May 06, 2007 GMT
2007 - Southern Mozambique

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!

Zoe 'offroading'

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

Posted by Paul Jenkins at May 06, 2007 02:59 PM GMT

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