Day 6, The worst travel day
Our goal was to get to Gurue. My friend and I left Sena at 7:30 and got to Caia (an important crossroads town right before you cross the Zambezi river into the Provence of Zambezia) by 9. We got some really tasty goat curry with xima (boiled white corn meal) for breakfast. It would turn out to be the only thing we would eat for 12 hours. We tried hitch hiking and a really really nice car stopped for us. It was a big Range Rover SUV. It was air conditioned and really comfortable, and the guy driving it was supper nice. He even offered us some soda from his cooler he had in the car, though we declined. He and his wife were from Beira and traveling to Quilimane to start up a business. He dropped us off at Nicuidala and told us that if in two hours we had not got a ride he would be continuing up a little further north and drop us off at the crossroads for Gurue.
We walked towards the edge of town to try and hitch a ride. We ended up passing a military checkpoint. The soldiers asked to see our passports. (we don't actually have to have our pass ports on us at all times but law enforcement says we do so they can try to scare us and try and get bribes. So it is just a good idea to carry it to avoid long arguments.) After they realized we had all the right documentation they said, “It's really hot out today. Buy us some sodas.” Now, in Mozambique a soda (refresco) is slang for a bribe. So to this day I am not quite sure if they actually wanted us to buy them some sodas because it actually was a hot day, or if they were trying to just blatantly ask for a bribe even though there was nothing for us to bribe them to do. I just smiled and said no. They persisted for about a min but then just gave us our passports back.
After about an hour of getting dropped off we got a ride with a group of guys going to Macuba. Macuba is a really pretty town set amongst rolling hills and small mountains that stick up out of nowhere. It is also a town with surprisingly good looking infrastructure compared with a lot of other towns in the area.
We were thinking of continuing to hitchhike towards our destination, but we spied a chapa that was going directly to our destination. A chapa is a privately owned minibus that acts like public transportation. It is supposed to fit 10 people, they usually fit between 20 and 25 inside one. It stops a lot, they are almost always in poor condition and in general very slow. You also have to pay a good amount of money for long trips. Which is why hitchhiking is in many ways a preferred method of transportation. But Chapas have one distinct advantage. If you get on one, you are likely to end up where it says it is going. It may take a long time, but it is likely that you will get there the day you get on the chapa. So, my friend and I made the calculated decision that it would be better to take the chapa that is going to our destination rather than continue to try our luck with hitchhiking for the day. After all, the chapa ride was only 3 to 4 hours, at least that was what it was supposed to be.
We paied our ticket and got on at about one in the afternoon. The bus did not end up leaving until about 3 because it was waiting for more people to jam inside . Two hours into out journey we arrived at a town where the vast majority of people got out. There were only five or so people left in the chapa. So the driver wandered around for about an hour trying to see if he could get more people into the chapa. After an hour of no luck, he decided it was not worth it for him economically to only take 5 people the rest of the way. So he called a friend of his that lived in this town. His friend had a car that was slightly larger than an SUV but smaller than a minivan. The five of us hopped in with our new car and new driver.
Now the problem was that it was Friday (known in Mozambique as Man's Day) and our new driver had been hanging out with some friends. The driver seemed sober but one of his friends was tipsy and the other one was sloppy drunk. The driver wanted to take care of a couple things around town first so he further delayed our trip by about another half an hour. During this time some of the other passengers were complaining about his procrastinating. He sloppy drunk friend told us that we needed to stop complaining because they were doing us a favor by taking us the rest of the way. I told him that if they were doing us a favor, then they should give us our money back but if they are keeping our money then it is not a favor and we have the right to complain. That won me some laughs and the admiration of my fellow passengers but no real progress.
