Driving Mozambique – the first 10 days

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In the first chapter of his road trip across Mozambique, Niel Crafford leaves South Africa behind him and explores Parque Nacional do Limpopo, Zinave NP and Chimanimani NP

IMG_4431 Elize and I left a day sooner than scheduled to do a site inspection at Mtomeni African Ivory Route camp in Letaba ranch. The only reason I am mentioning this is that we heard hyena that night – a good omen of what might we might expect on the first part of our trip.

After two ‘standard’ days in Kruger – lots of wildlife, many birds – mostly at water holes, as the park was dry after a hot summer, we crossed into Mozambique at the Pafuri border post. Fortunately, I had a letter (in Portuguese) from the High Commission in Pretoria explaining what our trip was all about, as the officials on the Moz side had difficulty in issuing me with a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for longer than thirty days.

Our first night’s camping at Nampfule in the Parque Nacional do Limpopo was uneventful, but we did remember the (very basic) shower facilities with fondness over the days to come. Crossing the Limpopo at Mapai wasn’t quite what we’d expected – the two puddles of water left in this mighty river were filled with cattle, swimming children and washing women. On the way to the heart of the Banhine NP, we came upon many villages where the local people cleared vast tracks of Miombo woodland in order to grow cassava.

Abel Nhabanga, Acting Park Warden, met us at the park HQ. This kind man asked me whether I could assist them in locating a position for a campsite in the Park, which we gladly did – Elize and I ‘tested’ the spot overlooking the great wetland (after the summer rains, that is) that night and promised him to send them a GPS site plan once back in the office…

Zinave NP was next. Fortunately, we managed to refuel at Mabote en route – after being told upon arrival that there is none. We started looking at alternatives – which really meant abandoning our planned route and heading for Vilanculos, the closest place with gasolina. Luckily, upon returning to the filling station to enquire when they expect the tanker, we were told: in thirty minutes. One needs to ask the right questions in Africa…

We kind of shied away from visiting Tondo Tented Lodge – expecting larney guests with sundowners on the deck – but eventually ended up there, the only people on the banks of the Save River! We had the whole (abandoned) camp to ourselves and slept in peace. The next day we embarked on a shortcut to Massangena, only to return to our starting point after four hours of bundu-bashing and a 100km of not getting anywhere.

The much-feared crossing of the Save at Massangena was quite an experience. Not because of its difficulty – Alex and Felix, twins who took it upon themselves to man the gate (and our money) walked ahead of us and crossed the rock-paved 50 metres of water with much flair. After any amount of rain, this will most definitely be a white-knuckled experience…

The drive to the Chimanimani NP was a disappointment to Elize and myself. We did this route in 2011 and it was fantastic: a winding gravel road offered magnificent views over dense, tall rain forests. Not only has this road been tarred in the meantime (by the Chinese, to make logging exports easier?) but much of the beautiful forests have disappeared. Our guess is that at least half the trees along the new road has been burnt and slashed to grow cash crops, understandable when one looks at the poverty of the people living in the area but disconcerting when viewed in the longer (medium?) term. Surely alternative agricultural activities can be introduced – coffee plantations spring to mind, similar to what is being started in the Gorongosa area?

Which brings us to this most remarkable restoration project. Co-funded by the Mozambican government and the Carr Foundation, this park – once the jewel of Mozambique – is slowly but surely regaining its splendour. Visit them at www.gorongosa.org and see for yourself… I feel privileged to have been able to contribute to its regrowth by having designed the new Biodiversity Research Centre in Chitengo, of which the first phase was opened by EO Wilson last year.

Next on my journey? Tete, a brief visit to the recently-proclaimed Magoe National Park south of the Cahora Bassa dam, Lake Niassa and the last true wilderness in Africa – Niassa Reserve.

 

If you are interested in following Elize and Niel’s progress, click on this link which will take you to the Tracks4Africa vehicle tracking site.

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