Left Blantyre for Mozambique via Chiponde / Mandimba border post - another one of these with a few kms of no-man's-land in between borders so that you think you might have missed the second one! Very efficient and thorough. Had assumed that the road would be tar (don't know why!) but sadly not. Headed for Cuamba along a reasonable but dusty gravel road following and criss-crossing the railway line (from Limbe to Nampula and probably much the best way to get to Ilha de Mocambique!!). The scenery is terrific. Lots of Inselbergs, interesting rock formations balancing precariously on top of each other, rounded and aesthetically pleasing to us. The road, however went from bad to worse. Cuamba was a welcome stop - at Vision 2000 hotel, the only half decent place to spend the night (and that was stretching the imagination). Met Richard and Ben from Blantyre - working for company that service Avery weigh scales.
Echoes of Ghana
The way of life for locals reminded us very strongly of Northern Ghana - all the daily chores of wood collection and water to be fetched from rivers or boreholes; wattle and daub housing combined with wooden/cane houses, mostly with grass/reed roofs; subsistence farming with a few acres of cotton grown for a cash crop. Coffee, cashews pawpaw and mango trees were increasing.
Lost in Nampula - if only we had a GPS!
We finally reached Nampula after a gruelling 360 km - 9 hour journey on a mainly dreadful, corrugated and potholed road; located the Hotel Tropical, dumped bags and set off to explore the streets and find a cafe/restaurant for an evening meal later. Across the road was the Cafe Copacabana - serving cold beer and delicious samosas so we quenched our thirsts, took the edge off our appetites and then set off to explore the town on foot. Darkness descended whilst we were out and we got totally lost! In the end we asked a shopkeeper (who spoke reasonable English) the way back to the hotel; Just at that moment everywhere was plunged into total darkness as the electricity failed. In the end the shopkeeper's husband drove us back, at terrifying speed through the rush hour traffic with horn blaring and a few very narrow escapes!! 6.30pm - back at the hotel we crashed out - supposedly for a half hour sleep and were amazed to find it was 5.30am when we awoke!!!
V. chilly morning with lots of condensation on the car and no electricity. Omelette sandwich and tea for breakfast then fill up with diesel and off by 07.30.
Left Nampula and travelled 200 km on good roads to Ilha de Mozambique - reached finally by a 2.5km causeway with restricted width - we just made it through the barriers. the Indian Ocean was clear blue, shallow and you could see right to the bottom.
Accommodation on the Isle proved a problem. Peak season coupled with a music festival/workshop had taken almost all the rooms to be had and no camping available on the island. After a helpful hotel receptionist had rung around a few places with no success, a young man trailed us round the streets, knocking on doors until at last we found somewhere. An empty house - Italian owner away in Maputo - renovating an old former colonial stone house - room with twin beds, mosquito nets, fan and available bathroom with working toilet and running water - what more did we need. We are not sure whether or not the 'guard' looking after the place, until the owner's return, was entitled to let out this empty room - but we didn't ask too many questions and had a very good - albeit one night stay - on the historic Ilha de Mocambique. We even managed to have a great meal in a restaurant where the musicians (from Finland, Sweden, USA, Ghana, Mozambique and more) were playing, so we had a free concert.
The room was only available for one night so next day we decided that after visiting the Museum (former Governor's Palace) and finding that the Fort was closed for renovation, we decided to move on up the coast to Nacala and Fernao Veloso - a pretty peninsula overloking a big bay.We stayed at Libelula, a lovely rustic chalet with own bathroom, great sea view, steps down to private beach with warm(ish) blue Indian Ocean water to swim in, swimming pool and lovely food.
We enjoyed sundown watching shoals of sardines scurrying along the placid sea, jumping periodically in a flurry of shimmering silver to avoid a hidden predator.
We met up with Mike and Jackie, retirees from Capetown, who were overlanding with their Landrover and trailer to the UK, eventually! - they had been travelling since June.
From Libelula we set off fully laden with 4 UK Backpackers, Mike, Kelly, Paul and Merill whom we later dropped off at suitable towns for them to continue their onward journeys. We headed north to Pemba where we camped at Russel's (now Pemba Magic) Backpackers Lodge; it was great, inexpensive, good food and just a few hundred metres from the idyllic Wimbe beach. Needless to say we savoured the sun , sea and Indian Ocean prawns (real king-size) for which Mozambique is famous. We met up with Sebastian who operates a hunting concession in Mozambique's Niassa National Park; he kindly invited us to stay which resulted in us taking a much more adventurous and risky route back west towards Malawi.
Sebastian and Richard,our hosts at Camp Miremire
Inspecting one of many tricky bridges
We travelled over 150 km to Camp Miremire, on the next best thing to a deeply rutted goat track, it almost equated to our epic Bissaula crossing from Nigeria to Cameroun but without the steep hills. Having enjoyed delicious Sable stew for supper, we then basked in the luxury of an en-suite safari tent by the river - you can't beat camping!
Now back to Malawi
Next day, after a couple of dodgy bridge crossings before Marrupa, we headed on good tar roads to Lichenga, the capital of Niassa Province. We managed a reasonable night in a local Pensao before crossing the border, after a further 120 km, back into Malawi at Mandimba.