2004 to 2005 - London to Capetown on 600cc Honda Transalps
Where did these crazy guys go??? The route
What did these crazy guys ride??? The bikes
What did these crazy guys take with them??? Packing list
2007 - Southern and East Africa on Honda XR250 Baja's
Now where the hell are they going??? The route
And what the hell are they riding this time??? The bikes
I don't even want to ask what they're going to try and take with them!! Packing list
I have also added a list of Lessons Learned which describes what we will be doing differently on the 2007 trip based on our experiences on the first trip.
So ‘Z’oe finally makes to ‘Z’ambia!
It is sad that I have made such a big deal out of it - did ‘P’aul get this excited when he went to ‘P’ortugal? Probably not, but when your name begins with a ‘Z’ you have special relationship with all things Z, so I was really happy to be in Zambia!
In our last instalment, we had been camping in the freezing cold highlands of Malawi and so it was literally ‘warming’ to see the vast African plains stretching out into infinity as we came down from the plateau.
Our plan for the next phase of the trip was to cross into Zambia at the nearest border post and travel south through the Luangwa Valley to South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa Valley is just that, a valley and so the journey would be through the riverbed for hundreds of km’s until you reach the National Park. Unfortunately, Paul’s tyre (which we cable-tied and super-glued in Malawi) was disintegrating by the hour and so we had to change our plans and stick to roads going south and head for the Zambian town, Lundazi in search of tyres.
We arrived at the border town, Katumbi, around lunchtime, bought some food – had a chat with the local mad man (who always seek me out) and tried to find out if there would be any policemen at the border post, which is out of town. It was silly to try and locate any officials at lunchtime and so we rode off to the border post in the vain hope someone would be stationed there. It is a tiny, little used border and no vehicles had been through there in the last 2 months. In fact the Zambians have closed down their entry post completely, but lucky for us the Malawians had retained a skeleton staff, who was sadly at a funeral when we arrived. The helpful watchman set off on his bicycle to locate the official and we settled down on the grass for a long wait with some peanut butter sandwiches! After a while an unfeasibly young boy returned with a very important looking hat, but without office keys, so we sat around for a bit longer before the keys were located and we could be stamped out of Malawi.
Once over the border, we rode down a narrow dirt track for a couple of kms, but because there was no Zambian post it felt like no-mans land and it wasn’t until Paul stopped to ask a young boy which way Zambia was…and he replied ’This is Zambia’ that we realised we were in!
It is great feeling changing country, not knowing what to expect from the people or the landscape and Zambia didn’t disappoint on either count. The scenery was typical African bush…Sunday night wildlife TV scenery, where you expect to see giraffe’s heads above the trees and wait for elephants to walk out in front of you across the dirt track – in fact we only saw warthogs, but they are my favourite so I was chuffed! Our plan was to bush camp overnight before hitting the main road to Lundazi, but when we stopped for a drink of water we were attacked by Tsetse flies and decided to keep on moving to a town. In all our travels around Africa, this was the first time we had encountered the infamous Tsetse fly and it is awful….huge big crunchy things that swarm you and bite and it really hurts! So it was helmets on and back on the move asap!
As it was getting to dusk we finally hit a main road and tired and hungry we wound our way through the mountains towards a town called Chama. Of course I am setting something up here…tired and hungry….the light was fading…blah blah…the long and the short of it is – I wiped out! Coming around a sweeping right hand corner I hit the gravel at the side of the road and decided I couldn’t turn sharp enough to make it without losing my front wheel, so I opted to try my luck in the 3ft ditch running along side the road! I controlled the bike for about 10m in the ditch and thought I was going to make it back onto the road with a fantastic story of bike control to tell – no such luck – the ditch was too steep and I ended up plastered against the wall with an upside down bike!! Luckily, I didn’t have a scratch, but had to wait for Paul to notice I wasn’t following him before we could right the bike and stop all the precious petrol pouring out of the tank!!!
Brave smile after wipe out
Chama, was only 5km away, so after all the excitement we were glad to find the Women’s Rest House – not for women, but run by them. A local male teacher explained that the rest house was intended to keep women busy – as they have a tendency to be idle….. Anyone who has visited any part of Africa will understand how amusing this comment is – I guess these women needed something to do once they had collected water, tended to the farm, organised the kids, cleaned the house, cooked the meals and done their day job…..
So we stayed the night in Chama and were shown around town by a lovely local businessman Tobias, who even showed up at ‘7am sharp’ to see us off despite the fact we couldn’t help him buy a Mercedes truck from London! We had an easy ride to Lundazi ahead of us, only a few hundred km away and on a well-graded gravel road. Unfortunately, the hard packed, sharp stones made short work of what was left of Paul’s dodgy tyre and about 20km from town he heard a strange noise that turned out to be his inner tube bursting out! The walls of the tyre were falling away and the bike was riding on bare inner tube.
Quality Chinese product – Golden Boy tyres
I had no intention of spending the rest of the day sitting at the side of the road waiting for Paul to return with a tyre and 20km is a long way to walk especially when there was no guarantee Lundazi would have a tyre we could use, so the only option was to fix it. Amazingly, we managed to build up the tyre with cable ties (very useful things – leave the travellers cheques behind and take extra cable ties instead) and I was nominated to ride the injured bike as I am lighter and we limped into town! The obligatory police roadblock felt sure we could fix it (a Zambian would have got another year out of it!), but we were in the market for a 3rd rubbish Chinese tyre and luckily we found the only one in Lundazi and had it fitted before finding a bed for the night in a ‘Lodge’ nestled between 3 night clubs! You can imagine the next bit, so I won’t moan, but really, don’t go to Africa for peace and quiet…it doesn’t exit…where there is people there is noise and there is almost always people!
OK, so we went to one of the night-clubs (if you can’t beat them join them) and spent an evening with the owner of ZoZo’s car wash. The name doesn’t just begin with Z, it has one in the middle as well, so we were the best of friends!
After a terrible night sleep and with another low quality tyre fitted to the bike, we had abandoned all hope of seeing the Luangwa Valley – by our calculations, if the new tyre lasted as long as its ‘Good Fortune’ predecessor, we would need to stick to the major routes and buy a new tyre in each town until we reached the capital Lusaka! So we stuck to main roads and headed out to the tourist haven – South Luangwa National Park, which was recommended to us by almost everyone we had met. Half way there in a town called Chipata we stopped for fuel and I spied sausage rolls and pizza slices for sale inside…..we had hit civilisation! We ate sausage rolls until we felt sick and washed them down with a bright green yoghurt drink (no more bread, banana and water for us!) and carried on to South Luangwa.
The road was OK for cars, but really bad for bikes and we had a couple of hours of terrible corrugations that caused the bikes to slip-slide around and made our kidneys feel like they had been in a blender! It was all worth it though because when we arrived at the camp site – Flat Dogs (a nickname for crocodiles apparently) we were greeted by a family of elephants crossing the entrance road to the camp. Paul had missed the first baby one who was standing 2m from the road (ever the observant rider!) and carried on until Mum blocked his path!!! All I could see were the whites of his eyes in his helmet as he wondered what on earth he was going to do as our ‘elephant strategy’ went straight out of the window, but luckily the family were on there way somewhere and we sped through into the relative safety of the campsite!
