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!
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