Mozambique Monday, 23 June 2008

Bom dia!

After rifling through so many different languages on my trip 'Good morning' is what the Mozambiquans got from me at any time of the day.

This blog post starts where the last left off - in the middle of the Rovuma river, the border between Tanzania & Mozambique. Once the bike was loaded we pushed off the bank and into one of the channels. It was about a minute before the vice captain was able to persuade the knackered old outboard motor to start so we had some ground to make upstream as well as across the river. Being close to the sea, the river at this point was incredibly wide, with many large sandbanks and various fast-flowing channels. We hit a couple of low but submerged sandbanks along the crossing which resulted in much of the crew disembarking to push off into deeper water, and the vice captain lifting the engine and once again convincing it to restart. Each of the crew insisted on being part of holding the bike, so one of them had to be enlisted to water bailing. Thankfully low tide meant no hippo's

Due to recent troubles encountered by South African vehicles in the South of the country I took this opportunity to remove the ZA sticker from the front of my bike and stick it in the bow of the boat - a nice little reminder to the locals that non-xenophobic South African tourists are visiting even their most remote parts. The chap pictured was the chief sandbank spotter, new to the job I suspected. At least his diminutive 4 foot height made him useful in making the boat appear bigger than it really was.

After about half an hour the spluttering outboard and relieved captain arrived at the far-side of the river. Unfortunately however, due to low tide the bank was a 10 foot hight, 45 degree angle of soft river sand. I flashed an even greater incentive in the form of an additional $10 note and the crew & myself dragged the fully laden bike up the slope and onto level ground (pictured to left). I was relieved to be back on terra firma but anxious about the unknown road ahead. This side of the river was distinctly less developed & populated, but a couple of locals that were loitering around the riverbank pointed me in the direction of the first village, which I knew from my map was approx. 5km away. After a few kms of rough & tumble through the sandy riverbed I found a track which although in appalling state looked like it headed in the direction of the village.

At the tiny village I conducted my Mozambiquan entry formalities and then pressed-on further South into the unknown. The immigration official was equipped with some basic English and when I enquired about the route he reckoned the road wasn't used an awful lot - only twice a month to relieve him of his shift. Nice. The track was literally that, two faint tyre marks through the deepest sand in all of Africa, even surpassing the Sahara. The going was slower and tougher than anything I had encountered so far, even putting 'that' road from Northern Kenya in the shade. Despite a fresh rear tyre the rear would often bed down until my panniers were touching the sand and I need to lift it out onto higher ground.

The midday temperature was high and the engine revving flat-out in first gear just to creep forward at zero km/ph. To quote W C Fields, this road was "fraught with imminent peril" and something had to give. Thankfully that something was the bike and not rider and the overheating blew one of the radiator pipes from the engine, spewing all radiator fluid onto the sand. Although I was relieved that it was coolant and not engine oil, I was nonetheless in a pickle. I repaired the hose but didn't have enough drinking water for myself and the radiator so found a shady tree to sit under while waiting for a passer-by. As luck would have it after a short while a local chap emerged from the thick bush (not the road) and I explained in my best sign language that I was in the market for some of Mozambiques finest mineral water. He understood the requirement and returned half an hour later with a bucket full of Rovuma river water. Accompanying him on his return was his son, who was the shyest little fella I'd ever come across. He seemed very scared & nervous and when I enquired his father rubbed the skin on his arm. By this gesture of skin colour I could only assume that the lad had either seen few or no fair skinned people before. I was eventually able to convince him to pose for a photo but he ran back in the bush when I started my bike - his father pointed at the bike, probably his first sighting of such a peculiar machine.

I resumed the tough riding and eventually made it to the next village of Palma. My first 40kms in Northern Mozambique had taken three hours of riding and one hour sitting under a tree - by far the toughest single stretch in Africa for me. Despite the conditions I was able to appreciate the surroundings. The bush was beautiful; thicker and wilder than anything I've ever seen before, and the sandy tracks were littered with elephant dung & broken branches. With no fencing or nature reserves in the immediate vicinity but plenty of big five game, this part of Mozambique really is wild Africa relatively untouched by man.

I eventually made it to the town of Mocimboa Da Praia and a pleasant campsite. The next day the quality of the dirt road improved as each km passed and eventually turned-into some semi-decent tarmac and I pressed-on to the largest town in the North called Pemba. The photo's below show a quiet village along the route, some rather nasty ruts in the road, and some of the fuel I had to make use of along the way; a cocktail of petrol and palm wine most likely.

I spent the next day in Pemba conducting a small service on my bike; new spark plug & tightening valve clearances. My local contact was through an old family friend (Ivor) who has a business partner in the area. He showed me around the town and we then retired to a great beach-side bar for a few cold ones. Pemba seems to have the perfect balance of a small town yet with enough amenities, and is relatively undamaged by mass-tourism, probably given its remote distance from anywhere else. Being four full days drive from South Africa, flying in is the only viable option, which probably accounts for its unspoiltness.

After Pemba the next two days riding further South was all inland and all on boring but fairly good surfaced tarmac so I put in some big km stretches. Mozambique is a much larger country than most realise (the longest by far on my trip). The only interesting highlights of these days were the riving crossings. There are several very wide rivers in Northern Mozambique, which by far overshadow the nile at its widest, but just don't contain the same flow of water (at this time of year). Pictured below is a bridge over untroubled water, a typical mountain in the central interior, the section of the very wide Zamezbi which is still crossed by ferry, and lastly the very tall roadside grass which probably accounts for so many pedestrian fatalities on the Mozambiquan roads.

Although the interior was relatively boring I was entertained by a self induced paranoia about my bike. The chain and sprockets were badly worn and I had already used up my spares. It required regular tightening and at one point I need to fabricate a new chain guard at the side of the road as the old one had completed worn through and was busy degrading other components. I used a peice of car tyre and a flattened Laurentina beer can and the fabrication seemed to hold up alright. There were also a couple of 500km stretches without any fuel, which didn't buoy my spirits either. I did however finally get that photo of an armed local posing at my bike. I had been asking AK47'd citizens along the entire route but none wanted to be captured on film with a weapon. This chap with his shotgun obliged much to my delight.

The next day was spent riding into Southern Mozambique where the number of upmarket lodges and retreats increase with each passing kilo. The chain was now stretching as though it was made of elastic and I spent much time at the side of the road adjusting it and massaging oil into it. Now that I was so close to home I was determined to make it all the way and not have to become a passenger on the back of the pickup for the last stretch. I spent several hours that afternoon trying to find a suitable place to stay (a campsite and not a 5 star lodge). At one point I had to ride 10kms over dunes to get to a campground (pictured to right) which looked like its last visitor was Vasco Da Gama.

On my final day in Mozambique I purposely woke up at 3am to begin my daily packing and bike prep tasks for the last time on my trip. I knew in weeks to come I would miss the daily grind of getting ready for the road so wanted to drag it out as much as possible. The chain held itself together for one more long day of riding and I coasted down the....well the coast really, and into the Capital of Maputo. I could almost smell the Lowveld braai fires from there as it was only a short 45 minute ride to the border post with South Africa.

Stay tuned for the last blog post; my arrival into the R of SA and a short wind-down ride.

Parting shot is of this chap selling coconuts on the side of the road. I stopped to point out that his fly was down but he paid no attention to me and seemed intently focused on his coconut sales.

# posted by Mark @ 05:13