Driving from Malawi over the border to Mozambique was like driving from day to night. It went from abundant yellow-green tea fields, to the dry arid emptiness of Mozambique’s wilderness. We had entered right into the middle of Mozambique, having received many warnings about the unrest in the north. To be honest, I still wish we had risked it and travelled the north of Mozambique for a bit, as I think it might be where the country is at it’s most authentic.
We drove through absolute wilderness, and by that I mean a sparsely inhabited, unfarmed, untouched bush land for about 3 days, where we managed to find car parks in random places to stay in.
The real hardcore emphasis of this part of the journey though was the roads. O my word!!!! If ‘potholes’ was a disease, then the northern two-thirds of Mozambique is ravished with it. The journey over these first few days was long and painfully slow. But slow enough that we saw the small things… things that we may well have just driven by if we hadn’t been going at a snail’s pace. One day in particular sticks in my mind – one of these pothole-y days; in the heat of the morning sun an elderly lady was busy working on the side of the road, where she was scooping sand from the side of the road into the potholes, and as cars came by she would ask for money in return for her attempt at fixing the road. Later, we saw some boys selling flat round discs that appeared to be food. We stopped out of curiosity and found out that they were in fact huge rats they had cut open and left to dry out in the sun… rat biltong? For those wondering, we didn’t try it!
The road on this particular day was long and cut through the middle of nowhere and nothing… through bush and over rivers. In Africa there are many MANY rivers and over these rivers are bridges that are at best poorly maintained concrete platforms that have withstood years and years of abuse from the elements, and are by and large partly swept away or under water. We happened upon one of these bridges on this particular afternoon. It was a looooong bridge and, as is common, was surrounded by people from the local villages using it as a meeting point for washing clothes, motorbikes, bicycles, watering their cattle, swimming etc etc. As we approached this bridge, a whole group of the older kids stood up and ran to the opposite end of the bridge and lined up on either side of it. As we got closer we realised the latter half of the bridge was completely under water but shallow enough to drive through. They were simply standing on the edges so that we didn’t veer off the bridge. How beautiful is that… plus we got friendly smiles and waves all the way!
The finale to the day ends up at another bridge much like the first one, but still in one piece. There were people around washing their clothes and kids swimming in the water. As we got closer, we noticed a small queue behind a stationary truck right in the middle of the bridge – the way in which he was parked meant that no-one could pass him on either side. On further investigation, it turned out that he had run out of diesel and was unable to go any further. We gave him our spare supply from the jerry cans on our roof, but it seemed that his battery was also flat. Eugene helped as much as he could, to no avail. By this time, the light was fading, the queues of cars on either side were enormous and there was a huge gathering of people all the way across the bridge. Fires were being made and food being cooked. We found some crackers and cheese and had a little party of our very own in the back of our car, and had some lovely conversations with people curious about what we were doing in the back roads of Mozambique. After hours, when it was well and truly dark, the truck got his engine started and the cars started to move. The trouble is, we had no idea where were we going to sleep – it had already been a super long day, and we were exhausted. When we did eventually reach a town we found a hotel of sorts, and eventually managed to convince the owner to let us camp in his car park.
The following day was similarly long and slow and full of the usual potholes. It was getting dark and we considered wild camping somewhere off the side of the road when we passed a guy whose car had broken down – he signalled to us that he was managing, and we drove on. Fortunately for us, a few kilometres down the road we found Buffalo Camp, who let us park in front of their lodge for the night. Waking up the next morning, we met the man in the same car park who we had passed the evening before… he drove to the camp on fumes as he was told that he shouldn’t stay out after dark as their were lions in the bush. So he slept in the confines of the car park in his car… I think that poor old car might have been a bit worse for wear, but at least they didn’t get eaten by wild animals!
The owner of Buffalo Camp was an Afrikaans man who gave us some great pointers as to how our journey down through Mozambique could look. With this info in hand, we headed straight for the coast. And from here on in, not only did the roads improve a thousand fold, but our appreciation of this beautiful country started and just didn’t stop!
Arriving at the coast after being inland for quite some time is like breathing in fresh air. Inhassoro was just the most perfect place to plonk ourselves for a few days after all those potholes. We found a lovely campsite right on the beach (again owned by South Africans). We had the whole place to ourselves for the first few days, and it was so peaceful. Whilst camping here we obtained a permit that allowed us to drive along the beach… and what a stunning experience it was. We drove for about 50 kms to the end of the Point, past multitudes of fishermen hauling their nets across the width of the beach. At the Point we waded in the clear warm waters and spotted starfish of all different colours. We were alone there in paradise, for 3 hours. And when the tide started turning, we drove back and bought the hugest prawns we’d ever seen for next to nothing from those hardworking fishermen. I asked myself at the time, if they realise that they live in absolute paradise… I guess probably not. I realised there and then that everyone’s ideas of paradise is different – an obvious kind of revelation, but an important one. We all have different ideas of what the ideal place or state of being is, based on our filters and cultures and histories – what is one man’s paradise can be another man’s hell. Anyway! A little bit philosophical, but worth contemplating if we want to understand some of the motivations of peoples actions… especially when we live in a society that combines many cultures.
A hundred metres up the beach from where we were camping, there was a lodge. We wandered in there one day to buy cold beers. The owners, South Africans, were there and greeted us with all the warmth! They took an absolute shine to us, and invited us to join them for dinner – they spoiled the kids with as many milkshakes as they wanted and a huge delicious spread of food. The next day they made us pizzas for our journey. To be blessed like this is truly humbling, and one wants to ask why. And when you realise you can’t ask why, you learn to receive with absolute gratitude. And realising that the receiving is a blessing enough in return.
