Category Archives: Mozambique

From coast to coast

I’ll start this post by mentioning a little from our time in Mozambique a little under a month ago, if I can remember back that far that is. Well, here goes… Our main reason for going to Tofo beach was so that I could get a bit of diving in as this is one of the world’s top dive sites and I was definitely not disappointed. Discovering the world that lies beneath the ocean waves has been one of the major highlights of my travels and the diving off Tofo beach was the highlight of that particular highlight. I dived with Tofo Scuba who I can recommend as an excellent dive charter, but enough about them and onto the diving… In a word it was amazing – most of the sites are deep going down to about 30 metres and the main draw is the the manta rays that drift gracefully into cleaning stations to get parasites and other rubbish removed by lots of smaller cleaner fish. It was quite a sight when I saw my first cleaning station, these two huge (3m across or so) manta rays circling around with a trail of little yellow fish in their wake, it was really beautiful. On a later dive a manta passed right over my head, within about 2 metres, with me just suspended in water agog as this giant creature that was so nonchalantly and gracefully drifting within such close proximity to me. And as if that was great enough most of the dives were also accompanied to the melodies of passing whales singing to one another. This was definitely the first time that I have dived and become so wholly immersed (no pun intended) in the experience. As well as the mantas I also saw many lion fish up close – they’re a personal favourite of mine, the first octopus that I’ve ever seen, a giant whiptail ray, a loggerhead turtle and quite a few massive potato bass and so much more that I shan’t even begin to bore you with. It was such an fantastic place to dive.

From Mozambique we travelled to Johannesburg to stay with my cousin Martin, his wife Joanne and their son Michael. We were so warmly welcomed and had a wonderfully restful week that even managed to encompass seeing lots of lions and a couple of giraffes at a rather lavish and somewhat surreal kids birthday party where the only type of food on the menu for the children was sweets of many lurid colours. I wouldn’t envy the parents after that party with sugar-crazed children running amok everywhere.

I think at the time some home comforts and a hassle free week (dealing with the Madagascar embassy excepted) were just what we needed and it was really great to get to know Martin & family properly.

From there we were with renewed energy to tackle the last leg of our travelling proper in Namibia. We hired a car, an old skool MK1 VW golf with a modern interior installed and duly named ‘Steve’, and set off on the long, straight road to Namibia. Along the way we stopped off for the night at a campsite that had emus and springboks running around everywhere. I found the emus rather scary, especially after what that one that Rod Hull had did to him. I just made sure that I didn’t get up on any roofs and resolved that if I did I check that the area was clear of emus first. It did give me a bit of hassle though when I was trying to get to the car from our tent – I kept getting fronted off and had to take an alternative route and hide from it for a bit. Still, when they’re not being scary they’re pretty funny creatures them emus although maybe best left to the Australian outback where there’s a lower roofs per square mile ratio.

From there the road became increasingly straighter, dustier and deserted. As if to emphasise the fact some tumble weed really did blow across the road in the front of the car! Our first stop was at fish river canyon – a pretty damn impressive canyon formed by geological activity and, less surprisingly, the fish river. Next up was the town of Luderitz, a place that looks much like a traditional German town (Namibia is an ex German colony) stuck right on a windy coast at the end of 300km of desert and wilderness. The Diaz peninsula was the real highlight here – a landscape that looked more like the moon than the Earth and that also had an abandoned Norwegian whaling station slowly turning to rusty ruin, great for some decay photographs! One of the really fantastic things about Namibia is that there are so few people so it’s possible to enjoy so many of the country’s great wildness locations as just that – it’s rare that you see another person while out and about.

Just outside Luderitz is the long abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskopp. We had a fascinating wander around all these buildings that were slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding sand dunes. I have a real thing for derelict places and was in my element here, snapping away at the decay.

Stifling dry heat aside, travelling in Namibia is almost as much fun as the places you stop and see. Most of the travelling is done on dirt roads through these amazing desert landscapes past a smattering little mountain/large hill ranges. Before visiting Namibia our impression of the desert was of a vast expanse of shifting sands, what we hadn’t appreciated was how wonderfully diverse and beautiful desert landscapes can be as we travelled through 100s of kilometres of hardy pale desert grassland, desert scrub, karoo and dunes, and all of this without another soul in sight.

