This is REAL AFRICAN public transport
28.01.2007 - 28.01.2007
27th January 2007
I set my alarm for 04:00 as I had to get the 05:00 Grupo Mecula bus to Pemba. There was only one bus and I was told it always left on time and never stopped on the way. I was adamant that this was the bus, so I packed up my tent, throwing in wet laundry, sand and bugs, made one big parcel out of everything and threw it on my back, all in the dark. It took half an hour to walk the 2km to the main road from Fim du Mundo, and I was hot, wet, purple and exhausted, physically and mentally, when I arrived. There was no public transport until 06:00 and no taxi was prepared to pick me up, not that I would have paid for such an extravagance.
Hundreds of farm labourers walked past me and either gave me confused looks or laughed under their breath. There were groups of woman walking with their heavy hoes and packed lunches balanced on their head.
I got excited every time a bicycle came by, but there was no way I would be able to get on and it would have been a lost cause anyhow as Naçala was 7km away and all of the bicycles already had two passengers on them!
I waited half an hour getting more and more frustrated as time went by. It was now 05:15 and I was praying the bus was delayed. A large truck came past and I stood in the middle of the road desperate for it to stop. It was full. I didn’t care. They made space for me amongst the baskets of fresh fish, furniture, animals and humans.
As I arrived in town I was ushered to a bus that was ‘full and leaving immediately’ for Monapo and Namialo where I could get onward transport to Pemba. The timing was great and they were 100% sure I would get a taxi from either Namialo or Monapo. I couldn’t believe my luck. I threw everything in the bus and began to relax. The relaxation turned to irritation after 30 minutes, when after seeing the same shops, roads and views, I realized that we hadn’t actually left Naçala yet. It seemed we were looking for more passengers to make the two hour journey more lucrative. I didn’t have any other options as this was the last and only transport heading that way. I knew this as all the other passengers were moaning, begging the driver to get the hell out of there. It took more than two hours to finally leave, more time than the whole journey should have taken.
On arrival in Namialo, there was a big blue chappa (open truck) that was ‘full and leaving immediately’. Although I’d fallen for this too many times, this truck was really full, all the luggage packed on the small roof above the driver and all 20 passengers sitting on top of each other.
It was so full that three guys were literally hanging off the back, their feet on the bumper and one arm holding onto anything including me, so as not to fall off. I was wondering how long they could last until I realized that they were actually the touts, getting paid for finding more passengers!
And more passengers (with their corresponding luggage) is exactly what they found. Once again there was nothing I or the dozens of other passengers could do about it.
Again, the only Mzungu in sight was the centre of attention. It would have been fine if the locals harassed me once, but because we were driving around constantly, each time we returned to the frantic market, I was pounced on. I suppose I did encourage them with my drum playing and regularly buying snacks and drinks. They all wanted to touch me and with each touch it was as if they were receiving my autograph. The camera didn’t help either, as they fought with each other to be in the shot! The novelty soon wore off and I ended up ignoring them completely, the other passengers helping me to shoo them away. After an hour some of my fellow irritated passengers jumped off, opting to wait in the shade until we were ready to go. It was blisteringly hot and there was no cover from the scorching sun. I wasn’t prepared to leave all my belongings on board, so I remained stuck. I could feel myself getting burnt and my limbs were in pain from everybody else’s limbs squashed up against each other. I have been told that I am an exceptionally placid being with an abnormal amount of patience, but on this occasion it had run out, as it also had for many of the other passengers, especially the mothers with small children. We threatened to all jump off, got rid of the touts and finally left the town we had driven up and down dozens of times. After waiting a total of two hours since I jumped on there were now 42 passengers on board! I shudder to think how long the others had waited for.
The above numbers are NOT an exaggeration. I really did wait that long and their really were that many passengers.
The journey only got worse when the truck drove through potholes at full speed, causing bruising to everyone. After three hours and 200km, I was the only passenger left, and I was still nowhere near Pemba. I refused to get off or pay them as they had promised me it was going all the way to Pemba. When 6 goats were loaded on I didn’t have much choice but to get off. We argued over payment, I wouldn’t pay anything, they wanted the full amount. They arranged a minibus taxi which they promised me would only take 15 minutes to get to the next town, from where there would definitely be onward transport to Pemba. My gear was loaded into the small taxi and I was charged for three people. I ignored them, paid for one ticket and held my drum and two bags on my lap for the next half hour.
