Updated: May 1
The SA Adventure Northward Bound Tanzania Expedition was to take us to the South of Tanzania, to a small village called Mtwara. Our goal was to work with the Mtwara Volunteer Crew on projects that they currently have running such as sustainable vegetable gardens, helping out at the local schools, support for those affected and infected with malaria and HIV, and working with the orphaned children. Our team of 13 adventurers accepted the challenge and in so doing we would travel through seven African countries, cover over eight thousand kilometres in 21 days and face some of the toughest terrains and challenges Africa has to offer in our 4x4's.
We had many challenges on the expedition but one that really stood out is the day we had to cross the Rovuma River. The river distinguishes the border between Tanzania to the North and Mozambique to the South.
It was day 13 of the expedition, we knew that we were in for quite an eventful day. We were trying to get back into Mozambique by crossing the Rovuma River at the De Namoto border post. If we could make it across it would save us a two day detour to get to the nearest border post. We bid farewell to Mahmoud and the rest of the volunteer group at 5.30am and got to the Tanzanian border post by 6.15am. It was a long-winded stamp out due to a lot of red tape. The Tanzanian Ports Authorities had deemed the Ruvuma River ‘Ferry’ crossing unsafe, so we had to use our letter of goodwill, given to us by the Tanzanian High Commission in Pretoria before we left on the expedition, as leverage. Passports stamped we headed down to the river where we met our ‘Fixer’ Severin. He was waiting with his team of ‘professionals’ and his means of transport to get our 4×4’s across the Rovuma.
I don’t think anyone would be able to accurately describe the ‘ferry’ we were about to put our vehicles on, but I will give it my best shot. At first, I think everyone in the team must have been petrified at the sight of seeing three small wooden fishing boats with some planks on top, tied together with not rope, but string and a small 15 horsepower outboard motor lashed onto the back. The ‘ferry’ was only big enough to take one 4x4 at a time and so as the leader of the expedition I needed to lead by example and our Landy ‘Juho’ was loaded onto the boats and started his 2km journey across the mighty Rovuma River towards Mozambique.
At the point of our crossing, we were only about 500 meters from the Indian ocean and the river was tidal, we managed to get ‘Juho’ the Land Rover across before the tide went out and exposed sandbanks in the river. Suddenly and without warning the tide went out! This prevented us from moving any more vehicles across the river for about 4 hours. What could we do? Nothing! TIA (This is Africa) we just had to wait for the tide to come back in again!
During our long wait for the tide, we prepared the landing bank on the Mozambique side to make offloading the other vehicles much easier, played football with the locals and took lots of photos. While waiting, We also decided to drive the 4km’s to the Mozambican border post to see if we could save any time by getting everyone’s passports stamped. The road was very bad as no vehicles had travelled it and literally 100 meters from the riverbank we got the Land Rover stuck the in a mud hole. With that, we suddenly had twenty or thirty ‘helpers’ ready to push us out, but they all wanted a 100 dollars and we tried to explain to them that they had all just been given a brand new football each! They were not interested and wandered off leaving us to dig and winch the Landy out.
We finally made it to the border on our little recce and the officials told me we would be using their accommodation that evening courtesy of the Mozambican Government. So what was supposed to be a four-hour river crossing turned into a fourteen-hour one, with the last vehicle, Ryan and Noelle’s ‘Zazu’ a Land Rover Discovery, reaching the Mozambican side by 9.30pm.
Africa threw us yet another curveball that glorious evening, the owners of the boats that were used to make our impromptu ferry had got together over a few beers and decided that they had undercharged us for their ‘professional’ skills to get us across. They now wanted double the money that we had first agreed upon. After much haggling from both sides and me beating their strongest man in an arm-wrestling match, we agreed to meet them halfway on the price and threw in my tee-shirt as well! While I was ‘arm wrestling’ the rest of the team were waiting for me on the other side of the by now infamous mud hole ready to head to the border for the night. An old lady had come out of her hut nearby and brought the team a big bowl of hot water to wash the mud off their feet. I could tell the team was extremely humbled by this kind and selfless gesture. Moments later they were scared by her shouting in Portuguese to get to the side of the trail, only to discover when turning on the 4×4’s headlights that there was a massive bull elephant about 50 meters in front of them! The team was ready to head to the border and the adrenaline and excitement of the day was still flowing.
The 4km’s to the border took about 30 minutes. We drove in the darkness through mud and deep water holes. When we arrived at the border the customs official we had spoken to earlier in the day had arranged a soldier to stand guard for us, he was a young enthusiastic chap and very excited to meet us. He played us Bryan Adam’s songs from his Blackberry phone while simultaneously waving his loaded AK47 in our faces. I think this made some of the team slightly nervous, personally I loved it, to me that is true Africa, and so we made him a cup of coffee to calm him down a bit. We made camp that night at the border post under the light of a full moon. It was one of the most challenging days I had ever had on the many expeditions I've undertaken, but it was also one of the most rewarding.