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Taking in Mozambique, Part 2





24 January 2017


Mozambique travel expert Mike Slater clearly loves Moz – he’s a bit of a regular there. So when more and more reports of corrupt police and brewing trouble in that country reached his inbox, he decided to go and have a look for himself. In the last report he travelled to Inhassoro. Here he continues his journey to the Maputo Elephant Reserve.

Sometimes Google can be your worst enemy when you’re in a far-off unfamiliar place and trying to decide where to lay your weary head. This time I hit the equivalent of a cyber-bull’s-eye when I rolled up in the Nissan Patrol at Dugong Lodge, just a few minutes from the middle of Inhassoro. With temperatures high enough to melt granite (and humidity to match), finding green grass, shade, a sea-breeze and a swimming pool large enough to wet two opposing rugby teams, is almost too good to be true.

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Caron and Martin, who have run Dugong Lodge for over a decade, provided exactly the calm, cheerful and quietly competent ambience that is so reassuring when you’re visiting a place for the first time. I went straight to the beach which I rate as being one of the cleanest and safest in all of Mozambique. The tide was far out so I strolled along the hard sand watching kids playing soccer and dhows bobbing along the blue horizon. By the time I returned to Dugong Lodge, it was time for sundowners and a delicious dinner of piri-piri chicken and fresh salad. Sasol is investing hugely in this part of Mozambique and other guests were involved in this so we chatted late into the night before I wandered off to take a first look inside my spacious chalet.

These are real ‘just bring toothbrush and swimming cozzie’ facilities. There was even a multi-plug catering for appliances from the four corners of the world. I decided not to use the air-conditioner as the ceiling-fan did the job perfectly and I like to sleep with doors and windows wide open. After a jog at dawn the next morning, all along the sleepy beach, a quick dip in the pool and a nourishing and delicious breakfast, I reluctantly pointed the bow of the Patrol south. I drove along the excellent EN 1 with a short detour to Vilanculos to say hello to old friends Sabrina and Denis who own and run Casa Babi guest house and Odyssea Dive. So far the notorious ‘transitos’ traffic police appeared to have been given advanced warning not to mess with a grey-beard driving a Nissan Patrol in no hurry and plenty of time to chat. I even started waving at the officers, but they insisted on ignoring me. So sorry, but no gripping tales of corruption and harassment from me.

My refuge for the night was probably the oldest and nicest family-focused beach lodge in all of Mozambique. Then known as Nelson’s Bay, Morrungulo Beach Lodge was started by Dave Nelson in the 1960s. Since Dave’s death six years ago, it has been owned and run by his son James and daughter-in-law Barbara. Set in a vast coconut grove spilling directly onto the beach, it is the only resort I know of in Mozambique where the campsite and chalets run straight onto the beach without the need to scramble up or down any dunes. I had supper with the family, got lost in the bush walking back to my chalet in the dark, and awoke to an unusually high tide pushing foam right up to my front door. The sea was warm, the breeze cool and my self-catering accommodation clean, airy and built to sleep six. I walked up to the newly built restaurant that opens only during the Easter and Christmas peak seasons, where there’s a bar, games room and large swimming pool. But for me it was the amazing view that was the real attraction. Fortunately, I had just 200km to cover the next day and so I pulled in for lunch at Quinta de Santo Antonio at Lindela and enjoyed excellent fish and chips with owners Vic and Adelaine. I then headed to Casa do Mar via a coastal track that involves negotiating some steep, sandy dunes where tyre pressure of one bar and low-range gearing are essential.

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Owned and run by Durban couple Des and Mary, Casa do Mar’s setting on high dunes above a deserted beach with calm swimming and snorkelling due to an inshore reef, huge, cool houses (too big to be called chalets) and helpful staff set this place apart. Bring enough supplies for a couple of weeks as you will not want to leave. I continued south, passing Marracuene before finding a brand-new interchange with signs pointing to Ressano Garcia. I gratefully turned onto the new ring road that bypasses the Maputo congestion and chaos. What a change this Chinese-built highway has made. Previously we had to either brave the Maputo mess or take one of the sand and gravel roads that follow the Incomati River and then rejoin the tarred road 90km north of Maputo.

