“Look! There’s the Zambezi River. There’s no line-up. Can you believe it?”
The last 3 1/2 hours of gorgeous pavement did nothing to ease the weariness seeping into my bones. The 4:30 wake-up call followed by over five grueling hours of bouncing and jolting over jagged potholes was a high price to pay for the pleasure of this newly paved portion of the only highway crossing the country of Mozambique. But now it seemed all the rushing to get to the ferry early had paid off. This time there would be no long hours of waiting in a line-up without the luxury of restaurants or washrooms, and no chance of having to spend the night in the truck.
Smiles of relief were replaced with questioning looks as everyone searched for the ferry. My husband, Mark, rolled down his window to speak with a tractor operator on the riverbank.
“Bom Dia!” (Good day!)
“E um mau dia,” the operator replied, shaking his head gravely.
“Why is it a bad day?”
Pointing to the far shore of the river, he told us a story that sent shivers down my back. The rickety old ferry had finally sunk the day before. We could just pick out the roof tops of almost completely submerged cars and two large cargo trucks half under water at a dangerous tilt.
We looked at each other in disbelief. That could have been us! The next thing flashing through our minds was, “Now what?!” It could be days before a replacement ferry was running. The only other way to travel north in the country was to backtrack and go around by way of our neighboring country, Malawi. That would mean an extra 2 days of travel.
“There is one more option,” the man said. “You have a 4x4. You could cross the Zambezi River on the old train bridge.”
The gleam of adventure and excitement flared into Mark’s eyes even as the fear and uncertainty welled into mine. What else could go wrong?
Off we went down the dusty track to the village of Sena. There we found the 3 1/2 kilometer trestle train track which had been converted into a one lane bridge crossing the mighty Zambezi. A rather sleepy looking man stumbled out of the guardhouse at the end of the bridge and gave us the go ahead. I hoped he was right, because meeting another vehicle halfway did not sound particularly appealing.
We crossed without incident and actually enjoyed the scenery as we went, feeling a little like missionary explorers back to the future. We drove carefully through the black muck of the unpredictable lowlands. I held my breath and the edges of my seat as the sky started drizzling on us and the road became slick underneath. The sun broke through the clouds as we finally spied the Shire River.
Once again our smiles of relief faded as we were faced with rows of cars and trucks waiting to cross. Many had been there since the day before. To make matters worse, my daughter and I really needed a washroom break. In search of a little privacy, we snuck around the crowd and into the bulrushes beside the river. Suddenly, mid-stream, Mark rushed over to us. “Hurry and get out of there! The people are saying there are crocodiles!” Needless to say, we did not take any longer than necessary.
We sat around chatting with people and shared our lunches with our traveling companions. With sinking hearts we watched as the men manually pulled the ferry across on a cable that spanned the river. Would we have to spend the night on the river’s edge after all?
Just as the sun was going down, the ferry operators announced the last ferry of the day. We made it! We were the last vehicle on the last ferry! Thank-you Lord.
Darkness settled over the African bush. Now we were in unfamiliar territory in the pitch blackness with no road signs. How would we find our way back to the highway? Breathing yet another prayer for guidance, we braved the bush. After many twists and turns and after asking directions many times, we finally found the highway. Two hours later our very exhausted family arrived at our destination. Grandma and Grandpa welcomed us with open arms.
“What took so long?”
“Mom, have I got a ferry tale for you!”
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