From Luderitz we stopped off at the most remote wilderness spot – a farm (Namtib Biosphere Reserve) 30km from the nearest road on a campsite with nobody else on it and 3km from the farm. All around we could see nothing but hills and desert. As night drew we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets of our travels as the dust turned the horizon a thick red once the sun had ducked out of sight. Gradually as the sunset faded the stars started to come out in force until the sky was overflowing with tiny points of light tightly packed into the expanse of sky all around us. The number of stars that you can see when there is no light pollution is really breath taking – the milky way looks like a grey slash running across the sky, always pointing to the southern cross – an ever-present star formation from our travels, one that you cannot see from the Northern hemisphere.

Next up was my original raison d’etre for wanting to visit Namibia – the shifting red dunes of Sossusvlei. I had wanted to go since seeing some amazing photos of the dunes and wanted to see and capture something similar myself. Well, I wasn’t disappointed as on our first day there we drove out to the dunes just before sunset when the low sun lights the towering dunes from just one side leaving the other side in heavy shadow and accentuating the carefully sweeping form of the dune’s ridge. It was a beautiful and majestic sight. The next morning we up before sunrise to get to the dunes for sunrise. Again, the dunes looked really beautiful in the low light and went on a few walks over and along a few dunes and saw a couple of dried up lakes – now just baked and cracked salt-whitened earth. We were glad of being up early as by 10am the temperatures has become stiflingly hot and we had to retreat back to the (overpriced and shabby) campsite to take refuge in whatever shade we could find.

I should mention now that our diet for the last week had been rather limited due to the scarcity of supermarkets (there are none, except in the big towns which we were a long, long way from). Coupled with the cooking facilities being just a braai (BBQ) at every campsite all we ate was braaied boerwors sausage sandwiches for dinner and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Fortunately the sausage was very nice and readily available at every campsite and I had lots of fun perfecting my fire making technique every night.

Next up we visited the nearby Namib Naukluft national park that had far better camping facilities, friendlier staff and was reasonably priced. We spent a couple of days here and did a couple of pleasant walks totalling about 28kms through dried up river beds, down steep sided gorges and over hills. Back at the campsite I had to chase off the ‘very naughty’ baboon who came marauding through the campsite now again. we didn’t fancy taking a baboon damaged tent to Madagascar with us!

On our way back down to South Africa we stopped off at the ‘Quiver Tree Forest Restcamp‘ in Keetmanshoop to take a look at the quiver tree forest and Giant’s playground – bizarre piles of rocks for miles around. The real highlight of our time here though was the wild meerkats who lived on our campsite and would scamper around digging in the sandy soil here and there looking for grubs. We have both longed to see meerkats since seeing the famous wildlife on one episode “Meerkats United” and was simply awesome to be able to see them in the wild for real, and to have them so close to where we were staying was such a bonus. They were fairly tame as well and a nursery of young meerkats came right up to Viv to investigate her. The bloke who ran the campsite had a menagerie of other animals that had been rescued for various places including three cheetahs, a huge warthog and a week old springbok.

From there we had over 15 hours driving in 2 days to get back to Johannesburg where we are currently back at Martin and Joanne’s house. We both enjoyed Namibia hugely and would love to go back in the future. For pure beauty of landscapes we think that it rivals New Zealand, it really is a spectacular country.

We do have lots of pictures from Namibia but unfortunately there was no decent internet cafe to upload them so for the time being you’ll have to live with the just the words.

Only a couple of days left in South Africa now, we’re flying Madagascar on Thursday for the start of our voluntary work and currently getting very excited by it!

Poor Old Mozambique

Hello All,

We’re back in Maputo now and to the best Internet cafe we’ve found in Africa so far.

This post is full of raw emotion as well as stuff that John and I have spent a lot of time philosophising about. Before I published it I considered toning it down and then changed my mind. After all, this is not a holiday brochure but a collection of our personal thoughts and experiences on our trip of a lifetime. A trip that is as much about learning and understanding as it is about seeing and enjoying ourselves.

Mozambique has given us a lot to think about. It came out of a decade long civil war in 1992 and looking at most of the buildings we’ve seen you’d think it might have been two years ago, five at the outside.

Maputo, as John mentioned, is an extremely friendly city, the people really are absolutely lovely. It’s wonderful to be able to walk the streets at night again without feeling paranoid about being robbed. Maputo is sprawling and crumbling though, really sad to see. There doesn’t appear to have been any buildings erected since the war and hardly anything has been restored. The pavements and roads are still very damaged and there are countless buildings that are just empty shells, no roof, no windows, no doors.

