Entering East Africa

The Great Mosque, Kilwa Kisiwani

Heading north from Ilha de Mocambique we follow the bitumen north toward Tanzania. Although we would like to see more of the coast the highway curves inland and there are significant detours involved if we want to visit the coast. We narrow our options down and decide to make a side trip to Pemba. The trip is easy and the roads are much better here than in central Mozambique. The land around us is green and as we travel further into the tropics there are more and more people around. Certainly more than in the drier parts of the country.

We take the turn east toward Pemba and shortly before we reach the main part of the town we follow our map and turn toward the camp site we have chosen. After following a dirt road for a while we take a left turn onto a smaller track which gets progressively narrower as we go. Soon we are following tyre tracks which don’t exactly follow the tracks we have on either of the maps we are using. We see some locals and they happily point us in the right direction and we arrive safe and sound at Ilala Lodge. None of our mapping apps seems to handle some of these small, remote towns. George, the French owner, tells us that there isn’t officially any camping allowed here as only Mozambique nationals are allowed to set up camp grounds but we are welcome to stay for free and just pay for wifi if we need it. What a nice guy and what a lovely spot to stay! He shows us an area just at the back of the beach and a little away from the chalets used for other guests and we settle in for a few days. George says we can stay as long as we like. Very tempting!

The tides here are large and the sea is quite shallow as far out as the edge of the reef about 1 km away and there are gentle sand banks before that. Swimming is good at high tide and the water is very warm. Otherwise the main activity is watching the activity of the locals. When the men return to shore after fishing in their dhows they sit on the shore and clean their catch and later the women arrive and wade through the shallows with nets to capture the small fish.

Early morning light at low tide at Pemba in Northern Mozambique

We follow George’s directions that takes us along a much simpler track to return to the highway and we follow the bitumen as far north as it goes. It runs out at Palma and we then have just a short distance on a good dirt road to reach our final stop in Mozambique in the village of Quionga. Here we camp in the yard of a South African missionary, Andreas. There is no fee but a donation is welcomed and we have a peaceful night camping under a huge tree. Andreas is able to give us valuable information about the track north to the Ruvuma River and what time we should leave to catch the ferry as it only operates once per day near the high tide. We don’t need to make an early start and Paul is out taking photos of the village in the morning. He soon attracts a following of young children keen to get into the photos.

We set out in plenty of time to go through the Mozambique border post and then travel a few more kilometres to reach to the ferry. We know the road will be rough and we figure we can have lunch while we wait on the bank of the Ruvuma River.

Rough road on the way to the Ruvuma River, border of Mozambique and Tanzania

Well that plan didn’t work out to well. The road as far as the border post was rough and not muddy but after the border post we descend toward the river and the track becomes more treacherous. We successfully get through a couple of muddy patches then are confronted by a huge mud hole. There appears to be a track on the left side but it looks a little narrow and if we don’t fit along there we could tip over. Next to it is a smallish mud hole and we try it and get stuck but manage to reverse back out. The mud hole on the right is way too soft so we don’t even consider it. By now a couple of locals have stopped to watch the action and one appears to suggest the middle large hole is the way to go and we decide to give it a go.

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Hmm, which way?

Not the right choice as it turns out. While we are still unsuccessfully trying to extract our vehicle a small crowd of local guys has gathered and they offer to push us out for $50USD. We try to negotiate but they don’t budge and when we agree they try to raise the price to $100 but we manage to avoid agreeing to that. They decide the water is too deep and bail it out laboriously then dig soft mud out from under the diff.

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#*#^! Not This Way #*#^!

A couple of attempts have been made to push us out and they don’t even look like succeeding and I’m starting to envisage a night trying to camp in the middle of the mud hole when oncoming traffic heralds the arrival of the ferry from Tanzania. The first vehicle is a 4WD with some American guys who are working in the area, possibly also missionaries. They were stuck here a while back and are happy to help us out so we attach our winch to the front of their land cruiser and we pull ourselves out. Thank goodness!

While we are doing this we see the rest of the traffic, including some 2WD vehicles, take the high side of the track and pass the mud without any problems. We sure got that decision wrong. Even though the local guys didn’t manage to get us out of the hole they have worked extremely hard in trying to help us so we hand over the cash we had agreed on. We’re now not sure we’ll make the ferry but apparently one of the them has rung ahead and the ferry is waiting for us. It is a great relief to get on to it. This wasn’t the type of exit from southern Africa than we had planned on but it is all part of the adventure.

The river is wide and the crossing takes about twenty minutes after which we head for the nearest town of Mtwara. Its a rough road but much better than the road on the southern side of the river. We go through the Tanzanian border post with no problems but it still takes about two hours. It is late afternoon before we reach town. There’s no camping in town and we’re too weary to go further to find a camp so we find a place to stay out of the centre of town opposite the beach. The Cliff and Garden Resort is quite run down but still charming. The owner is an elderly Dutch lady who appears unable to get around much and it appears that things have been let go a little but it suits us. We have a big chalet with a dining room/kitchen as well as bedroom and bathroom and we can park directly outside. Most of the kitchen equipment, ie fridge and stove, doesn’t work but we can bring our own inside and at least we have power, water, a sink and somewhere to prepare and eat food. We order a meal from the restaurant on our first night and are offered a choice of fish and chips or chicken and chips except they don’t have any fish. The serve of chicken is a half a chicken so we decide to share just one meal and it proves to be ample. We want to get a service on the car and have a few ongoing electrical issues looked at so we end up staying three nights.