Marracuene to Matola was previously over two hours of bumper-to-bumper driving; this time it took just 45 minutes. My destination was Kathembe (previously Catembe) village on the south side of the bay from Maputo, but as I had been warned that the ferry queues could be five hours long, I opted for a little-known detour via Boane and some recently rebuilt bridges. This area is evidently controlled by the military as I received some surprised stares from soldiers guarding the bridges and witnessed a few popping up from behind bushes when I took pictures of the stunning Maputo skyline from a distance. Once the impressive 3km, 142m-high suspension bridge (the longest in Africa) is complete at the end of 2017, sleepy KaThembe will probably be overrun with developers and it is this that the Catembe Gallery Hotel is counting on for future prosperity.

The hotel is currently on a rutted, dusty, dirty side road, but the new tarred road was just a few hundred metres away when I parked the Patrol at the back, and went into the reception. During colonial times this place was called the Pousada Marisol and it was famous for its massive prawns prepared by chefs from Goa, a state in south-west India, who settled in the area during the 1800s. My spacious and spotless room was just up the ornate stairwell from the reception so it was convenient to be able to shout down to the manager when I ran out of toilet paper or needed advice on how to operate the DStv remote. The view to Maputo across the bay from any of KaThembe’s rooms, the Marisol restaurant, the pool and the jetty bar is absolutely breathtaking, and so after a luxurious bath, I sat on my balcony sipping a Dois M beer, enjoying the sea breeze and the lights from the city.

Up before the sun, I wandered a few kilometres to the ferry dock and it was fascinating to see Kathembe slowly waking up with the massive bridge supports as an incongruous backdrop. A friendly fellow called Fernando latched on to me and once I had decided he was legit, he showed me around the hidden eating, drinking and partying spots. From this side at least, there was only a short queue for the ferry, but I couldn’t see what was happening on the Maputo side.

Back at the Gallery Hotel I enjoyed a delicious breakfast before encountering one of the most surprising sights I’ve seen during two decades of travelling in Mozambique. When last I drove from Ponta do Ouro to Maputo, it took over three hours on a sandy 4×4-only twee-spoor track. Just outside KaThembe, the rough road turned sharply and suddenly I was on a wide, brand-new highway. Apparently the speed limit is 60km/h, but I sped up to 100km/h once just so that I could tell the folks back home. It took me less than an hour to get to the north gate of the Maputo Elephant Reserve and then another two hours to Anvil Bay Resort at Ponta Chemucane during which I reduced tyre pressure to 1.5 bar to allow easier driving on the very thick and loose sandy tracks.

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The route crosses several dense dune forests where there are hidden tyre-tearing stumps. One of these punctured the left front sidewall and by the time I noticed, the rubber was so hot that the tyre had become deformed. While I was busy changing wheels, an anti-poaching unit under the command of a Che Guevara lookalike, called Zé, spirited themselves from the trees to see what I was up to and with their help, I was back mobile in minutes. As directed, I followed the main track to Santa Maria and Machangulo which sometimes runs under the power lines, ignoring the signposted turn-offs to Ponta Milibangalala and Ponta Membene, and taking the right fork after the control gate. The reserve is extremely dry at present and the lakes that can sometimes cover the tracks, had shrunk to smalls pools where a small herd of elephant had congregated. I stopped for photos, but even with a huge zoom, they looked like mere smears on the horizon.

Unless you are expected at Anvil Bay, you will find the sturdy chain across the trail on the edge of the concession firmly padlocked, but it was comforting to see it lying in the sand so I carried on winding between dunes and lakes to the lodge. Jane and Mark, the management couple at Anvil Bay, led me straight to the beach where we had a very tasty light lunch under canvas. An unusually wild Indian Ocean formed a dramatic backdrop while they told me about the origins of the lodge and the vision of the joint venture formed between the Chemucane community and the Bell Foundation. I took a walk across the deserted, curving beach to the edge of the breakers to properly absorb the high dunes with their dense forest and the exposed reefs with the anvil-shaped formation that gave this place its name.

In the property ‘game’ they say location is the first, second and third most important consideration, and I was standing alone in a place that ticked all three. After 10 days and 2 000km of roads ranging from rough, corrugated gravel and deep sandy tracks to broken potholed tarmac and wide, new highways; both and my trusty wheels, the formidable Nissan Patrol, and I had earned a rest. I enjoyed a very peaceful siesta in my casinha, which is more like a presidential suite under canvas. Travelling to Mozambique and not eating prawns is like visiting Switzerland and not trying the cheeses. Almost as an answer to a prayer, supper was prawns from the nearby mangrove estuary and I think that my cholesterol count went way over the red line. Around a beach fire we swapped tales from special spots all over this incredible continent, and later, while cooling off and rinsing the sand from my feet under my open-air shower, I realised how few genuinely remote and untouched places there are left.

