Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I've decided the western influence in a country is directly correlated with how many people they squeeze into public transport.

In the US, you could likely claim an entire row on a bus ride. I, personally, am deeply annoyed when someone sits directly beside me on a plane.

In South America, it's a civilized one person to every seat. And what plush seats those are.

Even in South Africa, the tiny spot reserved for your rear is yours and yours alone.

In Mozambique, however, I think we have finally began to see what travel is really like. In the middle of the night, the five of us lined up behind a few dozen Mozambicans for our 3:30am departure from Ponta D'Ouro to Maputo. (Who schedules a departure at 3:30 in the morning?!) Thing is, our pale faces signify that we don't actually own our place in line, so each new arrival casually squeezed in ahead of us and our obtrusive pile of backpacks. No worry, since when the three 12-seater vans pulled up, the line disintegrated immediately. We didn't even attempt to fight the crowd with all of our stuff, and instead hung back and watched while at least 60 people, countless massive bags and a few chickens piled into the three vehicles.

The man in charge signaled that another van would be coming for us, and we were delighted by the thought that we may have one all to ourself. Haha, that was cute of us to think that. We had been hanging out here for about two hours by now, and our heart sank with each new arrival. When the fourth van pulled up, a riot just about broke out when the man in charge indicated that our bags should be placed on first. But they were loaded in, and we snagged a few seats close to the front for our six hour journey. Slowly, each and every person climbed into the van. I know that everybody knows how crammed transport can be in other countries. But seeing it in action was really remarkable.

Mayhem ensued when they decided our bags were too large and they needed to be strapped to the roof of the van. Out they went, while three men climbed on top with ropes. And the entire time, people continued to pile in and on top of one another in the back of the van.

Eventually, all the was left was a man and a very sick little boy. Anybody who knows Reece, knows that he absolutely loathes traveling in the vicinity of sick people or children. Sick children are his worst nightmare. And this kid wasn't fucking around. Droopy eyes swolen half shut, snot and mucus pouring from every orifice on his face. It wasn't clear at first whether he was there for the ride or not, and we're not proud to admit that our first thought was "Please don't let this child be getting on this bus." But after further consideration you realize that he needs to be on this bus more than you do. And when the bus is jammed to the brim and you realize they are about to put this child on your lap and leave his father behind, there is only one thing to do.

Oh, you can imagine the friends we made when the five of us jumped up and declared that we weren't going. They reasoned with us that if we paid for an extra seat, we could have a childless row to ourselves. We explained to them that there was no way we were going to kick a sick kid off so that we could stay on. They pleaded with us that the van would not leave now, cause it was not full enough, and it was all our fault. Surely, the kid could go tomorrow. We argued that we could not in good conscience leave him behind (and in all honesty, we sure as hell couldn't ride with him either). Eventually, to the utter dismay of everyone involved, we got our bags off the roof and hiked the long sand road back to Sara and Lance's. By now, it was 5:00am.

So, how did we evetually get to Maputo? We heard rumor of where we might find a man who could arrange of private taxi van. We found him. We negotiated. We got picked up that evening at 6:00pm. And we learned just how misreable the ride would have been with two dozen other people inside...

The trip to Maputo is on a narrow and bumpy dirt road through incredibly thick vegetation, seemingly taking you further and further into the bush. We have been told that this is definitely NOT the typical backpacker route through the country. Our private driver manuverued his van at speeds I wasn't aware were even possible for a van on a dirt road. I had to physically hold onto my seat to remain in it, and a few times I'm pretty sure we caught air over the steep sand dunes. And even with a roadside pee stop, he got us there in three hours flat.

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