Mozambique, Southern Africa – August 1999


Mozambique is the land of the unlikely story with an important difference; here, the tall tales are typically true. Ponder, for example, whether John Jay of Macaneta is really Lord Lucan; or what a bounder called Blandford (self-styled ‘Cornish Ambassador’) is doing living in a pup-tent on Wimbi beach; and how about the ‘Sultan of Zanzibar’ gathering makajojo (sea-cucumber) near Quinga?

During 1993, I took the Caia ferry across the great Zambezi river, which cuts Mozambique in two, continuing north for just 50km before stopping to buy pineapples at a place not on my map but I was told that I had arrived at Zero. Here was a village aptly named in a recently war-ravaged country that has had to re-invent itself from scratch. My latest trip to Mozambique was only last week and I was impressed by the improvements. Queues of tourists waited at the border and I visited dozens of new budget and luxury lodges and hotels in three weeks.

“I’d like to spend some time in Mozambique” drawled Bob Dylan after falling under its spell in 1970. Attracting over half a million tourists from (the then) Rhodesia and South Africa per year, during the 1960’s Mozambique was the most visited place in southern Africa. Yes, and since then the place hasn’t exactly welcomed travelers, do I hear you mumble? My own experiences in other ‘basket-case countries’ such as Somalia, Sudan and Zaire (and the ‘old’ Mozambique), have shown me that nowhere is without redeeming attributes: Beer is sold on the sidewalks of hell.

Take a strategic town like Tete (western Mozambique) circa 1988; no food, no lights, no hope, and yes plenty of booze. These were the days when only folk from the deepest cracks in the woodwork of society went to Mozambique. When I last passed through Tete I could have had my evening meal at one of a handful of reasonable restaurants. I chose Freitas’ riverside ‘Esplanada’ for his legendary Chicken Zambeze (sic) and stunning views of the spectacular suspension bridge’s lights shimmering on the river (a-la Gay Paris or maybe crumbling Kinshasa?).

During 1992, expecting famine, I had pedaled into Mozambique with 10kg of maize-meal strapped across my bicycle’s carrier. Beira’s boisterous ‘Mercado Municipal’ which fair bulged with good things to eat put to rest my concerns about food security and I sold the ‘sima’. During the next four months of harbour and island hopping between Beira and the Rio Rovuma (crossing by dugout only), I debated and partied with aid workers, mingled with missionaries, battled with bureaucracy and played soccer with streetkids. I also wrote the first chapters of a guidebook.

A Little History

For perspective’s sake, please note that the first foreign folk to cast their grateful gaze upon the coral-fringed coast of Mozambique were the Arabs (some say the Indonesians or even the Chinese) in their dhows and feluccas. By the time Vasco da Gama and company arrived, Arabs had been trading cloth, spices and beads for Ivory, slaves and gold for a mere one thousand years. On a tiny island (which became a capital city), the Portuguese encountered one Sultan Musa Ben Mbiki on what is today still called ‘Ilha de Moçambique’ (Mozambique Island).

The Portuguese traders were initially welcomed but their main contribution turned out to be such useful things as and guns and gonorrhea. To add disarray to despotism, renegade Portuguese opportunists set up mini-kingdoms in the interior and the authorities in Sofala, Ibo, Moçambique and Porto Amelia (Pemba) could do little more than reluctantly recognise these “Prazos”. A mere 400 years later the Portuguese had finally organized themselves sufficiently to be able exert some sort of authority over the hinterland and relations with the local people became strained, conflict inevitable.

Tribal leaders such as Maurusa (1500’s) and Gungunhana (late 1800’s) had unsuccessfully resisted occupation over the years, but it was not until 1964 that leaders of the proud Makonde people in Cabo Delgado province fled to Tanzania and formed FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front). FRELIMO’s chances never looked promising, but suddenly in 1975 a new socialist Portuguese government pulled the plug on its colonies and left Mozambique up to its eyebrows in the proverbial. Cleaners became hotel owners and labourers headed the civil service. Not a recipe for success as so damningly demonstrated during the next two dark decades of destruction and doom.

