Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 15 June 2000
Well, since our last email I can honestly say that we have been redefining the word "intrepid"! Not only have we been on an adventure second to none but our Camel (wo)man ratings have sky rocketed! The adventure started when we left Ponta D'Ouro and has not stopped for a second on our journey through Mozambique. Well, I guess that's what you get for visiting a country a couple of months after its been hit by a gazillion cyclones. I am happy to report though, that we have survived our travels unscathed and have decided that Mozambique is one of the most spectacular (even if it is third world) countries and we have already planned the itinerary for our return visit. This place is absolutely magical!
We hit Maputo last Thursday after a rough ride along a very sandy road from Ponta D'Ouro. Maputo is the most vibrant of African cities and we totally loved it. Although we were tempted to pull in to the swishy Polana hotel, we opted for a night at the more budget friendly Mancas guest house. We even discovered a Mimmo's to have dinner at (you've got to love franchising - the pizza tasted just the same as it does in Seapoint!) We had been warned by absolutely everyone we know not to venture north of Maputo at any cost. We had also been told by more than one person that the only way to reach Beira from Maputo was to go via Nelspruit and Zimbabwe. The problem was that even in Maputo it was virtually impossible to get reliable information about the condition of the road to Beira. We were faced with so many contradictory reports that we eventually decided that the only way to find out what was going on was to drive north and to find out for ourselves what all the fuss was about.
The road is tarred and in fairly good condition until about 10 km's from Xai Xai where it disappears into oblivion! The main bridge over the Limpopo is still intact but there is a low lying bridge just before the main Limpopo bridge that has been washed away. Of course the absence of a bridge and a huge flood plain full of water does not necessarily mean that you can't get from Maputo to Beira! At this stage you have options - your selection of the most suitable option will depend on how much you are prepared to pay and to what extent you are willing to risk life and soul to get to the other side of the river. The floods have certainly revived the Mozambican entrepreneurial spirit. Your absolutely safest option at this point is to turn tail and head for Nelspruit to take the lengthy and time consuming detour via Zimbabwe to Beira. Of course this option offers you minimal adventure but almost absolute security. If, however, you are prepared to leave your vehicle in Chissano (the last port of call before the road to Xai Xai vanishes into a marsh) the best option is to take a boat from the broken portion of the bridge, across the water, to the remainder of the road on the other side and then to catch a bus to Beira (Yes, despite the fact that the road no longer exists there is still a regular bus service running between Maputo and Beira). Should you chose this option you are able to select the boat to ferry you across the river (rubber duck, motor boat, dug out, canoe) depending on your pocket. Be warned though, you may have to share the boat with a number of other passengers not to mention goats, chickens, sacks of maize and luggage.
If you need to transport your vehicle to Beira you have two options. An alternative route has been created between Chissano and Chibuto (on the other side of the river). This route has been in operation for a couple of months and has been widely used by trucks and busses and has been the major land access route between Maputo and Xai Xai. Of course, as sod's luck would have it, the area had experienced even more rain just before our arrival and the alternative route was closed. Although it was rumoured that the route would be open to traffic within a few days we were not ready to spend a couple of days in the metropolis of Chissano - a town that makes Put-Sonder-Water look like Cape Town. But then again, in Mozambique closed does not always mean closed (its a flexible concept) - depending on how many million meticash (the local currency) you are prepared to slip the officials to let you through. We later met up with some people who had paid some army officials to let them through on the alternative route under cover of darkness. Apparently, the local army battalion were making quite a tidy profit by letting people on to the alternative route in the knowledge that they would get stuck in the thigh high mud and then charging them exorbitant prices to pull them out the next morning. This option seemed far too sordid for our liking and we decided that it was way too early in our trip for us to be bribing officials and breaking the law. As a result we took the only other option available to us - to drive through the river! This option was not nearly as ominous as it sounds. The locals have constructed "roads" across the river by digging out the worst of the mud and laying sand in its place. Of course, to use these roads, you need to pay "toll fees" but there are loads of locals to lend a hand or tractor should you get stuck in the mud. We passed through this route in a matter of about 2 hours and without getting stuck at all. This was of course largely due to Nev's excellent off road driving skills! Plus, for the bargain price of R300-00 in "toll fees" we had an adventure of a lifetime. We felt a bit sheepish in our Land Rover with mud/snow chains on the front wheels while the locals were running the gauntlet in their clapped out Mazdas and BMW's.
Xai Xai has been absolutely devastated by the floods. The whole town, which is situated on the banks of the Limpopo river, has literally been washed away with only those suburbs that are slightly elevated having survived. The destruction and damage is indescribable. The army and various aid agencies are out in force in Xai Xai trying to clear up the wreckage of the town but they seem to have a mammoth task on their hands. We were however totally amazed at the resilience of the Mozambican people - despite the fact that they have been ravaged over and over again by floods and natural disasters they seem remarkably cheery and committed to going about the day to day business of getting their lives back together. Remarkable!
From Xai Xai we headed north to Inhambane where we stayed at Barra Reef for 4 days. Inhambane has to be one of the most idyllic spots ever and Nev and I have resolved to visit it again soon. The beaches are virtually pristine and we did some super scuba diving. It helped that we were the only people there! Barra Reef and neighbouring Barra Lodge have experienced a spate of cancelled bookings following the floods. We were the only campers at Barra Reef and Barra Lodge was so empty that the staff spent most of the days that we were there having boat races and regattas against each other out in the bay.
We literally had to tear ourselves away from Inhambane to head north to Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Archipelago which is just as gorgeous. We spent two nights at Vilanculos and a super day out on the islands snorkelling and getting horribly sunburned. You will be happy to know that our Portuguese is improving after we have been here for almost two weeks now. We can now almost string together whole sentences. For instance "Onde parque de campismo?" (Where is the camp site? (we are tired and its getting dark)). The most useful word/phrase is Nao or Nada (meaning no/never/not in a million years - as in - for the last time, I am NOT buying those tired oranges you have been trying to palm off on me for the last half hour!).
We arrived in Beira this afternoon. Beira has been our goal throughout our trip to Mozambique and has what has kept us pushing north despite the bad roads. Well, it really isn't worth it. The city is completely run down and tatty and worth skipping should you visit Mozambique. As a result we will be heading west to Chimoio tomorrow. We will probably cross the Tete corridor in to Malawi over the weekend. I hope that you are all well. We managed to catch some of the Hansie Cronje cricket hearings on TV here in Beira and watched with interest.
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lots of love
Penny & Neville