Mozambique

Spending Time In Mozambique 

Vilankulo is a town in Southern Mozambique which is named after the late chief Gamala Vilankulo Mukpke and many people in the town still borne Vilankulo as their surname. It’s known for its stunning white beach and surrounding islands. I didn’t bother going to Bazarutto island as I really wasn’t that interested in a mediocre snorkelling trip and gawping at some villagers for a steep price of £50. After all the travelling recently it was nice to do nothing around my camp site, and just spend time in Mozambique, not money. I calculated that I’ve slept in a tent for around 40 days of this trip so far and still no symptoms of dole back. 

Tent life

Vilankulo beach


It’s known that many people in Africa don’t like being photographed unless they’re getting paid. I’ve realised that with a wide angle lens you can rip off the subject by directly pointing the camera somewhere else and capture them on the side, genius. To get to Tofo you need to catch a ferry to Inhambane from a town called Maxixe. It was at the port where I saw KFC and couldn’t help myself, this ultimately resulted in missing the last public boat of the day. This led to the farce of using another boat where the price was ‘pay what you want providing it’s more than anyone else’. 


Praia do Tofo is another beach further South. Here you can eat nice food and do expensive activities such as snorkelling, diving and ocean safaris. All I done was practice a little bit of yoga and tried to avoid fist pumping the many beach boys. A beach boy, is a young man who performs a pointless job such as selling shit souvenirs and braiding hair. They’ll pretend they want to be your friend but somewhere down the line all they want is your money. A lot of them have gullible foreign girlfriends that might be in Tofu for a season doing a work placement who will quite happily pay for their lazy lifestyle, effectively making them gigaolos. The best way to deal with them is to be short with them as whatever they say ‘they’re not your brother from another mother’. 

Beach boy in the making sporting a pair of Toon shorts

Token jumping photo


A bee-eater is a species of bird mostly found in Africa and Asia. As the name suggests, they mainly eat flying insects such as bees and wasps. The stinger of the insect is removed by repeatedly hitting it on a hard surface. Around the garden of the lodge there were a few swallow-tailed bee-eaters. It’s a shame they don’t eat mosquitos, still waiting for that day when I wake up with Malaria. 

Swallow-tailed Bee Eater


The nearby town of Inhambane has a slightly Mediterranean feel. The Church of Our Lady of Conception is the oldest building in town constructed in 1854 by the Portuguese. It was on the way here that Mozambique’s chapas never fail to amaze me, how come there’s always room for one more? 


My final 3am start and long distance bus in Mozambique took me from Tofu to Maputo and took 10 hours, and certainly offered one of most spectacular views from any public transport vehicle I’ve ever had. 

I only spent 24 hours in Maputo as my visa was about to expire and I’d heard rumours of dodgy police trying to bribe tourists for not carrying their passports or walking on the wrong side of the road. This is a problem throughout Mozambique and a few bribery attempts had actually happened to me. The best thing to do is hand over a photo copy of your passport, if you give them the original they metaphorically have you by the balls. If they say a photocopy isn’t good enough just simply plead ignorant and talk at them in English, more often than not they’ll give up when they realise you won’t pay up. It’s pretty pathetic really how the entire police force does nothing but exploit and bribe people and does nothing to prevent real crime. 

Maputo Skyline


Mozambique has been one of the most challenging countries I’ve ever been to with regards to language, getting around, corruption and bureaucracy. I think that sometimes you need to really challenge yourself the see what you’re actually made of, and Mozambique has certainly done that. On the way to the Swazi border while leaving Mozambique it seemed almost fitting that in a private vehicle, there was time for one last flat tyre, almost summing up my month here. Oh yes,  it’s been good to spend some time in Mozambique. 

The Final Breakdown


The shirt of Mozambique’s Football ‘Os Mamba’s’.

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Defeat Is Not So Bad 

A shared public transport vehicle in Mozambique is referred to as a chapa. Chapa is a general term and can be anything from a Toyota mini bus to a pick up truck. On this occasion the chapa to Garué was a battered old wagon which had to stop every hour to refill the water tank. Being a Mzungu, you’re in a position to pay a bit extra for the front seat, didn’t fancy getting severely sunburned. 

The driver


Garué is a mid-altitude town of around 700m asl. There’s a lot of piss heads in the town, and apart from a cinema showing American B movies there’s not a lot to do. The surrounding countryside is the main reason to come here. A short walk from the town there is a river where it seemed like the entire village congregated for laundry day. While the women washed, the kids played and the place reminded me of the Wet ‘n’ Wild water park. Minus teenagers up to no good in the jacuzzi of course. 

