The final stretch…
As 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. Brett soon had me handing in our fridge to a Zimbabwean who called late afternoon with the good news that it is 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 despite Tome’s letter (and the 3-month Business Visas we bought in Pretoria) 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 won’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 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 really walk the extra mile to let guest’s enjoy their stay in ten self-catering chalets – the units get serviced every day (including washing your dishes if not attended to by yourselves), providing the services of two cooks who will gladly prepare your meals for you and doing your laundry – all included in the price! www.lulasparadise.com
Joachim Alves built a beautiful Art Deco hotel in Vilanculo in the early sixties and named it after his wife, Ana. He also developed the hotel on Paradise Island in 1957 in which rumour has it 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 just then took over the management of the Polana Hotel in Maputo. Because of our involvement with Karos, we were appointed as architects for the redevelopment of these buildings, left since 1975 without any care. This was the reason Elize and I checked into the Dona Ana Hotel – I wanted to see how the owners restored this classical building (unfortunately, our developer never performed and sold on the rights to someone else).
This is where I met Ricardina Matusse, Park Warden of the Bazaruto National Park, the following morning. Although on leave, she agreed to meet us at the hotel where we spent an interesting hour or two talking about Bazaruto and its future. Afterwards, we did some shopping in town and then headed south, to the Pomene National Reserve. Ricardina explained the difference between National Parks and – Reserves to me: in Reserves, other activities are allowed such as fishing, hunting (in surrounding hunting concessions), agricultural activities and so on. National Parks are supposed to be operated in a non-consumptive manner…
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 this dedicated conservationist who works hard in an effort to better his park and the conditions of all connected with it – which includes surrounding communities, whom he would like to assist through the development of further ecotourism products in the Park.
Pomene is a beautiful place – on of the most pristine natural environments we were able to visit on our entire trip. Even so, we were starting to get restless, Elize more so because she was missing our home and the dogs after 54 days! We therefore headed 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 T4A no longer took in guests but we were fortunate enough to be able to put up our tent in Boa Vista just before the sun set over the lake.
From Bilene (where we bought some clothes at the “street mall”) to Marracuene – 450 km of tar with villages every 10-20km. This meant reducing speed from 100 to 80 to 60, and should you dare pick up speed again before you are out of this zone, you will be fined! This meant that we only arrived at Marracuene, 20km north of Maputo, after four (admittedly, we left late after a hearty breakfast). 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 Avinade Marginal. The brand-new dual carriageway (that also allows cars to bypass the city on the west) made for easy driving and we were half-an-hour early for my appointment with the Mozaico do Indigo team, a parastatal who focuses on the development of tourism destinations in Mozambique.
We managed to be on the 12h30 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. We were once again fortunate to stumble on a fantastic campsite called Bemugis where we were spoiled by our own personal bonfire, lit by the staff for our comfort and cooking needs!
One night in Ponta do Ouro (not two as planned, meaning looking for the sea turtles laying their eggs at night will have to wait for another time) and one night at Wakkerstroom, birding paradise on the highveld of Mpumalanga, saw us arrive home after exactly 60 days and 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!