Northern Mozambique

MozambiquePosted by Espen Mon, August 20, 2012 18:19:47

Our northernmost stop in Mozambique was Pemba, and according to our guidebook, a relaxed and quiet little town with great beaches, snorkeling and diving. As we reached the outskirts of town, we got a hint that things might have changed since the publishing of our guidebook in 2007. There were construction sites, container storage areas, and heavy traffic. Strange. Well, it was getting late, and we drove to a place where we had heard the camping was nice. The last hundred or so kilometers a clogged fuel filter made us slower and slower, so we were a bit behind normal arrival time, and were quite tired and ready for a good dinner. We could always look around the next day.

Waking up to a view like this is great. We stayed for several days. The Pemba Dive & Bush Camp is a few kilometers outside town, and the mangrove forest along the beach prevent it from being at walkway for people living nearby or the infamous beach sellers which can be quite annoying at times. It was therefore a perfect place to hang out and relax for a few days in peace and quiet. Two other overlanders also pulled in the next couple of days.

So, is Pemba what our guidebook told us? Not really. We drove into town for some supplies, and things have changed. About three years ago they discovered a huge gas field a few miles off the coast of Northern Mozambique. There is now a new container port, most property in and around Pemba is bought up by high ranking politicians (or so say the rumors), the main beach just outside town can hardly be accessed because of the apartment buildings and building projects, and the town itself is busy and very expensive.

I may make it sound sad, but who am I really to say this is wrong. 40 years ago they found oil off the coast of Norway, and we like to describe this as something that caused a thriving new area of business, and a solid boost in our economy. Still, I’m not sure it will have the same effect on Pemba. I guess we’ll just have to see, and I hope the oil companies are aware of the impact they have on a relatively poor country and the local communities in and around Pemba.

From Pemba we set out to cross the northern part of Mozambique towards the border to Malawi, one of the most remote areas in Mozambique, again according to our guide book. Well. Another surprise. We drove about 870 kilometers to the border in two days. Half of it was paved, a quarter was good gravel, and the rest was more or less under construction.

What is going on??? Later we learned that in the north western Mozambique they have found a huge area containing coal, and the Chinese has bought the rights.

And yes, we did spot some evidence of the Chinese presence…

Okay, we did encounter a few kilometers of the “old” road as well. We had maybe 50 kilometers of two-tracks through a few villages and forest. In one of these villages we also had a not so nice experience with a young and half-drunk police officer who insisted on “inspection”. With a machine gun and under influence we decided it was best to let him take a look. He wanted to check the Zarges box on the roof (note: funny enough it seems that a big metal box always draws the police or custom officer's attention, and all other travelers tell us the same thing. One put a canvas cover on his, and he never got the question again), and we both climbed up. The roof is a good place to let an aggressive police officer cool down, out of harm's way. I opened the box and started to browse through it, and of course as slow as I could. After 20 minutes of looking at our camping gear he wondered what was in the “box” of the roof top tent. By this time, another and older (and sober) police officer had started to suggest that this was enough. But the young guy still insisted that he needed to check the big grey box (roof tent), and I opened the zipper so he could see what was inside. Then another older man appeared, and I got the impression that he was kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. This older man started talking to the older police officer, and the young, half-drunk officer was told to stand down. He went back to his beer bottle, still wearing his pilot look sunglasses and with the machine gun over his shoulder. The old man and the other police officer shook my hand and apologized for the inconvenience, and we were on our way. We wondered how long we would have been there if both policemen had been young and half-drunk.

Fortunately, a few kilometers down the road we found ourselves a distraction. First we wondered if there had been an accident. A push-bike was parked in the middle of the road and a man's feet were sticking out from the bushes. We locked the doors. Was somebody trying to make us stop in the middle of nowhere? We were probably a bit jumpy after the police road block.

We waited, but nothing happened. We looked at each other, and we had both drawn the same conclusion. The man was asleep. Short honk. No reaction. Another honk, and the man got up looking rather confused. The whole situation was kind of comical so we started smiling, and the guy saw two strangers sitting in a car waiting for him to wake up and move his bike in the absolute middle of nowhere, and he also started to laugh. He got up, moved his bike to the side of the road, and we drove past. Obviously not too much traffic in this part of Mozambique, and we hadn't seen more than a couple of vehicles for the whole day. Not sure if he went back to sleep, but at least we were on our way to the border and Malawi.

More soon!


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Island of Mozambique

MozambiquePosted by Malin Wed, August 08, 2012 10:05:45

Since we decided to drive through Mozambique and we started to read up on the country, Ilha de Mozambique has been on the top of our list of places to see.

The island is 3 km off the coast and is connected to the mainland with a bridge. Long before the Portuguese arrived in 1498 Ilha de Mozambique has been a trading settlement with connections to Madagascar, Arabia and Persia. After discovering the Island the Portuguese established a settlement there, continued the trading, made it a naval base, built a fort, and the Island became the capital of Portuguese East Africa until the end of the 19th century when the capital was moved to Maputo. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ilha de Mozambique is about 3 km long and between 200 and 500 meters wide, and has roughly 14,000 inhabitants. In the southern end are the main living quarters and on the northern half are the remains of the old large houses, but there are people living there too.

