Makondezulu, Chimangue, Giriyondo, Massingir, Inhambavale, Vunduzi, Espungabera and other peculiar places were on the list of Mozambican locales visited by correspondent Mike Slater. He tells more…
One of the benefits of living in a democratic country at peace with its neighbours is that some national parks along our borders – where ancient animal migratory routes have long been blocked by minefields, razor wire and electric fencing – are now being extended across those political barriers to form massive and magnificent transfrontier “peace parks”.
It was therefore a historic day when, on July 6, 2003, the first Kruger National Park elephants were released into the Parque Nacional do Limpopo, which is what the Mozambique side of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is officially called.
OK, those pioneering pachyderms did turn around and go straight back home, but subsequent relocations have turned out to be much more successful.
Three years ago I heard about Giriyondo – a place not then on any map (and I have over a 100 1:250 000 maps covering all of Mozambique) nor even lurking in the deepest recesses of the almost omniscient internet.
A quick call to the Kruger established that Giriyondo was then (in 2003) just a theoretical spot where a proposed new border post linking Kruger to the Limpopo Park might be located at some time in the future. The prospect of an alternative entry point into my favourite country was so attractive that I resolved to be there first when Giriyondo opened.
It was already mid-2005 when I received an SMS from a friend saying he had heard about a charity mountain-bike race organised by Wilderness Safaris that would enter Mozambique at Giriyondo.
It turned out that yes, they were meant to use Giriyondo but nothing had been done on the Mozambique side yet, so they ended up using a nearby side gate. Nevertheless this was progress and in September I decided to head for this fabled place, and was even lucky enough to be given a new Hilux D4-D 4×4 double-cab by Toyota South Africa for the venture.
A photographer friend, Chris Kirchhoff, (who can read a map, too, as he is also a land surveyor) and my son, Daniel, joined my mission to Giriyondo, but prospects for a crossing looked bleak as construction on the Mozambique side had only just begun. The nearest Kruger Park camp to Giriyondo is Letaba, but we headed north to Punda Maria near the Pafuri border post, where I had booked a campsite, just in case.
At Punda Maria we met up with Johan Klopper of Land Rover Adventures, which runs guided 4×4 safaris through the Limpopo Park (bring your own “non-soft” 4×4). He had suggested we tag along on one of his tours if we were in the area.
The South African side of the Pafuri border post, with its prefab buildings, shade-cloth parking area and air-conditioners sticking out everywhere, reminded me of one of the old SADF bases in Namibia. The Mozambique side resembled a treeless checkpoint between Mexico and Texas – somewhere remote and lawless.
As it turned out, this must be one of the easiest and friendliest ways to enter Mozambique, but beware – from Pafuri it is at least two days’ drive to anywhere with fuel and flush toilets.
The Land Rover Adventures crowd, in a further four off-roaders, regrouped after the border and there were critical appraisals of our gleaming (not for long) Toyota as Johan briefed us on the infrastructure, progress and management plan of the Limpopo Park.
We proceeded at a sensibly slow pace to Mapai where we crossed the almost dry Limpopo and then returned to the south bank and entered the park through an official gate where permits and/or payment must be produced, a few kilometres down a twin-spoor track.
Our second day’s drive took us through a Shangaan village called Makondezulu 1 (there is also a Makondezulu 2) where we could refill our water containers at a hand pump. The people here still live almost independently of what the 21st century can offer.
Johan gave us the option of staying at the old Shingwedzi Safaris hunting camp for a few extra rand, and the showers and beds next to the Shingwedzi River, with its groves of fever trees, were very welcome.
After another day and night during which we tested the climbing and sand driving capabilities of our vehicles (the Hilux D4-D is superb in the rough) and saw a few herds of elephant, impala and waterbuck while traversing stunningly beautiful scenery, we left the group and drove to the much-anticipated Giriyondo. The buildings on the Mozambican side were actually nearing completion, but nobody could tell us when the border post would be open.
We turned south and 30km of graded gravel road and another 40km of sandy track – quite eroded in places – took us to Massingir town. In dry weather, this is a leisurely 2,5- hour drive from Giriyondo.
In Massingir town we found no fuel station but there is a nice locally-run hotel called Motel Manganye on the left, a few hundred metres down the road to Chokwe, where we had a tasty lunch (pap and chicken) and a cool shower.
