Ethiopia Part 9, The Bull Jumping Ceremony

“Bull Jumping” Hamer Tribe, Ethiopia 2018

Imagine this. You have driven for three hours through the African Bush from a remote dusty village in the southwestern corner of Ethiopia, along twisting dirt tracks and across dry creek beds, and then for a further 45 minutes on a roughly cut track through the bush, which is not a road or a track at all but merely a clearing either side of a footpath along which no other vehicle has yet travelled. It is so fresh that the exposed stumps of trees and bushes are going to cause havoc with your tyres, and you have no hope of spotting or avoiding them all. You’re not sure where you are going but your guide says ‘it’s all good’ …

You are here in the Southern Omo Valley in a remote corner of Africa to witness a pre-nuptial ceremony in which a young man earns the right to marry the woman of his parents choice by running naked across the backs of a line of nine bulls and doing this four times after a day of celebration, dancing, drinking and traditional rituals. It is called the ‘Bull Jumping Ceremony’ but it turns out to be so much more than that!

You may have read about the Southern Omo Valley tribes of Ethiopia and possibly seen some of the documentaries and photographic essays that have brought a broader audience than anthropologists to these unique cultures. There are more than twenty tribes living in this remote south-west region of Ethiopia, an area which has only relatively recently become accessible to tourists, and then only with a guide, and often an armed guard.

Having made your way here from halfway around the world you need to work out how you can make the most of your visit. The small towns of Jinka and Turmi serve as ‘jump off’ points to explore the region so you make your way to Turmi, a small, hot and dusty village with very little infrastructure but it is close to the Hamer villages. There is a small hut in town which serves as the ‘office’ / ‘gathering place’ for the local guides, so finding a guide is quite easy. The people in Turmi have already figured out that the ‘Ferengi’ (foreigners) have lots of money and they sometimes stage manage visits to nearby anvillages and their ceremonies but you aren’t really interested in joining the dozens of tourists that are also in town and you are quite prepared to get off the beaten track.

This is our challenge and we are very excited to be here for our last great adventure before we leave Ethiopia. We have set up camp in Turmi for a few days and we are here to see ‘The Bull Jumping’ but other than that we have no idea what to expect. We talk to a guide and he says that he knows of two ceremonies that will be taking place the next day. One is fairly close to town but the other is some way out and we will be the only ‘Ferengi’ there.

We agree to leave around lunchtime the next day and assume we will be back around sunset. We anticipate joining our new friends, Thomas and Igna for dinner back in Turmi at 7pm, who arrived later in the day having spent two days on the road from Jinka, where it only took us one day. But then they are travelling on a tandem bicycle!

We leave Turmi with high expectations but, as it turns out, we didn’t really know what we had signed up for. Our guide is crammed into the front of our Landcruiser with us and we wind our way between several villages before we leave the dirt road and pick our way along the newly cut bush track. Eventually, we reach a group of boys under a tree and we park in the shade. Our guide says we have to walk a short way so I grab my camera bag and we follow him for about ten minutes along a path that leads down to a river bed. There are crowds of people down here and we stand off to one side taking it all in while our guide talks to the villagers.

We are introduced to the young man who will be ‘jumping the bulls’ today and we can see that he is quite nervous.

The Central Character

A group of women leave the river bed, dancing and running, and climb the slopes up to a cleared area near the village huts where we find crowds of people sitting together on the ground under low shelters. We are invited to sit with them.

The women continue dancing and the noise is tremendous when they pass. The stamping of feet, the jangle of the many bells around their legs and ankles, the singing and the blowing of horns are almost deafening.

As they dance the dust rises and swirls in the light of the afternoon sun … a symphony of colour and light and noise.

The smells and taste of sorghum beer, and the local coffee, both of which are being brewed in large calabashes over small fires all add to the vibrancy of the scene.

All of our senses are assailed by this onslaught and it is a struggle to take it all in.

The children run around under everyone’s feet, as do the goats. One baby goat scratches around one of the fires and a small child removes it before it gets burned.

Ethiopia 2018

The smaller children are very keen to have their photos taken.