As well as getting the work done on the car we get a Tanzanian SIM card and data, eat at a great Indian restaurant and visit the local market. Because we don’t have our car for much of the time our travel is a mixture of walking in the hot and humid weather and catching a bijaji. These cost between two and five thousand shillings per trip ($1-3) and are similar to the south east asian tuk tuks.

Our next stop is to be the village of Kilwa Masoko as we want to visit the Arab ruins on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani which is just a couple of kilometres off shore. There are lots of villages along the way and we need to slow to 50kph going through them. The maximum between the villages is 80kph and sometimes the gap between the villages is only a matter of a few kilometres or less so its a slow trip. As well as trucks there are lots of large and small buses on the road and it is a relief to leave the highway and head for the coast.

After a quick look around the village we find a spot to camp at a lodge on the beachfront. We have a nice shady tree to camp beside and although we are just in front of the restaurant there is noone else around so it is very quiet. The owner is very hospitable and makes sure we are comfortable and the restaurant has great reviews so we decide we will dine in it at least once.

The reef here is a kilometre or two off the coast and the tides are huge. We have great views of the activities of the locals as they follow their daily fishing routines.

Kilwa Kisiwani translates as “Kilwa on the Island” to distinguish it from Kilwa Masoku, which is a small town on the mainland, and the largely abandoned Kilwa Kivengi which is about twenty kilometres north and is where the Germans built their “boma” during their brief tenure of the colony of German East Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century.

To visit Kilwa Kisiwani we pay for a permit at the antiquities office and also for a guide and a boat to take us the three kilometres across the bay from Kilwa Masoku. We leave camp in the cool of the early morning because we know that we will be walking for several hours on the island. We clamber over rocks beside the wharf and step onto our boat which takes about twenty minutes to convey us to the island. Our guide, a young Swahili woman named Jamili, describes our rough itinerary during the trip.

A small village of Swahili people still live on the island and they make a living by fishing and growing what they need to eat. Apart from a primary school, a couple of very small shops and the villagers huts  there remains the extensive ruins which have been partially excavated and are all that is left of the chequered history of the sometimes prosperous town of Kilwa over the last eleven hundred years.

Dhows are used for travel and to bring supplies to and from the mainland as well as for fishing. At low tide they are marooned on the mud flats.

The earliest ruins, some of which were simple walled encampments, date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. They, like all the other buildings, were built from coral rock, which was almost certainly taken from quarries on the island. The walls are one to two feet thick and the later buildings were rendered with lime. Where the rock is exposed it is easy to find places where the patterns of the coral organisms are discernable. The same method of building was used in Zanzibar which was also settled by the Omani Arabs and came to prominence after Kilwa’s decline.

While the earliest ruins in Kilwa were quite simple later buildings were very elaborate and with the latter ones being quite luxurious. Gereza, Kilwa’s Fort is the most complete structure. It was originally built by the Portuguese but most of the existing structure was rebuilt by the Omani Arabs.

We visit the remains of three mosques, the Great Mosque, as its name implies, is the most impressive but the small mosque which was mainly used by the Sultan and his family has a wonderful atmosphere as well.

At one end of the island is Makutani, “the palace of the big walls”, where a very large palace and the remains of other buildings are enclosed within a defensive wall.

The final structures we visit is Husuni Kubwa, a magnificent 14th century palace. It is huge and very complex, a splendid royal residence which was only occupied by one Sultan. After exploring it and marvelling at the lavish life style which would have been enjoyed by the regal family we descend the stairs to the mangrove flats and pick our way out to the boat for our return to the mainland.

We are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere at our camp at Kilwa Masoko so we decide to stay an extra day. After we make our decision our host informs us there is a group coming in later and they are likely to be noisy. She sure was right. An extended Indian family occupy most of the chalets and after a communal dinner they sing and dance. It is nice to listen to and it would be great to be a part of their festivities. They aren’t too late with their songs though so we still get a good nights sleep.

We are now just a days drive from Dar Es Salaam. We are planning a week long visit to the island of Zanzibar so we need to find a place to stay for one night then a place to safely leave the car for the week. The electrical work we had done in Mtwara doesn’t seem to have fixed everything so we look for an auto electrician and find one who says they can do the work and will be happy to store the car for the week. The city is big and busy and has a reputation for being a tough place to stay so we are happy to find a place on the internet which is on the outskirts of the city and looks very laid back.

So much for plans. We are using two apps to help us navigate but neither help and we end up at a loss as to how to get there. We ring and follow the hosts suggestion of asking a bijaji driver to lead us to the right road and eventually, after crossing a river and climbing up and down some very basic tracks, we find the place. It doesn’t live up to expectations though because we can’t get our car off the road and the facilities are way more basic than we expected. We decide to go for plan B and head back to the main road and before long we reach the Safari Lodge in a suburb north of the city. Here we find secure parking with an overnight guard, a comfortable room and very pleasant staff. They offer to let us leave our car here for our week on Zanzibar and, after checking out the auto electrician and deciding they look less than reliable, we take them up on their offer. It sure shows that when things don’t work out the way you expect they can work out even better.

Looking forward to our time on Zanzibar.

