DAY 41. SUNDAY JANUARY 18th 2015. PRAIA DO TOFO, INHAMBANE, MOZAMBIQUE
My ride was much longer than I meant today. The main south-north highway is pretty good but it never touches the shores of this long country. To get down to the beaches and small resorts that are so exotic, you have to drive on thick, soft, sandy tracks, usually only passable by 4X4 vehicles. My BMW is a bit of an apology as an off-road vehicle really. My Elephant would have made the attempt, but the red bike is insufficient for these tracks. It is top heavy and slides and slithers dramatically. And if I drop it, it is hell to pick up again. The village I had been heading for turned out to be some kilometres down a soft track. Had I known what would be at the end of it, I might have made the effort. But I had no idea what I would find – accommodation I liked or not. I continued north towards Inhambane, one of the country’s older cities.
It’s quite boring riding this long highway. Mile upon mile; tens of miles upon tens of miles; of flat bush land with waving coconut palms, cashews and mangoes, interspersed with small villages of thatch and block dwellings and commercial buildings all painted bright red by the ubiquitous sponsorship of Vodacom or Coca Cola. Each vague habitation drops the speed limit to 60kph and there are frequent police checks; so many so that it is easier just to comply with the limits than risk argument. Only twice in 250 miles was I even able to glimpse the Indian Ocean off to my right.
It was almost noon before I rode out of Bilene back to the main road northwards. Distances in Africa are vast. About an hour later I crossed the Limpopo at last, and I believe that on my next journey I should pass the Tropic of Capricorn. I creep but slowly up the globe, even though sometimes my bum hurts from so much riding.
Inhambane is on the outside of a large bay that has provided a natural harbour over the centuries of trade up and down this coast. The road from the south splits and my road brought me out to the eastern side of the bay onto a wide promontory thirty miles long. The town hadn’t much to attract me and not much choice of accommodation, so I continued to Tofo Beach, on a tarred road. This is a resort much favoured by South Africans but quiet now as the holiday season is finished and the Rand depressed. Sliding about on the sandy roads of the village, I found my way to Casa Barry, an old-established beach resort of thatched huts and bungalows, with a giant thatched restaurant/ bar overlooking a wide sandy bay with the Indian Ocean rollers sweeping in. Tonight I have, to myself, a flimsy palm hut with the sound of the ocean swishing beyond the dunes – cost £6!
Pity the exotic nature of the location is lost on me… I paddled into the ocean, thought to myself, ‘OK, done that. Now what?’ and retired for a beer.
DAY 42. MONDAY JANUARY 19th 2015. PRAIA DO TOFO, INHAMBANE, MOZAMBIQUE
This was a day of rest, for which most people would have given their eye teeth. Frankly, I feel rather guilty NOT to appreciate the exotic nature of all that surrounds me here in Mozambique. But one thing that comes with age is the acceptance of just the way things are… It’s PEOPLE and their lives that fascinate me, and here I have difficulty in communication and am in places set up for tourism centred on the sea and marine life – neither of which interest me in the slightest! Pity, eh?
I mean, I just attended a (slightly long) lecture on manta rays given by a gushing young American researcher, who knew her subject and appeared to live, breathe and think manta rays. The most interesting thing to me was to ask how they got their name. ‘Manta’ is Spanish for blanket. Now I find THAT quite fascinating! A little pathetic, maybe, that I thought the etymology of the name more interesting than the life and antics of a sea creature up to eight metres in size. I sat through an hour or more of manta facts wondering, yes, but why? What’s the practical use of all this knowledge about something I can’t speak to? I didn’t really find that out, except that the knowledge helps in conserving the species, which is, I suppose, a laudable ambition, although I’m not entirely sure I could argue why. I guess the loss of ANY species is something to be avoided, since every one is dependent on others. And, I must say, the manta ray seems a bit more interesting than a cod or haddock… Actually, they are long lived – 50 to 60 years – individually identifiable, social and very large, which makes them prone to that anthropomorphism of which I am always suspicious. They have only one ‘pup’, usually every other year since they come into season at the same time of year that they give birth. The pups are immediately independent and every manta has its own unique markings on the underside. They are a cartilaginous creature, so no bones have been found fossilised, but they have some teeth, only used during their brief mating, and these have been found fossilised and the manta is quite a young species historically. They are inedible but sadly their gills, which are like brushes for they must eat copious quantities of plankton all day, are valued for Chinese traditional medicine (quite unproven: just superstition) and of course, China has no interest in conservation, so they are becoming endangered. Oh yes, ask me about manta facts (for about 24 hours!) and I know them.
The young woman giving the talk was enthusiasm personified, and had the gabling delivery of such single-minded (American) people. I wished she wouldn’t talk about manta rays as ‘these guys’ and her audience as ‘you guys’ but maybe I am just showing an anti-American bias of lazy language or my age! I was sitting on the bar terrace beside the beach and rushing white-topped rollers when she came to announce her talk, and I thought, ‘why not?’. It was that or several more thin, fizzy beers…
“Are you getting much diving?” she gushed enthusiastically at me.