Occasionally one of the men asks if we are ok and offers us more coffee or sorghum beer. Otherwise, we are left to our own devices and to sit on our cattle hide happy to observe.

This man is carrying his own seat

The celebrations can last two or three days and during this time a number of different activities take place.

We are directed back down to the river bed where people are regathering. First up the men use some pigments, black, ochre and white, to paint their faces. Our guide paints Julie’s face.

Our guide tells us that ‘The Whipping’ is about to take place. We are not sure if we have heard him properly and we have no idea what is going to be whipped. A few people gather slender branches from some of the bushes and strip the leaves from them. During all of this, the women continue dancing and singing and blowing their small horns. Different things are happening all over the place.

Then ‘The Whipping’ starts. The women encourage each other and, through dance, singing and blowing their small horns, demand to be whipped. Their backs carry the scars from past ceremonies. Several of the men are reticent but the more senior men seem to accept the responsibility more readily. The women obviously want to be whipped and they show no sign of pain. Apparently, they later rub things into the wounds on their backs to promote scarification. Several men refuse to carry out the whipping and some of the younger girls contemplate it but then back down. Both men and women seem free to participate or not as they wish. The men select a branch that is most flexible.

The young boys and girls are taking a keen interest in proceedings, picturing themselves as more active participants in the future.

Later in the afternoon, a large number of people arrive from other villages and they are welcomed, offered some space under the shelters and given some sorghum beer.

Some of the men have coated their skin with oil and charcoal so that it shines. When they arrive they are given the best places to sit and plied with sorghum beer. These men will play a central role during the bull jumping.

The whole affair is a moving festival of activity from the river bed to the village and back again and then over to a clearing where the bull jumping takes place.

A group of men take themselves off to one side and start to dance. A few of the men step into the semi-circle formed by the other men and start to dance. They all set up an amazing syncopated beat with their feet and clapping with their hands. The men inside the semi-circle jump in unison with the rhythm of the beat they are creating.

As sunset approaches the mass of people moves up a slight rise to a level area. We are told that the cattle are coming. They arrive and are immediately surrounded by the dancing groups of women who are making a tremendous noise. They move in and out of the bunches of cattle, pushing and shoving and generally confusing the cattle. This goes on for some time until the cattle are befuddled and bemused. That seems to be their intent because the cattle become a lot more malleable and stop trying to escape from the surrounding ring of people.

Trepidation

The young man who is the central character in this ceremony wanders between the cattle contemplating what is to come. There seems to be a distinct look of trepidation on his face.

The oiled young men now move in and start to line up the bulls in preparation for the central event. They grab horns and tails and drag them into position. It is now well after sunset and the light is fading fast. A shout and the young man is up and running lightly across the backs of the bulls. Once across he drops to the ground and turns to repeat the effort three more times.

“Bull Jumping” Hamer Tribe, Ethiopia 2018

So very quickly, it is all over and we need to get back to the car. By the time we reach it the light has gone completely. Our guide is walking around the car with a torch and he draws our attention to one of the tyres which is completely flat. There’s nothing for it but we have to get it changed, which we do and we start the slow journey back through the darkness.

We haven’t gone far before Julie says that she can hear something. It is a warm night and we have all the windows open. She can hear air escaping and we have a second puncture and this tyre is slowly deflating. I decide that it can wait until we get to some more even ground so we can get a jack under the car. We still have a couple of four-wheel drive spots to get through though.

Eventually, we get back to a semi-decent track and change the tyre and we can head back to Turmi. We reach there a little before 8pm and unfortunately, we have missed our dinner date so we have dinner on our own, our senses still reeling from the intensity of the afternoon.

When we left the celebrations looked set to continue well into the night and will last through the next day. Each village only holds one bull jumping ceremony per year so they obviously make the most of it.

Kenya, Amboseli to Nairobi

Kenya

Majestic Mt Kiliminjaro

We cross the border out of Tanzania near the Kenyan town of Oloitokitok after driving up the east side of Kiliminjaro. Oloitokitok; it’s a great name and a straightforward crossing but as is usual we still spend a couple of hours at the border. We have a short drive north, stopping in a town to get our new SIM card and data for Kenya sorted out then we turn off the main road toward Amboseli National Park.