The campsite was huge and in a beautiful setting in the trees on the banks of the Luangwa river. All around were platforms built high in the trees for camping, but we found a prime spot on the ground, in a clearing by the river. South Luangwa is just teaming with wildlife and you don’t need to enter the National Park to see game – it comes to you. On our first night a family of 6 elephants who were sniffing around the tent and investigating all our things woke us up and suddenly we realised why everyone else had opted for a tree platform!! We had only pitched the mosquito net and so felt extremely vulnerable surrounded by such huge animals, whose wrinkly feet were inches from our faces! We tried not to make a sound in the hope that they wouldn’t realise we were there, but then again we didn’t want them to step on us by accident! Paul was shielding is eyes because he thought they wouldn’t realise he was a human if they didn’t see his eyes (that made me laugh and make noise, so it was a bit counter productive in the end)!! Eventually, the family moved on, but one of the bulls decided to have a nap right next to the tent…..it is impossible to relax and go to sleep when a 20 tonne elephant is snoring next door, but he finally stirred after an hour and left us in peace just before dawn. It was an absolutely amazing night and it is hard to describe how magical it feels to be so close and alone with such beautiful animals, wondering if they will pick up your tent and tip you out because of your orange scented hand cream or just accidentally trample over you! Every night was the same…. the elephants would come through the camp and wake us up, Paul would shield his eyes, I would laugh and eventually we’d get some sleep!
View from tent
Flat Dogs camp was real luxury and the small town nearby was stocked up for European tourists, so we stayed a few days and continued on the path that had started with the sausage rolls and it ended with T-bone steaks!! We went driving in the park with an English/SouthAfrican couple from Putney – JP and Helen, in their bright red Land Rover and saw Zebra (yep, I love ‘Z’ebra), giraffe and all the usual suspects…but unfortunately no cats. It didn’t matter though because on our last night we had no sleep thanks to the hippos munching grass around the tent and the elephants who had taken a shine to the seeds in the tree we had camped under! A resourceful matriarch was head butting the tree truck causing branches to come hurtling down onto the tent which the rest of the elephants grabbed to pick off the seeds. Paul’s eyes were too wide to hide from anything and I was too scared to laugh and just held onto the door zip, planning my escape to a tree platform when a branch finally squashed the tent flat!
In fact, they were very considerate and the tree stayed standing, as did the tent, but the bikes weren’t so lucky!!! The next morning the elephants were still around as we tried to pack up and leave – a huge female trapped me in the toilets and when I finally escaped I found Paul’s bike knocked over and Paul hiding up a tree nearby!!!! The elephants just couldn’t get enough of the seeds in the tree over our tent and one of them had pushed past Paul’s bike to get a better eating position and Paul had escaped up a tree! So much for an early start!!
Paul took this pic from up a tree
Unfortunate mummified lizard Paul found in his air filter box
Eventually the elephants moved on and we headed out towards Lusaka. We had decided to take a dirt road through the valley and although we were worried about the tyres it paid off because it was the most amazing road I have ever ridden. The scenery was spectacular and it felt like we were riding though a wildlife documentary with giraffe, elephant, impala and zebra everywhere. The road was challenging too, with anything from wide sandy river beds to steep rocky climbs and by lunchtime we didn’t want to the day to end…well we got our wish because it took us 10hrs to make the next town, by which time we were definitely ready for a rest!
Crossing dry river bed
Another village where we can find out just how lost we are
Lusaka was a still a day of boring tar away and since my speedo display stopped working in Mozambique, Paul had been using hand signals to show me how far we had travelled to keep me sane…it’s worth a try!
Once in Lusaka we camped on a farm just outside the city (where Paul was very excited to see 2 Eland grazing on a motorX track– apparently they are the largest buck IN THE WORLD!) and we finally managed to change the useless, useless travellers cheques we’d been lugging around with us….never again…everywhere has ATM machines…no-one changes travellers cheques and if they do they rip you off!
Eland on MX track
In fact, in general Zambia was far too expensive for us, with its upmarket game parks and European prices. We had doubled our daily budget from Malawi and Mozambique and were still struggling to stick to it (could have been the T-bones!), which when you are travelling for a long time means halving the time you spend in a place, so our plan was to do a big push to Livingstone and Victoria Falls and then cross into Botswana.
Another classy peanut butter lunch at the side of the road
We had ~500km to travel from Lusaka to Livingstone and on our little bikes that is a long day of riding, so we set off before sunrise, got our heads down and rode like the wind (well a 60km/h breeze maybe!). It was after about 100km that we noticed something wasn’t right. The road suddenly got very busy with people and it turned into more of a market than a main road, but we kept on going, weaving our way through thousands of people carrying their worldly goods on their heads…I did spy an immigration post, but was in denial and kept on moving until the 10ft metal gate saying ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ literally stopped us in our tracks. If you’re not familiar with the geography of this region, just trust me…we were way off course! One of the quirks of maps is that no matter where you are, you are always travelling along a fold…you can never quite see where you are now and where you want to go, on the same page! On this day we opted to view where we were going and missed the vital turn off just outside Lusaka! So, after 4hrs of riding (2hrs of backtracking) we were still only 50km from Lusaka! So much for the big push…. it lost its steam, but we got to Livingstone eventually and visited the amazing Victoria Falls.
Livingstone is nice little town, but the only thing to do is visit Vic Falls and we spent a whole day watching the magnificent waterfalls from the top, as the unassuming river tips over the edge into a huge gash in the earth, and from the bottom, in the Boiling Pot where the Zambezi continues on and takes the white-water rafters for a ride! Paul ignored the ‘no swimming’ signs and had a dip (…again Seymour’s are gasping with horror at the flouted rules!) and we watched the crazy bungee jumpers overhead!
It is an awesome place, which takes your breath away and really deserves its place as one of the Natural Wonders of the World. After Paul had dried off and taken about 5000 pictures (literally!) and failed to convince me that bungee jumping was a ‘great experience’ (I can still remember my friend KK’s account of her bungee at Vic Falls – no thanks!), it was time for us to leave Zambia behind and see Botswana!
One of the wonders of the world – and you can also see the falls in the background
Zoe’s head and the falls
The falls again
The falls rainbow
The crossing to Botswana was by ferry, but this part of Africa is so well travelled it was no trouble at all and before we knew it we were watching hippos in the Zambezi, 6 months after we had done the same thing, crossing the mouth of the river in Mozambique!
Botswana, is all about the game parks and the animals (there were elephants hanging around immigration as we got our passports stamped!), but on a motorbike you are stuffed. The game parks in this part of the world have rules about letting idiots on bikes into their parks – it isn’t good publicity if one of them gets munched….and no-one wants to be splashed across the Holme Valley Express as the one who got a puncture and couldn’t find a tree to climb!
Some overlanders we cooked popcorn and marshmallows with
So, in Botswana we only had one thing we wanted to see, which is very bike friendly…the Salt Pans.
Salt Pans are one of those strange natural phenomena, which make everything lose perspective. When you are riding along, you have no points of reference and so you find yourself going ridiculously high speeds without realising (not when your speedo doesn’t work though...then you just never know how fast you are going!), but most importantly you can take pictures like the ones below of giant toilet rolls and huge helmets! We had a ball taking all the pics, but what the pictures don’t tell you (and actually neither does the name)…all that white stuff…its not salt…its bird poo. Thick, slimy, smelly bird poo left by the thousands of flamingos, which ‘allegedly’ live there! We were urged not to ride onto the ‘Poo Pans’ because we would disturb the birds and the pictures which go along with this message show thousands of pink flamingos….well, not one bird was there… not one…just poo and a Black-backed Jackal (which is pretty cool)!
No toilet paper shortage on the salt pans
During the day, it was quite windy and so the shrimp-poo stench was bearable. We spent hours messing about with the camera and planned to return for a sunset supper…big mistake. In the evening the wind had dropped and we were sitting in the midst of the poo eating our tea feeling really nauseous…not one of my best ideas!
Sunset on the pans
Unbelievably, the Salt Pans marked the end of our African Adventure and our next stop was South Africa and the reality of working for a living!
Riding the pans
So to mark the end we splashed out and enjoyed a fantastic barbeque dinner at a luxury lodge (still camped though…baby steps back into civilisation!) and the next day rode back into South Africa.