Ilha De Moçambique

IlhadeMocambique 27

Stone Town, Ilha de Moçambique

Ilha De Moçambique (Mozambique Island) is small in size at less than 3.5 km long and 500m wide but it is packed with history and has lots of fascinating buildings so we are looking forward to exploring it. We travel across the 3.5km one lane bridge which joins the island to the mainland. Luckily there are passing points along the way. The water beneath the bridge is shallow and remarkably clear. There are lots of people living in this area and the water is dotted with fishing dhows, people netting fish and others wading across toward the island.

There is no camping on the island so our first task is to find a place to stay for our visit. We have picked out a number of possibilities and we are soon joined by a throng of young boys offering to guard our car, for a small fee of course, as we make our way from place to place. The main streets are narrow and often one way and the side streets are often alley ways too narrow to drive through so it is slow going and the boys run behind us and sometimes jump onto the back of the vehicle.

The first few are not suitable either because they are too expensive or not available for the whole time we want and we are just working out how to reach the next place when a young man on a bicycle offers to lead us. Mohamed takes us to several more places, a couple would be OK but we’re hoping to find something better and then the final place he takes us to is delightful. O Escondidinho is a grand old building and there is just one room left for the five nights we are planning to stay. It’s in the courtyard just next to the swimming pool and there is plenty of space for Paul to bring his computer inside to work on his photos. We can’t self cater but breakfast is included and we can easily make our own lunch in the room so we will only need to buy one meal each day. Perfect!

Most of the historic buildings are in Stone Town which occupies the northern section of the island. They were constructed between the early 16th and late 19th centuries when the Portuguese occupied the island and locals were banished to the mainland. The local people now live in Makuti Town in the southern part of the island and Stone Town buildings are mainly used for tourism or are in varying states of decay. Each day we wander around the quiet streets always finding new alleys or revisiting others we enjoy.

The details are in the buildings are fascinating, especially the doorways and windows.

At the north end of the island is the Fort of São Sebastião which was built in the 16th century. It is huge and we spend several hours wandering around and Paul returns in the late afternoon just before they close for the day so he can take even more photos.

Behind the fort, right at the very tip of the island is the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. Built in 1522, it is considered to be the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere.

Another place well worth a visit is the Palace & Chapel of São Paulo, the former governors residence. The residence has been completely restored and we wander around the many rooms with our guide explaining the history. The restoration has been extremely well done and it is easy to imagine the grand life the Portuguese rulers led, at the expense of all of the local people and of the slaves being trafficked through the island. No photography is allowed inside the residence but we were able to take photos in the chapel.

Mohammed led us through Makuti town and it is a bustling lively place, very different from the quiet streets in Stone Town and the splendour of the old buildings. Narrow walkways thread between shacks with the occasional wider thoroughfare.

The main road which runs through the centre of Makuti Town is bustling and it becomes much quieter as we approach Stone Town. A street side shoe stall intrigues me and Paul enjoys watching a pick up game of soccer. An unused church stands at the southern end of the island.

The Memorial Slave Garden is a reminder of the dreadful history of the island and the lives of the many slaves who passed through here or died on the way here.

As it is a small island you are never far from the water and it is always interesting to watch the numerous dhows and the general ‘goings on’.

The sun sets quite early and we try to find a nice spot for sundowners so we can enjoy the changing colours. Later we try out various restaurants and enjoy reflecting on our day.





Heading North in Mozambique


Sunrise at Morrungulo on the Mozambique Coast

Border crossings from South Africa to Mozambique have a reputation for being slow and possibly with problems of corruption or at least pestering. I’m happy to say the Giryondo Border Post in the centre of Kruger and the Limpopo National Parks offered a friendly and efficient service and we were through the South African and Mozambique offices of Immigration, Customs and National Parks in just over 40 minutes. That included obtaining our Mozambique visa on arrival and saw us head into Mozambique by mid morning. Our visa is valid for 30 days and we plan to use all or most of that time in our travels from here to the Tanzanian border in the far north of the country.

We are heading for the coast and the first section of the road through the Limpopo park is slow going rocky with plenty of corrugations. We take it slowly and the car has seen much worse roads in the past so I am surprised when I glance in the side mirror to see one of our spare wheels bounding off into the bushes behind us. The weld on the rear tyre carrier completely failed and it is just as well I saw it go as the wheel which took off into the bush is carrying our rear number plate. It would be a nuisance and some expense to replace the wheel and carrier but it would be an administrative pain to try to get a new number plate. We retrieve the tyre from the bush, remove it from the broken piece of the carrier and strap it on top of the storage box on the roof rack. It will be a relatively easy job to get the weld repaired as we travel.

The rest of our journey to the coast is uneventful and the bitumen road, when we reach it, is in far better condition than we expected. That was until we reached the larger sections where the road replacement is under way and for many kilometres we travel along a dirt track a short distance off to the side of the road. This slows our average pace and as we have travelled further east with no change in time zone the sun is setting earlier so it is well and truly dark by the time we reach our camp site at the Sunset Beach Lodge and it is an easy decision to eat in the restaurant. The meal is good and cheap and when Paul spies crayfish on the menu at an extremely good price we decide to stay an extra night so we can enjoy a feast on the balcony for lunch the next day and a walk on the beach.

The stop over for an extra day means we are travelling north on a Monday so we are able to have the tyre carrier re-welded and to stock up on our food as we travel. Supermarkets become few and far between as you travel north in Mozambique so we can’t miss out on any opportunity to restock.

