It was already 14:30 when we arrived in Morrumbala and received the bad news: the ferry was not working and we will have to take the long way round, entering Malawi at Milanje. Since Morrumbala did not seem like a good place to stop for the night we decided to push on, hoping to find a place where we can wild camp.
As we head more north the landscape we have growned accustomed to in Mozambique changed and along with it the people. We were greeted with fewer waves and smiles and more scowls and glares. Stares were filled with suspicion and distrust and it became worse the later in the day it got.
As the sun started to set it dawned upon us that we need to urgently look for a place to spend the night. Wild camping proved to not be an option – every 100m there would be a new village or a couple of houses with unfriendly faces staring back at us. Our only option was to find a relatively friendly settlement where we could ask whoever was in charge if we could spend the night. However, as our smiles became bigger our friendly waves were met with death-stares. The sun was just about gone and we had about 45 minutes left to find a suitable spot. The pressure was on.
We have had some rather unusual reactions to our arrival during the last couple of weeks but when we stopped at a local school, surrounded by kids playing we experienced something unlike anything before. When they saw us they started running. Screaming and running and scattering in all directions – getting as far away as possible from us as their little legs would carry them. I will never forget the image of this small boy, playing with a tyre nearly as high as he was that upon seeing us, tried to lift the tyre from the ground but only managed to lift it about 3 cm so that it kept scraping on rocks and bumps. He dropped it a couple of meters further, choosing life over the joys of a bicycle tyre. Clayton saw a little girl with no legs scurrying away as fast as her arms could drag her. I was visibly upset, telling Clayton to get back in the car and drive – we will just have to do the one thing we were told not to do in Africa which was driving after sunset.
[It was only when we eventually reached Malawi the next day that the reaction of the school kids made sense. Some of the more rural people in that area believe that strangers appear at night to steal their blood while they sleep i.e. vampires. Because we arrived after sunset, were white and therefore already looked like ghosts to people who do not generally see tourists in the area, the kids thought we were there to suck their blood. This superstition reached southern Malawi where the night before we arrived the locals set fire to 2 suspected vampires. At that stage we were blissfully unaware of this and the danger we found ourselves in.]
Marcia and Matt (who were travelling behind us) luckily found a good Samaritan on a bike that took us to the nearest military checkpoint where he arranged for us to stay with the soldiers. Our arrival with a local, coupled with a level-headed captain had a positive effect on how we were received in the village. Smiles, curious faces and laughter yet again surrounded us and we had quite a crowd watching us set up camp behind the military checkpoint building.
While Clayton and I set up camp, Matt went to play soccer with the local kids while there was still some sunlight left. He had to eventually leave the ball there in the end since the self-appointed spokesperson and apparent minister of sports of the village convinced him that the future happiness of this town was depended on this soccer ball.
The hospitality from the soldiers and captain was something we never expected. After the sun finally set, they brought plates of food and a 2l cold fanta over to us. The food (which became our anniversary dinner) was rice and beans with some unknown type of meat. With the plates of food in front of us we were faced with a difficult decision. Option 1 – eat it and suffer the digestive consequences or option 2 – do not eat it and suffer the consequences of insulting our hosts. Clayton took one for the team and chose option 1. After only one bite his facial features (which quickly changed to that of pure enjoyment as soon as one of the soldiers looked at him) confirmed that we made the correct choice. To not insult the Mozambican military, Marcia took the remaining plates into the van one by one and reappearing a couple of minutes later with clean plates.
Our next problems was ablution-related. While Clayton and Matt were fine with a high wall, Marcia and I needed a bit more. The one soldier took us to one of the residents presumably with the best toilet. However when we got there we were greeted by cockroaches crawling all over the concrete hole in the ground. We both agreed that this was going to be one game of thrones that will go uncontested. Again not wanting to insult our host, Marcia went in first, closed the door, waited a couple of minutes and then I went in and did the same. This however did not solve our problem and it was only the next day, 32 hours after we left Caia that we found acceptable ablutions. Save to say, my water intake went to an all time low.
At the end of the day our 5th wedding anniversary started with an owl in a box, sleeping in a tent on a lawn in front of a restaurant and ended fake eating dodgy food, sleeping behind a military checkpoint in remote Mozambique. What more could a girl want?
With not much to do in the town (the captain shut everything down) we went to bed early and if you asked us then if we thought that things could get stranger we would have said no way. But it did…
We woke up at 4am in the morning to the tunes of Westlife playing from a cellphone with a speaker that sounded like a Harman Kardon and a battery life that would put Duracell to shame. From Flying without Wings to You raise me up – his collection was complete and we heard it all, over and over again. At 6am we admitted defeat and got up.
It did not take too long for the first curious faces to make their appearance and with the crowd gathered around us yet again, we packed up camp. After getting dressed, brushing teeth and combing my hair in-front of smiling, giggling kids and adults, we went to the local market to buy some bread for breakfast. Unfortunately, just as we were about to pay for 4 rolls, we spotted a cockroach crawling between the rolls. Now I am not saying that the bread that we bought until now was cockroach free but seeing it there was a different story and it reminded me all too much of the bunny chow in Ballito. Again not wanting to offend, we bought 2 rolls (which we disposed off) and we settled for a couple of bananas instead.
We set of just after 8am, determined to get to Malawi before sunset. 250km of uneventful dirt track later, in a hot car after a long day we reached Milanje (Mozambique side) and, after another easy border crossing, Mulanje (Malawi side) just before sunset.