Kingsley Holgate and his team have been travelling up and down Africa’s east coast for the African Rainbow Expedition’s “One Net, One Life” campaign, distributing mosquito nets to the people worst hit by malaria. Leisure Wheels joined the expedition on the Zambezi River in Mozambique
Text: Ian Tonkin Photography: Rob Till
Life’s a great adventure!” These words by Kingsley Holgate sum up the experience of four South African motoring journalists who joined the African Rainbow Expedition team on a 5-day trip down the Zambezi River.
The initial journey to Tete in Mozambique, where we were scheduled to meet Kingsley and his team, brought with it a number of challenges. Confusion over our luggage meant we were slightly late for our charter flight to Tete, but then again it’s not called African time for nothing…
The errant baggage was eventually found and the journalists and Land Rover personnel headed out for the rendezvous.
On hand to meet us at Tete Airport were Kingsley, his wife Gill, their son Ross, the crew and the Land Rover Defenders. From behind his long grey beard, Kingsley boomed: “Welcome! Lovely to have you, and we promise you a great adventure. Adventure plays a major role in the ‘One Net, One Life’ campaign against malaria.”
Our first stop was the mayor’s office. The trip there was done in record time because of the lack of traffic – and a police escort leading the convoy! In a simple yet memorable ceremony, the mayor signed the Scroll of Goodwill for malaria prevention containing messages from people encountered along the way.
Kingsley had dubbed us the “Malaria Warrior Volunteers”. Our task was to assist in the handing over of mosquito nets to pregnant women and mothers with children under five years.
The first net drop took place at the old Boroma Mission on the banks of the Zambezi. This mission station is a remarkable building in Portuguese colonial style. Despite its state of disrepair, it has lost none of its charm.
We were greeted by a large crowd. There was much song and dance and the village elders added their messages to the Scroll of Goodwill. The language barrier was overcome by using a Portuguese-speaking interpreter, a Mr Muchanga. Kingsley demonstrated and Mr Muchanga explained how the nets should be used.
Boroma Mission was a special experience as we helped distribute the nets. We were touched by the people’s joy and gratitude.
Then it was time to continue down the mighty Zambezi. Kingsley told us that the 2700km river is Africa’s fourth-largest river system. It traverses six countries – Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – before reaching the sea.
The party was split into two for the next stage of the journey. Our group was to travel in the Land Rovers while the other group continued in the two rubber ducks. The overland group had to take a slight detour as there were no roads along the northern bank.
The two Defenders were supplied by sponsor Land Rover South Africa, and handled the rough conditions admirably. The Defender 130 was affectionately nicknamed “Big Green” and the Defender 110 “Little Green”.
Big Green was equipped with an aluminium roof-rack, twin spare-wheel covers and a steel-framed canopy. Little Green also had all the necessary 4×4 accessories and was the faithful workhorse on this expedition.
These two vehicles, plus another Defender owned by Marc Lurie of Motorola, not only carried all the equipment, including luggage, tents, water and diesel, but also the people, and that over some testing terrain, but the task was no problem for the Defenders.
As the sun set on another day, the Land Rover party found a clearing for road workers to be a suitable camping site.
The boat party, meanwhile, camped on Ilha de Mozambique in the middle of the Zambezi, not to be confused with the Mozambique island off the coast with the same name.
All along the river, Kingsley and the boat party stopped at remote villages and handed out mosquito nets. This is only the first step in the programme. Data relevant to each “drop”, such as GPS location and the number of nets issued, is recorded and passed on to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – one of the sponsors of the campaign. The next phase of the project will be to establish the number of nets that are in fact being used.
Next morning the Land Rover party set off on the dirt roads to Ancuaze, having to negotiate some sections totally washed away by the summer rains.
These villages are hundreds of kilometres from even the most basic services, and the inhabitants survive on what nature provides. We were left in no doubt that something as simple as a mosquito net would have a very positive effect on their lives.
The civil war in Mozambique has taken its toll on the infrastructure. A railway line running parallel to the road was in a state of disrepair. We stopped to look at the remains of the railway bridge. An astonishing and sad sight was an old locomotive lying in the dry river bed – just a heap of twisted metal.
At a fork in the road our interpreter, Babo, got directions from a friendly boy who smilingly posed for photographs, and we continued on a footpath that leads to Bandar. When we finally made radio contact with the boat party, they were near the town of Ancuaze, which we had passed through some two hours back. One of the young volunteers on Kingsley’s expedition had to climb a guava tree to make radio contact.
After making our way back to Ancuaze, we eventually met up with the boat party. Many onlookers were there to greet us. Big Green, Little Green and the other Defender stayed on the north bank and we were ferried across the Zambezi to a great campsite and some “Rhenoster koffie” – hot coffee with a liberal dash of Captain Morgan rum!
The next day we were up bright and early in anticipation of another net drop in the village where we had parked the vehicles for the night. Before setting off, however, we had a very quick wash in the Zambezi – not because of time constraints but because we had seen about 10 crocodiles near our campsite the night before!
The net drop was a moving experience as the women of the village sang for us without any instrumental backing. Not to be outdone, Kingsley did a traditional dance as they sang, which prompted a loud “le-le-le-le-le” from one of the women.
Then the expedition team split up again. This time it was our group’s turn to take to the river.
The trip was unforgettable – not for the faint-hearted! As we rounded the first bend we were greeted by a pod of hippos wallowing in the water. There was also an abundance of fish eagles, their characteristic call filling the air.
A flock of African skimmers put on a show for us. Gill described them as “the ballerinas of the sky” as they swooped down and dipped their lower beaks into the water to scoop up insects.
Just before sunset, we made radio contact with the Land Rover party, who had reached the Dona Anna Bridge. The 3,7km bridge is the longest railway bridge in Africa and connects the towns of Mutarara and Villa de Sena across the Zambezi.
As there was no road, the river party left the boats under the bridge for the night and walked a short distance through the dense reeds to join their colleagues. We had to walk through one particularly stagnant, foul-smelling pool. Waiting for us was the biggest swarm of mosquitoes ever seen –- or heard. Clothing was no defence – they bit us through our shirts!
The discomfort was compensated for to a large extent by the sight of thousands of fireflies glowing in the dark – a truly remarkable spectacle.
Some of us felt this was the time for a cold beverage, so the entire party made for a rundown bar in Villa de Sena. A young Kenyan who has joined Kingsley’s adventure played his guitar, and soon a substantial crowd of youngsters had gathered round for a fun evening.
Relaxation over, it was time to find a campsite for the night. We all got into the Defenders and drove a short distance down the road. Kingsley was leading the convoy in Big Green and decided that a reed-fenced local market would suffice. After getting permission from the village elders, we set up camp for our final night on the African Rainbow Expedition.
Sitting round the campfire, Ross told us it was a tradition that on the last night Kingsley would ask: “Do you remember…?”
From that characteristic mass of facial hair, we heard: “Do you remember when you arrived at the Boroma Mission? Do you remember seeing all the mothers and pregnant women?
“Do you remember crossing the longest railway bridge in Africa, the Dona Anna?”
It was pleasant to recall all the events of the past five days and the adventures we had shared along the way. Kingsley is certainly a great storyteller and is passionate about the continent he calls home.
“Life’s a great adventure!” was Kingsley’s message, and the time spent on the “One Net, One Life” campaign was certainly a great adventure for all of us.
Sadly, we had to make our way back to Beira Airport and leave the African Rainbow Expedition.
Go well, Kingsley, and “Munto Obrigado”.