Extracted from notes by George Barrett, Matt Maddocks and Shaibu of the Old Boma in Mikindani, based on a trip in November 2001
After taking lunch in Newala, we headed off to the bus station to set up transport for a visit to Mchichira on the Rovuma River the next day. We sent Shaibu to handle the negotiations, knowing that the price would double the moment anyone saw a white face. He returned, having agreed for a Land Rover to pick us up at 06.00 and take us to the river and back for US$18. This sounded a good deal, as we had been warned that it might cost US$30. Another option would have been to catch a bus to Mahuta, 20km out of Newala on the Mtwara road, and hire a Land Rover there, but for the extra few shillings, the saved hassle was deemed worthwhile.
The next morning at 05.00, the Land Rover was outside and waiting, so we clambered out of bed, and were ready in minutes. However, in those few minutes, the Land Rover had sped away to pick up more people! Unconvinced by his promise to return at 06.00, we made our way down to the bus station anyway, but by 06.30 there was still no sign of the vehicle and another driver had turned up offering to take us for the same price. A complicated 30 minutes followed, with various people telling us which drivers were better, which would rip us off, which had cars that might make it as far as the river, and which had cars that might make it back as well! In the end, there was no sign of our original driver, so we gave the new one the money to buy fuel. No sooner had he started to fill up than the original driver arrived, and due to the considerably better quality of his car, we decided to go with him. After long arguments between the two drivers, we set off for the river, almost three hours after we had been woken up in a rush to get going!
Within 15 minutes, the Land Rover broke down for the first time. However, some tinkering under the bonnet had us off again, ever so slightly nervous as we descended the long steep hill into the valley floor. It took us two hours to get to the river; we picked up a local child en route, who guided us right to the banks, saving us the expected trek to the channel. The river was magnificent. We had heard about big rivers, but not seen anything wider than the Severn. The floodplain, which is swamped during the rainy season, was 3km across in places and extremely impressive. During the dry season, only a couple of deep and fast-flowing channels meander their way across the valley that divides Tanzania and Mozambique. Walking along the sandy, desert-like riverbed, we met a fisherman who offered us a trip in his canoe. However, beneath the surface we could see two of his other canoes (that had sunk), so we decided against it.
The trip back to Newala was uneventful except for breaking down a few times, spinning off the sandy road, and missing a tree by a whisker! We arrived back at the guesthouse, where the driver leapt out feeling quite cheated that he had taken wazungu down to the river for a price he would usually charge locals. He tried to add another US$5 to our bill, and asked for more petrol money, claiming he didn’t know how far it was to the river! We refused to pay, but in the end we gave him an extra US$1 to keep the peace.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009