So that’s it folks, we are in Cape Town now…still jobless, but not for long and so there won’t be anymore updates on our adventure because it is boring old ordinary life from now on…. until next time maybe!
For 2 inherently work shy individuals it was great to back on the road again!! This time we were heading for the south of Malawi and were planning to go up its entire length. First of all we had to cross the tea plantation region of Mozambique, which was the nicest part of the country we had seen so far, with its rolling hills and hairpin bends. Paul managed to smash the second number plate I had made him, having fun on the dirt roads, but apart from that we arrived in Malawi and Mount Milange unscathed!
Paul fitting his nice new number plate
Milange is on the border with Mozambique and is also a tea plantation area, with tea as far as the eye can see all around the foothills of the mountain. The area is very beautiful and reminded me of Limbe at the foot of Mount Cameroon and also Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the side of Table Mountain. I had never seen tea growing before, but by the time we arrived at the camp site (a bit of sad looking grass surrounding the swimming pool at the golf club) I had seen enough tea and tea pickers to last me a life-time!
The golf club was bizarre – like going back in time into the colonial days and it seemed rude not to have a Malawi gin and tonic on the verandah overlooking the 9th hole and the mountain!
View from golf club bar
It is terrible to say, but it was great being back in an ex-British colony because the influences are still there, the most important being the food!! No more Portuguese muck….and on our first morning back in Malawi Paul cooked up a breakfast fry up!! Pork sausages and fried eggs and sliced bread - magic! They also have lots of South Africa rip off’s. Instead of Simba chips they had Kimba, which leave you mouth a radio-active colour for days after and instead of EET SUM MOR biscuits they have HAV SUM MOR! A little lacking in quality, but better that the dodgy Mozambique equivalent, where biscuits would be burnt, lacking the promised custard filling or sometimes just back to front with 4 stuck together!
Paul wanted to take some pics of the tea pickers ‘at work’ so we decided to stay in Milange for a couple of days and go walking around the plantations. Obviously, this is Seymour’s worse nightmare – wandering around on essentially private property… always looking over your shoulder waiting for the owner to come running after you and chase you off his property! Paul finds all this hilarious and was striding through the tea without a care in the world! Luckily we met a security guard who said we were welcome to wander around and so I could stop trying to hide behind the tea bushes and enjoy the day! Unbelievably we didn’t see a single tea-picker all day, so you will notice the lack of pictures in the blog (!), but nonetheless it was a beautiful day and we certainly deserved our Malawi gin when we got back to camp!!
All this tea and not a cuppa in sight
I think I may have mentioned Paul’s quest for Benzene in some of the early entries, but if not, here is the background. Paul has spent the last 4 months looking for benzene to use in our petrol cooking stove. No matter where we are – however remote, or unlikely e.g a chemist, he will ask if they have benzene! In Mozambique, they didn’t know what it was, but after trawling the entire town of Milange we found 2 bottles – amazing, he was like the cat that got the cream! So I can’t carry hair conditioner because we don’t have space, but apparently we have plenty of room for benzene!
Benzene packed away and the tea plantations done, we headed out of Milange along Robert Mugabe highway (nice touch!) to Blantyre, the biggest city in Malawi. Just outside the city we were stopped at a Police road block. Nothing unusual here it happens at least once a day, usually more, but at this one I managed to get myself arrested!
Completely innocently (that’s what they all say!), we didn’t have any 3rd party insurance because there was nowhere to buy it at the border and so after trying to fob off my expired English bike insurance the policeman told me “You are under arrest”! I felt it was time to take off my helmet and launch a huge charm offensive to avoid going to prison…or worse…paying a fine!!! It worked and they were very reasonable allowing us to go, on the condition we would buy insurance in Blantyre! Sadly, that meant we had to hang around in the city for 2 days as it was Saturday and everywhere was closed, but we occupied ourselves by exploring the city and sampling the delights every single ATM in the city in the hope of withdrawing cash!
Blantyre is an industrial city, so not much to talk about and the back-packers we stayed in was adjacent to the bus station, so equally uninspiring! We had camped in an empty spot under a shady tree and by the first evening we realized why it was empty! Sitting outside cooking our dinner as the sun came down, the bats arrived to eat the berries in the tree above us. They swooped in, grabbed a berry and relieved themselves of the last one they’d eaten!! Consequently we were pooed on all evening – I say we, but it was just me! Paul is a bigger target than me, but not a drop touched him and I got my trousers, chair flip flops and hat covered in bat crap…not a good night and every morning we had to swill down the tent after the bats overnight feast! Given our ridiculous position, Monday couldn’t come soon enough and when it did we bought our insurance and headed out to try and locate some new front tyres for the bikes. Imagine KwikFit and its rows and rows of gleaming new tyres…Ok, we found a old Indian man called ‘Papa’ – the only tyre seller in Blantyre and he had 1 tyre, a ‘Good Fortune’ made in Vietnam, so we bought it, strapped it to the bikes and headed out of the city, north towards the Lake. We were heading over the Zomba Plateau toward Senga Bay and what the Lonely Planet promised to be Malawi’s best campsite! The roads in Malawi are really good tar and because the country is so small the distances are nice and manageable between places, so we had to time to find another quality tyre in Zomba – a Chinese ‘Golden Boy’ and still made it to Senga Bay in the afternoon. Well the trusty LP didn’t lie and it was a gorgeous campsite right on the beach on the edge of the lake, so we decided to stay for a while and enjoy the lake.
Camping on lake Malawi
This was our first encounter with the dreaded ‘Long Way Down’. We met a couple who had been chatting to some of their support crew, who's job it was to move a day or so ahead of Ewan McGregor and plan his route and book accommodation – there’s adventure for you! We had just missed them, so our chance of getting on TV was gone (….and my nappy rash had cleared up now, so I was available for bikini shots again – damn it!). Anyway, who would be interested in a girl who crossed Africa on a motorbike ½ the size of the BMW, without a 15 strong Land Rover support crew …..no-one!
After a day or so enjoying the Lake, which it was still hard to imagine wasn’t the sea, we decided to continue north to the Nkhotakhota Game Reserve and Bua Camp. This was yet another reserve with elephants, so we revised our previously unsatisfactory ‘elephant strategy’.
Discussing elephant strategy
Now the plan was to stop, turn off the bikes and find a tree! Luckily, we didn’t need to employ it and made it to Bua Camp without incident! This place was the exact opposite of our last stay in a National Park in Malawi. Liwonde was, lets say, at the luxury end of the market and Bua Camp, with its drop toilet was not. It was just a clearing on the banks of a river and a hole in the ground! Not surprisingly we had the place to ourselves and the place had a eerie feel – like you were really on your own. The feeling was made worse by the presence of some deserted ‘Blair Witch-esque’ buildings at the back of the camp, where you could just imagine people standing in the corner….eeek! We would have stayed a few days had we not frightened ourselves with talk of the Blair Witch similarities, plus the Game Ranger arriving after dark, scared us half to death and informed us that for the privilege of using the drop toilet, it would cost $20 per night – you can get running water and hot showers for that, so we enjoyed one night of peace and quiet before moving back to the lake side and Nkharta Bay.
Blair witch camp site
Nkhata Bay is THE place to go in Malawi and is full of gap year students! We must be getting old because we found a quiet place to stay outside town on the hillside overlooking the lake, where we could work on the bikes and fit the new tyres. It was a beautiful setting, marred only by the lake flies. They are tiny flies, in swarms of biblical proportions which the local people catch in baskets and make cakes out of…mmmm tasty! They were a nightmare, swarming then just dying and forming thick, dead fly blankets all over the tent, your face and your food! Speaking of food, we didn’t try the fly cakes, but we decided to go for the local lake fish, Chumbo, which they love in Malawi. Well I have never eaten such a meat-less fish in my life! Fair enough, mine had the biggest head in the world and not much of a body to speak of, but really, let them grow bigger before you cook them!
