This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cuamba, Mozambique

So I made it across the lake safely. Frankly, I don't know what the fuss was about. Some people I spoke to in Malawi make the Ilala sound like an unsanitary death trap. I guess it was kind of on the dirty side - I woke up in the middle of the night face-to-face with a rat, and there were plenty of cockroaches and ants about - but it was as sturdy as you'd like, there was no chance of it sinking. People who think the Ilala is dangerous should go ride ferries in Nicaragua. Instead, my two biggest issues were as follows: first, I was riding on the top deck, which got extremely cold and windy at night, and I have neither a tent or a sleeping bag; second, I assumed that the ferry would accept Mozambican currency since it called at three Mozambican ports. It didn't; only Malawian kwachas were accepted. So I couldn't buy any food or water while I was on board.

The first problem was weathered pretty successfully. I wore two sweaters over two t-shirts, my one pair of pants over a pair of shorts, and then 3 pairs of socks. I wrapped a towel around my head it warm. I slept on a bench. The cold kept waking me up at night, but I probably got in about three or four hours of sleep. Probably three. I slept on a bench. Perhapa I could be a hobo after all. The money problem was a bigger issue, since the ferry was dreadfully late. We arrived at Likoma Island two hours late; we left Likoma seven hours behind schedule. It took an unbelievably long time to unload everything. There was no jetty on Likoma - or indeed at any other port of call - so the ferry anchored about 100 metres off shore, and then everything had to loaded into small motorboats to be taken to shore. By the time we got to my stop, Metangula, we were ten hours late and it was 10 PM. I hadn't eaten since 1 PM the day before. I was STARVING and also quite thirsty, as my water had run out probably seven hours previous. I jostled with random Mozambicans to get on the first motorboat to shore - all I could think about was sleep (I figured nothing would be open and I'd have to eat in the morning, which was right). The boat dropped us off about 10 metres from shore in knee deep water. I had to jump into the lake while Mozambicans climbed over me to get on.

I found a small hotel by about 10:30. I was pretty sure the woman who ran it quoted me a price of 1,250 meticais. This seemed like a ridiculous price for this particular hotel, but I figured it was just the foreigner's tax and I didn't really say anything. Turns out that she had actually said 250 meticais, and I had misunderstood. In Niassa province, the way they say two (dois) is almost identical to how they say twelve (doze). I thought she had said "twelve hundred", but she was actually saying "two hundred". Even though I was delirious with hunger and thirst and fatigue, this was a ridiculous error on my part, because the only language where people say things like "twelve hundred" or "fifty nine hundred" is in English. I gave the woman 1,250. This is how I figured out my mistake.

I was about the go to sleep when there was knock on the door. It was the woman who had sold me the room. She wanted to know if I wanted a girl to sleep with me tonight. I was a little taken aback - I've never heard of women playing the pimp role in Mozambique, it's always men - and for a second I thought that maybe I was staying in a brothel. I told her no, thank you, I just wanted to sleep because I was waking up early to go to Lichinga. She looked confused. Then I asked her where the bathroom was. She smiled, then led me towards an outhouse a little ways to the right. She then asked me if I wanted to have sex with her in the bathroom. I was still really confused, and I wasn't sure what to do, so I again declined, and said that I'd rather sleep. Thanks for asking though.

I lay awake for a while thinking about this bizarre incident, and I pieced together what happened. She had asked me for 250 meticais ($10). I had given her 1,250 meticais ($50). She assumed that I had given her the extra money because I wanted to have sex with her. In the morning, I told her in my best Portuguese that there had been a misunderstanding and that I thought the room was 1,250 meticais, so therefore I needed 1000 meticais in change. She pretended like she didn't know what I was talking about, and she tried to tell me that the room costed 1,040 meticais. Things got pretty heated. Eventually, I made my point forecefully enough that she gave me my 1000 meticais back.

And that is the story of how I inadvertantly paid a Mozambican woman to have sex with me.

