Potholes, The Kindness Of Strangers And Miraculous Guardian Angels - Mozambique
Our official time in Mozambique was running out fast, and we needed to get our passports stamped, allowing us another thirty days to explore this magical country.
After much consideration, we opted for the southern Zimbabwe border post-Forbes/Machipanda near the Mozambiquan town of Chimoio.
Recent travellers warned us that cyclone Freddie had caused havoc and the heavy rains would’ve damaged the already bad roads. The suggestion was that we head north from Inhassorro, where we’d been camping, along the EN1. We were advised that from the Savi River the road was horrific all the way to Caia on the Zambezi river and there was no way of avoiding the greater part of it. In order to get off the EN1 we needed to turn left and continue in a westerly direction to Dombe and then north to Chimoio.
Roads are busy, and villages are situated along the main arteries and are literally a few meters apart; therefore, there are vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and conditions on the roads. Overloading is everyday. Three adults and a toddler on a motorbike are not uncommon, mini taxis carrying thirty-eight passengers are the norm, ox or mule-drawn carts are plentiful, motor cars, some vintage and many unroadworthy, to us, whizz up and down. Trucks from all over East Africa cart goods of all descriptions in every direction, and then you get The Bus.
Busses are a law unto themselves. Firstly, because they’re on a tight schedule, they carry disgruntled passengers with destinations to reach and impatient clients waiting to embark on a journey.
A bus does not stop for anything, only for fuel. Potholes are not to be negotiated but taken on like a charging bull seeing red. Head first at full speed. All damages to The Bus are collateral. A passenger reported that a pee stop is a rare occurrence. It’s all about engaging your core and bladder with stamina, endurance and faith while keeping schtum.
We moved swiftly off the road when we spotted a bus and waited until the road cleared. There’s no such thing as keeping left when a route is pockmarked with potholes the size of craters. Road markings are there to be ignored and they're only there to keep the road painters busy. Overtaking on a double white line is quite acceptable. If the coast is, or seems clear you go. After all, why wait?
The drivers of giant haulage trucks have my respect. They’re also on a stopwatch, having to deliver their loads in time and, more importantly, in one piece. How they do it on the horrific roads in Africa is nothing short of miraculous.
Now when I hold a jar of marmalade or a fresh, crispy lettuce in my hand in Shoprite in Chimoio and it costs more than I’m accustomed to, I pay it with a smile. That it got there in the first place is mind-boggling, and quite honestly, the drivers should be paid double their salaries. That man deserves his Bells if he ever has the privilege of having one.
The roads are a shocker. Potholes like craters; the tar sometimes dwindled like ribbons fraying. Someone told us the poor quality of the road construction was due to the Chinese contractors, who, in the contracts with the Government, guaranteed a certain longevity of the roads on condition that Mozambique implemented stringent vehicle weight controls, knowing full well that it wouldn’t happen.
When the Government called upon the road builders to fix the shoddy roads, the contractor produced the contracts and pointed his finger at the small print.
We, and everyone on the road, dodged in a zigzag staccato, vehicles engines coughing and bucking as we judged and negotiated the potholes, ditches and dongas. Butch’s concentration could never flag, not even for a minute. There were times the thud and grating shudder couldn’t be avoided, and we’d both hold our breaths, waiting for the tyre monitor to beep, warning us of an imminent disaster. Touch wood, we made it without any hitches.
Having to pay a toll on a non-exsistant road felt like a slap in the face but we didn't have an option. We later learned, when we exited Mozambique that we'd not paid a road tax and to add insult to injury had to cough up $200 for our one way trip! Extortion in my books. Long queues would suck the life out of us until we realised we could slip by and jump the queue without any problems. There's no road rage, no rudeness just infinite patience. I suppose these are all lessons learned from experience.
The colourful villages are a treat with stalls offering any manner of interesting product to browse or buy. Being foodies the fresh vegetables and summer fruits are our main attraction and sometimes stopping to buy something turns out to be a carnival or, in Butch's case a circus. He's not comfortable with the crowds and the haggling really annoys him. I think he'd like to support everyone, which is impossible of course. Charcoal made locally and bagged is sold all along the roads.
I prefer selecting my choices and would saunter off to the markets and sellers myself. Chatting up the stall owner is an education and I've filled my basket with strange new products and wriggled out a first hand family recipe from ladies who've been preparing these strange new plants for their families. My ignorance causes much amusement, a good ice breaker.
Breaking our journey up and spending time out of the truck gives us a pause and a period to stretch our legs. There are no truck stops along the way and truckers buy snacks and meals from the vendors, we follow suit now. Truckers would, without putting a foot on soil buy goats, charcoal and even furniture. Experimenting with new customs is a small thing but exciting and a leap from our comfort zones. Even if it's just a bag of peanuts or cashew nuts!