We had based ourselves in Nkharta Bay because we had decided to take the bold step of leaving our bikes behind and taking the LaLa ferry, obviously named after my uncle John, to Chizimulu Island in the middle of the lake. It sounded amazingly beautiful, but the ferry only goes once a week, so we hung around in Nkharta waiting for it to arrive– Paul spent his days looking for Benzene and I was taking full advantage of the beach as usual!
We are not used to getting public transport as we are lucky enough to have our own transport, so getting the ferry was a daunting task! The ferry is notoriously late and we had been told that getting on and off is an ‘experience’. The ferry was due to arrive in port at 4, which it did, so we decided to board it about 6pm in anticipation of a prompt 8pm departure..ha ha ha! We had booked first class tickets, which basically gave us access to the top deck, which is outside. There are not really any seats, just a lot of space and a few benches and some people pitch their tents, but we got on early to bag a good spot under cover so we wouldn’t get covered in soot from the chimney! The gang plank was wide enough to fit 1 person on it and led straight into 3rd class, where literally thousands of people were already crammed in and another thousand were trying to get on and off to load the ferry with sacks and sacks and sacks of ‘stuff’. Hence, no-one was going anywhere and so the people loading had taken to just climbing over the people who couldn’t move! Paul got stuck fast in 3rd class with all the bags as I failed miserably to ‘forge a path’ for him as I had promised! With people using him and the bags as a spring board, some military men had to help him remove the man whose head had become lodged between his legs during a failed clambering maneuver and then prise him free from the crowds! Thank goodness for first class, is all I can say and once safely up top we watched the ferry continue to get loaded with an unfeasible amount of people and produce! We set off 2 hrs late, which is pretty good going and with the sound of the horn we left Nkharta Bay into the middle of the lake. As we left we saw the eerie sight of Nkharta Bay town engulfed in flames in the night sky and selfishly hoped our bikes would survive until we got back! After 4hrs on ship we pulled into Chizimulu Island at 2am. The Island is too small to dock the ferry, so we anchored out in the lake and small rowing boats came to fetch all the people, sacks and boxes going to the island. It was a bit surreal clambering over people’s heads in the middle of the night to drop into a tiny, clearly sinking rowing boat, but we managed and made it to shore. Conveniently for us the ferry stops right outside a beachside lodge, so once we beached in our rowing boat we were home! When we arrived it was pitch dark and the camp was lit by oil lamps and soft African music was playing in the background and I felt like a contestant on ‘Survivor’ going to be evicted!! It was only the next morning when we woke up and unzipped the tent that we realized how special this place was.
So far I had enjoyed Lake Malawi, but not as much as I had expected, but Chizimulu lived up to the hype and was a definite highlight of our travels around the whole country. The small island is the shape of a fried egg with a small hill in the middle and the lodge was on the beach on the west of island. It was totally idyllic and we were happy the ferry wouldn’t be arriving back to pick us up for another 5 days. As always we made the mistake of going hiking in shorts and flip flops as we tried to get to the top of the hill and see a panoramic view of the island, but it was worth it, if not a little painful, wading our way through fields of cassava and very sharp head high grass! We scaled the other side of the hill and ended up in the small town, where we attracted a group of hundreds of children following us along the road! It was like the Pied Piper of Hamlin and I wanted to Paul to keep going into the lake at the end of the island to see if they would follow…he wouldn’t… something about ethics!
Little natives following Zoe
By coincidence our friend Patrick, the carpenter from Bay Diving arrived on the island and so Paul had his old dive buddy to play with and leave me in peace to read my books and relax! They devised a new game ‘ Rocking’, which involved holding a rock and sitting on the bottom of the lake – fabulous fun, I’m sure and it kept them occupied for literally 4 days! So Chizimulu truly was island paradise except for 1 thing….the noise – Africa is always noisy, but here it was such a travesty that there was no peace and quiet. I know I sound like a miserable old git, but let me explain... During the day, there is the diesel powered maize mill, but the real fun starts at night. When you go to bed you can hear the music in the lodge bar and only when that stops at 11ish are the sounds of the ‘island’ revealed. The local bars on the other side of island play their music so loud it feels like the speaker is in the tent with you! When they finally pass out or the power goes off, you are treated to the sounds of the fisherman, moonlight fishing. This sounds romantic, but involved setting nets and then beating the side of your boat with wooden blocks to frighten the fish into you trap. When their nets are full they sing while pulling them to shore and shout excitedly when they see how much they have! Fishing boat banging over, the sounds of the animals are revealed, the obligatory dog fight and hours of howling and regardless of the time of day, the islands cockerels never get tired of exercising their lungs! By this point it is dawn and people start to wake up again and the camp gets swept by the staff that are having a good old gossip about what they heard last night, even the bit next to your tent needs a good sweep every day!
The worst of all was the chickens…they liked to sit in the tree above our tent at dawn and squawk a raucous squawk I can’t even begin to describe. That’s fine though just another noise –what was bad was that the chicken decided to poo all over our tent. Just looking at the poo you would think it was a horse with a bad stomach, not a chicken, but yep, 2 nights in a row, she was there pooing an unbelievable quantity of poo all over the tent until we were forced to move out of her path!
Saying all that, we loved Chizumulu and were sad to leave when the ferry returned and we clambered over women and children to the top deck again! Lucky for us the ferry was about 12hrs late, so instead of a 2am departure we got a whole nights sleep before it arrived and so we got back to Nkharta Bay, fresh as daisies and ready to get back on our bikes (after a Sunday Roast dinner in the restaurant at the lodge – I couldn’t resist...they had Yorkshire puddings!)
Being rowed to the Lala ferry
After searching in vain for Benzene again in Mzuzu, the northern capital…yep really…our next stop was Luwawa Forest in the mountains on the Zambia border, where the English lodge owner had created a little piece of Hull in Malawi! Leaving the lake side behind it got very cold and as we climbed it got misty, then rainy, but the hills and trees were a nice change from the lake and after Luwawa, we headed for the Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve all the time making our way towards Zambia – the country on our travels.
Malawi government trying to pass a sobre message to the nutcase drivers in Africa
Vwaza has a big elephant population, but the rangers at the gate were happy for us to ride the 1km to the campsite, so because they were relaxed, so were we and we rode into the camp and chose our spot next to some bushes. Still sitting on the bikes, a little boy crept over to us and whispered ‘be careful’, then shot back to hide behind his Dad’s 4x4. Following his wide eyed gaze we saw a herd of elephants munching on the bushes about 2 metres away from us! What a welcome!
Paul got off his bike and backed away behind a tree, but I just sat there staring – it wasn’t until he said in a low, stern voice ‘Zoe, get off your bike you idiot’, that I followed suite! When a bull came out of nowhere from behind us, I chose to sit on a picnic bench for protection, while Stanford, the campsite manager, crawled underneath trying to hide and this time Paul just hauled me out of the way!! For the rest of the day we watched more than 50 elephants come through the camp site towards the Vwaza river for a drink with the hippos, before coming back later in the evening and disappearing into the bush. It was amazing and happened every day we were there. Unfortunately we didn’t see the herd of buffalo that also come to drink from the river – despite getting up at 5am every morning to watch for them – but on our game walk with the brave Stanford, we saw impala rutting and lots of leopard tracks…brilliant! So our time in Malawi was coming to an end….well our visa was anyway, so we only had time to visit one more place before hopping over to Zambia.
A fantastic sight at Vwaza - and there are elephants too
Paul standing in Zoe's footprints
We were loaded up like a couple of moving petrol bombs (there was no fuel in this part of Malawi and none in the part of Zambia we would enter) and sadly Paul's new 'Good Fortune' tyre hadn't lived up to its name and was patched up with super glue and cable ties for our trip up to the Niyka Plateau!
