A Travellerspoint blog

Day 138 – Mulanje Mountain Rescue

7th February 2012


We were walking by half past five even though Anthony and his ‘mind clock’ insisted that it was gone six. Our early start involved watching our guide streak away from us as if to prove that he was fitter and better at mountain climbing than we were. We periodically reined him in with comments that lacked any subtlety only for him to accelerate off again when he felt like it. Our Catch-22 was that when he was close it felt like we were on a school field trip. I’d already been reprimanded for picking up a centipede without permission on our first day and whenever he suggested a route across difficult rocks that had a clearly easier alternative, we were berated for not doing as we were told.

Anyway, shouting to him and ignoring his mountain goat directions became a game that would ultimately aid no one. We summitted at around ten o’clock in bright sunshine and picture book fluffy clouds suspended high in a sky of blue. The three of us climbed onto the trig point for some posing and we sat atop our stone palace surveying the Africa that lay beneath us. Before long we were heading back down the precariously steep and smooth faced rocks that we’d had minor issues getting up in the first place. About five hundred metres from our camp, three climbing, helmeted, fluorescent jacketed, mountain rescue types rounded the corner to see Post drop to the ground with an ear splitting scream whilst clutching his leg. Post explained to the three guys, between whimpers, and drifting from pained to casual conversation and back again, that he’d suffered an open fracture of his right femur and was bleeding quite badly. He added that we’d need to stop at the hut for half an hour as we hadn’t had breakfast.

The chaps explained they would perform a ‘two man lift’ and as they hoisted him he let out another piercing and pained squeal that was so shocking the two poor guys nearly dropped him. We fell about laughing.

Back at the hut we discovered that there was another larger group that were still on their way to the rescue but they had been slow as they were badly out of shape. The three guys that met us had run up the mountain in four and a half hours which is near on super human considering they were carrying full kit bags and rope recovery kits. We left the guys at the hut whilst Post’s newly but temporarily repaired leg walked him off for a swim.

We waited at the hut for the remainder of the crew for an hour before we finally left. It was midday and we had five hours walking just to get back to the bottom; now we also had to find a beleaguered Mountain Rescue team so that they could rescue us.

Half an hour further along the track we found the remainder of the rescue team looking very tired being berated by Patrick for being so unfit. Once more Post fell, in cries of pain, clutching his freshly re-broken right thigh. Patrick was good and had clearly undergone first aid training. He took control of the situation and talked his guys through first aid treatment of the patient. In hindsight it was a little bit mean that Post had a ‘broken and bleeding femur,’ a sprained ankle may have been a more appropriate first outing for a team that showed a lot of promise given their limited resources.

Regardless, the team bandaged and splinted Posts leg (using his rather beautifully carved cedar walking stick [available in a choice of lengths for just two to six US dollars]), whilst talking to him to maintain his consciousness, before lifting him and carrying him down rocks that were precarious enough alone, never mind encumbered by an eighty kilogram dead weight. In fact, some sections were too narrow for the two men to continue side by side with Post in the middle and so the ‘two man carry’ became two men taking it in turns to piggy back Post up and down hills. This was difficult to comprehend; on the flat or downhill, these guys were moving faster than your average Joe could walk; with a man on their back. Laura and I couldn’t keep up without jogging. It was only the steep sections that slowed these man machines down. Eventually we reached a flatter section where the guys built makeshift stretchers and we offered thoughts on first aid, splints and stretchers whilst I took photos for their publicity shots. The stretchers ended up being less than ideal and we called it a day at around three o’clock knowing we still had a fair way to go. It was a shame we had to call an end to it there, it felt like it had been a great experience for all of us, the team sharing their experience between the stronger and more experienced, and the new green horns. We’d also managed to offer what first-aid, bandaging and splinting advice we could. We left content with an enormously worthwhile experience; a couple of river crossings and a couple of hours later we arrived at Redvers, exhausted. It had been a hell of a day, we’d gone up, come down, been partly rescued and now had a three hour drive to the Zomba plateau.

The daylight was going, the road wasn’t ideal, our lights were playing up and dimming intermittently, (water in the system,) and two of the four headlights had given up completely. Add to that our left rear shock was now broken and rattling; though nothing quite as spectacular as our incident in Namibia. We were tired and the call was made to stop in the next town, Phalombe. We pulled into a local and comfortable hotel and ordered some chicken and rice for dinner. Tomorrow we could tackle the drive in daylight.

Posted by ibeamish 10:08 Archived in Malawi Comments (1)

Day 137 – Maybe Tomorrow

6th February 2012


Day 137 – Maybe Tomorrow - 6th February 2012
At sunrise we set off. We wanted to attempt the summit that afternoon and sleep at the hut beneath the summit the same evening. It was around this time that we started to discover that Anthony was bit of a useless guide in the fact that he had a timetable and he was sticking to it even if that meant his clients were left behind working out where he’d gone.

We made Chitepo hut at Sapitwa in good time, by ten o’clock in fact, but the peak was cloud covered and wet. Both of these factors meant that it was too dangerous to attempt the climb. From his expression I couldn’t help but think that Anthony wasn’t actually very keen on going up at all. He agreed when we suggested an early morning attempt if the weather didn’t clear before maybe I was just too set on reaching the top.

The consolation prize for the day was that we could visit a waterfall and we could arrange ‘Operation Broken Leg’ for the afternoon. We discussed who would be rescued and agreed that the level of acting required meant that only ‘Enrique’ or Post as he’s sometimes called would be capable of such theatrics. With the mission renamed ‘Operation I Can Be Your Hero,’ Post nipped off to call in mountain rescue to come and save him in his broken legged state. He finally got through to Patrick only to be told that ‘it’s getting a bit late... we can’t rescue you today... maybe we can rescue you tomorrow.’ The blog indeed was writing itself.

The afternoon was spent in a cold waterfall jumping in and out, taking photos, posing, avoiding skin cancer and playfully asking Anthony why we couldn’t climb the mountain that was now draped only in blue sky.

Back at the hut we were given some Black Jack, an edible leaf, some nsima, some kumquat berries, and some beans and potatoes. In return we gave the hut guy half a kilo of sugar and a kilo of rice as well as lollipops all round; our porters were starting to look a little tired anyway.

Outside, and in the dark, we put the camera on super slow shutter speed whilst we took it in turns to run around using torchlight to draw out three feet high letters; oh what fun. We played cards and ate amazing grub, prepared once more by Somers, and I accidentally burnt the back off one my hiking shoes by leaving it too close to the fire; at least it was dry.

Posted by ibeamish 10:02 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 136 – Mis-Guided Plans

5th February 2012

all seasons in one day

Cured of our hangovers we had bigger things on our minds. The Mulanje Massif is a ‘spectacular 650 square kilometre granite inselberg rising in dramatic isolation above the Phalombe plains southeast of Blantyre.’ It has twenty something peaks at over 2,500 metres, and we wanted to summit the highest, Sapitwa Peak, which sat at 3,002 metres and is the ‘highest point in central Africa’ wherever central Africa’s boundaries may lie.

As we pulled off the main tar road we still had around eight kilometres to get to the parks offices. Six kilometres along we met the first group of potential guides, Teve and Lawrence. They asked could they jump on Redvers for a lift. We suggested that they could run the remaining two kilometres, uphill; Redvers was already suffering from chronic overloading and this would be a fine test for potential mountain guides.