They dropped me at the next town, Namapa, which turned out to be a tiny dusty dump. I was famished and immediately bought half a dozen pão (Portuguese bread rolls) and five boiled eggs. I sat myself down in a local canteen, stuffed my face and ordered three bottles of Lemon Twist from the proprietor, a big mama, to quench my thirst.
Once again a Mzungu in this town was an extremely rare site and soon I had an intrigued audience watching my unfamiliar activities. I asked a few locals if and when the next ride to Pemba would come past, but most of them didn’t hold out much hope. Then the heavens opened up the dusty town quickly became a muddy mess.
I had to bring my gear inside and package it in a way to keep out the rain. It wasn’t happening – I had too much stuff.
A truck stopped on the highway to drop off some beer, and I was desperate.
Both the locals and the driver looked at me in disbelief when I asked if I could get a lift to Pemba. I offered the driver money and promised him I would sit on top. There was already a small child on the back, hiding under a plastic sheet, and so I started opening up the tarpaulin to load my gear. During the five minutes it took me to put my bags under cover, I got soaked right through. So I was naturally relieved when a bus arrived and parked under the cover of the nearby gas station.
They were full, but I knew that no bus was ever full enough. This was your typical mad max bus, with luggage loaded three metres high on top on the vehicle leaning dangerously over to one side. I told them I would stand, but my bags had to be inside, as there was no way I was going to let everything get wet on top. They politely refused, so I jumped on the blue lorry and waited patiently next to the boy for the driver to finish his business. I was cold and wet, but there was no other way I was going to continue, so I looked at the positive side of things and told myself that I was in fact very privileged to experience this delightful mode of transport!
The rain was intermittent and often changed from hectic downpour to light drizzle to sunny bliss. Every time we passed a group of people on the side of the road, one local would notice my white face and pause in shock. Without fail they would then scream at their friends to brag about their Mzungu sighting, which resulted in screams and waving arms. I felt obliged to wave back and reply to their ‘Mzungu Mzungu’ with ‘Matoto Matoto’ (little kid, little kid).
We were soon stopped at a security checkpoint, and the corruption began. I couldn’t believe my eyes with what I saw next. The fat policeman, dressed in a regal white uniform, browsed through the selection of DVD’s on offer, and the driver then parted with two of them, as a payment for letting us pass. I never realized that it was not only tourists who had to put up with corrupt officials, but that the locals had resigned themselves to the harsh realities.
After two hours of an exhilarating but bumpy, cold and wet journey, the driver invited me into his cabin. I hooked up my iPod, dried and defrosted and enjoyed the brilliant colors of the surroundings through the giant unobstructed window.
I eventually arrived in Pemba, 18 hours and five means of transport after my 04:30 departure that morning. The driver called me a private taxi, who drove me from hotel to hotel to find me a bargain. The hotels were ridiculously and prohibitively too expensive, and I reluctantly settled for Russell’s Place, 5km south of Pemba on Wimbi beach.
The last thing I wanted to do was sleep in my tent in the rain, but I was already way over budget and gave in to my unrealistic desires. I setup camp, introduced myself to the locals and tucked into a warm plate of delicious food brought to me at the bar.
There were three guys parked off at the bar, an Aussie and two South Africans, already well into their Saturday night drinking and smoking session. I told them where I’d come from and they were absorbed with my manic African tales.
We listened to my iPod, spoke of corruption and eventually said goodnight at 02:30.
28th - 29th January 2007
After less than three hours of sleep, I woke up at 05:00 and had seven cups of coffee with Jurgen (a South African in exile), Russel (an Australian and the owner of the campsite) and Ja’me ( a wise man from Portugal). My decision to come to Pemba was well worth it. From Naçala I had the option of going down to Ilha de Mozambique, similar to Zanzibar with it’s stone town, but opted instead to head north, exactly in the opposite direction of Cape Town.
I was now further from Cape Town than I’d been in Northern Uganda, and I only had 11 days of my 10 weeks left, to cover more than 7000 km. I didn’t have the energy or money to do this, and started investigation various expensive flying options. The locals had told me it would take at least a week to get to Maputo, and that wouldn’t include stopping anywhere for longer than one night. I was exhausted by the previous 15 days in which I had traveled all the way from Nairobi to Northern Mozambique, a distance of more than 5000 km, through eight countries, on buses, trains, ferries, taxies, trucks, pickups, private vehicles, hitch-hiking and even bicycles!