Still not sure why you should dropkick that cell-phone over your pink picket fence and give Mozambique a look? Well, it’s actually already six years since Mozambique became a re-born tourist target. A variety of people of the instant-expert persuasion have subsequently ‘been-there-done-that-wrote-this’. Journalists still seek out poverty (a good place to find it), fishermen continue to rave about the sailfish and marlin (right spot for these), smugglers come back laden with Kalashnikovs (while stocks last), entrepreneurs fly back with grand schemes (a graveyard for these), while the guide-book writers don’t have enough money to stay at the palatial Polana so their opinions (I suspect) may be tainted by objectivity.

Secure in the knowledge that some of you may sell-up and start a ‘Prazo’ (renegade ‘Republic’) near Xai-Xai, or a ‘full-mooner’ colony on Pangane beach, may I generously offer a few pointers:

What to do if you have a bit of money
(and/or limited time)

Fly in (from France, Portugal, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town or Harare) to one of the comfortable new mainland lodges near Vilankulo International, or head for the nearby idyllic islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Alternatively take a LAM flight from Maputo up to Pemba’s Wimbi beach (Complexo Nautilus), and do the ‘far-away from the others’ bit.

You could also load up your motor-car (4×4 preferable) and do the grand ‘coastal tour’ staying at the luxurious but homely Hotel Polana in Maputo, characterful Zonguene lodge at the Limpopo mouth, Blues B&B on (literally) Tofo beach near historic Inhambane, Vilankulo Beach Lodge and then Rio Savane near Beira.

From here head west towards Zimbabwe, exploring Gorongosa, arguably Africa’s most beautiful Game Reserve and relaxing at Casa Msika on the shores of Chicamba Real dam. Next, enter Zimbabwe at Machipanda and wind your way back via Vilankulo, Inhambane and Maputo to Johannesburg, Durban, or yes even Cape Town. Have the folks under the hill (Table Mountain) heard of Mozambique?

What to do if you have less money
(and/or plenty of time)

Take a train (phone Spoornet) from Pretoria and Johannesburg or go by bus (the Panthera Azul is excellent) to Maputo. Get yourself by taxi to “Fatima’s” at 1317 Avenida Mao Tse Tung – the locals will know where. The good Senhora Fatima will ensure that you willingly ‘passiar’ in Maputo for a few days before pointing you to your own piece of the paradise action up north. If aiming for Inhambane, contact the Pachica Backpackers (which overlooks the bay). Email: Inhambane@Africamail.com

Mozambique’s Game Reserves

Note that all wildlife areas are accessible by 4×4 only.

1. Maputo Elephant Reserve

(Reserva Especial do Maputo)

The first of Mozambique’s once famous wildlife sanctuaries to be rehabilitated, it has facilities for visitors at its tented safari-style camp at pristine Ponta Memben. Lying only forty kilometres southeast of Maputo City and just 150km from the Ressano Garcia / Komatipoort border post with South Africa, the 236,000 ha ‘Reserva dos Elefantes do Maputo’ as was its previous official title, is already the focus of major developments.

South Africa’s Natal Parks Board are hoping that the reserve will become part of a cross-border ‘peace-park’ initiative linking the Thembi, Ndumo and Kosi Bay Parks via the Futi elephant corridor to Maputo Elephant Reserve. In this way the ancient cross-border migratory routes of the legendary Maputaland elephants will receive official protection from South Africa and Mozambique.

While wildlife was decimated, it hosts 225 endemic plant species and fifty-strong herds of elephant still visit the Park. Plans are afoot to re-introduce game, starting with buck and antelope and culminating with the reintroduction of the missing ‘Big Fivers’.

The late James U Blanchard III, a multi-millionaire (whose son is under arrest in Zimbabwe for possession of ‘weapons of war’) from Louisiana, acquired the concession to develop what he has called ‘The Elephant Coast’ and already fences and anti-poaching patrols have been installed.