Amboseli is one of Kenya’s elite National Parks but unfortunately, like the rest of the elite parks in Kenya and Tanzania, the entry fees for non-residents are exorbitant. Here we would have to pay $80USD per person per day plus a vehicle fee plus $30USD per person per night for camping. We want to spend a couple of days here and rather than pay the national park fees we are camping at a Masai community camp site just outside the park for $10USD per person per night, much closer to our budget. There are no fences around the park and at this time of the year the feed outside the park is good so we have hopes of seeing plenty of game without entering the park. We are also hoping the clouds clear so we get some good views of Mt Kiliminjaro which is just across the nearby border and there is very little to interrupt our view.

This is Masai country and the Kimani Camp is operated by local Masai villagers. One of the locals working at the camp is Risie and as he shows us around the camp he offers to lead us on a walk through the surrounding country so we can see some game and also to visit his village. We agree to a morning walk and an afternoon walk with him the next day and enjoy relaxing under a shady thorn tree for the afternoon and watching the weaver birds build their nests.

The cloud bank covering Kiliminjaro has been thick all day but shortly before sunset the clouds dissipate and suddenly the majestic mountain is clearly visible.

Kenya

Mt Kiliminjaro at Sunset

Early next morning we leave camp with Risie and we spend the next two hours walking through the bush and under Thorn Trees. We spot lots of game including giraffe, zebra, warthogs, impala and wildebeest.

We have seen plenty of different types of antelope in our travels in Africa but two species which are new to me but are common throughout East Africa are Thompsons Gazelle and Grants Gazelle. A third new (to me) species are the long necked Gerenuk, they are only found in localised areas and are very shy. They graze by standing on their hind legs and stretching their necks, sort of like mini giraffe but unfortunately they are too wary of us to graze while we are watching.

We return to camp to rest through the heat of the day and set out again with Risie in the mid afternoon. We didn’t see any elephant on our morning walk and he is hoping he will be able to show us some at a water hole they often visit in the late afternoon although as we are on foot we won’t be able to get too close. On our way we see some more of the same animals we had spotted in the morning although not as many because they are sheltering from the heat. The water hole we are heading for is not far from Risie’s village. This village and several others welcome tourists on tours to fund a local primary school as the government school is some distance away. Risie’s father is the chief of five villages in the area and lives in this village. It comprises five extended families but that is quite a lot of people as men can have multiple wives.

The tour starts with the people coming to the front of the village (Manyatta) to welcome us and they encourage Paul and I to join in the dancing and jumping.

After the welcome dance there is a prayer wishing us safe travels then we are free to wander around the village and to take any photos we like as people go about their daily lives.

 

The village is circular with a thorn fence around the outside of the mud huts, then a walk way before another thorn fence and the centre area is where the cattle and goats are kept at nights. They post guards at night time as lions and hyenas would take the live stock if it were unguarded. Risie and two others show how the men make fire each morning which is then used by all of the villagers.

Risie’s brother shows us through his two room house which includes two sleeping areas for the adults and children and a cooking area as well as storage of their belongings.

The bead work in their body decorations is intricate and colourful and they are keen to show us their work and sell some to raise additional money. It is fantastic work but we really can’t buy and carry much. It is hard to say no to all of them though and we leave with four bracelets.

Traditionally young men, before they are allowed to marry, must spend a period of time as Moran (warriors).

While we are looking around the clouds clear again and we get another great view of Kilimanjaro. The Masai name for the mountain is ‘Oldoinyo Oibor’ which means ‘White Mountain’ which is very apt given its usual appearance.

Kenya

Mt Kiliminjaro (Oldoinyo Oibor) from the Masai village

After we make our purchases and say thank you and goodbye, (ashe oolong and ole sere) we continue our quest to find elephants. There are wildebeest and zebra nearby but no elephant in sight at the water hole. We take a look beyond the water hole but the bush is very thick and Risie says that there could be buffalo hidden in there. We would not be able to see them early enough to stay a safe distance so we decide to wait near the water hole for a while to see if the elephants arrive. While we are waiting we watch the wildebeest gallop from one side of the water hole to the other, they certainly aren’t the most intelligent of animals.