And we were off! Dashing through winding mountain roads. Dodging people walking on the road. Honking the horn every 3 seconds. And then a sudden stop at a small store! The driver and his two buddies got out. His friends got some beers, talked with the store owner a bit and then hopped back inside. We were off again. Now I was worried because it was starting to get dark and the driver was still pushing 120 kilometers an hour. Then they stopped at another store. The scene repeated, but there were more people there. The friends started dancing to the music a bit. The driver bought a road beer. So my friend and I looked at each and expressed our worries to each other. It was getting dark, the guy was a fast driver on a mountain road, his friends are a distraction to say the least, now he is starting to drink. On the other hand it was getting dark and we were kind of in the middle of nowhere with no other real option for transport. We decided to keep going but keep a close eye on the situation. Thankfully, the driver started to slow down as it got dark and he nursed the one beer for the entirety of the trip. But he still was driving fast and he kept on stopping every 15 min so his friends could get more beer, dance, and yell at random people. Finally, at about 7:30 at night we arrived. Thank God! We would live to see the the next morning. The drunk guys invited us to go dancing with them at the nightclub latter on. My initial reaction was, hell no I am spending any more time around these guys. But later I ended up at the nightclub with cool people.
We were met by a Peace Corps volunteer once we got into town. She took us to the house of a friend of hers for us to spend the night. We arrived at the friend's house. He was a white Zimbabwean who is working in Mozambique. Really nice guy. We were not the only travelers that were crashing there. There were 4 young German volunteers who were friends of the Peace Corps volunteers in Gaza provence. So after our long day of travel we sat down and had a beer or two with everyone and ate dinner. Then it was decided that we should all go out to see the town on a Friday night. At first I was tired and apprehensive but seeing as I had just cheated death, going out seemed like the right thing to do. So we went into town and hit up a few bars and then went to the nightclub. Everyone got along really well and it was an awesome time.
Day 7, The Most Beautiful Spot in Mozambique
I woke up in Gurue to some of the most beautiful mountains I have seen in Mozambique and some of the most unique formations I had ever seen period. The mountains were not particularly big, but they jutted strait up in big rocky formations, with rich green plants growing over them. Most of these plants were tea plantations. My travel buddy and I made the walk to the waterfall. It was about a 2 and a half hour walk. We passed through town and then made our accent up the mountain. We passed by many tea fields and a few old colonial Portuguese buildings. As we walked, any Mozambican we passed asked us for our plastic water bottles. It was strange because in most parts of Mozambique a person could find an empty plastic bottle in just about any trash pit. But for whatever reason they were highly prized. At one point an elderly man stopped me and practically started begging for my water bottle. I would have given it to him but I needed the water that was inside of it for my trek up and down. Also, in most parts of Mozambique it is fairly common for children to randomly ask a white person for some money. In Gurue it was common for grown adults to get your attention and then they would not so much ask for money as they would demand it. A woman, sitting outside her house, at one point just shouted “Money!” and looked me seriously in the eyes and shouted it again. Now you may be thinking that this means that this is just a really impoverished area. The fact is that it is slightly more economically developed than a lot of other areas in Mozambique because there is so much large scale agriculture in the area that provides food and jobs for the local population. So I do not know what the deal is. But I digress.
So My friend and I made our way up the mountain until we made it to the top of the waterfall. We sat down on a big rock just before the ledge of the fall. From this spot we could see for miles around. It was absolutely gorgeous. I will try and post a picture. So we sat on top of the waterfall and ate our lunch, some chicken samosas we had brought up, and took a nap. Then it started to drizzle a bit so we decided it was time to head back. The fine drizzle continued for much of our walk back through the tea plantation. The fields had large jacaranda type trees growing all over the place that created some shade at a few points. There were a few small structures along the path, they were for the farm workers to hang out in when it rained and so they would have a place to make and drink tea. There was no work the day we were there because it was on a Sunday. It was only goats hanging out in these shacks this day.
We got back to the house we were crashing at, met up with the others, and rested a bit. We all went to a restaurant/bar to get some dinner. We ordered our food and then played with something like a do it yourself marry go round. It was a wheal that was parallel with the ground. It had maybe 6 spokes and at the end of each spoke was a chair. So we sat on the chairs and had one of the German guys spin us around as all the Mozambicans stared at the grown foreigners acting like children.
