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Published: April 18th 2018
We had a few great days with Leigh (friend and ex-colleague of Judith) and Louis at their amazing boutique guesthouse The Pablo House in Johannesburg (https://www.facebook.com/pablohousemelville/
). They really spoilt us and we relaxed a bit but also had quite a night in what was easily the best place we stayed at the past year of travelling ánd we had the best breakfast ever in the popular Pablo’s Eggs Go Bar (https://www.facebook.com/pabloeggsgobarmelville/
) owned and run by Louis. In Joburg I (Merijn) went to visit a dentist because I felt some pain but the dentist could not see anything at the x-ray and I left with a handful of painkillers and anti-inflammatory pills.
Then, after 3 months and on the last day of our SA visa, it was time to leave South Africa. We left the country from a bus station in a somewhat dodgy area and took the night bus from Johannesburg to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The bus stopped somewhere halfway during the night and we waited, sleeping, for the border to open at 6 AM. Waiting in the queue to get our passports stamped we already felt like in another country and walking across the border we felt
like entering the African continent for the second time but now the African way.
Immediately after the border crossing, which was actually an easy affair, everything felt, looked, smelled en sounded different than in South Africa. Mozambique is vibrant and beautiful but much less developed and much poorer than we expected. Mozambique has been known and very accessible for business and tourists for some time but there has been a terrible civil war as well and a lot of infrastructure has been affected and both tourism and business have had severe setbacks. Most of the Mozambicans speak Portuguese so with the Spanish we developed last year and a bit of Portuguese we learned in Brazil we can communicate with everybody rather well.
In Mozambique we travel by local public bus everywhere, just like we had in Central and South America, and we feel completely safe all the time. But the roads in some parts of the country are the worse we have ever seen. The public bus system consists mainly off small 13 seater minivans called chapas and they go everywhere cheaply so this makes travelling across the country easy. The only difficulty (besides the bad road conditions)
is that although there are a lot of these chapas there are always a lot of people on the move so the chapas fill up until they are more than full before they even start to drive. And after leaving the ‘bus station’, main square or main crossroad, while we really thought it was full, they always know how to squeeze in a few more people, until at least 24 adults have found a small place to sit.
The other thing we had to get used to the past few weeks is the timing of the start of the day and especially the early departures of these chapas and busses. A lot of places have very limited or no electricity, around 6 PM the sun sets, it becomes very dark quickly, so people tend to go to bed early and obviously they will also start the day early, we understand that. Life really starts early and long before sunrise we see a lot of people on the street, setting up shop or walking to their job or marketplace. And ... most of the chapas and also the big busses all start to leave at 4:00 AM! This is really
very early and it is still pitch dark! For some reason they keep telling us we really have to be at the bus station at a certain time then to find out that everybody, including the driver, is still vast asleep. It usually takes quite a while for everybody to get started and to fill the bus. We have had to wake up at 3:15 and 3:30 a few times and this morning we even had to wake up at 01:15 AM (!!) so that we could be at the bus stop at 2:00 AM because the chapa bus was supposed to leave at around that time. Of course it left at around 3:00 AM and stopped on the way a few times before really taking off at around 4:00 AM but at least we had a very good seat.
We spent only one day and one night in Maputo walking around the city and enjoying the Mozambican food with all sorts of mainly Portuguese and Arabic influences. We had a pastel de nata (very Portuguese) and some very flavourful peri-peri style dishes. We walked around downtown and as we were already warned by guidebooks and other travellers we
were stopped by two police officers who were probably bored to death and thought it necessary to check our documents. Because most of the tourists don’t feel comfortable walking around with their passports this is an easy way to a small bribe and a little diversion to the daily routine for them (although maybe this is part of their daily routine…). After first checking their documents to see if they were real cops we were able to show them our passports, visa and the correct stamps so after a few kind Portuguese words from our side we were on our way again but this was apparently an exemplary situation for the extremely difficult to eradicate corruption in this country.
In Maputo we had to be at the bus station at around 5:00 AM to get a chapa to Tofo, which at the end only left around 7:30. Tofo is a small beach village with a nice beach, a few nice places to stay and it’s one of the best places to spot whalesharks and manta rays. We had booked a budget room in Mozambeats (http://www.mozambeatmotel.com/
) what appeared to be a superb small resort with a great vibe owned and
run by two Dutchies Sissy and Ray. We chilled out at the poolside, got to explore village life, had lunch at the local market and sipped some coconuts.
We had decided not to go diving but to go on an ocean snorkeling safari and this turned out to be a good decision. With a fast RIB boat we went looking for animals and immediately when the amazing guide spotted something we jumped overboard. This way we got to get close to a beautiful whaleshark and we could swim along for as long as our physical fitness allowed. Although we hardly saw the huge animal move a fin it went really fast through the water. We could swim with the huge beautiful animal for a long time a few times which was an amazing experience and something very high on our wishlist for a long time. Then when we jumped in another time we got close to a giant manta ray and although we could swim along for some time this animal was even faster so we had to give up and see the massive ray glide away.
From Tofo we hopped on a chapa, then on a ferry
across a bay and then we were lucky to immediately catch a big bus to Vilanculos. Because of Easter we had anticipated accommodation to be fully booked so we had booked a nice little beach house in a small resort right at the beach of Vilanculos. Another perfect place for some relaxing, reading and enjoying the Mozambican village life.
