The children are grown up, and they live scattered around the world, but they do like getting together for family trips. My daughter, wanted to dive with whale sharks; the chosen destination was the Tofo Bay area in Mozambique.
Plans were put together. ‘Us girls will fly to Vilanculos, the boys can drive, and pick us up.’ Were her words. Driving would be over 1000km from home. Yes, the boys could drive, her dad and brothers would meet in Durban.
My older son wasn’t able to get to Durban in time, so he decided that he’d hire a car in Johannesburg and drive through on his own. Us girls didn’t think that fair, so we decided that we’d only fly to Johannesburg, and join him there. That almost went to plan. A car had been booked, with instructions that it needed all the papers and extras for Mozambique. Instructions hadn’t been followed, and the only car available with the necessary documentation was a mini bus. The car hire company, after rousting out their management, came to the party, and ensured that we would have a car waiting for us at the Kruger Mpumalanga Airport at Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). As it was now much later than planned to go through the border post, and not knowing anything about Mozambique, we decided to spend the night on the South African side, and cross into Mozambique in the morning.
We booked into a delightful little cottage in Marloth Park, which is about 30 minutes from the border. We had bush babies come investigate who we were, and in the morning, we had impala munching our lawn. The whole area is so well geared tourism; everything runs smoothly, and there is so much to see. We were on the road at 6.15am, to be at the border post at 7.00am when it opened.
The border crossing at Garcia de Ressanes near Komatipoort is exactly the reason why I will never recommend anyone driving through to Mozambique through that border post. Avoid it, unless you have someone with you who is an old hand at it, or you have lots of patience, or you want to throw your money at rogues. Fly to Vilanculos, if you’re headed to Tofo and Guinjata Bay from Johannesburg. Hire a car there, don’t put yourself through the stress of crossing the border at Garcia de Ressanes.
This was my post on Face Book about the border crossing: “Mozambique Travel Warning:
Mozambique is a great country and is a wonderful holiday destination, but their Lebombo / Garcia de Ressanes border post near Komatipoort is going to hurt Mozambique and Mpumalanga Tourism badly if not gotten under some form of control.
My recommendation: if you don’t absolutely have to use that border post: don’t.
It was everything bad one has ever heard about Mozambique. The South African side is fast and friendly. There is a huge presence of South African Police there, who are all relaxed and helpful. Then you cross over to Mozambique, and you’re immediately accosted by what seems a real border control officer, wearing an ID card with a photo. He is a lying, fraudulent impostor.
We were accosted by Roy. May he be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels, and not be able to scratch himself. He orders: come this way, do this, do that. I need R100 for this permit, R100 for that permit. Money flies out like a groupier’s cards. There may be no visa costs: you just pay to the bandits. R800 was the final tally.
Not knowing the drill, and not wanting to attract the ire of border control if he was genuine, we complied. More money flew out. Being had by a conman is one thing, that I will take responsibility for, but that the border control officers allow this, are complicit (they were happily accepting passed on R100 notes), and do nothing to stop it, is not going to do Mozambique any good. This does not happen at the southern border post, therefore it is mismanagement of the Garcia de Ressanes officers.
Mozambique: do something please, your police are great, why is your border so lousy?The toll road has been built and is managed by Trans African Concession. It is a lovely road, and I imagine that they make good money from it. Why do they not do anything to curb the sheer criminality that goes on? Or is the tourism traffic negligible to them, after all, the huge trucks that move between Mpumalanga and Maputo makes them lots of money. Sadly, Mpumalanga tourism will also suffer if people do not take this route. Coming and going, we spent the night at Komatipoort accommodation establishments. We had lovely dinners, breakfasts, bought petrol, snacks etc. A good few thousand rands were spent in the Komatipoort area. Sadly, Komatipoort, you won’t benefit from me crossing that border post again, at least not until the conmen at the border are stopped and removed. I recommend flying to your destination from Johannesburg. I reiterate: Mozambique is wonderful, just avoid the above mentioned areas.”
Having made it through the border control with less money in our wallets, as I had handed out R100 notes in the same fashion that a casino groupier hands out cards in a game, we drove on towards Maputo.
