This past weekend, I went to meet up with one of my best Peace Corps friends in Quelimane. There was also a Peace Corps event in Quelimane over the weekend that was the National Science Fair. My plans were to have someone buy my bus ticket on Thursday, go into Chimoio after class on Thursday, stay up all night, and sleep on the bus that departed early (4AM Friday morning). My plan went about halfway smoothly. A friend bought my bus ticket on Thursday, I got into Chimoio Thursday night, and that’s where my plan went downhill. I should’ve known I would be able to stay up all night. At around midnight, I could barely keep my eyes open and decided to take a nap. I set my alarm for 4AM (because I had found out the bus really left at 5AM), and fell asleep.
Around 4:20, I got a call from Jamie, another volunteer that was also traveling to Quelimane for Science Fair. I was excited to have someone to travel with, so we made plans to meet up at 4:20 to walk to the paragem together. Whoops! I hurriedly got my stuff together and walked super fast to meet up with her. Just as I met up with her, I got a call from the bus driver saying that I needed to get to the paragem immediately because they were getting ready to leave. Of course the only time Mozambicans are ever early is when I’m running late. I told him I was coming, and Jamie and I picked up the rest of the science fair goers and booked it to the paragem.
Upon arriving at the paragem, we were greeted with a mini-bus to Quelimane piled with both people and other things to transport. I’m pretty sure there was at least 6-8 feet of additional baggage piled on top of the bus. In front of the mini-bus there was another almost full chapa. I was with about 8 other people for science fair, and they promptly told us that our group would be split up into two groups, one to go in the minibus and the other to go in the chapa. Me, being the lucky girl that I am, got immediately chosen for the chapa.
Let me quickly explain the difference to you: Minibuses are exactly that, small buses. They normally have one comfy seat then an aisle followed by two more comfy seats. In the aisle, there is one more seat that folds down (notably less comfortable than the other seats) and allows at least 6 more people to sit in the bus. Chapas, on the other hand, are more like minivans that at least 18 people are shoved in. There are normally 4 rows of seats. The back row is a bench that seats 3 people comfortably (and according to Mozambican law), but 4 people must sit in. The three rows of seats in front of this back bench include a half-bench and a fold down chair bench-extension thing. Four people also must sit across each of these rows. Finally, there are normally a few pieces of juttng out plastic behind the driver’s and passenger’s seat. There are normally 4 people sitting on this piece of plastic with their legs intertwined with the people sitting in the first row of benches, leaving zero personal space or room to breathe. There are also 2 people put in the front seat. And you can’t forget the cobrador that normally stands by the door, hunched over the second row of passengers.
Now….which sounds more comfortable to you?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. And I was pissed when I found out my friends had arranged an actual seat on the bus for me, but I had no proof and I didn’t want to be that white girl that was too good to sit on a chapa. So I sucked it up and got in the chapa. After an uneventful and very crowded trip to Inchope where the turnoff is located to go to the north, our chapa stopped. We were told we were going to wait there for another car that was pre-arranged to pick us up and continue to Quelimane. After for waiting about a half hour on the side of the road, people started to get angry and pretty vocal about their complaints. They decided since there were enough of us to fill a chapa, we might as well get in one and start on our journey north. Soon after, we all piled in the chapa (I luckily got in as one of the first people and didn’t have to sit in a fold down seat), and proceeded to wait at least another half hour for them to switch all of the things tied on the top of the chapa from one to the other. Throughout this long and drawn out process, our original “pre-arranged” ride showed up. It was the “maningue nice” bus from Beira to Quelimane. We had a discussion in the chapa about how we should get out and switch because it would be much more comfortable, only for our original cobrador to come over and tell us the maningue nice was full and we’d just have to go in the chapa. Outrage doesn’t even begin to cover it, because this dude took our money not even knowing that we would have been able to get to Quelimane. How irresponsible! What a jerk! Seriously.
So that’s how I was in the predicament where I ended up sitting in a chapa for 12 hours. At first, it was pretty miserable with my huge backpack on my lap, no air, and lack of sleep. At our first stop to go to the bathroom I rearranged my stuff, putting my backpack under the seat in front of me, and giving myself a much more comfortable rest of the ride.
After about 6 hours in the chapa, we arrived in Caia, Sofala. We all got out of the chapa, and people took off in different directions to find something to eat. I went with three other people that were on their way to science fair, and we found a little barraca that sold chicken and rice/xima to go. They decided that we had enough time to sit down and eat quickly. That’s about when I looked up and saw our chapa driving off. I immediately called it to their attention and they didn’t seem fazed. “It’ll come back,” they said. “It won’t just leave us.” I tried to play it cool, like the whole situation wasn’t putting me on the edge of an anxiety attack, but what I really wanted to do was run after the chapa and at least get my backpack (containing my laptop) out of it. We continued to sit at this barraca for at least another 15-20 minutes as my colleagues leisurely ate their lunch and I sat waiting in anxiety, not even eating my lunch because I’d lost my appetite. When they finished, I nonchalantly suggested that we should probably go find the chapa that abandoned us, and they all slowly agreed. After walking to the main road and looking around for a little while, my colleagues started to get worried, therefore causing me to be in full-out panic mode. One of my colleagues made some calls as we continued to wait around and wonder how the heck we were going to get our stuff back. About 5-10 minutes later, we looked down the road and saw the chapa coming towards us. I honestly don’t know what the heck they were doing during the time they disappeared, but I was so happy to see it at that point that it really didn’t matter what the heck happened. I got back into the chapa with an unbelievable sense of relief and feeling a lot cooler, since I used the break from the chapa to change into some athletic shorts instead of the jeans that I was wearing before.
About 4 hours later, we made our last chapa transfer with just a little over an hour to go. After about 30 minutes of transfer time, we headed out on our last leg. I was noticeably more comfortable since I was sitting by a window and could control the air temperature.
At around 5 pm, I rolled into the central market in Quelimane. After getting out of the chapa, immediately a man tried to reach into my purse and grab my phone. I caught him and gave him a nasty look/lecture about how he can’t steal from me. He reluctantly gave my phone back, and I got on a bike taxi and headed to meet my friend. I promptly got a beer and tried to forget the previous 12 hours.
Besides the rough time getting to Quelimane, the weekend was great! I got to see lots of PCVs that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it was really interesting to attend the science fair that I might be helping with next year. The trip home was much less eventful - in a good way. I hitchhiked back with another PCV that lives in Chimoio, and we scored a good ride with a Mozambican chefe (boss) all the way to Inchope. From there we got another ride to Chimoio, and I made the final leg of the trip by myself to Messica from Chimoio, arriving at about 4:30 pm. I spent today catching up on some sleep, grading tests that I gave last week, and preparing my lessons for the week.