Fresh fruit are plentiful, cheap and irresistable. In hot climates the ripening process is speeded up and we've learned to freeze cubed fruit to use in smoothies, our breakfast staple. I also learned that pumpkin leaves chopped and sauted with onions, garlic, tomato and water or coconut milk makes a delicious change from spinach. We tried it and confirm it is delcious. A far more substantial leaf and surprisingly tasty. We later bought dried pumpkin leaves which rehydrated very successfully. Korve is another delicious cale/spinach-like vegetable thriving in this hot and humid climate.
We called it a day when we spotted the signposts indicating The Buffalo Camp. Butch was exhausted, and our bodies felt like they’d been put through the wringer. Butch was ready for a long cold 2M, and I couldn’t agree more.
Buffalo Camp, owned by an ex-South African, Willie Prinsloo, is a haven in a forest of Mopane trees where we were allocated a wild campsite. Electricity was laid on, and we were permitted to use the lodge’s ablutions.
Around the long table at night, we met a network of South Africans and Zimbabweans who regularly stop over. From these casual encounters, we got fresh “intel” regarding roads, campsites and references to other people on the network.
Meeting these entrepreneurs, and learning about strangers scattered in faraway African countries, has been a constant fascination. Farmers, conservationists, business people, plumbers, electricians, engineers, wildlife guides, cooks, managers and missionaries. When asked why, they just shrug. That's answer enough.
All of them are enthusiastic to help in any way they can. Without hesitation, Willie hooked up a low-bed trailer and sped off early one morning to travel a hundred miles to help a friend stuck on a bridge. The journey took at least 12 hours on horrible roads.
While at the Buffalo camp, Butch and Willie pored over maps and charted our road in Mozambique in the finest detail. First-hand knowledge is always better than a map, especially where the weather plays a pivotal role in road conditions.
Bernhard van Dyk and his family, en route to Inhassorro, stopped in a whirlwind for breakfast and soon gave us tips and valuable information about Chimoio, Tete, Beira and Ilha de Mozambique. We were delighted.
We would meet Diesel, his house manager in Ilha de Mozambique, who became our guide and a wonderful friend.
The Honey Badger needed a thorough service. Everyone agreed that there was no better place than Dave Froud’s workshop in Chimoio. Dave turned out to be a God-send. We stayed in his workshop yard for a few nights while Butch battled his first bout of fever and the onset of cellulitis.
Dinner at Willie’s was always a treat, the food excellent, but our dining companions, we knew, would be the highlight. On our second evening, we predicted the long table would be well attended. The usual suspects were there, Willie at the head of the table, on his right Billy, a conservationist rehabilitating a large tract of land earmarked for a National Park. A couple from Zimbabwe en route to Inhassorro with their friend Butch and I and an intriguing young couple decked out in Safari gear, Barbara Rautenbach and her husband, Ben.
As one does, we soon had everyone lay out their family trees. There’s always a connection, the six degrees of separation. Ben grew up in Pongola, Bingo. He knew Butch’s sister, and had attended the same school as Butch's niece. He knew about every rattling skeleton. Like old friends, the bonds were soon strong as the two men recounted and reminisced similar experiences.
Inevitably the conversation turned to the “What did you do, Butch” and that topic was discussed. Nothing extraordinary in being an attorney, and Butch kept it short and sweet. When his turn came around, Ben mentioned they were the managing couple on a large game farm on the Zambezi in the far north of Mozambique. Butch, who knows everyone mentioned a long-lost family friend and again Bingo. That’s precisely where Ben and Barbara worked, on Anton’s farm.
Telephone numbers were exchanged, and a group photograph was taken and sent off to Anton,
During texts and calls, Butch mentioned that we were en route to Chimoio, near to where Anton owned a large Macadamia nut farm. He was there foreseeing the current harvest before returning to Pongola the Rautenbachs told us.
While at Dave Froud's garage waiting for a servicer, I experienced an exceedingly touching moment. Two old pensioners, best friends, are employed as nighttime security guards. Friendly chaps, who I’m sure, couldn’t hurt a fly. We could hear their sing-song chatting late into the night as they watched the premises.
Our evening meal was a Gourmet sandwich and salad, which we shared with the two men. They sat by their cosy, crackling fire, legs crossed, enjoying the coolness of the evening, leaning into their chairs while we tried to get Butch’s fever to simmer down.
A while later, there was a soft, tentative knock on our door. I peered out to find the one chap standing presenting me with a small bag, like a precious trinket, tighty knotted, filled with fresh peanuts in their shells. Knowing this was probably their snack for the night, I protested and shook my head. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I accepted the gift guiltily and with overwhelming gratitude while hiding my tears.