“No, I hate the water and sink like a stone!” rather quickly terminated a nascent conversation. No doubt she wondered what the hell I am doing in Praia Do Tofo surrounded by dive ‘adventures’ and exotic beaches. Maybe I do too…
Highlight of my day was chatting for a long time to Duanda, a stall-holder in the small craft market. He turned out, as I might have known from his excellent English and very cultured, un-pushy ways, to be Zimbabwean. He is from Harare and comes here to support his wife and four children back home, two of school age (fees) and two below as yet. It just reminded me how I am looking forward to getting back to that abused, crazy country. All over these countries, if I meet urbane, articulate, charming people, they frequently turn out to be Zimbabwean… Unlike many, Duanda goes in and out legally, going home before his visa expires and coming back again. He’s looking forward to seeing his family next month for a few weeks. The season here is finished – and hasn’t been very good anyway – and his allegiance, as I have found with many Zimbabweans, is strong. They know that they have education and culture far superior to most of the countries in which they find themselves. It is only the sad, bad politics that force them to be exiles and seek for a living elsewhere.
The depressing story of African politics: power corrupts… The last president here in Mozambique was known as ‘Mr Five Percent’. Says it all. Mozambicans are concerned for the future, as they are in South Africa. Renamo, the opposition party – and ‘enemy’ encouraged by outside forces throughout the appalling civil war, are gaining votes in the north, making for a strong north/ south split and encouraging discontent and grievances. Much the same is happening in South Africa, where a newish opposition candidate Julius Malema is stirring the disgruntled and unemployed youth (easy targets) into an angry opposition; the sort of politics that flare into ignorant violence. (A bit like UKIP: enflame the ignorant with rhetoric, not facts…). In South Africa, much political opposition ire is being raised right now over the extreme improvements that Jacob Zuma has made to his personal dwelling on tax-payers money. What is it about Africa? When will it end, this corruption at the top? Where are the Mandelas of this continent?
Mind you, I only have to look at my own backyard to see self-interest in politics… Europeans are just a little more subtle about it.
It’s been a very hot day, much too hot to expose to the sun for long. A few wanders on the beach and a short trip out on the red bike to visit Inhambane, the old colonial town that has a faintly south European air to it, but not a lot of interest. It is laid out in a colonial manner, with a fine old cathedral and an ancient mosque as well. Generally, the further north you go in these countries, the more the Islamic influence is felt, from Arabic influences throughout history. Down here the sea was the most important transit and these coasts were colonised by Arabia and the East long before the Portuguese.
Still a stiff breeze. It keeps the mosquitoes away at least. And keeps the sound of the rollers pounding on the shore behind the sand dunes quite loud from my grass hut. I have a three-bedded palm thatch hut with good mosquito netting. Apart from the surf and the dawn chorus like a fluting alarm clock – such that I was swearing at non-existent neighbours at 6.00am for not turning it off and leaving it on ‘snooze’ mode – it is very peaceful. Ten o’clock. Time to sleep and dream…
DAY 43. TUESDAY JANUARY 20th 2015. INHASSORO, MOZAMBIQUE
Four hundred kilometres further north and I have reached Inhassoro, a small, untidy village on the coast set amongst palms and scrub where it’s difficult to discern any shape or plan to the place. I have found one of the many lodges and guest houses, opening onto the beach and shamelessly bargained for a room. It’s a buyer’s market just now as the season has ended and there are no tourists. Asked £50 and more by one or two places, I turned into this guest house, fed up with slithering on deep sandy tracks. This one was charging £30. The caretaker, for I doubt he is the manager, said he would phone the owner… He handed me the phone and I found myself talking to a South African. “OK, I will do the room for £20,” he said.
“Oh, pity. My top budget is £16!” I declared, sounding a little disappointed.
Always worth a try. I have a pleasant en-suite bungalow just a little back from the beach for £16!
About noon I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. Shortly afterwards appeared the first baobabs, the extraordinary ‘upside down’ tree of tropical Africa. I believe the furthest south baobab is at the bottom end of the great Kruger National Park across in South Africa, not far south of the Tropic.
Shortly after the baobabs began, people started waving, something I have been missing in Mozambique. A few miles north of the wave line I passed a sign: ‘Beware! Elephants crossing’. Precious little chance of seeing any, but good to be reminded that they exist in the region.
It was a long, rather boring ride. There’s not much to look at: the scenery is flat, flat, flat. The vegetation is low with few big trees, just slender palms, a few mahogany and a lot of small scrubby trees. Dwellings are of stick and palm thatch – the local resources. There are small maize fields and most families appear to live by subsistence farming. It is a landscape very reminiscent of northern Ghana. Piles of charcoal sacks, heaps of cut firewood and stocks of hardwood rafters stand by the roadside for sale, making me wonder – as I often do in Ghana – why there are any trees left at all in Africa. At each township I must slow to 60kph, 100 between. It’s easier just to slow down since there are many police checks. I am not disturbed by them as a rule, but breaking the law would be an excuse for fines and hassle.
