Mozambique Part 1
22 August to 12 September 2005
At last the promise of warmer weather, sandy beaches, friendly chilled out people and the chance to relax. I have to say Blanca and I were really looking forward to Mozambique and were expecting something like Angola but with slightly better roads as the war finished here ten years ago.
Well border formalities went well until it came to the subject of insurance and road fund tax, Grommet had a valid insurance policy and was light enough not to require the tax, but the Germans with nine tonnes of Ifa and no insurance would need both and would have to negotiate! In fact two hours of negotiation later, Blanca acting as interpreter and mediator, the officials refused to budge, the law was the law, so the Germans had to pay the insurance and $100 for the first road tax instalment. The net result of all this debate was that Blanca and I had to negotiate Maputo an unknown city in the dark. It wasn’t long before we were parked at the side of the road facing the wrong way up a one way street in deep discussion with some traffic cops who were very keen for us to contribute the local police annual beer fund. Blanca (in Portuguese/Spanish) managed to convince the guy who stopped us to let us go (good cop) but unfortunately his boss (bad cop) had quite a thirst….. It’s a good thing beer here is cheep and we finally escaped after paying the equivalent of £6.
Eventually we found our way to Fatima’s Place backpackers on the oddly named Avenida Mao Tse Tung, not quite got the Portuguese/African ring to it that I was expecting, and managed to squeeze Grommet in.
Maputo is another transit town for travellers heading in or out of Mozambique and to be honest the only reason we were here was to renew Blanca’s passport. The Spanish apparently, unlike the British, Germans, French and quite possibly the rest of the world, are not extensive long term travellers, (despite their history) and are issued with a “supper thin” passport with only 26 usable pages. Thus ten months after leaving Spain, Blanca’s passport was full, visas, entry and exit stamps had taken their toll. So it was off to the Spanish Embassy for a new one, no problem, except for the fact that the replacement would only be valid for 3 months, or in extreme circumstances 6 months. The problem was most countries require a passport with a minimum of 6 months before they will issue a visa. We were beginning to consider the possibility of Blanca flying back to London to renew the passport there. With a lot of help from Lidia at the embassy, a lot of discussion, a letter explanation, we some how managed to convince Lidia’s boss to issue a passport valid for 8 months. Not the best but it is better than nothing and it gives us 3 months grace before we have to go through the whole process again……
After all this hassle with the passport we were keen to leave as quick as possible and move on, so we said farewell to the faded colonialism and eastern European architecture of Maputo and headed for the beach and Tofo.
We had been warned to watch out for corrupt Police speed checks along the way so I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when we were stopped just after Xai-Xai. I had been prepared and braked after the 80km sign to 60km, so after our paper work had been checked I was beckoned over to inspect the reading on the radar gun. These were obviously the Mozambique Comedy Police, the radar showed an indicated speed of 100.00km/h…..! Oh! how I wish that were possible on these African roads in a heavily laden Land Rover 101. A long discussion ensued, with the GPS for back up eventually we were told to leave and no fine paid. I guess they wanted to rig the machine for the next guy. It was quite incredible how many people we subsequently met (tourists) who had been stopped by the same police and had paid the fine, which at £30 a go adds up to a nice little top up to ones salary.
We arrived at Fatima’s Nest backpackers at Tofo in the dark and found Arthur and Swantje, the Germans already installed. Blanca had expected to park on the beach and was a little peeved to say the least that there was a line of chalets between us and a real sea view. As there was quite a strong off shore breeze and a few beach kids hustling I was actually quite relived of the shelter. At last hot sun, warm blue sea and clean white sand. Time to pack away those fleeces, get out the swimming costumes, hit the beach and get some rays. This area is also famous for its sea food and with large tiger prawns at £3 a kg and a bag of clams for £1, who could say no, cheaper than eating out! Tofo is also a great place to go diving but our budget wouldn’t quite stretch as far as a dive course so we had to make do with some snorkelling. Blanca and I decided to join an ocean safari that promised swimming with whale sharks, but the sea was much too rough to see anything apart from a few dolphins and a very surprised turtle and it wasn’t long before half of the people on our boat were looking green and hanging over the side “feeding” the fish. Blanca hung on to me for fear of her life as the boat rocked, rolled, bobbed and splashed and I think we were all a little relived when the boat arrived back at the beach.
Blanca vowed never to get in a small boat again.
