The time I thought I was going to die in Mozambique
From December 2009
This is a true story about one of many adventurous journeys in Mozambique
They looked at us with disbelief. Every single one of them. Were we crazy? Had we gone mad? The local South Africans wondered what on earth we were thinking when we told them that we, three small Canadian girls, were headed to Mozambique with nothing but our backpacks, a bag of oatmeal and an appetite for adventure. We left our rental car at the border under a tree and the watchful eye of a man with a broom and a few chickens. We planned to travel like the locals, camp where we could and just see where our adventure would take us. A few days in, we finally got the adventure we were lusting after.
We were on an all day journey from Maputo to Chidenguele. Traveling like the locals entailed packing 27 people, 16 chickens, 142 pounds of flour and an entire flea market worth of bric-a-brac, into a 12 person van. From one van, to a boat, to another even more loaded van, we thought we were just a few hours from our destination. With the help of a local man, we had negotiated a fare that was much more than the locals paid, but guaranteed depositing us to the door of our campground.
Three hours stretched into five, adding up to over 10 hours of traveling that day. With my backpack on my lap and pins and needles in my legs I was sure we must be almost there. As the sun faded in the distance, the noisy Portuguese chatter slowly died down. No one spoke English on this bus…we spoke no Portuguese.
Now it was dark. And quite. I was sure we should have been there a long time ago. Highway signs were few and far between. Signs I did see on the road, I didn‘t see on the map. We tried asking the other passengers how much further to Chidenguele or what the next stop was. They just stared at us or shook their heads. We tried showing them the name of the town written on a piece of paper. They mumbled something in Portuguese and looked away.
Another hour passed . I had visions of being dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with lions waiting in the tall grass or being driven far far away to be harvested for my organs. I was determined to keep my fear hidden from my two friends. We should have been there hours and hours ago. Inside, I was stricken with fear and my mind was going a mile a minute. I needed to shut off my brain. I made the conscious decision to close my eyes, fall asleep and just deal with whatever was going to happen when the bus stopped.
I had just started to doze, when my friend Shani tapped me on the arm and asked, “shouldn’t we be there by now?”. I could hear the fear and uncertainty in her voice and it echoed my own thoughts exactly. As I answered, “We should have been there a long time ago”, I opened my eyes for a second.
It flashed past the side of the bus in an instant. A sign for Chidenguele!!!! We jumped into action as the bus chugged right past the turn off. Yelling, pointing and making frantic gestures we were able to communicate that we had just passed our turn. As the bus turned around, I felt the weight of my backpack dissipate and breathed a sigh relieved. Finally we were here!!!
The bus pulled up to the town. We pointed to a sign for our campground, showing it was 8 km away from where we were. The bus driver shook his head and said something we didn’t understand. After a few minutes of “discussion”, each in our respective languages, we realized that the bus driver was refusing to drive us right to the campground. He wanted us to get off the bus right there, kilometres away from the destination that we had paid a premium to get right into. In the wee hours of the morning, after the long day we had endured and the extra cash we forked over, we were not walking 8 km into the dark sand dunes with our heavy packs. We refused to get off the bus. But they had a solution to that. Passengers began to grab our gear and toss it off the bus. We had no choice but to follow our bags. The bus took off, leaving us in a cloud of sand.
As the dust settled, we took in our surroundings. The “town” consisted of 3 haphazard sheet metal buildings. One was a grocery store, one was a general store and the other was the local bar. Of course only the bar was open. Local men were outside, drinking, smoking and doing who else knows what. Within seconds, we were surrounded. Three little Caucasian Canadian girls far off the beaten tourist path in Mozambique at 3 am, just having been abandoned by a bus. We were quite a spectacle.
Thankfully, one of the men spoke a little English. He was willing to drive us to our campground…for a price. Asking 5 times what we had just paid for 7 hours on the bus for an 8 km drive, we managed to talk him down to half price. No other options meant we had to go. The driver got into the van. We got in. Then two of his friends joined us.
Three huge men fuelled by alcohol, three little girls, strong but exhausted. I was scared. We could only hope that they would deliver us to our campground in one piece. A few silently tense minutes into the drive, the men started chattering away in Portuguese. I felt uneasy. What were they saying? Were they talking about us?
Suddenly, the van began to slow down. Cranking the wheel, the driver turned off the road into a clearing surrounded by trees. My uneasiness turned to pure terror. The man in the passenger seat got out. He walked around the van and opened up the back. I could hear him rummaging around. My active imagination was running a million miles an hour again. I had visions of duct tape, rope, gags and rusty torture devices. I was positive that we were about to be raped and killed. No one would ever know what had happened to me. My body would never be found. This was the end of me. I fumbled through my bag for anything I could use as a weapon. The best I came up with was a corkscrew. The man slammed the back door shut. He walked back toward the front of the van. He paused, his face looking directly into my window.
Then he waved. And ran through the trees. I exhaled the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding and my grip loosened on the corkscrew. We were just dropping him off at home!!!!!!!!
We made it to the campground and our thirst for adventure was quenched.