On our last trip to Mozambique we enjoyed an extended stay at Morrungulo Beach Lodge and we are returning this trip. James and Barbara and their son Harry have a beautifully maintained camping and chalet area on a glorious beach and, although we hadn’t planned to stay too long, we end up staying for a week. We set up the ground tent for the first time, relieved that it is very simple as we had managed to lose the instructions, and Paul is able to spend time working on his photos. Of course he also takes some more great photos from the beach and the drone while we are there.


Morrungulo Beach at Sunset

We swim twice every day, walk for kilometres along the beach on the firm sands, enjoy the lush green campgrounds and generally relax while we work on our photos and writing. Local fishermen offer their catches and we feast on crayfish one night and buy a huge barracuda which is filleted and feeds us for another two nights and also leaves us with enough fish for another five nights. Yum. Its a hard place to leave but we really need to pick up our travels again. To my surprise the tent easily fits back inside its bag.

Our next significant destination is Ilha da Mocambique (Mozambique Island) which is more than 1,700 km and thousands of potholes north. We met Tessie, Anton and Carol while we were at Sunset Beach Lodge and they were headed for their place at Inhassaro and invited us to stay. Inhassaro is 20 km off the main highway but we decide to drop in as it would be good to see them again. We have lost their phone number so don’t even give them advance warning but they make us very welcome at their place, Yellowfin Lodge, and give us a room for the night and we join them for a delicious dinner and a good yarn.

We are travelling on EN1 (Highway One) and hit some bad potholes as soon as we had travelled north of Vilanculos before we reached Inhassaro. As we continue north they get worse. We try various ways to describe them: you don’t drive over these potholes, you enter them then some time later come out; even the potholes have potholes; sometimes the potholes on the side of the road are so bad you go back to the original potholes in the middle of the road; and then sometimes the road condition was so bad it was no longer potholes, just holes with virtually no bitumen left.

Mozambique - 9

Not much of the road left, EN1, Highway 1 in Mozambique

Our next overnight stop is at a camp near the Gorongosa National Park. The camp is about 15 km off the main road and it is delight to hit the relatively smooth gravel road. We reach the turn off into the camp, pass an abandoned building and head deeper into the bush. The campsite is run by the local community with payment by donation and is set amongst the bush. A couple and their young child had arrived just before us and were the only other campers for the night. We have a relatively short drive planned for the next day so it was lovely to wake in the bush and to have a relaxed start to the day.

James and Barbara recommended M’Phwinge Lodge for an overnight stay and although they have no camping sites they have very reasonably priced chalets. We have been in touch with the owners and Pat has given us directions for a dirt road around the top of the Gorongosa National Park so we can miss the worst section of the main road. It is a delightful drive and worth doing even if it didn’t have the added bonus of missing that dreadful stretch of road. The scenery is great, especially as we drive past the southern side of the Gorongosa massif and through villages filled with brightly dressed local people. There are a couple of river crossings which make this route impassable in the wet season but they are no problem now. Unfortunately some of the buses and trucks are also taking this route and the road is barely wide enough so we just try to get right out of their way as soon as we see them coming.

Eventually we reach the other end of the dirt road and turn on to Highway 2 (EN2), which instead of being potholed bitumen is sand. A few sections are fairly soft sand but most is packed down and, while we need to take care, it is much easier to cope with than potholes. We pass through the town of Inhaminga with ruins of Portuguese buildings along the main road and down side streets and lots of people near some market stalls. The sandy road continues right up until we reach the EN1, thankfully past the pot holed section, and just a few kilometres along we turn into M’Phingwe Lodge.

We have a comfortable night and a nice meal at M’Phwinge and chat with Pat and Ant White. The lodge is set amongst trees and a tame Blue Duiker wanders around the grounds. They are very rare and endemic to this area. He had been rescued and raised in a pen until he was led enough to fend for himself and was just released very recently. He hasn’t left for the bush yet and still likes being rubbed between the tiny horns but when he is ready he can leave and go back to the bush.

In the morning we have another 20 km of pot-holes to negotiate but Pat assures us the road is much better after that. We have more than 700 km to travel today so we leave very early and as we cross the Zambezi the mist is rising through the early sunshine. The river is huge here, many times bigger then when we crossed it first in western Zambia then again as we crossed it as we left Zambia for Zimbabwe and finally as it thundered over the Victoria Falls. Many rivers feed into it and they have all carried water from the rainy season.

The road is excellent and we make good progress. An unusual sight is a poor goat tied to the top of a large truck, even while cornering the goat managed to stay on its feet. The land around here is dotted with huge granite outcrops called Inselbergs and we start seeing them about an hour before we reach our destination of Nampula.

The camp is 15km outside of the busy town and we arrive before dark. The camping area  is set in a manicured garden next to a lake at the base of an Inselberg. Its a very unusual setting and we compare it to our other camps since we arrived in Mozambique; on top of sand dunes at Sunset Beach, under trees just behind the beach at Morrungulo, in a lovely private lodge at Inhassaro, in the jungle at Gorongosa, and in the bush at M’Phingwe.

It was a full moon a few nights ago and there is still lots of light in the middle of the nights so Paul is up taking photographs for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and then again at first light. Luckily we have only a few hours driving to reach our destination for the next five nights, Ilha de Mocambique.


Southern Mozambique

Maputo Municipal Market

Maputo Municipal Market

South Africa has been a pretty easy place to travel around with lots of similarities to Australia once you get used to the need for a higher level of security. While there are seven national languages, English is widely spoken and almost all signs are in English. There are plenty of supermarkets carrying a good range of food including most of the things we are used to buying. Good cheeses and hams are hard to come by but then there are heaps of good wines at very good prices and meat is also much cheaper than in Australia. Loads of information is available for tourists and travellers and it is very easy to get to wherever you want to go on the ample freeways, highways and good linking roads. So all in all a pretty easy start to our African odyssey.

