Hitchhiking to the beach
I woke up to the sound of chickens pecking around my tent. I peaked outside and saw a man weeding in between the rows of corn we had parked next to. Smoke was billowing from the nearby huts and there were children screaming on the other side of the road. I took a walk down the road wondering which direction I should go in. I explored the area and found a spot to wash my filthy body. There were two nubile girls in the river when I got there, and we all washed ourselves without getting completely naked. Communication was by hand signals and I kept telling them not to worry, I was just cleaning myself. Initially we all felt uncomfortable but they soon started giggling and couldn’t stop. The flowing water was refreshing (freezing) and I got looks of shock from the cyclists riding over the bridge above.
On my return I rekindled the fire, made some coffee and over several cigarettes, contemplated how the hell I was going to get out of there.
It would take days each way, as there wasn’t any public transport around. As I got to the bottom of the dip, a luxury 4x4 drove by and I waved them down. Coffee and cigarette in hand I nonchalantly asked if I could get a ride towards the coast. They agreed, I jumped in, they took my back to my camp where I hurriedly threw all my stuff together and bid farewell to Wingate. He didn’t have much to say besides “you know I’m a single operator, I can’t travel with anyone else for long”. I wished he had told me that before, but I think I manipulated him in the first place.
The four locals in the truck were all timber workers (two of them executives) and I discussed the charcoal issue with them. They didn’t know much about the subject so I left it at that. They told me about their previous attempt at crossing the river ahead, and didn’t seem that confident of making it through. The day before they had to turn back as the flooding had made it impossible to go further.
There wasn’t any communication around these parts, so they simply tried again. My adrenalin was rushing driving at the speeds they were. I hadn’t been that fast on a real road before, so this was like an off-road rally to me. I didn’t complain as was thrilled they were trying to shorten a three day journey into a 14 hour mad rush!
We got to the river and spoke to a lady who had just successfully crossed. She had waited for an hour on the other side, to let the engine cool, and then paid 50 children (there were really that many of them) to push the vehicle across the flowing river. Without a snorkel (the exhaust is diverted to above the roof) it wasn’t possible to drive through, and luckily the base of this crossing was concrete. We did the same, except only waited 20 minutes for the engine to cool. I followed by example and removed my clothes from the waist down, then waded through the 1 metre deep water while watching the vehicle being pushed slowly through by these entrepreneurial villagers.
We continued our mad rush towards Malema and arrived without incident. They stopped twice to let me take a photograph of the mountains, which were only getting better.
The town of Malema was in ruins from a recent flood, and the road onwards was for all intents and purposes not worth attempting.
We took a ‘shortcut’ which would add 300km to our journey, but save 10 hours. The concept doesn’t sound logical, but during the floods there aren’t any other options and at least you still get to your destination, in one piece.
I bought the guys some Cokes and Lemon Twists and we headed off in a Southerly direction. During our detour, through an area where the roads don’t exist on any map, we got hopelessly lost and had to ask directions from locals. Unfortunately most of the locals could only direct us to the next village, as they hadn’t ever traveled much further than their bicycles would allow. I was thrilled every time we arrived in a new village, as I was without a doubt the first Mzungu in the area for a very very long time. This time I was travelling with locals who knew the prices, so I simply went shopping and then gave them the money to pay for it. No chance for a rip-off!
We eventually made it out of the bush and onto a brand new four lane highway that had just got it’s lines painted on.
After the serious detour, they decided to make up some time, and so we drove at almost 200 km/h listening to pumping uplifting house music while devouring oily snacks.
It wasn’t long before disaster struck. The new road ran out and was replace by an almost complete road that hadn’t received its final smooth coating. At the speed we were going it was a given that we would have a major blowout.
They battled for over an hour in the searing heat to remove the spare wheel from under the truck. It was securely locked but the lock was corroded. I tried to help but they wouldn’t allow the Mzungu tourist to get dirty. So I connected up my iPod and started planning the next few days. I had witnessed this problem on three previous occasions – all involving the same vehicle and lock!
I knew the only solution was to cut off the offending bolt holding the wheel on. The problem was that we didn’t have an angle grinder, which was the only effective tool I’d seen accomplish the job. Dave to the rescue! We took turns with the three inch saw on my Leatherman Wave ®, sawing away at the thick rusted bolt. It was in an awkward place which involved limited grip and sawing motion movement. A few cuts, bruises and spasms later it was done. We were on our way again and it was getting dark. Two hours later they dropped me off in front of the cheapest Pensão in Nampula.