Kenya

Wildebeest scattering in front of Mt Kiliminjaro

No elephant arrive so we walk back to camp. We may not have seen elephant but we saw lots of other animals and the village tour was very interesting so we are very pleased with the days activities. It was certainly a good decision to stay here.

Nairobi is our next destination, a complete change of pace. The first part of the drive is fine but then we reach the highway between Nairobi and Mombasa and its a shocker. Trucks, trucks, crazy drivers trying to overtake trucks when its not safe and more trucks. And then we reach the traffic congestion which is Nairobi. Luckily we don’t have to go through the centre of town but can skirt along an expressway and we reach our campsite safely.

Last year, shortly after we arrived in Namibia, we met US travellers Jared and Jen and travelled with them most of the the three months we spent in that country. We then headed in different directions as we explored more of southern Africa. Our paths are crossing again and we have arranged to meet up with them in Nairobi and we will travel together again as we explore Kenya and Uganda. They are due into a camp ground called Jungle Junction on the southern side of the city and arrive there a day after us. While not the most atmospheric of camps it does offer a good workshop which Jared uses for a few repairs before we head out of the city and we have quite a few chores and lots of stocking up to do as well.

As well as the chores we manage to do some sight seeing though not as much as we had thought as the traffic is dreadful and the weather usually overcast and sometimes drizzling. Paul grew up in Nairobi not far from where we are staying and we drive past the house the family used to live in. There are now additional houses on the property and the original house is available for short term rent. Its empty at the moment and we get to take a tour so Paul can travel down memory lane and show me some of his history.

The company at the camp site is good, the facilities are fine and it is good to be able to visit real supermarkets with good selections of food but by the time we are ready to leave almost a week has passed and we are glad to get out of the big smoke and head back to the bush where we belong.

Across  Mozambique 

A journey through the Mozambican bush.

Baobabs on the Track, Mozambique

Baobabs on the Track, Mozambique

It’s a warm and humid morning on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. We are sitting under some shade trees drinking coffee while we are using the free wifi at the very pleasant, but strangely named, Kilimanjaro Cafe in the small town of Vilanculos. We got into town in the late afternoon yesterday after two long days of driving across Mozambique from South Africa. Sitting in this very pleasant place drinking decent coffee it’s a good time to reflect on our journey into Mozambique. So let’s rewind to the start two days ago …

We leave our camp at Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park in South Africa and from there we drive north to the Pafuri picnic site and have our mid-morning coffee. While we sit at a rough wooden table under some massive fig trees we enjoy watching a large herd of Cape Buffalo browsing and drinking along the banks of the slowly flowing river below us. Throw in a couple of warthog, some kudu and you have the scene. After coffee we organise ourselves for the border crossing into Mozambique … money for visas, passports, third party insurance, truck and trailer registration documents, etc. After putting a required sticker on the back of the trailer we head the short distance east to the Mozambique border. The South African formalities are a breeze. Then we pass through a boom gate and, so it seems, a time warp into a scene from a spaghetti western. We enter a derelict town with wide dusty streets, faded signs in Portuguese and a few remaining intact block buildings with faded white and grey, pock-marked render. A couple of armed soldiers direct us to park outside the customs building and we walk across the street to the immigration office.

The elderly chap in the immigration office is helpful and cheerfully accepts our money, quite a bit more than we had expected, for a thirty day visa after we fill out the requisite forms. While we are doing this we chat to a South African bloke going the other way. He tells us he is running a farm near Mabote, which is on our route, and he gives us some tips on finding the right onward track at a couple of towns and also what to expect across the street when we front up to the customs officers.

We recross the dusty square to the long, rectangular customs building and are directed up a short flight of stairs into the front office with a long wooden counter. Behind the counter is one, somewhat rotund, customs officer in a smart blue and white uniform. He doesn’t say anything, just places some forms on the counter in front of us to complete and sign. It takes us a little while as we have to find and enter the correct identification numbers for the car and trailer as well as our personal details. We are expecting this chap to quiz us and I have 100 Rand in my pocket in case we need to smooth the way, but all he does is to take the completed forms and wave us away.
Back outside we head for the Landcruiser and are quickly intercepted by two young uniformed soldiers. Now it is their turn. They explain that they want to search the whole vehicle for illegal goods. We smile and agree, they can look at whatever they want. But this is not the answer they want and they quickly lose interest.

