The Crossing of the Mighty Rovuma
Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
25Trip End Sep 31, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
The story all started with three groups of travelers meeting up in the Southern most corner of
Tanzania in a beach paradise known as the Ruvula Marine Reserwe. This
is the last stop before the border crossing into Mozambique and the
only way South apart from the well known "long way round" involving a
huge back track around and through Malawi.
option as the border between Mozam and Tanzania consists of a croc and
hippo infested river about 2km's wide known as the mighty Rovuma! How
they all got there.... Well the Family Buhrmann are an Afrikaans family
of SIX travelling in a Toyota Landcruiser and on their way home after 3
months travelling through Southern and Eastern Africa.
is Sam and Sarah, a Kiwi and Canadian combination who flew out to SA,
bought a Hilux, kitted it out and are also on their way back to SA
after 5 months of travelling a similar route. A key point to note
here is that the Hilux is still owned completely by the bank! Finally
we have two South African Accountants, Franci and Jo-Ann du Plessis,
who have been away for 5 and a half months spent on the African roads
south of Ethiopia with their trusty 60 series Landcruiser "Frodo".
The border, usually has a reliable (by African standards, i.e. runs
when not being repaired) ferry that carries vehicles gently to and fro
from country to country with minimal risk. The ferry pilot is usually
contactable by cell on a number which is passed from overlander to
overlander and Sam had phoned him from Dar just to make sure it was
running. The response he received was that it was "currently out of
service and would be back in action in about 4 days", this lead to Sam
and Sarah slowly making their way South, only to hear on arrival at the
border that the ferry had actually sunk two weeks ago and there was no
plan to recover it before the end of the year! A true example of
African optimism from the ferry pilot! Anyway, so with the three
vehicles sitting on the wrong side of the Rovuma and no one really keen
to add another 1600km detour onto their trip we started looking into
plan B.... crossing by dhow! After three evenings of long discussions
about complications, validity of insurance claims due to "loss by dhow
crossing" and the all important question of who would go first, on the
beach with a beer in hand and the African sunset over the sea it was
decided that we would take the plunge (hopefully not literally).
We arrived at customs at about 10am and after hearing that the dhow
owners charge $400 per crossing we knew that our first hurdle would be
the price negotiation. Their first price offered to us was $450 per
car, ours was $150 and so the game began with Franci, as a true
accountant does, lead the procedure using hand signals, drawings in the
sand and the key, facial expression reactions to their exorbitant price
offerings. The discussions take ages as three dohws are used for the
crossing, which means that there are three captains and about 8
deckhands each so there are loads of guys involved and each needs to
work out what they will get in the end ..... which takes a long time.
Finally after a good 2 hours of haggling, the price was settled at $750
for all three cars and so we headed for customs to check out of
Tanzania and the boat crews headed to prepare the boats.
time we finally got to the river's edge at about 2pm, no progress had
been made but we did manage to find out that the two engines needed
petrol to take us which we needed to buy for them upfront! We
reluctantly handed over $50 after ensuring that it was part of the
total price and then settled down on the bank to watch the process of
our makeshift ferry come to life.
boats about 5m in length were pulled up beside one another and tied
together with, no lies, a twine bought from the market up the road.
Then wooden poles, about the width of your forearm, are laid across the
three boats to make two
narrow platforms onto which your tires are
supposed to go and this still all being held together with more twine!
their true colors with Sam, our nervous Kiwi getting more and more
stressed that he is going to be put in jail until
he can pay back
his car, Franci,
a record number of cassava (similar to a potato) and prawn meals (the
standard meal on the Rovuma), Jo wanting to unpack the entire contents
of Frodo to reduce the weight, Sarah and Father Buhrmann (Hein) chain
smoking, children Buhrmann looking very bored and not concerned in the
slightest about what was happening around them and mother Buhrmann
(Yvonne) capturing it all on video camera going on about how exciting
this all is!
The entire setup
was looking extremely dodgy until a small boat loaded to the brim with
planks arrived and these were then used to lay on top of the poles, to
strengthen, not widen the wheel platforms, and two were also used to
create a "ramp" which was leant up against the side of the floating
happy, not surprisingly as he had by far the heaviest vehicle (double
cab cruiser with 2 roof top tents and enough stuff to keep a family of
three daughters and one boy happy for 4 months) and from the straw
drawing earlier had ended up the shortest of the three so was up first,
so he got stuck into the setup with a couple of ratchet straps and some
rope which, unlike the twine, had a breaking strain of more than 10kg's
and wouldn't disintegrate when wet.