At the entrance gate to the park was a craft stall and around that were almost twenty purveyors of ornately carved cedar walking sticks. At this point a tangent is required. Malawian craft sales people have been the most difficult dealers we’ve come across so far. They berate you for bartering and get incredibly annoyed if you haggle with them claiming that you’re doing them out of a living in doing so. This is despite the fact that they’ll happily start at an asking price of one hundred US for a small piece of wood. They insist on telling us how they had to ‘buy’ the wood from the national parks, (we’re told that this is largely a lie, wood poaching in national parks is on the up,) they have to pay tax on said wood (I’ve never met anyone who pays tax on stolen goods), and then they must transport this wood (a legitimate cost but I doubt they’re sourcing their materials from more than twenty kilometres away) all before crafting it with expensive tools and underpaid skills. They then have to sit at their stall day in day out trying to sell their goods, ‘just to make a living.’ The latter is a particularly bitter pill to swallow from our part as that’s surely part of the shop keepers job description. To make matters worse, whilst they’re prattling on about tight margins and the ‘white’s’ that are forcing them to sell their products at a loss, their market stall neighbour comes up and offers you his piece of wood for half the price.

At least part of this anger is not without reason. In a country whose currency should be valued at the black market rate rather than the current rate, the cost of living is rising sharply. Bread prices and nsima prices are rising whilst the current President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika has expelled the British consulate for suggesting, albeit weakly, that Dr Bingu was displaying ‘dictator like tendencies’, indeed he has attempted to change the constitution to extend his term in power, he is currently trying to have his brother elected as his successor and he has told the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that he can run his own country’s finances until the end of his term without their input. The latter is not always a bad idea but in a country like Malawi whose budget relies heavily on world aid, in particular from the IMF and the World Bank and from individual countries, previously including the UK, it would seem unwise to start telling them that you do not want their advice, only their money. Nothing is free in this world and IMF money I’m sure comes with hoops to jump through, conditions of repayment and powerful individuals who quite like their back being scratched. The papers are free to criticise and criticise they do. They read of judiciaries on strike awaiting payment, corruption at the higher levels and Bingu, Bingu, Bingu. From our experiences the Malawian people know that Bingu must go, they know that his brother must not come in and they know that what they want is change. Dr Bingu wa Mutharika’s term ends in 2014, what will come of it has many people watching.

So back at the park gates, there we were, trying to pay a park entrance fee whilst twenty guys simultaneously attempted to sell us walking sticks and offer us their services as guides and porters. We hadn’t even opened our mouths and they’d undercut each other from six dollars to two dollars per stick.

Once in the grounds the purveyors of sticks followed us through and told us we had to go to the office at the top of the hill. We took their guidance and on reaching the office found that all twenty men had run up the hill with us and were waiting to sell us some walking sticks. After a pow-wow with Laura, Post and I presiding over a gang of would be Sherpa’s we made our plan for the summit attempt based on their sketchy advice, and amidst pouring rain, and we booked the only mountain hut that was offered by our current office. We suggested that we needed to go and book our other hut at the main office; a plan that was greeted with some consternation by the Sherpa group who said they could run down and organise it for us. That smelt fishy; the catch is that no-one organises something for you unless there’s something in it for them and if they’re going to gain someone is going to lose. And so we found ourselves driving back down the slippery mud slope to the main office with around a dozen individuals still in the running for the stick sales.

After reverse parking into a shelter and dislodging it from its supporting wall I corrected the car and avoided assessing the damage. We found the office and a nice man who actually had some honest and unbiased advice for our ascent. It turned out that all our followers were stick salesmen and had no actual guiding certificates or official registration. It also appeared that our now booked Church Mountain Hut was more than a little out of the way. Our plan was reinvented, we booked an official guide for $6.50 per day and two porters at $5 each per day, the latter being a decision based on providing extra employment rather than a colonial desire for the easy way of life. We booked one nights’ accommodation in each of two separate lodges and agreed that we would start our hike at 2pm that afternoon. We would first need to get a refund on our church hut and then our guide would take us somewhere in the village for lunch.

To add further confusion we spent fifteen minutes at the church hut being told that their hut was more useful for our walk. After protracted discussion, we decided that it wasn’t and they gave us a full refund without complaint. Our souls did feel a little sour as it was a church based hut so we left them a small donation, receipt supplied, as compensation for our misdemeanours. Back outside it was walking stick time and by now, after the dismay of the truth being discovered in the official office, we had only three salesmen that had run up the hill for a second time. We chose our sticks and, true to form, where told they cost six dollars each. We told them that they were offered to us for two dollars each an hour ago and so they could decide whether they were going to make a sale. Again they looked unhappy as they took our money but we forced a handshake and the smiles came. Well, the smile came to two of the three men. Laura didn’t want a stick and so one guy lost out.

We parked Redvers in Likubula village and followed our guide, Anthony, to the local restaurant. Sweet tea, fried chicken, rice and xima and we were ready for action. As we got back to the car Post was gently accosted by a gentle man; Laura and I continued getting into the car whilst Post had chat. After a while Post leaned back inside Redvers, “This guy says he runs the mountain rescue team and he wants to rescue us off the mountain. I asked him what if he’s shit and can’t find us but he says he’s not. What do you think?” “The blog writes itself mate,” I replied.

Some further negotiations took place and Post declined the offer of Patrick paying for our accommodation on the mountain, we borrowed his mobile phone so that we could call him when one of us ‘broke a leg’ and he’d be able to complete the first training expedition of the New Year. We’d go up the mountain and one of us would be carried back down.

With full bellies and minds railing with thoughts of mountain rescue we made for our start point, secured Redvers, met our porters and set off. Three hours of muddy and slippery climbing in heavy rain ensued before we arrived at Chambe Hut. The hut keeper started a fire for us and we made tea and began the drying out process for all of our clothing. We cooked rice and sauce and took photos of the nearby mountain face in the bright light of an almost full moon. We slept on mats in front of the fire with our food hung from hooks in the wall to avoid ‘theft by rodent.’

Posted by ibeamish 09:59 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 135 - Feeling Rough

4th February 2012


We awoke with sore heads but it could have been worse, Tommy had gotten home and electrocuted himself, somehow becoming momentarily airborne as he’d flown across his bedroom; he was still alive though so he clearly hadn’t done a very good job.

We got our act together and got on the road to Blantyre; Malawi’s oldest city. We enjoyed Police Engagement #’s 21, 22 and 23 as they went without hassle and, after stopping to purchase some road side melons, monkey nuts and flying ants, the latter deceased and fried, we arrived at Doogles backpackers at dusk. We used the jerry cans that Post had been cradling between his legs to top up Redvers and create a bit more space and Somers treated us to a fine spaghetti bolognese whilst Post and I treated ourselves to a couple of Carlsbergs or ‘greens’ as they call them over here.

Posted by ibeamish 09:57 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 134 – The Arrival of the Postman

3rdFebruary 2012


There was a nervous excitement permeating from the roof tent as day dawned and almost 2000 kilometres away a plane took off from OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa. Mr Paul Aggarwal, or ‘Post’ as he’s known to his university friends, (due to an unfortunate incident with a lamp post in his first week on campus,) had boarded a South African Airways flight in Heathrow in London the previous day and was now headed for Lilongwe International Airport and its one cafe.

In overcast Lilongwe, our morning had been spent hastily reorganising a two-seater Redvers into the luxury three-seater intercontinental liner of considerable luxury in which we were travelling to collect Post from the aforementioned airport. Somers was busy drawing out the welcome placards, ‘Mr Paul Aggarwal. Welcome to Malawi,’spread over two pieces of lined A4.

