A front seat, no bags of fish under my feet, and the music play at a reasonable volume! I couldn’t believe my luck compared to the previous bus trips I had taken on my journeys through Southern Africa. Surely this would prove to be too good to be true.
After sunning ourselves on the beaches of Tofo and Vilanculos, it was now time to head inland towards Malawi to get a taste of lake life. An early morning wake up with low expectations is how I arrived to the bus station. My experiences with African public transport was vast and comfortable wasn’t the first word that came into mind. Even worse was my experience with the pot-holed Mozambique roads that had greeted us at every turn.
We were departing Vilanculos aiming for the town of Chimoio before attempting to cross the border the next day. Our bags were hurled onto the roof as we handed over our tickets. I was the last to board and after a quick inspection there were no spare seats in sight. Expecting to be told to squeeze in somewhere between the petrol cans and chickens, I turned back to look at the ticket inspector who said, “You can ride up front sir”. I had a comfortable seat with mass leg room for what was expected to be an 8 hour drive.
Wide views of greenery surrounded me as I shared jokes and broken English with the Driver and his Co-Pilot (straddling the gearbox). All was going smoothly until we started to slow. With the bus still moving the Driver and his Co-Pilot maneuvered a seat change before we bunny hopped off towards a police check point. Once we had our papers searched we bunny hopped off again until the reverse seat change happened once more and we roared into the distance.
After a few more hours on the road we slowed again while the Driver jumped out of his seat for our second driver change of the day. Sure enough we awkwardly rolled up to the police checkpoint before jumping off again. I had finally worked the system out. Our Driver, who actually knew how to drive a bus, didn’t have a licence whereas our Co Pilot who couldn’t drive a bus was a licensed driver.
6 hours into the trip and we slowed once more. Only problem this time was I couldn’t see a police checkpoint in sight. We came to a complete halt as lots of yelling started. Men came from everywhere to look under the bus and start fiddling around with wires. Something was amiss with the bus so we did the only thing we could do in a time like this – play football. After much more yelling the Driver finally went to the back and grabbed a Jerry Can. We had run out of fuel. A group of men walked off into the distance with not a word said.
The sky grew dark before the heavens opened wide. We sort refuge in the bus as a solid 45 minutes of rain poured down. Just as it cleared we still had no sign of the men with the magical fuel supply. Time was ticking away and our chances of making it to Chimoio before nightfall were slim. A decision was made to hitch-hike our way as we went to grab our bags. Sure enough they were still on the roof soaked through from the rain.
After 20 minutes of sitting by the side of the road with our thumbs out, a truck finally came to a stop. Half of the group jumped into the tray of the truck where the other half jumped into the cab. The driver had no windscreen so we took off again with the wind belting into our faces.
With insects between our teeth and our hair stood high we came into a village just on the outside of Chimoio. This was end of the line until we found another truck heading into town. The back was packed with people as we held babies driving along the bumpy rides. The sun had well and truly set as we finally made our way into town. A sense of relief came upon us as we checked into the Pink Papaya hotel. We had well and truly earned our beer that night (which we enjoyed as we hung all our belongings out to dry). Mozambique transport will always hold a special place in my heart.