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Ben Trovato

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Mozambique’ Category

All alcohol contains methanol. I would have thought this is a good thing since it is also the fuel used in motocross bikes.

Ben TrovatoNow is a time for reflection, a time for evaluating the year gone by and a time to make fresh plans for the year ahead. More importantly, though, it is a time to lie on the beach and get as much alcohol down your gizzard as is medically possible. It must be said, though, that both the beach and drinking come with their own attendant risks. Let’s start with drinking.

The worst thing about drinking, apart from waking up to find a wedding ring on your finger, is the hangover. Some doctors try to tell you that hangovers are caused by dehydration. This is like saying that floods cause drought and I, for one, would sign any petition that calls for these charlatans to be struck from the roll.

Dehydration is caused when the bartender ignores you because he is too busy catching bottles behind his back and flirting with all the pretty young things.

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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.

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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.

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I don’t know why there is a group called Doctors Without Borders and not a group called Columnists Without Borders

I don’t know why there is a group called Doctors Without Borders and not a group called Columnists Without Borders.

Doctors are the last people on earth to worry about going through borders. And even if they do have a panic attack, they can mask the symptoms with any number of so-called legal drugs that they carry with them at all times, a luxury not afforded to columnists, especially not those about to cross from northern KwaZulu-Natal into southern Mozambique with nothing more than an old Land Rover, an obsolete map and a crushing hangover.

Minutes before hitting the border, Brenda spotted a roadblock and shouted at me to fasten my seat belt. I slammed on anchors, sending the beer bottle flying from between my legs. Stupidly, it wedged itself under the brake pedal while the seat belt did what all seat belts do in times of emergency. Release. Lock. Release. Lock. By the time I had the capricious bitch engaged, the cop was at my window.

“Why are you trying to kill your wife?” he asked. Good god. What does he know? Who has he been talking to?

I played dumb. “What do you mean, officer?” I asked, trying not to breathe on him. “You’ve been driving like this,” he said, making his hand move like a black mamba on the run.

I assured him that I would never try to kill my wife. Especially not in front of the police. His mouth twitched in what must have been amusement because he let us go instead of taking us back to the police station and harvesting our organs for muti.

The border was a tremendous disappointment. Nobody insisted on searching us. Nobody asked for a bribe. I felt offended. Were we not worth harassing? I wanted to confront someone and ask: “Is it because we’re white?”

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The border it is, then. God help us all.

Ben TrovatoJust my luck. In the week that there are seismic shifts on the political front — more first-class carriages being added to the Shikota Express; a black family moving into the White House; Madonna leaving Guy — I find myself in the middle of a dense tropical jungle without access to newspapers or the Internet.

I’m writing this from inside a wooden hut 10km north of the Mozambican border. The hut is surrounded by deadly cycads and slow-moving locals. My only weapons are a sharp tongue and a blunt machete. A kid blacker than the ace of spades and possessed of an expression more unreadable than Finnegan s Wake has just appeared soundlessly at my door, causing Brenda to scream and drop her gin and tonic, which exploded like a mortar bomb. He was offering his services as a guide. Said he could take me to the best fishing spots. Was this some kind of trap?

Surely he could see that we didn’t have a boat or fishing equipment of any kind. Besides, we spoke English. The people who generally risk their lives to come out here growl and bark in a harsh, guttural tongue. They are obsessed with killing fish. I am obsessed with eating fish.

They look like a cross between Orcs and Uruk-hais. I look like a cross between Richard Burton and Oliver Reed, neither of whom are at their best, what with being dead and all.

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