The bruised sky had grown black as the first droplets of rain came. By the time we pulled into the ‘Drop-Off Zone’ the rain was torrential and the windscreen wipers couldn’t keep up. African rain droplets, each one big enough to make a cup of tea with, pounded Redvers and his non-waterproof exterior. We were late and so Somers leapt out and ran inside to see if Post was already waiting; he wasn’t. Given the complete lack of walkway thingies that attach the plane to the terminal, or for that matter busses with fuel to transport passengers to the terminal, or even a thatched walkway constructed from local materials to keep airport clientele partially dry, the pilot had offered his passengers the option to stay on the plane for half an hour whilst the biblical rainfall passed. They’d accepted his offer gladly; some of the fish on the runway must have looked carnivorous.

Somers ran back out of the airport with more gusto than when she had entered it. So much gusto that as she applied the brakes at the car door, her flip flops found no purchase on the smooth sealed concrete covered in half an inch of water. Her smile turned to a distorted look of confusion as her legs went forwards and skywards, her head went backwards and groundwards and she gracefully lay herself down in the puddle outside the ‘International Departures’ door. The rain still poured as I first enquired to her medical soundness and then stifled a giggle. She wiped herself down and shook the water from the placards before leaving once more for the refuge of the terminal.

I parked up, retrieved our umbrella and strolled over to the terminal feeling very smug about our purchase back in Mozambique. (Our umbrella has a button, that when pressed, automatically opens the canopy, as far as we’re concerned we can’t help but look cool when opening our multicoloured rain shelter come parasol come derigeur fashion accessory.)

Post finally decided it was time to disembark and went through two full and separate bag searches to check he didn’t have any sensible economic policies or food subsidy programmes that might lead to a more successful future for Malawi. What he did have was too much liquor and it took more than a few smooth words from a man that has been repeatedly likened to ‘Enrique Inglesias, but sexier’ (he also sings a mean ‘Hero,’) to ensure his freedom, unfined, and still in possession of one litre of rum, one litre of gin and one fifteenth of the federal reserve dollar bills present in Malawi. (We’d later find out that he also had the entire ‘Boots The Chemist’ stock of anti-malarials and mosquito repellants; sprays, coils, wipes, impregnated nets and wristbands galore.)

Disappointingly Post didn’t seem overly impressed at the semi sodden name placards held by the semi-sodden couple waiting for him outside’ International Arrivals.’ Hugs and handshakes were exchanged and we made back to Redvers in the rain. Day one in Malawi was a wet one. Our master plan involved an afternoon of relaxation at the backpackers before some drinking in town and a hung over drive towards the mountains the following morning. We made steak sandwiches and drank beers before switching to a few gins and a few rums and heading out to the most happening place in Malawi on a Friday night, Harry’s. And happen it did. By the end of the evening we’d witnessed three separate legs of a bottle fight over the space of an hour in which a middle aged and tubby Indian chap took offence to the younger, also Indian, scallywag ‘crew.’ Between them they had decided that the only way to settle their obviously important differences was with broken bottles. Anyway, after a while, and with only sporadic incidents of bloodshed, all involved realised that they were in fact a bunch idiots blessed with only half the brain mass of those higher mortals that surrounded them, and accordingly, they left the bar, (but not without the customary, ‘Just let me ‘fupp’ him up bruv, he’s disrepectin’ me.’) We were half the world away and nothing had changed. I took the bottle from the old timer’s hand and told him not to be so silly.

With all the excitement the party atmosphere had deteriorated a little, as had our sobriety. Tommy had found a potential love interest/reason for carrying on whereas us old timers had played our full ninety and needed to retire for painkillers and a ‘good night’s sleep.’ Sadly, taxis weren’t in abundance and we didn’t really know where in all of Lilongwe we were. Tommy was off to ‘Zanzi’s’ which sounded far too energetic for some who are pushing thirty, (Post pushed it a while back,) had been drinking all afternoon and were now wondering why our watches said half past two. Anyway, Tommy’s taxi driver insisted he’d be back in thirty minutes. Since the only other option was to thumb a lift off the guys who were literally falling over a flat path to get to their cars we decided thirrty minutes was fine. Funnily enough half of that time was spent watching a man leaning on his car trying desperately to keep balance whilst he hunted for his keys from the bottom of his pocket; a spectator sport of note.

We doubted our driver but we needn’t have; he returned, on time, and he took us home, to bed.

Posted by ibeamish 09:55 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 133 – Haircuts and Bawu Boards

2nd February 2012


The morning got off to a great start as an American ran into the backpackers with some ‘special’ cookies he’d baked the previous night. Tommy, the manager, received a handful of these delightful cookies only for the receptionist to steal them and start greedily munching them. Tommy pleaded but she playfully escaped his advances and we all burst out laughing as she continued chomping blissfully unaware of the large quantities of marijuana laced inside the cookies. If only we’d have stayed to see the outcome.

We hired bicycle taxis for forty cents each to ride us into town where we purchased a new ignition key for Redvers, we visited the Chinese shop for some new Somers’ sunnies, (I frantically sat on the others during our last police escapade,) we shopped in the market for some clothes, I almost bought the best jacket in the world, a fetching light blue and white pinstripe jacket with three quarter length sleeves, Somers bought a skirt, shirt, hoodie and trousers, and then we went to barter for a new Bawu board game; thats was another kilo and a half of teak to add to our ‘responsible tourism’ cart.

The day had been a productive one day that left only Laura’s hair to be cut. Laura had spoken to Janey, the owner of the backpackers, and had discussed a salon called Jays and a hairdresser called Everjane. So when we walked into an unmarked salon and asked the man with two eyes, of which neither pointed in the same direction, nor forwards, was it called Jays, he paused briefly before nodding. And when we asked did Everjane work there he hesitantly said yes before suggesting he would go out to the back to find him or her.

And so the picture was thus: a ridiculously fancy salon, with mini televisions in front of every chair, chrome and red plastic everywhere with the smell of clean hair products filling the air. Somers was sat on the chair explaining the cut she desired, “It just needs trimming, there aren’t many layers but you’ll need to keep them. And maybe trim this much,” she visually demonstrated the length to be cut. The guy looked confused and thought Laura was suggesting that two inches was the length she would like it to be; uh-oh. The doubt was growing on Laura’s face as she realised that this could quite easily end in a scalping. As her would be swordsman nipped out back to work out how the shaver worked, Laura turned to me, now mildly panicking, “I’m not sure about this, can I still leave.” Laura promptly bottled it and explained to her coiffeur that she had only just realised what time it was and she had to leave because she had an appointment to make but she couldn’t remember what it was. I was sat giggling on the couch with my new board game.

We did find Jays and Laura had her hair cut by a lady named Everjane and it looked very nice, even if it was a little ‘mulletted.’ With that in mind I used the kitchen scissors and turned an OK haircut into a masterpiece of assymetrical beauty. Good work Beamish. Good work.

Posted by ibeamish 01:05 Archived in Malawi Comments (2)

Day 132 – A Day of Rest

1st February 2012

We spent the day learning how to play the African board came of Bawu, I was taught by the new bar man come resort manager named Tommy and didn’t beat him once. Somers lay by the pool and we read and read and read. Recuperation and sunshine felt extraordinary.

Posted by ibeamish 01:04 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 131 – Brake Pad Dealing

31st January 2012

Back in the garage again and straight back out for a test drive. Back in and up on to the platform and the rear prop was off and the seal was replaced, the UJ replaced (it took forever,) and finally the rear wheels removed to reveal that the brake pads were no longer pads; just metal squares that looked like they were wearing holes through our wheels. That was the noise we’d been hearing for a thousand kilometres.

Fortunately, Master had some spare brake pads that he’d removed from another service job. If we didn’t tell the boss, we could have the pads, he would keep the extra work on the QT and we could “Maybe think about how we could help him.” (Twelve dollars worth of Kwacha seemed to help quite a bit.)

