The Road to Nampula

 Posted by Elizabeth at 4:03 pm
May 312011
 

Driving to QuelimaneAfter leaving Gorongosa we again endured the bumpy dirt road out of the park to the main road, although they had started to grade some of it whilst we were in the park, so hopefully it will improve. We then spent the morning avoiding potholes and people. There are so many people sitting, lying, walking and riding bicycles on the road that there is rarely a section of road where there is no one around (which makes loo breaks a little challenging). To add to the driving challenge the road is full of potholes so you spend your time weaving around people and potholes, often driving on the wrong side of the road. (I knew that time on the Playstation would come in handy one day!) Thankfully there aren’t that many vehicles around and those that we have seen are mainly trucks and the minibus taxis. I think we saw one other traveller the whole time. At least we rarely have to dodge cows and goats anymore.

As you leave Caia, which is a very small, non descript village, you cross the river via this enormous bridge that looks so out of place in the middle of rural Mozambique. Wayne thinks it is the most modern thing in Mozambique. The toll is 100 Mtc ($3.20), but given the few cars around it will take forever to pay for it. If only they spent the money on the roads around it instead. As we were paying the toll there was a knock on the passenger window and there stood a guy in military uniform. I wound down the window and said “Hello, how are you?” and the answer was “hungry”. To which I replied “me too, I’m hoping we stop for some lunch very soon”. There was no reply from him and we continued on our way.

We stopped around lunchtime about 1km after the bridge at Cuacua Lodge. They have basic campsites, just a patch of dirt with heaps of shade and a bbq. The amenities though were spotless and the water very hot. You can also use the hotel pool, but it is a bit of a hike back to it. There were only ourselves and another couple camping, so it was very quiet.

From here we headed towards the coast. As expected, the days and nights areDriving to Quelimane getting warmer as we head north. It is hard to believe it is winter sitting here in shorts and short sleeve shirts, even at night time and not even needing to get in your sleeping bag at night.

The road from Caia to Quelimane was pretty good, although you still have to avoid all the people. Quelimane is a reasonably big, busy town. We tried to find a supermarket but didn’t have any luck, so instead we had to slowly pass the small buildings and peer inside to see what they sold seeing as our Portuguese is pretty non existent, although I am learning some words. I managed to find a bakery and with sign language and writing numbers on the counter managed to buy 4 bread rolls and a loaf of bread for 21 Mtc, a grand total of 68 cents! The only other thing we really needed was diesel which we found easily enough. I even managed to ask where the toilet was in Portuguese AND they were spotlessly clean!

We left Quelimane for Zalala Beach. The road out is a one lane “tar” road that passes through rural villages and coconut trees. It was a very scenic 45 minute drive, well for me at least, Wayne was too busy dodging potholes, people and bicycles. There is supposed to be 2 campsites there according to our GPS. We found the first location – hmmm pretty deserted although beautiful spot amongst pine trees on the beach. Neither of us felt quite safe enough camping there. We couldn’t find the other one, however some young boys followed us and showed us what looked like it used to be a restaurant and bar. We could camp there in a semi enclosed area with access to toilets (flushed with a scoop of water) and views to the beach. There was no water on tap for a shower, although they did bring us a huge tub of clean water which we used with our own hot shower so we were fine. The place itself was kept clean, but there were unfinished bits that with a reasonably small amount of money I am sure you could fix and have a really nice business. The afternoon was spent relaxing with an audience of 3 young boys (the ones who had shown us the place). Conversation was a little tricky, but we did manage to find out a little about them and they were only too keen to help us if we needed them. We ate reasonably early and ventured into our tent to read and have an early night as we had a long day ahead of us the next day. Not long after we got in the tent we could hear someone outside. One of the guys that worked there laid a reed mat down on the sand next to the low front wall, put some poles in the ground and hung a mosquito net. He was obviously our security for the night as that is where he slept.

