31 December, 2006

Ano Nova Prospero, Mozambique. 12,871miles

A very heavy rainstorm on Christmas night left much of my tent in a puddle. The mobile phone was buzzing, burbling and screaming as it slowly drowned, deep underwater at the doorway. Its lights flashed and it vibrated wildly. On the battery charger, both red lights were illuminated to show it was charging - but spookily it wasn't attached to anything, just lying next to the phone in the same big puddle.

The usual excesses of the day meant that nobody really cared about the state of their tents. The South Africans were able to move theirs under cover, I just limited myself to a lucky me-shaped dry patch in one corner of the tent. Jens and Sandy were fine, having pitched their tent on the high ground, the only piece that had dry-ness and shade. I'd gone just for the shade. It isn't conclusive, (I don't know enough about these things) but it seems likely I'll have no telephonic communications from now on.

After I'd dried everything out in the hot morning sun, I said my goodbyes to my new Christmas chums and toddled after Sandy and Jens, who had left 2 hours earlier in their slow-moving Land Rover. We were all heading for Tete, a place so hot that it is described, allegedly even by the Christian missionaries, as "Hell"! I hadn't a visa but had heard they could be obtained at the border. While getting mine, a Malawian man, looking at my passport said, "that's my name - McMillan." We shook hands and I immediately welcomed him to the clan until he explained that it was his first name. I'd never met anyone with such a name. I suppose this means he gets into the clan by choice, which is a good thing! Everyone was surprised and no-one seemed to mind (I didn't think!) when I took out my camera for a photo. My first border post photo, and yet these are the places where much of the excitement takes place. McMillan and I got along well for those few minutes and when he'd gone I immediately regretted not having dug out my tartan tie (I've no idea why I brought it, I won't use it!) and presenting it to him.

I was very happy as well as surprised to hear that everyone spoke excellent Portuguese. I had been led to believe that only about 25% of the people spoke it as a second language. I thought it might get used here since these were government officials, perhaps from throughout Mozambique, using it as a common tongue. It was a long drawn out process of nonsense though. The official didn't know anything about Carnets and insisted on my paying some money to get some dubious importation paper. I paid all the remaining USDollars and some Sterling to get in and set off into the tropical downpours. The road was very good though. And I found an ATM at the first wee town.

It was a very quiet ride down an excellent road towards the famous "Tete Corridor" which crosses this part of Mozambique and links Zimbabwe with Blantyre in Malawi. The road was slightly worse in the corridor but still easily rideable. As the altitude lessened I could feel my t-shirt getting more and more soggy. Arriving at Tete, I followed Sandy's directions to the campsite on the shores of the Zambezi. Unbelievably bonny and with a gentle breeze coming off the wide river. Sandy was just serving up the tea! They'd only just fed me the night before so I had to insist on getting to do the dishes. They had instructed the same border official as I'd encountered on how properly to complete their Carnet!

Tembo (the Landie) and the Dustsuckers encamped at Tete. Check the number plate - and they were married on the 21st of August! Maybe romance isn't dead.

I speak a wee bit of French but it always takes a few days to come back to me whenever I go to Francophone countries. I was surprised by the rush of Portuguese that came back when I started talking here. (A small rush you understand, my vocabulary was never huge!) I lived in Portugal for two years but left in 1998. I've only been for one short visit since. But here everyone really does speak the language, and not with the nasal whine, the one we all had in Scotland as children but that our parents knocked out of us (sometimes literally) and we in turn grew to loathe its sound. In Porto it's just how people speak, and it takes some time to get used to. I'm not sure I ever did. So I was relieved not to hear it here.

Next day I forgot to fill up with petrol and had a wee adventure finding some as the Land Rover and I overtook each other all day. At one point a friendly bloke by the side of the road called Jim gave me a litre and a half of his premixed 2-stroke fuel. Don't know what damage that might have done but it got me another 15miles to the lads with the plastic bottles. They use a 5litre bottle and a hose. The hose goes in the bottle and they blow into the bottle. The hose's other end goes in the bike. This is the glamour of the petroleum industry in Africa. At one bottle the lad didn't blow properly and a spray covered his face and some of those around. Undaunted, he blew again. If this is nothing to him, I fear for his eyesight. Did you see the bawling and shouting Ewen McGregor did when petrol went in his eye? (Actually he went quite quiet!) Very painful.

