In the first two parts of this three part series, we followed Mike Slater and his son, Luke, in their Pajero Sport on their journey through Mozambique. In this final episode, they head for Tete with some trepidation, go in search of Nando’s in Zimbabwe and discover some wonderful lodges. You can read the first two parts of Mike’s story here and here.
I last drove through Tete about eight years ago, but I last spent a night there – due to circumstances beyond my control — seven years before that.
Down through the ages, Tete has not been a good place for God-fearing folk. When the Portuguese first occupied it three centuries ago, relieving garrisons would ask the locals where they could find the European settlers, only to be taken to the graveyard. Malaria was the main enemy then, and by all accounts, it’s still a major cause of death in the area.
And yet today Tete is one of the world’s fastest growing towns. The reason is coal – indeed, about a quarter of the world’s unmined coal is here, if research is correct.
Over the past five years at least a dozen new hotels and lodges have been built, and more are nearing completion.
Tete does have the attraction of its situation alongside one of Africa’s most beautiful rivers, the moody Zambezi, which drops just 80m as it wanders its way 500km down to the Indian Ocean. There is also a graceful suspension bridge, which has become the icon of Tete. For 40 years it was the only road bridge over the Zambezi in Mozambique, but the newly opened Caia bridge and a second one at Tete, due for completion in 2014, have reduced the old bridge’s stature.
We enjoyed Tete, mainly because we found Masau Lodge. It is on the northern bank of the river and has a swimming pool, great restaurant and free (and fast) WiFi. The bungalows also have air conditioning that can handle the mid-summer temperatures that can reach the low fifties!
I visited Casa Branca and met with the legendary owner, Jan de Kock, who hosts live music and karaoke evenings at his restaurant at weekends.
Other places that make Tete worth the sweat and coal-dust are Café del Rio (a good place to meet expats), Masolosolo Lodge, Villa Habsburg and Casa Hospedes Torino (the best budget guesthouse option).
For overlanders, 30km from Tete, just south of Moatize, Thinus of Multotec has a grassy, shady area inside his business compound where he allows camping. Visitors also have access to a pool and ablution facilities.
With just three days to go before I had to be back in Johannesburg, we spent just one night in Tete and then took the “back road” along the Zambezi to Songo and Cahora Bassa, past the historic Boroma Mission.
This is certainly a dry season only route. It’s a nice drive, and we reached Moringa Bay Lodge near Nova Chicoa in just a few hours.
The old town of Chicoa now lies under the waters of the lake, and so a new settlement had to be built as Cahora Bassa filled up in the 1960s.
Moringa Bay Lodge is situated on a steep, well-treed hill overlooking the lake. Some of the best tiger fishing waters are right here, so there’s no need for a long trip to the fishing grounds.
Young Nico Grubb, son of owner Gail, welcomed us at reception, showed us the bar/restaurant and swimming pool and gave us the key to Casa 5, a short drive from the main buildings. Our rondawel had one double bed and two single beds, a fully equipped kitchen, bath and shower en suite, air conditioning and a built-in outside braai.
We’d hardly had time to sit down on the veranda to enjoy the fantastic view before Nico called us down to the jetty for a boat trip to see the crocodiles, hippos and some of the prolific bird life.
According to the angling legend, the late Charles Norman, the fishing here is like Kariba was in the 1960s, but even if rods and reels are not your thing, Moringa Bay is a perfect place to enjoy the isolation, peace, green surroundings and excellent, friendly service.
Border posts are an inconvenience to honest travellers, and my advice is to find the least used crossings — and get there before the buses.
Most visitors to this far-flung corner of Mozambique use the Nyamapanda /Cuchamano border post which must rival Beit Bridge for the title of most corrupt and infuriating border crossing that any traveller could have the misfortune to endure. Luckily for us, there is a secret that my uncle Colin (a real fisherman) stumbled on during one of his searches for big tigers a few years ago. That explains why, at 09:00 on a Saturday morning in September, we rumbled into Mucumbura — a village that would not be out of place in a cowboy movie. I half-expected to see a tall man wearing a black Stetson standing in the middle of the dusty street, ready to take on the gang of horsemen that had appeared next to a giant baobab tree on the far horizon.
Mucumbura is so quiet that the guy with the stamp had to be called out of bed to attend to us, and Luke had to do the honours when no-one bothered to open the boom to let us out of Mozambique.
As we slid across the deep sands of the Mucumbura River, which is probably very dry for nine months of the year and a fearsome deluge of brown floodwaters during the remaining three, I sent out a little thought of sympathy to the folks standing in the queues at border posts all over Africa.
Officials on the Zimbabwe side (Mekumbura) were a bit more organised, and the smiling customs lady managed to leave my wallet US$50 lighter. This covered road and carbon tax, third party insurance and border tax.
From the border, the good gravel road climbs the escarpment steeply to Mount Darwin where it becomes tar. We enjoyed a good and peaceful drive to Harare, where Luke had set his sights on Nando’s for lunch. The Pajero’s GPS guided us to Westgate. Perhaps there had been a Nando’s there previously, but we found a grubby shopping centre where most shops had closed. There was no electricity and also no Nando’s. The Westgate grill take-away next to the cinemas provided excellent burgers. I also filled up with diesel at the garage on the corner.
Our trip south from Harare to Beit Bridge was interrupted only by four or five toll gates ($1 a car) and a number of road blocks, none of which stopped us. Even driving between Bubi River and the border in the dark is not so nerve-racking if you tuck in behind a huge truck that will clear the road of any stray donkeys that might otherwise end a brilliant trip on a very sour note.
Avoiding busy border posts may be my mantra but I surprised even myself at how far a bit of friendly arrogance, a lot of (false) charm, and some luck can go at Africa’s worst crossing point. Granted, going north is infinitely worse, but we cleared both the Zim and SA side in a record 15 minutes, and Luke, bewildered by it all, waited until we got to Musina before asking, “Was that the border, dad?”.
One of my bail-out points in SA has long been the Louis Trichardt (that’s what the sign still says) municipal caravan park, which is far enough off the main road to be quiet, with trees and green grass, satisfactory ablutions and within walking distance of places to eat.
The caravan park has been given a bad press lately. The security guard said we had to pay at the municipal offices which, of course, only opened on Monday. I promised we were staying two nights and would then pay.
The toilets were not clean and there was no hot water, but our “instant tent” allowed us to pitch camp and be ready to sleep within five minutes. This amazed some Germans in a Landy, who had probably arrived an hour before us but were still trying to figure out their dome tent, in the rain, an hour after “lights out”.
The Wimpy on the main road opens at 08:00 on a Sunday, and despite the horrible coffee, the breakfast was still good and I could catch up with some of the news we had skipped for ten days by reading Beeld and the Sunday Times.
The N1 south to Johannesburg was, overall, in the best condition I have seen it, but during the first five minutes of driving we saw more bad, aggressive and idiotic driving than during the 3000km we had covered in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.