After cycling thousands of kilometres around the world, Charlie Walker finally meets his match in the bush of Mozambique – a mouse
Two hundred miles of parched, brown bush was my first taste of Mozambique. At the border I’d been warned of lions in the area. The road dipped and bobbed across a hilly landscape punctuated by bulbous, freestanding rock formations. It was hot. The villages were few, far between, and very poor. Rude mud walls; grass thatch roofs; simple shapes roughly daubed on walls with a darker shade of mud. Maputo, the capital, is so far south that it’s effectively out of mind, as is the funding and aid that rarely reaches this far into the remote north-west.
My first night in the country was presided over by a clear sky housing an ebullient full moon. Faint but continuous drumming floated through the bush to my tent where I sought sleep and found sweat.
I breakfasted in the half-light cast by a setting moon and an approaching sun. By 8am the temperature soared and tedious headwinds heckled. I stopped at every water pump to top up. The women that didn’t run either eyed me suspiciously or laughed openly at me. Several times water was kindly pumped for me by women simultaneously breast-feeding.
Occasional mango trees, massive and fecund, were to be found in groves that locked in cooler air. Their dark shelter were as oases to me and I read and dozed through scorching afternoons; gorging on their unowned bounty.
In Tete, the temperature reached 46°C. The growing town sits on the Zambezi River and hosts many foreign mining companies extracting the country’s mineral wealth. Fiercely air-conditioned cars cruise the sweltering streets and little else moves in the middle of the day. The few people on the street crossed it to avoid me. I didn’t linger.
For three days the heat hovered in the mid-forties. I rose early and watched from the saddle as the wobbling, orange sun hefted itself above the horizon. The southerly wind licked with a dry, rasping tongue, mercilessly stealing any moisture on my body and in my mouth. Sweat evaporated instantly on departure from pores. My tyres’ friction on the simmering tarmac melted glue on past puncture repairs and I found myself wheeling Old Geoff into the shade for surgery on an almost hourly basis.
Few people spoke any English and I spoke no Portuguese so I was able to converse little. I saw few people anyway. The shadowy shapes of human figures in various attitudes of somnolent recline melded into the shade of roadside trees, seldom moving or noticing the abnormality pedalling by.
I had a time press to reach South Africa so forged on fast across mile after mile of uneventful bush. I dislike rushing. It goes against the ethos of this journey. When one rushes on a bicycle all there is to look forward to is food and sleep, and finishing rushing.
It was too hot and dry for mosquitoes so I slept in the open, enjoying the cooler night breezes. On the third night out of Tete the wind picked up. I lay down my sleeping bag on a patch of deeply-cracked mud and tried to sleep. A mouse had other ideas. It silently and repeatedly crept close to me before scuffling noisily around and scurrying away.
It was impossible to sleep with this distraction so I devoted half an hour to attempts of capture with a trap (cooking pan, twig and string) laid over biscuit crumbs. I’d cross the bridge of killing or hurling the mouse far away into the bush when I came to it. Thwarted, I gave up on hunting and resorted to erecting my tent. Once in the tent, I was hot and the mouse clamoured on.
The wind flapped the tent violently and soon snapped the pole – the pole that had survived three and a half years of regular use. So, defeated and exhausted, I struggled out of the sad ruins of tent and lay on top of them to prevent them being blown away. At this point the rain began. Utterly deflated, I wrapped myself in the remains of the tent and slept fitfully while the rain thoroughly soaked slowly though me. At least the mouse pissed off; probably into a warm, sheltered, dry hole in the ground.
Charlie Walker is a bicycle adventurer who is a quarter of the way through a four year, 40,000 mile cycle trip to the four corners of the Earth. He is hoping to raise £20,000 for a variety of charities. You can follow his exploits on his website, CharlieWalkerExplore.
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