The ups and downs of Mozambique

Traveling in Madagascar was what I imagined Mozambique to be, but now Mozambique has developed an entirely different identity. I don’t know why, but it threw me when I left Swaziland and entered a place where the default tourist language was Portugese. I tripped over some kind of Spanglish, and had to smile to see these Africans speaking like native Brazilians, and eventually I got used to it. The UN named Mozambique the 4th worst in the world for human development in 2011, and Mozambique is still one of the poorest countries in Africa (according to GDP per capita), yet everyone I know has been or wants to travel there.

can’t get tired of this

The tourism appeal is huge – endless Indian Ocean coast, with whale sharks and coral reefs to dive, waves to surf, and the interior full of forests and elephants to trek. The country is also huge – it would take weeks just to travel thru Mozambique from South Africa to Tanzania, and heading inland to Zimbabwe or Malawi adds another few weeks. The roads were fine in the south, with a selection of buses, chapas, shared taxis and 4×4’s to hitchike. In central Mozambique, an unstable place declared to have been ‘at war’ until just recently (apparently December 2016 was the end), the only road connecting the north and south has been overtaken by potholes, and the burnt-out, rusted skeletons of cars and buses still stand on the side of the road throughout a stretch of a few hundred kilometers.

the wonderful ladies that made my trip unforgettable.

I hitchhiked this section of road, since buses havent yet started carrying passengers between Vilankulos and Chimoio. I had a Dutch friend with, and we lucked out with a local that could explain the conflict and what it was like to travel through the area the last few years. Apparently people would wait on the side of the road, closest to the worst potholes or largest speedbumps, and ambush the slowed down vehicles. People were shot, cars were lit on fire, and bridges were controled by bribes. We still had to bribe a few ‘official’ soldiers at these checkpoints, but noone tried to shoot us, even though they were all armed. The driver said there was a fire just 2 days ago, and pointed to a freshly abandoned bus still partly on the road, but ‘it must have been an accident.’

sanddunes on Bazarutu Island

Traveling by bus was always a fun challenge. The price was always set and I never paid more than anyone else, but negotiating the best seat in the over-stuffed mini van was never in your control. The departure time was always unclear, since they just left when they were full, and the travel time depended on when and where passengers wanted to get out. The first few km’s would always go quickly, but the closer you got to your destination, the more the bus started stopping, and the last 2 or 3 km’s would always take the longest – unbearably slow to the point it sometimes made sense to get out and walk.

Tess cramped into her bus seat

Maputo wasn’t anything worth staying for, though all sorts of travelers and guide books seem to rave about it as one of the best African cities. African cities are never the attraction, just large, crowded, filthy, smelly and often dangerous areas of countries with much more to offer. I headed straight to the beach – Tofo and Vilankulos. Nearby was always an island or two, and the most amazing coral reef off the coast of Bazarutu island I’ve seen since the Great Barrier Reef. I saw more types and colours of corals I knew existed, and a strange type of starfish called a Harlequin –  a ferocious little star-fish eating monster.

a tidal island in Inhambane bay to go shell picking

Mozambique was also full of disappointments. We went on an Ocean Safari in Tofo to see whale sharks, but spotted no whale sharks (even after taking the journey 2 or 3 times since the sighting was meant to be ‘guaranteed). We went to Flamingo Bay and saw no flamingos. We went on a Seahorse safari in Inhambane bay and saw no seahorses. Finally, we went elephant trekking near Chimanimani National Park and succeeded in finding only foot prints and day old poop. Mozambique was full of monkeys, baboons and macaques, and definitely wins for largest mosquitoes. I would actually feel the mosquitoes land on me before they managed to bite me, so luckily I left with few bites, and no malaria.