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African Adventure Ten: Mozambique

You entered Mozambique from Zambia along a long, seldom driven road into Tete. From Tete you continued along rough patchy roads to Vilanculous, and then on to Tofo Beach for a few days scuba diving, and finally returned to South Africa.

Mozambique, Tete

The camp, being a tucked away in a little grove, had a few March flies buzzing about that morning. After Meike got at least five big bites you drove off toward Katete. You had some trouble finding a place to take a toilet brake; there just didn't seem to be anywhere beside the road to stop.

You filled the 4x4's tank in Katete and asked for directions to Mozambique. First heading in the wrong direction to check if bloke's directions were wrong, then taking a right at the intersection without any signs, you drove towards the boarder. Unfortunately there was no one selling fruit along the roadside so you kept your remaining Kwacha.

The boarder was quiet, and you were the first ones there at 11:20am. The officer was rostered to be on duty since 6am, so a subordinate gave him a ring for you. He turned up eventually and stamped his big stamp, and let you drive on to pass some truckies snoozing in the shade under their rigs on the way between boarders.

At the Mozambique boarder there were two guards sitting in the shade under a tree, armed but uninterested. You walked to the tiny immigration office and bought a visa for 30US$ - cheaper and faster than Meike's 40€ prearranged visa. The road insurance guy didn't have $2 change, and it seemed he was trying to make you too impatient to wait to earn a sneaky tip. While we waited, the immigration officer was struggling with a bloke who didn't seem to understand any known language. "Bonjour? Arrevaderchi? Hello?" You asked the police officer to poke the insurance dude, who didn't seem happy being forced to produce the change from his back pocket (which he had all along).

You went back to the car and waited by the gate for the guard to open it. He came to the car smiling (a little too much) and just looked at you, eventually asking for passports. While pointlessly examining the visas, he stepped back from the car and mumbled "money". You pretended not to understand (play dumb, be nice) until he clearly asked if you have any money. The persistent bugger kept going even after you informed him asking for money was illegal, to which he responded: "Nooo... I just want some maaaney". Meike's last cheery response (before threatening to call the police) was: "We would love you to raise the barrier so we can enjoy our holiday!" He begrudgingly gave up and opened the gate. You won!

Some mud and straw houses
Some mud and straw houses

The next stretch was nothing but bad roads and mud hut villages. You passed exactly six cars in next several hundred kilometers, a few FRELIMO and RENAMO political posters and hundreds of baobab trees. This was not the typical entry point into Mozambique.

Near Tete
Near Tete

Coming into Tete we crossed the one kilometer long Samora Machel suspension bridge over the Zambezi River. The bridge was a true miracle of engineering to still be standing, considering you could see the river through the potholes. The crossing fee was 1US$. Thank god you had change.

That evening you strolled around dusty, humid Tete. It was much like you'd imagine Cuba to be: somewhat economically broken, dirty but friendly. That night you did four loads of washing in the bathroom sink while Twilight aired on TV.

8962 km

Tete to Vilanculous

The road out of Tete was elevated and lined on both sides by slums and garbage. The baobab trees were scattered abundantly along the way, providing a little shade for people waiting for a lift. There were also quite a few bicycles with big hay bundles strapped on the back. It was all nice and simple, and everyone smiled.

Slums of garbage near Tete Baobab tree bus stop
Slums of garbage near Tete, and a baobab tree bus stop

The pineapple sellers where smiling too, practically acting as roadblocks as they stood in the middle of the road. Their aggressive sales tactic knew no fear, even when you drove 100km/h straight at them.

Apart from the intermittent new bits, the roads were THE WORST you've ever driven. Not only that, today you needed to cover 900km! One broken bridge was repaired by putting another temporary bridge over it, and whole day was spent dodging patches of road amongst the potholes.

Nice new road Village market
Nice new road, and a village market

At one military checkpoint bridge you were laughed at for trying to pay the toll - apparently no one did that anymore. The few times you had to pass petrol tankers were hair-raising: they didn't make space for overtaking because they were already driving beside the road, and you had to make a mad pothole dash to pass.

You arrived in Vilanculous and found the backpackers place. You set up camp below a huge baobab tree (these things are everywhere!) and headed for the bar where you met Edie - a slightly shifty bloke who offered boat tours.

Vilanculous camping ground
Vilanculous camping ground

Shower, couscous for dinner and sleepy time under the baobab tree.

