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August 18, 2013 / samwilson60

Lake to mountains to sea

After getting Chris onto his return flight, we were keen to move on but couldn’t decide where to. Ultimately we had to head south and into Mozambique but there were just too many routes to choose from. To stay in Malawi would mean backtracking a bit but also getting to see the very south; to head straight for Mozambique would mean revisiting the Zambezi and the Chimanimani mountains. Once we’d factored in the price of fuel, Mozambique won out and after a little souvenir shopping of our own, we bid sleepy Lilongwe goodbye and headed for the closest border we could find.

The whole day was as easy as they get, which is miraculous really. Everyone we’d spoken to had suggested the Mozambique border officials would be a handful at best and uncooperative to the end. In reality they were a dream. Not overly chatty but incredibly efficient. There wasn’t so much as a raised eyebrow when we said we had no visas and – even with a fully biometric system – we were processed and on our way in no time flat. Scans, photos, fingerprints, bosh. The police outside even helped us change money, with freelance money changers who themselves didn’t even think about screwing us over. It really does seem that the best borders are those from which you expect the worst, but even so we couldn’t believe our luck. Hundreds of kilometres had whizzed by, we were in Mozambique and by mid-afternoon at the latest we should be camped by the Zambese again. There had to be a catch and we thought we’d found it when we hit the worst potholes since Guinea but the real punch was the riverside campsite in Tete. The Zambezi was as beautiful as ever and the campsite right on the bank. It could have been idyllic but instead was a dump. Our view was obscured by razor wire and rubbish, the site was as neglected as they come and nonetheless we felt as though we were intruding on someone’s private space. We eventually tried to say something when half a dozen local children started playing in the rubbish and invading our space but the manager just looked blank. This was a church-run campsite, was the only explanation we got for any issue we raised. Some tough negotiations got the price down a little but it was still a rip off and a let-down that soured an otherwise excellent day and our first night in a new country.

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Thankfully, Tete itself was nicer than expected. The following morning we toured around town, adjusting to our new surroundings. It was obvious we were in a different country and one that felt quite unlike any other we’d visited. We had a fun first full day in Mozambique, in fact, and the campsite we found for our second night more than made up for the first. This time we were on the banks of a lake, at a fishing lodge run – like so many – by a South African couple. It was beautiful, and only more so in the morning mist.

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There were plenty of tracks to explore and get lost along, with lots of fish eagles calling to each other as we went. We had a whole fish for two that night (marking the moment Cat ran out of tobacco for the last time), then headed off the next morning to explore the Chimanimani mountains and possibly try to sneak back into Zim. The drive along the lake and up into the mountains was awesome but it went on much further than expected, right onto the top of the ridge that marks the border.

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If it hadn’t been for slight landmine concerns this would have been the perfect place to camp and improvise a hike or two, but as it was we stayed in the car, got as close to the Zimbabwean border as we dared, then turned back to camp at lake level again. This second lake camp was a small local initiative on the eastern shore that couldn’t have been much further removed from the fishing lodge of the previous night, but it was at least as nice in its own right. Once we’d overcome the language barriers (apparently our pronunciation of “Campismo” still needed some work), we were really pleased to be in more “local” surrounds and the morning mist was even more magical than before. We really felt we’d found a hidden gem at Lake Chicamba and were a little sad to leave.

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From here we’d intended to drive the back roads south, sticking as close as we could to the Zimbabwean border. This was partly to explore the mountains and partly to avoid some security issues along a particular stretch of the main coast road. By night two on the lake, however, we’d discovered the back roads were longer and harder than expected, with the possibility of an impassable river a few days’ in. It had the potential to be the drive of the trip but could also go horribly wrong, especially as we’d be tackling it alone, so with heavy hearts we agreed to take the main road, where there was a compulsory military convoy along the most sensitive stretch. We consoled ourselves by also agreeing the convoy could wait another day and headed to a campsite we’d heard about on the outskirts of Gorongosa.

This place was run by another South African family, who were apparently at odds with the local tourist board. As a result they had no licence to charge for camping and operated on a donations basis. It was a bit weird to be on the edge of a national park we didn’t have the time or money to enter (especially as this one seemed to be on the up and up), but we had a great night nonetheless. It was the perfect place to get straight, the birds (including owls and woodpeckers) made us feel as though we were deep in the bush and the resident dogs provided round the clock entertainment in exchange for a spot by the fire.

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The next day, or “convoy day” as we know it, was surprisingly easy and confirmed our initial impression that driving around Mozambique was nowhere near as bad as we’d been led to believe. There were next to no checkpoints and those there were made no attempt to stop us. Even the convoy went smoothly – we arrived about an hour ahead of schedule but it left half an hour early itself so you could say we timed it perfectly. We’re still a little sceptical about the security benefits but we lived to tell the tale so no complaints really 🙂

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Once free of the convoy we drove another 100km down the coast to find a campsite by the beach around Vilanculos. Unlike the rest of the day, this was frustrating. The town can only be described as odd, so we drove a long way through very soft sand to try to find somewhere out of the way to stay. We ran a sandy gauntlet of begging children and decaying properties only to find our campsite was closed. We made it clear we’d pay to stay anyway but the guardian was having none of it, so we turned back through the sand and children to the hippy backpackers in town. It wasn’t entirely to our tastes but once we’d rested up and chilled out we warmed to the barman and were less put out by everyone else, to the point that we decided to stay the following day. Still buzzing from our adventure on Lake Malawi, we couldn’t resist some real sea kayaking. What better way to explore the surrounding islands of the Bazaruto Archepelago, we thought, and for the first hour or so continued to think.

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The shallow waters were calm and crystal clear but once they got deeper and choppier we remembered how little training we’d had. When we saw we were the furthest out of all the vessels we could see, we aborted the coral reef plan and settled for some bay hopping around the mainland. It was fun but we were both a little frustrated, as much with our amateur technique as with our inferior kayak (actually it was quite a good one but we had to blame something other than ourselves!). When we got back to camp we spent an hour or so reading up on paddling skills and vowing to get lots more practice in before the trip was done – but only if we could each have our own kayak.

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. The Rider / Aug 18 2013 2:11 pm

    Beautiful post! It is so sad to see Africa’s beauty so tainted by rubbish!

  2. Peter Cullen / Aug 19 2013 7:47 am

    Great to hear from you again. Great post and some great images.

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