0400: We pick up the two that I will, at some point further down the road, begin mentally referring to as 'our Brazilians'. Sleepy goodbyes and kisses and Pedro telling too-loud stories in the front seat. We drive away into the dark. Exhausted, I settle in for what I hope will be a full day of catching up on lost sleep.
Sunrise over the scrublands. I open bleary eyes just long enough to drink it in, to admire the fact that Jon's music provides a nearly-perfect soundtrack, to savor that familiar, cozy sentiment of car travel. Then I give in to exhaustion once more.
Silence, save for the road hum and the lilting of orchestral songs.
A car full of somnolent peace.
The 'good' road goes the way of all things.
We lose not one, but two tires. We crack out the capulanas and the boiled eggs and wait for help to come. We amuse ourselves by politely greeting all of the people who walk by, staring doubtfully at us, and by watching the group of men a few yards away debate whether or not to beat the ladrão they've caught this morning.
I take advantage the obliging bush toilet and admire the morning dew.
The car tries to roll away, but we soon put an end to that.
The kid who cycles past, bike laden with jerry cans, is the very embodiment of mistrust. I'm afraid that I lose my composure as his neck very nearly describes a 180-degree turn, keeping us well in view as he cycles past.
We are such novidades!
On the stretch between Muxungue and Rio Save, and the roads are the worst yet. Jon claims that the craters can be seen from outer space. This is hardly an exaggeration. All of the nappers awaken and clutch grimly at any available handholds and also the lunch sandwiches, of which we snatch bites between craters because there's nothing quite like the sensation of having your guts rattled out of you to generate a sudden and immediate hunger. Why, I don't know.
Dusk a few kilometers out from Maxixe. Full moon rising above the palm trees, wind-bent into 90-degree angles, and the red earth giving back a warm afterglow. Palm and grass-thatched villages built into the sides of the hills, and a sign announcing that we've just passed the Tropic of Capricorn. Yes, we've all been up since 0400, and yes, we've lost two tires and countless hours in the great African game called Sitting Beside the Road and Waiting for Someone's Filho to Appear (he never did, but some kind-hearted truckers stopped to give advice and counsel and prod the defective tires and provide an escort to the nearest repair yard). But moments like this - of warm light and graceful sunsets, of hills and red earth and a peace so strong you can nearly reach out the window and touch it - make the ordeal of road tripping worthwhile.
Pedro and Annie have never eaten xima before. Their innate good manners proclaim it 'pretty good'. Their expressions tell a slightly different story.
I savor my Somali chicken (a bit tough from sitting out all day in the restaurant's glass-fronted case) and a stout little coffee, and try to catch the eye of the credit sellers across the way (to avoid having to get up and go over there before digestion is complete), and contemplate, mildly, on the horror stories Eliseu has told me about Somali restaurant kitchens. Ah well. I've never had food poisoning before. It might be a useful experience, from a literary point of view. And anyway, Jariel prayed over the food and I'm fairly sure that bacteria doesn't stand a chance against that.
We missed the good bathroom, but we found an adventure.
The pathway to the bathroom was dark sketchy enough that I wouldn't have tried it on my own. But company emboldens me, and I have time to admire the stars hanging above the walls and the papaya trees as I await my turn.
Pedro says the moon looks like a poker face.
Carla, from inside, says, "Oh no! I forgot the toilet paper!"
And I comfort her that it's not too bad, as long as she doesn't have to poo.
Everyone else gets tired of waiting and goes away to find the good bathroom with the lighting and the running water, but without so many stars.
Pedro offers me a high five for sticking it out at the sketch bathroom, then as an afterthought, says, "I hope you washed your hands."
No worries. I did.
Southern constellations march by, an arching canopy picked out above the moon-soaked landscape of grassland and sleepy villages and the tall, fronded shadows of the palms.
Pedro's prodigious legs, sprawled across the seat where my own feet are curled. Annie and Jariel, snuggled up like sleeping kittens. Kyran sitting in silence. The companionable, night-time comfort of drowsy people in a small space.
Car sound: rushing of the road beneath our wheels. The shifts and creaking of springs, glass, and metal on the rough patches. Headlights of our fellow travelers flying past like overgrown fireflies. Air conditioner blows, we get cold. Air conditioner shuts off, we heat up again. Huddle of capulana and cramped legs and the glow of cell phone screens. Night travel.