As the final nuts tightened, securing our wheels in place, the angels in heaven began to sing, we were blessed, thanks to Master, with a fully functioning Redvers once more. Halle-bloody-lujah.

Posted by ibeamish 00:53 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 130 – Not quite fixed yet

30th January 2012


We needed parts and so we started trawling the shops finding parts and comparing prices. There were two Land Rover oriented shops. One was as cheap as chips but had no stock. The other had lots of stock and charged like the Light Brigade. We took a brake cable and some nuts and bolts.

We stopped in at Lilongwe 4x4 centre to see what they thought of our noise. The mechanic was called Master and he agreed that it was probably the brake drum. That was on my to-do list, but when they offered to attach the front prop, reattach the brake shoes and replace the handbrake cable for the equivalent of thirty six dollars it seemed silly to waste the time ourselves. The process was straight forward and during it we found that the rear diff seal was going and one of the rear UJ’s was going. Three of our four UJ’s have now gone; I’d love to know what’s causing it. We’d need to return the next day to get the seal and UJ replaced. He’d have to charge but not much; eight dollars. The seal itself cost sixteen.

As we drove out of the garage, only fifty metres down the road, the noise returned, we’d achieved little.

Posted by ibeamish 00:49 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 129 – Fixing Redvers

29th January 2012


Redvers needed an overhaul. Everything came out and his insides were scrubbed clean. (It’s amazing what a tiny volume of mouse piss can do for the aroma of your vehicle.) The service began, jacks were fixed, a UJ was replaced, and we started ticking off the Haynes manual section by section.

We also discovered that money changing is a breeze. The backpackers could call and a guy would nip around and change dollars for 270 kwacha per dollar. (Bank rate=165) That’s classed as free money in our book.

We went to the supermarket and bought most of our stuff without going in. Four gentlemen appeared, empty handed, in the car park asking what vegetables we were after. We had a think, came up with a list and told them we’d see them when we came out of the Spar.

They were waiting as we left the bastion of over-priced vegetables and we bought tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, pineapple and peppers for three Federal Reserve dollars.

We were early to bed; amidst a party in the backpackers and the unmistakable sound of vomit at four o’clock in the morning.

Posted by ibeamish 00:45 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Day 128 – Police, police, police

28th January 2012


“Can you feel that?” said Somers, speeding up my slow rise out of slumber. “What?” “The car is rocking.” I unzipped the tent and looked outside. Urchin #1 was cleaning the car. Blinking ‘eck. “Oi. Nada washee the Redvers. Nada washee the car.” He shrugged at me and I got back inside. The rocking became gentler.

This signalled that the time had come for us to rise and shine. I hadn’t gotten down the ladder before I was being accosted by money changers. “I’m busy.” How had they gotten into our fortress? Through the open gate no doubt. With that they decided to stand and wait for me to finish.

We changed the last of our Mozambican money into Malawian Kwacha. Then we headed to the immigration office. Getting our passports stamped was easy. But it turned out that the customs’ official was still asleep. But we were told where he lived and we were told to go wake him up. We did just that and followed him around to his office where he stamped Redvers out of the country. We managed to swap some dollars for Kwacha with the same guy, 250 kwacha to the dollar. The bank rate is 160 to the dollar. The dollar is king, and we’re in a country whose financial system is inflating. The last thing we had to pass was the military gate where our details were recorded, Redvers was checked, and finally the boom was raised and we were free. A few kilometres of no-man’s land led us to Malawi, the land of the lake. Once more immigration was easy, and once more the customs official was nowhere to be seen. As it turned out, he was asleep too. We hung around for an hour or two intermittently pestering the other officials asking for someone to do something that resembled helping the tourists.

Whilst waiting we chowed a fresh pineapple we’d bought in Mozambique. I opened the drawer to find something had chewed a hole in our bag of milk powder. He’d crossed at least one border now.

The officials weren’t helping. Laura spoke to the guy who appeared in charge and he spoke with eyes on the board game in front of him. “Excuse me, its polite to look at the person who is talking to you.” “I’m listening,” he argued. “You’re not being very helpful. We’re visitors in your country, you have signs telling you your aims and how you should act towards us and you’re achieving none of them. It’s your job to help us.” With that, one guy stood and disappeared into the village. “He’s gone to find your officer,” said the other guy reluctantly.

Twenty minutes more passed before our customs official appeared. Twenty minutes after that we were through. The only issue was that we had no insurance. The guy seemed to think we’d be fine on the 100 kilometre stretch between here and the first town with an insurance sales office. We weren’t so sure but there wasn’t really anything else we could do. Another high five, another country entered. But there were still 350 kilometres to Lilongwe and sanctuary. The noise was worse than ever; something was grinding and we could only assume it was the brake drum.

And then we hit Police Engagement #17; a road block. Carnet and driver’s licence, but alas, no insurance papers. Our officer wanted specifically to see the insurance papers, he was right, we should have possessed them but how the hell could we get insurance if no one sold it at the border? He said he’d have to fine us, we said the guy at the border said we’d be OK to get to Balaka. He said there were two more road blocks before Balaka. We said we’d try our luck. He said he’d let us off this once. After we’d all said our part, we said thank you for his lenience and drove on. After 100 kilometres and two sets of sleeping police road blocks, we found Balaka; one of the several homes of Prime Insurance Ltd. Several laps of the bus depot, (a wrong turn, repeated), and seven thousand Kwacha later, we had one months’ vehicle insurance and were back on the road to Lilongwe.

But that damned noise was here to stay. One UJ was going so we decided to try and get the thing off, one less problem and all that, and besides, we could drive in two wheel drive. And so, once more we found ourselves beside the road undoing prop shafts, providing engrossing entertainment for all nearby.

All was going well. We hadn’t yet knocked over any of the thousands of people who were walking in the road. We hit Police Engagement #’s 18 and 19 which were inconvenient but straight forward. Number 19 involved my doing 56kmh in a 50kmh zone. I was justifiably told off and allowed to continue, can’t say fairer than that. Police Engagement #20 however was a bloody peach. A rotten, maggoty, foetid peach consisting of two young pricks who saw dollars in the paintwork of Redvers. We were rolling to a stop as the police let the five vehicles ahead of us through the barrier without hesitation. Redvers however was something else. The white be-gloved hand of slim officer number one rose and requested we stop. Papers, carnet and insurance weren’t enough. He wanted to see what we had in the back. “Drive off the road please,” he pointed to the dirt at the side.

By this stage in our journey, the drivers’ door was closed on a semi-permanent basis as the roof rack was wearing a hole in the door frame. So, Laura jumped out of the passenger seat and opened the back door, to reveal four eighty litres drums in front of an eighty kilo hippo and surrounded by mud covered recovery equipment that had been needed the day before. “What is this?” he pointed at the diesel. “It’s diesel, you have a fuel crisis, customs cleared it to come in.” “No, we have fuel,” he gestured at a petrol station over the road that did seem to have something in its pumps, “this fuel will have to stay with us.” “No, it’s ours, you can’t,” protested Somers. At this point I was scrabbling over the centre console to the passenger door to get out and speak to this utter (four letter word beginning with the letter after ‘B’ removed to avoid offence.) “What’s this?” he said looking at Joseph. “A wooden hippo,” we’re getting used to stating the obvious were Joe’s concerned. “Where are his papers?” I’d have smiled if he wasn’t serious. “What the ffff- “ I tailed off restoring a quantum of composure. Somers resumed, ”It’s our hippo. Zambia didn’t mind him, Zimbabwe didn’t mind him, Mozambique didn’t mind him and your customs official said he was ok to come in.” “Well this is not OK. We will have to confiscate him. Bring your car over to the office.”

