You’ve got to adapt to survive

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Africa
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We arrived at the Girassol Hotel in Lichinga, Mozambique, tired and a little bit fed up. Travel through Zambia and Malawi was more draining than we had expected. Even though we loved Malawi, described as the Heart of Africa and to us well worth its moniker, the public transport, though quite an experience, is slow and painful. However, we had been warned by the guys on the ferry that Mozambique was a headache to get around quickly, that it takes days to go even a few kms.

Our fears were confirmed the first day when we took the chiappas bus to Lichinga. What is clearly less than 100km on the map took 4 hrs. The bus left, then came back to its original spot. It waited another 10mins, then left again. We progressed no more than 100m when it stopped. This pattern continued for the entire journey. The people were perfectly friendly but we were too tired to take it in our stride.

It seems that people do their weekly shopping on the bus – at every corner, in every town, by every shack, there are kids hawking all sorts of veggies and fruits and random items you could only find in an obscure haberdashery. The bus dwellers thrust arms out the window and haggle. Coins are exchanged, seldom notes. People know exactly how much each item is which saves time. In this respect, the bus inches forwards on its journey. We know that impatience is an ugly trait but when you’re tired this cultural insight is not something wonderful, it is mired in tedium.

Having first been led to believe by books and diffident officials that we could get our Tanzanian visa at the border, we discovered to our dismay that the land border at Kilambo we had planned to use no longer issued visas. This left us with a major dilemma – risk the border and potentially lose 3 days travel time and have to trace back, or divert to Maputo and get the visa from the embassy. Alas given the poor public transport, getting to Maputo from Lichinga would take at least 3-4 days, killing all our plans to see Mozambique. We were in a quandary. To further compound matters, I had fallen ill with a fever and my first dose of infamous bum wee. I thought it was over exposure to the sun over the past few days and insufficient sleep (you know how badly I cope with lack of sleep!). I hit a cold shower and then had uncontrollable shivers. I felt awful. We passed out but I was up most of the night.

My theory of sun stroke was dashed on Saturday morning when Muneeza awoke with bum wee as well – she had made sure she was out the sun all the time. Let’s just say the next 24hrs proved a unique bonding experience and perhaps good preparation for marriage. We now know each other’s breaking point in detail.

We had intended to catch the 5am bus to Cuamba on Monday to link with the 5am train to Nampula on Tuesday but late Sunday late I suggested to my jani that she was in no fit state to catch a bus and we should spend another day recovering. I’ve never known her to pay so much attention to what I say. I had her at hello. My poor jani was suffering much worse than me, so I did some investigating into travel options and the helpful chaps at the hotel called the main Mozambique airline and reserved tickets to Nampula on Tuesday’s flight. Having got this nailed, with renewed spirits we looked at the options to get to Tanzania and find a visa. Having called the embassy in Maputo, it was confirmed that we could get a visa on arrival at Dar es Salaam airport, avoiding the arduous trip to Maputo in the southernmost point of Mozambique.

We dropped an email to STA and managed to book flights on Sat 30th October, giving us time to enjoy the Ilha de Mozambique as planned.

Our learning from the past 2 weeks is that we bit off more than we could chew for the African leg. Not all countries are quick to navigate and public transport meant it was almost impossible to go everywhere we wanted in the time available. It is only by being here that we could grasp this clearly – the books don’t give you a full picture. Travelling requires the ability to adapt and change plans according to the environment. We discovered a few weeks back that the permits for Gorilla Tracking in Uganda have now gone up again to $750 per person – no matter how amazing the experience would be, we just can’t justify that amount of money for 1hr of gorilla watching. With a wry smile we agreed to can the Uganda leg and go direct from Tanzania to Kenya, saving our money to pay for flights from Nampula to Dar es Salaam, saving us at least 4 days of turgid bus journeys and tedious border crossings.

You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need. We hope that one day in the future the gorilla permits come down again (they change with the wind) and then we will come back to visit either Rwanda or Uganda to fulfil that dream and visit the country of Muneeza’s Dad’s birth.

Love james & muneeza x

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