11 hours in a chapa in Mozambique

“We should experience how the Mozambicans really travel,” my boyfriend and I decided one fateful day in the capital city of Maputo. We were traveling 500 km to the main beach city of Tofo, and without the means to rent a car or buy plane tickets, it seemed a perfectly logical way to get there. Our real-Mozambican bus adventure was about to begin.

The next morning, amongst the chaos and poverty of the terminal, we located our “chapa” (our minibus). The chapa was so full already that passengers and parcels were spilling onto the floor. But our bags were stuffed into a bulging mess in the back, and we took our seats on a bench next to a stout and colorfully dressed lady. Beneath my feet sat a cage with two live chickens inside. To avoid crushing them, my legs were forced into a folded and permanently suspended position. And to make matters worse, a large package behind us forced us to lean forward. I was in the fetal position.

Summer was in full swing: at 6 am it was already 40°C. Starting to panic, I tried, in vain, to open the nearest window. In a soothing tone, my boyfriend tried to reassure me that if the windows donīt open, itīs certainly because the bus has air conditioning. He was mistaken. As the chapa started down the road, the heat only increased. It was like being in a steam room, but instead of the eucalyptus smell, what prevailed was the sour smell of sweat mixed with food and live chickens.

We rode that way for about an hour, out of the city and into the country, sided by coconut trees and wattle and daub houses. Unable to move and sweating profusely, my mind wandered in a state of semi-awareness, until a heart-attack producing jolt of sound suddenly hit my ears. The driver had been trying to make the radio work, and when he finally succeeded, Kuduro music came blasting from the speakers at the highest volume. The mixture of African rhythms and heavy electronic beats, which emerged in Angola in the 1980s and spread throughout Africa, may be fun to dance to, but it was the last thing I wanted to hear in that situation. Yet, it would become the soundtrack for the remainder of our already cramped and hot journey, the volume remaining constant at that first ear-piercing level.

Still, nothing is so bad that it canīt get worse. When we were almost used to the noise, the heat, the lack of space and the stink, destiny had prepared a last surprise for us. The lady sitting next to me began to sweat more than before. And then she started to get pale. Then greenish. Then she quickly put her hands over her mouth and started vomiting. Of course, her hands were not enough to stop it, and the vomit fell onto my lap. That pushed me over the edge, and I burst out crying. The driver stopped at a gas station for us to clean ourselves as best as possible, but we were not very successful. And so we journeyed on, dirty and overwhelmed by an awful smell that made me wish for the sweat-food-chicken smell of before.

I was so relieved when we finally reached Tofo. Children surrounded the chapa selling fruit and water, and as I got out, I felt like a newborn baby emerging from a complicated delivery. Those were the longest 11 hours of my life, but they were worth every minute when I took a dip in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. And like any good traumatic but harmless travel story, it makes me laugh whenever I think about those never ending hours.

T Freitas

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