13 October 2011

Crossing the Mozambiquen border was far easier than we expected.  It took about an hour and a half but only because we were lucky enough to arrive just after a bakkie full of people.  After escaping any customs inspections we climed unto a beautiful unexpected tarmac road.  It was short lived as about 2km in it ended abruptly in a dead end..we had missed the gravel turn-off about 200m earlier.

We drove on reasonable quality gravel roads to Pangane on the North coast of Mozambique.  This place was very far from anywhere and we gathered that the locals didn’t see a whole lot of tourists.  The campsite was at the tip of a peninsula and we had the place to ourselves.  A local came to sell us some fish but it was almost as expensive as I&J and we opted for steak that night (Tan Lil’s treat).  Funny enough we fell asleep to the locals boogying the night away on proper contemporary English music.  Suddenly we didn’t feel so much in the middle of nowhere anymore…


The next day we had breakfast and were literally chased away by the sun when it made its appearance.  We were heading for Pemba, but as we found out in the following few days, everything in northernMozambiqueis approximately 500km apart.  We got there late that afternoon and stopped at a place called Nacole Jardim.  The people working at this lodge mostly come from SA and it gave us the first taste of home in a few months.  Most of the people staying at the lodge was also South African and it had a certain charm to watch a worldcup semifinal rugby game with a bunch of South African’s drinking beer.  The place had some of the best facilities we had seen in a few months.. great bar, beautiful sunsets and their campsites had some very nice personal touches.  Our only complaint would be the lack of shade for the vehicles but unless they can grow instant trees, we understand. 


After Pemba Oom Nick and Tan Lil needed to start heading home fast to be able to get there by the end of October.  We decided to go to Ilha do Mozambique(another 500km below Pemba) before our ways would split.  The island of Ilha do Mozambique was the site where the earliest European battles inAfricatook place.  It has been occupied by the Portuguese since 1499 when Vasco de Gama first set foot there but a number of European nations have tried to take it for themselves.  Among these were the French, the Arabs, the Turks and the Dutch which manage to demolish everything on the island except for Fort Sao Sebastiao at the northern end and the Church of Senhora Saude at the southern end of the island.  The Church was constructed in 1522 and is the oldest standing European building in Africa.  Somewhat unexpectedly if you consider the lack of maintenance on most Mozambican roads, the island is connected to the mainland by a 1,5km single lane bridge which was in great condition. 


It was a long drive there given that we only left Pemba at around 10h00 that morning on account that we needed to exchange some money and we had to take out 3rd party insurance.  We arrived at the bridge at around 17h00 that evening and was planning to camp at a campsite just before crossing to Ilha.  When we dragged our tired bodies out of the cruisers though the guys at the campsite wanted way too much for no showers and crappy toilets to even consider staying there.  It was a dark moment as the nearest alternative was about 60km back!  Tan Lil suggested that we drive to Ilha then and there instead of driving all the way back the next day, and what a great plan it turned out to be.  The 2km long, 600m wide island was covered in old buildings and alleyways.  Most of the over 7000 residents lived in houses that was build in the middle of the island below sea level (we think).  The houses looked like something out of the mid-evil slums whilst the old Portuguese buildings were statuesque and beautiful in the low light of dusk.  We were hungry and tired and it didn’t take much convincing when we spotted the first restaurant.  The food was amazing and really cheap considering the size of the plate.  Oom Nick and Marius had lobsters (800g each) and Tan Lil and I the sera (fish)…it was great!  After dinner we looked for a place to stay (unfortunately there was no campsites) and found a very cute place called Patios de los Quintalinhos.  You walk through a door expecting a small room but find a courtyard with a full-sized palm tree, a lounge and six rooms.  The décor was very well done, I felt like I was somewhere in my idea of the Mediterranean.

The next day we took a proper tour of the island and although I don’t know what most of the places or statues are called, I include them anyway.  The fort was huge and we could see why the Dutch couldn’t get in…We tried to take a picture of the church but the glorified gardener acted like an idiot and refused to even let us take a  picture from outside. 


Marius and I decided to rather continue with his parents as there was really nothing more we wanted to see in northern Mozambique.  The next three days we basically drove from sunrise to sunset turning into zombies more and more as each day passed.  The only somewhat interesting event occurred whilst bush camping close to Alto Molocue.  After finding a suitably semi-uninhabited area, we set up camp for the night.  A few minutes later we found that we were not as alone as we thought and along came a number of locals.  They were cautious at first but finally a lady, closely followed by a crowd of children, came to speak to us.  Between broken Portuguese and hand signals we told her that we wanted to stay there for the night and she complied (with a slight incentive that we thought was appropriate).  We slept well and woke up early to get back on the road.  A few locals suddenly materialised, one of them on a motorbike.  Although I wasn’t quite awake, I could make out that these guys thought we owed them a little something for the nights’ accommodation.  After the lady from the previous day pitched up and told us that everything was ok and that the area didn’t belong to these guys we drove off without a second thought.  When we got to the road we found out that these guys didn’t have that much faith in their persuasion skills as well and had therefore gone and chopped down a tree to block the road.  Like a cunning little fox, Mr Motorbike was watching us from the other side of the roadblock.  This was sooo unnecessary 5am in the morning!  Oom Nick quickly found a fatal flaw in their master plan and found a way around the roadblock by driving over some small trees.  We stopped the little bugger a few kilometres on but he was so disappointed in his failed attempt that he could give us any explanation for their ridiculous behaviour.  It was strange to find that the countries we expected this behaviour from had nothing more than friendly, helpful locals whilst this type of stuff in Mozambique didn’t even come to mind. 

