Day 62-Day 63 The Toughest Days yet. Is my ankle broken?
Somehow this felt like it was going to be a big adventure day! Lots of party music and commotion in the night, it was Saturday night after all, and the Mozambicans know how to enjoy a party into the wee hours of the morning, and….
……With a long day and unknown ahead, I was up early to a very quiet hotel, and thankful my bike was all OK, and hadn’t been tampered with outside in the open. I had studied the road atlas and although not recommended I was drawn into doing the dirt road from just outside Beira to Caia, going east of Gorongoza, rather than the normal, national tar road west of Gorongoza. Both meet at Caia. The road atlas had the road marked as “4 X 4 only during Rain”. That didn’t scare me, other than for the fact that very few other roads in the road Atlas are marked with that…. Anyway, Jono Francis, from the Zimbabwe hike, had said to me I should meet a friend of his in Inhaminge, there was also a road shown on the atlas giving access to Gorongoza, and what the hell, I was here for adventure so there was not taking ‘nerd routes’ now! Since Sani pass this would be my first major challenge, in that it was about 200 kilometres of isolated road, where once committed it would be difficult to turn back…. Nobody had been able to tell me what that road was like, and I have to admit to being a little anxious that morning.
As I was mounting the panniers, I bumped into this South African looking guy packing his fit for purpose, well travelled, 4 X 4, clearly heading out early too… Turns out he lives in Beira, and knew a lot about the roads and places where I was going….. He knew the road I was planning to take, and did say it was challenging but “With the bike, it should be easy”….! He did say that it was quite a challenge to find the turn off to the road, and gave me some clues, linked to cell phone masts just nearby. He also said I should be careful for the occasional soft sand and possible muddy sections.
I was glad it was Sunday morning riding out of chaotic Beira…. There was little traffic, and I was soon out of the city and on the familiar Mozambican semi-rural village setting, palm trees, and lush green grasslands, interspersed with rice fields, many villages stating their belonging with a big Frelimo flag flying from a flagstaff near the centre of the village action. I never quite had the courage to stop, and take a region defining photo of this scene, with the flag the centre point. Maybe it was just me, but all round Mozambique I didn’t feel quite free…
Seventy kilometres on I saw the landmark cell phone towers, but as usual nothing is as simple as it is explained, there was no turnoff to be found…. Long story, and lots of locals asked for directions, many wrong roads followed, I eventually found the right one….. Not a very prominent looking road, and red dirt right from the turnoff from the main road…. Inhaminge here I come….!
It soon got pretty remote with very little traffic on the road, and the typical, remote Mozambican village every 30 kilometres or so…. The road surface varied hugely from nice firm dirt, to mud patches, to rocky sections. There had been rain recently and in some places there was small water pools in the road. All of this didn’t help calm the apprehension, and it became increasingly clear from the almost motorcycle only traffic, that there weren’t many people doing the long haul like me. Most just inter village travel, their 125 cc, Chinese bikes seemingly better able to deal with this variable road surface, than the ‘world tourer’s, fancy bike!.
Around midday, I was feeling thirst and ravenous, and with the tiring, riding focus, I was needing a break. Fortunately a sizeable village came up, and the locals had prepared food and bread wares for the a truck that comes through daily serving as bus transport. It was stopped, people sitting and standing in every possible in the open back, freight area. The best was the locals had fresh, fresh pao (Portuguese style bread) and with a few warm cold drinks I wasn’t complaining. The usual crowd gathered around, and the usual begging started, but somehow it wasn’t as full on as usual. There was a youngster with deformed legs, not part of the group of boys his age, but very aware of me and the buying bread dynamic going on… Somehow I looked at him with pity, feeling he would also like to be trying to sell me bread, but couldn’t. The local were quite scared of me, and if I moved quickly they would run away…. It was quite lonely being in this environment with food, but no place to eat in peace. I just sat on the bike, helmet off eating while they all watched from a distance. I’d bought more bread than I could eat, and seeing the handicapped guy again, I got off my bike and went and handed all that I had to him…. The others looked on, seemingly accepting that my favourable prejudice towards this guy was fair…. The driver of the truck / bus got out and came across to speak to me…. Friendly and all in Portuguese he as curious to know where I was from and where I was going? Amazed as usual with my answers. He seemed to indicate that the road was challenging but would be OK for me on a bike! The break was good, and it was time to get focused on that road again….
