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Published: August 3rd 2011
Samora Machel Bridge, Tete
The only bridge crossing the Zambezi in Mozambique!!
Greetings from Mozambique! Wow – what an exotic place to be in, and although just nextdoor to Malawi, a completely different country with a completely different feel to it (starting with the fact that people speak Portuguese here...!) I must admit this different feel was a major shock when I first arrived, and my initial sentiment was one of missing Malawi actually and a desire to go back, which was a bit of a surprise. But fortunately I stuck through the feelings and am having an amazing time right now – different, but amazing!
I am currently writing this from a super lodge located on the shores of the Lake Cahora Bassa, the 5th largest reservoir in the world, in the remote, far north-west of the country. Mozambique is primarily a coastal country, with a stunning stretch of unspoilt, infrequently-visited tropical coastline, but alas this time around it is not really on my route, and although a visit down there is very tempting indeed, it would knock me back a few days and I wouldn’t be on track for Zim and Zam. So I think I’ll leave the coast until I do South Africa some day, and
The Ugezi Tiger Lodge
Lake Cahora Bassa, Mozambique
will tie it in with that one.
So yes, I’m staying at the Ugezi Tiger Lodge, run by a very affable South African/British couple, Jonny and Gilda – Gilda being from a town not too far away at all from my Mum’s home town (Preston, near Southport), so feeling like a very small world hearing a jovial Northern English accent in the midst of this Afro-Portuguese region.
I believe I last wrote having just arrived in Blantyre, the commercial centre of Malawi. A great city to kick back in and relax, after 10 days on the Malawian road, and during my full day there I visited the city’s commercial shopping mall, which included a fine Indian curry at an authentic Indian restaurant which was a delight! Not much else done in Blantyre to be honest, except for visiting the city’s oldest and second oldest buildings, the Mandala House and the St Michael and All Angels Church respectively, both having been built in the late 19th century by colonials and missionaries, and both standing very much preserved. Indeed the former still retains its colonial air, as I partook in the delight of afternoon tea and ginger biscuits on the
Overlooking the dam
Saturday afternoon – perfect! My hotel there was also great, really quiet and peaceful, with carpets, air conditioning, and the luxuries of hot, running water and electricity, which apart from the morning I left, both held out for me for nearly 2 days running (a rarity in these parts it seems…!)
So, without having had a proper morning shower (just cupfuls of cold water from a large bucket) on the Sunday morning I headed towards the Malawian border and Mozambique, on a bus bound for Johannesburg – a 30-hour journey for the passengers, just a 7 hour one for me, which started with the stand-up style host evangelically praising the Lord on a loud microphone to bless us with a safe journey, as it’s a “looooong journey ahead of us and we aallllll wanna keep safe in the good Lord’s protection”. In no way am I at all mocking the trust and faith in God for protection, in fact I believe in this too and do it regularly myself, but the host’s style was quite comical, and rather loud, and continued for most of the journey in between blasts of loud Malawian music coming through the DVD player. The
journey also included a 3-hour stint at the border, waiting for passports to be stamped, customs officers to do their thing, and lots more waiting besides, which was when the comedy routine was actually welcome to relieve the rather tense atmosphere there…!
And so it was, on Sunday afternoon, I arrived in my 64th country – Mozambique!
As mentioned, it was a bit of a shock arriving, as my first port of call was the dusty, provincial city of Tete. I had been told by various people on my journey so far that this was not a nice town, and extremely expensive, and I found both of these out for myself to be the truth. It was stinkingly expensive – the cheapest room I could find was $60 a night, and I think I visited most hotels in town. This had doubled since my Lonely Planet was published two years ago, and even the Bradt guide’s “grottiest establishment in town” cost $80 a night. What has happened in the area again relates to my Masters’ dissertation, which was fascinating – since the discovery of huge coal deposits a few years back, both Chinese and Indian interests in the region
have substantially increased, and the multi-national, non-eco-friendly mining company Rio Tinto Zinc has also moved in. This made for quite a large number of westerners in Tete, mainly Portuguese, Brazilian and Indian mining company workers, and has sky-rocketed prices in the town, while quality still seems to be lacking behind – not great as I do expect quite a bit of luxury when parting with $60 of my hard-earned cash!
So after dumping my bags in the “cheap” hotel, right in the centre of town at the intersection of the city’s two main roads, I went to join the throngs at the local ATM machines to try to get enough money out for my stay there. ATMs are all over the place on my journey so far, but they also seem to be accompanied by queues of at least 20 people, taking at least 30 minutes to get any money out – a bit stressful, as sometimes the only way for me to get any cash is through one ATM in each town which accepts foreign cards, and hoping that the money won’t run out by the time I get to the front of the queue.
So I must
admit, my first day in Mozambique was a bit stressful, but once having calmed myself somewhat with the assistance of a couple of swigs of brandy on my hotel balcony (I always carry a flask of this when I travel now, for exactly moments like these…!), the city grew on me slightly as I dined in a modern, western-style joint with friendly waiters. I also slept surprisingly well, surprising due to the central location of the hotel, and the fact that Mozambicans tend to have inherited the Portuguese-style of life – party hard, late to bed and early to rise, with the throngs of people and traffic continuing on the street until at least 11pm and starting again the next morning at 5am (being a great contrast to the Malawians who seem to be all in bed by 8pm – much more my thing!).
