All Aboard, We’re Taking The High Road To Ilha De Mozambique
It’s a long way to Tipperary and we’re taking a “wye Kaapse Draai” en route to Ilha de Mozambique which could be likened to driving from Worcester to Cape Town via Johannesburg. It was an adventure we might’ve missed had we stuck to the potholed EN1.
We had an extra month to explore Mozambique, and we were looking forward to traipsing all over the countryside. Some roads were good, and we could make a good time. By now, of course, trucking companies had also got wind of the better roads. Besides the typical obstacles on this gauntlet, we’d have busses too.
The subtropical vegetation was lush green dotted with ancient baobab forests, coconut palm trees and a myriad of indigenous trees and deliciously monstrous shrubbery.
Along the side of the road, a brisk trade was taking place, and motorists could purchase bags of charcoal, beautiful vegetables and fruit, baobab pods, skewered grilled mice, a local delicacy, golden bananas, avocados, the last of the summer season’s mango crop and wild honey.
We stopped for some raw honey, a bushel of baobab pods and a golden bunch of lady’s finger bananas. The honey was a yummy, golden thread of smokey wildness which I served with the last of our thick Greek yoghurt and, until recently, added sweetness to our fruit smoothies.
We spent our first night wild camping just off the main road on a farm with the farmer's permission. Early to bed meant we could set off soon after sunrise the following morning in the hope of having a head start on the truckers.
The landscape became more rural, and the architectural vernacular changed to mud, reed and grass huts. However, drier patches of road were beginning to crack and show signs of corrosion which would slow us down considerably.
The hilly escarpment made way to maize fields, sorghum, rice paddies and small subsistence farms while the landscape produced rocky outcroppings and fat-folded mountains and valleys. Cattle, goats and children all roamed freely too.
We were soon to enter the Tete province. My only knowledge of Tete was the Cahora Bassa Dam which supplies South Africa with electricity. I seem to recall we were one of the countries in a consortium with Portuguese, German and British companies who constructed the dam between 1969 and 1974. Unfortunately, we did not include a visit to the dam in our itinerary. I do regret that.
Tete, a port city, is situated on the banks of the Zambezi River near the rich coal mines of Moatize. During the mid-17th century, Tete had a history of trading in gold and ivory. Today it is connected to the Indian Ocean by railway to the port of Beira, and the Zambezi River is still used by smaller boats, dugout canoes and fishermen.
The sluggish brown python-like Zambezi River, together with its tributaries, forms the fourth largest River basin in Africa and flows two thousand miles from its source on the Central African plateau to empty into the Indian Ocean and creates the boundaries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and Lake Cahora Bassa are all on the river. Quite impressive. My video, included, gives a good idea of the breadth of the river.
We were exhausted and had the time to linger near Tete. We set up our campsite on the northern bank of the Zambezi under a canopy of massive indigenous trees as per recommendation.
Kukutana campsite in Benga is a tropical paradise. Well maintained and managed, we were eager to spend a few nights catching our breaths, cycling to loosen our weary muscles and joints and gain some exercise after the hiatus in Beira.
It is true; we can run but not hide. The property owner, Wynand, is an old boy of the Drostdy Technical high school in Worcester, a school my son attended. Although a few years Timmy’s junior, they could recall meeting up.
We spent our days lolling about relaxing on the day bed, floating in the swimming pool or reading. Occasionally, at meal times, we’d chat with the French couple Benjamin and Nelly on a hiking/bussing expedition from the Seychelles, where he was a nurse and she an attorney, on their way to Mount Kenya, where they hoped to meet up with friends before their trek up the slopes of the mountain. Although not very forthcoming, they did tell us some amusing stories about their Mozambican bus trips.
Interestingly, as French citizens, they could, and did, work in any old French colony or country where the French still had ties without jeopardising their careers. After this six-month trek, they planned on going to French Guiana, where they’d work and save for a future trip.
On a few occasions, we gathered ourselves and went off on our jaunts of discovery and even ventured into Tete to do some shopping, draw money from the ATM and reload our SIM cards. We were becoming quite au fait with all this, and the only hitch was a skid and tumble off his bike at our gate for Butch! I think it’s becoming his new party trick.
I do enjoy exploring the countryside around our campsite, it often answers all the why’s, what ifs, and gets me guessing why someone would have a campsite in a particular spot, what was the attraction, why that community and finally, could I live there?
This first encounter with Malawi exceeded our expectations and was a good taste of things to come but, it was time to sally forth. The plan was to cross the southern Malawi border and hang around for a few days somewhere nice before re-crossing back into Mozambique and heading off to Ilha de Mozambique.