We were tired, tired like you wouldn’t believe; too many kilometres with too little sleep; too many road blocks with too little integrity; too many noises with too few solutions. I actually wanted to cry; I’m sure Laura was thinking about it too. There was only one thing we could do: Find the boss; and plead for sanity.

I locked the car and asked for our papers back. Slim number one liked his power, he wasn’t giving them back yet. “Where’s your boss? Who’s the guy in charge, we want to deal with him, not you.” Our man pointed out into the road, “He’s over there. But I will go and speak to him, wait here.” He started dawdling out before hesitating. Somers and I walked past him and introduced ourselves. We walked the boss back to the car and explained our predicament. The fuel was ours, that was undisputed, but now he wanted to know about Joseph’s papers. Three individuals, a lady and two gentlemen, that had been stood nearby approached and asked us what was going on. After explaining they told us that if there is only one of an item and if it is destined for our homes in England then we need no papers and we are free to transport it. With this we looked at the cops. “Wait here,” said the boss as he took the two youngsters and our papers into the office for a conference. The tide felt like it was turning. We’d gained a foothold on a slippery slope and suddenly the slope was levelling out. The trio reassured us and after five minutes the cops reappeared. They wanted to know if there was anything in Joseph. Out came the recovery ropes, the hi-lift, the four drums and the tarpaulin. Off came Joseph’s rug and in went the officer to feel up a wooden, non-Trojan, hippopotamus. Finally they were satisfied; the boss told us that we could leave. We took the papers we gave thanks and thanks and thanks to the trio and we left, just eight kilometres from our destination, Mubayo Backpackers, Lilongwe.

We crawled into the backpackers, metal scraping metal somewhere inside Redvers. We walked straight into the bar and asked for beer. Then we proceeded to tell anyone who would listen about our last sixty hours.

As I opened the door to show Joseph to a new friend I also opened our drawer. A brown shadow, eight centimetres in length with the same again in tail, leapt out, ran down my leg and off into the bushes. He’d come at least 1500 kilometres and looked a little underweight. Worse still for him, he’s going to have to learn English. The mouse had to be an omen. We were vanquishing the pestilence from our existence. Life could only get better from here. I turned with a smile on my face to see a man slightly bemused at the fact we had mice and hippos in our car.

Posted by ibeamish 00:39 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 127 – Black Hawk Down

27th January 2012

all seasons in one day

We rose like champions at four o’clock, before the crack of dawn; we had a slow motion rally to drive in order to get to the border.

We watched the sun rise between the vertical columns of granite that rose from the ground as we cruised across Mozambique. We were flying. Flying with a squeak; at that rate we’d have been at the border by three, at that rate we’d have been dining in Malawi; sleeping in an Anglophone country with full bellies.

“STOP, STOP, THE HAND– ... SMOKING... STOP THE CAR!” An alarmed Somers wasn’t happy.

I was driving and hadn’t yet noticed the black smoke seeping from the handbrake and into the driver’s foot well. Somers had, hence the outcry.

We pulled over and I got under the car. The handbrake drum was warm but not hot. The smoke had come from the handle itself; logically our search had to start there. With the cover off we could see that the handbrake cable had melted. That was convenient given our proximity to nowhere of any use. We disengaged the cable and decided to drive a bit more and see what happened. Two kilometres down the road we stopped to have another look. The brake drum was hot enough to fry an egg on. The handbrake shoes must have been stuck to the drum. Super. The toolbox came out and then the tarpaulin was spread beneath the hulk of Redvers, the t-shirt came off, (they are all becoming oil stained,) and I got underneath, Somers remained above as tool assistant and chief of security. The back prop came off before we started a protracted fight trying to remove the hand brake drum whilst the brakes were still holding it in place. Sweat and swearing, grunting and harrumphing, all whilst lying on my back and thinking of England. Eventually, finally, after two hours, the drum was off, the shoes came off but I was unable to remove the handbrake cable, and so the snips came out and I removed it on a more permanent basis.

By this point the school that we’d happened to park outside had been on lunch break for over an hour. We had developed a crowd of fifty or sixty kids looking on and laughing and playing. The occasional motorbike would pass breaking the steady flow of cyclists and pedestrians. Somers entertained the crowds with a combination of photography and questions all whilst passing tools galore beneath the car.

The brake drum was replaced and the prop shaft reinstalled and we clambered back in and started him up. Onwards Christian soldiers! Onwards you squeaky soldiers, the brake drum squeak was gone, but there were still two other squeaks. The UJ bird was back, without the bird. That accounted for one noise, but what of the other? Brake drum? Gears? Transfer box? Wheel bearings? We’re not mechanics, we didn’t know and that was the most frustrating part of it all. We had to carry on driving but we had no idea what, if any, damage we were doing. Redvers must be protected at all costs. We were graunching him into a premature scrap yard. Bollocks to Land Rovers. Always sick but never dead. Always sick.

We were three hours behind schedule. Our hard driving for the past 48 hours had given us time though. We could still make the border before six, its closing time, and get through. We had a plan, we had maps, we had daylight and we had lunch on the move. Peanut butter sandwiches again. This had become an evacuation. We needed out of Mozambique and we needed a city, we needed the refuge of Lilongwe, its access to car parts, its access to a backpackers where we could park for a few days and get Redvers ship shape again.

The sun was setting as we motored along; this was going to be tight. If we were late, we’d have to strike camp in the dark at Entre Lagos, defending a perimeter, fending off money changers and the ne’er-do-wells of the border. The timing was a matter of minutes when Laura noticed that I’d missed the turning, the main road had carried straight on, the sat nav had requested a right turn. We spun around and went back. The suggested turn led to a road whose condition didn’t look great, the border was twenty kilometres along it. The alternative route was forty kilometres, a route that almost certainly meant no border crossing that evening.

We stopped; local intelligence was required. Our man on the ground, (a random guy at a stall,) spoke no English. But in hindsight the conversation probably sounded like this,

“Does that road lead to the border crossing?”

“Yes but it’s full of water and precariously muddy, I wouldn’t use it, you’ll either become entrenched in its rutted and pot holed surface or you’ll lose traction and your coefficient of friction will drop sufficiently to allow you to slide to a somewhat premature conclusion,” he gestured pointing first down the watery way and secondly down the good road. “I’d far rather recommend that you make use of that thoroughfare instead.”

At this point, the one word we’d heard was ‘Agua.’ A word that isn’t difficult to translate, a word we’d used repeatedly over the last three weeks, an unmistakable word. Unmistakable, as long as you haven’t been driving for three days straight, the culmination of which is a foolishly urgent desire to make the border today and complete a mission objective created days ago. Like the pull of a magnet, the pull of that bloody border felt stronger the closer to it we got. All day, I’d been repeating mental calculations: average speed, ground covered, ground to cover; an extra twenty minutes simply didn’t fit into the plans. That is probably why I decided that ‘agua’ sounded like ‘aga’ or ‘aka’ or anything that wasn’t water. I told Somers that it must mean ‘either.’ He had pointed at both roads when he’d spoken after all and I’d heard exactly what I wanted to. ‘What do you reckon?’ I asked Somers. ‘Yeah,’ came the reply. We’d lost five minutes but now we were back on the move with new intelligence. Intelligence that when interpreted in a certain light, (rose tints,) suggested we could still make it to the border.

