But For the Sky
5Dec/11Off

The Long Road from Mozambique to Malawi

After three nights in Vilanculos, we were ready to make our way to Malawi. When we got to the bus station to buy our ticket for the next morning, we found out that the bus we needed to take would not be running, so our options were to wait a day or to take a chapa to the junction 20 km away and try our luck there hailing a bus coming from Maputo. We were somewhat itching to leave, so instead of staying another night, we decided to try our luck at the junction. We got there around 7am, and within 20 minutes, a truck driver approached us and asked where we were going. He offered us a ride and we agreed on a price. We had heard that hitch-hiking with truckers is quite common in Moz since public transport can be scarce, so while we were a bit apprehensive, we were comforted by the fact that what we were doing was not uncommon.

The next six hours ended up being an emotional rollercoaster for me. That sounds quite dramatic, but I believe it's an accurate description of how I felt. The ride started out uneventful; there were even two locals hitching a ride as well, which we took to be a good sign. However, their conversation quickly started to make me feel uncomfortable. While we don't speak Portuguese, it's close enough to Spanish and Italian that we can understand enough to know when we're being talked about. The driver's partner (whose name we'd find out later was Pitcho) was making fun of how much money we were paying for the ride, and I don't know what else he was saying about us but everyone seemed to be having a fabulous laugh at our expense. The two locals got out after about an hour, and then the ride became a bit eerie. There are no towns on this stretch of highway except for a couple sketchy junctions where truckers stop for a quick meal. As we approached a weigh station and police checkpoint, Pitcho asked for our passports because the police would be checking them, then flipped through them and carefully studied all our stamps and personal info. The police never asked us to see them, but once we got going again, he began to tell the driver about everywhere we had been, how old we are, etc., occasionally turning around to look us over and stare at us. His manner of speaking was loud and came off as aggressive and even angry and his looks made me quite uncomfortable, as my smiles were always returned with a suspicious stare.

At this point, my mind began to wander: I thought of the fact that we're two young people who have been to many countries and therefore might be considered very rich and fortunate--perhaps even spoiled--in the truck drivers' eyes, that perhaps they resented us for our relative wealth, and resentment could turn into violence. I thought about the fact that we had all our stuff with us, and they could easily kick us out of the truck and leave us on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and speed away with everything, leaving us with no way to call the police (and in any case, Mozambican officials are notoriously corrupt)...I did my best to keep my mind from wandering into worst-case scenarios, but my body was tense, and all I could do was stare at the clock and pray that the ride would be over with soon. I know I sound paranoid, but sometimes you get a really bad feeling about a situation, and there's nothing you can do to get out of it. I had a terrible feeling about our decision to get into this truck, and felt trapped because of it.

Pitcho

Pitcho

After pretty much the longest hour of my life, we reached one of the scruffy truck stops where Pitcho and the driver motioned us to get out and have something to eat. I was too nervous to eat so we hung around near the truck at a little shack that sold drinks. Pitcho bought himself a beer and offered us each a Coke. Neither of us wanted one, but he insisted so we thanked him and sat and drank our Cokes in confusion. The Cokes calmed us down a bit, and we got back in the truck. Within minutes of being back on the road, Pitcho began to turn into another person, chatting with us, asking what we do at home, where we live, where we're going after Mozambique, etc. He commented on the fact that I am older than Nick, which is a culturally unacceptable situation in Mozambique ("Nicholas! You are young and she is old!"). Slowly the tension in my neck began to release a bit, and as we talked in broken English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian, answering more and more of his questions, and asking him some as well, Nick and I both began to realize that we weren't in any danger. Perhaps we initially appeared so different to him that he didn't know how else to greet those differences other than with suspicion (and maybe we were doing the exact same thing to him); maybe he thought we were spies with our US and Italian passports and all their stamps, or perhaps the beer just loosened him up a bit. All we know is that he turned out to be quite a friendly guy, and when we reached the junction where we needed to be dropped off, he entreated us to stay with them for the next 20 hours in the wrong direction, and even carried my bag the 2km from where the truck stopped to the chapa stand up the road. He also insisted that we exchange phone numbers, and said "We are brothers now. You call me next time you're in Mozambique!"

I'm not sure exactly what lesson is to be learned from this experience. I could conclude that we should never hitch-hike again because crazy people exist and there is a chance we could have been left on the side of the road, robbed of our belongings and beaten up. Or I could conclude that I should loosen up, and not assume the worst of people I don't know. Perhaps we should have made a bigger effort to strike up conversation with him so that he felt at ease with us. Perhaps I should conclude that his animated way of speaking was just a personality or cultural trait and not a sign of anger or aggression. In any case, it was quite an experience and one that I will remember for a very long time!

This was one of our more comfortable rides

This was one of our more comfortable rides

The rest of our trip to Malawi was tough but comparatively uneventful. After getting off the truck, we took a one-hour chapa to a town called Chimoio, where we spent one short night in a cute trailer at a funky backpackers', and woke up at 3 am the next morning to catch a 6-hour minibus to Tete, an uninspiring town and supposedly the hottest place in Moz. In Tete, we walked across a long bridge to catch a chapa full of sweaty people, crying children, chickens, cases of soda, bags of rice, and huge jugs of cooking oil, which drove over two hours to the Moz-Malawi border. After formalities on the Moz side, we took a quick taxi ride 7 km to the Malawi border post. Formalities again went smoothly, and after about an hour wait, we were on a two hour chapa to Blantyre, Malawi's largest city, where we checked/collapsed into the first room we've had in Africa with its own bathroom! Phew.

Brothers

Brothers

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Posted by Claudia