Jens and Sandy knew of an excellent overlanders' campsite, but we were the only overlanders there. In the forest, miles away from everything. But the advertised 6km of dirt road turned out to be 12km! I slithered, skittered, wobbled, managed, but worried about the constantly threatening storms. Morris was the man in charge and I babbled away to him in Portuguese, concentrating hard to improve my very poor grammar, before he said; "sorry mate, I'm from Zimbabwe - don't know much Portuguese!" Ha!! We all four sat for a long while around the fire prepared by him for us to cook on. He'd sent his wife back to Zimbabwe to have the baby they were expecting. Medical treatment was much better there. She'd be back afterwards, in early February. He was very excited, this was their first baby. Jens demonstrated that he had as much esteem for his vehicle as I had for mine, giving it a grateful hug when they all arrived safely.

It was cooler in the forest and I slept better than the previous night in "Hell". In Tete, I'd woken often to find myself in an alarmingly deep pool of perspiration - a new method of bed-wetting! Jens and Sandy had had a better time of it in their roof tent. There was more of a breeze up there.

I enjoyed the pace of these friendly Germans in their Land Rover, and they were lots of fun, but I had to get on. That Landie will last forever though. They were taking their time, travelling at around 45mph and only doing about 150miles per day. Exactly the way to do it if you can. Very leisurely, but I have a boat to catch (not arranged so it may take longer!). We said our goodbyes at the end of the dirt road, Sandy taking one last photo of me in the ridiculous-looking but highly practical vest thing my oldest brother had given me. It's about four sizes too big and I haven't nearly the physique to justify it, but it lets that little bit more heat out, through the non-existent shoulders, than a t-shirt would.

That night I slept at the Police station in Savé, another river's wind breezing through the tent, this time comfortably. Next day I was struggling for a campsite and eventually found one up a road deep with sand. I only fell off twice, but I was going so slowly (Hurrah!! I've learned something!!!) that I did no real harm except to my own shins (BMWs!!). This place was full of South Africans who seem to travel with EVERYTHING! All in 4X4s with gigantic trailers full of jet-skis, huge quad-bikes and other expensive toys. A bit over-the-top for me. I saw one family in a Land Cruiser pulling a large motor-boat on a trailer, but then the trailer had another trailer, with mortorbikes on it! Certainly dangerous and surely illegal. How did he get over the border? This seems to be the northern limit of South African self-drive holidays. I detected a little resentment when they saw what little I'd brought and all the way from Scotland. Others showed surprise. But I was invited to dinner by I think the only family who didn't have a 4X4. Paul and Bernice were having a braai (BBQ) and at their invitation I ate my fill. It was delicious and they taught me a lot more about South Africa and what to expect when I get there. Bernice also taught me another simple way of eating a mango!

Now I'm in Maputo, it's Hogmanay and I'm wondering whether to put my kilt on for the biggest event in the Scottish calendar! I just learned that I've missed my old British Council boss from Porto by four months. Janice was an extremely kindly soul, who I would have loved to have surprised. I had always wanted to come out here. We left Porto at the same time and in those early, unsure days of internet and e-mail (only 8 years ago!!) we lost touch.


At 02/01/2007, 12:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your phone may still work if you open it up as much as poss, taking the battery and sim out, and expose it to the drying air.Not sure about the charger mind :-(
Hope you get it working again. I like the almost instant communication it gives (sometimes) HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Love Mo xxx

At 02/01/2007, 12:22, Anonymous Toolman said...

Hi Mick !
Dont bin the phone just yet as it may still work, after all i dropped mine down the toilet and a week later it started working again!
I'm still following you're progress / stories with little time to respond due to work etc
and have sent you an email.
Happy New Year
Toolman !

At 03/01/2007, 00:36, Anonymous Chris Mitchell said...

I don't think Ulysses found a black bun either but he did find a lot more instead. Hope the New Year brings much good fortune, enough adventure, few one eyed giants, sirens and three headed monsters, and the odd Christoph when you and the bike need him.
As they say in Mongolia:
"бурхан оршоо бутын чинээ сахал урга" (burkhan orshoo butin chinee sakhal urga)
or if your Mongolian could speak English: God bless you and may your moustache grow like brushwood.
I hope you get the chance to use this at some time before you return to Kinghorn. It is best used in response to a sneeze.

At 06/01/2007, 14:43, Blogger Mick said...

Cheers guys, phone working again - a child genius called Malcolm here in Durban!! New 'SIM' card means I've a new number and lost lots of info from the last one.
Can you help me with the pronunciation there Chris?


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