26 May 2007 to 2 June 2007
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Mozambique – after Cyclone Favio
Mozambique – when I think of this country I envisage civil wars, landmines, floods and corrupt traffic officials. However, when I think more positive, I have memories of listening to LM Radio, Lourenco Marques, the old Polana hotel and visions of the most beautiful palmlined beaches in all of Africa. It is therefore with mixed feelings that my wife and I arrived at the Lebombo border post on Sunday morning, the 27th of May 2007.
We have been thinking of visiting Mozambique for some years now. The trip became a reality when we received an invitation from an old school friend of my wife who owns a resort near Inhambane. This was an offer we could not refuse and we gladly accepted. We decided to add a few days of camping at Vilanculos further North to see for ourselves if there was still any flood damage from the storms earlier the year when Cyclone Favio made landfall at Vilanculos.
Our first overnight stop was the Formula 1 hotel in Nelspruit, an old favourite of ours. The accommodation is clean and ideal for a sleepover. We left bright and early the following morning hoping to get to the border at 6 am when they opened. We were dismayed to find at least 100 vehicles in the line ahead of us. It would seem that other travellers had the same idea we had! However, the line moved quickly and soon we had completed formalities on the South African side. While waiting in line we took the opportunity to buy a Mozambiqua cellphone sim card to make communication with family and friends at home easier.
We had filled up and exchanged Rand for Meticais at one of the filling stations just before we got to the border. The going rate was 3.6 Meticais for one Rand. In Mozambique you can use Meticais, Rand and US dollars at toll gates but you only get change in Meticais. You can fill up using Meticais, Rand or, at some filling stations with your Visa credit card.
Friends gave us the phone number of a “helper” on the Mozambique side of the border. We contacted him and for a small fee he completed all the formalities for us, definitely a time saver!
Ninety minutes after arriving at the Lebombo border post we were on our way! Our destination was Palm Grove Lodge at Inhambane. This was the lodge that belonged to our friend. The road to Xai Xai was in very good condition and we made good progress. We were stopped at regular intervals by police but just waved on our way without any hassles. We also passed two speed traps but luckily we were travelling within the speed limit. The many small villages along the caused much frustration as each time we had to reduce speed to 60 km/h so we were unable to maintain a constant speed.
And then, the nightmare! The 80 km stretch of road just to the North of Xai Xai was probably the worst stretch of tarred road we had ever travelled. At places the side of the road was badly washed away making it dangerously narrow. And if that was not bad enough, it was also very badly potholed.
We heaved a sigh of relief when the road suddenly improved and we could speed up again.
We eventually arrived at Inhambane and then we were in for another nasty surprise. The last stretch of road to the resort was also potholed and the last few kilometers to Praia du Barra was a very badly washed away gravel road which reduced our speed to a crawl.
It was with a sigh of relief that we eventually reached our destination. The resort is aptly named Palm Grove Lodge. The accommodation consists of grass roofed chalets with woven reed walls, situated in a grove of palm trees . Just over a dune, not two minutes walk away we could hear the welcome sound of waves. We wasted no time in dipping our feet in the warm water of the Indian Ocean.
That evening we had supper in the restaurant where we met some of the other holidaymakers at the resort, all fellow South Africans.
We awoke early the following morning and headed for the beach to watch the sun rise, always a special moment of the day for us. After breakfast we again braved the road to Inhambane as we wanted to experience a cruise on a dhow. However, as the day was windstiil that plan had to be scrapped and we headed for the local market to buy some fruit and veggies. Language was a problem as we could not speak Portuguese and the locals did not seem to understand English. Suddenly a small black boy, who introduced himself as Johan van der Merwe and who spoke Afrikaans, came to our rescue! Needless to say, when we left he had a nice fat tip from us!
We headed back to the lodge and later that afternoon we went for a long walk on the beautiful beach which seemed neverending. Local fishermen returned with their catches and sold fish to the locals where they landed on the beach.
After a good night’s rest we were on the beach again before sunrise and walked in the opposite direction than the morning before. Upon our return we met another South Africab couple who related an unpleasant experience they had on the way here. They were stopped by two armed men in camouflage uniforms who insisted that they pay a R1000 fine. Our friends said they only had R800 on them which they accepted and let them go.
We were subsequently given some handy tips by resort management. Never hand over your passport to anyone other than offcials at border posts. Don’t hand over your original documentation at roadblocks. We had certified copies made of our driver’s licences, passports and ID documents and we show these when stopped and not the originals. If stopped by anyone other than police or traffic officials, ask them to follow you to the nearest police station.