A third soldier wanders over and he does speak a little better English. He asks us to open the back of the trailer and we show him the kitchen but there is nothing there that interests him. He spots the cool box on the back seat and asks if we have any beer or cold drinks. Unfortunately for him all we have in there are several bottles of water. Eventually he starts to lose interest and asks us if we have purchased our temporary license. We tell him we don’t need one as we have our international driver’s licenses but he insists that we must pay R100.

He leads us back to a large, open-sided concrete shelter which the soldiers are using to stay out of the sun. Sitting on the ground a little further towards the back is an African woman with a child. He takes us up to her, says a few words to her and tells us we must pay her R100. We ask if we can get a receipt and he says, yes, yes. A few more words to the woman and she pulls out a large receipt book replete with carbon paper and she starts to fill it in. We shrug our shoulders, pay the money and accept the receipt. We are free to continue our journey.

From the border post we follow a fairly well-formed dirt track heading south through the ecological buffer zone that runs down the eastern border of the Limpopo National Park. Our farmer friend told us to follow the graded road on this part of the trip down to Mapai. We find enough graded sections to assure us that we are on the right road and we are also using an App on my iPad called Tracks4Africa to navigate.

Graded Road to Mapai, Mozambique

Graded Road to Mapai, Mozambique

It’s still tricky when the track branches unexpectedly and we end up on a smaller and narrower parallel track which takes us through a wonderful forest of fever trees.

Fever Tree Forest, Mozambique

Fever Tree Forest, Mozambique

Fever trees are a type of thorn tree which grow fairly tall and have the typical spread and flattened top. The trunks, branches and leaves are all a beautiful light green color which contrasts with the reddish dirt and the blue sky. I think they are called fever trees because if you sleep under them you wake with a fever, possibly malaria. They look so inviting but watch out for those thorns though!

The narrow track rejoins the graded road and we are soon driving through a string of small villages. The Limpopo River is away in the middle distance on our left for this part of the trip and we will cross it when we eventually turn east to the town of Mapai. The course of the river is discernable by the taller trees and thicker, green bush but everything is dry and grey to our right. The villages in this area are quite small and only a few kilometres apart. Cooking pots are hanging on raised wooden racks made from bush wood, or on nails in single posts. The huts are mainly round and roughly thatched and some are raised on stilts. The village centres tend to be under the biggest shadiest trees where the villagers sit on stumps or wooden logs. We see almost no signs of anything for sale in these villages and no cars. They are several days walk from any town.

Mozambican Village

Mozambican Village


Mozambiquan Village

Mozambican Village

Our progress is slow and steady, we are averaging around 40km per hour but often having to slow to half that speed for rougher patches in the road. We reach an intersection in the early afternoon. To the east is the town of Mapai and to the south west is the Mapai camp site in the Limpopo National Park which we had thought we might stop at for one or two nights. But it is still fairly early and very hot so we decide to continue heading east.

We aren’t sure how long it will take us to reach the coast and our farmer friend had told us that GPS systems aren’t much use out in the bush here. He also told us that when we leave Mapai we need to find a sandy track that follows a line of green, treated timber power poles and to follow those all the way to Machaila and then to Mabote. But we still need to get to Mapai first and it is on the other side of the Limpopo River.
From the intersection we head east. This close to the river, and this close to a town there isn’t really any space between the villages so we are driving casually down the road trying to match the snatches of directions we have been given with the road in front of us. In the main we choose to follow the one that looks most used.

Eventually we come to a stretch of road, well not so much of a road as something that looks like a deep bed of churned up river sand. We are pretty sure this is the way to Mapai so I change to first gear in low range and keeping the revs up we head across the sandy bed. It’s about 150 metres to some solid ground on the other side and we have our fingers crossed that we don’t slow down because, with the weight of the trailer, we are unlikely to be able to get going again. We did drop the tyre pressures when we started which helps a lot and we manage to make it to the other side with thick billows of fine black dust enveloping the trailer and car. Then, as we follow the road, we see a boom across the road and some guys sitting around under a tree. Is this the right way?