Tyre repair - African style
The Malawians are very proud of Nyika and even claim it should be one of the natural wonders of the world. At 2500m above sea level, the plateau is a landscape you don’t get anywhere else in Africa – and is amazing to see, but for me it felt like coming home because it looks exactly like Saddleworth Moor!!! The grassy plains are filled with Eland (which we saw) and Zebra (which we didn’t!) and all other kinds of buck and of course, warthog! The ride up to the plateau was amazing, really tough in parts, but great fun to climb and climb and then finally come out in Yorkshire…I mean Nyika!
Yorkshire - I mean Nyika plateau
The campsite on the plateau was brilliant, a huge area on the side of the hills, enclosed on 3 sides by forest and open on one side giving us great views of the plains.
Campsite in Yorshire
We had the whole place to ourselves…except for Franco, the creepy campsite manager who hung out at the hot water brazier – clearly burning what was left of the last visitors who dared to stay on the moors!! Since we had left the lake the temperature had been dropping and Nyika, with its altitude was freezing! We were equipped for Africa, not Yorkshire and so that night we made a huge fire, drank lots of hot coffee and ended up sleeping in our bike gear!! The next day, to keep warm…..and to see the area we did a 25km walk around the plains! Imagine getting Paul to walk 25kms, it was an unprecedented event and the first 12km were great even though Paul was struggling to take pictures of the Eland…or in fact anything that didn’t bolt into the distance as we got within 5miles of it!
Not much animal action but look at that tyre grrrrr
So after 12kms we really felt like we had seen what there was to see of the Plateau and so put our heads down and got back to the camp fire and a nice hot coffee - with some brandy in it.
If it hadn’t been so bloody freezing we would have stayed a bit longer, but our ‘3 season super lite’ sleeping bags couldn’t take it any longer and so we had to say goodbye to frost bite in Nyika and also to Malawi as our next stop was Zambia…and my first country beginning with a ‘z’!!!
So, the last you heard, we were living and working in a dive lodge in Nacala, Northern Mozambique! Paul was training to be a Dive Master and I was managing the lodge. Luckily only a month into the job, we had to take a 10 day holiday to Malawi to re-new our bike import permits….. I mean it wasn’t that we wanted a holiday so soon, it was just unavoidable!!
This trip gave us the opportunity to explorer inland Mozambique, as we were planning to take a dirt road directly west into Malawi, through a tiny border post that would conveniently take us straight into Liwonde National Park, supposedly Malawi’s best game park. Although, the route was only 500kms, the road was pretty rough in parts, so it took us 3 days to get to the border – so we needed a few days in Malawi to recover before heading back to work…honest!
Dirt road action!
It was great to get off the tar (which we have been moaning about since we started the trip) and the bikes really came into their own on the dirt roads and we had great fun…one of us had a little bit too much fun, smashing his number plate and on the 2nd day, I came around a corner to find Paul looking dazed and his bike facing me on the wrong side of the road! My heart sank because I knew he had had a fall and then when I saw him limping towards his bike – I was working out how close we were to a hospital….it didn’t bear thinking about! Luckily, it was just a badly grazed knee…nothing a bit of ibuprofen and anticeptic cream couldn’t sort out, but after that I was the pace setter and we were traveling at a more sedate pace (which I try to persuade Paul allows us to look at the scenery more!).
Paul making friends with donkeys
Paul’s wipe out, which incidentally occurred on a perfectly straight road (!), persuaded us to call it a day early and we stayed in a huge, deserted hotel, well in fact town, in a place called Malema. It was big enough for us to park our bikes inside, which was great and that evening we had a beer in a deserted bar where the owner played Michael Bolton all night, specially for us – us white people love that kind of stuff!
Zoe trying to make friends but about to be beaten with sugar cane instead
The music drove us to an early night and the next day we arrived at the Malawi border. We knew it was a small border, but it turned out to be a railway station in a sand pit at the end of a 50km track. The station attendant wasn’t quite sure what to do, but we managed to get our exit stamps and headed to the gate that would take us to Malawi. The notorious gate attendant was keen to use his metal detector in all our bags before allowing us to cross and it was beeping wildly as he scanned past all our tools and spares in the panniers. I was dreading us having to empty it all out, but luckily it was just delaying tactics while he worked up the courage to ask me for a Fanta Orange! Sadly, I didn’t have any Fanta’s in my bags that day (I usually try and keep a spare crate for just this occasion), so I declined and he let us through! There is something a bit unnerving about a grown man, in uniform with a gun and a metal detector asking for a Fanta, but I out it out of my mind as we entered Malawi for the first time! The Malawi border post was easy except it was lunch time and so we had to sit and wait for an hour, when he returned, the immigration officer was my best friend until he asked me what I had brought him from Mozambique and replied ‘the sunshine’….we didn’t chit chat much after that! As often happens with border posts, the scenery was immediately different and huge grass plains were stretching out ahead of us, with cows everywhere (there are no cows in Mozambique…not sure why?) and after a couple of hours we arrived in Liwonde.
The best thing about arriving in Malawi was the language…everyone speaks English! Now, we have both made a huge effort to learn Portuguese and have done pretty well, but it was such a pleasure to speak English and be actually understood! It was getting late, so we stayed in Liwonde town (parked our bikes in the hotel reception!) and sat in the moonlight watching a huge hippo and her baby grazing on the banks of the Shire river about 5 meters from our room! The room was nice, but as a rule I always use my own sheet…you just never know…Paul has a much more cavalier attitude to hygiene and opted to snuggle down in the sheets and blankets provided. The next day, he could get rid of the…lets say..’earthy’ smell they had deposited onto him and so with his hair smelling like a farm yard we headed for the National Park.
Of course we knew that Liwonde National park had cats and elephants, but we rode up the gate on our bikes and were promptly turned away…for our own safety! Luckily, there was another route into the park via boat, so we headed north towards Lake Malawi and the northern gate of the park. Here they let you ride the 1km through the park to the river, where a boat ferry’s you to the lodge and campsite. The 1 km of park was enough, it was like entering Jurassic Park, with huge trees and thick bush and the promise of an elephant around every corner! Our ‘elephant strategy’ was to try not to meet on because I can’t u-turn at the best of times and luckily it worked and we arrived at the boat unscathed! Unfortunately we had to leave our bikes on the other side of the river, so we untied our dirty bags and muddled our way on the little boat. On the other side of the river, we were greeted with a glass of bucks fizz and it was immediately obvious this wasn’t ‘our’ kind of place! The poor staff that helped us carry our bags probably had to throw away their nice clean uniforms afterwards and we sat dirtying the reception area, sipping the drinks surrounded by lots of clean Europeans staring at us and our big pile of dirty bags, helmets and jackets! Luckily, they had a campsite we set up camp, showered and suddenly blended in a bit more!
The park was beautiful, your classic African game park and lodge, with warthogs eating outside the restaurant and hippos wallowing in the river in front of the bar. We didn’t bring our cooking gear so we had no choice, but to enjoy the luxury of the restaurant, while were there and even had a candle light dinner on the edge of the river one night…very posh! Liwonde is famous for its river safaris, so we decided to splash out – well actually Paul managed to negotiate a shorter, cheaper version…bless him, but it was great and we got up close and personal with the crocs and hippos and the amazing bird life along the waters edge.
If you look really really closely you can see a hippo
Paul became obsessed by the ‘bee-eater’, an unfeasibly small bird, which I grant him is pretty, but didn’t necessarily warrant 2 days of constant tracking and the 2000 photos of a spec in the distance!
We also decided to do a night drive with Angel our River Safari guide, (who wasn’t talking to us anymore because we didn’t tip him). Despite getting the cold shoulder, it was amazing and we saw elephants and a genet, but even better we heard the parks only lion roaring under the stars!
