Mary Fitzpatrick
United States US

Mary is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guidebooks, including South Africa, Tanzania, East Africa and Africa.

Category: Travel Disaster Worth Sharing

Travel in Africa means always expecting the unexpected. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether this is a travel disaster or simply another African adventure…..

It was the dry season – always the better time to travel – and I’d done this journey between Mtwara, Tanzania and Moçimboa da Praia, Mozambique several times already.

This was in the days before road improvements and before the Rovuma ferry ran to any regular schedule, but the connections were straightforward: get a pick-up at dawn from Mtwara to the border, then a dugout canoe across the river, then wait for one of the two daily lorries that plied between the river and Moçimboa da Praia.

I anticipated arriving at my destination by early afternoon. The journey started out smoothly, with an amiable driver and amenable passengers on the Tanzanian side. Enroute to the river, I made the acquaintance of a Chinese man who was backpacking solo, and who asked if I’d mind splitting my dugout with him and taking care of the negotiating. This done, we soon found ourselves being paddled around sandbanks to the southern side of the Rovuma.

We found a shady spot and sat down to wait for the Mozambican lorry to arrive to take us to Mozambican immigration and on to Moçimboa da Praia. As the day wore on, it became clear that the first lorry was delayed. By about 4pm, with ever more south-bound travellers accumulating on the river bank, and only a handful of northbound travellers – all self-drivers waiting for the ever-elusive ferry - it became clear that the second lorry was also delayed. As evening set in, I decided I needed to make peace with the situation.

I took out my small jar of peanut butter (tucked away in my rucksack in case of just such an emergency), ate a few spoonfuls and began to scout around for somewhere to sleep where the Rovuma’s famous hippos and crocs wouldn’t find me. A number of other stranded travellers, including my Chinese companion, opted to be ferried back out to one of the sand islands in the Rovuma, where there was allegedly a ‘guesthouse’ of sorts. Shortly thereafter, miraculously, a pick-up truck arrived with two South Africans eager to catch the ferry.

After assessing the situation, they offered me their spare tent, which at that moment looked wonderful. The night passed uneventfully. By morning, some local ladies had made their way to the border and were sitting along the river bank frying cassava pieces. These made a welcome complement to my peanut butter, although my drinking water was almost at an end.

The day passed slowly, with the main excitement being the return of my Chinese companion from the sandbank guesthouse, which had turned out to be dire indeed. About 2pm, we heard the unmistakable sound of a lorry lumbering up from the south.

There was a bit of a stampede by the now very large crowd of stranded travellers to ensure a place in the truck (which reportedly had been delayed by mechanical difficulties). Everyone finally piled in and we reached Moçimboa da Praia by evening.

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