Crossing from Tanzania into Mozambique via the Ruvuma River ferry
was a microadventure in itself and one that we would not be eager to repeat. We were stopped on the stretch of dirt road from the border post down to the river crossing by the crew of a truck that was stuck on the roadside. Having had little luck at freeing their vehicle from the mud, they had decided instead to spontaneously set up a road block, extorting money from other motorists before allowing them to drive on. This was the first time on our trip that we experienced such aggression, Gary having to contend with these locals screaming and shouting racist slurs in his face with their fists raised. Having eventually got through to the ferry, we were even more shocked when the culprits themselves arrived in their truck after being towed out of the mud. In a rather surreal moment, we watched on as the same men who just minutes ago had shown displays of such aggression were now smiling and eating mangos while we all waited to board the ferry. Perhaps what evoked more fear in us than the unreasonable and aggressive behavior itself, was their unpredictability confirmed by their sudden switch back to a state of normality, as if nothing had happened. On the Mozambican side we encountered locals running a similar operation and decided to pay them off with a few Meticais to save ourselves another ordeal.
Overland Northern Mozambique – Reuniting with The Chicken
The northern most towns of Mozambique have all been affected by the boom that resulted from discovering offshore gas in this area. Offices of all the major oil and gas contenders as well as supply and support companies can be found in Pemba and Nacala. However, as the project has now been delayed by a few years, most activities have been put on hold, resulting in a scattering of unfinished developments. Fortunately for us however, a brand new road now stretches all the way up to Palma making our journey over the next few days down to Pemba from the border easygoing. Best of all, we were once again in the land where the peri peri chicken is a prominent feature on the local menu. When traveling through East Africa on a budget, your only option of eating chicken is to buy frozen packs imported from Brazil or to slaughter a live one, a task that we were definitely not willing to take on.
Exploring Ibo Island and the Quirimbas
From Pemba, travellers can reach the Quirimbas via the sea or air. As self drive overlanders, we left our Suzuki Jimny
in a secure parking located at Tandanhangue near Quisanga and after waiting for the tide to come in, hopped on a local dhow heading for Ibo Island. Disembarking on the island, one first notices the old street lamps that line the jetty, forming a portal into the lost era of Portuguese colonialism. Under the fierce heat of the afternoon sun
, we walked up to the old square and found the town deserted of local islanders, passing old buildings with a sense that in the absolute silence the only people looking on were ghosts of the past. The old forts, church and buildings that once housed the essentials of a bustling port are a photographers delight. Whether capturing the overall architecture or intricate details, hours can be spent exploring the old town which spills over into both opulent and quaint residential areas.
Accommodation on the island varies from camp grounds, mid range hotels to the exquisite Ibo Island Lodge. While the cost of a room at this exclusive lodge might well be out of most of our price range, one cannot miss the opportunity to splurge on a beer or two at the upstairs bar and watch the sun go down over the western waterfront. Most lodges on Ibo were able to organise marine activities and excursions to the other islands, however, traveling on a budget we decided to chat to the locals and managed to organise a trip for a fraction of the price quoted by the lodges. On board a local fishing dhow, the captain and crew sailed us out towards Matemo island stopping off to snorkel at various reefs in the marine park which are flourishing with vibrant coral and an abundance of reef fish thanks to the hard work of NGOs such as WWF working to protect the area from overfishing.
Staying at a locally run camp on Matemo island, we were treated to local Mozambican cuisine comprising of sauces that feature amoung the most delicious meals tasted on our trip. Needless to say, the night sky out here is spectacular and we found ourselves fighting to stay awake lest we should close our eyes to such beauty. While journeying to the Quirimbas requires a bit of extra effort, the beauty of this region and our interaction with the amiable locals affirmed our love of this country and remains one of our favourite micro-adventures during our Africa travel sabbatical.
Ilha de Mocambique
Previously the capital of Mozambique before relocating to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) Ilha de Mocambique is another throw back to the colonial era. However, if Ibo island gave us a sneak peek into the life of the Portuguese colonials, Ilha de Mocambique is the main show, starting with a drive from the mainland over the exquisite aquamarine ocean. The only way to do the island justice is to park your vehicle and wander on foot through the quaint squares surrounded by Juliet balconies and through meandering alleyways that will lead you past outer gates offering glimpses into the secret gardens hidden behind the high walls of the opulent old homes.
The island is undergoing a period of rejuvenation as brightly coloured coffee shops, restaurants and clothing and antique stores draw in visitors from the surrounding hotels and backpackers. The guide books stress the need to watch out for pickpockets, but we found our entourage of local kids hanging around the old town to be non-threatening, merely looking for attention from the tourists and an opportunity to practice their English.
Running the Gauntlet in Northern Mozambique
Thankfully our drive home south towards the end of our overland Northern Mozambique adventure coincided with a two month ceasefire between the Renamo rebels and governing Frelimo army, thus avoiding a detour through Zimbabwe or need to join an army convoy. However, word of the ceasefire did little to calm our nerves and the next five days went by in a blur as Jimny blitz’d through the central region of Mozambique. Slowing down only to carefully navigate the abundance of potholes, sighting the remnants of logs, sand piles, wire and other objects used by the Renamo forces to stop motorists only spurred us on.
Our camping options during this period in Northern Mozambique were interesting to say the least and ranged from a lovely lodge run by an ex-Zimbabwean couple who were managing to keep their heads down during the turmoil, to an abandoned missionary station, finishing off at a truck stop. We breathed a big sigh of relief when Jimny pulled into Inhassoro and a few South African vehicles could be spotted around town. In celebration we ditched the tent and treated ourselves to a room at Billfish Lodge, a pizza and more than a few beers.
Almost Home and in Denial
After such a long time on the road, it seemed surreal to us that our Africa travel sabbatical would soon be over. The only possible solution was to prolong the inevitable by spending a few more weeks fly fishing along the Mozambican coastline, where Jimny got to master the beach drives at BD point, Pomene and Bilene. A stop in at Kruger National Park for a few days provided a spectacular welcoming home and the abundance of game and fantastic camp amenities were a reminder after this long journey of just how much South Africa has to offer.