August 25, 2007 GMT
2007 - Goodbye Mozambique!

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!

Bee Eater

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!

Night safari

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…’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!

Posted by Paul Jenkins at August 25, 2007 08:50 AM GMT

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