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.