As much as I’m a stickler for my independence and doing the “right thing”, it has become evident that using a reliable, recommended runner at border crossings is the way to go in Africa. Butch had a name and telephone number, which he used to contact Innocent at the Malawi Zobue border. With the photo of the truck, we were soon spotted.
Innocent soon had all our documents and passports in his hands. He completed the required forms and, with us, did the necessary explanations at the various counters. With his assistance, we were able to exchange some currency for Malawi Kwatcha and obtain SIM cards and buy Data. For the minimal sum he charged us, we experienced a very easygoing uncomplicated border crossing. Handing over my passport to a stranger unnerves me.
The border towns we have experienced are hectic, with a conglomeration of traders and touts milling about trying to sell us their wares before we leave. After a few gruelling hours in an immigration office, shopping is the last thing on our minds, and it often takes a moment to collect ourselves before responding appropriately.
Once our passports were stamped and I’d applied the new Malawi flag to the Honey Badger, we only wanted to find a suitable campsite for the night, preferably with a restaurant. I was very excited to see how different Malawi was. All the reports were favourable. Friendly, hospitable and kind we’d been told.
It was still early afternoon, and we had a few hours to drive. The landscape had, once again, changed utterly. We were at a higher altitude up in the mountains with exciting vistas. Malawi’s roads were markedly improved.
Villages were more organised, and I noticed beautiful basketry for sale. It was a Saturday afternoon, a popular time for people to gather in the villages. Markets were throbbing with shoppers and onlookers there for the social gathering. We sometimes crawled at a snail’s pace through these busy clogged streets.
Our route would eventually take us through Blantyre, a typical, busy modern African city like any other. I thought it would be more chaotic, but everything worked, and the traffic circles were a pleasure. As luck would have it, not too far from our destination the police stopped us at a barricade to inform us that the bridge had washed away. We had to retrace our steps and take a massive detour.
It was getting late, villages were becoming increasingly busy as people started gathering for weekend celebrations. Our three maps and GPS all gave us different directions, which didn’t auger well for the anxiety levels. There was no time for sightseeing as all eyes were on the road. We’d be driving in the pitch dark with only our headlights on as it's illegal to engage spotlights. Bridges were narrow, roads snaked through tight bends, potholes and pedestrians milling about not making way for trucks at all.
We arrived well after dark at the Africa Wild Truck Lodge and campsite. Stressed and exhausted, all we wanted to do was collapse into bed after supper. Dinner was a feast—a three-course meal prepared by our delightful Italian hostess. The comforting curried pumpkin soup reminded us of home, and the sorbets for dessert reminded us of our evening strolls in Firenze, enjoying our balls of gelato in sugary cones.
A late lie-in was called for, after which we crawled out of bed and saddled up our bikes to take a leisurely ride around the tea estate. Yes! We were slap in the middle of a large tea plantation. All around us, the rolling hills and mountainsides are carpeted in dwarf-like bottle-green satin smooth Ceylon tea bushes. Pitco Tips tea comes from here!
It was exhilarating and fun and a totally new experience. At times all I’d see was Butch’s head bobbing up and down as he cycled along the contours. We would see pickers with their baskets slung onto their backs, carefully nipping the new growth—an age-old, labour-intensive farming method.
Waiting for us at “home” was a slice of Italian blackberry tart with our morning Malawi tea!
The notice in the bathroom said it all.
The five benefits of a cold shower are:
1. Eliminate toxins,
2. Reduce blood pressure.
3. strengthen the immune system.
4. Burns fat.
5. Improves hair health.
I took a deep breath, cautiously turned the taps on and stepped into my first voluntary cold shower. I have since then experienced this phenomenon a few times and, although still not accustomed to it, have to declare it’s not too bad.
While on an exploratory walk on the property, I encountered a chance meeting with a young Malawian man. After a brief greeting and introduction, he wanted to know where I was from, where I was going etc. Once satisfied with those answers, he brazenly asked me whether I’d like to “go with him”. Where to, I have no idea and didn’t dare ask, but I did get the impression it was not for a walk. I declined the offer, and it was only after I’d told him I was a gogo (grandmother) of seven grandchildren, of which the eldest was eighteen, did he skedaddle off rather sheepishly. He explained all this to another octogenarian on his creaking bike, who peered at me, shaking his head as if I was missing out on a golden opportunity.