Anyway, I’m so glad I gave Mozambique a second chance, as my first day here made me think about heading back to Malawi, or even straight on to Zimbabwe the next morning. Thus, with renewed optimism, I caught a minibus yesterday morning heading up north to the small hill-town of Songo. A journey that should
Zambezi River, Tete, Mozambique
only have been 2 hours, but actually took 4 due to the driver, after filling up to the gills with people (fortunately I got a front seat – what luck, as they generally cram them into the back down here…), did the tours of the dusty backstreets of the city picking up items to trade up in Songo – mobile phone credit top-up cards, fruit and veg from the market, and lots of chicken and chips for the journey from a tiny little shack out of town cooking on small wood fires, with a little boy gutting a fish next to them. Fortunately I’d taken my packed lunch from the western-style diner in town… We also stopped at a police checkpoint on the way, as the elderly policeman noted down by details, asked where I was going and why, and politely requested a “coco” afterwards. Now I can get by alright in Portuguese as it’s Spanish’s distant cousin, but the way he said this left me with no doubt as to the meaning – I also politely negated, which upon getting back into the bus the people applauded – I don’t think the police are liked much around here, and
after this I can see why.
My plan in Songo was to head the further 17km to this stunning lodge, but I couldn’t reach the owners by phone or email despite trying numerous times, so was hoping both that it would still be open, and that there would be some way of getting to the lodge from Songo. This town seems a bit of an African anomaly, as what with all the foreign money coming in from mining and the dam, it was surprisingly like a Californian suburb, with manicured lawns, large white villas and dual carriageways throughout the town, though used only by bicycles and the odd minibus or two – a bit surreal in the provincial hinterland of Mozambique. Upon arrival, we did the rounds again, dropping off all we had picked up on the outskirts of Tete, and various passengers along the way. Eventually, the minibus stopped on the highway and the driver pointed up the road saying it’s only another 17km to the lodge in that direction. While I was working out how to say “I’ll give you an extra $5 if you take me there” in Portuguese, the minibus had sped off and left
The Ugezi Tiger Lodge
me with my bags on the side of the road contemplating the 17km ahead of me, with both backpacks, and extremely little by way of other people or vehicles.
Before panic took over, a car soon pulled up and offered to take me there for $40 which I bargained down to $28, and of course still realized completely ripped me off. But I wasn’t caring at this stage, given the apparent lack of other options available, and ended up here in the amazing Ugezi Tiger Lodge!
This place is beautiful – stunningly located on the serene lake, itself surrounded by steep-sided mountains, the camp is composed of thatched huts clambering up the hillside from the lakeshore. My room is lovely, with hot running water and electricity and all the mod-cons, while still being rustic enough to feel a world away from the world of civilization – just the sound of the gentle waves lapping the shore to lull you to sleep.
The other people staying here have been fascinating to get to know. While the Cahora Bassa dam currently has 5 turbines, generating electricity for both Mozambique and South Africa, they are now building 3 more turbines, and
Lake Cahora Bassa
View from the Ugezi Tiger Lodge
thus drilling through the rockface to the side of the dam. This involves a team of experts from South Africa and Portugal to supervise the drilling, and a helicopter to transport the labourers down to the work site as there are no other ways of getting down there. The labourers are staying in tents next to the dam, while the western overseers, working for the South African company Geomechanics, are staying in this lodge. Going down to see the dam today, I met with the Kiwi helicopter pilot Mark, who now lives in South Africa. Whilst being very tempted to request a ride in the helicopter from the General Manager after being advised to by Mark, I noted also that this would create too much paperwork for health and safety standards so did not ask as I didn’t want to be a burden, but it was enough to just look at the chopper, and sit inside it. I also helped Mark to clean the rotor blades, which was just amazing – first time I’ve ever seen a helicopter up-close, let alone clean one! The rest of today I just spent admiring the dam and chilling at the camp by the
Jonny and Gilda
The fantastic owners of the Ugezi Tiger Lodge
lakeshore, being mindful of the reservoir being full of crocodiles, and the hills overlooking it full of leopards… Although I have yet to see a leopard, I would prefer it to be in other circumstances involving a safari jeep, for example!
So tomorrow back to delightful Tete, and probably a slight change in my travel plans. I’m so taken with Mozambique still, and with hearing that other places are much cheaper than here, the plan now is to head south by minibus towards a town called Chimoio, a gateway to two nearby possibilities – the Chimanimani Mountains, which also cross the border into Zimbabwe, and the Gorongosa National Park, with lions amongst other animals. Chimoio is also only 3 hours away from the coast, but again I don’t think I’ll be seeing the Indian Ocean this time around due to lack of time. But we’ll see what happens. Chimoio will also provide me with a more convenient crossing point into Zimbabwe, to the Eastern city of Mutare, from where it should be easier to get transport to Harare than at the border nearer to Tete.
So that’s the plan, and that’s my latest news this time around. Certainly
a different chapter to my trip, leaving the “Beginners’ Africa” country of Malawi behind, with its numerous tourists, short distances and convenient sights, for a bit more adventurous travel (I have yet to meet another tourist/traveler/backpacker after two days so far in Mozambique…!)
Hope all are well, and thanks again for reading! Will upload this if I can find an Internet place back in Tete tomorrow, hopefully with some nice pictures too!
Take care, speak soon
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