all looked substantially less disastrous, it was time for the first
vehicle to head up the very unstable ramp. The one captain John
Raphael, gave the thumbs up and waved to Hein and with much excitement
from the crews and nervous chatter amongst the team the first car
approached the ramp. The ramps were adjusted by Hein, until he was
happy and with captains Jamerson and John Raphael guiding his wheels he
slowly crept up the ramps. With huge creaking and cracking as the
massive cruiser drove up the flimsy planks it finally made it onto the
level platforms with bursts of celebration from the crews...... this is
obviously not done as
often as we were lead to believe! Jamerson
and John Raphael then erupted into a shouting match over where the car
should finally sit and with John Raphael waving forwards and Jamerson
waving backwards, Hein
turned the cruiser off and lit up another
smoke. The one boat engine was pulled into life and the driver put us
into full steam ahead. Unfortunately the other engine didn't have as
much luck and so we ended up heading off at a right angle, colliding
with a small island about 20m's away.
from Jamerson as the driver was obviously one of John Raphaels and John
Raphael inturn gave the driver a huge lecture who in turn blamed the
other driver for not starting his engine quickly enough who
consequently gave Jamerson stick for not keeping up the maintenance of
his engine!! After pushing off the island with a big pole and the
starting of the second engine with much sarcastic cheering from the
crews, we were back on track and heading towards the channel. The
actual crossing went pretty smoothly apart from the water level getting
very close to the edge of the middle boat with nobody else but Hein
getting very concerned.
again a steering nightmare with a second eruption of abuse flying from
captain to driver, to anchor boy, to pole holder to other captain to
other driver to other captain and so on... Once the ferry (using the
term very loosely) had been semi stabalised by the anchor men and the
ramps were again balanced against the boat, Hein took one last drag,
locked the hubs for the sandy ascent of the bank and tentatively drove
the cruiser down the ramps with much loud creaking and up the bank to
ecstatic applause and whistling from the crews. With one vehicle across
the only man smiling was Hein, as the whole event made Franci and
especially Sam even more nervous than before!
way back the one engine cut out and would not start up.
concerned and when he raised the issue with Jamerson, was told not to
worry they will find a "good one" before the next car goes over. True
to his word, on the way back a random boat driver was heading across
the river, he was whistled too, there was a quick exchange and suddenly
he was tailing the ferry back to where he had come from. I sensed this
was now the new engine for the ferry and that there would be another
sharer of the money, I was right.
Number two was Sam's bank owned Hilux with no insurance! The nervous Kiwi was sitting in the drivers
seat waiting for the ferry by the time it had docked and by the look in
his eyes you could see that he just wanted the nightmare to be over!
With the Hilux being a lot lighter, his ascent was a great deal less
"creaky" and apart from his front left only just landing on the
platform, the start of Sam's crossing went very smoothly. The ferry got
all the way to the middle of the channel without a hitch until suddenly
the one engine cut, resulting yet again into full scale abuse which was
suddenly altered into fits of laughter when the "good" engine then also
cut out. The one man that didn't find the situation too funny was Sam
and with a strong off shore breeze it's no surprise as his Hilux
started drifting slowly towards the mouth. After a few minutes of
tugging on the engine the "good one" did indeed finally come good and
managed to stem the outward drift and got the Hilux heading for the
opposite bank. With one engine in use, the steering was tough but the
anchor boys did their job and got the boat in a decent enough position
to be able to get the ramps onto the boat and ready the vehicle for
departure. Sam's nerves were now completely shot and after a trembling
foot nearly made him miss the platform on the entry, he asked Hein to
take the car off for him. Hein gladly accepted and was more than happy
to drive someone else's car off the ferry.
Two down and one to go!
The last vehicle was readied for the ascent and by this time Jo had
unpacked Frodo with just about everything in the vehicle, not realizing
that this was the last trip and so everything would still have to go
over on the ferry with Frodo anyway.
Franci was by this time regretting the 15 prawns and 6 helpings of
casava that he had taken in to calm his nerves and was now thinking
about their weight impact too! The tide had now risen substantially
since the first crossing, so this meant that the ramp ended, not on dry
land, but now in about a foot of muddy water. This didn't make the
ascent too easy but with the trusty guidance of the two captains, Frodo
was up and onto the boats without a hitch and only a marginal creek or
two. The rest of the cargo including half the Buhrmann family, Sam and
all Frodo's stuff that had been unpacked was then loaded onto the ferry
and the final trip got going.
end the last trip was probably the smoothest with Frodo leaving the
ferry with relative ease on the other side. As soon as Frodo was safely
on the ground the celebrations burst out into joyous song, fist
punching and general silliness with Jamerson leading the charge.
Once the cash
was handed over and goodbyes were said, the crews dismantled the boats
and headed back to Tanzania. The team was so blown away by the whole
thing that they couldn't possibly drive anywhere else
and so setup camp on the river bank to watch the sunset with a beer in hand.
Not the smoothest, but a great adventure for even the most amateur African travelers!