Mrs Google Maps said that the road through the town of Moamba, was the best route. My printed map clearly indicated that the road was awful. A mini argument ensued, “Mom your map was printed a few years ago, the road will have been fixed by now.” I decided to shush and to enjoy the site seeing. The road to Moamba was everything my map had indicated; in places it was little more than a strip road, but the kids were adamant that it would get better. We arrived in Moamba, a little town that must have been delightful in its day. I bet not many people can proudly list Moamba as a ‘been to’ destination, as we can; but it isn’t on the ‘should visit again’ list, and I doubt we’ll go through there again. We brought Mozambican SIM cards for our phones from very helpful street vendors, and then discovered that the road on the other side of town sort of peters out. A 4 x 4 and lots of time is what that road needs. We back tracked to the main road, politely pulling off in to the bush to allow oncoming cars to pass us. The country side in that area is pretty humdrum, but what made it special, was the lack of litter, and that people walking along the road, stopped to pick up litter if they saw any.
Mozambique’s history is a checkered one. The nomadic indigenous people were displaced by the migration of tribes from the north west of Africa, when they moved south east. Arab traders have been calling on the area for over 1500 years. They created the ancient port of Sofala, which together with Ilha de Mocambique was invaded by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, after having been sighted by Vasco Da Gama and his fleet on a sail past on Christmas Day in 1497, and naming it Natal (Yes, another one). He anchored at Inhambane in early 1498, and is regarded as the ‘discoverer’ of Mozambique – of course, the inhabitants’ ‘discovery’ of their homeland centuries earlier, wasn’t regarded as important to the Portuguese.
The Dutch tried, but failed to overthrow the Portuguese in 1607 and again in 1608. They gave up and went to the Cape of Good Hope instead, ultimately giving birth to the Afrikaaner Nation and South Africa. Which just goes to show, that when assorted people want to blame South Africa’s woes on the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape in 1652, it just isn’t justified – it was all the fault of the Portuguese chasing the Dutch southwards. Many Portuguese married Africans, and this gave rise to the so called Muzungos of ‘prazos’, which were leased crown lands. These Afro Portuguese areas and villages, with their own warlords, were a law onto themselves, and were a major problem to Portugal. Eventually, agreements were made, that if the prazo holder took care of their area, land claims would be recognized by the government. Vast tracts of land became privately owned through this initiative. Prazo concessions were often given to female orphans and widows, in an attempt to increase the number of European women in the territory. Portugal increased autonomy to Mozambique from the 1920s. The military coup in Portugal in 1926, and the changes there, caused Mozambique to become a province of Portugal in 1933.The road to an independent Mozambique started after WWll, with the rise of African nationalism. In turn, MANU and Frelimo, both liberation parties, fought for independence, and eventually, in 1975, independence was gained. Samora Machel was the first president. His widow, Graca Machel, eventually married Nelson Mandela.
Many name changes were made, and Lourenco Marques, the capital, named for a Portuguese trader in 1544, became Maputo, which is where we now were.The outskirts and ring road of Maputo was busy. There were lots of huge trucks on their way to off load South African goods at the harbour, bakkies (pick-ups) and ordinary cars, bicycles and pedestrians were everywhere. All driving politely, and adhering to the speed limit. The traffic laws in Mozambique are strict.
We’ve all heard horror stories of people having run ins with the police, and every time we were stopped by police, we expected trouble. We only had polite, efficient staff to deal with. No asking for bribes were tried by them either. The trick to having a pleasant drive through Mozambique: stick to the speed limits, and make sure that you have what you need to comply with the laws, like reflector vests. Hang them over the seats so that they are visible when you are stopped, and you will have no problems.
Later when we got to Guinjata, and shared our travel stories, John told us of how he had been caught exceeding the speed limit. The police had told him the fine was 1500. As John had done his homework, and had spoken to friends who had driven through Mozambique, he was well prepared, and only had R400.00 in his wallet. He told the officers this, and showed them his wallet. After a lot of discussion, with John pleading that they should take what he had, they took it somewhat reluctantly. As they drove away, John turned to my younger to ask what he had wanted to say at the police check. “Dad – it was 1500 Meticals that they wanted, not rands. You gave much much more than you should have.” John was not impressed that we thought his generosity was very funny. The road is good, but it is a long drive up the coast. Again, if you are limited for time, rather fly.
