Mozambique, it seems, is unfortunately one
of those countries that believes on taking money off people crossing the
border - not a great deal admittedly, and all properly receipted, but
irritating all the same, and especially so when there is no bureau for
After a full hour of buggering about I
headed down the road to Mocuba at a steady 70km - the scenery, the derelict
buildings, even the colour of the earth seemed to recall the landscape of
For those who are unfamiliar with
Mozambique's history it follows the usual pattern for ex-Portuguese colonies
- hurried and chaotic abandonment by the colonial power, poor government by
inexperienced bureaucrats giving way to a Marxist totalitarian state, and
then civil war, though in Mozambique's case this was really just a war
against a faction funded and fighting purely to destabilise on behalf of the
Thus you are met with the same scenes as in
Angola - the megalithic rock formations, the odd abandoned and rusting relic of the war; the Halo Trust demining; derelict buildings from the colonial era rotting away alongside
the mud and straw huts to which the local population have reverted. Things
are changing with peace, however, and although the pace is going to be slow
as Mozambique does not share anything like the scale of Angola's mineral
wealth. At least the lack of heavy vehicles means that the roads are in far
Mocuba is a shabby town with appalling
roads and a hidden pensão which offered me cold beer and free camping. Here I
met Esther who works for a Spanish NGO in Pemba, and who was visiting with
some of the local Mozambique team; over an athletic half chicken we enjoyed
a conversation in several languages - some of which I actually understood.
In the morning I set off with my cigar
lighter kettle bubbling optimistically - and a little before seven I was
enjoying South African rusks and Nescafe - the sun rises at about five and
within minutes of striking my tent it becomes far too hot to sleep, so
mornings are as early as the sunsets in Mozambique.
About 50km from Nampula I noticed that the
brakes were a little too spongy - I knew exactly where to look - the unlucky
rear left brake pipe had sheared at the calliper, but I was able to crimp
the pipe and continue with a fair amount of brake-power left. This meant
that Nampula was to be more than a lunch stop - it was about three in the
afternoon when I left to hack on to Isla de Mozambique.
At first the road was lousy - potholes wall
to wall - but eventually the conditions improved and with all my spots
burning I cruised the last 90km, then promptly got stuck in the sand at the
Fortunately James, who I'd last bumped into
in Namibia, helped dig me out, and then I joined him and Claire, Colin and
Trish for a well earned cold beer.
Mozambique Island itself is reached by an
impressive if rickety 3.6km bridge which I crossed the following morning.
The island is a strange mixture of traditional mud shacks and decaying
colonial building dating back in some cases several hundred years. At each
end of the island is a fort - one is actually on its own island that can be
reached on foot at low tide; the other is a crumbling monument complete with
cannon rusting on their collapsed carriages. Between the two forts stretch a
cobweb of dusty streets, and friendly Mozambiquans who probably haven't
quite figured out what tourists are doing there. There were few enough
tourist that we got to know most of the visitors on the island pretty
quickly, and we had a few notable nights out where we experience the
delights of Isla de Mozambique fast food.
This is a very special place - one which
will undoubtedly change greatly as the tourists begin to flood in - but now
you can wander the streets unmolested, and absorb the atmosphere at your
leisure, and I was glad to see it before tourism changes the place
The campsite, which is at the mainland end
of the bridge, was beautiful enough, but lacked running water (or any water
at all at times), and when the thieves visited in the night (I'd luckily
packed all my gear away) I decided to move to the mainland, and found an
spectacularly characterful room at the Centre for the Conservation of Isla
de Mozambique which came complete with authentically peeling paintwork,
ensuite bathroom and as many fleas as you can eat for just $10 a night. The
fleas must have had a similar contract.
There are only a few places to stay on the
Island, and only one with DSTV (England .v. Wales), so I pretty quickly met
all the other travellers visiting the island; Jayson, an American, Ned and
Noel from Australia, Fabienne the French journalist, and Andy and Sandy who
are officially Canadian now - Andy had just got citizenship though he still
sounded pretty English to me - the last two were travelling in a Land
Cruiser, and most people were heading North.