That night we had a restless night listening to the giant hippos grazing next to our tent and couldn’t get up to the loo because both our torches batteries had run out….great timing!
Playing bao at sunset just like the natives do
All in all though our stay in Liwonde was a real treat compared to our usual style of travel and our batteries were fully recharged (if our torches weren’t) when we headed back across the river to pick up our bikes and head to the famous Lake Malawi.
Of course we were heading back to work and it just so happened that Lake Malawi was on the way, so it would have been silly not to stay for a night or two and have a little look!! We camped on the side of the lake and it was difficult to imagine that it wasn’t the sea…it is just so vast. Unfortunately, it was really windy and so it looked even more sea-like with rolling waves crashing onto the beach. In light of the bad weather, we decided to go for a walk in the hills on the edge of the lake. We set off in flip flops and shorts and so after a couple of hours of fighting through the thorny bushes, every inch of our bodies was punctured by something or other – all of them painful – then it started to rain, so we called it a day and decided to sample some of Malawi’s produce instead. We started with Malawi gin, which is cheaper that water and so finished with it as well and suddenly the scratches and cuts didn’t hurt so much!
Eventually we couldn’t put it off any longer and so we said goodbye to Malawi and its gin and headed back to Mozambique! Me pace setting meant it took 4 days not, 3, but with no further injuries we arrived back at Bay Diving, ready for work!
Another month in and we had completed mapping the reef within the Marine Reserve, Paul was now a certified Dive Master and I think it is fair to say I had a ‘full’ understanding of managing a dive lodge, so it was time to move on!
Filling dive cyclinders
Our 2 months there had been great and we had met some great people, learnt Portuguese and really got know Mozambique. Apart from the owner’s psychotic girlfriend, all the staff were amazing and really made it hard to leave!
Some of the guys with todays catch
Long time resident, Helder, entertained us every evening with his never ending repertoire of truly awful jokes and every day Fritz, the bull terrier, would stand in ‘his’ bush next to the pool and get high from the smell of the flowers…too much and he would get depressed, want to be on his own and go off his food for a few days! We tried it, but evidently it doesn’t work on humans!
Anyone who has been to Africa, will know how popular it is with missionaries and Mozambique is no different, so we had a lot of missionaries staying at the lodge while on holiday from their…erm.. missions I guess! They were mostly American and even though they were off duty, usually could help but try to convert the other guests and staff over breakfast, in the toilets or anywhere they could corner you! On one occasion, an unassuming American backpacker, called Ben, was brushing his teeth before bed, when a naked missionary exited the shower behind him with his towel slung over his shoulder! This is disturbing enough, but the naked man then proceeded to ask…’Can you be sure that if you die tonight, you will go to heaven?’ Ben replied, “no, but what I can be sure of, is that I don’t want to talk to you about it now’ and left to go to bed, complaining about the naked man on his way to his room! Over breakfast the same man…dressed now, thank goodness, distributed leaflets to everyone explaining how we might ensure passage to heaven…..you’ve just got to love them!!
Paul had some amazing dive experiences and really got to know all the reefs in Nacala Bay, as if they were his back garden (not that we have really ever had a back garden of course!). He invented the ‘bubble gun’ to ward off pesky sharks (or anything large!) with our resident carpenter Patrick, from Germany, who when we wasn’t in bed with Malaria, was supposed to be making furniture for the lodge’s Dhow!
Paul with dive buddy and bubble gun inventor Parick
And in the last month he was able to take customers out diving on his own…. these always went really well and everyone loved diving with Paul, the only exception being Simon, a fellow English biker traveling around Southern Africa. His approach to traveling was somewhat different to ours…he had set off from South Africa with a second hand chain and second hand tyres and unsurprisingly had had more than a few ‘technical’ issues! This was equally reflected in his diving and as Paul led him off the shore for his first night dive, he stepped on a Moray Eel in the shallows which bit him twice on the foot! He then proceeded to lose his weight belt at 20mts and shot to the surface. When Paul had retrieved him, he then lost it again and this time his air cyclinder fell off as well and Paul had to abort the dive!! On the way out, he stepped on a sea urchin with his good foot and then got bitten by a spider while walking back to his tent! Not the luckiest of chaps and he eventually ended up in hospital in Pemba with septicemia!! Amusingly, Simon wants to start a business taking tourists on biking/diving holidays around Southern Africa, so watch for him if you are booking a holiday because now you know what to expect!!!
Despite the fun and games, we were definitely ready to move on. During our travels, Paul and I had often talked about owning a lodge because it gives you the opportunity to live and work in idyllic settings that wouldn’t otherwise be an option. So working at Bay Diving gave us a valuable insight into what life is like running your own business, in Africa, in the tourism industry, in the middle of nowhere….and lets just say, we won’t be rushing to by a plot of land!
So once again the world was our oyster and we had to decide where to go. Our original plan was to continue north into Tanzania, but Tanzania is all about the game parks and on motorbikes, you just can’t go inside….nor did we want to with all those elephant and lions wandering around. So we decided to head west and go back to Malawi and see the rest of the country properly!
Wow, it has been ages since we gave an update on our adventures in Africa…the last you heard we were in a beautiful place called Tofo on the Mozambique coast, surviving our encounters with whale sharks and nausea! After finally seeing these gentle giants, we were free to continue on and head North towards Tanzania. Not for the first time (in fact the 3rd time) we got up at 5:30 on our day of departure to see the sunrise over the ocean, and not for the first time (in fact the 3rd time) the cloud set in and it started to rain as we sat huddled on the beach with a packet of biscuits for breakfast! We sat it out until we were pretty sure that the sun must have risen behind the murk and then headed out on our travels again….in the rain.
Our next stop was Vilanculos, where you can access the Bazaruto Archipelago, a Dugong (Manatee) Marine Reserve. Unfortunately a cyclone hit the Mozambique coast about 2 months ago and wiped out the islands as well as Vilanculos, so after a day of riding in the rain we arrived in a camp site, which looked like something from Mad Max. Places always look worse in the rain, especially when you are wet through, but poor old Vilanculos was in a bad way! Luckily, it was a bank holiday Monday so everyone in town was out and about getting drunk (it is the same everywhere in the world!) and we managed to sample some local food – chicken knuckle kebab is the best description I can think of! We eventually opted for a dorm room (too soft to camp – or just too wet!) in a place (pretentiously) called Zombie Cucumber and prayed for a reprieve in the weather…it didn’t come and at 6:00am the next morning we woke to find another rainy day…(this was our first night in a dorm and I found out that even if you turn off a mobile phone the alarm still comes on…and on…and on, until you realize after your long shower and have woken up everyone else up!). Now that we had alienated all our fellow travelers we decided not to go and see the Archipelago - sailing on a Dhow in the rain would be miserable and so we decided to ride in the rain – equally miserable, but there is that vain hope that you will see a break in the clouds over the next hill…. there wasn’t, so we had another ‘moist’ day on the road (that was for you Jen!).
Although it rained (did I mention the rainy season is supposed to end init March??) it was a lovely ride in the mountains around Gorongoza (a once famous National Park, which doesn’t have any animals left), the only problem was the tar road…don’t get me wrong it is great that so much of Mozambique has decent tar roads, but we have ‘off-road’ bikes and tyres, and all the tar was wearing them out….we were doing our best to seek out dirt, but even the ‘donkey track’ we followed (according to the Michelin map) turned out to have been recently surfaced by a helpful South African construction company!
View from boring tar road
We stayed the night in a bizarre motel inside a windmill just outside Chimoio and then continued north along another (wet) tar road. It was this fateful day that I realized just how much chameleons look like a leaf blowing in the wind…they look so much like a leaf I actually aimed my front tyre for it…! Luckily, Paul redeemed us by rescuing another wayward chameleon later in the day….what can I say – it really was good at camouflage..!
