Driving in Luxury
29th – 31st January 2007
Silva was a very interesting man. He kept telling me how he was confused that he’d let me join him. He told me he had three rules against travel partners:
1. &nbs p; “I don’t associate with people who have dreadlocks”
2. &nbs p; “I don’t talk to ‘suvefrikens’ (South Africans)”
3. &nbs p; “I hate Jews”
I told him I was a ‘self-hating Jew’ like Ali G, my braids were not dreadlocks and that I had a British Passport and wasn’t a racist Afrikaner. I had manipulated him and we ended up getting on like a house on fire!
We headed north along the coast on a shit road, stopping for a ‘peixe & pão’ lunch in a small fishing village called Quissanga. It was possible to charter a dhow to the nearby Quirimbas Archipelago, but Silva explained to me that he already lived on an island and didn’t particularly enjoy island life anyway. I persuaded him to rejoin the main road and head for Mocimboa de Praia, the last major town before the Rovuma.
We arrived in the dark and spent a few hours entertaining and pissing off the locals at a pool bar. I hustled them once again, played kwaito music on my iPod and left them all broke. They had served us a horrible meal and was hesitant to leave the 3 squid I’d purchased from a local.
A strange man, the only remotely European looking man in the town, was hanging about the bar, giving me a funny look every now and then. He was very conscious of me looking at him and when he did speak, he spoke in tongues. I asked the locals what his problem was, and found out he was a retired helicopter pilot from the 70’s. He had lost all his friends and family in the war and was now psychologically disturbed for life. Silva actually did the asking and interpreting as he was fluent in Portuguese. His accent was Brazilian because he spent years touring South America.
We stayed at Complexo Miramar which the LP describes the rooms as ‘no-frills rondavels, with just a trickle of running water’. I only read this the following day, as it was Silva who had found the place. I was pissed off when we got inside after midnight, and insisted I would rather camp than spend $25 on a dirty hovel with broken mosquito nets, no running water, and buckets of green algae water that stank! Silva insisted we stay there as there were no other options and he wasn’t prepared to get into trouble with the authorities. It was also very dark and we had no idea on whose land to park and sleep. I woke up the owners – an old greasy Portuguese couple living in a tiny room besides the restaurant.
The old man wore a dirty white vest from which his long white body hair stuck out. His wife was hideous with giant warts covering her face. I used sign language to convey my disgust in their rooms and demanded a cheaper price and fresh water. We were both very confused with the price as the Meticais losing three zeros made me think it cost $8. I paid for both of us, made sure they arranged for 200 liters of fresh water, let them go back to sleep and only realized how much I’d paid while lying on the foam mattress trying not to touch the soiled blue mosquito net!
Luckily we were both early risers and Silva introduced me to the kitchen in the camper. I was pretty impressed with the heavy duty Engel fridge and gas burners. There was water on tap (which he’d filled from a borehole in Malawi) and all the utensils you could possibly need. He had some good coffee he brought from America and I had my first taste of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). The MREs were foil pouches containing dehydrated meals of meat and vegetables. You opened it, poured in boiling water, closed it, stirred after two minutes and waited another five. It was simple and delicious and he had loads more of them. I didn’t want to read the back and find out how many e-numbers and chemicals were inside, but Silva insisted they were 100% organic and contained none of the evil stuff
I ordered the staff to bring fresh water and they carried several buckets of it so I could shower. We took turns throwing buckets of freezing (but very refreshing) water over each other in a make shift shower in front of our rondavel. The locals were shocked at our nakedness and I noticed the absence of Silva’s foreskin.
We got chatting about the Kosher (Jewish dietary laws) foods and I told Silva it was all to be found in Leviticus. It so happened that he had stolen a bible from a hotel in Zimbabwe and I eagerly read out the various sections pertaining to what Jews could and could not eat or touch. For the next few days our favourite words were ‘unclean’ and ‘abomination’ – which was what would happen to a naughty Jew who came near (or God forbid ate some flesh of) that filthy animal the pig. It was only then that I found out Silva was also a Jew. He had recently become more religious but chose which customs, traditions and holidays he would follow.
