We knew that we were going to be in for quite an eventful day. We were going back into Mozambique the way we had originally planned to come into Tanzania, across the Rovuma River at the De Namoto border post to avoid another two day detour. We bid farewell to Mahmoud and the rest of the volunteer group at 5.30am and got to the Tanzanian border post by 6.15am. It was a long winded stamp out due to a lot of red tape I had to talk my way around with the Tanzanian customs official. The Tanzanian Ports Authorities had deemed the Ruvuma River ‘Ferry’ crossing unsafe, so I had to use our letter of good will, given to me by the Tanzanian High Commission in Pretoria before we left on the expedition, as leverage. I also had to write a 2 page disclaimer relieving the customs official of any responsibility should anything go pair shaped on the river, I’m also sure that the twenty US dollars I donated to his children’s ‘school fees’ helped a bit too! Passports stamped we headed down to the river where we met our ‘Fixer’ Severin. True to his word he was waiting with his team of ‘professionals’ and his means of transport to get our 4×4’s across the Rovuma.
I don’t think I will be able to describe accurately to you the ‘ferry’ we were about to put our vehicles on, but I will give it my best shot. At first, I think everyone in the team must have been petrified at the sight of seeing three small wooden fishing boats with some planks on top, tied together with not rope, but string and a small 15 horsepower outboard motor lashed onto the back. The ‘ferry’ was only big enough to take one vehicle at a time and so as the leader of the expedition I needed to lead by example and our Landy ‘Juho’ was loaded onto the boats and started her 2km journey across the mighty Rovuma River towards Mozambique. At the point of our crossing we were only about 500 meters from the ocean and the river was tidal, we managed to get ‘Juho’ and ‘Tortoise’ across before the tide went out and exposed sandbanks in the river. This prevented us from moving any vehicles across for about 4 hours. What could we do? Nothing! TIA (This is Africa) we just had to wait for the tide to come back in again!
During our long wait for the tide, we prepared the landing bank on the Mozambique side to make off loading the other vehicles much easier, played football with the locals and took lots of photos. While waiting, I also decided to drive the 4km’s to the Mozambiquean border post to see if I could save any time by getting everyone’s passports stamped. The road was very bad as no vehicles travel it and literally 100 meters from the river I got stuck in a mud hole down to the chassis. With that I had twenty or thirty ‘helpers’ ready to push me out, but as usual they all wanted a 100 dollars and I tried to explain to them that they had all just been given a brand new football each by our expedition team and that they should help me out and not want anything for it. They were not interested and by this time I was actually sick of hearing the words ‘give me money.’ I decided to winch ‘Juho’ out. The problem was that there was no tree to connect the winch cable too! Plan B, I walked back to the river where some of the other team members were waiting and got Sue’s Terrios ‘Fish’.
My plan was to get the ‘Fish’ in front of the landy and use her as an anchor point to attach the winch cable to, ‘but what if she gets stuck in the mudhole aswell?’ I asked myself. ‘Better use a lot of momentum to get her across,’ so I did and ‘Fish’ made it over and became the anchor and freed ‘Juho’ from the thick stinking mud! I finally made it to the border and the officials told me we would be using their accommodation that evening courtesy of the Mozambiquean Government. So what was supposed to be a four hour river crossing turned into a fourteen hour one, with the last vehicle, Ryan and Noelle’s ‘Zazu,’ reaching the Mozambiquean side by 9.30pm.
Africa threw us yet another curve ball that glorious evening-the boat owners had got together over a few beers and decided that they had under charged us for their ‘professional’ skills to get us across; they now wanted double what we had first agreed on. After much haggling from both sides and me beating their strongest man in an arm wrestling match, I agreed to meet them halfway on the price and threw in my tee-shirt aswell! While I was ‘arm wrestling,’ the rest of the team were waiting for me on the other side of the by now infamous mud hole. An old lady had come out of her hut nearby and brought the team a big bowl of hot water to wash their feet in; I could tell the team was extremely humbled by this kind and selfless gesture. Moments later they were scared by her shouting in Portuguese to off to the side of them… only to discover when turning on the 4×4’s headlights that there was an elephant about 50 meters in front of them! The team was ready to head to the border and the adrenaline and excitement of the day was still flowing.
The 4km’s to the border took about 30 minutes! When we arrived the customs official I had spoken to earlier in the day had arranged a soldier to stand guard for us, he was a young enthusiastic chap and very excited to meet us. He played us Bryan Adam’s songs from his Blackberry phone while simultaneously waving his loaded AK47 in our faces. I think this made some of the team slightly nervous, personally I loved it, to me that is true Africa, and so Michele gave him a cup of coffee to calm him down a bit. Check out the video below for some of the action from that day and read more on the Northward Bound Expedition here.