Wet ‘N’ Wild


Garué is Mozambique’s leading tea growing region. A walk past the factory through the  Chá Zambezi Estate is very scenic as you pass through the tea plantations and small villages. The problem here was that every single local you passed asked for money. Maybe because it’s very rural and they don’t see many Mzungus so they thought they’d try their luck, it made me feel like a walking ATM. Anyway, how can a woman twice the size of me carrying a hundred bananas on her head claim to be hungry? 



Continue through the plantations and you’ll eventually arrive at Cascata de Namuli where you can cool off in one of the swimming pools and admire the views over Garué. 

One of the main problems with travelling in Mozambique is that long distances sometimes make it impossible to travel from A to B without having to overnight in an anonymous backwater town. On this occasion Caia served as that town, and the quality of the lodgings were much to be desired. The bathroom looked like a scene from horror movie, and it was only intended for small people. 

This is after I brightened the photo

The Catapu Forestry Concession is a 250 square km private concession dedicated to sustainable forestry and indigenous trees. They say that this place is for trees what the Ngorongoro crater is for mammals – which means if you’re a tree lover, it’s absolutely class. I’m not a tree lover but I did love the excellent value lodge there, Mphingwe Camp. The camp has lovely cabins and excellent food all for very reasonable prices, so this was a great place to recharge my batteries after all the traveling recently. I’ll always find something to moan about though, at 40 degrees it was a bit too hot and I didn’t like having to spend two pound a day on bottled water. 

The Cabin


Ants

Catapu is an excellent birding spot if you can bare the heat. My spots included numerous sun birds, crowned hornbill, green wooed hoopoe and top sighting – the African cookoo hawk, named so because it resembles a common cookoo but is, well, a reptile eating hawk. 

Collared Sun Bird

Crowned Hornbill

African Cookoo Hawk


Like some kind of miracle, when I left the forest reserve a long distance truck stopped to pick me up that was going all the way to Vilanculos, saving me the horrible journey in a packed chapa and having to overnight in yet another backward Mozambican town. The downside was that I had to spend the entire 14 hour journey sat next to another passenger’s feet, that possibly hadn’t  been washed in weeks. I’ve made the joke before that it was Desmond Tutu’s chiropodist that said “dee feet, is not so bad”. I can rest assured that ‘dees feet’ were very, very bad.  

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Beauty In Decay 


After two days too long spent in Nampula dodging pickpockets, it was time to move on. The chappas broke down five minutes out of town, that has to be some kind of record. On the plus side, while we were waiting for the man from the biscuit shop to repair the vehicle, I bumped into my first Mozambican Newcastle fan. 


Ilha de Moçambique aka Mozambique Island, was the capital of Portuguese East Africa and the most important Indian Ocean port in the Southern hemisphere for four centuries. Only three kilometres long and no more than 600 metres wide, Ilha as it’s more commonly known, is tiny. When the Portuguese moved the capital to Maputo in the 20th century, a lot of the buildings were left to rot marking Ilha a weird place which doesn’t feel like Africa but doesn’t feel like Lisbon either. Some of the old colonial buildings have been restored in the oldest part of town, granting Ilha UNESCO World heritage site status.  

The old hospital

The Cinema


It’s easy enough to take yourself on a walking tour of the Island to admire local life and the decayed architecture. Fortaleza De São Sebastião was built from Limestone shipped from Lisbon between 1546 and 1583. It managed to hold off attacks from the Turkish, Dutch and Omani fleets. 


The locals don’t seem to have much to do on Ilha. Some play Ludo, the most boring unskillful game ever. Some play carrom, a game of Indian origins which is a cross between drafts and pool. But most just sit all day doing nothing, not reading or talking, absolutely nothing. This is something I’ve noticed happens a lot throughout Africa, groups of men get to together to simply sit and stare into space while all the women graft like mad. 

Carrom

Ludo


The kids on Ilha were especially excitable. Following, shouting, hissing and asking for their photos taken. The Macua woman of Ilha have a tradition of wearing a natural face mask called musiro made from bark, this is to soften the skin and protect it from the sun. Obviously the woman won’t let you photograph them without payment so here’s one of someone much better looking anyway. 

He doesn’t have a gammy arm that’s just his pose, and yes that is a football

Spider boy


The guys who are actually doing something are the local fisherman, who fetch in their daily catch, which you can buy. £10 for two lobsters was most likely a tourist price so I declined, much to his disappointment.  

Chuffed to bits with his catch


We took a boat trip out to Goa island to do some snorkelling, which was non existent as there’s no coral and was far too rough. The island’s beaches are relatively nice though and we got to explore an old derelict Portuguese lighthouse. I was half expecting a zombie to burst through one of the doors but the scariest thing about the lighthouse was the used condom on the top floor, and the fact the toilet was in better repair than the one in my hotel room. 