Everyone (mostly) adheres to the speed limit, and the scenery is pleasant. Along the road, there are stalls which sell cashew nuts, peri peri sauce, coconuts and crafts. Toilets at petrol stations are clean and well looked after. The road is mostly away from the immediate coast, and the only clue one has of getting near the sea, is that the red sand on the side of the road changes to white sand. The glimpses of the sea are those of travel brochures: turquoise and gorgeous.
At Xai Xai (pronounced Shy Shy: – X in Portuguese is pronounced ‘sh’), we crossed the grey, greasy Limpopo, Dearly Beloved. There were no elephant children getting their trunks from crocodiles in sight, only a lone fisherman in a boat. It was quite idyllic.
The hours and miles kept on piling up. Coconut palms, mango trees laden with fruit, cashew trees, the odd hare, and red villages were what we saw. Vodacom is very well represented in Mozambique. Airtime and data are much cheaper than what they are in South Africa, so everyone can afford a cell phone. Vodacom’s advertising agents have literally painted the villages red, and the walls all advertise either Vodacom or the local beer.
Eventually, we got to our turn off to Guinjata bay. The road is loose sand, and without a 4×4 vehicle, you may get bogged down. Guinjata Bay is lovely. There are a fair number of holiday homes, a few restaurants, a well-stocked little supermarket, and of course – dive centers. The house we had booked: Sentimos Dos Mar, was about half a kilometer from the Guinjata Dive Centre, which we had chosen to take care of all our diving. Sentimos Dos Mar, is an extremely well-equipped self-catering holiday home. It can comfortably sleep 10 guests, and has a large lounge, dining room and open plan kitchen. The staff are delightful, and ever so helpful. For more info, see their Face Book page.
The beach was wide and white. Vehicles were allowed to drive on the beach in certain demarcated areas, which made getting to the restaurants at night very easy. A turtle had laid her eggs on the beach in front of a restaurant, and the area had been fenced off to protect the eggs.
Local fishermen would bring you their catch to buy, and would happily agree to meet you at the house to complete the sale. Crafters would ask you to buy their art and capulanas, as sarongs are called there, but they would never harass you.
Diving was an everyday affair for the others. I dived once; it was the first time in about 10 years, and I was so nervous. I had to smile – not so long ago, I held the kids’ hands in all sorts of situations. Now they held mine, and nodded when I told them not to let me out of their sight underwater.
Theft just doesn’t happen up at Guinjata, our house did not have keys. Anything could be left outside. The staff of the various houses helped each other, and everybody was so polite and pleasant.
A day trip to Inhambane was organised. The ancient town must have been beautiful in its day. Today, it is still pretty, just a bit tired looking. It is clean; the buildings of beautiful architecture are mostly well taken care of, and are newly painted. The harbour area is a pleasure to walk along; I imagined the colonials of yesteryear strolling along at sunset, on their way to the club for a gin and tonic or two. We had coffee in a lovely little café, and then we decided to find the museum. I’m a museum groupie – I have to see them all. This museum, when we eventually found it, was rather sad. An enthusiastic official showed us around the various displays, proudly showing us ancient diagrams of what Inhambane had been like in its heyday.
We then took a drive to Tofo, which is really geared up for tourism. Restaurants, souvenir and craft stalls are everywhere, as are dive operators and deep-sea fishing charter boats. Sadly, sea shells were also on sale; tourists need to be educated that buying these deep-sea beauties, keeps the trade alive. Buying shells is the marine equivalent of rhino poaching. It’s like the plastic straw story: just say ‘no’.
Tofo has a giant turtle; a wire frame filled with a few thousand plastic bottles; this effigy reminds everyone of reducing, re-using and recycling their plastic. It seems to work, as the town is clean. Hopefully the Mozambique government implements a ‘no shells to be brought or traded law’ one of these days. Conservation efforts along the coast are visible, one was only allowed to drive / launch boats on demarcated beach areas, everyone was picking up rubbish on the beach, restaurants displayed “NO straws available here” signs, but unseen, there are horror stories of what is happening to Mozambique’s natural resources. Forests are being felled and shark fishing is rife. It is actually shark torture and murder. The sharks, including the gentle giants, whale sharks, are caught, their fins are hacked off, and the animal is then thrown overboard, alive, only to die a slow and agonizing death.
