Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mozambique: The Long Way

I wrote in our last post that we thought we may end up spending more time than expected in Mozambique. Oh how true that has proved. What was supposed to be a thirty hour bus ride turned into a ten day adventure and we have only just arrived here in Maputo, the southerly capital of Mozambique.

After a few extra days in the quiet and friendly city of Quilemene, we met up with some South African expats who were heading south. We were excited about a free and comfortable ride but had no idea just how fortuitous this encounter was.

The highlight of our first day of travel was crossing the brand new, massive bridge that spans the famed Zambezi River. At the insistence of the South Africans we stopped to get a closer look at the crocodile-filled river but only got within a few feet before a large rustling in the grass turned us back to the safety of the "bucky" (South African slang for pick-up tuck). A few hills and distant ridges were all there was for scenery for the rest of the day as Mozambique is a ratherflat country. The thick jungle next to the road did cause thoughts of what could be lurking within them, however. At one point we got a taste, literally. Stopping at the side of the road where men ran to the truck with long pieces of meet we sampled a piece of mystery
game. It was delicious but we still had no idea what it was. Stopping a few minutes later we met another meat-hawker who spoke some English. He was selling gazelle but informed us as to what we had tasted earlier. Monkey.

In choosing to travel with these new friends we had put a bit of our fate in their hands. That night we had no idea where we would end up staying. As the sun turned brilliantly red at dusk we pulled into the Gorongosa National Park where we met up with a few other South Africans who were there to build a safari lodge. We ended up camping out and braaiing (a braai is a traditional South African barbeque) in the game park, one of the more incredible places we have camped. After a great night of sleep, uninterrupted by either lions or elephants, we were brought to a natural education center that was also being constructed within the park. An American tycoon who fell in love with Mozambique and its wildlife donated $40 million to protect the park. The education center is meant as a training center for both school children and locals to learn how to conserve the impressive natural diversity that surrounds them.

Traveling with South Africans and it being Saturday, rugby day, we did not rush on to Maputo but headed to Mozambique's second-city, Beira. There we met even more of the extended South African expat community and settled into a bar located on an Indian Ocean
beach to watch rugby. Unfortunately, the start of the rainy season in this part of the world brings with it huge winds and on this day they were wreaking havoc on the television’s reception. No way were South African’s going to miss out on their rugby, though. The palms blocking the front of the satellite dish were quickly chopped down and the party went on.

We spent the weekend in Beira and were treated to unbelievable hospitality. The first night we were invited to a birthday party and the next day, after a few hours at the local motocross club, another braai was held. Beira itself turned out to be not much to speak of, but with incredible food and amazing people we had a great time!

Moving on from Beira we all decided that it was not worth the hassle of pushing straight through to Maputo as it could take close to 20 hours on terrible roads. Instead, we traveled down the coast to the town of Maxixe (ma-sheesh) where Jay and I spent the night in an old camper. Having been told by every South African that we had met that we should not be too hasty with our time in Mozambique, it was here that we departed with our friends. They left for home in Maputo and we hopped a ferry across the Bay of Inhambane to the city of Inhambane.

Inhambane is a quiet and quite beautiful little town. Unlike Beira, Quilemene or Maputo the traditional Portuguese architecture does not have to compete with massive Soviet-style block apartments. Instead small cafes and aging churches lend a Mediterranean feel to the town. The florescent blue water of the bay certainly does not detract from the illusion.

From Inhambane we started our trek out to Praia da Tofo on the other side of the peninsula and on the Indian Ocean. After a good 5km walk we hopped on a local bus and soon arrived in Tofo, another incredibly beautiful bay. We camped on the beach for a night and spent another in a very neat, beachside hut all the while treated to incredible ocean views. The bay which Tofo is situated on is known as one of the best places in the world for diving. Manta rays, whale sharks and humpback whales all call these waters home. Although our budget did not allow for an ocean safari we could see whales breaching just a few hundred meters from shore.

After a few days on the beach we turned back to Inhambane and set our sites, finally, on Maputo. We spent another night in Inhambane and then boarded an early morning bus to Maputo. The ride was exactly what we expected and we could have asked for nothing more of our last leg before South Africa. An overcrowded bus and a couple hundred stops (including a few for the bus driver - who had honked his horn impatiently at a little girl as she tried to drag her bag off the bus - to smoke a cigarette) made for a long, 10 hour drive.

Nonetheless, we are here in Maputo and the worst of African public transportation is behind us (knock on wood). We were promised by the South Africans we met that we would be treated to air conditioned coach buses with capacity limits from here to Cape Town!

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