At Vilanculos being a real fishing village one early morning before sunrise the beach was already full with (local) people walking to the fishing boats that arrived full with fish and squid. One day we went with some other tourists on a local dhow (sailing boat) to one of the beautiful islands close by. We went snorkeling which was fine, had a nice lunch on the beach and walked around and across the island and its empty white beach.
Although Vilanculos is by far not a big town with modern facilities, we managed to find a small modern hospital with a dentist practice because Merijns’ tooth was now more painful than before after both myself and Judith heard a terrifyingly loud crack in my mouth whilst chewing on a piece of bread. The dentist could not find anything and
also another x-ray did not show anything. We had done a little research online and tried to explain the dentist it was probably a cracked tooth but the x-ray machine not working properly, a small language problem because our Portuguese is apparently not much better than the dentists’ English and maybe a small lack of the correct experience all did not help. The dentist suggested antibiotics and when I objected the x-ray specialist called with and referred us to another dentist in Beira, one of the bigger cities.
So we went to Beira mainly because of the dentist appointment and we checked in at a cheap hotel downtown and headed to the dentist directly. Again there were some problems with getting the x-ray machine ready but the next day we got a call and could come to see the dentist. Again the x-ray did not show anything and again we showed the dentist our homework we had prepared: a few pages with pictures and drawings of the cracked teeth syndrome. The page starts with “One of the most difficult diagnoses in dentistry is Cracked tooth syndrome” so we do understand it’s difficult but we asked the dentist “can you
please check again because if I do this or this it really really hurts”. So the dentist again puts one of his instruments in my mouth and suddenly he hits the sweet spot and I am almost crying because it hurts so much. The dentist says: “ah, the tooth is cracked … “ So finally the third dentist sees what’s wrong and luckily he is willing and able to start working on the tooth immediately. A little drilling, filling and filing and half an hour later it’s done.
Beira is not the most interesting city but it’s a provincial capital and there is a lot of business so we found some nice restaurants to kill the time between dentist appointments.
From Beira we travelled in quite a big modern red Nagi Investimentos bus over the main highway N1 while the road got worse and worse. The potholes grew bigger and bigger until they were the size of small swimming pools and some were filled with water so the driver could not see how deep the holes were. The driver tried to slalom between and around the potholes but sometimes smashed into one and one time the pothole was
too deep and the bottom of the bus hit the ground and made the glass from the door explode. This trip took us around 16 hours while we covered a distance of less than 600 kilometres!
To split up the long stretch to the north of the country we stopped in Quelimane where we spent two nights, we just walked around, had lunch in a beach club and went to sleep early because we had to wake up so terribly early again.
From the busses and chapas we constantly get a great view of rural Mozambique. People are always out and about, everywhere people are selling and buying stuff. Every time the bus stops it’s swarmed with people trying to sell their goods which are different in every region. It’s an easy and fun way to try the local produce but we stick mainly to the fruit and cashew nuts because we are a bit afraid the outside temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius does no good to the tasty looking chicken.
A good road connects Quelimane with Nampula, one of the biggest towns in Mozambique and the place from where we could go to Ilha do
Mocambique. In Nampula we checked in at Ruby Backpackers where we had a nice room and we spent some extra nights because it was so comfy and because we wanted to visit the immigration office after the weekend to extend our visa. The first day was a national holiday, the Day of the Mozambican Woman, so all businesses were closed and there were beautifully dressed women roaming the streets, having fun and drinking beers. On Monday morning we got to the immigration office early, left our passports and left in a chapa to Ilha do Moçambique.
Ilha do Moçambique is a place with a lot of history and feels like one big open air museum, except there are hardly any tourists, probably because it’s so difficult to reach. The island was already a trade center for the Arabs and Indians, then became a colonial capital city for the Portuguese and it was attacked but not conquered by the Dutch twice (who then decided to set up shop in Cape Town). The whole island is fully built with a fortress, and stone town and reed town, the two different parts of town easily distinguished by the type of houses and
buildings. Many beautiful old buildings, mansions, governor houses and hospital buildings are scattered in this city, some restored but many almost crumbled to pieces.
After a few nights on Ilha we arrange a dhow to sail us to a place to go snorkeling and then drop us at a new backpackers lodge run by an American guy and Brasilian woman at a picturesque beach. While the lodge is not officially open and Kent and Andrea are still not satisfied with the progress they have made, it’s the perfect place for us and in stead of the one night we had in mind we postpone our leave every day and spend 5 days at the Namahamade lodge (https://www.facebook.com/namahamadelodge/
) just outside Chocas Mar. There is no electricity except a solar panel and there is no running water so the water for our bucket shower is brought to our hut by the staff. Somehow sometimes we stumble upon a place like this and we just love its simple beauty.
The beach is long and has very fine white sand and the water is clear and shallow what makes it perfectly blue and turquoise in all imaginable shades. We don our snorkeling
gear and go for a swim from the beach, exploring the coral blocks and trying to make fun pictures with the anemone fishes. We sail with a dhow to an island across and spend some time snorkeling at the reef and sunbathing on the deserted beach. Not all of the staff of the lodge have had a lot of opportunities to work with tourists yet so we discuss options for food and every day we are treated to something different, fish, squid and even a giant lobster, always locally caught right in front by the local fishermen.
Waking up at 1:15 AM to catch the chapas to Nampula we got back at Ruby Backpackers quite early so we could visit the migration office to pick up our passports. We got 30 days extra to spend in Mozambique, yeah! Off to Pemba and the Quirimbas islands …
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