We headed down the coast a bit to a town called Vilanculos – evidently a more touristy destination. We were told in no uncertain terms that we needed to book a day trip out to Bazaruto Island to snorkel and see dolphins and whales. It was quite an expensive venture but we agreed to do it. And we tried, really we did, to organise that trip. But at the last minute the details didn’t come together and we missed out on that adventure. We were sad about it, but realised it was probably for good reason? The next day we left, and headed for something a little more far out.
Heading down the coast we noted there was a small national park called Pomene. We decided to head for it, and really had the most amazing experience. Getting to the entrance gate of the park was a long sandy affair, as were the roads within the park, which eventually turned into a track that literally shaved the edge of a huge mangrove swamp. Seeing that our drive was taking us in to the early evening, the swamps gave off an eerie feeling… we started to wonder where on earth we were heading! Eventually we came to the tiny village of Pomene on the other side of park. Pomene is situated between the edge of the mangroves and the expansive white beaches that comb the edge of the coastline there. There is no official campsite in Pomene, just a small allocated piece of beach that the locals have taken to pointing people to. It has a toilet that doesn’t flush, and that is about it. There’s no tap for water, and it’s pretty much left to wrack and ruin… but at the end of the day, this place was paradise (for us 😉). Not only was it beautiful, but it was absolutely deserted. I have no doubt that it might see a few more people in high season, but due to the hard slog of getting there I doubt very much if it ever sees a huge flow of tourists coming through. On the hill overlooking the beach is an old deserted hotel, which looks like it comes straight out of a movie set. It’s beautiful to walk through and dream about how it may have been in it’s hay day, or what it could be like if a wealthy, envisioned investor got their hands on it.
Low on supplies, we had to leave this beautiful spot. We drove to a place we had heard draws many a tourist during holiday season, Tofo Beach. Very thankful that we weren’t there during the holidays (when it evidently feels more like a South African festival), we could see the beauty of the place for what it actually is. It’s small, and really quite quaint, full of people (South Africans) who own water sports business’. And that’s about it. Whilst we spent the day there, we went for lunch at a small place on the beach and watched whales from where we were sitting. It was very lovely, but as I say I wouldn’t care at all to be there in high season! We were actually camping at a place about half an hour’s drive away in Ponta da Barra, where we were the only people on the campsite. Being there was such a novelty, as you could only get to the campsite by driving along the beach, which therefore meant that you could only get out or in when the tide was low. A beautiful spot (owned by South Africans), full of white sand and coconut trees… I’m sure by now, you are getting the picture!
We pootled our way down to Maputo via lake and ocean staying at yet more South African owned campsites, and eventually arrived in the country’s fabulous capital city. Don’t get me wrong… by no means is Maputo a fancy city, but it is exquisitely beautiful in it’s history and architecture. Once a place of Portuguese magnificence, this city speaks in a kaleidoscope of geometries and layers, textures and patterns. Now dirty and tired, this grand old dame sits waiting to be redeemed.
But as always is with African cities, it’s peripheries dance with life and vitality as the people take up residence on the city’s outskirts. This is where the food, the music, the laughter all happens. And on a street like this is where we were privileged to stay for a few nights. In the house of Chana and Jennifer and their two little ones. Jennifer is a lady from the US who has been in Maputo for 20 years. From here she set up an orphanage and has a multitude of children she has raised over the years. I have so so much respect for this woman… before she was married (which was only a recent thing) she spent years living as a local would. She used public transport or walked, washed her (and everybody else’s) clothes by hand, slept on a mattress on the floor alongside everyone else, taught her kids how to survive all whilst being poorly funded or trying to acquire funds. She really is an exceptional person whose love knows no end. Her husband is equally amazing, who whilst studying to get a BComm, has stared several small business’ so that the kids leaving the orphanage have a place to get their start in the world. We stayed in this family’s yard, and their welcome could not have been warmer or more gracious. It’s a pleasure to call them friends, and we hope we will get to welcome them to our home one day soon.
From Maputo, we decided to go up to Zimbabwe via the Kruger Park. We didn’t want to risk more of Mozambique’s potholes, plus our kiddos hadn’t ever been to the Kruger.
So, to round up our time in Mozambique? We would absolutely love to go back – it is truly a magical place; largely unspoilt and exceptionally idyllic. Equally true is that South Africans have managed to open up quite a sizeable tourist industry for Mozambique, which cannot be a bad thing. It comes with a price though… the development going up along some of Mozambique’s coastline is shocking, turning that untouched paradise into, well, anywhere built up on the coast of South Africa really.
Besides those areas speckled by South African gold dust, Mozambique is an incredibly poor country… potentially one of the poorest we’ve been to this year. I once spoke to someone who had just enjoyed a package holiday in Mozambique. His words were that, “the lodge was bliss, but step outside and it was poor, dirty and disgusting – you don’t go want to go there.” And I am heartbroken by this statement. One can travel anywhere – to the poorest place on the planet, and i guarantee you will be able to find a place offering you luxury if you are willing to pay for it. The point is, money can buy you anything. But it takes time and effort to find the true treasure of a place, and usually you’ll have to look past layers of filth and stinky toilets and cultural misunderstandings. And you’ll have to stand still long enough to find magic in the wilderness and beauty in the vast expanses of nothing.
Once again, fascinating reading. Enjoy the last few weeks of your incredible journey!
A brilliant read, Lara. Wonderful to witness a small part of your journey through your writing and your insights.