Now there were 8 of us and we ordered 7 chicken plates and one beef plate, but 15 min later someone from the restaurant came out and told us they had no more beef and if it was ok if we all took chicken plates. We said that that would be fine. So we waited for out food. And then we waited some more. Then once it had been an hour and a half after the reconfirmation we decided to check in with them (it usually takes an African restaurant about an hour and a half to cook food for a group). The lady behind the counter told us that they did not have enough chicken for all of us so they did not make our food. Classic Mozambique. They did not think it would be polite to come over and tell us the bad news that they could not cook diner for us, so they decided to do nothing. At this point it was almost 9 and we were all really hungry. The restaurant recommended that we go to another restaurant but the Gurue volunteer said that this other place was notoriously slow and that we would possibly not eat until midnight. So, we went to this one snack bar hoping that we could get some sandwiches and samosas. But when we got there we spoke to the owner and he agreed to make us plates of chicken, rice and salad. Success. They made it in a timely fashion and we were just happy to finally have food in our bellies.
Day 8, To Nampula
My friend and I made an early start to get to our next destinations. My friend was going to Alto Molocue. I was continuing all the way to Nampula. We took a chapa from Gurue to the intersection with the main highway. As I was on the chapa I was siting in the front row with my bag on my lap. The conductor of the chapa came up to me and asked if he could place my bag in the back and put another person between me and the driver seat. I said ok. Normal Moz rules are that if you ask for your bag to be placed in the back then you pay a little extra. But if the conductor decides to put your bag in the back so he can make room for another person or thing, then you do not have to pay extra because it was the conductor's decision, not yours. Follow? So, when he put my bag in the back he did not state any price whatsoever.
So we got underway and about an hour in we got stopped by police.
The police saw two white guys in the chapa so they made us get out, show them our passports and then take every last thing out of our luggage for them to inspect. My friend and I were both thinking at the time how illegal it would be in the States for a police officer to grab a random person on a bus and begin searching the luggage of the random individual. But that was just normal operating procedure in Mozambique for policemen that wanted to get bribes. I suspect they were hoping that they could find some pot in our bags, take it, and then get us to bribe them not to arrest us. No such luck for the police. My friend and I were clean so then we had to hurriedly repack our bags as everyone in the bus waited on us.
A little latter an elderly woman got off the bus. She had also been asked to move her bag to the back by the conductor. The conductor asked her for 35 MTZ. She laughed at him because that was not normal procedure and told him she had no money. He left her alone without a second word. A bit latter my friend and I got off at the crossroads. We stepped out right in front of the market area of the very very small town. The conductor asked me for 50 MTZ for my bag. I told him (smiling) that I was not going to pay him because it was his decision to place the bag in the back, that I had started off willing to carry the bag on my lap. I told him that he could not place someones bag in the back without mentioning a charge and then charge them at the end of the journey. He persisted and took hold of one of the straps on my bag and told me that I could not take the bag until I pay him.
That is when the discussion became a bit heated. I told him that he was a thief and that he was robing me. I repeated my argument that he had not rite to charge me. Everyone on the bus agreed with me. That heartened me. I told him that he had no right to hold on to my bag and I told him to let go of me. He let go of my bag. He said that I was robing him and that he would get the police. I said OK, go get the police. Then he said, “Pay me the 50 MTZ and then get back in the van and I will take you to the police and then they can decide.” Fuck that. I told him that if I am robing him then he has to bring the police to me.