By 10:00 AM that day I ended up in Lichinga. There is nothing to do in Lichinga, and I seriously contemplated pushing on to Cuamba, but I thought I needed a day to eat (I still hadn't eaten - I ate at about noon for the first time in 46 hours) and rehydrate and rest. Also, crucially, there was a LAM (Mozambique's biggest airline) office in Lichinga, and I needed to buy a ticket for a flight back south to Maputo in advance for my flight back to Canada. So I stayed in Lichinga for a night. As it turns out the LAM office was closed because it was Mozambican independence day! Happy 33rd birthday Mozambique! I really should have known better - there is a street named 25 de Junho in every single Mozambican city. There wasn't really a parade in Lichinga, the town is too sleepy for that. Once in a while, a war veteran would amble by, drunk, singing revolutionary songs. Instead I watched the big celebrations in Maputo on TV. I could write an entire post on how amazing and hilarious it was, but I have more interesting things to talk about.

My trip from Lichinga to Cuamba was the best yet. It started on a chapa. This was the most beat up chapa I've been in so far - the door didn't close and every window was cracked - and, sure enough, about two hours into the trip, it bottomed out on a shitty dirty road and broke down. The driver got out and toiled underneath. He emerged with a bunch of parts and beat at them with a hammer for a while. That didn't seem to do the trick, so he flagged down a passing car, jumped in, and made off for the nearest town. Us passengers had to wait until another vehicle passed, or until the chapa was fixed.

Another chapa passed first, and maybe 5 or 6 passengers squeezed into that one. About an hour later, this is after two hours of waiting, a two-ton truck with a flat bed stopped, and we all piled in. The driver was driving this thing at about 120 km per hour on a dirt road, it was positively harrowing. I was sitting at the front of the box on a big sack of grain, and I thought I was going to go hurtling off the side. I held on for dear life; the conductor (rather, the guy who collected fares) thought that was funny. After a while I kind of got used to it, and decided to stand up and enjoy the landscape. It was amazing. At first I was looking behind me, and I could see the entire Lichinga Plateau (one of the only mountainous areas in Mozambique) recede behind me. Simply breathtaking. I would not sit down for the rest of the trip - for the next seven hours I was standing, looking mostly in front of me, enjoying the feeling of the wind battering my face.

The conductor eventually decided that I was a lunatic and, therefore, worth his affections. A bunch of other people on the minibus also took a liking to me. At a town called Mandimba, the conductor went off and bought a bottle of gin. He opened it and insisted that I had some. I took a big swig. It tasted like rubbing alcohol. I passed it around. This pattern would continue every time we stopped at a market, which was pretty often: the conductor would get out, buy more gin, insist that I took the first gulp, then passed it around. There were probably 11 or 12 bottles of gin; by the end, it was only me, the conductor and two other dudes drinking the gin. Things became more crazy the more we drank. Eventually, I stopped holding on the rail at all and just stood straight up in the box, leaning on the cage. What a dumb thing to do - we were going at brakeneck speeds on a shitty dirt road, and the driver was piloting the truck erratically because he had drank gin as well (not the first and definitely not the last drunk driver I've had here - it's very common). At one point we almost nailed a buy on a bike. It was the biker's fault, he had suddenly emerged from the bushes and pedaled in front of the truck. We missed him by half an inch at the most. The driver stopped and had to be physically restrained from going after the biker. He wanted to beat him down. We kept going. The road went from being packed down dirt to loose dirt and we went fish-tailing all over the road. Cars passed in the other direction, kicking up dust and making us incredibly filthy. I was very, very tipsy - I can still feel the gin now. We probably ran over two or three chickens. At one point, a man disembarked and tried to pay with a torn 50 meticais note. The problem was that the tear was through the serial number, so the note was invalid. The conductor refused to accept it and appropriated a bit of the guy's grain. We continued down the road. Kids covered in dust on the side of the road thought it was hilarious that a white guy was in the truck (definitely not the way tourists get around up here... not that there are tourists here in the first place) and called to me. I waved back. The conductor kept getting more gin - thank goodness I had eaten some bread and oranges along the way or else I surely would have vomited. Still more gin. Eventually, finally, mericfully, we reached Cuamba. The conductor and another dude wanted to go drinking with me in the city. I was sober enough to realize that this was the worst idea in the world (I am leaving here tomorrow on a 5 AM train to Nampula), so I sneaked off while they were unloading grain from the truck. And here I am now.

Northern Mozambique is definitely to my liking so far.


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