Next to the bridge on the mainland there is a campsite, but there are none on the Island. As we drove out on the bridge we decided we would look for a room for the night, because we would like to stay out there. As we were driving around looking, some teenage boys were a little too eager to help us, but as soon as we had parked the car and walked around, we were left to ourselves. People continued with what they were doing and let us walk around without much attention. We found a room at Patio dos Quintalinhos and they also had secure parking for the Patrol in a locked garage. The owner is Gabriel, a friendly and helpful Italian. He is an architect and he have renovated and built up the Patio.

Here Espen is relaxing on the sofa one evening. The sofa is a small wooden boat that hangs from the roof.

First we thought we would spend one night on the Ilha de Mozambique, but in the end it became three nights. As with many places you get to, your first impression is not the best, but the more time you give the place the more you like it. Some other travellers thought it looked like a war zone, and in one way it does, but it is also a really fascinating place.

We spent the days wandering around in the streets, relaxing at Patio dos Quintalinhos and eating good fish meals in the restaurants.

Here are some photos from our wanderings around town.

A dhow in front of the fort.

People arriving on the island with a dhow.

The fishing port.

Bringing fresh fish home for dinner.

Another couple that was out for a stroll.

The old hospital.


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Driving days in Mozambique

MozambiquePosted by Malin Sun, August 05, 2012 20:35:18

After some relaxing days in the Inhambane area with our visiting friends from Norway, our paths took different directions. Actually we both had the same goal, Norway, but they would return to Johannesburg to hand in the rental car and then fly back home. We are still aiming to drive back to Norway up the East coast of Africa, and being in Southern Mozambique we still have quite a long distance to cover. So with that in the back of our minds we decided to cover some distance. In a junction west of Inhambane our friends took a left turn heading south and we took a right turn heading northwards.

Out by the coast it feels like you are driving in a village that goes on for tens of kilometers, there are houses all along the road. Further inland there were less people and houses, and they were grouped in villages as we would know them. In between the villages there was not much, and what struck us was that there was not much farming or large herds of goats or cattle like we were used to see in Namibia and Botswana. It looks like people on the country side in Mozambique farm what they need and only a little for sale.

The road was more or less good, tar the whole way, but sometimes it was full of potholes. Most of the traffic along the road are people walking or biking, there was not so much car or truck traffic. But there are exceptions. First we overtook one new Volvo truck, then a little bit further on we saw one more looking exactly the same and then another one. Then we could see a long line of them in front of us. As they were driving in only 50 kilometers per hour we had to overtake if we wanted to cover some distance.

We counted 20 of the new Volvo trucks, they must have been on their way to be delivered at a project further north. As we stopped in a town to eat lunch they all passed us, so after lunch it was just to start all over again. First day of putting distance behind us we only did 304 km, because we had a slow start and were saying goodbye to friends. The night was spent in Vilhanculos that seemed like a nice town with a good beach.

Next morning at 6 we refueled and were ready for a long day on the road. The road north of Vilhanculos was bad with lots and lots of potholes, and it was not a good start to a long driving day. But luckily the road improved. Then we saw a familiar looking truck in front of us, or to be exact, twenty of them. Apparently they had been driving for some hours already, because they pulled over for a break. Perfect.

I do not know how many villages we drove through that day, but it was many.

When you see more and more people along the road you realize you are approaching a town. And it seems like everyone are carrying something. Fire wood, coals, straws and fresh produce are going into to the towns and the same things and clothes and other commodities are carried back out.

Whenever we passed a river there were always people there doing their laundry and washing themselves.

This is a river close to a small town and doing laundry must be a pretty social activity.

After 722 kilometers and 11 hours in the car the sun was setting as we drove across the Zambezi River.

Just on the other side of Zambezi was a Lodge with a campground that had been recommended to us, and it was time to stop for the night. As sunrise is at 6 in the morning and the sunset is at 17 o’clock in the afternoon this was as much distance we can cover in a day’s drive in Mozambique.

6 o’clock the next morning we were ready again.

This day the landscape really changed. It was a bit more up and down, and all around us were really fascinating rock formations, domes and hills. And after doing 685 kilometers we camped in this landscape just outside Nampula.

Day four of covering distance we only had 210 kilometers to drive so we had a slow start. Driving back into Nampula we were pulled over at a police check point for the first time in Mozambique. We had heard so many bad stories about the police in Mozambique, that they are underpaid and look for all opportunities to give you a fine or take a bribe. This is a photo about common traffic offences in Mozambique from a tourist brochure we got in the Gaza Province (the province next to Maputo and that also borders to South Africa).

We have tried to take all this rules into account, so far the police have not been interested in us and we have just been waved through all the check points. The Nampula officer smiled, said good morning and asked us where we came from. We were stuttering, because we could not remember the name of the place we had spent the night. Complexo…complexo….??.. Finally the officer helped us out and said Complexo Montes Nairucu Lodge. YES, that was the place. Then he just smiled and said we could keep on driving without wanting to check any papers.