With all these new friends, as well as the
delightful attention of all the fleas in my mattress, I was reluctant to
leave the island, but Pemba lay a days drive up the coast, and the plan was
to give Jayson a lift there, while dropping off Fabienne at a the Missão de
Netia along the way. In the event it took a little longer to find the
mission than expected, and we decided to overnight there.
We were made tremendously welcome by the
missionaries - a mixed bag of Portuguese, French and other nationalities. We
were shown around the hospital - an essential experience for anybody
visiting Africa, and entertained superbly with one of the best meals we'd
had in ages, and conversation that switched from language to language. It's
a delight to find such good people working in a little oasis of civilisation
in the middle of nowhere, and it's also a humbling reminder of the utter
dedication that some people bring to their work.
In return I offered Planet of the Apes on
DVD from my Toshiba - except that the generator only ran from seven to nine,
and batteries ran out in the last ten minutes of the film. The new
inverter came out of it's box, and the following morning there was a
post-breakfast viewing of the last few minutes - I'm probably responsible
for mass being late, but I'm sure I'll be forgiven.
Pemba is a pretty well developed resort -
crumbling in places, and with not that many tourists at the moment, but that
is bound to change. it's also a place here you are going to meet a lot more
hassle than we'd had previously.
After finding a working ATM for my Visa
card we headed to Russell's Camp site - it seems to go by many names, and is
a well known travellers' stop. Another Peter who we met there had just come
down from Dar, and gave us useful route info which helped me plan my journey
in terms of DSTV access for the England France match.
I was a little disappointed with Pemba as a
destination - it lacks the charm of the islands, and it's a little too
touristy for me, but the highlight was a dive with Brenda, who runs Pemba
Dive. Jayson is a pretty experienced diver, but we declined the 50m dive
profile, and stuck to a 40m swim through that was so full of fish that you
couldn't see the cave walls. I was also really impressed with the reef life
- not a great deal of bright colour, but some beautiful fish...
About 100km North of Pemba lies the little
island of Ibo. Jayson and I travelled down in convoy with Andy, Sandy and
Ned through some beautiful villages along the dirt road. We arrived too late
to catch a dhow across, and the next tide at 5 a.m. meant that we were in
for a very early start.
The crossing was with the wind, and took an
hour and a half - the first impression of the island in the morning sun was
one of shabby grandeur - a promenade crumbling away, overlooked by
once-elegant buildings that were often being taken over by the jungle.
Apart from the three forts, there is a
wealth of historic architecture here, and some of it is now being renovated,
but the charm is really in the dilapidation, and the charming and friendly
islanders who provided us with a multitude of perfect photographic subjects,
all the while screaming with delight at the images that we were all able to
show on our digital cameras - travellers are getting far to hi-tech these
We spent the night in Villa Ruben where
camping on the veranda on a real bed with pillows cost a dollar, and for
four dollars we feasted on crab, lobster, fish and rice until we were unable
to move. The following morning Jayson and I left for a much longer 5 a.m.
ride back to the mainland (against the wind this time), and missed any
chance of catching the Australia - New Zealand match.
How to get a free bike
Coca Cola are running a competition
throughout Eastern Africa - apparently you can win a bike by peeling of the
rubber bit on the bottom of the bottle-tops. An easier way is to stop
between villages and try to buy mangoes - with which Jayson is obsessed. At
any point in time we will be carrying at least twenty kilos of various sizes
of mango - but we were out of the big ones so when we saw two women and a
couple of boys walking along with a bike and two baskets of jumbo sized
mangoes we stopped to negotiate. With a look of terror in their faces the
poor locals turned tail and ran - leaving behind the bike as well as two
overturned baskets of mangoes - I guess we must be scarier to the locals
than we thought...
By evening we had made it as far as the
border post North of Palma. I suspected that we might be in for a hard
time form the official who started by demanding we buy him cokes- we
couldn't play a waiting game without risking missing the England - France
match, but fortunately this wasn't an issue because we met an absolute gem
of a bloke by the name of Kasimoto, a Zambian working in Mozambique as a
missionary; with his assistance we breezed through the formalities after
paying more silly fees (receipted of course), and drove onto the ferry past
the delightful scene of money changers complaining that we'd ripped them off
on the exchange rate. Exits don't come any more satisfying than that.