“It’s not raining in Inhambane.”
This comment, made to me by a fruit seller and self-professed weather connoisseur, got me thinking. With the Mozambican presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on Friday, December 4, a date that the government would most likely declare a “tolerable” holiday, the possibility of a long weekend on dry ground proved irresistible.
And so it was that three friends and I decided to act as unofficial election observers (albeit from a moving vehicle cruising north at 100 km/hr) and set off to Inhambane province, looking for sun, beach and the proverbial white, sandy beaches. We were not disappointed.
Due to a combination of elliptical weather patterns, post-El NiÃƒÂ±o syndrome and other meteorological aberrations, it’s been raining hard in Maputo. Everyday. And when it doesn’t rain, the humidity and heat just about kill you. The freak weather has provided much-needed small talk, and common opening lines range from “Ai que chuva!” (Oh, what rain!) to “Ai que calor” (Oh, what heat). It became obvious that staying in Maputo over the long weekend was like playing barometric Russian Roulette, and we were looking for nothing less than perfection. Six hours later, we found it.
The drive to Inhambane town is smooth and easy-going. It is tarred all the way, and therefore perfectly suitable to a 2X4. On the way, we passed several polling stations and large crowds of people waiting patiently to cast their ballot.
Although we didn’t necessarily expect to witness riots or other violent political manifestations during the elections, we didn’t know if security would be tightened on the road or if we would be subject to police checkpoints. Fortunately, nothing happened. In fact, the road was almost deserted and everything seemed calm and quiet, setting the tone for the whole weekend.
Since Inhambane town is also the capital of the namesake province, I expected to find a place teeming with people and activity; a place that conveyed a sense of purpose. As we drove through the town, I became convinced that the raison d’etre of the locals was to do as little as possible – and that included moving.
The sun was shining, the ocean sparkled, and the few people outside sat around watching anything that did, in fact, move. In this case, us. We decided to have lunch at MaÃƒÂ§aroca, a charming restaurant that served fantastic caril de camarÃƒÂ£o (shrimp curry) and then set off to our final destination, Barra Lodge, about 40 km outside of town. Before leaving, we stopped at the market for veggies and, as all impulsive shoppers, sampled and bought some of the local craft, in this case 2 balsa-wood fans in bright purple and red colors.
On a 2X4, the drive to Barra Lodge is accessible until about the last 4 km. Once at the “car park” we were told to radio the lodge and wait for a pick-up. Funnily enough – and despite the bright sun – the solar-powered radio was not working. The hordes of obligatory children (who seem to congregate as if on command every time a vehicle shows up) carried on with their favorite pastime of watching, while 2 of the boys tried fiddling with the radio to no avail.
No problem! Defying the conventional wisdom that men don’t ask for directions – or call for help – the male half of our traveling troupe drove off in the direction of Tofu Beach, about 15 km away, and called the lodge. Less than an hour later, we were swimming in the Indian Ocean and contemplating staying there forever.
There are several types of accommodations at Barra Lodge: backpackers’ dorm, small huts for two people, and larger, self-catering cottages that sleep six. The whole place is on the beach, and you can’t escape the sounds of the surf, much less the ocean-view. Our cottage – number 13 for good luck – was a few palm trees away from the water, and several million kilometers away from the rest of the world. Since we’d brought enough provisions to feed the entire population of Eritrea for a year, we didn’t go into the lodge’s restaurant, except for fresh bread. However, the menu seemed to be quite decent, and seafood – as would be expected – featured prominently on the menu.
In addition to consuming copious amounts of food and sundowner cocktails, we enjoyed several of the activities available at Barra, which include scuba diving, horse-riding on the beach, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, sailing and, of course, beach-bumming.
The relatively new dive center offers NAUI courses for all levels and schedules several dive trips a day. My best dive was early Sunday morning when the visibility reached 12+ meters, the temperature of the water was about 25Ã‚Â° Celsius, and my dive buddy danced underwater and wiggled his Australian butt around.
By Sunday afternoon, after we’d put off returning to Maputo for as long as possible – and briefly toyed with the idea of sabotaging our vehicle and rendering it inoperable for at least a few days – we started our journey back. We left Inhambane’s cloudless skies and slowly made our way south to increasingly busier intersections and villages. The people we saw on the road now had other purposes, just like us.
As we neared Maputo and the inevitable rain began, I immediately knew what they were. Find shelter. Get dry. And go back north, as soon as possible, to the palm trees, blue skies and other proverbial pleasures.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Africa Insiders page.
Getting to Inhambane
To travel to Inhambane, go 450km north on the EN1 (Estrada Nacional 1) until an (unmarked) junction, which is 33km from the town itself. If you’re using public transportation, you might have to go to Maxixe (the next town along the EN1) and from there, take a dhow to Inhambane.
Although the 2 towns are separated by over 60km of road, they face each other across a bay and are less than 5km apart by boat. The crossing costs less than $1.
The whole trip from Maputo can take up to 8 hours, depending on the number of stops your bus decides to make. One of the most reliable bus companies is Oliveiras, and their buses will also go to Inhambane town depending on the day.
If you’re heading to any of the beaches, but have time to stop in Inhambane for lunch, I highly recommend the MaÃƒÂ§aroca restaurant, on Rua Acordos de Lusaka (023) 20489. The food was quite good and the atmosphere is really jovial. I was told that on the weekends they also have live music.
Onwards to Barra Lodge
From Inhambane town, ask any of the locals how to get to the Tofu Beach road. I got thoroughly confused by all the windy streets, but as my friend Sam said, “It looks harder than it is.”
Once on that road, go about 21km to the fork for Ponta da Barra and Tofu Beach. At the junction, you’ll see a bar called Babalaza. If you’re car-less, your best bet is to take a chapa or shared taxi to the Babalaza and wait to be picked up by the Barra Lodge folks (but make sure to call the lodge from Inhambane, because the phone at the bar was broken and will likely stay that way for many moons).
If you’re driving a 2X4, follow the signpost to the Barra Lodge car park, about 3km from the junction, and use the solar-powered radio (good luck!) there to arrange a pick-up. If you’ve got a 4X4, congratulations – stop only when you hit the ocean!
Other Useful Information
To book a cottage at Barra Lodge, you have to contact their reservation office in South Africa.
Phone: +27 11 314 3355
The vast majority of tourists there are South Africans, and their numbers increase exponentially during the SA school holidays. As such, and with this clientele in mind, most of the prices are quoted in Rands, and English is the lingua franca of the dive center and lodge. Kind of weird, actually.
A little bit of Portuguese goes a long way, though, especially with the local staff, so don’t let all the (other) foreigners dissuade you from using “obrigada” (thank you) and “por favor” (please) as often as you can.
I have been living in Maputo since July ’98 and I work on a USAID-sponsored reproductive health (that’s family planning, STDs, and AIDS stuff!) project.
In my spare time, I play tour guide and hostess to friends (and friends of friends of friends) and take road-trips to Swaziland, South Africa and beaches up and down the Mozambican coast.
I drive an old Mazda with rusty doors, and unlike practically everyone else, do not own a cell phone (the latest and most ubiquitous trend on the streets).
I am from Brasil, and will often end up talking about football (soccer) and samba with my Mozambican friends, all of whom love our soap-operas (my country’s biggest export along with evangelical churches of dubious origins!) and TV shows.