things, each one more delicious than the next. The currency was confusing me, as they had recently dropped three zeros from the notes, but the old coins were still in circulation. There was a large 500 Mt (Metical) coin, a giant 1,000 coin and a thick 5,000 Mt coin. Just to confuse the issue more, they had been replaced by new 1Mt, 2Mt and 5Mt coins.
So when someone took a handful of heavy coins from me and I only got a few lemons and onions in return, I thought they were ripping me off. I would then freak out telling them “I’m an African Mzungu and I won’t let you rip me off.” They would then freak out even more because they had no idea what I was saying and their price was the same as everyone else’s. It took at least a week to get used to it, and two weeks to finally find my Palmar’s. The brand had recently changed their marketing and it was now called Pall Mall. It looked and tasted different and was also more expensive!
We were definitely going to free camp in the area and pressed on to find a spot near two huge mountains, desperately trying to get there before dark. Wingate had an unbreakable rule of not driving at night. He broke the rule and we drove slowly shining torches on either side of the road to find a good spot.
When we were sure there weren’t any locals living nearby, we stopped and checked the place out. There was a small forest on a sharp bend in the road, where we thought it would be ideal to camp. It was under cover and hidden from people and the elements. We searched for a place to get the truck in, but it wasn’t going to happen. It was just as well because upon further inspection we got the shock of our lives. We were standing slap bang in the middle of a mass burial site. There were ornate tombstones everywhere, covered in wet green moss. They looked hundreds of years old and we were utterly dumbfounded. Wingate just wanted to get out of there, but I was fascinated and started reading the names and dates inscribed on the stones. It didn’t seem possible, but all the dates were within the last 10 years. I guessed that there must have been a ghastly accident on the sharp corner and all those that died were buried right there and then.
We left in a rush thinking it was probably a bad idea to disturb their spirits, if they believed in them. Twenty minutes later I found the perfect spot, so Wingate decided we’d camp on the other side of the road, somehow thinking my choice was the wrong one. I pitched my tent, started the fire and boiled the kettle within 15 minutes. I boasted about my charcoal fire and he decided to stay in his rooftop tent, sulking. His excuse was “I’m exhausted, it’s been a long day, I’m going to bed early”.
I offered to cook him some food but he insisted he was happy with just bread rolls. I made two baked potatoes, a roast onion and whole cluster of garlic. After eating half I asked if he wanted any and he said no. I then told him how sweet and delicious the onion was after which he proceeded to throw his toys out of the cot.
“You are so fucking selfish. Everyone knows that you have to cook for the driver. Do you know how difficult it was driving all fucking day. You just sit there, talking shit and taking pictures. Fuck you! You selfish cunt!”
I ignored him and made some coffee. He got more and more worked up when I refused to take his shit on, and eventually said “I’m staying right here for the next week. I’m not taking you any further. You can find your own fucking way out of here!”
He kept mumbling obscenities at me while I was packing up my things. Eventually he fell asleep and I had a peaceful time under the stars, wondering how the hell I would get out of this remote spot.
I started working out how much petrol we’d used as I’d spent the last of my Kwacha filling his tank. It was an expensive little excursion I’d embarked on over the past few days, but I saw it as a challenge. I forgot to take any of the food I’d bought, but in retrospect I couldn’t have carried one kilogram more. By now I had four pieces of luggage , all of them bulging at their seams!