The signs of the Marxist government that took power after independence from Portugal in the 70s are clearly in evidence in the streets, they’re all named after left wing leaders. Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Mihn need no introduction but we’ve also spotted Allende, the victim of General Pinochet’s infamous coup in Chile. It’s hard to explore Maputo really as it’s very large and the places of interest so far away from each other. Tomorrow we’re going to do that in earnest though, this is no ordinary city and there seems to be so much to learn.

Last Monday we got up early to travel by bus to Tofo. Tofo gets John very excited as it has one of the world’s top dive sites. It’s about 500km North of Maputo, apparently around 6 hours.

The journey was a classic travellers experience, although we arrived at the bus station for a 6.30am departure it didn’t actually leave until just before nine. As with many of the poorer countries we’ve visited no bus moves unless all the seats are filled. This bus does only fill the seats, apparently the other bus heading North will fill the bus in a much more literal sense. Apparently with people, livestock, vegetables and whatever else needs to go up there. To be honest we’re not surprised, not many people have their own vehicles and the transport infrastructure is severely limited. I don’t know how some of those buses make it up there as some parts of the road are more like four wheel drive territory. It’s only tarmacked part of the way and is Mozambique’s only major road.

The scene on the way up was fairly consistent: flat grassy planes, derelict shells of buildings, straw huts and roadside market stalls (mostly fruit).

The journey took 10 hours in all and the bus was smelly. We were utterly exhausted by the time we arrived. In hindsight the journey was amusing, I’m not sure whether it was a bus journey or a very long shopping trip. For the two and a half hours we were waiting at Maputo bus station there was a continuous and noisy rabble of people banging on the windows trying to sell all sorts. The bus also must have stopped at least a dozen times for people to run to the bus selling their wares. In this respect it reminded us both of Asia, Laos in particular. Although, as far I’m aware, the goods were more conventional things like oranges and tomatoes, we weren’t too disappointed not to see the bats on sticks!

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At Tofo we’d booked a hut to stay in. That’s what it was, a straw hut with no windows and several large holes. We had two mattresses on the floor and a Mosquito net. We enjoyed the novelty of it although it’s certainly the most basic place we’ve stayed. Needless to say, the mozzies had a feast on us.

While we were there John was not disappointed with the diving. He swam with Manta Rays, Whale Sharks and numerous other wonders. I myself went out in a boat and saw whale sharks and mantas very close, truly amazing creatures and I can’t believe how big they are. I was too much of a scaredy cat to snorkel in the open sea though, I hate it when I can’t see the bottom and I don’t know what’s lurking.

Tofo is amazingly under-developed, there’s hardly anything there, it is like a tropical paradise. Unfortunately for us we were a bit unlucky with the weather and although John still managed to dive all other trips were cancelled for the first 5 days after we arrived. Not wanting to sit in the bar all day and the beach being too wet and windy I spent several days sat in the hut reading and getting bitten by Mosquitos.

Already feeling affected by the destruction and poverty in Mozambique I delved into a history book about a girl and the Vietnam war and read a supplement about global warming and energy that Andy Wright gave us from the Guardian. With the solitude and depressing reading, confusion reigned in my head. The confusion centres on a revulsion for humanity but a love of people. I’ve been prone to that sort of thing from a very early age, being the kind of kid that at ten worried about everyone dying, in my early teens about nuclear war and in my late teens about the environment. At Tofo it all got a bit overwhelming and I had the urge to give away everything I’ve ever possessed but had no plan what I might do with myself after that.

I was walking around Mozambique feeling guilty for being so lucky in where I was born and starting to loathe myself, I didn’t want to go out and face the world. Argh, what am I doing? John to the rescue, he acknowledged all the ills in the world but let me know that I wasn’t on my own in my thinking. I know I’m not, and thank you John (a man that genuinely understands and to whom I owe much, permission to puke granted.) We have now hardened our resolve to help as much as we can, turning angst into action. It makes all the struggles with our thoughts seem worth it. We need to figure out ways of keeping it that way when we get back to Britain, where it’s easier to forget about the world beyond our doorstep.

Five days into our stay I reluctantly travelled to Inhambane, a local town crumbling even by Mozambique standards, the school has broken windows and every other building is derelict. Weirdly, unlike Maputo, the place was very unfriendly, smiles were only returned by hostile glares. Given the recent history of colonialism and interference in the civil war by the South African apartheid government, it’s not really surprising. It turned out that unlike Maputo it had a pretty large part in slave trafficing, particularly to the French colonies of Mauritius and Reunion island. John and I have had plenty of discussions about why the people of Inhambane and Maputo are so different but without being able to speak to lots of them we can only speculate. I really wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage.