If Blanchard’s extraordinary vision is achieved, this will literally be the only place in the world where it becomes possible to scuba dive on coral and cavort with whales and dolphins in the morning, before climbing onto a Land Rover to see elephants and the rest of the ‘Big Five’ in the afternoon.”          (‘Mail and Guardian’ 2 May 1997).

And if guests see whales during their submarine safari, they will be able to brag that they are among the select few who have seen the ‘Big Six’ and all on the same day!

For more information contact:

Richard Fair of The Elephant Coast Company, Email: ecco@virconn.com tel: Maputo (092581) 49 2214, fax 49 2246.

2. Gorongosa National Park

(Parque Nacional da Gorongosa)

Once one of Africa’s flagship National Parks, Gorongosa suffered the dual insults of firstly providing Russian factory ships with buffalo and elephant meat (poached from helicopter gunships), and then becoming the larder of the rag-tag followers of the RENAMO rebel movement which was once based at Chitengo, H.Q of the Reserve.

Although aerial surveys have shown that almost all game and predators have been wiped out, a few isolated herds of elephant and buffalo and solitary lions do remain, but these are understandably highly people-shy. Animals are being reintroduced and Gorongosa’s attractions for birders and botanists remain unsurpassed in Africa.

Vegetation types vary from wetland and grassland to brachystegia (miombo) woodland and riverine forest. The birdlife is magnificent with the Urema floodplain still the place to spot crowned cranes, redwinged pratincoles, marsh harriers and swathes of waterfowl. The old staff rondawels at Chitengo, 1km away from the mosquito-infested Pungue floodplain, have been renovated and a shady campsite with good ablution facilities is available to self-sufficient visitors. An upmarket lodge is being planned for a viewsite overlooking the Rio Pungue at Bue Maria.

For more information contact:

Paul Dutton (an Environmental Consultant) Email: dutton@icon.co.za,

Warden Roberto Zolho GERFFA Beira Email: zolho@gerffa.uem.mz, or

Parks Director Abdul Adamo. tel: Maputo (+ 258 1) 46 0549.

3. Niassa Game Reserve (Reserva do Niassa)

In a country where almost all big game has been poached to the verge of extinction, Niassa’s 10,000 elephant come as a big, pleasant surprise. Niassa has always been, and still is, one of the most isolated parts of a continent renowned for its many inaccessible regions.

Eric Balson, friend and contemporary of our own Ian Player, and one-time head of Tanzanian Wildlife – no stranger to wild and faraway Africa – told me that the Niassa Reserve ‘is Africa’s last wilderness’. Yet it is a 35,000 square kilometre stretch of brachystegia woodland, peppered with granite domes, which is also home to some 14,000 Mucua people. This apparent anomaly is due to the fact that about half of the reserve was added only recently, previously the area between the town of Mecula and the village of Gomba on the Rovuma river served as a hunting area for the Portuguese forces based at Erevuca.

Apart from the elephant (which have become nocturnal due to continued poaching) the main attraction of this area for me are two magnificent rivers which form the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of the Park. Overland visitors cross the sparkling Rio Lugenda on a surprisingly substantial 500m long bridge after driving for days on roads which often threaten to peter out completely.

Further north, along the boundary with Tanzania, the untamed Rio Rovuma was my pathway through the wilderness on a river-rafting trip that I undertook during July this year. Animals are very skittish but the birdlife and the unpredictable nature of the Rovuma (waterfalls, rapids and gorges) more than make up for this. Immigration officials have recently been posted to Mecula (which has a 900m long all-weather grass airstrip) to facilitate fly-in safaris. Presently Kenyan Mark Jenkins is Park Warden (may be someone new now), and although independent visits are not encouraged (concessions for tour operators are up-for-grabs), you can contact the reserve via email: telemedia.3@online.no

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t EVER drive at night. Taillights on local trucks and buses have been extinct for years. Through the border after lunch? Stay overnight at Casa Lisa LHS on the main road 48km north of Maputo, or at Casa Msika RHS 10km after Manica on the Mutare – Beira road.

