Aug 27 2010

Mozambique – diary 2010-08-01 to 2010-08-21

2010-08-01 to 2010-08-21

We left Masasi in Tanzania at 7:30am after a good night’s sleeps and a wholesome breakfast. The road was going to be long and hard and we wanted to get an early start in the hope of reaching Pemba on the Mozambique coastline before the end of the day. Unity Bridge, a brand new bridge joining Tanzania and Mozambique was officially open and that was precisely where we were headed for. The road in Tanzania as superb; we could hear the purr of the BF Goodrich tyres on the smooth tarmac which made the 1st hours driving magical. Customs and immigration was efficient and we had been processed in a matter of minutes. We drove over the tusk adorned bridge and arrived on the Mozambique side and entered their shiny new offices. The immigration officer didn’t bother asking us for a visa as we were travelling on our South African passports which surprised us as we had received news that the Mozambique visa was now costing South Africans R575. We paid nothing. They signed and stamped our carnet and after a brief search of the vehicles we were o our way. The road was tarred for about 10 kilometres and then suddenly stopped; it came to a dead end and we had to search for the road. It was 500 meters back and so we navigated our way to the red dirt track and started our 350km journey to paradise. The landscapes were beautiful with the mighty, leafless Baobab trees forming the backdrop our scenic route. The roadside settlements bore an uncanny resemblance to those of the Angolan villages we passed through 4 months previously where houses were made from reeds and thatched with palm fronds. The Mozambique people waved, making us feel welcome in their country.

The road challenged us with thick soft sand that clung to every conceivable part of the car, making its way in through any nook and cranny. The dashboard gave off a glow of red dust in the sunlight and our skin felt grimy and dusty. The going was tedious and slow with an unsung wish for beautiful tarmac and our destination to appear before us but alas the GPS was our reality check. Our predicted time of arrival was 9:30pm which at 3:00pm was enough to make any person feel despondent. We persevered and our spirits were renewed when we reached a brand new tar road where it was supposed to be gravel. We gained some time and relished in the dust free road that lay ahead but this was unfortunately not to be the case for the remainder of the journey. When we reached the intersection at Montepuez; what was supposed to be tarmac was nothing but potholed blacktop where we had to reduce our speed and negotiate the obstacles with care. As we progressed further the holes appeared to have been filled to a certain decree and we were able to drive over them without feeling that spine rattling thud every time we hit a bad hole.

Our spirits were lifted yet again when we reached Metuge where we were treated to an amazing road for the last 120km. The sun had set at 6:15pm and we arrived at Russell’s Place in Pemba just after 8pm. I was fortunate to be driving Mvubu, our trusty Land Cruiser that has a comfortable suspension; Kirk on the other hand was driving Kobe, a bone shaking hard suspension vehicle. I was absolutely shattered so I could only imagine how poor Kirk must have been feeling. He confirmed my suspicions. He was aching in every conceivable place and promised me that the worst was now over and that 12 hour driving days were a thing of the past. My relief was overwhelming.

Pemba was a little gem. It surprised all of us in that we were expecting a rural seaside location with nothing to offer in terms of food or supplies. We were wrong on all accounts. It was a bustling little town that had everything we could ever need. The seaside apartments were traditionally colonial and well preserved offering a little bit of insight as to what Pemba would have been like in the 60’s. The traditional African charm in terms of rubbish and informal market settings filled every other available space.

We had arranged to meet up with Kristina and Andrew, a couple we had met in Ghana, at Russell’s Place. We had not seen them since Libreville, Gabon and were excited to catch up and share tales of the past 3 months. After a good dinner and well deserved beer we set off in our vehicles to bushcamp 10 km south of the town. It was a gorgeous spot and with fatigue clasping us tightly in its jaws, we retired to bed and enjoyed a sound sleep.

The sunrise was spectacular the following morning with an array of colours splashing themselves across the illuminated sky. The turquoise ocean was the picture of brilliance and we enjoyed our first relaxing morning cup of coffee in a long time.

