Friday, 24 July 2009

Prawns Prawns Prawns

We wanted some time on the coast so headed east towards the Indian Ocean, to Ilha de Mocambique. Lack of planning again meant we didn't realise how big Mozambique was. It looks long and thin so we weren't expecting it to take us three days to drive from west to east. The roads were pretty bad too which didn't help. Unable to wild camp due to the dense rural population and elephant grass lining the roads we made a detour for the night through beautiful tea plantations to a cheap hotel in Gurue. Things were feeling pretty West African again, a dingy room and filthy bathroom with no running water. I think things had gone downhill since the author of the guide book was there. Friendly receptionist though, and with lots of sign language and laughter we managed to communicate. They appeared to no longer do the best food in town, or any food at all for that matter so we went in search of something to eat. Finding another hotel we sat down for a pleasant enough meal of fish and more potato than we'd ever eaten in our lives. The manager was trying hard to sell us the hotel saying we should have stayed there rather than the pensao we'd chosen, we could have even had a free breakfast! We asked what that would have been, "egg, chips and sausage". Interesting, we thought, and although chips for breakfast seemed like a strange choice (though not too sure why as surely they would sit very well alongside a full English??) the guy seemed friendly, so we agreed to come back the following morning.

We arrived at the hotel, the manager wasn't up yet, and after some very slow service our food arrived. They were out of egg so tinned sausage and chips it was. Hannah wasn't too impressed to eventually stumble across some rat poo at the bottom of her pile of chips. Feeling slightly queasy, we did our best to complain in Portuguese, paid a discounted price and left.

Nampula was the destination for the following day. Roads were still bad and progress was slowed when we came across a collapsed bridge. A couple of steel beams had been placed across as a temporary repair, but they were slightly too far apart for our wheels. We nervously crawled across with Hannah driving and me directing with tyres partially hanging over the edge of the beams while a large crowd of locals looked on.

We arrived at a campsite marked on the GPS just outside Nampula, it didn't really look like much when we turned up, and what it did look like certainly wasn't a campsite. We asked around, and an English speaker turned up and recommended we went to the lodge next door. He said we could camp but there was no running water and the facilities were in a bit of a state. "We don't mind, as long as it's cheap." We settled on £2 to camp for the night. They were very friendly, cleaning the bathroom and even putting up lights for us, and we were pleasantly surprised to receive a big bucket of hot water for a shower the next morning.

The road changed to pretty good tarmac after Nampula and we raced along with lots of people running into the road and waving plastic bowls full of something at us. We eventually stopped to take a look, they were large bowls of freshly roasted cashews. Normally ridiculously expensive, we bought half a small washing up bowl full for £2, still warm from roasting. We realised we were in the middle of a huge cashew forest, with almost nothing but cashew trees stretching as far as the eye could see.

We reached Ilha de Mocambique earlier than expected. A historically significant place, it was the old Portuguese capital, strangely located on a small island 3.5km off the coast of the mainland. The Dutch East India Shipping Company had tried to take over the island several times but failed to take the fort. If they had succeeded it's said they would never have established their base further south that was to become Cape Town giving birth to South Africa. This would have led to a dramatically different Africa to the one we see today.

The island itself is beautiful, surrounded by clear tropical waters and sandy beaches with lots of fishing activity. The northern half is mostly crumbling old Portuguese buildings with people living in and amongst the ruins. We spent the following day wandering round the very photogenic island and sampling its restaurants. Mozambique is famous for its sea food, especially the huge tiger prawns they drag in from these waters, something we'd been looking forward to for some time. The food was certainly good.

We drove south the following day having to go via Nampula again and picking up more cashews on route. We stopped at Shoprite to pick up supplies. With shopping done we set off, just as we pulled out the parking space an arm reached through the slightly open rear window and grabbed my swimming shorts out of the roof net. A very valuable item of clothing now we're on the Indian Ocean! Leaving Hannah with the car in the middle of the road I leapt out the door and set off in bare foot pursuit of the thief. I had seen him disappear down a side street, and was pleased when I turned the corner to see he'd already stopped running. He was standing there with a big grin on his face, clearly very pleased with himself. He no longer had my shorts, they'd been palmed off immediately. I charged towards the kid in his early teens, he turned and saw me coming starting running again, but a little too late. I reached to grab his shirt stumbling on some soft sand and he slipped out of my grip again accelerating away.

We darted through the back streets of Nampula for a few minutes, by now his youth and stamina were winning out over my lack of fitness. We came out onto the main road, there were other people around so I started shouting to draw attention hoping someone else might help. A few people turned and looked but no one was making any effort to stop the kid. I wondered if everyone was siding with the home team. About to give up two guys on opposite sides of the pavement tuned and started running at the kid. Realising the game was up he stopped. He was handed over to me, and with arms behind his back I marched him down the road towards where we were parked.

