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Ben Trovato

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Land Rover in low range and me in high dudgeon

Inhambane was shutting down for the night and I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. Whenever I swerved onto a pavement and cornered the locals, they would show me the whites of their eyes and quickly back away from the Land Rover.

Could my Portuguese be so bad that they thought I was asking for heroin instead of fresh fish? Quite frankly, I would have settled for either.

Earlier, I had to fend off packs of what appeared to be unemployed investment bankers shouting, “Dow? Dow?” I tried to reassure them that although the Dow was down, the Hang Seng was up and they should put their money into blue chips on the Hong Kong exchange. It was a long shot but it seemed to work. They moved off, confused and angry. Brenda slapped me affectionately across the back of my head, sending my sunglasses out of the window and under the back wheel.

“They want to know if we’re interested in a dhow ride, you idiot,” she said.

With the Land Rover in low range and me in high dudgeon, we left this paint-deprived ruin of a town and bounced down a pitiful excuse for a road that led to our accommodation.

The great thing about going off-road in Mozambique is that you don’t have to wear seat belts or even clothes. Nor do you have to stick to the speed limit or worry about bribe-mongering policemen leaping out from behind a coconut palm. There are more coconut palms in Mozambique than there are Chinese in China. The Chinese are harder working, but less pleasing to the eye.

The road to Jangamo Bay was rougher than a Northern Cape farmer and twice as hairy. We arrived at the house minutes before my kidneys began to liquidise.

The first thing to greet us was a giant spider moving across the floor like Usain Bolt with eight legs and a really small head. In hot pursuit was a detachment of geckos, their hideous voices raised in a crackling war rattle that scared the bejezus out of me.

I’m going to have to speed things up a bit or I’ll still be babbling about Mozambique this time next year.

I woke early the next morning, doused myself in the local Tipo Tinto rum that serves as a panacea for everything from shark bites to sobriety, and talked Brenda into coming snorkelling with me at a spot called Paindane a couple of clicks down the beach.

Cresting a dune, we saw a few 4x4s on the beach. Brenda suggested we park at the top and walk down. Nonsense, I said. If they can do it, so can I. Using turtles for traction, I got right down to the water’s edge.

I like snorkelling because fish don’t talk. They might look at you as if to say, “Who are you and what the hell do you think you’re doing here?” but they don’t actually say it. The only sound was me sucking on the snorkel. And then, when an appalling snake-like creature stuck its dreadful snout out of a crevice, the sound of my chest being ripped open on the coral as I scrambled mask askew to reach the safety of the Land Rover. Brenda had seen an octopus and was already in the passenger seat.

I took a big run at the dune and made it halfway across the beach when the car sank up to its ankles. I got out and kicked the tyres. Nothing happened, so I took off my shirt, flexed my muscles, coughed up a bit of blood and lay down on the sand. I told Brenda it was important not to lose face in front of the other people with 4x4s. We needed to pretend that we had decided to stop there for a bit. She gave me the lazy eye, got out and waved over a posse of bracelet sellers who scrabbled around beneath the wheels and pushed the car out.

As punishment, I kept driving and made Brenda walk all the way to the top of the dune. In return, she made me sleep in the spider’s room until fear got the better of me and I begged for mercy. Move over, Kingsley Holgate.

Then it was up the Barra peninsula to swim with whale sharks which flock to this area in their thousands, except, apparently, on Tuesdays. We had more chance of frolicking with a shoal of coelacanth. I was bitterly disappointed because my friend Ted told me that if you hold on to a whale shark’s dorsal fin and jab it with a spear gun, you can have the ride of your life.

Over the next few days, I rolled a quad bike and fell off a horse. My toe swelled up like a sea cucumber and Brenda spoke nothing but pidgin Portuguese. The time to leave came with the onset of tropical crotch rot and a deranged fisherman who stumbled up to me and shouted “Crab!” right into my face.


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