The very next day the sea was much calmer and as we made our way to the village market I spotted a pod of hump back whales passing just off the beach. I grabbed my stuff and ran to join that day’s ocean safari. Somehow I couldn’t persuade Blanca to join me. I could tell this was going to be a good day when the pilot launched the boat of the top of a huge wave at full speed…….. Almost immediately we were joined by some dolphins anxious for some fun and urging the pilot to go faster. We arrived in open water and barely had chance to don our masks and fins before we spotted our first whale shark, a juvenile at around 5 to 6m. We swam with it for a few minutes before it slipped deeper in to the blue. We were hardly back on board before we were back in the sea with some fare sized manta rays, then there was a big shoal of king fish. Now this was more like it! Then the lookout spotted a medium sized whale shark. Here we go again, this shark was quite used to having “visitors” and was content to swim and feed near the surface surrounded by awe-struck divers struggling to keep up as it swam effortlessly on. I managed to stay with the shark for about half an hour before retuning to the boat, what an incredible experience……!!!!! With all this fun time had almost run out, we were heading back to the beach when a humped backed whale and calf surfaced 50m from the boat and stayed with us for a good ten minutes or so before continuing on its was. This was a real magic moment of the trip and it’s a pity Blanca missed it.
Mental note for the future get an under water camera.
It was time to leave Tofo and head up the coast to another beach at Vilankulo. The main road north is very African and is currently under re-construction. That is that there is a small strip of asphalt down the centre of the road with earth and sand on either side and of course everybody wants to stay on the small strip of asphalt. Try keeping your nerve when facing a huge American Freightliner truck travelling at speed trailing a vast cloud of dust. We had been the last to leave Fatima’s but it wasn’t long before we found the Germans at the side of the road with a rear tyre blown, well it had actually disintegrated! So we stopped to lend a hand to the amusement of a group of local children who had stopped to watch. Two hands make light work so we were soon back on our way and we left Arthur and Swantje to clean up. Just up the road we arrived at Massinga all appeared normal until I realised that the traffic cop had his gun drawn and ran of down the road, a large crowd was gathered and jittery cops were firing off automatic weapons in the air. Surprising to say we didn’t hang about to find out what was going on. But we did find out latter that the town was upset about the release of a local woman who abducted children and sold them for adoption and as organ donors.
We checked out the campsite at Vilankulo but at £14 per night in the off season was just a bit beyond our budget so we set up camp at Casa de Josef e Tina at the more affordable £3 per night, basic, a lot more friendly and just a stones through from the beach. Not just a beach but miles and miles of beautiful white sandy beach, brightly coloured dhows sailing by, azure sea, could this be the perfect beach that Blanca has been searching for? That evening we popped down the road for a bite to eat and bumped in to Brittney and Ben, an American couple we had met briefly at Tofo and were joined later by another couple Rachel and Jason who were VSO’s from Malawi.
One thing you quickly become aware of, is that every man and his dog here in Vilankulo has a dhow, has a relation with a dhow, knows someone with a dhow, or knows what a dhow looks like. So if you are new in town prepared to be hustled for the main attraction of the area, a dhow trip to the islands! We were all keen to do an island trip along with a bit of snorkelling at 2 mile reef and were fairly easy prey for Eric a local smooth talking hustler. Everything was arranged for an 8 o’clock start on Friday morning which allowed enough time for the Germans to arrive, Rachel and Jason to change camp sites and to arrange a pick nick for the beach.
The dhow trip was in true African style, the sail and ice for the cool box never materialised, the outboard motor was only just up to the job, Eric keen to make an extra buck had squeezed in an English couple who needed a lift out to the island and our captain and his mate were only just awake for the whole trip. Still I guess we shouldn’t really complain, at least the boat didn’t sink despite Rachel’s efforts, we finally made it to 2 mile reef were the snorkelling was simply superb and the pick nick on the island, paradise and all for a faire price. The day was great and if it wasn’t for the long boat ride, we would have liked to return and stay on the island for a few days.
Still you don’t have to suffer a long boat trip to the reef for great snorkelling as during the day the tide goes out so far, exposing an enormous sand bank, you get the impression that you could almost walk to the islands, along with some shallow channels. Where if you are lucky enough and the locals don’t get there first, you can see squid, parrot fish, puffer fish, sea cucumber and all manner of other exotic small fish, we even saw a large sea horse.
Like Tofo, Vilankulo is superb for sea food at a price that makes it so hard to resist, I think Brittney and Ben were quite impressed by the culinary skills of the overlanders as we all enjoyed barbequed king fish, beach fresh clams in white whine and of cause Swantje produced yet another superb apple crumble and custard for their fairwell dinner. I must say I’m going to miss the crumbles when they’ve gone.