9836 km

Cruise to sandbank

A sun-synced sleeping pattern has its advantages: you wake up with the sunrise for an early start, but you need to escape mosquitoes at night. You spent this particular morning cracking open coconuts, oblivious to their dangers. One coconut landed with a thud beside you as you were having breakfast, which led to the new rule: no sitting/sleeping under coconut trees.

You found Edie at the bar and caught a lift in the back of his ute (like a local) to the beach. The very bumpy road led to a beach shack where you collected snorkeling gear. You then you boarded what could only be called a pirate ship and set sail.

On board was a British family, some mystery boxes, a fire pit, a sleepy woman (who later disappeared, never to return) and a crew of three who spoke 5-10 English words between them.

Fishermen in the marine national park
Fishermen in the marine national park

The sea was calm and we were sailing in very shallow waters. It was so shallow in places that fishermen were standing waist-deep in the water to spread their nets. They didn't like being photographed - the fishing must have been illegal. You pulled up beside another boat and bargained ourselves some fresh squid.

Landed on the sand bank island
Landed on the sand bank island

A few dolphins later, you hit the island and went snorkeling. The current pulled you along the length of the rocky reef, and you had to get out and walk back for another pass. The equipment was leaky and a bit frustrating but the fish were pretty. You even found an Emo fish (a black Nemo).

Lunch - cooked in the fire pit on the boat - was squid, tomato and potato sauce with rice and salad. It was amazing! You've never had calamari that soft before! You lazed about on the island under a straw roof shade on straw mats and had some succulent pineapple + banana desert.

Sailing back
Sailing back

You had a quick dip before departing (breaking your mask in the process) and then the crew hoisted the sail to bring everyone back to land. The white cotton sail was tattered and perhaps even a little unsafe; it had a gaping hole in it and its mast wobbled in the wind. The seas were a tad bumpy which made us both feel green, but we both kept it together long enough to make it back to land.

The "100m walk" back to camp was somewhat underestimated... Layed-back Mozambique counting was probably to blame.

Vilanculous to Tofo Beach

You got up early to capture the sunrise; Meike was too lazy. You had breakfast, finishing off the last of our fruit, and started driving south. You'd hoped to find a shop somewhere along the way but Mozambique doesn't have shops, only small markets. Some markets were little more than a rug under a mango tree. Their supply chain was pure genius: stand up, pick mango, sell.

Sunrise at the beach Brilliant roads
Sunrise at the beach, and brilliant roads

At the last minute you changed plans and went to Tofo Beach rather than Zavora (no camping there according to the travel guide). The Tofo Beach resort didn't offer snorkeling gear rental, so you decided to stay another three days and do your scuba diving licenses (Sam for the second time, since he only had Naui accreditation). You got put in a little hut to watch a boring diving video for a few hours, then filled in the diving theory books over dinner.

Tofo Beach camp site tree
Tofo Beach camp site tree

It was dark by the time you got to setting up our tent and were consequently bombarded by mozzies. Using the red light setting on your headlamps so as not to attract more, you finished our scuba books in the tent. Just before sleeping you worried if you'd parked too close to the coconut tree.

10195 km

Tofo Beach I

This morning you tried boiling our towels over a fire to get them clean. Never properly drying them while traveling had made them smell a little off. You had breakfast at the resturant (radioactive-coloured jam on toast), where no one had any change so you got a handwritten IOU instead. Small change seemed to be more valuable here than notes.

The beach view from the diving centre
The beach view from the diving centre

Doing the pool exercises at this resort was ruled out on account their pool being black with algae (chemicals on order), so you borrowed the neighboring resort's pool. You had to wait around for the pool to be available so Edie (the diving instructor, another Edie) showed you around town. It was good somehow to be introduced to Mozambique markets; it got you over your fear of bartering for food in Portugese. Hands and feet can get you a long way.

After the pool exercises you had lunch at the resort (Sam too much), and suited up for the ocean diving. The boat was launched from the beach with the help of the waves, and boarding involved a bit of a scramble. It was rough as guts on the ocean and the waves were so big the skipper had to take them diagonally. You honed in on our dive site using GPS coordinates, then jumped in.

At 16m it was 29°C and ok visibility. It was really pretty with a lot of corals, starfish, scorpion fish (one very poisonous one), an eel, an electric ray and clown fish. The only problem was the surge. Everyone was being swept back and forth +/-2m, and it made Sam fell like vomiting into his regulator; back on the boat Edie explained that was in fact the propper procedure, but only underwater.

