Driving Mozambique – the final chapter

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Niel Crafford completes his 60-day road trip around this unique southern African country and returns home feeling tired but happy and enriched

IMG_8433As happens so often, just when things are at their worst, they start improving… We stayed for two nights in Beira as guests of Brett and Elsa Sparrow – friends of Neil Rix, who shared many contacts with us before we left home. I handed our fridge to a Zimbabwean who called in the late afternoon with the good news that it was working again, we managed to find a nozzle for the compressor and we visited the immigration offices. Not such good news there: the official refused to stamp our passports, which meant just one thing – we had to get to the border the next day and exit the country.

We left early the next morning, hoping we wouldn’t be stopped at any of the police checkpoints as our passports were now overdue by two days and our TiP has expired. Once again, we were blessed and crossed the border at Mutare without any incidents. A night in the White Horse Inn in the Bvumba Mountains refreshed us and we drove back into Mozambique the next morning, heading for Inhassoro 500km away.

We finally arrived in the Mozambique that most people know: good roads, shops, campsites and lodges to choose from, all overlooking white beaches with waving palm trees. The fact of the matter is that most visitors to the country (unless they are fly-in guests who frequent the upmarket island destinations) are self-drive South Africans who rarely venture further north from Inhassoro. One night’s camp at Seta’s campsite in town was followed by three wonderful nights in Lula’s Paradise Lodge. Boet and Jakkie Boshoff go the extra mile to ensure guests enjoy their stay in 10 self-catering chalets. The units are serviced every day (including washing your dishes) and there are two cooks who will gladly prepare your meals for you and do your laundry.

Joaquim Alves built a beautiful Art Deco hotel in Vilankulo in the early 1960s and named it after his wife, Ana. He also developed the hotel on Paradise Island, in which it has been rumoured (some say wrongly) that Bob Dylan wrote his famous song Mozambique. In 1992 his estate was put out to international tender and a developer from South Africa won the bid – partly due to the fact that the refurbished hotels would be operated by Karos Hotels, who had just taken over the management of the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo. Because of our involvement with Karos, we were appointed as architects for the redevelopment of these buildings, uncared for since 1975. And so we checked into the Dona Ana Hotel; I wanted to see how the owners restored this classical building.

Here I met Ricardina Matusse, park warden of Bazaruto National Park. Although on leave, she agreed to spend an hour or two talking about Bazaruto and its future. Afterwards we headed south – to the Pomene National Reserve. Sansao Mabulambe, Pomene’s warden, waited for us at the Park Headquarters. Although he should also have been on leave already, he delayed his departure in order to meet us – we were touched by this gesture from such a dedicated conservationist, who works hard to improve his park and help surrounding communities.

Pomene is beautiful – one of the most pristine natural environments we visited. Even so, we were starting to get restless after 54 days on the move. So weheaded past most of the better-known destinations, such as Inhambane, Barra, Jangamo and Zavora, all the way to the northern shores of Lake Bilene. The campsite listed by Tracks4Africa no longer took in guests but we put up our tent in Boa Vista before the sun set over the lake.

From Bilene to Marracuene was 450km of tar road, with villages every 10-20km. This meant reducing speed from 100 to 80 to 60 each time for fear of being fined. Therefore, we only arrived at Marracuene, 20km north of Maputo, after four hours. I managed to get stuck in thick soft sand right in front of the reception of the Marracuene Lodge, where we camped in pouring rain that saw us pack wet things in the Cruiser the next morning! It was an early start as I had a meeting in Maputo at nine, at the Southern Sun hotel on the Avenida Marginal, with the Mozaico do Indigo team, a parastatal who focuses on the development of tourism destinations in Mozambique.

We managed to be on the 12.30pm ferry to Catembe. From there, through the Maputo Special Reserve, it took us all afternoon to get to Santa Maria on a sand road deeply disturbed by the departing December holiday visitors. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a fantastic campsite called Bemugis, where we were spoiled by our own personal bonfire, lit by the staff for our comfort and cooking needs.

At last, we arrived home after 60 days driving through Mozambique and covering a whopping 11,465km. What an experience! What an adventure! Was it a holiday? Not really. But it was unforgettable and we both felt enriched and more willing than ever to promote Mozambique as a destination that should feature on everyone’s bucket list. Why? Because it is so different to anything else on offer in Southern Africa. And because of its people: hard-working, friendly and colourful. Bem-vindo!

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