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Ben Trovato

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Earning my 4×4 stripes made me want to impregnate my barefooted wife right there and then

Maputo might have a vibrant street life and booming economy, but the last thing you want is to be sucked into it when you’re trying to find the road to Xai-Xai.

Mozambique’s capital is made up of concentric circles of expanding mayhem. As I swerved for a donkey cart pulling a car with no engine, I told Brenda that it reminded me of the spawn of a violent marriage between Escher and Dante.

She told me to drop the artistic pretensions and rather focus on getting us the hell out of there.

How unbelievably rude.

After several rounds of arm-waving, shouting and threats of divorce, we eventually found someone who told us what road to take instead of vaguely pointing in the direction of Madagascar while trying to sell us a live chicken.

Out on the open road, I put my foot down and took the Land Rover up to its top speed of 115km/h. It was exhilarating.

Brenda nodded off. Then came the first of an endless succession of signs: 80km/h, followed 50m later by 60km/h. Followed by a village. Just as I picked up momentum, at one time even nudging 120km/h, I would be forced to slow to a crawl. Under normal circumstances, I would have ignored the signs and ploughed through the villages at the speed of sound.

However, I had been warned that the Mozambican traffic police would be out soliciting donations for their Christmas orgies so I exercised a little self-control. Or, as Brenda put it, acted my age, for once.

Inexplicably, the cops not only left us alone, but they made a deliberate point of doing so. They sat under trees and looked away as we crawled past. Once, a policeman walked into the middle of the road and actually turned his back on us. I felt insulted. Humiliated. Brenda instructed me to drive around him and not stop and cause a scene.

Xai-Xai sounds a lot more fun than it is. Anyone expecting to find casinos, dancing elephants and whisky bars staffed by topless virgins will be disappointed. In a bid to cheer me up, Brenda said she’d buy me a beer. I pretended to be delirious with joy.

The only bar we could find was in the camp site. I think it was the camp site. It could have been an old Portuguese landfill for toxic waste, because the only other person around was a badly disfigured barman who gave me a cold Manica beer before I had even asked for it.

Brenda ordered a gin and tonic, her standard anti-malaria prophylactic. We avoided each other’s eyes and drank in silence.

There is only so much cheering up a man can take, so we got back into the car and swung sharp left down a sandy track running along the beach. Half-built lodges were strung out along the dune belt. Brenda suggested we stayed overnight, but when I tried to pull in at one of the lodges, two uniformed guards refused to open the boom. One came to my window and when I made the international gesture for “I want to look around”, he lifted his baton and made the international gesture for “leave now or I will dent your cranium”.

A few hundred metres down the track, we pulled in at another lodge that was in various stages of what was either construction or decomposition. I hadn’t even switched off the engine when a thickset member of the Afrikaner tribe came bounding down the drive to head us off.

I don’t know what terrible secrets are being harboured along that strip of beach, but we were once again sent on our way. “Beware of the big dune,” he said, kicking my tyres. Brenda stopped me from getting out of the car and kicking him back. “Take them down to one bar,” he said.

“Please. I’m a professional,” I said, reversing into a palm tree. I stopped when we were out of sight and stuck a match into the valves. I tried picturing what the tyres would look like with a bar in them, but then I started wondering where the tiny people would sit and what kind of music would be playing and whether they would have beer on tap and then I had to stop or risk going mad.

After driving and driving, all the while fighting a car that clearly wanted to get off the road and go for a swim, we came across a hotel that hadn’t seen action since the last guest was airlifted to Lisbon.

I suggested taking one of the shell-shocked rooms but Brenda had other plans. And so, for the first time in my life, I engaged something called low range and headed, bucking and swaying, straight for a murderously big dune. The Land Rover chewed it up and spat it out. Earning my 4×4 stripes made me want to drink rum from the bottle, kill a bunch of blue marlin and impregnate my barefooted wife right there and then.


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