Palm leaf woven roofs
Palm leaf woven roofs

You surfaced and shot back to shore at an insane pace. The boat actually had to land with enough speed to beach itself, which naturally ended with one hell of a shunt. Sam was feeling super ill and had lost most of his colour.

You showered and waited at the bar for Ally and James, the Australian couple who dived with you. You got chatting to a British brother/sister pair there, who explained that after aids and malaria, falling coconuts were the third biggest killer in Mozambique. You swiftly moved the car away from harm, and away from a noisy cattle truck who'd taken over your cooking area. The palm trees all had steps cut into them to climb. Apparently every tree in Mozambique belongs to someone for its fruit and leaves; probably a reliable source of income.

Together with the Auzzie pair you walked along the beach to the market for supplies. There were many people trying to sell bracelets and other small handmade trinkets, but the the phrase "maybe tomorrow" seemed to keep everyone happy. From the market you picked up 4 mangos (80met), 1 pineapple, a huge bunch of bananas, 2 tomatoes (100met) and milk (80met). Considering that 260met is about 5chf (5AU$) it was pretty good value. The only issue was how scarce small change was, so the stall owners ran to each other and basically pleaded for coins.

Everyone from diving met at Fatima's backpackers for tea/drinks. Big British Paul's dinner order jumped from 180met to 190met - the bloke behind the bar changing it on the board right infront of him - so he cracked the shits and walked off. You learnt he was a chef back home, which explained his short temper related to food.

After a good amount of rehydration - 1.5L water, since most cocktail ingredients were unavailable - you walked back along the beach dodging crabs.

Tofo Beach II

After a very tropical mango + cocoa + cerial + 1/2 a pineapple breakfast and a little time to digest, you went to Clown Fish reef to do some buoyancy exercises. It was so warm you dived wearing just swimmers and a rash shirt! You spent a little too long on the surface bobbing up and down in the waves, causing Meike and Sue to throw up on the way back.

Between dives you let your tummies settles and had some 1met breadrolls form the mini shop outside the lodge. While resting by the car you noticed some dangerous falling coconuts and felt glad you'd moved the car.

Meike ready to dive Sam ready to dive
Meike and Sam ready to dive

The second dive was to Salon reef; Meike requested a turtle. Uou actually saw one, along with some lion and leaf fish. Big Paul seemed to have lost his underwater camera, and lost it when he got back to the boat - all pics gone! You was sick over the side on the ride back, and Meike as soon as you landed.

That afternoon everyone - Big Paul, Sue, Ally and James, Little Paul (the marine biologist), Jay, Edie and his ladyfriend - decided to go for a meal in town. Dreading more seasickness, you chose walk along the beach rather than get into the bouncy dive school truck. The resturant was an open sandy cement alcove on the market street. You had an awesome fish and chicken dinner with beer and water for just 200met. Mozambique is perhaps the best unknown holiday destination there is.

Underwater Puffer fish
Underwater, puffer fish

From there the group headed to Fatima's bar. Unorganized as always, the bar tender didn't know his cocktail was called a Fatima and ordering in general was confusing yet amusing. The lads started getting rowdy and we all played "What's the name of this fucking game". Big Paul would chant: "What's the name of this fucking game?! It's called...", and then people in turn would yell "something fuck!", adding one person to the chain each round. Brain fuck! and Fat fuck! got you giggling enough to break the sound-off and take a drink.

Heading into town by jeep Big Paul and Ally
Heading into town by jeep, and Big Paul and Ally

After some arm wrestling you left, missing out on stage diving from the balcony onto the dunes and Edie getting ordered out of Mazambique. Edie didn't remember much of the fight he had with Fatima, but it started with Bundu (the racist dog) barking at blacks and he voicing defense. The argument with Edie was so heated that Fatima - having connections from her Mozambique civil war legal dealings - issued him an ultimatum: "Leave the country in five days". This problem was compounded by the fact his passport was being held ransom at the boarder by a dodgey 30-day visa renewal service who wanted more money.

You walked back in complete darkness; even the resort's lights had been switched off. It was a warm night.

