Two field-teams of Loxton, Venn & Associates assembled in a soggy Beira at the Hotel Mozambique in April 1974, both were headed for surveys north of the Zambezi River. Due to the extra heavy rains of the season, no travel by road was possible. The ferry at Mopeia had been washed away and sunk down river. The road to Sena, and the rail bridge there, was under water on the black clay of the floodplain.
All our loaded Land Rovers were put on a coaster to be delivered to the port of Quelimane, from whence the Zambezi team under William Bond would head south, and the Alto Moloque team under Spine van Niekerk would go north to Alto Molocue. All of us flew to Quelimane and spent nearly a week in a hotel there, awaiting the arrival of the coaster.
Quelimane, population of about 75,000 then, lies twenty five kilometres up-river on the tidal section of the Rio Cuacua. Established by the Arab traders long before the Portuguese arrived in the early sixteenth century, it was useful for the export of slaves, timber and ivory from the interior.
We spent hours at the sea-wall, with its mangrove swamps and low-tide mudflats, watching this micro-world of strange creatures. We rooted for a tiny frog that traversed the dangerous terrain from the marsh grasses, across the mudflats, studded with craters that were filled with salt water on which oil floated. From these, two-armed fish-like mud-skippers would emerge without warning, thrusting with their tails, their baboon-like faces surely with evil intent. The desperate frog would swerve to avoid mountains of jagged glass and sodden boots, walls of sticks and cardboard, and the reaching red pincers of crabs. The crabs increased in number as the terrain got dryer. Strangely, some of the crabs were left-handed, and others were right. Some were dull brown, some were bright turquoise, but the frog seemed to be their target. Dick King Frog’s Ride. As the mud-skipper or crab reached for him he would leap again. And again. Once he landed on top of a big brown crab and knocked it over, but before the crab could recover, Dick was off with another bound.
As he crested a rise, he seemed to be struck immobile with disappointment as he found a small tributary ahead flowing into the estuary, too wide for even his greatest possible leap, running too fast to swim. Two crabs coming up behind forced a little sideways jump onto a brick at the edge of the stream where he sat, safe for the moment, considering his options.
After ten minutes of immobility from our hero, we gave up and went for a beer…