The next day after the beach nonsense I took the early morning boat back to the mainland and cycled the 3 hours to Dondo. I was tempted to once again camp at the hotel but didn’t want to bump into the idiot drinking partner I’d had the previous week so pushed on and took the dirt (sand) road north from Dondo towards Caia then onwards to the border. What followed was a tough week physically and mentally though also rewarding and gave me a glimpse into rural Mozambique away from the main trade route.
At around 4pm I encountered a small village so stopped for my afternoon beer before heading into the bush to wild camp. One of the most important Portuguese words I’ve learned is “Caraf” (apologies for the bad spelling?). Important because it means bottle and bottled Manica beer tastes a lot better than the canned version, naturally there is no power in these small villages, luckily Manica is nice enough to drink warm. No one spoke English but the string of questions was the same as I’ve already been asked a thousand times, with simple signs on their part I knew the questions and gave simple answers, listing the places I’ve been in Mozambique, how heavy my bike is, how far I cycle per day, and that I sleep in a “tento”. Once satisfied as to what I was up to they left me to my beer which is quite unusual in Africa. While I left them to speculate among themselves where my gears where and what that strange computer thing is on my handlebars.
My beer drank, I bought some tomatoes and onions from one of the vendors and headed 2km out of town then moved 50m into the bush. It was 5pm so I had 45 minutes of daylight left, just enough to set up camp , cook a pasta, tomato, onion and sardine dinner then have a quick shower. Climbing into my tent at dusk to avoid the mosquitoes and eat dinner alone like I’ve already done so many times this trip. Mornings while wild camping are relaxed nowadays, the weather is mild and I’m not in a hurry so often enjoy a second cup of coffee, relax and enjoy life, at around 9am the flies wake up and start hassling me which is my cue to get moving.
The next day was a rather impressive 85km over a corrugate and often deep sand road, I was like a man possessed and enjoying the challenge of a bad road again after so many months of boring, mind numbing tar roads, though now two weeks on I still have a sore back from lugging Mr Hyde too energetically though some of the deep sand.
At around the 80km point rather relieved I encountered a fairly large village (my water was almost gone) I settled down at the quieter of the two bottle stores for a coke and watched life go by. Once again I was surprised that after the initial interest everyone just went back to their own life rather than Mzungu watching. It was a very unique situation and quite surreal. I ordered a beer and just sat there on the veranda watching daily life for an hour. A boy standing up and giving up his chair as a sign of respect for an older member of the family, a woman breastfeeding only 2 meters away, men chatting about life, women fetching water and the storm of vendors running to each truck that stopped on its way through the village. Strangest of all was the fact that everyone was sober, pretty much every bottle store in Africa has its share of village idiots and drunken bums hanging around, but not this one, and many others I stopped at where also sober, I can only guess that these folks don’t all have money to waste on booze (though plenty in Mozambique do spend their money on cheap gin or brandy). Once again I bought tomatoes and onions to add to my pasta and disappeared into the bush a few kilometers from town like so many times before. The people of Mozambique though just as curious as everyone else in Africa seem a little more reserved and generally have a little more respect for personal space and privacy (the ones between Dondo and the border did anyway).
The next evening I arrived at the town of Inhaminga after another long day. This was a typical example of a colonial disaster, a fairly small town but most of the buildings where in ruins. The following morning I saw dozens of people looking like zombies from an apocalypse scavenging around town looking for one of the 3 water taps still working, then standing in the queue for hours to get the water. The staff from the run down hotel in town and I got on famously with hand signals and drawing prices in the dirt, once again very patient and friendly people that did their best to help me despite the language barrier. One look at the stuffy dorm and I decided to sleep in my tent for half the price and with the luxury of cool air and only my own farts to contend with.
The next day I pushed on then rested for a couple of days in the cheapest hotel I could find in Caia, though explaining to the manager that I wanted sheets without semen stains was quite a challenge. I think me showing him the sheets and my funky shagging dance got the message across and within a few minutes a new packet of sheets was been opened.
My map showed I could cycle 60km parallel with the Zambezi then the road crossed the river. My 4th crossing of the great Zambezi wasn’t as easy as I expected though. It proved to be a pedestrian/railway bridge and not a road, luckily with the help of some locals I was able to get up the short flight of stairs and cross, a motorbike or car would of been stuck.
After getting lost in town I finally found the road I needed for the last 45km to the border. The road was lined with a series of villages that are pretty much connected. This is by far the poorest area I’ve cycled through so far during this trip. Kids in rags is nothing new for me, but kids with the pot bellies we all recognise from 1980’s tv, huge bellies from malnutrition. I wasn’t shocked or surprised by this but it’s not a pleasant sight to see up close. What followed was one of the most weird and emotional experiences of the trip to date.
It’s not unusual for people to shout at me, cheer me on or wave, I’m a riding attraction for the locals, often a highlight of their day. But in an area so poor where you might expect people to be miserable or preoccupied I was overwhelmed by the best send off a country could ever give. For 30km straight just about every person shouted, cheered, waved and wished me well. It was like a Mexican wave from house to house, village to village. A wave of joy, happiness and unity. Kids stopped their football games to run to the road and wave me on, mothers grabbed their young children from indoors and people stood up to shout or wave. Words just cannot explain such a spectacle. I stopped briefly at a small shop for a beer and some tomatoes just before sunset and the adults kept the pot bellied children at a comfortable distance. I had to rush my beer though the emotions of the whole situation after two weeks of almost social isolation where just too much and I didn’t want to ball my eyes out for a crowd of strangers.
The people of Africa continue to awe and inspire me, such resilience and friendliness……….Thank you Mozambique for such a wonderful send off.
The next morning I crossed into Malawi and the first thing I heard was “Mzungu give me money….” How’s that for an anti climax, and a welcome back to tourist Africa.