We searched high and low for petrol and eventually had to buy some from the port – where they sell fuel to boats. It was quite a process involving paying up front, getting a stamped receipt, going to a warehouse and then siphoning the smelly liquid from 200 liter oil drums. There was no pump, so we had to measure using 5 liter containers. It was cheaper than everywhere else and we were happy to get out of the miserable town.
In Pemba, Silva was told by Russell that the ferry across the Rovuma wasn’t running. The previous evening he found out from border officials at the bar that it was running, but had to stop for a few hours each day after spotters upriver would radio in that huge tree trunks or other debris was coming along. We decided to head South, but got horribly lost and ended up in Mueda. We turned around and headed back, but stopped after Silva received a call from Switzerland. After the call, the Michelin Map was taken out and spread on the bonnet, and we came up with the ridiculous idea of crossing the Rovuma into Tanzania, which was now very nearby.
Once in Tanzania we would take a 4000 km detour through Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I only had $300 left and couldn’t even afford to contribute anything towards the astronomical fuel costs. Silva was happy to have a traveling companion and explained (to my relief) that he would still be using the fuel if he was on his own. So we went back to Mueda for a chicken lunch, stocked up on provisions (if we were successful then civilization would be days away) and then headed out into unknown territory. I insisted on asking half a dozen locals, including truck drivers, if and where we could cross. Despite 80% of them telling us it wasn’t possible, we went anyway. The map showed border posts on each side of the river, which logically suggested that there would also be crossings. Later we found out that maps, especially African maps, are not that logical. I had a 1999 version, Silva the 2005, and Claus (the Dane I traveled with in Tanzania and Kenya) had the 2003 edition. We never found one difference between them. Now in seven years one would think at least a few roads would have been completed or washed away, but this was Africa, and most of the errors on the map had something to do with the fact that the areas in question were so inaccessible. Civil wars had ruined railway tracks, floods had washed away bridges, and even global warming had taken its toll on the width and flow of major rivers. The Rovuma was one of these rivers and after three hours of driving on some of the worst dirt roads on the planet, we hit a dead end 10km after the frontier town of Mocimboa do Rovuma. The views from the town were phenomenal and I quickly snapped away through two rolls of the B&W film that Jurgen had donated to my cause.
We spent half an hour taking photos, soaking up the view and asking for directions and advice on where to stay.
That river looked so close but we were now very sure it wasn’t crossable, at least not with our vehicle.
We decided to get as close to the Rovuma as possible and at least have a quick dip in it!
The road deteriorated until it became a rough track through 6 foot high grass. There was a small river in front of us, which we could cross, so I walked ahead a few hundred metres and tried, unsuccessfully, to get Silva to continue. Twenty kids appeared out of nowhere and told us we could in fact reach the river. Silva didn’t believe them and insisted that they were just looking for money to help us get out the mess we would inevitably end up in.
We drove back to an idyllic spot we had passed under a canopy of trees. We had reset the odometer after passing it and decided that we would spend the night there if and when we couldn’t make it across.
We were treated to once of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed and then setup camp, made a fire and enjoyed two new flavors of MRE’s.
Wednesday 31st I was awoken at 04:30 by people on their way to work. Instead of the usual curiosity, they were actually scared and hurried past after seeing my interest in them. Silva persuaded a few to come chat while I made the coffee and boiled eggs. I persuaded Silva that we would make it all the way to Nampula that evening – over 600km and 13 hours of solid non-stop driving. He agreed and we quickly packed up and left. He drove like a complete maniac, drilling the brand new rental truck (which hadn’t even had its first service) into oblivion. Every 10 minutes I would close my eyes and bite my teeth in anticipation of the next major ditch that would shake everything up.
I begged Silva to stop after seeing a sign advertising Makonde crafts. Many Makonde carvers live in the outlying villages and I purchased two of the most intricate carvings from a very talented and humble young man.
We took turns at the wheel and an hour after I took over, we had a major blowout. It took 30 minutes in the heavy rain to change the tire.
Eventually we made it to Nampula at 19:30.