We finally reached Inhasorro on day three and were met by much higher accommodation rates than we had been use to for a while.  Even buying dinner at the local restaurant was unreasonable expensive…an omelette cost around R60!  Oom Nick and Tan Lil left the next morning (heading back to SA) somewhere around 4AM and we slept like babies until about 9AM.    

We are now slowly making our way from one coast town to the next.  We just came from Vilanculos which was even more expensive than Inhassoro…we can see that we are approaching SA!  It’s a town with a great location, but lets just say that we were glad it wasn’t the SA school holidays. 

From a rather disappointing and expensive Vilanculos, we drove a whole 50 km to Morrangulo, a small area mostly visited for the great diving in the area.  We didn’t do any diving as I had enough of the water and instead opted to spend two lazy days under the beautiful shaded campsite.  The beach was just a few metres away and was quite a sight.  A friendly chap called Jerry came to offer us some fish and after some minor negotiation we bought part of a kingfish for a reasonable price.  The cool thing of this particular kingfish was that its other half was digesting somewhere in the stomach of one of the resident sharks in the area.  When you looked closely you could even see the rows of teeth on parts of what was left of the poor fish.  We put the fish on the braai and even the somewhat large amount of sand that we chewed could take away from the fact that we had shared our dinner with a shark…


After Morrungulo we drove down to Paindane where you are required to deflate your tyres to 1 bar just to get to the campsite.  The place we stayed was located on a dune of very thick sand and Marius and his Cruiser (still at tar road pressure because we were too lazy to deflate the tyres) ate their hearts out.  I do believe that if the Cruiser was human, he would be a surfer…  We went for a walk on the beach and I could finally recognize our SA beaches in the smell of the sea and the feel of the sand.  He made me climb a dune on a secluded part of the beach and just before I completely collapsed and tumbled to below I saw the great view.  We only stayed for one night and hurried along to our next beach location. 

Our second bad experience in Mozambique happened on the way to a campsite 40km north of Xai Xai.  After turning off the main road to get to the campsite some idiot local threw us with a bottle from the side. It crashed into the bonnet of the Cruiser (off course just above the PLASTIC protector) leaving a number of large chips.  We tried to find the little coward that ran into the bushes but he was hiding like the rat he was.  It was now clear that we should have worried about Mozambique more than any other African country we visited.  I can’t help but wonder if most of what people describe as deep, dark Africa isn’t concentrated in the South….

From Xai Xai we decided to push on to the border.  The Cruiser was in dire need of a good tyre balance (could only manage 60km/h) and to tell the truth I think we both had enough of Mozambique.  We crossed the border without any anticipated confiscations and drove into SA.  It felt good to see motorists in cars that you knew spoke your language, understood your gestures and in general shared your way of thinking.  I was glad and proud to be home.  Driving from Komatiepoort you didn’t see small groups of banana trees huddled in front of some hut or wild paw paw trees growing by the side of the road, you see banana plantations in perfectly straight rows as far as your eye can see.  This is followed by rows and rows of paw paw trees, pumpkins scrubs and fields of alfalfa.  If I didn’t know any better I would have guessed we had just entered a pretty figured out first world country…..well…..

From Komatiepoort we made a quick stop in Sabie and then headed for Pretoria.  We got home just in time for my birthday and both me and my parents were delighted.  Its a strange feeling coming home from such a trip.  In some instances it feels like ages ago we drove in Namibia or Zambia and in other instances it feels just like yesterday that you saw the streets of Gauteng.  Tan Lil described it the best….”it feels like a dream that has ended”.  I think that I can only really now take a step back and see what an amazing trip that it was.  When you are in Kalacha you don’t stop and appreciate the fact that you are in such a vast and remote place and so too for all the other places.  It’s like you are in recording mode, constantly taking in the sights, smells and events and you cannot rewind and marvel at how amazing everything you just went through was.  I now have the pleasure of replaying every inch of this trip for the rest of my life and I cannot express how grateful I am for this experience.  There were ups and downs (no, I’m not talking about the boat rides..) but as the cliché saying goes, “it is the downs that you remember because you got through it and came out the other side a little more alive than you were before.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has the privilege to do something like this.  And as a last word, do document your trip on a website, it helps you remember all those little details that you might lose over time. 

Asante sana, kwaheri!

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