Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nervous in Mozambique

Mozambique. It has a ring to it, that name. You enter from Mpumalanga, the Eastern Transvaal. Which is game farms and sugar cane and orchards, rich country, with touristy roadside stalls and game lodges, nestling between the escarpment and the Lebombo Mountains.

At the border a man introduced himself. He looked at the third party insurance document as my wife was filling out forms.
“Allied Insurance,” he said. “My company.”
He appointed himself to see us through border formalities. He instructed us and said he would meet us on the other side.
“My name is Nervous,” he said.

We handed in our passports and were waved through. My wife disappeared into Mozambican bureaucracy. I pondered names. Nervous. A reassuring moniker. More so than Grifter, say. Or Con Man. A man from a rival insurance company warned us that the fee for the vehicle was ten rand only.

My wife reappeared, Nervous in tow. Nervous said we owed him a hundred rand. For the vehicle. We’d already paid for the vehicle, but we gave him twenty for effort. The Mozambicans waved us through. We entered a flat desolate plain. Thorn scrub and dust. Occasional piles of firewood on the side of the road signalled human industry. We paid our toll fees in Meticals. A reed hovel clung to the dust.

Then we were in Maputo. For a long time. Mini bus taxis, markets, VodaCom TuboBom, Señor Jesús Cristo. More markets. Goats. Stalls, shops and sand encroaching on the road. We turned north onto the Xai Xai road. We travelled through many villages. Some buildings were still derelict from the war. We bought Cashew nuts on the side of the road. VodaCom TuboBom. Flat hills, tropical. Many trees. Trucks barrelled through, straddling the middle line. We got the fuck out of the way by the grace of Señor Jesús Cristo.

We crossed the great, grey, greasy Limpopo on an old steel bridge in the late afternoon. We’d been travelling for eleven hours. Mist clung to wide, still waters. Palm trees rose spookily from the banks. Apocalypse Now. Señor Jesús Cristo. VodaCom, TuboBom.

Xai Xai is big. We dawdled through the throng. A man smacked another man across the face. Friday evening. Payday. VodaCom, TuboBom. Señor Jesús Cristo. We stopped at the last garage and let the tire pressure right down for the sand.

Thirty K’s on we spotted the sign for Zona Braza and turned right onto a track. It wound through dense bush. The sun was a red ball on the horizon. Big cows, long horned, stared at us out of the gloom. There were forks in the road. I chose randomly, not wanting to stop and get bogged. But the tracks always joined up again. They’re part of the design. It’s how you allow other vehicles to pass. We wound down to a lake, then up steep dunes, relying on momentum and soft tires. A sign said: Casas - Reception. We piled out and lost each other in the dark. We found the bar. We drank Laurentina beer and ate Barracuda. It was good. We left early because the barman still had to walk home. Ten K’s to the tar road. He was scared of snakes. He wanted to work in South Africa and earn money for a bicycle.

The Casa perched in the dune forest at the top of a dune. It was thatch roofed, and mosquito nets hung exotically over the beds. It looked east along the beach. Monkeys came to visit. Whales cavorted off the reef. We slept in cool breezes and the sound of the sea. My dreams were vivid and lingered long after I opened my eyes.

We walked and slept and read. In the evening we lit a fire and grilled our supper on red coals. Five days. No TV, no papers. Just the beach and us. I asked the children if they wanted to come back. They said yes. I asked if we should invite anyone. They said, no. Just us. They said Zona Braza was the best place we’d been in Mozambique.

The drive back only took eleven hours. VodaCom. TuboBom. We travelled safely beneath the gaze of Señor Jesús Cristo. There was no sign of Nervous.

3 comments:

Dusty Muffin said...

Lovely, evocative piece. Makes me hanker for a place I've never been.

James Whyle said...

Thank you!

Lilly Web said...

Wow what a piece, brings back memories of when I was in Mozambique. Thank you