And then, less than fifty metres down the road, disaster struck. We weren’t moving very quickly but all of a sudden we were losing grip, edging crab-like towards the edge of the road. We couldn’t correct out of it, we’d lose grip, we couldn’t correct into it else we we’d compound the situation. We were doomed. Braking wouldn’t stop us in time. We were going down. Twenty kilometres from mission accomplished and we were going down. The slippery mud slid Redvers to his right, slowly, steadily; the mud tyres did not help, the sheer bulk of a three tonne Redvers under gravity’s pull and frictions’ near absence guided us down and into the swamp that ran alongside us. Fuck it.

We had gone down in hostile territory. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Already, locals were running over to see the once mighty motor, stranded in the swamp. Having covered one thousand kilometres we were inches from sanctuary, immobilised and being closed down. We had an hour of daylight left. If we didn’t get out of this bog we’d have to spend the night guarding the car. A car at an angle that precluded a good nights sleep. The car was our everything, the car contained all that was important, the car was our escape route. That route was now closed.

Into low ratio, into diff lock, reverse, twelve inches backwards and then spinning. Into first, twelve inches forward and spinning. And sinking. Reverse. Spinning. And sinking. Stop, get out, make a plan. Think. ‘Shit, shit, shit.’ There are a dozen people surrounding us and we could see more running behind them. Redvers is leaning, precariously; and still slowly sinking. His left hand side is in a foot of brown water and at least six inches more of gloopy mud. What’s around us, what have we got, what can we use? Make a plan. Stay calm. Work it out. More people are arriving. They’re a crowd now. A laughing, ‘Mazungu’-ing, claustrophobia-inducing crowd. There are thirty of them at least. They are all so close. Their breath and their eyes are all over us. More have stopped on the railway line twenty metres away. And they’re laughing and shouting too. And still they’re pouring towards us from the town.

Two tow ropes, one recovery rope (elasticated), four d-shackles and a high lift jack. How can I slow my mind down? Shit. Concentrate. Portuguese is being fired at us. ‘Five thousand and we’ll get you out,’ says one slick rick. I’d have administered a ‘fuck off’ to him if I hadn’t been in a state of urgent semi panic. And scared. There were more than sixty people surrounding us, laughing. I looked around, there was a tree. I could use the ropes to get around it, I could use the jack as a winch and stretch the recovery rope, four feet at a time; maybe it would give us that pull we needed, maybe the sand mats would give us that grip we needed. I began stringing the ropes out, one guy joined in holding the ropes whilst I forced my way through the crowd, unwilling to budge, unwilling to give up their imposing front row positions. One guy out of what was now near a hundred people. One helper. For fuck’s sake, why are you all watching, laughing, not helping. My eyes pleaded. Their eyes were indifferent.

Bollocks, how do I make the jack work like a winch again? I’ve forgotten. And still the crowds, and still the laughing, and still the ‘Mazungu’s.’ Every time the car door opens it’s a battle to keep their eyes out. Somers is on guard duty again. Unlock, open, search through curtain to find manual, search for recovery options. Shit, shit shit. How did I put the car in the water? There it is. Shoe to car, end to anchor. That’s it, that’ll work. The rope is around the car, the hi-lift is attached to the rope and another rope comes from the hi-lift to the tree but the d-shackle won’t fit around the end of the hi-lift. The shackle is too wide. The hole’s too small. Make a plan. Shit. Make a plan. ‘Five thousand and we’ll get you out.’ Will. You. Just. Fuck. Off. Stay calm, ignore him. Nuts and bolts. They’re in the back, they’ll help. The back door unlocks, it’s more difficult to lift as, with the angle of the car, it’s now as much of a hatch as it is a door. Laura’s wash bag spills out and everything inside it finds a spot on the floor. Deodorants, pill-packs, toothbrush and creams, floating in the muddy water. Someone shouts “condoms” and the place erupts. Now people start to help to try and pick the pieces up, but we don’t want that sort of help, not for these bits. We’re trying to pick it all up but the door is heavy and folding down on us and there are people everywhere. There are eighty litres of diesel lying at a forty five degree angle in the back of the car. Extra weight that shouldn’t be in the car for this, but we can hardly unload our vehicle here; two pairs of eyes watching one hundred pairs of hands whilst trying to free the car. A potential catch twenty two that plays on our deepest insecurities. People are everywhere; close, all around and everywhere.

Nuts and bolts in my nuts and bolts box. I find one that’ll fit, but its only eight millimetres in diameter. Will that hold three tonnes? Probably not but I hope so. And the force will be more than three tonnes. It almost certainly won’t hold, but what else can we do? There are enough people to lift the bloody car out by hand but when we suggest that they laugh, no fala bloody portuguesa, no fala. I perform charades for pushing Redvers. Poor Redvers. Charades equals laughter. The ropes are attached, the set is rigged. But the hi-lift has seized, my rig is useless. Oh-dear-fucking-God.

Visions of a dazed me with a concussed and bruised head flash through my mind. Muddied and holding my skull as blood trickles down my face and, through the disappearing light of dusk, I watch people unloading Redvers and walking off with our stuff into the dark. That’s the movies. That’s not here, not now. We’ll get out; make another plan. I start trying to fix the jack, but it’s seized properly. And then one guy steps forward and he’s ‘charading’ something and saying ‘tabla.’ Table, under wheel, driving. “Show me.” I say. Maybe he is the key; maybe we’ll get out of this intact. My solution isn’t solving the problem. Another five minutes of fiddling with the hi-lift and our potential saviour returns with a huge round wooden table top. He’s going to use it as a sand track for grip under the submersed right rear wheel.

He is the key. We’ve reached a turning point. His enthusiasm to help solve the problem is infectious. He rolls his trousers up and steps into the quagmire. His smart, padded, yellow shooting jacket with its sleeves now rolled up seems improper attire for this situation. But that doesn’t matter. The laughter from the crowd subdued as he stepped into the mud and now young men are stepping forward. Bravado has become the flavour of the evening. One guy steps in to the mud and holding onto the bull bars he starts to lift Redvers, he has no chance but he’s not actually trying to move it alone, he’s showing it can be done. The crowd splits into those that want to help and those who don’t or won’t or can’t be arsed. Those who do are in the water and there must be around sixty of them. And I’m in the driver’s seat, and Somers is at the end of the road; waiting to try and flag down a 4x4 that might be able to pull us out. The guy in the yellow coat is in charge he’s instructing the crowd. There are hands all over Redvers, I start him up and try and explain that we need to move forward and backwards repeatedly to get enough momentum to jump onto the table. The crowd doesn’t understand my charades but when I enact them they soon learn.

There are now people pushing people who are pushing Redvers. And then on the fourth time of forwards-backwards, Redvers gets a wheel onto the table, we move back four feet across and off the table. The process continues with the deep tread of our tyres trying desperately to find purchase on the muddy, greasy banks. “Una, dos, tres, urgggghhh,” the final noise drowned out by Redvers’ grunt. As we finally summit our two foot peak the crowd roars. I roar back out of the window. “Woooooooooooo!” They roar back even louder. Fear has morphed into relief. Adrenaline fuelled, heart pumping, exasperated and energetic relief. I feel like I could run a hundred metres in eight seconds if the ground wasn’t so bloody slippery. I reverse to a safe spot, all the while battling the mud and gravity. And then we stop.

In my hysteria I empty our fridge of cokes to try and say thank you. I don’t realise what I’m doing. Like a modern Jesus I’m trying to hand out six cokes to a hundred people. But I am definitely not Jesus and they start fighting for them. One coke is held by seven or eight hands. Hands that are coming from in front, between the car and the door frame, through the window and through the gap of the door itself. The people that didn’t help are snatching and fighting too. The one guy I actually want to reward can’t be seen; the guy in the yellow jacket. I want to give him money, I want to reinforce that helping people is good, but the crowd have their hands out and they’re getting raucous to the point of boiling over. This is dangerous. The situation has flipped back again and we no longer feel safe.