Mozambique offers a whole lot of different experiences. It stretches almost 3,000 km along the Pacific Ocean and most of the country is low lying (with accompanying problems with malaria) but it rises up to mountain ranges along several western borders. It is crossed by two major rivers, the Limpopo and the Zambezi, and has 200 km of Lake Malawi coastline in the north. There are still problems between various factions in the north of the country and parts of the highway need to be travelled in convoy together with army vehicles but because we wanted to be back in Johannesburg for Christmas and didn’t want to rush too much we chose to cover just a small part of the country in the far south where it is all pretty safe. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to see more of Mozambique on another stage of our travels, especially the far northern coastline. There is a lot of poverty and corruption and it was essential to keep the car and trailer properly locked up and make sure they were in a secure spot before leaving them. We had been warned that the police are keen to dish out fines for real or possibly imagined infringements so we make sure to drive well under limits, smile and be patient and courteous and we have no problems. Portuguese is the national language although lots of African dialects are spoken as well and neither of us managed to remember much more than please and thank you so that meant a lot of smiling and gesturing and hoping there were some English speakers around.

The trip across the country from the top of Kruger National Park in South Africa to the Indian Ocean at Vilanculos was great (see our blog post ‘Across Mozambique’) and a real eye opener with lots of villages and people along the often rough and dusty roads. Vilanculos sounded great in the guides but it doesn’t deliver what we were looking for. Its main drawcard is the offshore islands but they are expensive to visit and very expensive to stay on. After one night on the way across the country and one night in Vilanculos we are ahead of schedule but very weary and keen to find a spot to stop and prop for a week.

Leaving Vilanculos we turn south along the highway toward the capital city of Maputo. This highway is the major route between Maputo in the south, right up along the coast to the border with Tanzania in the north but it has a vastly different feel to major highways in Australia. The road surface is good but there is no need for more than one lane in each direction as vehicle traffic is much, much less. There are a few trucks, a few passenger vehicles and quite a few vehicles ferrying people from one village to the next and they drop off and pick up at frequent spots along the way. These are generally old ‘people movers’ or mini-buses packed way beyond their makers intentions or ‘utes’ with people crammed into the back. It sure would be hot in the back without any shade whatsoever. Because they are so overloaded and the engines have obviously been suffering from too much weight for too many years and also to let the driver keep a lookout out for more potential passengers, these vehicles tend to travel even slower than we do and will suddenly slow down or swerve to the edge of the road. It is just as well the minimal traffic makes overtaking very easy. We often pass speed cameras on the edges of villages and towns but we are vigilant about watching the speedo and have no problems with them. Early on in the journey we are pulled over for vehicle checks a couple of times and the main purpose appears to be to get some small amount of money or some food or cold drinks but we just continue smiling and being patient and courteous and showing we are happy for them to check whatever they like and they quickly lose interest. Later in the trip the checks seem to be more genuine as we see quite a few of the old buses being properly checked for safety and there were also licence and registration checks at various spots.

The majority of movement on the highway is along the edges with people walking quite long distances to reach their destinations. We don’t manage to work out what the school schedule is as we often see crowds of school children leaving their school grounds and walking to the next village. It is often in the middle of the day so it looks like they start early before it gets too hot and classes last just half the day. Instead of large scale agriculture or forestry the villagers produce whatever they can from their small plots or the bush to make some money. A pile of firewood or sacks of charcoal, or timber cut to length for house construction, or a stand with some fruit or vegetables, or some wooden bowls for grinding maize are placed beside the road at the edge of the villagers properties. Even a sack of small rocks can be sold as one method of constructing houses is to use timber bearers, rocks and mud then thatch the roof with long grasses or palm leaves or use some corrugated iron. Sometimes there is a hopeful seller to collect money but often they are unattended and as there are no signs we wonder how payment is arranged. Perhaps someone is watching from a nearby house and will appear as soon as a vehicle stops. Charcoal and some of the timber appears to be put out ready for collection by truck but otherwise there is no middleman, just direct sales from producer to consumer. Each village, no matter how small, has a number of stalls displaying crops grown locally or other goods available for sale and there are always people sitting or standing around. Some places are quite busy and others are very small but in all cases there seem to be far more people trying to sell than potential customers with money to spend. Occasionally we pass through bigger towns with more buildings including service stations, an ATM or two and the perennial Vodacom stalls and shops. There are several other telecom companies here but Vodacom has succeeded in its marketing as every store has queues of people filling in forms outside the shops then filtering inside.

We break our journey south for considerably longer than we anticipate with a stay of two and a half weeks at Morrungulo which is just north of the town of Massinga (see our blog ‘Time Out in Paradise’). When we finally leave Morrungulo we feel relaxed, refreshed and ready for more adventures. Our first stop of the day is  in the town of Maxixe (pronounced ma-sheesh) which is across a gulf from the historic town of Inhambane which is located at the top of a peninsula. We stop for two reasons. Although there was a supermarket in Massinga they only carry an extremely limited and poor quality range of meat and we were directed to a supermarket here which has better meat. The other reason was to check out the camping here as we are considering leaving the car and trailer here and visiting Inhambane by ferry or dhow. Even though we have been given very clear directions we still end up driving around the town a couple of times before we find the supermarket. It looks nothing like the supermarkets we are used to and the range of supermarket goods and fruit and vegetables are very limited. They do have good meat though and we leave with some very nice steak and some OK chicken and sausage.  After watching the very slow loading of the ferry taking people across the gulf and observing that no dhows are able to cross the gulf against the strong wind we decide to drive to Inhambane, a 27 km trip south to the bottom of the gulf then a similar distance north again to reach the town.