  • Do apply for your visa two weeks in advance, it’s cheaper that way.

  • Mozambique has wonderful fresh bread, fruit, vegetables and fish so don’t bring along all your food with you.

  • At roadblocks do hand the cop your license, insurance and import permit. If asked for anything else (passport or money) do feign utter miscomprehension.

  • Don’t drive on the beaches; people might think that you support the AWB (South African fascist group).

    My Favourite Spots

    Maputo: Cosmopolitan, friendly and fascinating with a Latin/Caribbean/African vibe.

    Marracuene/Macaneta: Relax ‘a la Mozambique’ at Incomati River Lodge, or go body-watching at Jay’s.

    Inhambane: Locked inside the last century with a great craft-market surrounded by a dozen beautiful beaches.

    Nampula Province: The most stunning scenery in Africa.

    Ten Tips

    1. Mozambique is a foreign country, they do things differently; e.g. it’s the law that you carry ID at all times.

    2. South African Rands, Zim$ and US$ are accepted everywhere, US$ T.C’s are easily changed but outside of Maputo’s hotels and the expensive coastal lodges, credit cards are rarely accepted.

    3. Learn to speak a little bit of Portuguese: ‘Gasóleo’ is diesel, ‘gasolina’ is petrol and ‘petróleo’ is paraffin.

    4. Your car must carry two warning triangles – bits of tree placed in the road are Mozambique’s version.

    5. Hurrying is dangerous and futile; there is always ‘amanha’ (tomorrow), ‘mi amigo’ (my friend).

    6. Do bring mosquito nets and take anti-malaria tablets (Doxycycline or Larium). Malaria kills – side effects don’t.

    7. Avoid the Komatipoort border at the (chaotic) beginning and end of S.A school holidays – use the Swaziland route.

    8. Bring your snorkel and goggles – shallow reefs everywhere.

    9. B.P Service Stations usually have clean toilets.

    10. North of Beira is 4×4, long-range fuel (diesel is best) tanks territory.

    You Need Guidance

    If using public transport take along “Guide to Mozambique” by Phillip Briggs (Bradt 1997); if you have wheels, Mike Slater’s “Guide to Mozambique” (Struik 1998) is a better bet. Map Studio have a cheap and accurate “Eazimap” of Mozambique.

    Mozambique Connection (Email mozcon@pixie.co.za), are a reliable travel company accustomed to dealing with Mozambique’s bureaucratic minefields and lack of infrastructure.

    Mike Slater is happy to answer questions via Email on anything not already covered thoroughly in his book “Guide to Mozambique”. Get the latest by checking through your copy and then Emailing Mike.

    Copyright, Mike Slater, August 1999.

    General Info Section

    Getting There

    Via Komatipoort (South Africa) the road is poor, but via Mutare (Zimbabwe) and Namaacha (Swaziland) the surface is good tarmac.

    From Malawi the routes via Mandimba and Milanje into northern Mozambique are passable gravel, while a passenger train runs irregularly from Balaka to Nayuchi and Cuamba from where there is a reliable daily link to Nampula. Crossing the Rio Rovuma from Tanzania is still only by dugout canoe.

  • LAM Mozambican Airline (Johannesburg (+ 27 11) 331 7887, fax 331 7795) have upgraded their fleet and improved their service remarkably and have six flights per week between Joburg and Maputo as well as daily to major towns internally.

  • South African Airways (+ 27 11) 978 1111, offer a similar schedule.

  • Metavia (+ 27 13) 74 1314 fly from Jhb and Durban via Nelspruit to Vilankulo and the Bazaruto Islands.

  • Expedition Air Harare (+ 263 4) 73 5530 fly Harare to Vilankulo.

  • Panthera Azul (+ 27 11) 337 7409, run luxury (toilets, videos, snacks) buses between Durban (via Swaziland) and Maputo, and between Johannesburg and Maputo, daily.