We headed into town to sort our insurance and foreign exchange as well as a few food essentials. We decided to have a crayfish braai that evening and visited the local fishmonger who had 2 huge crays, each weighing 1kg each. We made our way back to Russell’s place where we checked our e-mails, enjoyed some lunch and awaited the arrival of Stephanie and Riaan, a couple we had met in Nairobi, Kenya. With everyone in tow, we headed to our bushcamp where we proceeded to prepare the fire for the evenings feast and relax overlooking the Indian Ocean. The fillet steak was prepared and as a final preparation for the crashfish, Andrew was sent to wash them in the sea. Upon doing so one of the monsters was washed out of the container never to be found again. We were all out in force scouring the shoreline in search of our dinner but to no avail, he was long gone and soon to be the feast for many other sea faring creatures. We did however enjoy the one that remained and gorged ourselves on fillet steak, crayfish tail, salads and savoury rice.

The tide subsided quite significantly that night and at midnight we found ourselves exploring the rocky shores observing the nocturnal sea creatures that provided much entertainment. The number of sea cucumbers and nudibranchs in the little pools was impressive and we even spotted a baby moray eel and a peppered eel.

The weather the following morning was grim with a strong onshore wind blowing and thick grey clouds threatening over head. The boys all headed into town to sort our car maintenance; Kobe’s front differentials were not engaging and in order for us to discover off the beaten track destinations it was imperative to have them seen to to avoid the winch on Mvubu working over time. I took the opportunity to relax with a book which seemed to be the days to follow routine as well. The sun did grace us with its presence in the days to follow and all 3 girls were looking rather tanned and sun touched at the end of the 3 days we were camped just south of Pemba.

The plan was to drive south along the coast for as much of the time as possible, so with copious amounts of route planning and enquiring from the locals we set our noses south and headed along the road less travelled. The main obstacle that had the large majority of our concerns was the Rio Lurio. The track on Tracks for Africa said that this route was within our capabilities but at ones own risk. Being the dry season we figured t was worth a try and we were happy with our decision when we reached the last village before the sandy banks of the river. We had about 15 local guys eager to help us with the crossing but this was unnecessary as sand was coarse and allowed us to cross with ease. All 4 vehicles made it through without a problem and my first experience of proper off roading was exhilarating and had Christina, who had decided to ride with me all day, and me in high spirits with whooping and clapping for joy when we crossed the main channel. The rest of the road was dusty gravel and the decision to bush camp 13km outside of Nacala was made 20 minutes before sunset. A beef stew was prepared and thoroughly enjoyed after an exciting day of driving. Bush showers were imperative as the dust had once again coated every inch of our bodies as well as everything in the car. Sleep came easily although it was disturbed by creepy cretins that we suspected to be mice as Riaan and Stephanie noticed the following morning that one had found its way into their Land Cruiser and had feasted on their potatoes.

The following morning saw a short drive to Nacala, a Peninsular that is renowned for its diving and pretty white coral sand beaches. The bay at Fernao Veloso was the epitome of what one would expect a paradise beach to look like. The sea was crystal clear and consisted of various shades of sapphire, indigo, turquoise and azure. It was spectacular and we were eager to find ourselves a suitable bushcamp along the coast so that we could enjoy every possible moment of this luxury. We quickly stopped to buy some squid for dinner and a few curios before setting off along the coast where we found a very generous Senegalese man who owned some prime property 2 coves south of Fernao Veloso. We set up camp right under a giant Baobab tree and spent the afternoon snorkelling and swimming and ended the fine day with a delicious meal that was of restaurant standards.  

The temptation to stay one more day at paradise was a mutual feeling and so without much debate we set off to find another snorkelling haven where the visibility was excellent and we saw wonderful sea creatures. The weather was slightly overcast so after a good hour of snorkelling we were chilled to the bone and decided that we were in desperate need of a warming coffee. That evening was our last night in Nacala and we had thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The location was superb and we had feasted like kings fo next to nothing. Our next stop was Ilha de Mozambique.