I thanked them profusely and they reciprocated. The Pensão was too expensive, so I walked around and found a dodgy dive for half the price. They gave me a giant room with three beds in it. I had a shower, got naked and relaxed on the bug-ridden bed, under the speed-wobbling ceiling fan.
It had been three weeks since I’d left the coast and I was eager to get into the sea. Naçala was northern Mozambique’s busiest port and gateway to some attractive beaches. It was only 3 hours away but the only direct transport left at 05:00!
I checked out the town, found some chicken to eat and arranged for a taxi the next morning. Dodging the pretty whores all over the place was quite a challenge.
The taxi driver wanted too much money, so I decided I’d walk to the bus station. It was under a kilometer on the main road and I felt it was safe walking under the bright street lights. I made it the coaster (bigger than a taxi, smaller than a bus) 20 minutes too late, but they hadn’t left yet. It was one of those ‘only leave till we full’ types. Luckily they didn’t have to be that full and we left 30 minutes later.
At our first stop, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets when a tray of prawns was placed in front of my window. Although they looked and smelled delicious, it was 08:00 and I didn’t feel like prawns for breakfast!
and I We arrived in the heart of Naçala at 09:00 and I was dropped off outside a bank. Luckily there was a travel agent and an internet café next door, so I investigated the various flight options and called the Fim du Mondo (end of the world) dive resort to collect me. They were situated on the idyllic Fernão Veloso beach and had cheap campsites and panoramic views. The owner was South African and I was the only guest.
I quickly setup my tent then headed down the steep hill for a dip in the azure waters. I was let down by the tepid water and took a cold shower at the campsite, which was a better refreshing alternative.
I spent most of the day walking up and down the beach with Captain Mario. He was a local beach boy touting for business. He told me he had his own dhow (I am sure he was just looking for commission) and tried to convince me to pay him a lot of money to take me across to the nearby islands. We spoke for ages about my experiences on the east coast of Africa and wondered why it was that Mzungus needed to leave a perfect beach, with all the amenities at their doorstep, to go across to a desolate island, with an inferior view of the mainland and no amenities. Mario told me he had always wondered why but never asked any questions. I told him about the concept of ‘the grass is always greener’. It is surprisingly easy to explain this concept in a foreign language by pointing to things and using emotive speech. Mario understood and related the concept to most of his friends, who wanted to leave this paradise to go live in a dirty city. He told me that their excuses of there being better opportunities and that life was easier didn’t hold water, as most of them didn’t even try make a go of it locally. We brainstormed about the various business opportunities to engage tourists in an eco-friendly way. I suggested he invite them to his village and treat them to a local meal of fresh seafood and Nshima.
I told him I would be his first customer and we could see how it went.
All along the beach there were woman and children washing their clothes. They used the rocky cliff edge as a washing stone and were privileged to have access to the crystal clear spring water flowing out of the mountain. The upper reaches of the beach were covered in a colorful quilt of drying clothes. I took advantage and ran up to my tent, collected all my filthy clothes (they weren’t washed that well 10 days and three countries earlier) and organized collection of same and dinner at 18:00. He arrived with his brother and friend and insisted I take my washing back home before joining them. I should have realized then that we weren’t going around the corner, but instead told them “don’t worry, I’m strong Mzungu”. It took an hour to get to their village, and I ended up constantly shifting my laundry from one shoulder to another.
I refused to hand over any money, and insisted on buying the fish myself. Both Mario and his brother told me it would be better if I weren’t there, as they would immediately take advantage of the white man. I had to agree with them considering I was quite a site in my Sikh outfit, beard and braids!
Mario went on the hunt for some Dorado (a fresh local fish) and disappeared for over an hour. He left me in the able hands of his brother, who in turn left me with his wife and one year old child. She poured me a glass of water from the huge can she had carried on her head from who knows how far. I drank four more glasses while she cooked a mixture of cassava and maize meal with a dried fish sauce. I ate as much as I could and was then summoned to Mario’s house for the main course. The Dorado was superb and Mario gave me a lift on his bicycle all the way back to Fim du Mundo.