The road to Goronzosa shown on my map was right at Muanza, and soon I was getting close, but not before the road conditions really deteriorated to lots of soft sand with the bike often sleighing around and needing caution and a lot of careful clutch work to prevent wheel spinning or ploughing… I was in that no turning back zone, the road was getting worse, but pursue on I had to…. I asked a passing vehicle where the turn off to Gorongoza was and the French speaking guy was adamant it was just around the corner….. Well a kilometre or so on there was a Gorongoza Park sign, but after rider up and over soft sand bank to get off the ‘main road’ onto what looked like an overgrown unused car path that dwindled to a foot path I concluded this wasn’t ‘my road’, So it was continue on to Muanza, with eyes wide open for the road. 2km before Manza the road surface improved to maintained gravel, which was welcome relief. Muanza quite a big village with a busy fish and fresh goods market, and I stopped to check it out. Once again I was the focus of a lot of attention and interest, although here they weren’t trying to get me in to buy stuff. I had my first taste of the coconut brittle, a very sugary, snack. Interestingly I wanted to take a photo of the fish market offering, and felt I should ask permission and they declined, very strongly. I respected that…… Nobody here knew of the road to Gorongoza, but then none of them seem to know about Gorongoza. Showing them a map was a complete waste of time, as they just looked at it without any sense of relation to where they were and the surrounding town / area. Quite strange…. I sensed ‘my road’ must be a bit further on, and headed off. Still in Muanza, there was my road, it just looked like it, and as my map had shown, in Muanza. Just checking I asked a seemingly more worldly local who confidently confirmed this was the road, and that if forked soon, and I should take the right fork. Bravo…! Off I went, quite a tough road, I see the fork, take the right one head another 6 km, and somehow it’s not feeling right. At the next village I ask a group of teenagers if this is the road to Gorongoza, and three of them start playing games with me. One saying yes, another no, and smugly laughing at my disgust at them taking advantage of my predicament. This was the first time I had experienced this purposeful desire to confuse me…. ! They weren’t going to help, so I had to assume I was right and move on. Seeing my disgust with them they did indicate I should just carry on…. Well I did, and after about 12 kilometres the road narrowed and narrowed, until it was almost a foot path the lead to an old disused quarry! Geepiz was I pissed off, and now I had to go back and deal with those guys again… How was I going to handle it? Just ride by, stop and try and teach them a lesson, or try a real appeal to their seeming non-existent sense of fellow human camaraderie. I chose the most challenging, and probably wasted effort option, but it was what my soul demanded I do: A combination of lesson teaching and the human appeal. It seemed to work as the three did apologise.. I still hadn’t found my road, and had 8 kilometres to get back to the centre of Muanza. This time I did question the sense in not having electronic, GPS enabled, maps. I found the police station, the constables on duty didn’t know about ‘my road’, saying there definitely wasn’t a road to Goronzoza around here. At my insistence that there was, they called on the ‘commandant’, who eventually appeared, friendly and curious about my travels and objectives. He looked at my map, once again with no relative connection, turning it around and around almost expecting some new inspiration and connection each time, Putting it aside he did then come out saying: Yes there as a road and I needed to go back to that Park Sign. Aaah, so that was the road, and I should have persisted more….. Hmm, I learn that lesson often, but it’s tough on your own in the middle of nowhere, man! Excuses, boy!
I went back to the sign, dealing with all the soft sand again, back on the overgrown road, confidently moving onto the narrower virtual footpath, this time saying I’m going here no matter whether I have to sleep out half way along in my tent with the wild animals, I will….. About 1.5 kilometres along the road, and now well in the forest, I come to a very primitive, locked boom gate, with a few huts on the other side, but nobody around. I park the bike, helmet off and go to see if I can try find someone around? Eventually two half dressed guys come out, looking very surprised to see me. They turned out to be rangers, and yes this an entrance to the park, little used and unlike my map book shows the road doesn’t go right across the park, and I can’t do what I had planned. They were real nice friendly guys, wanting to help. They also said they wouldn’t recommend me going in with a bike on the path I was on……
Gee, was I disappointed, after all this struggle. We chatted a bit, and they told me they were basically there to try and stop the poachers, no tourists came through here, and they had a pretty good camp life, with lots of freedom.