From Massingir, the logical route would have been straight through Chokwe joining the main EN 1 (Estrada Nacional) at Macia, and turning left up to Xai-Xai. Not being keen on the potholes and pedestrians that populate this route, we looked on our map and found a way that crossed the Limpopo at Macarretane, and then carried on up to Chidenguele via Guija, Mohambe, Chibuto and Manjakaze.
Chidenguele is a friendly little village, 58km north of Xai-Xai, where there is a turnoff to a big, blue and beautiful lake called Inhampavale and a beach, just 4km from the main road.
Inhambavale Lodge hugs the coast of a little bay in the lake and reminded me of one of those isolated spots on Lake Kariba. The barman claimed there were “not too many crocodiles” around.
The chalets at Inhampavale are some of the best-constructed I have seen in Mozambique. The small camping site is served by two very nice ablution blocks which have hot water if the gas geysers are working.
Before heading north the following morning, we checked out Paraiso do Chidenguele, tucked among dune forests and offering selfcatering chalets and a good restaurant and bar.
Our destination for day five was Casa Rex in Vilankulo. Derrick at Inhambavale had warned me that the trip would take around seven hours, and with a long visit to Chidenguele’s imposing and quite majestic cathedral for photos, his prediction was spot on.
Vilankulo was too quiet for a town that should – with its international airport and the famed islands of the Bazaruto just a few kilometres offshore – be one of the country’s main tourist destinations. There were only two other people at Zombi Cucumber Backpackers’ famous bar – pecan nut farmers from Zimbabwe who were trying to hang onto their land just long enough to harvest the crop, sell up and run.
Casa Rex, just 2km from the centre of town, is one of those places in Mozambique that is simply getting it right. On arrival we were greeted like long-lost friends (even if we did still have a layer or two of Limpopo mud on our shoes, and smears of Shingwedzi dust on our faces). Inside, it’s like being in a secluded ‘hacienda’ on the Spanish coast, or perhaps someone’s villa on a quiet peninsula in the Algarve.
Casa Rex has hung in for about 15 years now and remains one of my favourite places to stay in all of Mozambique. Over the years, old man Rex has gathered together furniture, fittings and flooring, all in rare local hardwood. Daniel and I played our customary game of chess using the intricately carved ebony and mahogany chess set.
Leaving Vilankulo early (we filled up at the BP station with diesel and noted that “unleaded” was also on offer) after a challenging and delicious breakfast that was included in the price at Casa Rex.
Our Toyota D4-D double cab hummed contentedly past Vila Franca do Save (where a cellphone tower was under construction), over the Rio Save suspension bridge and through fairly deserted brachstegia (miombo) woodland to Muxungue. This is a busy village that appears to be on a major junction, but exactly to where our map did not reveal.
Muxungue does not even feature on most maps – a pity, as it is a strategic 128km from the Save and the long-derelict BP service station has now been reopened.
The new manager explained that his predecessor had devised a scheme whereby he would sell fuel to local touts and then lock the pumps, claiming that the tanks were dry. When unsuspecting motorists arrived with fuel gauge needles flirting with that red line, they would have to pay double the price for precious fuel and the manager would then take his share of the profits. The man clearly should have been a banker!
This area was once a major producer of cashew nuts and many of the trees must have survived as packs of kids and women selling them swirl around visitors. We bought 5kg of nice nuts for the equivalent of just R100. I usually make a point of buying from the ladies as they are far more likely to spend the cash on their kids than have a good time at the local quiosque (kiosk).
The Muxungue to Inchope road used to be flanked by almost virgin forests, but September is “slash and burn” time throughout rural Africa, and sadly Mozambique is not being spared.
Forests along the road are fast disappearing, either to make way for subsistence farming or for charcoal that is sold on the roadside for R20 per 50kg bag. From the top of a rise it seemed as if most of Mozambique was on fire, and the smoke obscured the sun all the way. The road to Inchope is horrendous, but it is being re-tarred.
In town we had a Coke at Botequim Tsakane, which also does great fried chicken. The fires continued right to the entrance to Gorongosa National Park, and from a platform that once was a restaurant overlooking Lake Urema in the reserve we watched flames flicker and flare from horizon to horizon.
Facilities at Gorongosa have been upgraded. There is furnished accommodation and a basic restaurant, but the manager admitted they were fighting an unrelenting war with poachers and that farmers were cutting wood deeper and deeper into the reserve.
Birders will be pleased to note that the track to Vunduzi, one of the bases for climbing Monte Gorongosa to tick off the elusive green-headed oriole, has been upgraded. It took us just 30 minutes to get there from Gorongosa Town.