    Entry Requirements

    Passport with visa (unless you have 6 months left on your passport, you will not be issued with a visa). If driving, you must have the original vehicle registration papers and your license. Yellow Fever Certificate may be asked for if you have arrived directly from an endemic area.

    Get Your Visas from…

    Mozambique Embassies and Consulates

    Phoning and Emailing

    The only cyber-café (called Connection Time) is on Av 24 de Julho in Maputo City – costs US$4 per half hour, connection speed 28800.

    In other large towns you may be able to use the link in an office of Brichol Mitchoma. International telephone calls are only offered at the Telecommunicacoes Offices which are often located near the main post office of a city or town.

    In Maputo, Telecom is located on the ground floor of the 33-story building corner Av’s 25 Setembro and V.Lenine.

    Getting around

    LAM can fly you from Maputo to: Beira, Quelimane, Nampula, Pemba, Lichinga and Tete.

    A wide variety of reliable cars and 4×4’s can be hired in Maputo, Beira and Nampula from:

    Avis (+258 1) 46 5140

    Imperial (+258 1) 46 5250

    Europcar (+258 1) 49 7341

    The main road (E.N.1) as far north as Inchope on the ‘Beira Corridor’ is generally in fair condition, but potholes are an increasing hazard. Some side-roads to resorts require 4×4 (ask when you book).

    Public bus transport (Oliveiras Transportes and Transportes Virginias) is adequate along main routes, but getting to some secluded spots without your own car will require hitching or walking.

    Attitudes and Expectations

    Mozambicans value courtesy and good manners highly. Good morning is ‘Bom dia’, good afternoon: ‘boa tarde’ and good evening: ‘boa noite’. Please is ‘faz favor’, Thank-you ‘obrigado’ and May I? ‘da liçenca?’.

    Accommodation

    A couple of years ago if you didn’t have a tent you were in trouble. Now comfortable budget lodges and hotels are opening up literally every month. Competition for your currency is becoming fierce and so prices are coming down.

    When to Visit

    May to September when mosquitoes are fewer and the weather is coolest. Stay close to the beach breezes any time of the year and you will be comfortable.

    Climate

    Southern Mozambique is not a very high rainfall area – most falls are between December and April. Central and northern Mozambique can experience tropical cylones from January to April. It can get cold (10C) at night during July to August, especially in Niassa province.

    Clothing and Culture

    Ladies wear a ‘kapulana’ (kikoyi, sarong or wrap) over your bather off the beach, gents pull on a T-shirt. Don’t photograph people without first asking and do haggle over prices at markets. Avoid paying “fines” (bribes) by staying patient, polite and poverty-stricken. Marijuana may be readily available in some areas but it is not ever smoked publicly and is illegal.

    Staying Healthy

    Successfully avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes means staying under your net from dusk to dawn and missing all the nightlife – not likely, so do remember your tablets (larium or doxycylcine recommended). Drink only bottled water, or boil and filter the tap water.

    Currency Concerns

    There is no black market worth risking. Indian shops, secondary exchange bureaux, lodges and banks will give you a better rate for your rand or dollar anyway. The Metical is not a transferable currency so you won’t be able to get it or exchange it outside of Mozambique. Carry half US$ cash and half US$ (American Express a recognised brand) Travelers’ Cheques.

    Safe and Sound

    If you go where no one else does you could find land mines. There are isolated incidents of vehicle hijacking and unofficial roadblocks so travel in convoy and arrive before 14:00 if possible. Don’t walk with valuables in Maputo, Beira and Nampula. Unguarded parking in Maputo and Beira will be the end of anything (such as lenses, windscreen, rear-view mirrors) removable. Hotels such as the Polana, Rovuma and Cardoso have safe parking.

    Mozambique on the Internet

    Mozambique Search Engine

    Weather

    Hotels and Lodges

    Time-Out Magazine (published in Maputo)

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