The chameleon Zoe didn’t murder
Today was also the day a huge unidentified creature with wings flew up my jacket sleeve! I skidded to a halt, flailing my arm around trying to eject the monster….it was also flailing trying to escape and so screaming I jumped off the bike (forgetting it can’t stand up on its own), wripped off my jacket and threw it on the ground …along with my bike (!), to reveal a medium sized locust. What a girl!!
There was a gap in the rain and so we camped on the banks of the Zambezi (giver of devastating floods a couple of months before), with all the mosquitoes in the area – out to drink during the dry spell!
Our map showed a bridge was due to be finished 4 years ago and so we had high hopes for a swift crossing across the river…it seems like bridges can over-run and the little ferry was still running! It was magic though, crossing the river we saw hippos and I momentarily forgot I was soaked to the skin and we were about to run out of petrol!
It is always when the rain is the hardest that you have to ride a lengthy detour for fuel and on this day we detoured in a thunder storm to Quelimane (I am reliably informed is a nice city – couldn’t see it myself). Crossing the Zambezi, we had entered the Zambezia Province, which is the most populous in Mozambique – now this is a grand claim because Mozambique is full of people, but they were right, there were MORE people and even more bicycles in Zambezia. They have really gone for it with the post war baby boom…schools have 3 sittings there are so many kids and people of all ages just line the roads every inch of the way. Then, of course, we have my beloved Chinese to thank for introducing cheap bicycles into Mozambique. So if walking on the road with a table, 3 sacks of charcoal and a couple of chickens wasn’t precarious enough, now people can load up a bicycle with double that…and a goat and wobble their way down the road. This must have made a huge difference to their lives, and there has been a huge take-up - so there is a lot of traffic, but not a lot of skill.
For example, hearing the strange sound of a motorbike, is always worthy of a look, but if it is behind you, craning your neck inevitably ensures you will veer into the middle of the road. The shock of seeing a strange bike can then cause you to fall off into its path or violently change direction and fall off into the verge. Even if you are a skilled bicycle rider and the first motorbike doesn’t cause a fall, the shock and surprise of a second definitely will….So Paul and I have left a trail of bicycle carnage in our wake! Unfortunately the phrase “this will hurt me, more than it will hurt you” rings true on a motorbike and so after a day of surviving the kamikaze bicycles we stopped in a hotel in Mocuba – a town detailed on our map as having a swimming baths – someone obviously felt it was worth a mention on an international map, but take it from me – it isn’t worth a special trip! We heard the swimming baths before we saw them and both assumed the echoing screams were coming from a nearby prison, so happily finished our beer! Later, we realized it was not the sounds of torture, but children screams of joy in the pool!
Mocuba turned out to be town full of screaming and shouting as we found out when our hotel turned into a popular night club after 10:00pm (we were in bed by 8!!!). I believe it was a Tuesday, but it was obviously a good one because they were ‘raving’ (and I don’t use the word lightly) until sun-rise.
So groggy and damp we extracted our bikes from the hotel kitchen (the only place with a lock!) and continued north. Mozambique is absolutely massive. I had never really looked at it on the map before, but it is huge and occupies most of Southern Africa’s eastern coast….it felt like we had crossed a continent by the time we arrived in Nampula – our destination in the north of the country. The trip north had been inland so it was nice to be getting close to the coast again. Most of all it was a relief to stop riding for a day or two - all the rain and a week of daily 8hr rides had taken its toll. This is far too much info to share, but what the hell… I was suffering from a bad bout of something my beautiful god-daughter Arabella might be able to sympathise with …nappy rash! Now I know why babies cry…its bad, not to mention highly unattractive – luckily we were heading to the beach where I would be able to share my bikini clad bottom with the world! For now though I was keeping it covered while we stayed in Nampula and stocked up on supplies and dried out all our things!
Nampula was sunny and welcoming during the day, but we found that our experiences in Mocuba had not been isolated. During the night, the street outside our hotel turned into a scene from the Fast and the Furious. All the local’s lucky enough to have one of the cars stolen from South Africa (!), customized them to make them louder (not better) and then drove up and down the road impressing each other throughout the night…all night. I wasn’t so much impressed by their masculine prowess, but more the charming quirk of physics in the street, which meant that the noise was amplified in our room making it quieter to sleep on the pavement… I was tempted to sleep in the middle of the road so I could be put out of my misery, but instead endured the ridiculous noise levels and hoped it was a special night…it wasn’t, so we only spent 2 nights in Nampula!
2 nights was enough of a rest to be ready to go the short hop to Ilha De Mocambique, the former capital. It is a tiny island (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), connected to the mainland by a 3.5km single track bridge.
One side of the island, Stone Town, has the old Portuguese colonial buildings and the other side houses the current residents, all 10,000 of them crammed into half an island 2km long and less than a km wide…lets just say there are a couple of sanitation issues (!), but aside from that it is a window into a past world, with an old fort and grand colonial buildings – a photographers paradise! We were greeted at the end of the bridge by a boy called George, who spoke perfect English and guided us on his bicycle to a local house (on the ‘budget’ side of the island!), where we stayed for a couple of days.
Ilha De Mocambique is used to receiving tourists and the children and adults are expert guides! Unfortunately this means you never get a minute of peace and it makes me and Paul want to run away and lock ourselves in our room! We did succumb and let George show us around Stone Town, but when we arrived at the fort, 6 men chanting ’you have to pay’, ’you have to pay’ was the last straw! I joined in chanting to Paul ….needless to say we saved our 50p entrance fee! Some people love places like this, but the history was wasted on us and we couldn’t wait to get back to the open spaces of the mainland – in fact to demonstrate our cretinous attitude to this site of historical importance, our best memory of Ilha was cooking our own garlic calamari (which Paul bargained down from 30 pounds a kilo to 10p!!)
Calamari yum yum
So we were back on the road after our brief dose of culture…and more aptly we were heading for the beach! Our plan was to reach Pemba, in the far north of Mozambique, but to break up the journey we stopped off in Nacala Bay, at a beach called Fernao Veloso. Nacala has the second biggest natural bay in the world and Pemba has the 3rd - a fact they are very proud of here - and the coastline is beautiful. On our way to Fernao Veloso, we were studying the trusty Lonely Planet for directions when a South African voice shouted from a car for us to follow her! So we did, and arrived at Bay Diving! The scuba diving lodge sits within a marine reserve in Nacala Bay and has beautiful quiet beaches and tranquil blue water…the perfect antidote to a crowded island, noisy streets and a wet bum! In fact, we liked it here so much we decided to stay for a little while! By a fortunate turn of events, the lodge needed some help with scuba diving – enter Paul, now a Dive Master in Training – and managing the lodge – enter me, domesticated person in training! Even better, we were there to help study the success of the marine reserve in the bay. And as if it couldn’t get any better, we have our own little house on the beach...not bad for a chance meeting at the side of the road!
View from restuarant
Our home at Bay Diving
Before starting our new jobs, we had decided to make it to our original destination, Pemba, which is a popular holiday destination with South Africans, who fly straight in (I mean who would be foolish enough to travel all that way by road?)…it was nice but surprisingly touristy for somewhere so out of way.
Zoe on the beach at Pemba
Obviously it rained on our first day, but it started after I had persuaded Paul to set off with a packed lunch and ‘walk the peninsula’ 8 hrs later we were still walking, it was still raining and our marriage was on the rocks! Things got worse when we finally managed to hail a car, which proceeded to run out of petrol after 5mins – turfing us back out on foot!!