The road to Zalala BeachZalala BeachZalala Beach

We had an early start this morning as we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. The road is actually pretty good wide tar the majority of the way, although there is a really bad section about 10km north of Mocuba until the junction that goes to either Gurue or Alto Molocue. This stretch took us about an hour Driving to Quelimaneand is mainly poor, corrugated and potholed dirt, with an occasional patch of severely potholed tar thrown in. There were still the inevitable people everywhere to be avoided and driving takes 100% concentration. We did some shopping along the way, buying a lovely large pineapple for 25 Mtc (80 cents) and 10 bananas for 10 Mtc (30 cents) all from the comfort of the passenger seat. We could have bought: gravel, chairs, doors, tomatoes, bamboo poles, moonshine, cassava, oranges, wooden beds, charcoal, sweet potatoes, live chickens, wood and that isn’t even including the hundreds of other things available when you pass through a village.

We are staying at Complexo Nairucu just outside of Nampula. So far it seems ok and there is one other couple staying here. They are from Holland and travelling for 3 months, although a few years ago they spent a year travelling in Africa.

Tomorrow we have a couple of hours drive and we should be on the coast which we will meander up for a while.

Gorongosa National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 8:43 pm
May 282011
 

Not 10 minutes after crossing the border we encountered our first police road block. We were asked for our TIP and drivers licence by one officer and the other officer pointed out that 200m up the road we had passed another vehicle on the “unsafe” bend. (We had passed a vehicle, which was doing all of 10 km/h, just after the bend where there were no road markings and you could see forever). Time to play the “I don’t understand” card. Wayne just kept saying he didn’t understand, and as usual, they could barely understand him and I just kept quiet instead of translating like I usually do. After them asking whether we spoke Portuguese or Shona (yeah right), they eventually gave in and with an unimpressed wave of the hand waved us on. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that was our first bribe attempt. All the other police road blocks we passed we were waved through.

We headed for the Gorongosa National Park, stopping off in Chomio to get some money and diesel (fuel is cheaper in Moz). Not long after crossing the border we knew we were in the “real” Africa when we could now buy whatever we liked from the side of the road, whether that be a new lounge, bed, mattress, furniture, fruit, wood, chickens, you name it! There were people walking on the road everywhere and things were dirty, not from garbage but from dirt. People were not quiet as friendly and most did not return our waves, but they did still stare at us.

The road to Gorongosa was reasonably good, although there were a large number of potholes that needed to be avoided. The last 40km or so into the park is dirt. The road has a lot of small holes in it and makes the going pretty slow, 25 km/h being about the maximum speed and even then it was very rough. We arrived at the gate to be warmly greeted by the guard. After some disjointed conversation we worked out we needed to take 2 pieces of paper with us to the camp site where we would pay our fees, although we weren’t entirely sure what those fees were as the guard seemed to be quite confused himself.

We arrived at Chitengo Camp and found out that there is a once off fee of 525 Mtc per person and 500 Mtc per vehicle, a total of about $50. It is then 310 Mtc per person to camp, so about $20 in total. The thing I don’t like is they then also charge you to drive your own vehicle on a game drive – 875 Mtc ($28) per day. Yes it is cheaper than their game drives, but when you have already paid a vehicle fee and you are coming to a National Park to see animals it is a bit rude.

The camp itself is pleasant enough with heaps of shade and basic amenities. There are no sites as such, just pitch wherever you like. Last night there was an overland group and a couple of other campers and tonight there is only us and another couple, so it is pretty quiet (although last night the staff seemed to want to play repetitive music around midnight).

The park itself is attractive, and there are animals here, although not in abundance. We did see some Oribis, which are new for us and a Bushbuck as well as loads of Waterbuck, Warthogs, Baboons and Impalas and birds. On our last drive, close to camp, we saw a herd of about 20 elephants cross the road in front of us. Although we were not particularly close to them, they were quite agitated and stressed. A number of them turned around to face us, flapping their ears and swaying and a couple trumpeted and charged us. They were really not happy at all. 20 odd years ago most of the elephants in Gorongosa were killed, but there are a few that still survive today and remember what happened – they do say elephants never forget. If today’s reaction was any indication, I would have to say I agree as we have never seen a whole group of elephants be so upset and uneasy.