That afternoon we headed to the small tourist town of Tofu, about 30 kilometers away. Tofu has a beautiful swimming beach as well as diving and fishing facilities for charter. We had lunch at a delightful Surf and Coffee Shop, The Waterworks, where owners Sarah and Gal were our hosts. They are originally from the UK and they are now resident in Mozambique.
May 30th dawned another perfect day in paradise, more special to me as it was my birthday. My special treat was a trip by rubber duck to pansy island, where hopefully we would be able to find some of those very special shells. A 30 minute trip brought us to our destination, what appeared to be no more than a large sandbank. Pansy island lived up to its name and between the eight of us we picked up about 100 pansy as well as a variety of other shells, a fruitful trip indeed.
After our usual early morning walk on the beach, we accompanied friends on an exploratory trip of the area. There are quite a few other lodges along the long palmlined beach, but we wanted to take a look the the well known and upmarket Flamingo .Bay Lodge. The lodge boasts its own flock of flamingoes and the accommodation is Maldives style in the water on stilts. Residents are taken to their accommodation by golf carts along narrow pathways high above the water.
Then, for the first time in our lives, we went snorkeling. I mastered the art of breathing but my wife seemed to struggle to get used to it, she eventually invented a new type of snorkeling, in about 5 cm of water!
Late that afternoon we drove to the nearby Sunset Lodge to view the spectacular sunset from their viewing deck. A perfect end to a prefect day.
Our last day at Inhambane dawned another perfect day in paradise. The morning was spent exploring the area. We took pictures at the slave monument at Tofu and also visited the cave where, during the civil war, people were left at low tide, they would then drown when the tide came in.
The afternoon was spent packing as early the next morning we were on our way on the second leg of our journey, to Vilanculo.
The journey to Vilanculo started off well enough travelling on a very good tarred road. It was too good to last, however, and the road soon narrowed and was rather badly potholed. This lasted for about 30 kilometers when it once again became a very good road and we could speed up again.
As we reached the outskirts of Vilanculo, we missed the badly signposted directions to our lodge, Blue Water Bay. We landed up in town where no one could understand us to give us directions. Eventually a young boy came to our rescue and offered to take us to the lodge, for a fee, of course. The road he chose was no more than a sand track and we were worried that we might get stuck as we din’t have time to drop our tyre pressures. We eventually made it to the lodge and instead of camping as we had intended to do, we rather chose a rondavel as our accommodation.
The resort manager advised us that there was a much better road to the resort, which was good news to us. Upon enquiring about the effect the cyclone had earlier that year, he mentioned that most of the beach resorts were up and running but according to him the resorts on Benguerra and Bazaruto islands were still in a state of repair. Activities at Vilanculo include a dhow trip to the offshore islands, snorkeling, fishing as well as a visit to the market.
We decided to brave the “better road” back into town to fill up and also book a dhow trip to one of the offshore islands for the next day. The “better road” turned out also to be a sandy track but we managed to get through without getting stuck. I would not recommend that anyone tries this road with the family sedan.
The one filling station in town did not have unleaded fuel but luckily for this the other filling station did have stock. We enquired about the dhow trip and agreed to be there the next morning.
The resort only had electricity from 5 pm to 10 pm so we had to make sure to have supper and take a shower before the power was cut off at 10 pm. We awoke during the night to the sound of thunder and rain on the roof and decided to rather leave early the next morning.
We left the resort at just before 5 am, in the dark and in the rain. As the track was not clearly marked, we stopped at a fork in the road, we soon found out that was a mistake as we got stuck in the sand. We had to reduce tyre pressures and scrape the sand away from in front of the tyres, which seemd th do the trick and we were on our way again. Needless to say we heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the tar road.
The trip to the border was uneventful. We found out that the trick to navigating the potholed sections was to follow one of the locals who seemed to have mastered the art of pothole ducking. So there we were, zigzagging from left to right behind the local driver.
We got a shock when we reached the border, The border post was even busier than when we entered the country, so we quickly phoned the “helper” that had so ably assisted us a week before. He was, however, not available and we were really getting worried with the prospect of a very long wait at the border. We were saved by a local named Chico, who offered to help us across. We rather reluctantly handed him our passports and documentation necessary for getting across the border together with R200 and off he went.
We heaved a sigh of relief when he returned in less than 10 minutes with our passports and other documents duly stamped. We gladly gave him a nice fat tip for his trouble.
The South African side went very quickly and soon we were on our way home.
I will return to Mozambique again, but no further North than Inhambane and Praia de Barra with its white beaches. The best time to go is April to June as it gets quite hot towards the end of the year.