Then he took a solid hold of the side of my bag. He said that he was not going to let the bag go until I paid him the money. At that point something snapped in me. It was a little different when he was holding on to one of the straps, but now he was essentially grabbing onto me and refusing to let me go until I paid him. I got real mad. We started shouting at each other. I refused to even argue with him on the issue of the money and just started shouting at him to let go of me and that he had no right to hold onto me. My friend was backing me up but also speaking in a more soothing tone in hopes of calming things down. My friend later told me that he thought I was going to hit the guy. I had thought about it. It was the first time in a long time I had the genuine desire to physically harm another person. At that point in time it would have felt good to hit that guy. That is a very strange sensation that I rarely experience. But even in my elevated state I would never have hit him unless he struck me first. Eventually the people on the bus got really tired of waiting and started yelling at the conductor to get back in the bus so they could get going. He said that he would only do it if the people on the bus payed the 50MTZ extra he was trying to get out of me. A few of the men in the bus said they would. So he got back on the bus and let me be. I hope that the guys were just saying they would pay the extra so they could get back on their way and that they did not actually mean it. That would be fairly typical Mozambican behavior. If they did pay that 50MTZ I do feel guilty but I do not regret having refused the man what he asked of me. The guy was trying to take advantage of other people. Also, I feel confident in saying that he pushed the issue with me because I am white. Finally he physically grabbed onto me which was completely inappropriate.
So then my friend and I decided that people in northern Mozambique are a lot more rude than Southern Mozambicans. Also, we decided that chapas really really really suck. SO we decided to try and hitchhike again. After not too long an air conditioned minivan pulled up and we got a ride the whole way. The people in the van consisted of a girl that was about 13, a boy that was about 20 and A mixed race woman of about 40. I never really got how they knew each other. But they dropped my friend off at Alto Molocue and took me all the rest of the way to Nampula, as that was also their destination. They even went into the neighborhood I needed to get to and dropped me off a couple blocks from the Peace Corps office there.
I called my next travel buddy (also named Jack) and he gave me directions for getting to the Peace Corps Office there. Got to the office, met a few staff I had not met before, and went to the volunteer lounge ( a couple couches and a couple computers with good internet). I found a couple other volunteers there (one who had already finished his service so was not really supposed to be there and one who I had not met before because his site is in the north). I checked my e-mail and found out that it was time for me to fill out the registration form for the Foreign Service Officer Test. So I threw it together as quickly as I could because it was a lot of work and I did not want my new travel buddy, the Other Jack, to wait on me very long. I did not know the next time I would have internet access so getting this done was very important.
After all that was done, myself, Other Jack, and the two other volunteers all went out for dinner. Other Jack had to do some work in Nampula earlier that day so the organization he works with put him up in a hotel room for the night. So the volunteer I had never met before and myself crashed with him in the hotel room. We had hot showers, air conditioning, and we watched some of the newest episodes of How I Met Your Mother. A relaxing way to end the day.
Day 9, To Pemba, with Jesus
So my friend Jack and I took a chapa to the outskirts of Nampula where we were going to hitch hike. As I was walking along the main road I tripped. I was wearing flip flops so the skin on the tip of my right big toe got half torn off. It was bleeding quite a bit. But just as I was getting the bandage on, my buddy was able to get a car to stop for us. So I hobbled over as quickly as I could and finished bandaging my toe in the back of his nice car, making sure not to get blood on anything. Then he started driving. We were going over 180 KM/hour. That is about 112 miles per hour. We were flying and dashing through the traffic. There was another car in front of us that was going even faster, so my friend pointed that car out and told out driver “That guy over there is crazy.” Trying to hint that we were also going too fast. Our driver replied, “Yes, I am crazy too. I like to go fast.” So in 30 min, we reached our destination (some crossroads town) when in normally should have taken and hour and thirty. Then we got a semi to drive us to a town about half the way towards Pemba. It was slow and long, but it was a free ride. We also got held up at a police checkpoint for a while because they were hassling my travel buddy essentially for being ethnically Asian. But he is good at talking to the police and he speaks some of the local language so they ended up liking him. We got going again but the truck driver had to drop off his materials about a third a mile outside of town, so we had to walk with our bags the rest of the way into town.
