We all got up at 6:00am (which would soon become known as “sleeping in”), had a quick breakfast, hoisted our backpacks over our shoulders and took off walking down the dusty roads and through the villages towards town.
We were heading to Beira and then eventually Nampula. Since the bus timetables in Mozambique are very unreliable and when we ask the locals, they each tell us a different time that a bus is supposedly leaving, we all decided to do as the locals do: hitch hike. We hopped in the back of a pickup truck to take us to the main junction where all the semi-trucks and other passing vehicles come through on their way North.
Once at the junction, we all had our jobs: Nick and Henry were talking with each and every semi-truck driver trying to arrange a fair price for the ride, Alice and I took turns watching the backpacks, I was in charge of stocking up on water and snacks for the journey and when needed, Alice would try to translate (she spoke a bit of Spanish which sometimes worked with the Portuguese speaking Mozambicans) and we all took turns holding up our “Beira” sign we had made out of cardboard.
One semi-truck driver had agreed to take us but we then started thinking about what time we would arrive in Beira…semi trucks don’t drive all that fast and it was almost noon by this point. So, we turned down the offer and kept our fingers crossed for a nice, new pick up truck to come our way.
Within minutes of turning down the previous offer, a beautiful, 2011 Nissan Navara pick up truck came screeching to a hault when he saw our sign! We all rushed over and were overjoyed to learn that he was not only going to Beira, but he was going to Nampula, which was our final destination.
We immediately said thank you and shook hands with our new friend, Butta, and were so excited that I don’t even think he had a chance to offer us a ride, we basically just said “we’re coming with you!”
And so began the adventure. The truck was so spacious we had lots of room in the back, it was a smooth ride and everything was perfect. Henry was navigating with his map up front and the three of us were in the back enjoying our snacks.
We hit our first police checkstop only about an hour in…this would be the first of 5 along the way. Police corruption is really bad in Mozambique and they pull over anyone for no reason and are looking for a bribe. Especially when they see white faces in the vehicle, they immediately think $$.
The first stop wasn’t so bad, he just asked for our passports (luckily Nick and I had a copy made and notarized in the capital city for such an occasion) so we handed him our paper copies and waited for him to ask for something. Shockingly, this policeman just asked us some questions and we were on our way.
We stopped only once for a quick lunch and then for petrol and other than that we were Nampula bound. About half way into the drive it became apparent that we weren’t going to make it all the way to Nampula in one go. We drove until about 9:00pm that night and decided to spend the night in the very small town of Chaia in a very basic, very cheap hostel. We had a delicious dinner of instant noodles and bread and called it a night. We were getting up at 3:50am the next morning to hit the road early.
By day 2 of driving, we had heard the Tracy Chapman, Michael Bolton and Phil Collins albums about 3 times each. I think I know each word to “when a man loves a woman” and “revolution”! Such a random selection of music the driver played.
The second day was smooth sailing, only 4 police stops that time and we only had to give away 2 oranges. The policemen were asking us all kinds of questions about how much we were paying the driver for the ride to Nampula, where we met, etc. Butta’s story to the policemen was completely different than mine, Nick’s and Henry’s.
When asked what we were paying, we all told the truth and even said that we had paid for his lunch as well as his hotel room the night before.
The policemen then wanted money / a cut of what we were paying Butta for the ride. We went on and on about how we’re all students and don’t have much money (which really isn’t lying as Henry and Alice are students) and all we can give is oranges. They thankfully agreed to just take the oranges and in a last attempt asked us for sodas.
Butta thought we were all idiots after that! He had told them we were all friends and that he was giving us a ride for free and here we were going on and on about how much we’re paying and all the extra stuff Butta is getting!
Oops, I guess that’s just what happens when you’re not used to police corruption and are put on the spot by men with guns. In our defense we were tricked. The policemen said there is no way we’re paying that little amount of money, and made it seem like we were ripping off Butta and were accusing us of lying to them, so we were just defending ourselves, stupidly!
I can’t imagine living in a country where there is no one you can rely on for help and where the authorities are trying to take money from the people who don’t have much money as it is. Very sad. We had heard rumours of the policemen asking for tourist’s passports and then saying there was something wrong with their Visa and they would have to either pay up to get the passport back, or, go to the police station.
So, that’s why we had our passports notarized, so we wouldn’t ever have to hand over the originals. They had asked for originals a few times but we insisted that the paper copy was fine. Later in the trip that happened to Henry, they took his passport hostage and said there was “something wrong with the visa” and he ended up having to pay them a bribe to get it back…either that or the bus he was on would leave without him.
After the police checkpoint, we were very close to Nampula but decided to pull over in a small village to get some petrol. Good thing we did as we noticed there was a flat tire! Great. We all got out, locked the doors, and tried to figure out how to change a tire on a truck. On a car it’s no problem but it even took awhile to figure out where the spare was. I think Butta was relieved we were there with him because he was clueless. Nick and Henry got on their backs and did all the dirty work …while Alice and I tried to avoid the village drunk who was lingering around annoying everyone.
After about 28 hours of pretty much solid driving, we arrived in Nampula. It took a little while to officially “arrive” because we had to pick up Butta’s brother, then go to the office where his boss works, Butta had to speak with him, etc. etc. We thanked our new friend over and over for getting us all the way to Nampula…a journey that would have cost us at least triple what we paid him and would’ve taken days and days on very uncomfortable, overcrowded chapas. He was a lifesaver.
We were all famished after having only eaten bread and instant noodles for a day and a half and devoured some grilled chicken, stocked up on food for the next morning and called it a night. We all passed out right away in our hotel and were up the following morning at 3:45am to catch a bus to the Northern town of Pemba. As soon as we left the South of Mozambique, getting up between 3:00am and 4:00am would become pretty standard. I don’t know why but that’s when all the buses leave in the North…and there always seems to be only one a day!
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