“Somers!” I scream. “Get here. Quickly. It’s time to go. Guard the car. I’m getting the ropes.” I hand her the keys and turn to find a man presenting all our equipment to me. This is bitter sweet. I thank him profusely but no one wants sentiment; they want something palpable, edible, valuable. We bundle everything into the back and slam the door and lock it. We’re forcing our way through people just to get back to the front doors. People are shouting, people are trying to stretch out their hands through the self imposed crowd. We don’t stop saying thank you but our eyes are panicked and our minds concentrated, it is definitely time to get out. We’re in the car and locking the doors as we close them. The engine rumbles and the car starts making its own way through the crowd. We were frighteningly close to something, and this end was anything but entirely satisfactory. But it was time to fly. We still weren’t breathing deeply as we drove out of town. Holy-mother-of-all-that-is-fucked up. What the hell had just happened?

It was nearly seven. Somers had been told that the border closed at ten. She had almost been run over attempting to stop a Hilux that accelerated when she made to try and stop it in order to ask for help. We had forty kilometres to go; an hour and a half if the roads weren’t too shabby. Maybe, just maybe...

In the dark, we pulled into the ghost town of Entre Lagos. The Mozambican border post with Malawi. It was dark, only the street lights lit the buildings. The border was closed; though we couldn’t actually see it. We found some street urchin types who showed us the customs’ office. We met a customs’ official who first told us that the office was closed and then asked us for some money. And then the urchins told us about a place we could stay for ten dollars each. A pensao.

We arrived and drove through the large corrugated iron gates into a courtyard that was to be our fortress. We were shown to our room, despite having drawn pictures of our car with a tent on its roof and us sleeping. The ‘suite’ on offer had a living area; concrete walls and floor, cobweb rafters and dirt with three wooden chairs lined in the middle of the room to face a bare wall. The bedroom had an old double bed with clean sheets on a filthy mattress. A mosquito net with big holes in it was suspended from the ceiling and an old rug looked to have been hugging the concrete floor for most of its long lived existence. The bathroom was dark and smelt of stale piss and shit, in reverse order. Somers noticed a cockroach on the floor but didn’t realise there were six more on the wall behind her. There was a bucket and a scoop for showering that doubled as the method of flushing the toilet. The place was foul.

Ten minutes later we’d ‘spoken’ charades to explain we’d be sleeping in our tent and agreed a price of six dollars for the privilege. The big urchin wanted to wash the car. We told him no. The dirtier Redvers looked the less valuable he looked and the less attention we’d get. Each of the three urchins received the equivalent of a pound. That was a lot of money, but they’d been a big help and we quite wanted them to sod off.

The tent was erected as the onlookers videoed it on their phones. We washed with the ‘roaches and clambered into our tent. We were at the border. Our day had been incredible. We’d cross tomorrow morning.

Posted by ibeamish 23:54 Archived in Mozambique Comments (1)

Day 126 – Crowded Boats and Broken Tempers

26th January 2012


Our eyes opened as the stars disappeared into the first grey of morning light. We rose with forced energy driven by the fear of missing our boat.

Down at the harbour they were still readying the boat, the sun was rising and there were seven of us waiting to board, Laura and I, and old guy with a smile as long as the ocean and two women (fitted with compulsory child attachment slung at their side.) By the time we left an hour later there were thirty four of us on the small dhow (children excluded) plus four crew making thirty eight in total. The water had risen, the boat had sunk, so that there were only six inches of wood protruding out of the salt. A little old lady, as old as time, had nestled herself comfortably between Laura’s now spread-eagled legs and was grappling at the heavy tarpaulin with her arthritic fingers. We tucked her in as the boats engine spluttered to life and groaned to push us out into water.

Forty five minutes later I was wading through the shallows back to a Redvers that had several rub marks in the dust of his windows; someone had been trying to have a sneaky look. Whilst this was going on Somers had been waiting, amidst howls of laughter interspersed with ‘Mazungu,’ for the tender to arrive to transport her in her dry condition, back to land.

The shouts of ‘Mazungu’ and cries of laughter didn’t stop, and as Laura disembarked from the tender the child decided that of everyone on board, Laura had to pay for the service. A stern ‘Nada’ followed which appeared to sufficiently dampen the child’s hopes and she returned to find me inside Redvers re-organising once more.

Whilst I was inside, sweating it out like a marine in an intelligence test, I heard Laura talking to someone and telling them ‘no’ and that she didn’t owe them anything. With fire in my vision and rage in my soul I hastily beat a furrow through the back end of Redvers to find the same kid accompanied by a grown man, now both pestering Laura, bullying her for money. I delivered the trips’ first full frontal, “FUCK OFF... NOW,” as I threw my hand to point over the guy’s shoulder. I repeated myself in case he didn’t understand English. The rage subsided into a simmer as the duo retreated and we continued our business. There is definitely a breaking point for the pestering, bullying and downright deception of these guys and I’d found it. The pressure release had been coming and it had arrived not without a fair degree of exhilaration as it was unleashed on this prize pair of pillocks.

Back into ‘Sherlock’ mode we discovered something on the passenger seat that definitely hadn’t been there when we left; a small dried pellet of poo; a mouse poo. It was time to accept reality, the evidence was indefatigable; we were transporting livestock without a permit. The mouse would have to go. We’d just have to find him first.

It was five to eight and we had a long drive, Police Engagement #’s 14 and 15 heralded the start of our latest beautifully disrespectful game of ‘Officer Idiot,’ that had first been conceived on entering Pemba. We forgot all about the game at the first stop because I was too busy listening to the thrill of guilt banging inside my chest as I assumed I’d been speeding. Our papers were presented and away we went. At the next stop however, we were loaded and ready for them; the fat boy got it first, in the same way that a dog doesn’t know what you’re saying, only your tone of voice, our officer had no idea what the noise was between hello and how are you because it came through a smile! “Bon dia, Officer Idiot, como estas?” Passports (photocopies,) driving license and car papers were displayed and, as a good bye, officer number two received the same.

Our plan was to drive as far as daylight and road surface would allow and in the direction of Malawi some 1000 kilometres away. We passed the 300,000 kilometre mark, a definitive milestone in the ‘Life and Times of General Sir Redvers Buller, Landrover 110 (RSA assembled).’ It was as if he knew, he’d been squeaking about it all morning. We could only hope it was the excitement...

We managed to cover just shy of 600 kilometres in twelve hours driving; pulling two hour shifts and stopping only for pee breaks, driver swaps and police. Police Engagement #16 happened after dark. “What nationality are you?” “We’re British,” we chorused. “Uh? Na-shon-al-itee?” “We’re British, English, from the United Kingdom.” “No. Nationality.” “We’re South African.” “Oh, OK, where you go?” “Cuamba” “OK, bye.” The fact it was pitch black and Cuamba was 300 kilometres of crap dirt road away hadn’t vexed him, it was clearly something that South Africans do.

The road worsened and so did our squeak, we could only go at 25 kilometres an hour and the ruts were more difficult to see. We continued to look for a suitable spot to camp, but nowhere was ideal. Eventually we bit the bullet and pulled in front of a bulldozer that had been clearing a new road. We cut the engine, turned out the lights and waited. We waited in the dark with our windows down and our ears pricked, listening for anything that might go ‘bump in the night.’ A fancy bulldozer like the one we were parked next to had to be guarded, it wouldn’t be long before someone turned up. On cue, a light appeared amongst the trees in the distance, the bumbling stop-start light of a guy finding his way through the bush to where the lights had gone out and the hum of the engine quelled. As he closed in we shouted “Bon noite,” this wasn’t an ambush after all. We asked could we camp there, and he said ‘problem.’ Five minutes after we’d told him we’d be gone by five, he’d changed his mind and he watched in awe as we unfolded our ‘home’ on top if our car.