We stop and look at our maps, and then figure we might as well ask someone. As we draw closer to the boom we see a rough sign which says something about an Immigration border and quotes a fee of R100 per vehicle (which is about 10 Australian Dollars) or 300Mt in local currency. The whole thing looks distinctly fishy! As we stop at the boom one of the guys comes up to us and says what a terrible bit of road that was. They would have heard and seen us approaching from their seats under the tree. Based on what we hear later I wouldn’t be surprised if the road was left that way so they could make some extra cash extracting vehicles from the sand.

We can’t see any alternative to paying something to these guys but R100 is a bit rich so I pull out my wallet and take all my Rands out which comes to about R50. This is all I have I say. Not enough he says. Eventually, after some remonstrations on our part, we start fishing out some coins so we get enough together to keep him happy. We wait for our ‘official receipt’ and we are free to move along.

Pretty soon we can see some boats lying high and dry on the sand so we figure we are getting closer to the Limpopo River. The track is great, no soft sand to worry about here! We cross a narrow stretch of shallow water with a rocky bottom and that’s it! We have crossed the “great, grey, greasy Limpopo River” and we only have a few more kilometres until we get to Mapai.

Banks of the Limpopo River, Mozambique

Banks of the Limpopo River, Mozambique

When we reach the intersection with the north-south tar road we find a petrol station which we didn’t expect so we take the opportunity to fill our tank even though we are carrying plenty of fuel. The town of Mapai is just a few kilometres north. We also spot a sign pointing the way to the next village of Machaila and lo and behold there is a line of green, timber power poles running alongside the track.

Gravel Road, Mozambique

Gravel Road, Mozambique

Our maps show that the road to Machaila is a narrow sandy, two wheel track. From where we are standing the start of the track looks much wider and well-formed, but that may change of course as we get further from town. We decide to keep moving east. We will be heading away from any rivers and we assume that there will be fewer villages so if we can’t make it to Machaila we may be able to spend the night on the side of the road.

It soon becomes apparent that our maps are out of date. The sandy track is being upgraded to a gravel road. It is tricky driving though as the road has not been properly leveled and we have to concentrate. Many of the culverts are still being constructed. Again our speed is no more than 40km per hour and typically slower. Very occasionally we might have a short run at 50km per hour.

It doesn’t take long before we realise that this country is very, very dry and is experiencing the full impact of the long drought that has affected so much of southern Africa. The villages are a bit further apart and there aren’t as many large shady trees. As we travel parallel with the power line we realise that this is probably one of the few bits of modern technology that connects the villages in this part of the country. We start to see firewood and large bags of charcoal for sale on the side of the road, but we don’t see any crops at all. One of the most common activities in the villages is the drawing and fetching of water from nearby wells. The women carry the plastic containers of water on their heads with no discernable strain even though they must weigh around 20kg.

Water carrier, Mozambican Village

Water carrier, Mozambican Village


Village, Mozambique

Village, Mozambique

Our progress is steady and we can see that we will probably reach Machaila after dark so we start looking for a place on the side of the road, or a village where we might ask permission to camp. From one of our maps we know that there is probably a camp site near Machaila that one of the villages has set up and we hope that it is still there. For some reason we don’t see anywhere that attracts us and we reach Machaila just after dark.

It is Saturday night and there seem to be quite a few people around and about. Some of the lighted buildings look like bars and eating houses. We are tired and the air is still very warm so we don’t feel inclined to tackle a town full of people in party mode. Heading south east we turn onto the track to the next town, Mabote. This is definitely a two wheel, sandy track and the camp site is supposedly located just a few kilometres along it.

In the dark we do the best we can to try and spot the camp site. When we are sure we are close I get out of the car. There are two side tracks that are possibilities. I spot a young girl walking towards me from one of the tracks and I ask her about the camping. Luckily the Portuguese word for camping is similar and she seems to understand me. She points back down the track she has just emerged from and I ask her to show me. We walk a short distance and she points further into the bush where I can see a small building, roughly constructed from local timbers. There is a cleared space near the building that looks perfect. We have found the camp site!