His openhandedness once again proves that “among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” The delight on his face was worth a million smiles. These acts of kindness are commonplace in Africa, where compassion and generosity of spirit are a way of life. A lesson I hope never to forget. We loved the shelling and sweetness of each little peanut and savoured them all the more because of the sincerity with which they, who could hardly afford to, reciprocated a sandwich.
Without mishaps, we renewed our visitor’s stamp allowing us to stay for another 30 days in Mozambique. We would take up the recommendations and double back to Ilha de Mozambique after a visit to the Gorongoza National Park. We were to return to the EN1 but were confident we’d make it in good time. Little did we know, but I’m getting ahead of myself and have to double back.
The drive from the Mozambique coast to Chimoio takes one from sea level to the mountains and plateaus of central and western Mozambique. The country’s backbone is the chain of mountains which forms the eastern escarpment of the continental plateau. It does not have an abrupt descent to the plains but slopes gradually to the coast in places like the lower Zambezi district.
Mount Gorongosa lies northeast of the Manica Plateau and is of granitic formation. Gorongosa, rising isolated with precipitous outer slopes, has been likened to a frowning citadel. East of Gorongosa, a graben valley extends from the Zambezi to Pungwe Bay, the southern extension of the African Rift Valley. The Cheringoma Plateau lies east of the graben, sloping gently towards the coast.
These mountains are covered with magnificent forests. Farther north, the river basins are divided by well-marked ranges. Near the southeast shore of Lake Malawi, there is a high range with an abrupt descent to the lake. The country between Malawi and Mozambique is remarkable for the number of fantastically-shaped granite peaks, or inselbergs, which rise from the plateau.
Besides the Zambezi, the largest river in Mozambique is the Limpopo which enters the Indian Ocean north of Maputo Bay. The other Mozambican rivers are the Komati, Save, Buzi and Pangwe, south of the Zambezi.
In the rainy season, the Save is a large stream and can be navigated from its mouth by shallow draught steamer for over 240 km. Its general direction through Mozambique is east by north, and at its mouth, it forms a delta 100 km in extent.
Most of Mozambique’s prawn harvest comes from the mouth of the Save River.
This past summer’s rains were extraordinary, and most rivers flooded. At times bridges were washed away or damaged at least. A bridge bearing a vast puddle was positive, showing us that the bridge had no holes and we could drive through safely!
Our ETA would go from five hours to our destination to nine hours soon after we hit the road. We realised we’d have to wild camp and did so one night after many hours on the road. We turned off and followed a power line until we were far from the road. A farmer kindly permitted us to stay the night. Exhausted, we managed to heat some frozen Woolworths Tomato and Basil Soup, a dollop of yoghurt, and a good spoonful of basil pesto lifted the offering. Our Airfryer toast was blissful. Shortly afterwards, we flopped listlessly into bed.
The ascent into the mountains was a pleasant surprise and a welcome change in scenery. The condition of the roads improved markedly. We thought we would speed up, but the climbs, descents, curves, S-bends and tight corners hampered our progress. In low gear, Butch slowed down to traverse the undulations in our heavy vehicle.
We’d been on the road for nine hours and only covered 189km, with 50km to the nearest town. None of our navigational Apps had recommendations for a camping spot, and we might have no option but to wild camp again. We were tired, the roads were busy, and at night livestock are an unavoidable danger on the roads. No, we’d wild camp, we agreed.
All our devices were employed to find a suitable spot for the night. We needed a miracle, I thought, but I wouldn’t mention it. Ever. Then Butch’s phoned beeped, stopped and then rang. Sunset was fast approaching, and we were both becoming anxious.
Surprised to hear his long lost friend Anton’s voice, it was a Sunday afternoon when one only phones family; Butch listened. Anton was inviting us to pop in. He was on the farm. Relieved and surprised, Butch asked for directions.
That’s when the miracle happened. We were a mere 1km from his farm turnoff, and he was on his way and would meet us at the gate. My jaw dropped. Butch said he would ask his friend whether we could wild camp on his land.
We spent a delightful evening camping beside the Macadamia drying floor until Butch slipped and almost broke his neck. The two boys caught up on the lost fifty years, and we were treated to a delicious sausage barbecue. Anton filled in many navigational gaps in our itinerary, giving us valuable tips, routes and places to avoid.
Sunset is always a good time for herbs as the evening cools the oils in the leaves seem more pungent and to my surprise I found that the Badger was encircled by an enormous basil border. I wasn't going to pass this opportunity up and left with a huge bunch of fresh basil which turned into a glorious pesto. That night I dreamt of sliced tomato and basil in every form.
