Trip Start Jun 28, 2007
Trip End Aug 07, 2007

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Flag of Mozambique  ,
Saturday, June 30, 2007

30 June

Woke up at 6 after a great sleep in my cozy, quiet room. After a quick shave, shower and breakfast, I drove with Helmut for 1 1/2 hours to Marromeu, where he had to inspect some sites for the construction of high-voltage electricity transmission towers. After our drive, we had to walk for about ten minutes down to a small branch of the Zambezi River and cross it by canoe taxi. After crossing that tributary, we had to walk again for ten more minutes to reach the mighty Zambezi River. We waited there for about twenty minutes before being picked up by a motorboat belonging to the sugar factory that is to be the biggest beneficiary of the electricity when it is brought to the area. While crossing the river, we passed just a few meters from a hippo that was bathing in the middle of the river. Apparently, more people die from hippos than from any other animal in Africa. When disturbed, they turn over boats and people either drown or are killed by the hippos. We were lucky that this one had better things to do today.

The main reason that Helmut wanted to come this way was that it was a short cut, taking only a little over 2 hours in total rather than five hours if one were to go the whole way by road. The hippo sighting, however, might make him have to reconsider the safety of this shortcut.

I joined Helmut on his visit of the construction sites, after which we had lunch at Pappa Joe's, a restaurant started by one of the former construction workers to serve visiting workers. They pretty much have a captive market there, being the only proper restaurant in a town full of foreign construction, aid and sugar factory workers. As such, Pappa Joe takes the opportunity to gouge his customers by charging 8 dollars for a hamburger, and 6 for a bacon and egg breakfast. Oh, well - business is business. I'm sure he has to import those eggs from South Africa.

We finished lunch at 13:30 and were meant to get a boat back across the river and return home. Things didn't quite work out that way and from this point the day got interesting - sometimes frighteningly interesting:

Basil, a South African ex-pat electrical engineer at the sugar factory, was responsible for our logistics. But the boat that was supposed to take us back across the river had gone on assignment elsewhere. And everyone else who might have been able to arrange a boat for us was not able to be contacted - in spite of the fact that most of them had mobile phones. The fact that it was a Saturday afternoon contributed to everyone's unreachability - even though some of them were supposed to be on stand-by.

Basil informed us that our boat was due to arrive back at 16:00, which would mean a three and a half hour wait sitting around doing nothing. Being naive and optimistic westerners, we spent the entire time hoping and almost expecting that the boat would arrive sooner. Then by 15:30, we started worrying that it wouldn't arrive at all. At that time, we went down to the river to wait for the boat and when it wasn't there by 16:30, we really started worrying. We HAD to get back across the river before nightfall because Helmut's car was over there and if we didn't return, the car would have been reduced to spare parts by thieves overnight. So staying in Marromeu for the night was really not an option. At the same time, it was getting dark, with the sun setting shortly after 17:00 in the winter time here. At this point we decided to abandon the hope of getting the motorboat so Basil suggested that we take a canoe across the Zambezi. He then tried to drive us to the place from where the canoes depart, but he didn't know where it was. We had a local with us who could have asked for directions, but there is no way that a white South African would ask a black man for help - even if his life depended on it. So we ended up going back to where we were before to wait for the boat. It was nearly 17:00 by now and every minute counted.

There was another motorboat at the waterfront and when a couple of locals came and got in it and started the engine, we thought that our problem was solved. In the end they refused to take us across - even for a lot of money - because the boat did not belong to them and they didn't have permission to take us. We tried to give them permission, invoking "white man's authority", but it didn't work - because they had even greater fear of the white owners of the boat.

Finally, our boat came at just after five o'clock. Two drunk passengers stumbled off of it and the drunk driver of the boat said "Sorry, I can't take you across because the boat is now almost out of gas!" We insisted that we had to urgently get back across and we finally managed to convince him to take us. Now that I think about it, it worked out to our advantage that he was drunk because otherwise there is no way he would have taken us across on a nearly empty tank of fuel. He didn't have enough gas to get himself back across the river and would have had to sleep in the boat with the mosquitoes until someone could come and rescue him in the morning. We did, at his request, call Basil and ask him to send help but if Basil would have been able to help him, he would have been able to help us as well - which he wasn't.

We also had to get the boatman to take us up that tributary to a point from which we would be able to walk to our car. Just getting across the river would not be enough anymore as there would be no canoe taxi to take us across the second, smaller river. So here we were in the middle of the Zambezi River with nightfall rapidly approaching, with a drunk boatman and little gas. In hindsight Helmut and I concluded that our decision to proceed across the river under these circumstances was reckless. At the time, though, it seemed like the best course of action.

When the boatman tried to take us up the channel nearer to our car, the channel was blocked - rendered impassable by reeds. So he headed upriver, away from our destination -and dropped us off on the river bank, far away from even any village - much less a road. From the bank we found a narrow little path and walked along it for several kilometers, passing through little villages of surprised natives sitting around their huts. I wished we would have had time to sit and chat with them but it was almost dark and we weren't even at the main road and we didn't even know where it was. With the help of our local guide and Helmut's Portuguese language skills, we were able to find the right way. Reaching the main road (which was more like a path through a field), we had to walk for another three or four kilometers before we found the car. There we found our watchman, who had been engaged early that morning to look after our car. The car was intact and we were as glad to pay him 2 dollars for his services as he was to receive the money. He wanted to know when we would be back again. Well, after a day like this one, not too soon I hope!

We then had our bumpy 1 1/2 hour drive back to Mopeia, which seemed peaceful and even a bit boring after what we had just been through. Back at home, a nice fish dinner was awaiting us, prepared by Helmut's maid.
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