Life on the road is a strange existence. I found myself in the backpacking bubble in 1992. I was into my fifth month of a trip to Africa. Christmas in Cape Town was over and the city was losing its sheen. My travelling companion Sam and I decided it was time to move on and we hooked up with an old friend of hers, Hugo. Hugo had one thing going for him. Something we both needed. This came in the shape of a little blue Nissan pick-up or bakie as they are called in South Africa. What a noble little beast she was. We made are way north, horse trekking thru the grass fields of Lesotho’s, encountering extreme prejudice in the Orange Free State, to then find ourselves in the little independent kingdom of Swaziland. Surrounded mostly by South Africa Swaziland also borders Mozambique to the west. Our days were filled with reading books, going to post offices in hope there might be a letter, getting over hangovers from the night before and the occasional cultural excursion. However there really was not much culture in Swaziland. We were staying at a depilated campsite that had been once gleaming but now was well worn and unloved. Though out Swaziland there was an undercurrent of sleaze and this place was no exception. The proprietor was an Englishman who no doubt has not set foot on home shores for some time. His wife was a local and considerable younger than him, if in fact it was his wife. As with most days we had waked and baked and were lurking around. Hugo had been disappearing and we found him talking to Mr. Sleaze outside his caravan. ‘He says we should go to Maputo. It’s only about 60km away’ Hugo told us gesturing toward the fat wife beater wearing owner. Sam and I looked at each other, we’d been told that Mozambique really was the most beautiful place but had been ravaged by a brutal 17-year civil war and was pretty much out of bounds ‘Really’ we said in unison ‘Yes really. The road to Maputo is safe now they are letting goods thru As long you drive it before 4pm when the cease-fire stops you’ll be fine. Sleazy said. I think it was mainly the desire to be anywhere than the shithole that was Swaziland that Sam and I agreed to go. In the morning we jumped in to ol’ reliable and sped off to the border. We reached there in jing time. Crossing borders had become second nature to us We crossed without much hassle, just curious faces. ‘How long you going for’ asked the South African Border guard without much concern for three white twenty something’s crossing the border into a civil war. ‘Oh just the weekend’ I said cheerily It really was the most exciting and dangerous thing we’d done the whole trip and we were definitely getting a kick out of it. The hassle started when we got to the Mozambique side. There seemed to be loads of men hanging around and when we said we were going to Maputo, the little Datsun’s empty back was swamped. People were more menacing and our carefreeness disappeared fairly quickly. I managed to get some people out with the help of the border guard but another said we had to take them. We made our way thru the border town which
looked very raggedity indeed. Little Datsun struggled under the strain of her new charges. As we hit the open road we really saw the full reality of war. Burnt out cars abandon tanks and a new bombing which had happened last week when a truck carrying supplies to Maputo had been hit by a mortar. At that precise time a nun in a little Renault 4 on her way to some mission has got caught in the explosion. Great I thought Just then we hit a massive pothole sending us all up to the roof and very nearly all the guys in the back out. As we had landed back to earth it became apparent that all was not well with Little Datsun. ‘What’s the matter’ I asked ‘Seems like a flat’ Hugo replied No sooner had we stopped that the passengers in the back had decamped into a truck that was travelling behind us and zoomed off. Just like that. This was not good We inspected the truck and it was more serious that a flat the whole passenger side suspension had broken We were in deep doo doo. We were a good five miles out of the town and it was about 3.30. To make matters worse it seemed we did have company. A lone figure could be seen casually strolling up the road swinging an AK-47 We were really in deep doo doo. At that moment a truck rounded the corner and actually stopped. The driver a Mozambican on his way back to work in the mines
of South Africa told us to get into the truck and he would take us back to South Africa.
The figure with the gun was a slowly approaching and looked like a teenager.
The army had not been paid in months and by all accounts it was them that were carrying out the attacks on the supply trucks.
What to do?
It is amazing the decision you make in short time spaces and this was ours.
Hugo did not want to leave the car, Sam did not want to leave Hugo and the truck driver did not want to leave any of us and I just wanted all of us to stay alive.
So it was decided that I would travel into town leaving the others and try and find a mechanic to tow little Datsun into town.
I jumped into the truck and as I looked at the scene of little Datsun with her hood up with Sam and Hugo giving a ciggie to the soldier, getting smaller in the passenger side mirror, I smiled nervously at the driver and wondered if that was that worse decision I had ever made.
To be continued…