The big Toyota Landcruiser swung by around 12:30 and I jumped into the passenger seat. We drove around Mocimba picking up the other local fares, about eight of them. At some of the stops, the driver just got out to wake someone who was sleeping on the ground and chat for a while. Around 2 a.m. another driver came aboard and we left town.
The paved road soon ended and we jounced along a dirt path, rippled like a frozen sea. Sometimes the driver had to turn off it to avoid cones of earth as big as the ones in motocross rallies. They were soft though. I know, because we hit a few of them. There were no streetlights of course but between the headlights and the moon, almost strong enough to read by, it was possible to see the forest getting denser. At one point a hyena jumped in front of the vehicle and the driver had to swerve. We made good time, hindered only by the front left tire which was slightly out of line. Occasionally the driver or one of his assistants got out to give it a few kicks.
We passed Palma, a village about 30 miles from the border, and kept moving. As the sky began to brighten we stopped in a tiny village where the people tried to change money. Four or five miles later we reached a reedy swamp probably fifty yards across. The water didn’t appear deep but the mud was pitch black and smelly. There was no way around it.
The driver took a deep breath and revved the engine. The beast plunged in. Water splashed up mightily just like in an SUV commercial. The vehicle was less than a car length from the far shore when the wheels started spinning and the driver cut the engine. The two assistants—‘Why did he need two’ I had wondered?’– rolled up their jeans and jumped into the muck. (Lucky for them they hadn’t read the Lonely Planet’s description of Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia), a disorder caused by tiny worms living in stagnant water. They burrow through the skin and, once home free in the lower reaches of the digestive system cause symptoms too nauseating to even type.)
From the bank, a woman in a headscarf walking a goat on a leash looked on with what I took to be bemusement. Nearby a tube of muscle in the form of a shirtless teenager sliced his machete into the sandy bank and waded in. Duly emasculated, the other passengers and I walked to shore via a mud island.
To just start pushing would have been an insult to this mud. Instead, the crew began digging under the wheels and wedged logs below the tires to build a track. They then stacked rocks beside the wheels. With the rock piles set up as fulcrums the boys found more logs and, sticking one end below a knob on the hubcap and hanging on the other they managed to lift the tires high enough to shove rocks beneath them. It was then time to start pushing. After a few attempts the Landcruiser emerged triumphant. The teenager who mastermuscled the operation received $2 for his effort.
At the Mozambique border post, a mud building without any sign of a computer, the offical stamped our passports and we returned to the car. From there it was another few kilometers to the Rovuma River which forms the border between the countries. There aren’t any bridges so passengers pay an extortionate youth gang to ferry them across in rickety motorboats. On the other side a few more land cruisers were waiting. A chaotic scene ensued as the drivers and their second’s and third’s scrambled for passengers, especially, if I may say so, the short mzungu.
A Tanzanian visa is supposed to cost $50 cash but as the immigration man informed me “The rules have changed.” Ah, yes. So it was $100. It was still well before noon when we arrived in Mtwara, the first large town in Tanzania. I found a room and booked a flight for Dar Es Salaam.