Day 128: The Rovuma, but no ferry today. Nearly sleeping with the Elephants!
After a longish walk down to the lagoon at the bottom of the campsite, I left Chez Natalie around 7am for the town of Palma and then the Big Rovuma crossing. I sensed it was going to be a very interesting day, as Palma had been discussed so many time in the context of how the offshore gas find was transforming the place. I was soon to find out. I had no idea what the roads to the Rovuma, and what the ferry situation, would be like?
With the Gas project has coming rapid development so roads are being upgraded at a frightening pace, and there is construction everywhere. I missed the turnoff to Palma because of poor signage, and after 15 km I asked someone and they confirmed I had to go back… Good start! Because of the construction the road to Palma was very challenging in places, and so the trip was tiring because of the need to focus all the time.
Well Palma was a ‘mess’, I could see a quaint little fishing village being transformed into an industrial pivot town. While having brunch at the most unlikely restaurant, this well dressed, yet casual guy, Paulo introduced himself, and we then proceeded to have a very interest chat about, the exploitation, rape and pillage that was going on, here. He had his own axe to grind as he had been unfairly dismissed from one of the SA countries at the honey pot. Paulo had been living in Palma for many years and was one of the first beachhead men for this South African company looking to get in here. His stories were incredulous on how these companies were coming in and treating people badly, just in the pursuit of profits. As we were talking I was watching bulldozers mow down wilderness areas, clearing for development. I enjoyed the insights, and after hearing from him that the tide was right for the ferry at 3pm, and with me still having 45km of unknown road ahead, I bade him farewell and headed off, with a goal of being in Tanzania tonight.
After about 30km I arrived at Namuiranga, the last town, and customs immigration control point. It felt like a remote, ‘wild west’ movie village, and as I approached I could see the security guards, getting ready for my arrival…. Yeah, they started asking for money, cold drinks etc, and then I gave them my story: I’m alone, no friends, no home, etc, and asked them if they have all these things? Once again it worked, I saw the empathy look kick in, the guy actually apologised and from that moment on, they just wanted to help me! All admin done, I asked them about the ferry, and they said ‘Yeah. No problem with the ferry, and I should make it!” The road for the final 15km was very hilly, with sometimes very soft sand on the downhill or just as I was starting on the uphill… The road was also very grooved and remote, very few cars, bikes or people. I did wonder what it would be like getting stuck or having an accident here, and concluded there was no option for that and focus was all that was needed!
Finally arrived at the river, there were no cars there, and a small settlement with lots of seemingly impatient locals. It was very intimidating as they knew I needed the ferry, but were giving me lots of mixed messages about the fact that the ferry wasn’t coming today, and that I should rather use one of their small boats to get across. In fact it didn’t even look like a significant sized ferry could actually dock at the river bank. The one guy wanted to charge me $80 to cross, and as tempting as it was to get across immediately, I sensed it better to hang around and see what was going to happen. Eventually a truck arrived, the driver was from Tanzania and it was to be his first river crossing, but he was 100% certain there was a ferry, but he couldn’t say when….. He had a phone number for the Tanzania side, and eventually established that the ferry wasn’t coming today, but ‘probably first thing in the morning’. Hmmm, where was I going to sleep tonight? I didn’t feel good on the river bank with this mob, and so I decided to head back about 500m where there was a nice Baobab. Around a corner and out of sight of road users. Just after sunset, I thought it best to check with the inhabitants of two of the three huts closest to the tree. In our broken Portuguese / English communication it seemed that they were OK with me setting up camp under the baobab, and so I parked the bike under the tree and started setting up tent. A middle aged woman from the only hut I hadn’t asked permission came running out protesting, and I thought: “Hmmm, I knew I should have checked with all, “the neighbours’. Well after a lot of emotive gestations, which I initially thought were about we being on their land, turned out to be her concern that where I was planning to camp was a place elephants came in the night, and I would be trampled to death. She insisted I couldn’t not stay there, and that I must come to their hut! Gee, then I met the rest of the family and these people were just so special in offering me a place in their hut, and all with real care. I declined, set up my tent outside, with her insisting I put it as close to their wall as possible. To cap it all, there was an open hole / window in the hut wall next to me, and as I was preparing for sleep I heard them tuning their radio for BBC and then putting it at the window, all just for me! This was quite extraordinary.
Namuiranga (Customs and Immigration) to the River, then ferry to Kilambo (Mwambo) then to Mtwara