Posted by ibeamish 23:53 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 125 – Lounging in theLodge

25th January 2012


We walked past the $300 per night Ibo Island Lodge on the way back to our camp site. We were goaded by the clear water of the infinity pool, the warm wood of the surrounding decking and its pleasant smell, the luxurious sun loungers and the well kept garden. Glimpses through open doors revealed antique furniture and high ceilings. The scent of linseed oil drifted out from the freshly treated doors; we were acutely aware that we were in paradise but sleeping in the cheap seats.

For Laura the sight of the pool was too much. Our aching shoulders and tired legs needed more than the hard ground of the camp site and the heat of the midday sun. Laura had a plan and with the dust kicking up at her feet she disappeared around the corner. Five minutes later she had returned and had arranged the use of the pool in exchange for drinking at the bar. To be precise it was six dollars each for the pool or, a twenty dollar spend at the bar.

Ten minutes later we were dumping our bags in the secure room of the hotel whilst we nipped back out for a bit of silver bartering at the fort. Two beautiful and unbelievably fine necklaces, crafted on Ibo from South African silver, later we were lounging by the pool straight out of the brochure, looking out as the clear water seemingly overflowed into the Indian Ocean. It was a million miles away from next door where we had been sweating out our four dollar nights. (You could spend three months in our camp site for one night in the lodge.) Laura quickly slipped into a bikini and I hid my filthy, exquisitely disgustingly filthy, swim shorts under my towel.

The beers were served on a silver tray held in the air on the finger tips of our waiter’s right hand. The palm trees fluttered over head as we wondered what cocktails we could sup as the sun set. That was living.

On the roof top bar we drank rum and lime as the sun went down and then we went back to the local cafe for prawns.

There had been no sign of Amici all afternoon though we had strayed from our meeting point so we couldn’t be sure if he’d tried. At the restaurant we saw Soof who told us that the public dhow, our way back to the mainland, would be leaving at 5am the next morning. Since we were determined not to be done out of our two dollars we asked to be taken into the village to find Amici. That decision was how we found ourselves walking down pitch black alleyways, following a guy who couldn’t be sure where Amici was. It was 98% dark, crabs were accidentally kicked, stones were stumbled upon and shadows dodged the bumbling tourists trying desperately to keep up with the guide whilst keeping their adrenaline levels down.

Eventually we found Amici languishing around the back of a house that owned all three of a television, a generator and a satellite decoder. He looked rough, we thanked him for his services and asked for our money, he apologised for not finding us and handed over the dosh; we were square.

One more cocktail on the rough terrace and we retired to our ‘luxury tented camp beneath the stars.’ (It was Laura’s turn on the ‘(un)holy mattress.)

Posted by ibeamish 23:52 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 124 - The Three Trials to Quirimba

24th January 2012


Amici arrived as planned at 8am and served as a translator as we spoke to the guys running the camp. The final statement on their part was ‘Maybe a dog ran off with it.’ Deary me.

With our kit packed and on our backs we began the trek to Quirimba. The walk took around two hours, and came in three trials. The first was the trial of the mangrove maze. Channels had been cut through the mangroves to allow people to traverse islands. The only problem is that there are lots of channels, intersecting at acute angles; forks in the road. Each day footprints are washed away and despite the low tide much of the path remains under water regardless and so following the path is difficult at best. A path would lead into a clearing that is under two feet of salt water, at first view there are no exits from the clearing but as one walks across the multitude of escape routes became evident. The key is that under close inspection, there was a white sand path under foot below the surface. The path had been cleared from the dark layer of algae and mud that lined the base of the clearing. Since we had a guide the first trial was conquered, we waded for an hour flanked by mangrove and watched over by the sky.

The second trial was soon upon us. Mounting the bank of the channel down which we had been wading we found that the mangroves live in mud; thick, slimy, slippery and incredibly stinky mud. Life became about maintaining our status as Homo sapiens nee erectus, as frequently we were reduced to great apes, clinging onto trees for balance, holding on to the ground as we slipped, sank and squelched our way along.

Finally, the mud gave way to the sand. A lot of it, kilometres of hard rippled sand bank forming the final trial. As the terrain made this final change we met a fisherman on his way to Ibo to sell his mornings catch. Amongst his fish was a lobster and that was to be our dinner, it cost just over one pound.

Arriving at the island we went straight to Amici’s sisters’ house where we would be camping. We dropped our bags and went on a mini tour that was essentially a roundabout way of finding Amici’s ‘girlfriend’ and his six month old baby. The use of apostrophes is required as Amici was no longer dating the mother of his child, naturally it had been unplanned. On further questioning about marriage he suggested that he would marry the mother of his second child, at least we think that’s what he said, the translation may actually have been that he wanted to marry the mother that gave him two children.

We ate breakfast at a local cafe and then played a game of ludo outside. The game is played with fervent rapidity and in one flowing move the die is scooped from the ground, shaken ‘in-flight’ and slammed down against the ground. The next guy has already shaken as you move your pieces. With the speed and our lack of knowledge of the rules we were a little slow, but Amici helped along. He just moved our pieces so that Laura and I attacked each other and avoided attacking him. It was no great surprise when he won by a considerable margin.

From this point forward it would turn out that we had essentially accompanied Amici on his child visiting trip. He left us to wander the beach, where we sat in a mangrov e tree and read as the ocean swept in. When we returned we found Amici and Laura ensured that he would be taking us on a tour of the island. We drank papaya wine in the local shebeen (local ale house), bought some dried cassava which tastes like chalk, and Laura had a rejuvenating ‘local’ face mask on our way back, much to the delight of the locals.

Our dinner came late as Amici had disappeared again and we had been waiting in the dark for his promised return. Eventually we asked could we eat and despite being berated for not speaking Portuguese we were shown to our lobster and pap supper.

The next morning we scolded Amici twice for his shenanigans but he only heard what he wanted. After all he was only nineteen and it seemed he’d beautifully combined child support payments with guiding. And so, when he asked for the rest of his fee I decided that it was so he could give his ‘girlfriend’ some money. He had already been advanced 60 mets of his 600 for pain killers for him and batteries for his sisters LED lantern and we’d paid his siter 100 each for the camping. With child support on my mind the heart strings are tugged and I hand over a five hundred note before he has finished our trip. My five hundred note received 100 change, he owed us sixty. Off he went again.

Three hours later he returned, we were itching to leave, we had three trials to conquer before we could sit on Ibo again. We made it back across to Ibo and Amici told us he was going to the hospital as headache had worsened. He could meet us at our camp site with our change. As an afterthought he asks if it would be OK to buy a big bottle of water to get change. I told him he could buy whatever he liked as long as we got our sixty meticais by the end of the day.

This was tight of us as we were talking about two dollars. But we hadn’t really bonded with Amici from the beginning. He was a useless guide who spent as little time as he could with us and we had to bully him into actually guiding us. Normally a guide would be getting a healthy tip by this point, especially after we had met his family and at least one defenceless dependant. But he left us frustrated, we didn’t want to give him a cent more than we had bound ourselves to.

Posted by ibeamish 23:50 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

(Entries 106 - 120 of 216) « Page .. 3 4 5 6 7 [8] 9 10 11 12 13 .. »