As we walk back to the road I hear sounds of other people through the bush. The other side track must lead to a village that is very close by. Then a voice from that direction calls out and the young girl answers. Somebody else has heard us and wants to know what is going on. There is a brief conversation called out in the dark through the bush, just as though we were merely in the next room.

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Back at the car I describe the place to Julie and we head down the track to the building and then get out to decide where to park the trailer so we can leave most easily in the morning. The young girl reappears and says no, we must go further down the track and deeper into the bush. So we go a little further and find a larger space with a bush shower and long drop toilet. This is even better!

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Long Drop, Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Long Drop, Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

As the space is dotted with trees we have to unhook the trailer and turn it around ourselves then hook it up again. We are tired so we set up the roof top tent on the car instead of opening up the trailer. Much easier even though we haven’t done it many times before, and not for a while. After a quick dinner we are lying in bed looking at the stars and there is a slight breeze which is very welcome. The air is still very warm and dry.

After a while we start to hear singing. It sounds like a group of kids being led by a few adults. The rhythm and tones are distinctly African and we have smiles on our faces as we fall asleep.

We are up just after sunrise the next morning and sitting enjoying our coffee in the cooler air when the young girl returns and presents us with a visitors book to fill in. We can see the rate from the previous entries and after we pay she gives us a receipt. Very organised and we have been left to ourselves although it would have been great to hear some more singing. Fairly soon afterwards we pack up and head out, turning east towards Mabote which we expect will be a bigger town.

Sandy Track near Machaila, Mozambique

Sandy Track near Machaila, Mozambique

Now this is the kind of bush track we have been expecting. We are still following the power lines and treated timber poles but the track is sandy and has just two wheel ruts so if we meet a car coming the other way one or both of us are going to be heading into the bush. I don’t think we saw another vehicle the whole time though. And no villages or very few until we reach the shores of a lake which we don’t see because of the thick growth of dry reeds. There is obviously very little water but the dry reeds are thick and the road turns north to a causeway which crosses a narrow neck in the top of the lake. As we turn north the road ‘improves’. This section seems to have been upgraded some time ago. We preferred the sandy track though. It was actually smoother and we could keep a constant speed, albeit a little slower.

Not long after we cross the causeway we reach Mabote, a dusty town with block buildings lining a main street. We drive around the block and turn up the main street towards the buildings. There are a few side roads but almost all activity seems to happening here. It’s around lunch time so I suggest buying something and I park outside a place with a promising sign ‘Snack Bar’. It’s all promise though as all they have is a single fridge with a couple of dozen Coca Colas. When I explain that I am looking for some food a young chap takes me down the road to a place that has a few more people and is serving food and beers. After I figure out that ‘frangos’ means chicken I choose something from the menu, but I have no idea how it will be cooked. When I add that I want it to take away I have to pay a bit more to cover the cost of the polystyrene container. It takes some time, but eventually I am back at the car and we head out. The chicken comes with rice and some salad. Not great but it keeps us going.

We pass through several villages where they seem to have concentrated on producing charcoal and we see many spots with dozens of large bags of charcoal for sale. I’m guessing that there will be trucks that pick them up to take to the bigger population centres on the coast where there is less wood around.

Drought Conditions, Mozambique

Drought Conditions, Mozambique


Mozambican Village

Mozambican Village

The gravel road is now quite wide and a bit smoother and a couple of hours later we reach the main north south highway through Mozambique, the EN1. We turn north and head for Vilanculos where we are pretty sure we should find a much bigger town and a place to stay by the sea.

It’s not long until we turn east again and it’s only about 15 more kilometres to the town. There are many more people now and the traditional villages have almost given way to block buildings and also small houses made from corrugated iron. Wow! They must be hot inside during summer. There’s much more for sale alongside the road now including fruit and vegetables. With the numerous mobile phone towers along the highway there are also plenty of buildings painted with the red and white of Vodacom, a major telephone company in Africa.