Inhambane is one of the oldest settlements along the coast having been used as a trading post and port for at least ten centuries. Early trade was in textiles, then ivory and later slaves but when the slave trade was abolished the town began to decline in importance and size so now it is a sleepy tree-lined place with many old buildings of various heritage and a pretty setting beside the water. There is no camping in or near the town itself and most tourists stay at one of the resorts or settlements along the ocean beaches. The nearest is Tofo  which is, for us, more than 30 minutes away and after our fabulous time on the coast at Morrungulo we don’t need another beach fix but would prefer to spend our time in the historic town so we decided to look for lodgings instead of camping.

Inhambane ruins

Inhambane ruins

The first place we visit is just a couple of hundred metres past the ferry terminal on the water front so it is nice and close to walk into the main part of the town. They have nobody else staying at the time and there is secure parking out the back so we end up with a pleasant room at the front overlooking the water. The shared bathroom isn’t a problem even though the drought means water is often delivered via a large bucket rather than through the water pipes and the very friendly small bar and restaurant downstairs is a bonus. All this for the princely sum of 1200 Mt, or just over $20 per night.

The bar is quiet when we arrive with just a couple of locals in for a late lunch and a beer so we take a seat at a table with shade and a view over the gulf across to Maxixe and it is very easy for us to relax with a cold local beer (50 MT or about 85 cents for 500 ml) and some snacks to see us through until the evening. We also have a meal here on another evening so we can try out their Mapata, a stew of cassava leaves and chicken served with rice. Nice but a bit bland is our verdict. The bar is definitely a locals hangout though and at the weekend the afternoon trade is strong with lots of smiling guys enjoying a Saturday afternoon beer or two. We get broad smiles and welcomes as we pass through the bar and most people leave before dinner so we enjoy the atmosphere and have no problems with late night noise.

We end up staying in Inhambane for three nights and as well as wandering around the town enjoying the old buildings we visit the local market and drive out to the coastal resort village of Tofo. The market in Inhambane has a  huge range of goods to supply almost everything a local could want as well as a section with curios and souvenirs for the occasional tourists (us). As always the pressure to buy makes it more difficult to look as any show of interest increases the pestering factor tenfold. It’s also very difficult to work out the real value of goods as haggling is expected and neither of us is particularly skilled in that art. I do spot a piece of fabric I would like as a tablecloth and we buy it after some bartering but I still have no idea if we paid a fair price or were completely overcharged. The fruit and vegetables are great, with a wide range and fixed but very reasonable prices so we had far more success in that section of the market and leave with enough to keep us going for quite a while.

Tofo is a complete contrast. In Inhambane we saw very few other tourists yet in this settlement the majority of people we see are fairly well-heeled tourists enjoying the beach resort holiday. We take advantage of the free wifi at one of the resorts while we have a delicious brunch overlooking the white sandy bay. Its ‘postcard pretty’ and a good base for boat trips out to reefs to scuba dive or snorkel. Beautiful and ideal for some but while we agree we could be happy soaking up the atmosphere for a few days we are generally much more content in the bush or at a basic camping ground and we are loving the atmosphere among the locals at our lodging back in town. Locals in Tofo are either working in the resorts or trying to drum up business from the few tourists around at present. Mozambique tourism is certainly suffering from the drought and the reports of violence even though we are not in an area that is affected in any way.

Brunch at Tofo

Brunch at Tofo

From Inhambane we have over 450 km to travel to reach Maputo. Because we travel so slowly we would normally break the drive and stop for a night along the way but we struggled to find anywhere midway which did not require a significant detour from the highway on sandy tracks or which received better than poor reviews on Trip Advisor so we decide to book a place in Maputo and make an early start to reach there in one day. The trip along the highway is uneventful with towns becoming bigger and population density increasing as we go. It is Sunday so we miss the worst of the traffic but there is still far more than we have become accustomed to. We are going to be staying at a guesthouse in a suburb on the western side of the city and Google Maps offers a choice of travelling straight down the main highway to the city edge then taking a toll freeway a short distance to the suburb we need or leaving the highway earlier and cutting straight down to our destination along minor roads. Naturally we choose the latter but that sure turns out to be a mistake. Google maps obviously has very little real information about the minor roads here as the one we try to follow begins as a muddy track and then deteriorates. We manage to travel a few kilometres along the track at an average speed of 5 kph but then it appears to get even narrower. There are locals all around looking very puzzled to see us towing a trailer past their houses and eventually we stop to find out if we can get through. With our total lack of Portuguese and their lack of English we use sign language to learn that the suburb we are going to can no longer be reached by this road. In fact we cannot go any further south at all and have to back the car and trailer up along the very narrow track to the last side track. With lots of help from one of the locals we make it around safely and return to the tar road. Definitely no more trips down dirt roads around Maputo.