On the final day of this pilgrimage to reconnect to some of the best places in my favourite country, I got off to an early start and as the new tarmac has almost reached South Africa, I got to the Ponta do Ouro/Kosi Bay border almost too quickly and easily. My first stop in South Africa was at Kosi Bay Lodge which had been recommended by many friends and acquaintances. Karen showed me around the extensive well-treed grounds and what really impresses is that there is enough space between chalets for privacy and solitude. Via a gate in the boundary fence, there is also direct access to one of the lakes that makes this area so famous. Via Jozini, Piet Retief and the N17, the roadworks have been completed and there are no more frustrating stop-and-go controls that used to add on a couple of boring hours to a trip.

I arrived home tired but also very content that this rushed trip had so successfully proven that Mozambique is still a great destination for tourists.

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Patrol – one tough act
Nissan’s Patrol has been around for some time now. A few decades, actually, if you don’t count a few cosmetic, specification and drivetrain upgrades over the years. And therin lies much of its attraction, if you are into overlanding. It’s an old-school 4×4 that makes do without a plethora of computers that control every other parameter of the vehicle’s dynamics.

When you traverse Africa, old-school is good school. If you drive a fancy 4×4 with electronic this and that, and something goes awry, a flatbed truck dispatched from South Africa will be the only remedy. And your trip will be done and dusted. A Patrol, on the other hand, is one tough customer. With its ladder-frame chassis and well-proven 4×4 drivetrain, the Patrol will take some off-road shots in its stride. It is powered by a three-litre turbodiesel four pot engine, which produces 110kW of power and 371Nm of torque at 2 000r/min. Sure, these numbers seem underwhelming when compared to other modern turbodiesel SUVs and 4x4s, but that’s because this mill, coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox, is tuned for workhorse duty instead of traffic light racer and school parking-lot poser.

So no, it won’t blow your hair back when you floor the accelerator, but it has a feeling of indestructibility about it – just the ticket for a cross-continent trip. In its latest guise, Nissan added some luxury amenities to the 3.0Tdi model (the only model on sale these days as the petrol 4.8GRX model has been discontinued), so you now get leather trim and an infotainment system in the cabin. The five-seater also gets steel rims (ideal for overlanding) and two fuel tanks with a total capacity of 135 litres. The Nissan Patrol 3.0Tdi sells for R681 900. This includes a three-year/90 000km service plan, as well as a telling six-year/150 000km warranty.

On the other side of the Moz coin
This article may create the impression that all is sunshine and roses in Mozambique – and on Mike’s excursion that may have been so. However, we’re afraid the overall situation is a bit different. Beside our personal experiences there (being hijacked and so many bribery and corruption situations we’ve lost count), we regularly hear tales of tourists literally being held to ransom until monies are handed over. The most recent incident happened in October, when one of our sales staffers crossed into Moz at the Komatipoort post for a short holiday.

On the Mozambique side, the border post was virtually deserted, and while our man was busy getting his paperwork sorted, a policeman walked up, casually grabbed the two men’s passports from the official working with them, and without saying a word, walked out of the building. He then deposited the passports into a car where another policeman was stationed. Several hours later, and after much discussion and with their wallets relieved of wads of cash, the men could finally continue their journey. No, we don’t want to be prophets of doom. But you also need to be aware of the pitfalls when travelling, especially in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Better prepared for it than not. – Ed.

Where to stay
Dugong Lodge Inhassoro
http://dugongmozambique.com; Tel: +258 84 389 1471 or +258 82 456-7170;
email: info@dugongmoz.com

Morrungulo Beach Lodge
morrungulo.com; Tel: +258 293 70101 or  +258 842 467 533; email: morrungulo.resort@gmail.com

Casa do Mar
casademar.co.za;  Contact in RSA:  Tel: +27 83 789 5522/33/88;  Contact in Mozambique:  +258 82 337 5520  or +258 84 731 5622.

Catembe Gallery Hotel
http://www.galleryhotel.co.mz/; Tel: +258 219 00226 or + 258 84 2283623; email: reservations@galleryhotel.co.mz

Anvil Bay, Ponta Chemucane
http://anvilbay.com/; Tel: +258 84 247 6322; email:   info@anvilbay.com or reservations@anvilbay.com

Kosi Bay Lodge (South Africa)
kosibaylodge.co.za/; Tel: 035 592-9561 or 083 262-4865; email: mwkosibay@mweb.co.za