Bushbuck, Gorongosa National ParkWarthog, Gorongosa National ParkBaboon, Gorongosa National Park

Another Day, Another Border

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:09 pm
May 272011
 

We left Vumba and headed the short distance to the Mozambique border, picking up Ken from Tony’s Coffee House and giving him a lift on the roof (as you do in Africa) to work.

The border was, as usual, chaos. There were heaps of semi trailers lined up both on the Zimbabwe and Mozambique side. Again we had no issues and took about an hour to do both sides. For those travelling, here are the details:

  • Enter the Zimbabwe gate where you get a gate pass.
  • Drive through utter chaos with vehicles coming at you and construction and people everywhere. (Just drive past all the trucks until you see some buildings).
  • Be directed by what I think was a tout to park.
  • Go to immigration and wait for the official to finish reading his newspaper article and get your passport and gate pass stamped.
  • Go to the next counter and hand over your Temporary Import Permit. No questions were asked, nothing was checked (too easy).
  • 5 mins later drive to the exit gate (chain across the road). One guy tells you to park, another guy asks what we have, to which we reply “camping gear” and he accepts our gate pass and allows us to leave.
  • Wait for the chain guy to lower the chain, then for the car behind you to move and leave Zimbabwe.
  • Enter the Mozambique gate where there are 2 police officers sitting at the side but too lazy to move. A tout will go and get your gate pass and tell you to park.
  • Get out of the car and get your gate pass off the tout and tell them you do not need their help and will organise insurance yourself. (They did follow us nearly the whole time we were there, but didn’t keep hassling us).
  • Go to Immigration where there will be no forms and you will have to ask to get one.
  • Fill in the form, line up and then be given the Visa form.
  • Fill in the Visa form. The Visas now cost $78 + $2 for the form (go figure?). A very large unexpected cost! The official was at least helpful and pleasant when we asked him for information such as the border names and address details for Gorongosa.
  • Line up again. Wait for the official to gather all the paperwork then disappear into another room to sort the visas.
  • 5 mins later be called into another room where they take your photo and left and right index fingerprints which are then printed on your visa. (No wonder the visas now cost so much!)
  • Go back to the counter and wait for him to fill in more paperwork and stamp your passport and gate pass.
  • Go to the next counter and pay $2 for a Temporary Import Permit. Read the sign that lists all the things you must have in order to get a TIP, none of which we were asked for (and I don’t think we had them all either), and be thankful.
  • Go outside and purchase Insurance for $23. We went to the first place as there was another westerner there who had done the crossing before and we were told the insurance is the same price everywhere anyway.
  • Drive to the exit gate and wait  5 mins before anyone shows up. In the meantime a semi trailer decides to drive past all the other semi trailers and completely blocks the road. Thankfully the official made him move.
  • Arrive in Mozambique where 10 money changers will wave Mozambique Meticas at you assuring you they have the best price. Keep driving and find an ATM.
  • Welcome to Mozambique.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:24 pm
May 262011
 

After making it through the Beitbridge border without too much trouble, we then faced the road to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo. We had already decided that we were not stopping for anything until we made the ruins, so 4 hours or so later, having had banana sandwiches made on the run, we arrived safely at the ruins. There were a couple of police road blocks, but they just asked for our Temporary Import Permit and where we were headed and waved us through. We turned off the main road and took a minor road for the last 30 or so kilometres. It was a single lane tar track with dirt either side, that looked like it had had one strip laid for each wheel and then filled in at the middle. The edges were crumbling away and it took some driving skill to stay on the track as it was only just wide enough for the Land Cruiser.

The Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsWe were warmly greeted and paid our $5 each to camp and $15 each for the ruins. The camp is just a grassed area with some ablutions that were probably built around 1930 and haven’t seen a lot Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe Ruinsdone to them since then. They did though have piping hot water and decent water pressure which is always a luxury. There is a security guard from 6pm to 6am.

8am this morning we paid $3 each for a guide, which is well worth the money. His name was James and he was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He took us around the ruins for about 2.5 hours and explained everything to us. They are pretty impressive, especially considering they were built around 1200AD and the walls have no mortar in them. Some walls have been restored, but the vast majority have not been touched.

     Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Mid morning we left the ruins via the scenic road over the dam, and headed for Mutare which is at the Mozambique border. The people were really friendly along the way and seemed generally pleased to see us as we passed them, a much nicer experience than when they put their hands out as you pass. The scenic drive is worth the effort as it passes over the dam through some scenic countryside and villages. The road is narrow and quite windy, but most of the way it is good tar. The last third is a dirt track, which is a bit rough, and you need to know which road to take as there are no signs. We passed numerous police road blocks, the vast majority of which we were waved through without stopping and those few that we were stopped at just wanted to know where we were headed.

Tony's Coffee House, VumbaOur original plan was to camp at the Mutare Municipal Camp, but on inspection neither of us felt we would be safe there. It is not fenced, very close to town and we would be the only ones there. Instead we headed for Vumba where we would find a cheap hotel. Vumba is a mountain village right next to Mutare. It is very scenic and a lot cooler than the city and I am sure it is a great weekend retreat. We stopped at Tony’s Coffee House as we had heard excellent things about it. It is a beautiful building in equally beautiful surroundings and was a bit of luxury Tony's Coffee House, Vumbafor us. They serve excellent coffee and about 100 different teas as well as scrumptious cake. Wayne had a Chocolate Whiskey Cake and I had a Macadamia Cheesecake. Everything was served as if we were the Queen of England on beautiful china, silver teapots and damask napkins, it was all very posh and quite a treat from our usual dining experiences! It is not cheap though, $35 for a coffee, tea (both of which are bottomless) and cake each (neither of us could quite finish our cake as the servings are very generous). The staff are really friendly and Tony came and had a chat to us for a while. All in all it was a lovely treat for us.

Whilst at Tony’s one of the staff, Ken, asked us if we needed somewhere to camp. He told us his wife worked at Ndunda Lodge, which had burnt down a couple of years ago, but about a week ago they had opened again for Ndundu Lodge, Vumbacamping. So of course we headed for Ndunda as camping is a much cheaper option than a motel. Mavis met us at the gate and showed us where we could camp. They are still in the process or sorting things out, but we had a nice grassed area sheltered from the road with large trees, a table and a bbq that we used to have a fire as it was quite cold at night. We were their first customers since they reopened, and so the first to use the amenities. They have repainted and put new fittings in, but there was no electricity so they left candles for us. They heated the water with a donkey, but unfortunately whilst the water was hot, only a minute trickle came out of the showerhead, so it was a bit tricky trying to shower! That said though, it is a fine place to stay if you need somewhere near the border and I am sure they will sort out the shower issue. Camping was $8 per person

To Zimbabwe via Beitbridge

 Posted by Elizabeth at 2:18 pm
May 252011
 

We had planned to visit the ruins of Thulamela in Kruger, but they were no longer running tours (but could not give an explanation as to why) and you cannot visit them on your own which was a bit disappointing. We left Kruger through the Pafuri gate after taking a leisurely game drive north to Crooks Corner which is where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique all meet. There were not a lot of animals to be seen along the way, although there was a large group of hippos at Crooks Corner and there was one section of road where as we turned the corner a whole heap of different animals appeared, including 2 elephants and a group of Nyalas that seemed to be walking in super slow motion – very odd.

Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National ParkHippos and crocs, Kruger National Park

Our plan was to head into Zimbabwe the next day so we needed to stock up on food, gas and diesel and Messina was the only place to do it. Ideally we would have liked to camp there as it was very close to the border, but we had to backtrack 40km to Tshipise as the only campground in town was no longer functioning and the police advised us we would be safer in Tshipise. The campground in Tshipise was grey nomad central. Apparently a lot of the older South Africans head here for a few months as it is warmer. They have some serious setups with annexes that are basically 3 annexes all joined together and are huge. There were satellite dishes, microwaves and TVs everywhere. It was quite amusing and I wonder what they thought of poor old us with just a 4wd and a roof tent! The campground did have free wi-fi though which was a bonus.