We wanted to get an early start in order for us to get to Ilha de Mozambique relatively early so that we could spend the entire day exploring the old capital of the Portuguese East Africa. The drive in took us over a 3½ km bridge that was a challenge for any driver. It was wide enough to fit only one vehicle and to make it more challenging, the road maintenance that was taking place meant that huge oil drums had been placed on either side of the already narrow bridge to force cars to drive slowly. Squeezing Mvubu through the narrow spaces was interesting! At the other end of the bridge lay a town that was occupied by decaying pastel coloured colonial mansions that rubbed shoulders with the traditional reed huts amongst the palm trees on this tiny island of Mozambique. It has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site which usually results in massive tourist prices and precocious local people but we were pleasantly surprised. The local people continued as they would normally live and we were not hassled by any touts that so usually come hand in hand with such attractions. We submerged ourselves into the island and dreamt about what it must have been like in its heyday with the hustle and bustle of trading and the colonial building in their prime. The children were delightful. They all loved having their photographs taken and would squeal with delight when they were shown the picture on the playback screen on the camera. We felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlet at one stage with a string of children following us to interact with the tourists and have their picture taken. It was a delightful experience that took us to lunchtime. We enjoyed a cold drink and light lunch at a little cafe’ that occupied one of the renovated colonial mansions. Next on our agenda was to find suitable accommodation for the night. We knew there was not camping facilities on the island itself but we thought we would chance it and see if perhaps one of the guest houses or restaurants would allow us to camp in their driveway or front garden but this was to no avail, either the space wasn’t large enough to fit 4 vehicles in or the entrance was too low. We were in a pickle and were desperate to find somewhere as we really wanted to enjoy the night atmosphere the island had to offer and didn’t want to drive across that daunting 3.5km bridge. As a last resort we went to see the curator of the museums on the island. He told us that we were allowed to camp anywhere on the island and so with that news picked our spot right next to the islands main feature, the Fort of Sao Sebastian, where a nice grassy spot provided us with ample space to park for the evening. We enjoyed a seafood feat that evening at one of the restaurants where traditional Mozambique cuisine was served to us by a delightful waitress. In an idyllic setting.

We were woken the following morning by a motor bike that drove past us at least 4 times. I suppose they had never seen tourist pitch a tent right outside the main fort before and of course we provide great entertainment for them. We packed up when the guards changed shift and made our way to the southern part of the island passing the white washed Church of Santo Antonio overlooking the turquoise seas and fishing boats. We walked across the sand bank to a smaller fort that was separate from the main island. The rocky pools surrounding the fort were full of amazing sea creatures and had us busy for over an hour exploring this sensitive ecosystem. The fort itself was beautiful and amazingly sound. The rusty old cannons were still perched on the top of the fort and we afforded beautiful views right across the island.

We needed to head south again and so left Ilha de Mozambique and made our way to Angoche where we camped right on top of a sand dune overlooking the dark blue Indian Ocean. After a quick bath in the sea and rinse off with fresh water we were ready to settle down for the evening. We enjoyed a braai and started to watch a movie but had to stop mid way as the wind had picked up quite severely and was relentless. We all scurried into our tents to hide from the sand that was coming from all directions. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night; the car was rocking to and fro and the tents fly sheet was flapping wildly. How it managed to stay in one piece is beyond me but at 4am the following morning we were ready to pack it all in. As soon as the sun came over the horizon we were  out of the tent, trying to remove the huge amount of sand that had found its way through the mosquito mesh but this all proved futile. The sand we removed was replaced by more sand blowing in. We made a hasty retreat to the square in Angoche where we opened up the tent again and tried to remove the beach that had made its home in our tent. Everyone was tired and we faced a long day of driving. Our desire to get to Vilankulos was growing stronger and stronger each day and the next 3 days saw us doing just that. The beauty of Mozambique is that the locals are so friendly that bush camping is a feasible option and we saw ourselves doing this most nights. We were woken each morning by the inquisitive villagers who game to wish us a good morning and see how we live. One particular encounter with these kind people made my heart drop…we had pulled off the road along a side track to find a suitable bush camp which was easily done. Whilst setting up camp, 3 gentlemen who had seen us go off the main track came to visit us. They thought we were working for a mining company and wanted to be the first in line to get jobs that may be available. This really blew us all away and we were amazed at their eagerness to find work to improve their quality of life rather than just ask for money. The feeling of helplessness filled me as I would have loved to have been in a position where I could have offered these men the jobs that they were so eager to find.