Along the road there are many people trying to sell what they produce. There are handbags and baskets made of straw, mats, beds, chairs, piri-piri sauce, fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, meat and live chickens. Some have put up small stalls while others are holding up what they want to sell. Still, we have not been hungry enough to buy the live chickens they are holding upside down in their legs while they are shaking them just to show us it is a live. On a stretch of the road between Nampula and Monapo the sales people changed their approach to something we have not seen so far. I do understand that these people are poor and need to sell their stuff, but these guys (they were all males between 20 and 30) were suicidal. When they heard or saw a car approaching they jumped up and walked into the street and into the lane where you are driving, and to avoid them you had to cross into the lane coming towards you. After driving over into the other lane a few times, I thought this is not right so I just kept on driving in my lane. They were still standing there in the middle of the road as you approached and just in the last second they swung away the items they were holding out for sale and themselves. It does not feel right at all driving past people so close in 80 km/h, and then I am driving slower than most local vehicles that just blast past us. After this I tried to slow down before the sales people when they were in the middle of the road before me, but then they were just running like crazy to the side of the road to get more things to show us because they thought I was stopping to buy something. After 30 -40 of these suicidal sellers we drove through Monapo and after that the sellers behaved like normal again.

Finally after 1900 kilometers we reached the Indian Ocean again. We left the mainland for a while as we drove across the bridge out to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ilha de Mozambique / Mozambique Island. More about this island in the next blog.


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Back on the beach!

MozambiquePosted by Espen Wed, August 01, 2012 23:39:44

We hit the coast just north of Xai-Xai as it began to get dark. The GPS showed a campsite a few kilometers further and warned us about soft sand on the access roads. As we took off from the highway a sign told us to air down to 0.8 bar (about 11 psi). We took the rental car down to 15 psi and the Patrol down to 25. For the story it would probably have been better if we bogged down, but we had no problems. The road ended literally on the beach, and the camp sites were in between the trees.

Late June and early July is the South African school holidays, so we were expecting lots of people and crowded camp sites. Not at this site. We met a group of students that had booked in for a week to do some fishing. I suspect they were imagining a bit more action, but they had been the only campers here for several days.

Early next morning we were on the move again. We were on our way to Inhambane, and to the beaches on the peninsula just past the town. We had recommendations from a2aexpedition.com to see Barra, and we had also heard nice things about a small village called Tofo. After stocking up on food and drinks in Inhambane we drove towards Fatima’s Nest Camping in Tofo. This is a quiet little town almost directly on the beach, and with several backpacker places and small restaurants.

We stayed here for a couple of days playing on the beach and eating out in the local restaurants. As this is a village there is of course a lot more people around at all times. It could be quite annoying trying to relax on the beach when the sellers disturb you ever five minutes, and they are not very good at understanding the words “no thanks”. Most of these sellers are kids trying to sell you necklaces and bracelets, and their small selection looks suspiciously enough identical. It doesn’t take much imagination to think there is somebody behind this irritating “business”.

From Tofo we drove a few kilometers further north to the tip of the peninsula, to Barra. The resorts are basically located on the “inside” of the peninsula, and when we were there this was perfect for the weather. There was a camp site at the lighthouse, but with no direct access to the beach, and also we were the only ones there. In our maps there was supposed to be another camp site directly on the beach not too far away, so we went to look for this. No luck, it was gone. Fortunately, we found a place with the same name, so we drove in to check if the just had moved location. Here we met a very charming lady explaining that, no, this was not so, but as her bungalows were empty, actually from this same morning, we could get a “camping rate”. Deal! We moved into two bungalows (unURBANs in one and friends in another) and settled down for a few days. Fantastic place!

The bungalow place had their own bar/restaurant, also on the beach, and here we ordered the big prawns that Mozambique is famous for. There is only one thing to say about this meal: OMG!!!

Another beach activity, and I guess slightly more productive than working on your tan, fishing. We came across these guys just after they had put the net in, and were just starting to pull it in. They put it in by using the dhow (a small sailboat), and drop the net parallel to the beach. In each end are long ropes that are brought to shore, and then two groups of guys are slowly pulling it in. We were allowed to help pulling, and the whole process must have taken two hours. The net is not hauled all the way up on the beach, but when it is more or less closed, the fishermen swim out with snorkel and diving masks to take out the fish that is big enough to end up as food.

Our final stop before splitting up with our friends from Norway was Paindane. This is a place where the reef is close enough to access from the beach, and it is also one of the few beaches in Mozambique where you are allowed to drive. But only for the brave…

Unfortunately the weather made it difficult for us, and a big swell coming in created a current too strong to swim in along the beach. Snorkeling in the Indian Ocean was postponed. Early next morning we drove back to the main road, and our friends turned south towards Swaziland and eventually Jo’burg to fly home. And we turned north…


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