The three musketeers hit the road again, lugging backpacks to the minibus station a kilometre away. Today was a daunting prospect, with the goal of getting to Cuamba in northern Mozambique (Moz, in the local vernacular). To achieve this required three minibus trips and a potentially problematic border crossing, where visas were required ( Sam and I had not got around to getting these in advance) and apparently either difficult to obtain or a source of getting ripped off, or both. Lonely Planet and some other travellers said it was possible although you might need to bribe the border guards, so I thought we’d be OK.
The first minibus trip went well enough, after eating our breakfast bought through the bus window, but transferring from the first to the second proved problematic, with several drivers all pointing and pulling us to their own vehicle and a lot of pushing, shoving and shouting. Don’t you touch my niece! I bristled.
After tumbling onto the bus, Sam was giving me some grief. ‘I want a Sprite.’
‘No Sam. You know no fizzy drinks in the morning.’
‘No I’m thirsty. I want a Sprite.’
‘Sam, not now! I don’t need this now, I’m stressed enough.’
The driver demanded 4000 kwatcha each, much more than usual. Because of all the pushing and shoving I made the classic mistake of not fixing the price before I got on, so he had me over a barrel and wouldn’t budge on the price. I reluctantly handed over the cash.
I thought, however, despite probably being ripped off, the day wasn’t going that bad, all things considered. After a couple of hours, the minibus parted the tumbling noisy crowd of a city I had never heard of and came to a halt outside of a central open air market, where a sign declared Australian government foreign aid had funded the irrigation programs of the city.
The driver of the second van told us to move from the minibus into the rear of a utility parked nearby.
‘I paid to go all the way to the border.’
‘Yes, yes, you have to pay no more.’
We waited in the tray, exposed to the sun, for about 15 minutes in front of some men sitting on some stairs. One of them called out to Juliette, ‘What is your name?’
‘How old are you?’
Another man came over towards us, limping on deformed legs and leaning on a Canadian crutch.
‘You will be waiting here until 4pm.’
The man, with some of the others supporting him, said that we had only paid for a group vehicle, which would take six hours to fill up.
‘I paid 12,000 kwatcha! That should be enough!’
The crippled man replied for them.
‘You have paid too much. It will cost 15,000 kwatcha for a private vehicle if you want to leave straight away.’
I lost my sh*t. Standing in the tray of the ute, I shouted at them. ‘YOU THINK BECAUSE I AM WHITE I AM MADE OF MONEY. I PAID 12,000 KWATCHA TO GO TO THE BORDER, AND I SHOULD BE TAKEN TO THE BORDER – NOW! THIS IS TOTALLY F**ED!’
Sam was amused. ‘Dad is getting angry at the Africans!’
The crippled man and a friend of his talked nearby in Chichewa, before he turned to me.‘Follow me.’
He walked back through the crowd and found the minibus driver and had a long conversation with him, before extracting 3,000 kwatcha out of his pocket.
As we walked back he explained. ‘He paid six thousand out of his twelve to us to pay for a group vehicle. A private vehicle costs 9,000 more. He has given another three, so if you pay 6,000 more you can go straight away.’
‘That is a lot of money.’
‘It is a bad road.’
‘How far is it?’
‘4 to 5 kilometres.’
‘But that shouldn’t take long!’
‘That is the price.’
I paid the money. Whatevs, lets just get there. I soon realised that the men I had been speaking to were not taking the money, the utility belonged to another man. They were just trying to help me out and I had shouted and sworn at them. Oops. I thanked them as we pulled away, somewhat embarrassed.
The utility headed off. It was a lot longer than five kilometres.
Juliette figured it out.‘I think he might have said 45 kilometres, not four to five.’
That explained the high cost. Maybe I hadn’t been ripped off, well at least not that much. We bounced along the dirt road, being driven way too fast considering we were loose in the tray. I tried not to look as the driver dodged goats and children on the road.
Finally we reached the Mozambique border. The very co-operative border guards at the quiet post informed us, to our dismay, the Mozambique side of the border would not issue visas at this post; we would need to a head north a hundred kilometres to the next post. Argh!
This meant we had to first back track to the main road, but by the time we had realised the car that brought us here had disappeared.
A cross-eyed man offered to drive us back in the only car in the small rag-tag town. Some motorbikes were available, but I wasn’t keen on Sam riding on the back of a motorbike without a helmet for 45 kilometres. The border guard mentioned to us that the cross-eyed man’s car was very dodgy. Our options were narrowing; the guard mentioned we could wait for a car to come through the border and hitch a ride.
I looked despondently at the quiet dusty road disappearing into Moz.