Tofo Beach III

It got so hot so fast in your little rooftop tent that you went up to the dive school hut to catch some sea breeze. You lay on the floor horrified by the thought of boats, while Meike read diving magazines. You did the diving theory exam rather lazily together, then flopped about until lunchtime.

The scuba shack The camping ground
The scuba shack and the camping ground

The dive was to Chamber of Secrets reef: a spot spied from the rival dive school 15min down the coast, and one of the best dive sites in existence. You did some compass navigation and mask clearing exercises, during which Jay bothered Meike by deflating her BCD and James nearly floated off. We toured through some beautiful canyons on the second dive, while a school of travail swam overhead. The dive was cut prematurely short when James got down to 20 bar; shorter still when during the safety stop he hit zero and needed alternative air. That'll teach him to go drinking all night before a dive. You still had 80-100bar.

Whale shark Didn't all fir in the picture
Whale shark didn't all fit in the picture

Back on the boat Meike wished to see a manta ray. Less than five minuted later the captian spotted two and you followed them in the boat for a bit. While watching the mantas, along came an 8-10m long whale shark! Everyone yanked on their snorkelling gear and jumped in to swim with him. Being eaten by a shark was preferable to continued sea sickness, thought Meike, unaware whale sharks have no teeth. It was highly unnerving when he slowly swam towards her and Edie with his mouth wide open. It was a freaky experience.

Following the super-speedy beach landing everyone threw up. Too much excitement and seasickness for one day.

Underwater group shot James getting his scube licence
Underwater group shot, and James getting his scuba licence

That evening everyone piled onto the truck and rode into town for dinner. At the seafood stall Big Paul negioated pationately down to 400met for 5kg prawns, noting the importance of testing dodgey market scales with 1L water bottles (even if it was already dirt-cheap). You tried to buy 80met worth of mangoes, but got the exchange rate off bay factor of ten. The poor lady was so confused with this extravagant overpayment she started filling a whole bag. Ally picked up two mangoes for 5met.

Back at the lodge your guest chef made grilled and fried prawns with garlic. It was very satisfying. 5kg of fresh prawns was a heafty meal, and so a random tag-along German (and some cats) ate what you couldn't finish. He (the German) then explained how there were more stars in the southern hemmisphere. Of course there is...

Drive to South African border

It rained this morning and so you waited in the tent until it eased. After packing up camp you went up to the dive school to say bye to Edie but he wasn't there yet - probably off somewhere negotiating back his hostage passport. You drove away from Tofo Beach towards the south.

You were determined to pick up some genuine peri-peri on the way, after putting it on basically everything you ate in Tofo. You stopped at a small roadside stall and bought a bottle for 100met, and gave the rest of our coins as a tip.

Departing Tofo Beach Stuck behind a bus
Departing Tofo Beach, and stuck behind a bus

The following few hundred kilometers of road were shitty but mostly uneventful. There were a few speed cameras (none got you), groups of pushy cashew sellers and generally low traffic. Eventually some road works appeared and lots of black workers - a surprisingly large number wearing beanies - sweeping the dirt (whatever that achieved). You learnt the Chinese had invested in infrastructure projects in exchange for mineral and fishing rights in the area. No doubt, in light of recent news, to simplify their poaching operations.

You crossed a toll bridge into Maputo where you had to pay in US$. It was a hell of a place to drive through: crazy people overtaking everywhere and general chaos. The toll road after Maputo was also charged in US$ but gave New Meticals as change; your plan to come out of Mozambique change-free failed.

Dudes working on the new road Cashew sellers
Dudes working on the new road, and cashew sellers

You arrived at the boarder to South Africa at just past 3pm. It was nothing but chaos, with long waiting lines and agents soliciting business from hapless travelers. The moment you pulled up they sequestered you into a parking spot and pushing their mobile phones through your window, saying "Take my phone, give me your passport!" Taking an old Nokia as collateral for a valid passport seemed like a bad idea, especially after Edie's experience.

You headed for the back of the immigration queue. Immediately, several agents swooped in and ushered you towards the "real line". They all ignored your insistence that you neither needed nor wanted help, and would refuse to pay them. Somehow they pushed you right up to the front of the queue, at which point several agents held out their hands expecting passports and/or money; they were rather sad to learn we had both a South African vehicle and a valid visa, offering no room for their services. Hello again South Africa!

That evening you stayed in the small family-run Chill Inn, did some washing, had chicken burgers, and dreamed of whale sharks from our stationary bed.

10890 km