Mozambique, 12 November 2007
By the standards of the pace we have kept during this trip a huge number of miles have passed beneath the wheels of the Bullet in a very short time since the last entry.
There's been some tough roads since leaving Lilongwe. If I'm honest tougher than expected. I didn't really bite off more than I could chew, just that leaving Lilongwe my appetite wasn't quite that hearty.
Until this point still one step ahead of the rains I went through the aftermath on a sand road going along the bottom of Lake Malawi. A couple of days relaxing at the beach in rather intense heat was a cure. The next night I was on the Zomba Plateau and in the tent by 6.30 in the evening to escape the cold. In my obsession not to cover ground already ridden I planned to use the border from Malawi to Mozambique in the very South of the country and go the scenic route there. As is the way it seems with a lot of African minor roads it started as asphalt. Then was pretty good dirt. Then it rained and I dropped the bike (slowly) in claggy mud giong downhill. Should have seen that one coming as even locals on bicycles had dismounted and were treating the slope gingerly. It was in a village and gave the locals plenty entertainment. Restarting the bike the silencer dropped off and made the local kids run for cover.
Traffic got less and less and then the reason why became apparent. A big river (the Shire) and no bridge. Plenty of small row boats though and boatmen willing to rise to the challenge.
It seemed pretty improbable to get the bike me and all the luggage into the boat which was just a few feet longer than the bike. But then three extra passengers and the boatman jumped in and we punted across with the water lapping the gunnels.
Despite the worry of having to conduct a salvage dive to get the bike back from the bottom of the river all went smooth, it was cheap and took only about 20 minutes from arriving one side to pulling away at the other.
I had wanted to well into Mozambique that night but with the slow going I was still 25kms from the border. And to top it all just before pulling into town the rear mudguard brackets collapsed dropping the mudguard and saddle down onto the back tyre just as I was pulling into town. The new luggage system is neat but obviously not quite tough enough to cope with corrugations... The bracket had fractured at the mounting point for the new rear carrier.
Somewhere also on this road Sheepy (sheepskin purchased in Jordan as general comfort item - saddle cover, pillow and matress all in one) decided to ditch the ride and go it alone.
The next morning a pretty decent weld job was procurred without too much delay and we were off. Half an hour and we were at the border. Not much of a border. Surely the quietest in all Africa? Good news for me though as there wasn't much of a queue to get through. There was an ox cart coming the other way but I just managed to race in and get there first! had a sneak look at the log of crossing whilst I was in there and there seemed to be about three motorised vehicles coming through each month on average.
It was another half hour of so along a narrow dirtroad before we hit the Mozambiquan border check. I had a nasty thought suddenly that they might not issue visas on this boder but it was no worry. In fact it was really cheap. Mozambiquans charge a different price wherever you get the visa or cross in and the good news seems to be that the more remote the border is the cheaper it is.
Down here it was quite brutally hot and humidity was running close to the 100% mark. I had to stop pretty regularly to eat salty things and have a drink. There's not many places where you can have a moment to yourself in these parts and normally a few kids would come along. Throughout the South of Malawi and North of Mozambique I saw malnourished children in a way that I hadn't seen before. I shared some crisps with them which obviously didn't help the malnourishment problem at all (they were barbeque flavour crunchy nacks, yes really - the Malawian equivilent of Nic Nacs for those into their crisps) but raised a few smiles. I really couldn't work out if the malnourishment is completely to do with lack of food or mainly poor diet. There's not a lot of variety of food on offer here and even when vegetables are around people don't eat many. Maize is the thing, cooked in a huge variety of manners but in the end just the same startchy lack of any particular goodness. Lots of energy there, not much else. Typically there's not many aid agencies working around here. You've got to go to large cities to spy them and then preferably hang around nice cafes and hotels....
Further on we crossed the Zambezi on the Donna Ana Railway Bridge. 1931 and still the longest railway bridge in Africa. Easy enough to get to by train but a dog to find if you are driving. It's big enough so you wouldn't think so but take it fro mme. I rode along the river bank and then took a Steve McQueen style run up the road bank and nearly went over the other side. Supressing surprise and laughter the locals pointed that I should ride down the 3 or so kms of pedestrian bridge. A bit of a pain to keep avoiding people on bicycles, though they actually avoided me pretty quick given the situation. Good advice to ride the pedestrian section in case of passing trains but they didn't say that there was a flight of steps at the other side. The bike was manhandled down and off we went again. Another 100kms and we were back on asphalt.
Being on the tar again was of course great. Except that Mozambique is very big and very flat. A local told me that Gorongoza, my destination, was 90kms away. I rode 30 and then saw a sign for 200. Thus I found myself breaking the rules of African travel and saying to myself I'll go for it and should make it before nightfall. And thus in turn I found myself in a thunderstorm in the dark at the side of the road rewiring the bike with a torch to bypass the fuse that had gone during the morning's welding session.
Not such a long ride the next day. Inhambane on the coast was the destination. You can ride round but I saved the last 70kms by loading the bike up on to a Dhow and crossing the 4kms of water between Maxixe and Inhambane.
Arrived just in time as literally the moment the bike and luggage were unloaded onto the beach a tropical storm of great intensity came in and soaked me in the 200 metre ride to the closest cheap hotel.
A day in Inhambane and then a couple at Tofo beach to fulfill the ambitions to dive with Manta Rays and snorkel with Whale Sharks (well they've been ambitions since I found out that you could actually do that six months ago) and then we racked up the longest distance day yet of 500kms to get down to Maputo.
Like a lot of African capitals seem to be it is quite a well off pleasant place to be. Maputo probably more so than most with it's Portugese style pavement cafes, great seafood and beach location. So nice that you couldn't really imagine that the same country has people a few hundred kilometers away living in mud huts, malnourished and quite probably in worse conditions that they lived pre-colonial times.
So now, my little Southern Africa loop is nearly over. It should be two days more to Joburg transiting Swaziland. The bike has developed a massive oil leak due to a stripped cylinder head stud. Earlier on before we left as we were having trouble with our Iranian visa application (which in the end was refused) a friend suggested that we call the trip the 'Ride for Middle East Peace and friendly use of the atom'. The most suitable now is ' Ride to raise awareness in Africa of the dangers of oil spills'. Most hotels seem to be really gratefull that the Bullet is the only 50 year old bike that has come their way for a while.
I'll patch her up again and then on to Cape Town for Christmas and then the long ride home...
Posted by Richard Miller at 03:10 PM