There was no way we could leave without a tour of the Macadamia sorting and packing plant which was fascinating and then Anton took us on a scenic drive to explore the farm while checking on the level of the river which was in flood drowning his water pumps! Trying to salvage the huge pumps posed a problem in crocodile and hippo infested waters. He'd come up with a plan Butch assured me!
You were a good Samaritan, Anton. Thank you. Butch says he can’t wait another fifty years before a reacquaintance. Time to speed things up.
Chimoio is the capital of Manica Province in Mozambique. It is the fifth-largest city in Mozambique.
The town lies on the railway line from Beira to Bulawayo, near the Cabeça do Velho Rock. Located 95 km from the Zimbabwean border, it has been a significant destination for Zimbabwean immigrants looking for employment in Mozambique. The Massacre of Chimoio is a horrific blot on the city's history, one I knew nothing about.
Arab traders came up the Búzi and Revué rivers in search of gold and other (read Slaves) merchandise, marking their routes by planting Borassus palms, each within sight of the next. In some places, these ancient palm trees can still be spotted.
A trip to Chimoio city lies under the curious gaze of a rock carved into the shape of an old man’s head: Mount Bêngo is one of the city’s main attractions.
The rocky outcrops take on a spiritual role of great importance during the rainy season when falling water looks like tears running down the face of the “old man”. Locals believe this is a sign that the ancestors are angry and sad. Mount Bêngo is a sacred place where ceremonies invoking the spirits take place. Chimoio is a very picturesque district and couldn've spent a few days exploring the countryside.
The city is vibrant, busy and colourful with interesting old buildings dating back to Portuguese colonial times. Informal trading and housing co-exist very peacefully next to a growing formal cityscape. Although the new more properous high rises, malls and commercial buildings are impressive, I prefer the old and the traditional, colourful buildings where authenticity rules. Where there's space for everyone to live, learn and make a living. I admire that.
Once we’d filled our fridge and larder with fresh produce and groceries, we were eager to leave the city and continue on to the Gorongoza National Park which would entail using the EN1 from Inchope. All in all a 48 km journey. Easy peasy, you might think, but it was a nightmare. Our top speed was 12kmph, and took us 4-5 hours to reach.
We left Chimoio with hope springing eternal in our breasts that the road would not be as predicted, our wishes came true and then we came down to earth with a bang.
While clinging to a safety strap and tightening my seat belt child birth came to mind. I could liken this experience to an expectant mother in labour. Painful, slow, stressful with moments of extreme anxiety, the unknown littered with unchartered obstacles. Lonely too. Each driver and vehicle has a unique experience and would suffer through it. At times surprisingly easy at others, amazingly complex. Large twenty-two wheelers could be stuck in the mud for weeks.
There was no telling what lay ahead around the next corner or on the dip after the rise as we negotiated buses, UTs, Canters, taxi’s, bikes, scooters, and even Tuk-Tuks weaved seamlessly around or through the ditches and loopholes. At the same time, pedestrians, onlookers, goats, geese, children and chickens scurried hither and dither unperturbed.
At last, indigenous rain forests led the way from the EN1 to the Gorongoza National Park’s gate, which is incredible in every way. Driving along the road lifted our sagging spirits, but the sun dipped behind the gigantic tree trunks as nighttime descended into an orange sky. We would not reach the park’s gate in time and had to find alternate accommodations. That's when Piet and Ria van Zyl came to the rescue.
Fortunately, we’d requested a campsite during the afternoon and predicted our ETA to be at coffee time, giving us ample time to set up before sunset.
Unfortunately, the sun set before it should’ve; it being a rainforest and all, and we were lost without a signal to call. We would double back to the main road, we decided. At a snail’s pace, with our spotlights on and our eyes on the GPS, we made our way blindly along in unkown territory—nerve-wracking. As if we’d not survived enough, we thought.
And then the Universe opened a gap in the heavens allowing a brief What’s App call from Piet to come through. Piet would send his staff to light the way and lead us to our campsite. We were on the right road, just a few kilometres from his gate. We were later told Vodacom, our network, has no coverage in that remote neck of the woods.
Exhausted, we fell into bed, hoping we’d never have to repeat the experience. That vow was short-lived, of course, as Butch became bitterly ill, and he had to do it all over again within a week en route to Beira.
Piet and Ria, we can never thank you enough for your hospitality, the copious cups of coffee, delicious beskuit and wifi on your stoep. Your medical expertise and pharmaceutical knowledge saved the day numerous times, and your generosity, kindness and patience with strangers were a great solace to us. I almost forgot Piet’s birthday Milk Tart was scrumptious. You and all the other strangers along our way have made our journey one of a lifetime.
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” - Mother Teresa.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” - Princess Diana.