I turned around and headed back to the deep sand, ‘main’ road again, through Maunza and aiming for Inhaminge. The other side of Muanza the road worsened form mud, sometimes open water to soft, almost beach sand, but never giving me the chance to relax into one set of road conditions. This wasn’t a time to be trying to break speed records, and I was lucky if I topped out at 45 km/h, most times around 30, so very slow going, often with both legs out and feet skimming the sand acting as stabilisers. There were many times where I did force myself to take a short break and take in the amazing African forest environment. It really was special, and it really felt like a place where elephants would roam, and where there should be a lot of birds, but sadly other than the wonderful natural forest, there was little wild life. It still did feel special out there, and many times I had to remind myself that this is exactly what this adventure was all about… The fear, the freedom, the wilderness, a wild cocktail. Crazy hey!
I’d been going 5 hours now, and this stuff needed full concentration and focus on the immediate surface ahead. I guess I was tired and susceptible to fantastical mind distraction, and I must have lost road concentration for a second or two, when suddenly the bike hit deep soft sand, and within a split second I was unable to stabilise it, and it fell over to the right, dragging my right leg under the panniers, twist my leg to the point that I heard two not nice sounding cracks….. There I was lying in the sand, my leg trapped under the bike, not able to move, and knowing this was serious! No time for crying or self annihilation, there was nobody around, and probably would be for a long while, so I had to force the bike off me, stand up and then use all the might I had to get the bike up again. I could feel the pain in my leg, but knew this was not the time to focus on that….. I had to get back on to my bike and probably ride another 50 kilometres to Inhaminge…and without falling off again! Quite a scary task!
The main coal train line from Beira to Tete, is the only piece of development infrastructure near this road, and Inhaminge is the place where the rail road meets the road I was on, and the village provides a place where the train drivers can switch, and have a place to stay. As I was approaching Inhaminge in my frantic focused state, I didn’t realise it but the railroad was getting closer to me, albeit separated by trees from the forest. To my absolute horror, I suddenly heard this loud throaty engine roar, getting louder and louder, like some extra terrestrial coming to capture me. Finally when it was almost on top of me, I realised it was a train and there was no way the rail road was going to merge into the road…I was safe. I seem to do a good job of shutting out the pain of my right leg, but a reminder of the seriousness of the injury was that I had trouble using the back brake pedal, which is the sole riding duty of my right foot. Because of this I had to change the riding style and also only use my left let for stabilising….. The risk of another fall increases, so more focus was the only response I had to counter it!
Two hours later I suddenly came onto a settlement that quickly showed me that in was Inhaminge. Now was there somewhere to stay, that was the big question, and at this point I didn’t know about the village’s role as a train driver shift change stop over. Riding around I eventually found a guest house, and one that even looked half decent and even with a bar and restaurant? But don’t let the imagination run to far, this was a real basic place, it was the shock of finding anything here that was the luxury! I was soon negotiating a room, saying I’ll just be one night, rest my leg and be gone early the next morning! Once in my room and taking my shoes off, only then did I give my body permission to tell my how my leg really was feeling. This was not good, and inside me, as my hearing memory, replayed the two snaps I heard as I fell, and I then felt the pain I was now experiencing with the adrenalin now reduced, I had serious thoughts that something was broken. I kept on telling myself there were no breaks, and it’s just a sprain, but there was definitely a fight going between the realist and optimist in me! Fortunately I had anti-inflammatorys with me, and it was time to lie back and put my leg up in the air. The manager, sensing I was dealing with serious stuff, knocked at my door and offered to provide me with room service! The menu choice being, the ‘Africa, all over’, standard, beef or chicken and chips, and a cold beer to go with it. Mozambique differentiates itself in the always freshly baked, Portuguese style bread. There was something good about those colonists hey! The meal arrived soon, the beers (yeah I needed a couple of them) did their job, and I was just so grateful to have this relatively sophisticated environment I could call home for a night (or two). I spent a while thanking my lucky stars that the situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been if I’d had a more serious fall, and was totally incapacitated and had to wait for the next road user to rescue me…! Hmm, am I being irresponsible doing this adventure on my own, with so little motor cycling experience, and taking such remote route options? Well, the one thing I could say, it that I am really living and building a rich history of special experiences, while I can!