The debate at this stage was whether to climb the 1862m high Monte Gorongosa or backtrack a little to visit Beira – a town that I admit has never been one of my favourite spots in Mozambique. Chris had never been to Beira but had heard it was a great city to photograph, and as I was put off by the fires, we made our way to Beira on a road that was pretty good, with just a few kilometres of gravel where the Pungoe River regularly floods between January and April.
Beira is a city I know quite well as I spent six weeks there in 1992 during the civil war. Since then most of Mozambique has improved, but Beira somehow was left behind in the development stakes – or so I thought until this visit. I noted improvements immediately we entered town and sat down to coffee and pastries at a quaint restaurant and bakery overlooking the Praca do Municipio, or Town Square.
The streets were newly paved and buildings freshly painted, but some things had stayed the same. Begging hands still waved from the bars of the castle-like prison just off the square, and the (once) Grande Hotel is still the domain of thousands of squatters, and the trees growing from the balconies are now much bigger. The Grande was built in the 1960s and was planned to be the best hotel in Africa, but never opened its doors to paying visitors.
On the beach nearby there was a “Capoeira” school in operation. It was amazing to see this graceful and acrobatic fusion of Latin-American dance and eastern martial arts being practised with such energy and dedication.
We drove north, and the beaches at least looked cleaner, even if the sea was still that same old dirty brown due to the silt being carried down by the Pungoe and Buzi rivers.
I had been told of a Zimbabwean couple who have a house on the beach in the Estoril area near the Clube Nautico. Marion Welbourn and Dave Rowell were just returning from a shopping trip to Shoprite when we arrived. They welcomed us into their very comfortable home and gave us plenty of advice on what to do in and around Beira, which Marion calls “Mozambique’s nicest city”, while my son Dan stocked up on enough Cartoon network to last him for the 3-day journey home.
Beira’s ‘charm’ (if you can call it that) lies partly in the fact that it is still much as the Portuguese left it and there are many interesting colonial buildings, while the people have not yet been spoiled by an influx of dollar- waving – or rand-waving – tourists.
Marion and Dave are involved in a project to develop a forestry reserve and accommodation at Chiniziua, a favoured birding spot 150km north of Beira.
I would have liked to stay a day or two at Rio Savane, just 35km north of Beira on a beach so wild it could be a thousand miles away, but our route to Zimbabwe via Espungabera was new to me, and I wanted time to explore the area.
After stopping in Chimoio for excellent pizza at the Elo 4 restaurant, we drove a few kilometres along the main Mutare road before turning off to Sussundenga, Dombe, and Espungabera. By now the sun was low in the sky and the domed mountains were becoming very photogenic.
Planning a trip to Moz? This is what you should know…
- Visas are no longer needed by South Africans, and citizens of other SADC countries (except for Zimbabwe), BUT all other nationalities (except for Malawians) need them. Visas are best obtained at a consulate before your trip, but are also issued at all borders (exceot for the Rovuma Ferry) and airports for around US$30 (R190).
- Cell phone reception: If you don’t have international roaming, buy an M-Cell Giro “Pronto a Falar” starter pack for about R20. We got a signal on M-Cell in and around Massingir, Chibuto, Xai-Xai – Maxixe, Vilankulo, Rio Save, Muxungue, Chimoio – Beira, Gorongosa Town and Espungabera.
- Medical rescue insurance is essential. Air evacuation costs hundreds of thousands of rands, there are no topclass hospitals in Mozambique, and your medical aid will not cover you outside SA.We used TIC (Travel Insurance Consultants) in Johannesburg, who offer full cover for around R12 per person per day. Contact Kim Justus (011) 780-3300, website: www.tic.co.za
- The law: Don’t speed, always wear seatbelts, and carry your driver’s licence and passport when you are away from tourist lodges. Your car must have two red warning triangles, one tied to the front if towing. Good manners and courtesy are the best protection against being fined in Mozambique.
- Getting lost is what may happen to you if you are in a hurry (as we most certainly were) and are not too familiar with the purpose and use of a map. To avoid costly and frustrating wrong turns we used a Garmin MapSource 276C loaded with Tracks4Africa maps.
- The currency denomination is meticais (Mt). Take along a calculator as R1 gets you Mt4000, while US$1 gets you Mt24 000. Avoid the street changers – you get better rates and safer dealings at banks and cambios (bureaux de change). Cash rands are best but credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are accepted at some resorts, so enquire before departure. Travellers’ cheques are virtually useless. Generally, Mozambique is a more expensive place in which to travel than South Africa.