Something about Pemba didn’t agree with us and each night one of us was ill, but on the evening before our departure back to Nacala we ignored the warning signs of the previous nights and went for a meal at a local restaurant. Paul ordered chicken, but I was adventurous and went for prawn curry – it paid off my meal was significantly better than Paul’s and I smugly savoured every mouthful! The next thing I know it is 1:30am and I don’t feel too good…the next 6 hrs were hell and by the time our alarm went off I was finished! We had an 8hr ride to look forward to and so I lay groaning on the ground while Paul packed up all our things. It was 8hrs of torture and deep breathing – no-one wants to be sick (or worse!) while riding a motorbike, but it will teach me to gloat over my food in the future!
Zoe napping on side of road
So we have been here at Bay Diving for about 4 weeks now and it is going well – hopefully by our next entry Paul will be a Dive Master and we will have some stories to tell about living here in Mozambique versus traveling around!
So we were finally heading out of the ease of SA into Mozambique and we were both really excited… The little I know about Mozambique is that it is one of the worlds poorest countries – racked by war for decades, but in the last few years it has started to get back on its feet, with huge land mine retrieval projects and outside investment – in fact it has Africa’s fastest growing economy, which although still tiny, is a great sign. The mines are still around, so we know we wouldn’t be forging our own path and camping in the bush, (I like my limbs), but I couldn’t wait to see what Mozambique was like.
First we had to get into the country! After passing through West Africa, I have a healthy respect for border crossings and although this was a South African border I knew it would be hard work! I was right…this was an African border through and through! On both sides there were thousands of people…none of them crossing the border – just hanging out and adding to the chaos. I do the ‘paperwork’ on our travels so I wandered into the only building to see lots of empty windows, 2 huge queues and about 50 ‘friends’ wanting to help me through the process for a small fee! In fact keeping these guys away from me and out of my pockets was the hardest thing of all, but a couple of hours later we were riding out into the Mozambiquan countryside …on a Toll road of all things! We had heard stories about the terrible roads, but from the SA border to the capital Maputo, was a new road – a Toll road. To put this into perspective, there is really nothing here. Outside the 3 or 4 major cities there isn’t really any buildings, everything is made of reeds, pooh, straw and if you're lucky wood, but here we were passing through a Toll Plaza…bizarre!
Stopping for lunch after the border crossing
The coastline around Maputo is popular with South Africans, and quite a few passed us with their quad bikes and jet ski’s in tow! We were heading north of this nonsense to a town called Maracuene, where we were going to camp out for a few days and acclimatize on a beautiful estuary…
Campsite near estuary - look at Pauls new basher!!
Off the main tar road we had a 4km stretch of deep sand and our first bit of off-roading! The bikes were brilliant (it is such a relief not to have the huge 600cc this time)…can’t say the same about me though! I hate sand, it is so hard to ride on and makes me remember crossing the Sahara! With Paul disappearing into the distance, I had no excuses this time – the bike is light, the luggage is light and I have had a lot more practice – I bit the bullet and got up a bit of speed up instead of walking the whole way…! Only 4kms and I was exhausted – we are following the coast of Mozambique all the way to Tanzania, so I need to get fit…and quick, as there is going to be a lot more sand!
After 3 days of lounging around at Maracuene we headed to Maputo, to visit the Tanzanian Embassy and draw some cash. We purposefully took a dirt track through the swamps and sand which was great fun although I did get self conscious with everyone watching me as I wobbled my way past their villages!
We were lucky enough to stay with Chris and Anton, South Africans living and working in Maputo who we met in Maracuene, so it was all very civilized (once we had cleaned up after our wet and muddy ride)! The only hitch being when I tried to draw the equivalent of 100,000 pounds from the ATM!! Like many African countries inflation can be troublesome and so every so often a couple of zero’s get knocked off the currency – this happened recently here and they took 3 zeros off without telling me!!! Luckily, the machine declined politely and said I should try again later!
Maputo, and actually Mozambique in general, is a relaxed place. Everyone is really laid back and people only ask once if you would like to buy something or give them something, if you say no, that’s the end of it – it is a pleasure to travel here. Maputo, is a cool city, nice shady tree lined streets and a great atmoshphere, but with all our ‘city jobs’ done (like stocking up on mosquito repellent, wet wipes and Paul’s new obsession- Benzene for the stove!) we headed North to the famous Mozambique beaches!
Iron building made by the Eiffel Tower guy in Maputo
Along the way we were stopped for speeding, by a chancer of a cop with a speed gun…there was no way I was speeding, no matter what his gun said! Not being able to speak much Portuguese is a real pain, but 10 mins of sign language and stern looks (on both sides) and he gave me my license back and sent us on our way!
Checking the map and having banana sandwiches on the side of the road
We were heading for a place called Tofo – and it didn’t disappoint, it’s a beach paradise, coconut trees, white sand and blue sea! We camped behind the dunes in a place called Bamaboozi Lodge!
Riding the palm highway
On our first night, we pitched the tent in a grass hut for shade, but it turned out to be home to a family of screeching bats, who proceeded to poo a corrosive and staining red poo all over the tent during the night. The next day we moved to another grass hut, which turned out to have magical insulating properties (despite the gale force winds outside) and we were steamed outside until the torrential rain the next night forced us undercover again!!!
Our bat-free home in Bamboozi!
Unlucky with our accommodation, we were lucky with the food… Paul bought us a whole Baracuda from a guy on the beach – his scales said 8kg, but ours said 3.5kg! It took us 4 days to eat it and we still ended up giving some away! We did ‘lightly pan-fried’, curried, curried with coconut and curried with potato AND coconut – there were lots of coconuts falling around the tent!! We also bought a kilo of the famous Mozambiquan prawns (not as big as legend would have us believe - think all the big ones have been caught and shipped to EU supermarkets) from the market in nearby Inhambane and cooked, yep you’ve guessed it a prawn and coconut curry!!! Magic!
Paul about to loose a leg/finger/hand opening a coconut
Zoe in the market - doesnt she blend in well?
The highlight of our week in Tofo was seeing whales sharks! The weather turned…as it does everywhere I go….and so we had to wait the best part of a week for the winds to die down before we could go out on the boat. (In the meantime, we spent our days being whipped by the sand on the beach and eating Barracuda!). When the wind had died down enough, we headed out on the boat to ‘Whale Shark Alley’ about 15 mins off the coast. There is no guarantee you will see them and part of me hoped we wouldn’t as they are absolutely massive! We did though and as soon as the boat stopped everyone started piling out into the open sea following a huge grey shadow! Not wanting to appear soft I also hurled myself from the boat and swam frantically to Pauls side…such a girl! (We had an understanding that at any point I may ‘mount’ him for protection, but luckily it wasn’t necessary!).
Looking down, it was an amazing sight – a beautiful, gentle whale shark only a couple of metres from us – we followed it through the waves and starting to get a bit cocky we got really close…next thing, it turns around and all I can see is its massive mouth getting closer and closer to us! I am not used to using flippers (or fins as people cooler than me call them) and so I was trying to swim backwards away from the mouth, without any success! I had been reliably informed that although they can fit you in their mouth, the throat is very narrow, so you can’t be swallowed – lucky really as I couldn't seem to get anywhere with my stupid flippers. The whale shark was just checking us out and so after seeing I was only a threat to myself, he headed back down into the deep ocean for some peace and quiet!
Back on the boat in the open ocean the swells were still big from the previous weather front and after whale shark no. 3 the scene was quite different….much sicker! Paul and I couldn’t look or talk to each other as we were focused intently on the horizon. An Afrikans guy was hanging over the side and another girl was moaning with her head in her hands!!! We jumped in briefly for number 4, saw it – agreed it was a whale shark and swam straight back to the boat! Paul got back just in time, but I didn’t and fed the fish with my breakfast….the current washed it nicely back over me first though….a beautiful sight!!
So now it was time to move on...Mozambique is a vast country and so we needed to make some ground towards Tanzania and so we headed out to the Northern Provinces
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