I had an uncomfortable night, tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, but I sensed the whole situation with my ankle and knee was just starting to unfold and reveal itself on the outside. I was determined to leave the next day, but as every restless hour of the night passed, I started dealing with the reality that I won’t be leaving that day, and I could possibly be here for a few more days than I think. All the what ifs, etc. I got up early and hobbled out to the street pavement front, surprised how immobile and sore I was. I pulled up two plastic chairs from the guesthouse, one to sit on and one to put my leg up on. The village was just awaking and I was surprised to see kids already on their way to school. I was surprised at the quality of the school and the kids attire, Inhaminge must be quite a place, lucky I made it here. The kids were on bicycles, or walking, some alone some in groups of friends, all stared at me sitting out there, probably never having seen someone ‘like me’. I greeted each and everyone, ‘Bom dia”, and almost without exception they greeted me back. I felt a nice sense of belonging here, nobody was begging, and mostly they all seemed pretty happy and content. Soon I managed to organise a cup of coffee and ‘new’, fresh bread served by genuinely caring people, and suddenly my whole world was feeling quite grounded, and free of worry….. There was no hospital here, and so I needed to be thinking where the closest one was from here? Hmm, a few days off…. Maybe Caia, but probably only Qulimane. Then again, there could be worse places to be medically ‘grounded’ than this, and after all, every place is what your head makes of it…. The only issue was, my ankle was getting larger and more purplish by the hour, and I had to stop lying to myself that this wasn’t serious, and that getting back on the bike riding wouldn’t be as soon as I thought…
The day went slowly, the weather was changing too: Rain was coming, and this wasn’t good news as the roads will become more challenging, moving from soft sand to impassable mud. I’d already had quite a bit of experience of how bad the mud can be around here, so lots of uncertainties ahead. By late afternoon the rain was quite persistent, and the cooler temperature and greyness of it all did effect my spirits, but I knew I had to vehemently fight any signs of a decline in morale.
Dinner brought a repeat performance of my delightfully caring room service experience of the first night, and this time I rewarded the waiter with a generous tip, which he has very happy about. I told everyone the plan was leaving the next day, unless the rain was bad. I didn’t see any reason to stay around there, other than to rest more… The purpose of the rest was be to be able to ride again, not to complete recovery, as I knew this was a long haul injury that needed repair.
Another uncomfortable night, but I was not accepting defeat and this night my resolve to head out back on the bike in the morning increased. This natural reaction always a good sign, that one has to go with the more difficult option…
On waking, the weather looked bleak, the rain was more frequent and I started doubting the wisdom of leaving. Anyway after my pavement coffee, and second day greeting of my , now familiar, school kid ‘friends’, I went through to the eating room for breakfast. Low and behold there were two other guests there…. They turned out to be the train drivers, and were in the process of doing a handover. Once the ongoing driver had left I had a very interesting chat with the guy who had been relieved, He explained to me how the situation in Zimbabwe in 2008 has really reduced the demand for trains, and then recently the closure of a mine in Tete. I was lucky, because this guy could speak really good English, and had good opinions on worldly issues. He had done his train driver training in South Africa. It finally came to saying our goodbyes, and I thanked him for the sharing he had done, and he did likewise. Strange interactions with strangers these, but I’m so used to it know, I have learned that these intimate stranger interactions are part of the richness of these adventure experiences.
This interaction had helped take the focus off my leg situation and the decision I had about leaving, but now it was back with me. I had to be honest, my leg was feeling terrible, I could hardly walk, and trying to balance the bike on my right side was impossible, the pain was horrendous. The rain seemed to have set in, and so I felt there were too many signs saying I need to wait another day….. An so it was, thankfully I had my kindle and some good books loaded on for a day’s reading with my leg in the air!
We had our routine now, and room service dinner, with two cold beers, was all part of that now….. This was a difficult few days, but it could have been so much worse, I thank my lucky stars. I was not happy with the fact that all this and the missing road, meant that I will miss seeing Gorongosa. I was a bit angry with myself, as I thought through whether I’d got my priorities right? Adventure riding vs missing Gorongosa? Hmm, if it was that simple I had got the priorities wrong, but my original plan was designed to give me both…. The issue that caught me out is not factoring in the adventure the risk, and not having sufficient information on the roads. I’d learn for this…… Also, tomorrow I was leaving on the bike, come hell or high-water
16th and 17th June