The Road to MOPEIA – 1972.

The worst thing I did to myself in 1972 was to stop writing a diary. My excuse was that there was no time, but there seems to have been time to write love-letters three of four times a week to my fiancé. So, go figure.

At least there are clues in the letters of what I was up to, chronologically speaking. Not all I was up to (like misbehaviours) were written down in such letters, either, so a tattered memory and a photo album are the only other support.

With my Landy loaded with supplies, arms and ammo hidden in the head-cloth of the cab, my dog, Shakwe, now trained to lie still on the floor under a carelessly tossed, carefully arranged jacket, I took the route via Lourenço Marques (LM), Moçambique. This would be my second year surveying natural resources in that fascinating country.

The border crossing near Komatipoort was smooth. There were no embarrassing yowls from my travelling companion. My destination the Zambezi valley, I headed north, winding up on the south bank of the Rio Save some eight hundred kilometres north of LM. in the dark. I quaffed a few beers in a road-side pub where a Portuguese Army convoy were pulled up before the bridge. Enquiring why they had stopped, I was informed that they were waiting for daylight.

“What wimps!” I thought. I bypassed the convoy, roared over the bridge and into the night. Into a swamp.

For a few kilometres, I tried to negotiate what there was of a sand road that mostly disappeared under water. The tarred surface had stopped at the bridge. Finally, with water flooding the floor at my feet and the 4×4 digging a hole to bury itself, I turned off the engine. Shakwe and I tried to sleep curled up together on the seat until dawn came. The mosquitoes unsuccessfully tried to suck us dry. Not what you’d call happy campers.

Moz'72RioSaveAt about ten o’clock, the ‘dozer that spent the dry months building the new road, and the wet months towing stuck vehicles out of the swamp, rescued us. No wonder the convoy were waiting for daylight…

That road finally teed into the tarred road from Rhodesia to Beira, Mozambique’s central city, but I took off north again before reaching the village of Dondo, on another sand road that roughly followed the railway line all the way to Sena, where I put my Landy on a train to cross the rail-bridge to Mutarara, A couple of days were spent at the offices of my company, Loxton, Hunting and Associates, (here under the name of ETLAL) that were situated there, as the team gathered. We were each allocated our new area of survey in a vast block lying east of the Shire River that drains Lake Malawi to the Zambezi River. My area was about 500 square kilometres, bounded by those two rivers on the west and south. My only town was a village called Mopeia, just off the Zambezi floodplain.  Everybody else’s areas lay to the north of mine.

Moz'72JackI sent a telegram to my Secundo, my foreman, Jack (Jonasse Mucongave), to join me from his home in the north. He had been with Norman Trevor-Jones, who had now left the company, for the previous year. He had made me promise to call him as soon as I arrived in Mozambique.

Charles Howard’s area was on my border. It included a mountain, named Sera Morrumbala. He was to spend a week with me before establishing his camp at the foot of the mountain near a trading store. He loved and collected snakes. I was terrified that he might bring some into my camp before he left.

He finally arrived a day late in a brand new Landy with a stray fellow that he had picked up in a bar in LM. One crunched-in fender was off; tied to his roof-rack. He had hit a donkey, somewhere along the way. Good start to a new job.

“Were you drunk?” I demanded.

 “Of course,” he said, sounding a little put out, “I don’t enjoy hurting donkeys.”

I surreptitiously checked his kit for snakes as he unpacked. In fact, all I need to have done was just ask him, but it was to be a while before I discovered that Charles never lied.

But in that week together, in which I was to introduce him to the job and vegetation types, we became friends.

And we stayed friends until death did us part.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 5 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom - #1' 'Medicinal Purposes Only - #2', and 'Children Apart - #3; all from Southern Africa.
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