I breath a great sigh of relief when we make it back on to the bitumen and it is easy sailing down the highway and along the freeway. We quickly find the correct exit from the freeway and follow another major road to the suburb we are headed to. We are totally relying on Google maps now as we booked the accommodation on the internet and we haven’t been given any specific travel directions other than the google map location. The side roads have no name posts and when it is time to turn off the main road we aren’t overly happy to see a dirt road but at least this one is reasonably wide and there is no mud, other than in small patches that is. When we arrive at the supposed location there is a school and no signs nearby that we can recognise. After circling the block a couple of times we ask some locals. They haven’t heard of the place but we manage to get some instructions to a place few streets away. This is at least another guest house but unfortunately not the one we are looking for and they haven’t heard of the one we want either. By now we have checked some other booking sites on the internet and one has the property located a couple of blocks away so we figure we should try that next. No signs out the front here either but Paul rings the bell and thankfully we have arrived at the right place at last and we can park out the back.

There was some confusion about our booking but it is eventually resolved and the owners come around and make us very welcome. The place has not been open as a guesthouse for very long and work is still underway to increase the secure parking out the front, hence no sign. (It will have been done by now.) There are also some finishing touches to be completed inside and they hadn’t expected any guests this week while the work was being done but that message got lost somewhere. They kindly put off the noisy parts of the work while we are there but by now I am sure it is a very comfortable spot to stay. As well as double rooms with everything we could want there are suites, a kitchen and lounge, swimming pool, pool table and recreation room. We are very comfortable and extend our stay to three nights and would certainly be happy to recommend the Gardens Guesthouse in Matola for anyone visiting Maputo.

It is only a ten minute drive into the city and we make the trip in a couple of times plus an extra trip for Paul before the sun rises one morning. It’s a busy, grubby, chaotic city but we enjoy our visits. Lots of the old buildings are in one area just above the port so it is easy to wander around them and through a very pleasant botanic garden there. As well as the official older buildings which are well maintained there are derelict ruins and very basic housing blocks which are in stark contrast to brand new skyscrapers. The Art Gallery is quite small but as well as the permanent exhibition it has an interesting temporary exhibition which we enjoy. Most of the permanent display is fairly recent, from the 60s on. We think that local art work probably wasn’t valued or collected by the government until after the Portuguese bailed out in the 70s.

The main food market is a bit sterile but there are numerous street markets which make up for that. The embassies are all clustered together in the newer section of the city and a huge shopping centre has been built near the port and another along the beach front. We visit a very interesting art and craft market late on our second afternoon and we wish we had found it earlier. There are a lot of stalls spread through some pleasant gardens, with a lovely cafe / restaurant in the centre, we even loved the art work on the rubbish bins. We buy a beautiful batik wall hanging there and had we more money on us and more time available we would probably have bought more but we are running our local currency down before leaving the country as it is useless anywhere else.

We splurge on our last evening meal in Mozambique and eat at a Portuguese restaurant called The Taverna. They have a delicious buffet as an option and it looked just too good to pass up so for the first time since we arrived in Africa we had our fill of superb cold meats and cheeses then followed them up with plates of Portuguese specialties. Delicious and neither of us was in any state to even consider dessert.

It is finally time to move on and leave Mozambique. From Maputo it is an easy run along main roads with a gentle climb up to the border post with Swaziland at Namaacha, time for yet another adventure!

Time Out In Paradise

Morrungulo Beach

Morrungulo Beach

For the past twelve months we have been promising ourselves an extended stay in a relaxing spot away from crowds. In the last year we spent several months in Tasmania with very little down time between travelling and we have been visiting family and friends and staying in or near large cities or towns. Although it has been great to spend time with our loved ones, and we enjoyed Tasmania immensely, we also need our ‘bush’ time. Unusually for us last winter was spent in cool areas (make that cold areas) in southern parts of Australia and while we saw lots of beautiful places we prefer our relaxation to be in a balmy climate. Well we finally found the place, the time and the opportunity at a tiny place called Morrungulo on the coast of Mozambique about 500 km north of the capital of Maputo … and a world apart from anything else we have experienced together.

After making a quicker than expected trip across the country from the Pafuri Border Post at the top of the Kruger National Park and spending only one night in Vilanculos (see our post ‘Across Mozambique’) we are nearly a week ahead of our loose ‘plan’ for touring the southern section of Mozambique and well in need of a bit of R&R. We read the guides and check out our options for a beach-side stay on our way down the coast. We like the sound of the reviews of Morrungulo Beach Lodge and it looks like it has easy access from the main road so we decide to check it out before looking at the towns and resorts further south.

Local 'Bus' on the Road into Morrungulo

Local ‘Bus’ on the Road into Morrungulo

About 8km north of Massinga we turn east on a dusty red (but firm) track which is a good start. We follow it for about 20 km toward the coast ignoring the sandy tracks to the sides. We pass scattered houses and small villages and people either walking along the road or working or standing outside their houses. They all smile and wave and the kids make half hearted calls for sweets but they don’t really seem to expect any result, it just seems to be a matter of form and who knows, sometimes they might get lucky. At the end of the track is a shack with a ‘museum’ and curio shop sign and side tracks which lead north and south but the entrance to Morrungolo Beach Lodge (also referred to as Ponta Morrungulo in some guides) is right next to the museum. There are a number of small buildings proclaiming to be bars or bakeries or shops but it is out of season and nothing is open. The ‘museum’ is open at seemingly random times while we are there but for some reason we never get around to investigating it.