‘Travelling back from Inhambane we caught the same style bus as on the way in, while deciding which bus to catch a guy had stamped on my foot and gave John a really good push. We were polite to everybody so didn’t deserve that treatment and were feeling pretty glum when we got on the bus. There were no seats for us so I sat between someone elses feet. The more people that were squeezed in when it didn’t look humanly possible, the more I giggled. I couldn’t see John anymore, he’d disappeared at the back somewhere. We all squeezed up ever tighter and held each other’s shopping. That’s when everything changed. It was a bus full of smiles, me with my bad Portuguese and they with smatterings of English. A woman was carefully extracting the hair out of my eyelashes every time it blew in, people were saying thank you lots and telling me I had ‘lively eyes’.
What a relief, I can’t tell you how good that felt. I suppose the difference was our role, the bus was a real leveller and made everyone the same. That way we can all be friends and we, the visitors, are not walking around in a bubble.

On our last day in Tofo we had a sunny day on the beach, we had intended to travel further up the country but with the weather delays we ran out of time. The little boys who sold bracelets on the beach were watching us play backgammon. We really warmed to them even though there are limits to the number of bracelets we can buy. One of them was called Fernando, he had something different about him, a bit more talent and spark. I hope he’s getting enough education so that he can live up to his potential. He’s very good at selling bracelets but could do so much more.

According to what we’ve read, people with too much education and talent were sought out and shot during the civil war. I hope that this country can rebuild itself enough to allow people of Fernando’s ability a better chance in life. I would like to come back to Mozambique one day and see how it’s faring.

Take care all

p.s. If this post is depressing, blame it on James Blunt, maybe we should buy this internet cafe another CD?!

Horny animals with big teeth

Ey up all!

It’s been a few weeks since Viv’s last post and about time for another update from the road…

We didn’t do an awful lot in Durban, just chilled out and spent a bit of time on the internet, got a visa for Mozambique, got lost on a bus and ate a curry in half a loaf of bread. We did manage to get lost on the bus and ended up with a long walk back through a fairly affluent part of Durban where the roads were lined with rather grand houses, each with it’s own security guard outside and the walls topped with electric fences. The streets were almost deserted. Crime really is a big problem here and this is reflected in the seemingly extreme measures that people will go to protect themselves and their property and that walking in city centres is almost taboo – everyone takes the car.

After Durban we headed for Eshowe and a dose of African culture that had been missing from the last couple of weeks. Oh yeah, that and FREE BEER! We arrived at our hostel when we went to have a nosey at the bar we were told that we’d have to wait until the bar opened at 12 till we could start drinking the free beer. “Free beer?!” we said in disbelief, but it was true we could drink as much of the beer that they brewed on the premises as we liked. It was actually very nice and as close as we’ve come to a proper British pint on our travels (still too cold and with too many bubbles for my liking) and it came in a pint glass rather than the poxy ‘continental’ measures you tend to get elsewhere – awesome!

Oh yeah, about the culture. We went to see a Sangoma healing ceremony up at a little Zulu village in the hills above Eshowe. We sat in this little rondavel hut with the assembled villagers and waited for the Sangoma healer to arrive and when she did the roof almost lifted off the place as she started a dance in front of the villages and they reciprocated with drums, shouting and dancing – an awesome spectacle to watch! After that we were plyed with whiskey, beer, a donut, some sweets and an apple. There was a group of blokes who seemed to be there just for the free booze, of which they helped themselves to copious amounts. After that there was much more dancing, chanting and drums during which a trainee sangoma woman went into a trance and seemed like she was possessed, it was a fascinating specacle to watch. The villagers then lined up to be healed or to ask the ancestors for help with court cases, money or blessings in marriage, one last round of drums and chanting and it was over.

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Our time in Eshowe was rounded off the following day with a pleasant walk through the woods where we had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on these huge locusts that were everywhere and looked pretty disgusting. Apparently if you do stand on one they release an awful smell so I’m rather glad that we avoided them! Eshowe is a very pleasant low-key town, it was nice to get a taste of what South Africa is like in a smaller and untouristy town where daily life goes on unfussily around you.