Befuddled, I focussed on the school rules and wondered if this was a thing in these parts. I have since learned that “beach boys” provide companionship to single ladies from abroad. There would be no more walking and talking, only cycling and waving in the future!
We spent three nights at this beautiful outpost in Malawi. Africa Wild Truck Campsite and Lodge certainly was a favourite stopover. We explored, cycled, and enjoyed pleasant days relaxing under a canopy of giant tropical trees. We met lovely Aiden, a teacher, and Helen, a British doctor and researcher in Blantyre who gave us valuable recommendations for medications and places to visit on our return to Lake Malawi.
It was time to head back into Mozambique to resume our journey to the coast.
Thus far, all our dealings with border control officials had gone smoothly. We’d had no hitches or unpleasant encounters. The cyclone severely damaged the Malawi immigration buildings at the border back into Mozambique. Some buildings had been gutted, while others had been flooded with muddy watermarks above the door lintels. Security personnel were operating out of canvas tents, and official forms were being completed on verandas spilling onto muddy pavements. Everyone was patient and helpful and tried to make the experience as painless as possible.
Whether he was being over cautious or too zealous in pursuing his official duties, we didn’t know, but adamant the military gate operator was that we should produce all our documents for his scrutiny. He even photographed our passports. While the queue behind us built up, he took his leisurely time to inspect our paperwork with a fine-toothed comb.
Why we’ll never know. When he reluctantly returned our paperwork file, having checked to his satisfaction, he sullenly lifted the rusty boom. We gathered we were free to go! I still wonder if an offer for a Cola would’ve speeded things up, but we didn’t even consider it as a possibility.
Now here’s a thing. Amongst the first Europeans to venture into Africa were the missionaries like David Livingston, Andrew Murray and various others who set about to spread Christianity to the local native people in the colonies and Catholicism in the Portuguese colonies.
In Malawi evidence of the Christian faith is prolific and businesses are often named after people mentioned in the Bible like Martha’s braid shop or Jeremiah’s bikes, and even Elijah’s coffin shop. Job didn’t feature. I noticed a few financial or investment businesses named in this way and found some to be rather amusing and I’m sure intimidating to investors e.g “In His Grace Investments” or “With His Hand Investments” or “In His Trust Investments” and my favourite “God Bless You Investments”. My cynical nature smells a rat.
Every denomination is well represented in Malawi and churches are formidable in size giving the impression that there’s a flourishing spiritual awakening. We had met one or two pastors and Missionaries who had been a great help and would recommend great stayovers along our way and any help we might need.
In our adventures, we also came across suggested landmarks not to be missed and one of these was a Catholic cathedral, in Mozambique, planted in the middle of nowhere on a dusty road far from any remarkable town or city. While Butch checked our navigations, I would explore these magnificent buildings dumbfounded by the size, opulence and expense invested in now virtually abandoned mission stations.
We were venturing into remoter territories not often visited by tourists and camping spots were becoming hard to find. Fortunately Butch had kept up with Danie Murray who in no time gave us a few telephone numbers to call.
At the next village we’d stop for lunch, and delicious crispy Mozambiquen Pão, get our phones loaded with data and call our contacts. We needed to stretch our legs. This is when the kindness of Angels and Bernadette Jansen crossed our path and opened their hearts and homes to us. All it took for Bernadette to say yes to two strangers in a truck who needed a place to park for the night was a request. No questions asked. She trusts everyone who knocks on her door unfailingly.
We arrived and the gate to her property slid open and there we were, sorted for the night.
Bernadette’s story started a long time ago when she gave up a lucrative hairdressing career in Johannesburg to set up an orphanage, nursery school and clinic primarily for orphaned children in a town called Macuba.
The children, fostered by relatives are often emotionally and financially neglected, and used as “slave labour” earning their keep by working for these relatives, who themselves are poor and see no other way out of their dire circumstances.
Bernadette with the help of volunteers, teachers from the community and financial support from churches and private donations are able to run a clinic, the school and a feeding programme for orphans as well as an educational programme for children with Albinism who suffer rejection, bullying and are stigmatised and marginalised in the community.
While all the children, the community and their parents are educated and informed about the realities of Albinism the children are encouraged to wear sunblock, hats and protective clothing while out of doors.
The residents and educators are constantly working on various projects, gardening, cultivating seedlings and increasing their tree nursery to generate funds. The whole “organisation” is self-sustained, water is drawn from wells, and recycling is used, compost is made and mulches the gardens, seamstresses make the uniforms etc. A mammoth task.