We had heard bad things about the Beitbridge border crossing and the road between there and Masvingo so it was with some apprehension we headed to the Zimbabwe border. (We had checked with the police in Messina, and they advised that the road was fine, but that we should not stop unless directed by a police officer as there have been reports of people pointing to your vehicle and indicating that you have a flat tyre or a fire. When you stop to investigate they rob you. They also said there have been incidents of people slashing tyres whilst you are stopped at traffic lights and if that happened to drive to a police station or a petrol station before changing it).

From entering the South African border gate to driving out the Zimbabwean gate it took about 2 hours, 90 minutes of that was at the Zimbabwean side. Whilst it was slow, we had no problems whatsoever and no one attempted to solicit bribes from us. Everyone was pleasant and gave us no grief. Yes you will get hassled on both sides by people wanting to “help” you through the border but they are not at all necessary. Just tell them to go away and they will eventually leave you alone. We asked at each counter where to go next and also asked a westerner who looked like they were pretty familiar with the whole process what to put on some of the forms and where to go. For others who might be travelling, the process is pretty much this:

  • Enter South African side and receive a gate pass (it was chaos central with people, cars and construction everywhere).
  • Park your car and go to the customs tent where if you are lucky someone will lift their head from the card game they are all playing and stamp your gate pass without uttering a word.
  • Go to the immigration tent, get your passport and gate pass stamped (make sure you hand your passport to them on the correct side of their computer monitor or you will be tutted at and have fingers drummed on the table at you).
  • Maximum 10 minutes later, get in your car and drive to the exit where you will be told that you need to drive through the inspection lane (even though it doesn’t say you have to).
  • Reverse the car 100m, drive through the inspection lane, be waved through by someone too lazy to get up from their seat and return to the exit gate and hand your stamped gate pass over.
  • Enter the Zimbabwean side and get a gate pass and be directed to park by a civilian who will try to get you to pay them to look after your car.
  • Pay a 70R ($10) bridge toll at the first counter. Make sure you keep the receipt and slip.
  • Line up at immigration and be given a form.
  • Fill in the form at the rear counter, therefore having to line up again.
  • Wait an eternity for the immigration officer to fill in the visa, the paperwork and the receipt in perfect handwriting. (We did interrupt him reading the newspaper after all).
  • Be taken to another counter to process the visa, but then that person was too busy, so go back to the first counter and the original officer completes the process and then needs to find you some change (total cost of the pleasure $US90).
  • A tout will hand you the form for your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and Customs. Take it but tell them you don’t need their help. (They will hang around but ignore them and eventually they will go away).
  • Fill in the forms, the TIP you need to write twice because of course there is no carbon paper. (Make sure you put on the TIP everything of value that you are taking in and out of Zimbabwe in case you are questioned on the way out). Do not declare anything on the customs form.
  • Wait at the Visitors counter (not the chaotic returning residents one). Here you will hand over the forms, your rego papers, letter of clearance from the hire company and pay a Road Access Fee 70R, Carbon Tax 200R, Insurance 200R.
  • Go outside the building, cross the road and enter the rear (ignore the front counter) of a derelict looking building where you hand all the paperwork to a police officer (who is reading the paper and is dressed in civilian clothes) who will stamp your gate pass. (We had no problem, but the guy in front of us was hassled about his copy of his rego papers not being certified – neither are ours and we handed them the ones that were expired anyway. The guy managed to talk his way out of it though).
  • Finally move your car and park it under cover in front of the buildings in the Green zone. Wait at the caged counter until the customs officer finally appears 10 minutes later. Give him the papers, smile nicely and hope he is not going to give you a hard time. (Again we had no issue at all and he stamped our gate pass, however others were asked to go back inside and pay duty on items. I am not sure whether it is because we are not South African and therefore unlikely to be bringing goods in or whether it was just our lucky day, but 2 people in front of us and the person after us were either searched or had to pay duty).
  • Thank your lucky stars and drive to the first gate 100m away where someone will take half of your gate pass.
  • Drive another 50m and someone else will take the rest of your gate pass (goodness knows why).
  • Breathe a big sigh of relief, know your wallet is somewhat lighter, although not through bribes, and that you have spent a “pleasant” 90 minutes in the chaos that is Beitbridge.
  • Welcome to Zimbabwe!
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