During my self guided walking tour I was accompanied by a dog who started following me from the Hindu temple. At the end I was amazed that he never asked for money or a tip, as sometimes there’s a catch with offers of ‘free help’ in Africa. 


Amazingly on Ilha I bumped into another Newcastle fan making it two in two days, this one had a striking resemblance to former Cameroonian flop Geremi. You wait six weeks to find some Newcastle shirts in Africa and then two turn up together, if only either of them knew exactly what they were wearing, one was the local Sunday league referees and the other had the nickname ‘Northern Rock’. 

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Broken Down

Getting away from Likoma island to Mozambique proved to be no easy task. The large steamer the M.V Chambo, was currently out of service. So I had to take a small fishing boat across the lake, first to the tiny settlement of Cobué only an hour away to get a visa for Mozambique. This was a bizarre way to enter a new country, I had to practically swim to the beach at Cobué as the boat didn’t anchor close enough, here you’re greeted by a border ‘official’ and taken to the immigration office a ten minute walk through the village and issued a visa for $50, no questions asked and a pretty simple procedure.

Just swim to the beach from here

The replacement boat

Cobué immigration officeR

I then swam back to the fishing boat where I sat on a bag of dried fish for the next 13 hours. It was relatively fun at first, but once the sun went down, sitting there in total darkness was very lonely, depressing and tedious as the boat chugged along at about 5km per hour, stopping at every settlement along the Mozambican side of the lake to load on or off more people and/or bags of fish. It was a very psychologically demanding trip. The word Malawi means ‘fire flames’ in a local language, evoking the beautiful sunsets over the lake, something that is clearly represented in the national flag, at least I got to see it one last time on the nightmare boat, almost making the journey worth it.

Before the lights went out

There is not a lot in Metangula on the Mozambique side of the lake, but it’s a friendly town and an ok place to rest after the boat journey. I think the word Metangula might mean ‘dust cloud’, as there were some really strong winds blowing in fine orange dust from the unsealed roads and surrounding hills. It was here I accidentally drank 500ml of water from the lake which resulted in me throwing up my first Mozambican meal. Let me tell you, fish vomit, has to be the worst kind.

Lake Niassa from Metangula

Lichinga is the capital of the Niassa province and home to the Muslim Yao people. The Samora circle in town has a statue of Samora Machel in the centre, commander, revolutionist and first president of Mozambique. This was the closest I’d get to a running track over here so took the time to get some training in. The people in Lichinga seem to like posing for photos – “Mr, take my picture holding a dirty piece of cardboard over my head”.

Mozambique’s airline Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique, or LAM, has a very poor safety record. I have no idea why there is an old LAM passenger plane wreck on the outskirts of Lichinga, I’m thinking it might’ve broken down and they couldn’t be arsed to scrap it.


I was required to arrive at the mini bus station at 3am to get to Cuamba. It’s the middle of the night, but that is when all chappas start to collect passengers. The first chappa to Mandimba got a flat tyre half way, because the road is basically a giant pothole, so the 150k took 6 hours. After changing in Mandimba and eating some rather dodgy looking chicken bits, I boarded a second bus to Cuamba, this one got a flatty after about 20km. My patience had ran out at this point so I stuck my arm out and managed to get a lift in the cab of a heavy goods transport truck. Hitchhiking is normal in Mozambique and it’s custom to pay the same fare as a bus, this was a lot quicker as they’re more suitable for the roads and don’t stop as much.

3:30 am

I stayed in Cuamba for one night in local pensão for another 3:30am rise the following day. The Pensão Zambezi was, well, a shit hole. It was here that one of the little kretins who worked there, snuck into my room through the night and stole money from my bag. I made a big mistake of counting it up in a common area, letting them know where it was kept and inviting opportunity. The guesthouse was only £3 but ultimately staying there ended up costing me something like £60. I may as well have checked in to the Cuamba Hilton.

Had on, I’m sure I had more than this last night.

The robbery sucked balls, but if you drank sour milk once would you never drink milk again? I couldn’t let a carton of sour milk spoil my impression of the Mozambican people. Mozambique’s long distance train from Cuamba to Nampula covers a distance of 350km and has been hauling passengers across the country since 1912. After departing at 5am I thought I was in for a nice comfortable ride by Mozambique standards, until, you guessed it, the train broke down.

An in date carton of milk


The train got going again after a three hour standstill. I finally made it to Nampula 14 hours later after spending the whole journey stuck next to a woman with the two worst behaved kids in Mozambique, who cried, kicked, spat and screamed all the way there, not even the deep fried soya pieces that I covered in hot chili sauce and fed them managed to shut them up. Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, but even after all these break downs, nothing is going to break me down. When I spoke to someone a few years back about Mozambique they said “go to Mozambique if you want adventure”, they weren’t wrong there.

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