I saw first hand why so many marine animals eat plastic. At the high-water mark, were thousands of tiny little balls, which looked exactly as if they were made of plastic.
I picked them up, and squished some between my fingers. They crumbled; OK, I thought, so they weren’t plastic, what were they? I inquired from local divers as to what they were. They were all clueless. I then asked a marine biologist friend, who was delighted that I had asked, and asked that I bring him some of the little balls. Those tiny little balls were an organism called pteropods, which are eaten by other marine life. As pteropods look just like plastic, and some plastic looks just like pteropods, it is no wonder that marine life eats plastic.
Guinjata’s crafters are talented. On a walk, I discovered a shop with walls made of odd pieces of wood and branches,
which was scant security for the beautiful items inside the shop. Carvings and woven items were displayed for tourists to fall in love with, buy and take home with them. A bit further down the sand road, was a ‘bakery’, not a real bakery, but the lady who lived there, made a living from baking bread and selling it. All one had to do was order what you wanted a few hours in advance, and you had the most delicious bread for your lunch.
I didn’t have time to do much of bird watching; I saw the common, ‘already ticked’ birds, but as there is a number of different habitats in the area, there are probably some interesting species around.Much of the area around Guinjata is cultivated. Cashew trees are everywhere, as are coconut palms and mango trees. Vegetables are cultivated with extreme patience in the sandy soil. The spinach like leaves of the cassava plant are crushed and cooked as a vegetable, and served in a variety of ways.
My favorite is the Matapa soup made with cassava leaves, coconut milk and spices, it is delicious. Cassava, being a tuberous root, does quite well in the sandy soil, and it has become a staple food; it is prepared in a number of ways, including frying and roasting. Mozambique, is of course famous for its seafood. Lobster, prawns, crabs and many species of fish end up as gourmet meals. Local restaurants prepare these to perfection.
Another of Mozambique’s famous culinary items is Peri Peri or Chilli Sauce. It can be super-hot, so do be careful, and test a little bit before happily pouring it over your prawns. Mozambique has a number of locally produced drinks, ranging from non-alcoholic baobab juice, to potent rums. The country produces several varieties of beer. An order of ‘Doshem’ refers to two bottles the popular brand called 2M. Cashew nuts are distilled into a brandy by the name of Ekhaja. A must drink / have to drink Mozambican specialty for holiday makers is an R&R, ‘rum and raspberry’. This local concoction is best made from the local Tipo Tinto Rum, and Sparletta Sparberry. Be warned, the mix is potent, and may lead to unusual behavior.
Our week of diving, Mozambican food, and chilling came to an end, and we got up early to do the long drive back, and run the border post gauntlet again. The trip southwards was fine; we used our last Meticals on cashew nuts at roadside stalls, and all went well, until half a kilometer from the border post. Talking too much, my son didn’t concentrate, and we were pulled over for speeding, not badly, but we had exceeded the speed limit. We were guilty as charged, and needed to pay the fine, but we were Metical-less, having bought cashews and crafts on the road side to get rid of the Mozambique currency, as it is difficult to change it in South Africa.
Remembering how John had paid too much because he thought he was being charged in Rands, my son did some very careful negotiating, and converting from Meticals to Rands; he was not about to be ripped off. It was the same kind of story: ‘I don’t have Rands on me, but I do have some Euros’. The police weren’t sure about accepting Euros, and they discussed it amongst themselves.
One eventually declared that it was ‘ mucho grande pesos’, and they accepted the proffered Euros, and waved us on our way. A lousy conversion of Euros to Meticals had been done – he had paid about twice of what the fine was. Yes, overpaying speeding fines runs in the family.
The border was ok going out – we now knew when to say ‘No’. A lodge on the banks of the Crocodile River, looking into the Kruger Park, was where we spent night, and a fair bit of money. My next trip to Mpumalanga will not be because I’m driving through to Mozambique – my next trip to Mozambique will be by plane, or through the southern border post in Kwa Zulu Natal.