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Next stop was St Lucia where we took an excellent trip out to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi game reserve on an early morning game drive. On wildlife spotting trips we never expect to see half the exciting animals that you’re told live in a particular place but this trip we got very lucky with. It started with an early sighting of a white rhino up close and then loads of zebras including a really cute little foal. I then got my first sighting of the animal that I most wanted to see – a giraffe! Sod the ‘big five’ that everyone seems to go about I wanted giraffes and they were duly delivered! There was then a sighting of some lions who we witnessed prowling around a herd of zebras but eventually having to give up the hunt as the zebras had spotted them and wandered off. We were really lucky to see lions and even luckier to seem them hunting – it was an awesome spectacle. Another great sight was the fantastically quirky 2 foot tall secretary bird (yes, it looks like a secretary) prowling about the bush, eventually spotting a snake or lizard and going in for the kill by stamping on and then eating it. Secretary birds are ace and were one of Viv’s favourite sightings from the trip. We also saw the rarer black rhino, many, many antelopes, buffalos, warthogs, baboons, vultures and, eventually, elephants. We went all day without having seen an elephant despite numerous sightings and then when we had stopped for a toilet break a large bull elephant wandered right past us! On the way out of the park we even saw another two elephants. This day really was one of the highlights of our trip, we’d got so lucky with not only the variety of wildlife we saw but also how up close we got to see so much of it, not to mention the quantity too – it seemed there was an exotic creature around every bend. A truely, utterly awesome day and a far less touristy experience than we would likely have got had we chosen to follow the hoardes to Kruger game reserve.

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The Greater St Lucia wetlands were also great and provided us with some up-close viewing of hippos chasing off crocodiles and abundant birdlife (there were also loads of exciting birds at Hluhluwe/Imfolozi too). We went snorkelling in the sea here where the water temperature was rather cooler than comfortable but I got to see a cuttlefish swimming around, changing colour and going spiky when I approached it. A little further out to sea we could see dolphins riding the surf and beyond them whales sailing by the coast. Unfortunately we had used up all of our wildlife spotting luck so our St Lucia night drive did not reveal any leopards, genets, hyenas or porcupines but we did get to see, and hold, an endearingly cute little chameleon. I’ve wanted to see a chameleon since I was knee high to a grasshopper after reading The Mixed Up Chameleon so it was fantastic to eventually see one. They’re a lot smaller than I had imagined and have these funny little two footed feet and goggle eyes. Chameleons rule!

From there it was to Swaziland and Mlilwane game reserve where we had a little thatched rondavel all to ourselves set in the most idyllic spot inside the game reserve with fantastic views of over the valley with warthogs, impala and zebra grazing right outside our front door. This is one of, if not the, most peaceful spot that we have yet stayed at, it felt indulgantly relaxing and was so peaceful. It was a pleasure to listen to the light twittering and squabbling of the birds, the grunting and chewing of the warthogs and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. In the evening we ate barbequed impala around a bonfire and set the world to rights in chats with other travellers, our voices lubricated by cheap red wine in a box. We were even treated to a spectacular electrical storm over the hills, a real favourite of ours.

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We went for a beautiful walk through the park on one day, again surrounding by all this amazing wildlife at close quarters. The real highlight for the walk for us though was the birds as we got to see almost all of the few remaining birds that we had not yet seen in our “Common Birds of Southern Africa” book – the ‘snakebird’ African Darter, a paradise bird and a bittern. There was a forest on top of the hill which had been almost totally flattened by the wind three weeks ago – it was quite a sight all these trees snapped like matchsticks and creating an obstacle course for us to clamber over.

Although we only saw a very little of Swaziland we very much enjoyed it and had such a relaxing time.

From Swaziland we caught a cramped bus to Mozambique and arrived in the capital, Maputo yesterday. Initial impressions are that it is quite a crumbling place, having suffered from a lack of investment for a number of years but that edge of tension on the streets that was palpable in South Africa is not apparent here and the locals seem friendlier. Tomorrow we head up the coast to Tofo beach where I’m planning my third bout of scuba diving for the trip, this time hopefully with whale sharks and manta rays for company.

One last thing to mention is that we have been playing copious games of backgammon, probably more than is actually healthy, after ending our long search for a travel backgammon set after Rightee got us thouroughly addicted to the game in Koh Tao. This infernal game has also brought out the worst bad loser streak in both of us, me after a continued bout of appaling luck resulting in me getting hammered almost every evening for a week and latterly Viv after the luck decided to even itself out resulting in Viv removing herself from the situation after exclaiming “ok, fine! you’ve double, triple, quadruple backgammoned me. I don’t care!”, which she clearly didn’t. It’s all good fun though and we always have a good laugh after one or other of us has thrown a tantrum after losing, at least nobody can accuse us of not playing to win!

And on that note I shall leave you after another rather mammoth post. All semblance of brevity appears to have deserted me of late.

Au revoir!