By now the sight of a white guy sprinting through Nampula after a local kid had drawn a lot of attention. The street was lined with staring eyes, and I was slowly picking up people who were walking with me and chatting away in Portuguese. Although I can now count to ten my conversational skills are still lacking. I was wondering if this was seen as acceptable when a man in his early 30's eventually piped up in English, "beat him, just beat him, we're tired of these kinds of people". I wasn't planning on going as far as beating him but was pleased the kid was clearly very embarrassed by the whole situation. We got back to the car and with the kid held against a wall there was some conversation with his friends and my shorts soon reappeared. I released him and we drove off leaving him to the huge crowd of gathered people, stopping a short while later to nurse my blistered seeping feet.

Central Mozambique doesn't really having anything of interest to the traveller except a lot of villages and a long road to get from north to south. We chugged along dodging potholes as best as we could pulling into Alto Molocue to track down somewhere to stay. Having a look round what the guide book said was the best place to stay we were pretty horrified, so we went to take a look at the worst. A marked improvement with friendly staff and cheap so we took a room. We were then shown there was secure parking. Deciding we'd much rather camp in the car park we tried to work out how to diplomatically explain we'd rather sleep in our tent than their room.

After a very comfy night in the tent we continued south, deciding to spend a day at Zalala Beach to break the drive. We were slightly surprised when it started to rain on route. We'd been promised beautiful weather in Mozambique at this time of year, being the dry season and all that. The "champagne climate" a South African woman had told us. We had been slightly surprised when a retired British couple we'd met in Malawi had told us they'd had rain the whole way up through Mozambique. Zalala beach was cold, wet and very windy, so rather than spending a day there we decided to plod on to try and escape the weather.

No such luck, we surged southwards with more rain the following day. We had however received some good news from the British couple in Malawi. We thought we'd have one more African ferry to contend with, but we'd been reassured that the new bridge over the Zambezi was due to open the week before we'd have to cross. We approached the beautiful piece of engineering stretching over the wide waters to see a sign saying it was still closed. We joined the queue of cars waiting for the ferry in the pouring rain.

We pushed on past Caia to some accommodation marked on the GPS. We drove through the grounds past exquisite looking chalets to a beautifully situated restaurant, there was no one around. We shouted, no response, so just sat down and waited. After half an hour or so a lady turned up. Despite not having seen a soul since we arrived, they were apparently full and there was no camping allowed. With no known accommodation south for a few hundred kilometres we headed back to Caia.

The Zambezi is a dividing line in Mozambique, separating the populated, undeveloped north from the less populated southern half of the country. Symbolically, the warning signs at level crossings in the north pictured steam trains and in the south, electric (not sure what that says about the UK's use of steam train signs!). We pushed on south all day, rudely interrupted by a policeman who legitimately stopped us for speeding. Some pleading and joking for ten minutes or so and we were let off. We reached Inhassoro at sunset, the most northerly area of coastal towns with tourist facilities that stretch for hundreds of kilometres all the way to the South African border.

The cold wind and rain were still clinging on, and there isn't much to do in this part of the world that isn't outdoors. We spent a day sorting, and a day praying for the wind to stop. A man walked past our campsite one afternoon with a box full of fresh crayfish, so we bought a couple and threw them on the fire that night for a delicious meal. Our days lazing around on the beach weren't going to happen so we pushed on again, this time to Vilanculos.

We went to speak to Sailaway, a company that arranges boat trips to the Bazaruto Archipelago. They had a weather forecast to hand, they next two days were going to be good weather before it all closed in again. We booked a boat trip round the islands for a couple of days.

The following morning we had beautiful weather as promised. We set off with three Belgians, Julie, Rose and Jerome, and our three man crew including a chef, guide and captain. The fire was lit on the boat to make tea, a fire in a wooden box on a wooden boat. At least there's plenty of water round to put it out if need be we were told before we left! Day one was out to Benguarua Island for a walk. Our guide lead the "half hour" walk. Regularly asking directions, and regularly feeling lost we eventually reached the big dune that was our target. After absorbing the spectacular views we headed back in search of our boat. We got back exhausted, hungry and very dehydrated four hours after we'd left. We rapidly demolished the meal of fresh crab prepared for us by Alfredo as we headed back towards the mainland. Camping on the islands is illegal and there is no budget accommodation, all the lodges cost many hundreds of dollars per night so the mainland is the only option.

After a pleasant evening chatting around the fire eating good food and a bad nights sleep, both Hannah and I can only sleep well in our tent these days, we set a course for Two Mile Reef. The plan for the day was snorkelling followed by some chill out time on Bazaruto Island. Alfredo knocked up some amazing omelettes and fruit salad for breakfast on route. We leapt into the freezing water (ok, that's an exaggeration, apparently it's about 22 Celsius at the moment) and did not very much snorkelling at all before we decided it was far too cold. We climbed another dune for the amazing holiday brochure views over the archipelago before returning to the boat for Alfredo's final masterpiece, squid stew. We raised the sails and sped south back to Vilanculos.

And finally...

1 Comments:

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18 May 2018 at 14:37  

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