The reception for the resort is not much further and as we approach we can see we are on a dune well above the ocean, so this may not be the place for us. The receptionist assures us the camping is by the beach and invites us to go for a walk to look around. We pass through a restaurant and bar which command impressive views up and down the coast, and the infinity pool just outside.

Morrungulo Beach Lodge, View from the Restaurant

Morrungulo Beach Lodge, View from the Restaurant

Steps and a path lead steeply down to the beach level. Thatched cottages or chalets stretch along the base of the slope and along the beach front. A large shady camp area fills the space in between. It all looks beautifully maintained even now during the off season. The grass is lush and mown, there are plenty of mature trees to provide good dense shade, tracks are neatly raked of leaves and fallen palm fronds are piled ready for collection. Best of all is the tantalising view between chalets and trees of the blue Indian Ocean with waves breaking onto a wide sandy beach.

Morrungulo Beach

Morrungulo Beach

We have a choice of sites as there are no other guests at present and we pick one with good shade, for Paul, and good views, for Julie. Actually lots of the sites would meet those criteria and soon we are setting up camp and we are ready to stay for a week. The shade won’t be a problem for the solar panels as we have power so Paul will be able to work on his photos for as long as he wants. The grass is prickle free and the sand soft so there is no need for any footwear, bliss. The place is owned and run by James and Barbara and their son Harry (daughter Rebecca is at university in the US) and while we are still setting up James calls by to welcome us and give us some tips including how much to pay the fishermen on the beach for their fish or crays.

Our week stretches out and we extend and extend again. The weather is great, generally hot and sunny but with enough of a breeze to keep us comfortable in our shady nook and the occasional rain shower to freshen everything up. Rain is sure needed, they haven’t had good rain here for a few years now and the only way James and Harry have been able to keep the grounds green and lush is by constant attention to watering. Luckily they have an ever-flowing spring but even that is showing signs of slowing down. Days are easily filled. Often they involve a walk or stroll along the beach, a swim or two and some work on photography or writing interspersed with reading and relaxing. Tough life! We learn pretty quickly that if we go into the water directly out from our campsite we have a strong drift to contend with and it is hard to get past it, particularly at high tide. If we go just a little way along the beach however the water becomes deeper much quicker and we can enjoy our swim without having to work quite so hard.

The camp cat, Marmalade, adopted us as soon as we arrived. A very pretty small cat, she is extremely affectionate and has learnt how to behave to increase her chances of getting food or attention. Spare chairs and sunny spots are her favourite sleeping or napping spots although she manages to get inside our tent and up on to our bed one night. Whenever food is around she winds herself around our legs or sits directly under where we next want to step, and gets stepped on a few times as a result. I rename her Lady Marmalade, she deserves the name in more ways than one. She proves to be fickle in her attention though, as soon as other campers arrive she deserts us just revisiting when she thinks she is more likely to get food from us.

We weren’t expecting a stay of this long so we need to stock up but we’re in luck. Barbara informs us a supermarket has recently opened in the local town of Massinga, just half an hour away, and it carries most of what we want. The meat isn’t great but our freezer still has enough to carry us through and our seafood comes from the fishermen on the beach so it can’t get fresher, and Barbara also gives us some fillets of local fish. Lots of locals frequent the supermarket to buy their freshly baked large baguettes, almost small loaves, and each time we visit we buy them still hot out of the oven for the princely sum of 8 Mt each, that converts to less than 15 cents, yum. While we’re in town we get some credit on to our Mozambique sim card, its nice to be able to be in touch again even if it means walking to the top of the hill at the resort to pick up a signal.

We’re the only guests for much of our stay although there are other campers on a couple of nights and a chalet is occupied for a weekend. That will change as soon as the South African school holidays start when up to five hundred South Africans will come for their annual holiday. Many have been coming for years and book their chalets or camp sites well in advance. During this busy time there are lots of water activities on offer including diving or snorkelling, fishing, and jet boat rides and they are opening a beachside bar this year to complement the restaurant at the top of the hill. We can see where the attraction is but we feel blessed to be here in such a quiet time.

James, Barbara and Harry always make their guests welcome but because it is so quiet we are lucky enough to spend a bit more time with them. We join them for afternoon tea one day so Paul can watch the Australia vs. South Africa Rugby match and they join us at our camp one evening for dinner of calamari and chicken cooked on the braii (bbq). Another evening we savour grilled prawns and a delicious fish curry at their beautiful home perched high on the dune overlooking the ocean and learn more about their time here and their early days in northern Mozambique. Paul has been keen to use his drone but they are banned in Kruger so he hasn’t had much opportunity so far so he is very pleased that James and Barbara have no problems with him using it here. In fact they are keen to get some aerial footage of the place and Paul takes quite a bit of footage and edits the film to create some movies for them. Several kilometres south along the beach are some rocks which are worth viewing and James and Harry take us for a ride their on their quad bikes. The ride itself was lots of fun and the scenery great and the rocks are fascinating. Paul and Harry happily take photos until the rising tide dictates our return to camp.

Finally after two and half weeks we reluctantly leave this place we have been calling paradise so we can continue our journey through southern Mozambique. So what made this such a paradise for us? Well first is obviously the location with palm trees and tropical plants descending to the brilliant blue ocean and a wide sandy beach to enjoy. Next is the resort with its large shady trees and lush green grass. Bonuses are the power, water and facilities … all well maintained. We were lucky with our timing resulting in beautiful weather and the peacefulness resulting from being off season. Finally the friendliness of the hosts, who could ask for more?

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!!