- Malaria is prevalent throughout Mozambique and preventative tablets are essential. I took Doxycycline and my son was on Mefloquine. Consult your doctor.
- Roads are constantly being resurfaced, but even the best are not nearly as good as those in South Africa, so don’t expect to average more than 80km/h. In the many towns and villages on the EN 1 the limit is 50 km/h and this is strictly enforced by the Transit Police using laser traps. Hoot whenever you see people or parked buses/bakkies/trucks up ahead as engines are left idling and they will not hear you coming. Speeding and driving at night are very bad ideas.
- Petrol (gasolina) and diesel (gasoléo) are widely available for around R8 and R7 respectively, but I have only seen unleaded (“sem chumbo” sometimes mistakenly “sem plumbo”) petrol as far north as Vilankulo and also in Beira.
- Food can be bought fresh at local markets, and the local pao (small white loaf), is baked fresh every day almost everywhere. Outside of Maputo, supermarkets are not well stocked and the prices are high.
- Border formalities: No visas are needed for South Africans. Passports must be valid for more than six months. You must have original vehicle registration papers and obtain a TIP (Temporary Import Permit Mt25.000 or R7) and Seguros (third party insurance, R120) at the Moz side of the border, or risk very heavy fines.
- Weather: The rainy months are January to April. It can be windy from September to November and can get quite cool from June to August. Otherwise it is quite dry and hot (especially in the Parque Nacional do Limpopo).
Giriyondo border post: Be warned that the KNP’s normal gate quotas will apply to those in transit to the Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility, so it is suggested that people planning to travel to Mozambique via Giriyondo book their entrance in advance via Central Reservations on (012) 428 9111 or www.sanparks.org. Note that only 4×4 vehicles are allowed through. Hours are 08h00-16h00 (October-March) and 08h00-15h00 (April-September). It is approximately 95km (at least two hours 15 minutes travelling time) between Phalaborwa Gate and Giriyondo, and about 75km (at least two hours) between Giriyondo and Massingir in Mozambique. Access into the
Limpopo National Park is R50 per vehicle plus R50 per adult and R25 per child (current exchange rate is R1 = Mt4000). To enter the KNP from Mozambique you need a valid Wild Card or the payment of the SANParks standard conservation fee. Citizens of South Africa and most other SADC countries (Zimbabwe excluded) do not require a visa to enter Mozambique. Other citizens must apply for visas in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban or Nelspruit. No temporary import permits (TIPs) or third-party insurance (seguros) are presently issued by the Mozambicans at Giriyondo, so get your Mozambique third party insurance from the AA in SA prior to departure.
Fuel (on our route): Phalaborwa, Chibuto, Maxixe (unleaded petrol), Vilankulo (unleaded petrol), Muxungue, Beira (unleaded petrol – sometimes runs out) and Chimoio.
Inhambavale Lodge, Chidenguele: Derrick on +258 828-8284, [email protected] iafrica.com; www.nhambavale.co.za/ Right by the lake, close to the beach (10-minute drive). Boats, good restaurant, excellent chalets with nice surroundings.
Casa Rex, Vilankulo: +258 238-2048, fax: +258 238-2425; [email protected]. One of the nicest places to stay in Mozambique. With its views of the dhow anchorage, the Hotel Dona Anna and the Bazaruto Islands, it gets 11 out of 10. Devotedly hand-built with not a hint of melamine or other commercial finishes anywhere. Accommodation: Garden, family and courtyard rooms and a luxury (honeymoon) suite. Rates: Bed and Breakfast: From US$65 to US$85 per person per night, sharing. Single supplement $20.
Covane Community Lodge: On a hill overlooking Massingir. Tel: +258 82 296 783. Around US$60/night for a 5 bed house, and less for camping. Has all the basics, such as running water and electricity and a well equipped kitchen – will prepare your own food on request.
Beira Guest Houses: Some Beira residents take visitors and we suggest you contact Amigos Lda, a management and technical consultancy run by Dave Rowell and Marion Welbourn. +258 820 311 350; +258 825 575 030 or +258 23 311 915; [email protected] Rates: From R100 per person sharing.
Lion and Elephant Motel, Zimbabwe: +263 114 336. Fax: 114 358. Hanging in there and keeping up standards. Comfy chalets, good restaurant, pool and camping site (noisy as it’s next to the main road).
More on Mozambique: www.mozguide.com