‘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 at Inhassoro, 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 or our new life together. He whistled as he maneuvered the Jeep deftly
around the steep curves that would lead us down to Forbes Border Post 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
that it would be hot later.
There was very little traffic
and we made good time despite the rutted surface of the Beira road. The midday sun blazed overhead when we stopped in the
village of Theca. We wandered unhurriedly around the zoo, hand-in-hand, while waiting for our meal of peri-peri prawns. The
earthy aroma of the thick coastal jungle conjured up memories of previous journeys and hinted that soon we would be at the
The turn-off to Buzi ended
after about an hour, together with the tar road, at the banks of the Buzi River. The noise of the vintage diesel engine shattered
the silence of the African bush as it painfully winched the pontoon across the muddy waterway. 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 on the flooded road.
He had ice-cold beers,
though. They were blood warm in our hands before we had time to finish them as we foolishly headed into the uninhabited coastal
plain on an impassable road with insufficient gas.
The heat was suffocating.
The warm beer tasted metallic. Cicadas screamed. 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…”
above the deeply rutted tire marks, we had to skirt a wine-tanker 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 we 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 stream forced us to stop. A sign, incongruous in this lonely place, told us it was the Gorongoze River. The 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. I held my breath as we eased forward,
wondering briefly at our sanity when the headlights sank under the water and it lapped at the doors. Something grated against
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 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 sucking slime. 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 were afraid we
would startle the animals and precipitate an attack. They begged us to abandon them before we got too close, as they would
be helpless with their disabled vehicle. We promised to send help.
The relief of travelling
without the incessant jolting added to our excitement when we reached the banks of the Rio Save. The old bridge was buried
beneath the flooding water. The chain blocking the entrance to the new high-level bridge was easy to remove. Layers of spattered
mud dulled the headlights. It was impossible to determine the cause of the intermittent bumps in the gloom. Finally, we stopped
The icy grip of fear clawed
at us when we 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 suspension bridge in Southern Africa, and the massive concrete slabs suspended from the arches
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. 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. 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.
We 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 three thirty in the morning. It had taken us thirteen
hours to drive a 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.