The first thing we do when we get to town is to find an ATM so we can get some local currency. At the second bank we have success so we start exploring the town looking out for the local camp grounds which we have read about. It’s Sunday afternoon and the town is quite busy, especially along the beach front. The road is dusty and narrow, and with so many people and vehicles we find it quite tricky to negotiate. This is not our thing so we head south of town looking for a place which, on paper, looks much more inviting. We drive through a lovely little suburb near the airport with a mix of traditional huts and concrete block buildings. The sandy yards are all neatly swept and lined with heavily trimmed bushes and trees. It has a nice feel to it.
South of the airport we get to the place we are looking for. It has a good looking beach, a huge swimming pool and a camping area, but the pool is empty and the place is closed. They have run out of water!

It’s getting late and there’s nothing for it but to head back to a place we saw earlier beside a lagoon just west of town. It’s not near the beach and it’s not somewhere we will be staying at for more than one night. We get there to find that the camp ground is closed and the only person there is a guard. He is very friendly and shows us a couple of chalets, one of which overlooks the lagoon. It also has an air conditioner, a mosquito net above the bed and, most importantly, a hot shower! We ask how much and are somewhat perplexed when he quotes a price in the millions! We have only just been to the ATM but we didn’t get that much. It is only after we ask him to write the amount in the sand that we understand he means ‘thousands’. Some quick calculations and we work out that it is about $50. A bit more than camping but very inviting after a long hot day so of course we take it.

We get set up for a light supper, have a very welcome shower and sit outside on the small verandah with a cold beer and a glass of wine while the air cools. The lagoon looks like it’s about half full and there’s a chalet built on poles which will be ‘over water’ when the rains arrive. There are plenty of mozzies around and we eventually head inside for the night.

The next day we head back into Vilanculos to get some supplies before we head south. After shopping we spot the Kilimanjaro Cafe with free WiFi. Looks good and we need to do some research on our next ‘port of call’. It’s also a chance to get online and catch up with family and friends.

Next stop is definitely a place by the beach!!

An Old Favourite

Leliyn / Edith Falls, Nitmiluk National Park

Last light on the lower pool at Leliyn

Last light on the lower pool at Leliyn

Having arrived in Katherine and safely delivered Paul’s Troopie to the auto-electrician we have a couple of days to fill in so we decide to spend them at Leliyn (Edith Falls), about sixty kilometres away by road.

After stops in town for supplies and gas we head north and manage to secure a camp site at this very popular location in Nitmiluk National Park which includes Katherine Gorge and shares a border with the much larger Kakadu National Park. We have both visited Leliyn several times before but it’s a place we visit for at least one night anytime we are close by. Over the years it has become more and more popular, and for good reason. So much so that there is now a stand selling food, coffee and ice creams which you can enjoy in the nearby shade.

A short walk from the camp ground is a natural swimming hole, about 100 metres in diameter with a beautiful angular rock face and a small waterfall which is very pleasant to swim under. There is easy access to the water and it’s great to stretch out and swim across to the falls for a ‘waterfall massage’. Needless to say it’s one of the first things we do after we have set up camp. After our swim, we check out a few possible locations for a photo shoot.

The next day we take a stroll along the 1.7 km, 1.5 hour walk up to the Top Pool and then around the back of the main pool before returning to the camp area. After the first climb there are a couple of high lookouts with views down to the waterfall in the Top Pool and back down to the main pool. There are far fewer people up here but it’s still quite busy. From the lookouts we descend to the rocks around the Top Pool, take a few photos and then it’s time for a cooling swim and lazing around on the warm rocks. It’s heading for lunch time so we continue our walk and Paul has another dip in the main pool on the way back to our camp. Not a bad mornings work!

Our two days here pass very quickly with some early morning and late evening photo shoots as well as a few more swims during the middle of the day. The weather is starting to warm up quite nicely. Our camp has a little shade and a grassed area nearby so we are pretty comfortable!

We get some reading done and generally relax after the trip along the Victoria Highway. Paul gets a report that his car is ready so after two nights we head back to Katherine to pick it up. When we get there we find that the report was somewhat optimistic and it takes another full day to locate and fix the electrical fault. It’s getting late by the time we leave Katherine so we camp off the side of the highway a little north of town.

The next day we drive into the southern end of Litchfield National Park where we intend to spend about a week exploring and taking more photos. There will be more about this beautiful national park in another post.