This is the true story of my honeymoon. It probably helps to illustrate just how diverse we, at the Write Room Blog really are.
Webster‘s defines “insouciant” as: “Blithely indifferent; carefree.” It aptly describes the irrational idea to drive down one of the worst roads in Africa in the middle of the rainy season. It was an idea that could only have been conceived with the slightly insane self-confidence of youthful minds. It would be exciting and romantic to honeymoon in Inhassoro, in Mozambique, where we had met just over a year ago. We didn’t care that that had been in the winter, when it didn’t rain. We brushed aside the warnings with derision.
We were excited and filled with confidence that balmy summer morning, the first day of our life together. My new husband whistled as he maneuvered the Jeep deftly around the steep curves that would lead us down to Forbes Border Post where we would cross out of Rhodesia and into Mozambique. The freshness from the previous afternoon’s thunderstorm lingered and perfumed the air with its fragrance, but the scream of cicadas was a sure sign it would be hot later.
There was very little traffic and we made good time despite the rutted surface and potholes in the road. The midday sun blazed overhead when we stopped in the village of Theca. We wandered unhurriedly around a small private zoo, hand-in-hand, while waiting for our meal of peri-peri prawns, a Mozambican delicacy. The earthy aroma of the thick coastal jungle conjured up memories of previous journeys and hinted that soon we would be at the Indian Ocean.
Not long after lunch, we turned off the main road and headed south toward the coastal plain and the village of Buzi. After about an hour the paved road came to an abrupt end at the banks of the Buzi River. There was no bridge and the only way across was by pontoon.
On the other side, in the small settlement, the storekeeper cheerfully informed us in Portuguese that he had “no gasolina”. Rivers of sweat trickled into the folds of fat on his bare torso. His eyes rolled southward, he scratched the stubble on his chin, then raised his hands, palms-upward, and shrugged. It wasn’t his fault. No tankers had been able to reach him from the south on the flooded roads.
He had ice-cold beers, though. The sultry heat turned them blood warm before we had time to finish them, as we foolishly headed into the uninhabited coastal plain on an impassable road with insufficient gas.
The warm beer tasted metallic. Cicadas screamed. The heat hung heavy in the humid air. The open windows were our only form of air conditioning and Tsetse flies followed the vehicle in swarms. Our attempts to swat them away were mostly unsuccessful and their stings were painful.
Sweat poured off us in the stifling heat as the road deteriorated into two meandering pathways dotted with potholes in the thick, black mud. The tracks divided into three then four separate trails with no indication of their ultimate destination. Unconcerned, we sang to relieve the monotony, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”
Precariously balancing above the deeply rutted tire marks, we had to skirt a wine-tanker—we didn’t see any gas tankers—buried to its stomach in the mire. We stopped and I jumped into a pothole that reached almost over my head.
The deserted town of Joao Belo sprawled into view and we pondered the reason for its demise as my husband randomly selected our route from the myriad of tracks that circumnavigated a broken bridge. The Jeep’s engine growled monotonously.
Darkness fell with the rapidity of the tropics, bringing only slight relief from the heat. The whine of mosquitoes replaced the buzz of the tsetse flies as we churned on through the endless, restless mud until a flooding creek forced us to stop. A sign, incongruous in this lonely place, told us it was the Gorongoze River. Normally a shallow stream, it was now in flood, and the low bridge had disappeared under the rushing water.
A lion moaned mournfully in the thick undergrowth as we tried to decide whether to press on or wait until morning. We were young and impatient, and I held my breath, wondering briefly at our sanity as the Jeep eased forward. The headlights sank under the water and it lapped at the doors. Something grated against the undercarriage.
A Land Rover materialized in the opaque beams of the headlights as we fought our way up the steep, slippery bank on the other side. The dejected demeanor of the three men standing beside it in the darkness told the story. An unknown object under the water had smashed their vehicle’s differential. They had gas and we were almost on empty, so we agreed to tow them.
It turned out that a can of gas was a small price to pay for the xenophobic experience that followed. The old and tattered rope broke constantly as one or both vehicles was dragged down by the mud. Each time, they had to get out and re-join it, and we would start again, until a massive pile of steaming dung in the headlights announced the presence of elephants on the road ahead. Flies buzzed around it and its unmistakable manure smell suffused the night air.
We stopped to investigate the reason for the urgent blasts on the horn of the vehicle behind us. The three men told us in their broken English mixed with Portuguese they were afraid we would come across the elephants and startle them. They would be helpless with their disabled vehicle, and unable to escape if the elephants attacked them. They told us to leave them and continue on without them. We promised to send help, although I wondered how anyone would get to them, as theirs was the only other vehicle we had encountered.
The relief of travelling without the incessant jolting from the towing added to our excitement when we reached the banks of the Rio Save, which was in full flood. The old low-level bridge was buried beneath the water. The chain blocking the entrance to the new high-level bridge was easy to remove. Layers of spattered mud dulled the headlights and it was impossible to determine the cause of the intermittent bumps in the gloom. Finally, we stopped to investigate.
The icy grip of fear clawed at me when I looked down through a gap in the road to see the silver, moon-washed water rushing past far, far below. We were on the center of the longest multi-span suspension bridge in Southern Africa, and the massive concrete slabs suspended from the arch above had not yet been joined.
There was no going back. Time stood still as, with the heavy helplessness of a nightmare, we crept forward for an agonizing lifetime-long period. My fear gave way to sighs of relief that were short-lived when we reached the southern end of the bridge. In place of a chain, a massive construction vehicle blocked the exit.
We had come too far. Nothing could force us to turn around, and anyhow we didn’t have enough gas. We plunged down the almost vertical bank of loose earth, not daring to breathe until we felt the firm bite of asphalt under the wheels and we knew we had made it to civilization and paved roads.
I grinned at the Tsetse Control official. The whites of his wide eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he sprayed the vehicle mechanically, probably wondering if we were real or just ghosts in the night. I looked at my watch. It was four thirty in the morning. It had taken us thirteen hours to drive one hundred and seventy miles.
The insouciance of youth prevailed, and as we roared triumphantly onto the illusive paved road we had no misgivings about the return journey. And that is another story.
Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and animals. www.trishjax.com