When we got there we stopped at a small store to buy some egg sandwiches. A couple large trucks packed with white people pulled up. We went over to see what the situation was, we assumed that they were a group of tourists and we wanted to see if we could buy in on their transportation to Pemba. When we started talking to them, they all had American accents! WTF, two trucks full of young Americans in a middle of nowhere town in Cabo Delgado Provence, Mozambique?! Well as it turned out they were all volunteering as missionaries for 3 months and working at a mission/school in Pemba. They were on their way back to Pemba after spending a couple weeks out in small villages showing a movie about Jesus, having conversations about it, and praying for stuff. The odd thing I found about this was that they were operating in possibly the most Muslim part of the country. Almost everyone is Muslim in northern Mozambique.
So being nice Christians they gave us a free ride into Pemba. We made friends with them on the ride. They were nice people, though a little on the “believer” side for me to really relate to them. But they really liked us and jack told me that they had invited us to go out to dinner with them. They were going out to dinner to say good bye to some people that were heading back home. As we drove into town they started singing Kumbaya My Lord and some song about Jesus. Once in Pemba, jack and I went to the house of the Peace Corps volunteer in Pema, dropped off our stuff and talked with her for a bit. She warned us that the organization that runs the mission we were introduced to has a reputation around town for being on the crazy side. They are really into going out and recruiting people to the faith. They are constantly flying in groups of young people (18-28) from the states and a few other countries (england, australia, sweeden, china), they send them out to convert people and in the process they also put the volunteers through a process of, let us say, strengthening their religious convictions and aligning them with the philosophy of the organization (Extremism Light). Also, the volunteers have a tendency to just run around giving presents to poor people, so all the Mozambicans in the area expect all white people to just give them stuff. Apparently one girl gave an iPhone to a poor old woman one time in a restaurant.
So I was hesitant to go to dinner with them, but jack really wanted to go and be social. There were some pretty cute girls in the group, but maybe that was just because I had spent the past year and a half surrounded by unhygienic and rugged Mozambican women. So hanging out with some clean, English speaking, educated, pampered American girls seemed like a pretty nice idea (Peace Corps goggles). Jack was raised in a church environment, so even though he did not still share the faith, he felt pretty comfortable around them. He also told me that they were expecting us to come, even though I had not recalled getting invited in the first place. (Later I realized that the only person that invited us was a Mozambican guy that was in the truck who does random work for the mission. He was the only guy expecting us.) But the lynch pin was the fact that it was an Indian restaurant and that there was a decent chance that they would buy our meals. But I still felt awkward about the whole thing.
So we showed up at the mission and we found the Mozambican guy who invited us. We asked him again if it was cool if we come to the diner. He said he did not know and that he would ask the person organizing everything. So he talked to a woman who then came over and told us that we could tag along but that we would have to pay for our own meals. Fair enough. We mingled for a bit before hopping in the back of the truck with the people we had ridden up with and started driving to the restaurant. As we were in the back, all the volunteers started chanting upbeat Jesus chants, stomping on the ground, and getting up and dancing. They do not drink, so it was like they were working themselves up into an intoxicated state. One chant was just them saying “We are the best team in the world!” over and over again.
So we ate diner with them. I got some brianni and my friend and I split a piece of chocolate cake. I had to make sure a did not swear the whole time. That was hard. One thing that was strange was that almost no one said grace before eating. I thought that that was like “a thing” with Christians. Oh well. I was sitting next to a guy who was from Hong Kong and had traveled all the way to Moz, just for this mission trip. He was a bit of an eccentric. I liked him. He asked me if I believed in Jesus. I told him that my spiritual beliefs are complicated. He told me that he still liked me and considered me a good friend. Aside from him and a Swedish girl that thought that everyone was amazingly wonderful, the meal was a little on the boring side. I just don't know how to have a conversation with really religious people. After dinner the lady that was running everything came up to us and told us that they had decided that they wanted to pay for our meals. Score.
We drove back to the mission complex and said our goodbyes. Jack and I thanked them again for giving us the ride into town and buying us dinner. This one guy that was one of the leaders told us that “The Lord provides.” I found that almost offensively ignorant seeing as we were standing in one of the poorest countries in the world. They told us that they were happy to have met us, that it was meant to happen and that God had wanted us to all meet up. Jack Newman, Heaven Sent!