We arrived in Vilankulos on the 14th August and were welcomed into the Baobab camp by Henk, Maureen, Borris and Rene, travellers we had met in West Africa. It was great to see them all again and we enjoyed a wonderful fish braai that went on into the wee hours of the morning. Vilankulos was certainly very different to Northern Mozambique. It was very commercial in comparison and their pricing is definitely aimed at the European traveller who has plenty of money to spend. Diving was out of the question as it was way over $100 for a dive and so we settled for a Dhow trip, with Dolphin Dhow, to the Bazaruto Archipelago. The weather was gorgeous and the clarity of the water meant that we would be able to snorkel and see loads of colourful fish and sea creatures. The island was paradise, white squeaky clean sand that was unspoilt and unpopulated. The water temperature was freezing and after an hour of snorkelling we decided to pack it in to prevent hyperthermia and instead basked in the sun to warm our very cold bodies. Lunch was a seafood feast of calamari, crab and salads which was prepared by the boatmen. The afternoon was spent frolicking in the shallow water and soaking up as much of the island sun as possible.

When we left Vilankulos it became common territory for Kirk and me. We had ventured into the southern parts of Mozambique before and a sense of ‘home’ was becoming stronger and stronger. Inhambane was a lovely spot to spend a morning where we lounged on the sun loungers at Bara lodge that overlooked a large stretch of white beach sand and an ocean full of traditional fishing dhows. Xai Xai was next on the itinerary where Kirk has a house in a development. Unfortunately the house is incomplete so the desire to stay in the comfort of a home for a week or so was not to be. The purpose of our visit was to establish just how much work needed to be done in order for the house to become fit for human habitation and we were prepared to camp at the base of the dune if we had to. Luckily, the managers of the development were kind enough to put us up in a lovely 6 sleeper cottage for 2 nights.

The further south we ventured, the colder and windier it became. Our final stop before entering South Africa was Ponta d’ Oura, a familiar place for both Kirk and me as we had been to this part of Mozambique numerous times before. The rustic old town is no longer there, it is now a bustling tourist haven that charges everything in South African Rands. The prices are inflated and it really detracted from being in Mozambique. None the less, it is still a beautiful part of Africa with crystal clear waters, white coral sand and exceptionally hospitable people. We arranged to do 2 dives with Phambuka, a local dive charter company owned by Mike and his wife Leanne. The first dive was a good reintroduction into the diving world. It took a while for me to become familiar with the skills and rules of diving again but once Kirk had  refreshed my memory we where good to go on another dive the following morning. The wind had however blown all night and the conditions were ‘blustery’ with an enormous swell. The launch on the dive boat was eventful with Mike doing many loops in the bay before spotting a break between the swells and making a b- line for backline. The swells came out of nowhere and it was almost like being on an enormous rollercoaster ride. We made it out to doodles successfully and were in the water as quickly as possible to avoid sea sickness. The reef was teeming with shoals and shoals of reef fish, Potato Bass, Lion Fish, Turtles, Rays and one lucky diver even got a glimpse of a whale. It was spectacular. I was feeling a lot more comfortable in the water and after 50 minutes the DM called a time out as the swell was big on the surface and our lips were all resembling a shade of blue as the water temperature was quite chilly. We were back in the camp at 9am and were on the road by 11am. We were homeward bound and desperate to reach Westbrook before nightfall.

 Mozambique was one of my favourite countries. It is everything I love, sun, beach and sea along with all the activities that one can do on the rocky shore. The people were amazing and the food a treat. It was our 24th African country and a significant part of our travels as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on the anniversary of our 10 month of our African adventure. Our travels are far from over but we were desperate to pop into SA to visit our families, who we had not seen since April 2009, and drop off Kobe who had excelled for the duration of his trip through East Africa. Our trip resumes again on Monday the 30th August as we head north to explore Botswana and the southern parts of Namibia.

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