Butch, unfortunately, was feeling poorly after the long tiring drive, and decided to turn in early while I joined Bernadette and her brood of six foster children for supper.
Being a single parent to six boisterous children while having a busy career is no mean feat and I found myself in awe of Bernadette. Her adoration and commitment to her clutch of chicks, ranging from nursery school to high school and college was nothing short of astounding. She would give her undivided attention to each child, as demanded, focussing on their eyes and speaking in a soft, sing-song voice filled with love while attending to the rest of us without missing a beat! No one ever raises their voice in that peaceful home.
Around their table, while enjoying my meal I experienced unconditional love for a child reciprocated. I excused myself leaving early so that the family could continue with their evening rituals feeling humbled knowing how far I fall short.
The next morning we were taken on a tour of the grounds and various buildings and had an opportunity to meet the teachers, staff and the children excitedly arriving with their guardians.
The Honey Badger, of course, was the centre of attention and soon we had the littlies crowded around us anxiously waiting to see what a “house on wheels” or casa sobre rodas, looked like. Butch did a splendid job as a guide and showed them around. The oohs and aahs were a delight as they inspected, touched and admired the stove, shower and fridge! Some of the girls thought my closet was a little skimpy, all things considered. The little dressing table and mirror did make up for a few shortcomings though.
With a little encouragement from their teachers, they were persuaded to sing a song, and once they got into the swing of things we all joined in and had to be stopped when the siren went off signalling the start of classes.
Bernadette, I have no words to thank you for your kindness and hospitality. You are a saint. Your unending patience, humility, acceptance, commitment and energy to do the work you have taken upon yourself is nothing short of miraculous.
It is seldom that one actually witnesses someone’s ambition in action. I saw it and experienced your passion. We all strive to be selfless, you are one of the few people who succeeds brilliantly in doing so. Your reward is witnessing these children growing up to be proud members of their community. You accomplish great things with much love to the least of us. What you do will change their world.
We left Bernadette’s in tears and humbled, silently reflecting on our experience and what we’d learned, well into the morning.
The landscape changed once again as we entered the land of Inselbergs.
Definition: “An inselberg or monadnock (/məˈnædnɒk/) is an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. In Southern Africa, a similar formation of granite is known as a koppie, an Afrikaans word ("little head") from the Dutch diminutive word kopje.” Wiki
Our campsite, just north of the town called Montes Nairuco Restaurant and Camping was nestled protectively beside one of these inselbergs and a lake. Sitting with our sundowners we watched the different shades of sunset reflected on the ochre granite and calm waters. Apricot, golden sunflower, tangerine and citrus. A fitting end to our reflective day.
It is often hard and incomprehensible to realise that not everyone, no matter their good intentions, does not fully comprehend the English language. Yes, even when we’re in non-English countries we somehow take it for granted that everyone, no matter their education will have a good grasp of our tongue! This causes untold frustration and rolling of the eyes when our instructions and requests are lost in translation.
A good example was our enquiry about the kitchen times for supper. Seven he said. We arrived in good time at five thirty, sat ourselves down and waited. Fifteen minutes later he approached us, tentatively. We ordered drinks and waited. It had been a long, emotional day and our nerves were frayed. Turns out the kitchen closed at 17h00. The supper was on me.
I knew, no matter how gorgeous the sunset we’d never return to this campsite! Someone had cooked his goose.
We were in the Nampula province of Mozambique now and we were slightly ahead of schedule which afforded us the opportunity to make a turn through the city of Nacala primarily to see the impressive port of Nacala aka the Nacala port complex. It is the deepest natural port in Southern Africa and serves Malawi with a 931 kilometer railway. Large rehabilitation, expansion and modernisation works are currently underway funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. Admission to the port due to the extensive work taking place limited our view but I can report it is very impressive indeed!
The GPS lady informed us to stick to the road we only had a few more hours to go before our final destination Ilya de Mozambique where we were told we could contact Pai Diesel who was sure to organise everything for us. Rumour had it that the Honey Badger would have to stay on the mainland while we visited the island. Not a thought we particularly relished.
"Yes", Pai Diesel said, he was ready to receive us at the entrance boom before the bridge. he’ll find us. We hoped to be there by early afternoon we assured him. I had no idea what to expect. I would be cautiously optimistic things would pan out.
While editing this blog last Wednesday, we experienced loadshedding, a first, since exiting South Africa. Unfortunately I hadn't realised the incorrect date, and my blog went "live" once the power was restored during the night. I also received the new blog notification and had to change the date causing a great confusion! I do apologise.