Soon we were on our own again, the Germans had to get a move on and headed off for Malawi and on up to catch a ferry home from Israel at the end of November. Jason and Rachel were also going back to Malawi to sell their car before returning to England and Brittney and Ben, the Americans were also off to Malawi before Zambia, Victoria Falls and then back to the States to practice law. I don’t know about you but I would rather have a lawyer who knows what they are doing rather than just practicing……. I guess its just one of those legal things.
It’s hard to believe that we have driven half the way round Africa, through Nigeria, the Congos and Angola only to be robbed in Vilankulo in the “civilised” part of Africa. We awoke one morning to find some of our washing, our two camping chairs and our “washing machine” full of water and some clothes in soak, had disappeared despite the apparent efforts of the security guards. We of course reported this to the local police who were quite relaxed about the whole thing, I suppose tourists are an easy target and can afford the loss! But the following evening I awoke at 3pm to some shouts from 3 Australians camping nearby to discover that one of 3 thieves had entered their tent stealing money, passports, clothes, etc while they slept. Apparently a lot of Mozambicans go to the South African “Robbery School” which is also compounded by the fact that as in Europe, when the prisons are full they release the prisoners so they can start again……..!
It was time to move on, perfect beach or not, we couldn’t afford to lose anything else and I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable when ever we visited the village to shop, some of the local teenage kids seemed to be drunk/drugged and hostile waiting for any opportunity to turn to their advantage. A lot of people we met (tourists) had experienced some form of petty theft, which is a pity as most of the people we met were wonderful and very helpful and friendly. I suppose it’s the typical small element tainting it for the rest.
Just before we left Vilankulo we were joined by the Doiteau family from France, Eric, Catherine and their two children. They had also followed the west coast route down and were now on their way back up and home. We were all feeling a little concerned with the security situation and had been advised not to sleep in the bush so we headed off together. In fact our first night in the bush was quite uneventful and bandit free and was rather enjoyable especially the addition of a French twist to the evening’s meal followed by a rather fine calvados. I must say I do feel sorry for their children Elie and Manon who are 14 and 12 respectively, not only are they with their parents 24/7 but they also have to keep up with a fairly strict school curriculum which entails study from 6 o’clock every morning. The only thing that marred the night in the bush was that as we were leaving and I was reversing, I had a small altercation with a tree, breaking Blanca’s mirror, denting her door and my ego!
We parted company with the Doiteau family at the cross roads at Inchope, they were heading for the National park near by and we were heading for Zambia. We hope to meet up with them again maybe in Tanzania, as we know Africa is a small place.
As we passed through Chimoio, Blanca spotted a huge shop selling camping equipment along with a large variety of other things, as a result we now have replacement chairs and mirrors.
I had been expecting the Southern Mozambican roads to deteriorate the further we got from Maputo and was quite surprised by the quality even in the more remote areas up towards the border with Zambia at Cassacatiza, this meant that we could cover quite a bit of ground despite the efforts of the ever vigilant police who can spot a foreign registration at 1000m but are completely blind when it comes to a defective local vehicle.
Another amazing thing is the amount of trees, scrub and bush despite the efforts of the charcoal burners and the slash and burn farmers. It is such a pity that the wild life here is so timid and almost impossible to see in this vast wilderness.
As we were making very good progress we found a perfect spot away from the road, there wasn’t much traffic but better safe than sorry, and set up camp. We decided to spend a couple of days and avoid crossing the border in to Zambia on a Sunday and the inevitable stealth taxes! We were quite surprised not to have any visitors during the day and the locals who did pass did so very quickly indeed. All became apparent in the evening when one of the villagers plucked up the courage to come and have a chat. Apparently the villagers were scared of the white man with the mobile house camped in the bush……! This has to be a first, villagers frightened of us, we may not have had a shower for a few days but we can’t be that scary. Usually the locals ask us if we are not frightened sleeping in the bush with all the elephants, snakes and tigers! Yes I didn’t think tigers came from Africa either! May be it should be the Big Six with Africa’s elusive and never seen Tigers.
Next stop Lusaka, Zambia…
Road under construction
Road under construction
Road side assistance
All at sea
Snorkelling at 2 mile reef
Arthur and Swantje
Many hands make light work
Almost the perfect beach
Almost the perfect beach
Camping Casa de Josef e Tina
The Doiteau family
Our temporary chair
Watch for bandits
The new chair
What no natives!