It was the 14th of September, 1 day before our 5th wedding anniversary which we planned to celebrate by entering into a new country and spending the night in style. It should be easy enough as Malawi was only 180km away from our stop in Caia (which was 220km away) and 330km with the detour should the ferry not be working. Both routes doable in a day but the former more preferable than the latter as it would mean less time in the car and more time celebrating.
After going over the map one last time we set off for Caia. Driving through Inchope you get the distinct feeling that someone at some point in time thought it might become a mighty metropolis one day if you look at the massive intersection roadwork project that has now become stagnant. A pity because the money spent there could have been used much better in upgrading the roads leading to the town.
Just after Gorongosa National Park we traded the potholed tarmac for a corrugated gravel road that meandered through small villages, over bridges and around mountains. The locals did not seem to be bothered by our intrusion into their daily routines and just lazily waved at us as we drove past.
After about 2 hours on the gravel we reached a fork in the road, left will take us back to the potholes while right will mean we continue with the corrugations. Clayton and I chose left – Bertus was not handling the corrugations well and without a kidney belt continuing on the dirt track may become fatal. Our GPS also took a hammering by repeatedly falling off the windscreen. Matt and Marcia did not have the same issues in Woody but they reluctantly agreed to follow us back to the tarmac – sticking it out with old Bertus and his bad suspension.
Another hour later we reached the tarmac and only 10 minutes of driving on it we realized it might have been a mistake. Dodging the potholes was not the problem, it was more trying to dodge the potholes AND the trucks and buses barreling down on you at frightening fast speed that made us regret our choice. The balls of the drivers was only outweighed by the actual passengers who chose to risk their lives by taking this mode of transport.
+-220km and 8 hours of driving later we reached Caia but more importantly the Zambezi River – another personal milestone for old Bertus. Taking the photo of Bertus at the Zambezi I could not help to think back 1 month earlier when we were stuck in South Africa, contemplating sending Bertus back home and continuing this journey on our own. How far we had come from that – now, just the thought of doing this trip without Bertus seemed pointless. Our trip had meaning with him and getting Bertus to the equator and back have given us a goal to wake up to in the morning. Whether we will be able to achieve it remains to be seen but at the moment we are just counting our endless blessings.
After spending 8 long, hot hours in the car the promise of a cool pool and view over the Zambezi river made it easy for us to choose our overnight spot: Cua Cua Lodge. Our luck in finding amazing spots unfortunately seemed to have run out because despite the temperature still being in the low 30s none of us seemed too keen to dip into the slimy green water of the pool. Disappointed but too tired to find an alternative we reluctantly followed the manager to the campsite, 1km away, hidden behind a hill. As with the pool the campsite was also a let down. The ablution block was undergoing much needed maintenance but we were given a key to one of the chalets so that we can use the bathroom in there. The secluded spot however did not make any us feel very safe and we arranged with the manager to pitch our tent on the lawn in front of the restaurant while Marcia and Matt will camp in the car park.
While strolling through the camp, Clayton spotted a Barn owl stuck in a tree with a wire wrapped around its claws. It looked like the little guy spent a good couple of hours struggling to get free and when we got there he must have been hanging upside down for quite a while.
Upon closer inspection we noticed that his one wing was badly broken, snapped off at the joint. We carefully decided on, and executed a rescue mission, very conscience off its sharp beak and claws. With Matt and I covering his body with a very thin hoodie, Marcia held onto it while Clayton cut the wire. The local vet was fortunately enough at the restaurant and agreed to have a look at seeing whether he could mend the wing.
A long, very traumatizing story (for both the owl and us) short, Clayton and I woke up on the day of our 5th wedding anniversary, after a sleepless night in a 2 man tent, pitched on a lawn in-front of a restaurant with an injured owl in a box next to us. Not exactly where I thought we would be when we said “I do” but surprisingly content with the way our life turned out to be.
The survival of the owl through the night proved to be yet another problem. We considered taking it with us and making it our mascot but since it needed more care than we can give, it was not really an option. Besides, it will only complicate roadblocks and border crossings which was something we could do without. With the vet unwilling to take it, the manager not interested and us not being able take it we had ourselves a bit of a problem. After doing some research of where we could drop the owl off Matt and Marcia offered to take the owl to a reserve we found that looked like it would maybe be able to take the owl in. It was 30km back the way we came so Clayton and I decided to wait for them at Cua Cua.
They got back just after 12pm and we set off for Malawi, hoping that the ferry was in good condition and operating because the 330km detour route was definitely not doable in half a day and I was not looking forward to spending our entire anniversary day in the car.
From the N1 we took a small gravel road to Morrumbala that, if you blinked, you would’ve missed the turn off. Our GPS proved to be completely useless and it kept telling us to turn back no matter how short the distances were that I typed in. We however kept going, what did the GPS know in anyway?
Our fears became reality when the locals in Morrumbala told us that the ferry was not working. Despondent and a little annoyed we turned to plan B, turning left towards Milanje instead of right to Marka. The distance to Malawi just about doubled and we were not certain where exactly we would find ourselves that evening. Not the best situation to be in but one we had to deal with nevertheless.
How bad could it really be?