I was in serious need of some rest and relaxation, so I was happy when Russell and his friends invited me to join them for a Sunday beach picnic. I accompanied them into town on the back of his newly refurbished Land Rover to stock up on food and drink. Before we left, we checked out the engine bay and found oil in the radiator. This was slightly confusing to me, as a manifold or head gasket had clearly broken, but they decided to drive it anyway. I did warn them that the shit would hit the fan, but these guys weren’t exactly compus mentus at the time.
The city was surprisingly underdeveloped, especially considering what I had read about the idyllic paradise that was supposed to be Pemba. The paradise was actually all centered around the plush hotels, one of which, the Pemba Beach Hotel run by the Arab Rani Resorts, was Mozambique’s only five star hotel outside of Maputo. We stopped at the local market for some expensive fresh pineapples, mangos, avocados and paw-paws.
One child wouldn’t stop looking at me with my braided head and purple face, and eagerly posed for some pictures.
Ja’me arranged a black market exchange rate from ‘Che’ Guevara for my $100 and my wallet was filled with a thick wad of Meticais for the first time.
The Landy spewed and spluttered and we inevitably broke down on the main road. I wasn’t surprised as I own two 1966 Land Rover Forward Controls (huge army vehicles) and spend more time under them than inside. Russell came to tow us in his trusty TLC (Toyota Land Cruiser).
It was the stuff 4x4 enthusiasts always spoke of around the camp fire – how their TLC towed a Landy out of the shit!
The beach picnic was almost called off, but Russell agreed to take us all in his TLC. We picked up a huge sea kayak and drove the 20km along the beach to his friend’s piece of pristine beachfront land. There were seven 4x4 there, all of them local. I was stoked that I could share a Sunday picnic with locals, even though most of the locals were ex-pats, most spoke Portuguese and all had assimilated.
The picnic was held under and around the lapa, a thatched structure made completely from local materials. I took it upon myself to make the fire while Ja’me organized some fresh sardines, hand picked straight from the net of the local fisherman, for an hors de oeuvre.
I was surprised to bump into the American I had met in Malawi and on the border. This was our third encounter and would turn into an adventure of note. His name was Silva Cohen, a 42 year old tree surgeon from ‘the humptons’ on Long Island.
We great fun preparing the fish. I chopped all the onions, tomatoes and garlic while chatting to everyone about corruption and expensive hotels. Jurgen had a collection of spices from around the world which I was thrilled to throw into the mix.
The fire was difficult to keep going during the rain but once the grill was covered in salted sardines drizzled with lemon juice, the coals did their job.
We didn’t have any pots or pans, so I ingeniously sawed off the tops of five beer cans in which to cook the relish for our fish. I thought the pictures would make a brilliant marketing campaign for SAB/Miller’s Castle Lager!
The food turned out delicious and everyone had the time of their lives. I hadn’t been with a more jovial bunch of people in a very long time. The beach was incredible and the ocean almost refreshing.
The sea temperature was no longer a warm bath as it had been for all of Tanzania and Kenya, it was now moving closer toward a cold cup of coffee.
None of us really wanted to end the day, but after a fantastic sunset it soon got dark and Sunday evening was ‘Pizza Night’ at Russell’s Place.
Back at the campsite I downloaded over 300 photographs and did a slide show for everyone while we all munched on delicious pizza. Silva (the American) was very intrigued by my visit to Rwanda, and we chatted until the early hours while I played my Rwandan drum.
At 07:00 we repeated the coffee routine of the previous day. Jurgen’s eyes lit up once I told him I suffered from Bipolar II disorder. His American girlfriend had the same condition and refused to stick to her medication. She relapsed regularly and spent fortunes of her Senator Father’s money satisfying her manic episodes. Jurgen obviously enjoyed these binges but couldn’t handle the resulting emotional stress. I gave him the names of some important books on the subjects and he gave me a dozen black and white professional Ilford film. His girlfriend was a professional photographer and he had hundreds of unused film. I was over the moon.
Silva joined us at Russell’s (he was staying in a nearby cheap pensão) to ask about road conditions up north. I asked if I could join him, flicked a coin, and 20 minutes later my kit was packed in the back of his camper and we were heading for the mighty Rovuma river on the Tanzanian border.
What possessed me to now go even further away from my destination, on limited funds, I’m not sure, but what I was sure about was that it would be well worth it and probably the last time I’d be able to experience it sans touriste.