Fuel is a concern along this long road. It can be a long way between pumps and supplies are uncertain. I have a habit now of filling my tank whenever I see petrol. My bike is economical. It gives me, at the steady speeds of the day, about 20 kilometres per litre (60mpg) and my tank has a range – safely – of only about 300kms. The journey north of here is of interest since I am not certain of petrol and have a journey of another 400kms! Oh well, I also know that no African will resist the chance of making a bit of money by stockpiling fuel en route. The road from Maputo has been excellent, wide smooth tarmac clearly signposted, until the last fifty kilometres when it deteriorated to more patches than tar with some lethal potholes. I am warned that tomorrow’s road will be the same.
My bike does not handle well in soft sand, of which Mozambique has a lot. Most of the coastal villages, resorts and bays are reached by long, soft sandy tracks, and towns like this often just have one main route of tar into town with all side roads of sand. So I walked back towards the town to search for a likely place for food and beer tonight. Nothing appeared in a long walk but three hundred yards the other way – isn’t that always the way? – was another smart lodge with, at least, a bar. The restaurant was closed for the season, as in the lodge where I am staying and most others. I stopped for a beer with the South African owner and his only guest, an unkempt, red hairy man, all beard and body hair like a doormat, of startling unattractiveness, khaki shorts and crumpled, unbuttoned shirt stretched across blubbery belly – probably the most racist Afrikaner I have met – and I have met a lot.
It’s always the ones who keep insisting they aren’t racists who are the worst. “I’m not racist, but…” They come up with extraordinary ‘scientific’ excuses why the races shouldn’t mix; insist it’s ‘against their religious beliefs’ or genetically balanced that races are inferior to one another – theirs always being the chosen one, of course. I listen to such offensive and astonishing crap from these people! This one had a half-baked genetic theory about why races shouldn’t mix for evolutionary reasons. I am not even going to give him the benefit of trying to explain here in my journal. Some people are better just experienced and left as soon as possible.
“I’ll never leave Ifrica!” he declared in his accent with which you could grind stone. “Ma mither lives in Istreelia; ma sistar in Holland; ma brother’s in Englind. Na, if they winta see me, they’ve got to come to Ifrica!”
It’s difficult to believe that they visit often.
He did recommend the place where I could get a meal however, to which this time I rode back. “Tell them Martin sent you! They’ll look after you!” he called after me, topping up his rum at the optic. Advice I didn’t take with the charming and delightful young (black) barman, Serge (with almost impossibly beautiful teeth), later.
But I did meet Brendan from Pretoria over my next couple of beers and fresh fish in the recommended restaurant. He is an electrical engineer of a fairly specialised sort, working on big installations and working on contract all over the world. He flew in today and flies out again tomorrow. He has various motorbikes back home and we spent a very congenial couple of hours leaning on the bar talking about our travels, our mutual love of Lesotho (he grew up on its borders), and views of the world. Those were, fortunately, far removed from the poisonous Martin, then drinking his way down the second bottle of rum back at the other lodge, keeping his expansive ‘master race’ belly sloshing with cheap alcohol. A fine example of the chosen Afrikaans nation indeed! Brendan comes from the other side of Afrikanerdom: the reasonably liberal side that acknowledges that things couldn’t go on with the gross inequalities and injustice created by the apartheid beliefs, and the admission that rebalancing the wrongs will now take many generations. Martin would go right back tomorrow, enthusiastically and unapologetically… There he can shout at the ‘kaffirs’.
Horrid but true that these people still exist. Not just in South Africa, either.
Brendan tells me that Mozambique has a huge untapped wealth of natural gas and a fast increasing requirement for electricity. The gas is on shore and simple for the taking. He describes Mozambique as one of one of Africa’s emerging economies – assuming they can keep their domestic politics under control, I suppose. South Africa’s electricity generation system is in melt-down at the same time. With hugely expanding requirements and expectations from the new generation of consumers, and with old, un-invested power stations, they had, a couple of weeks ago, a media frenzy of ‘only two weeks’ power left!’ maybe a bit of cooperation with the neighbours, rather than the destabilisation of their past, would be a way forward. But cooperation isn’t a very African way of doing things…
There’s still a strong wind blowing. It was thankfully over my right shoulder much of the day. But it makes the Indian Ocean noisy and white-topped and my riding a bit wearing. Tired again tonight, but satisfied to be a third of the way up the coast on Mozambique and now in the Tropics.
DAY 44. WEDNESDAY JANUARY 21st 2015. CHIMOIO, MOZAMBIQUE
There are days that just don’t go right, all the way through. Loud music, the sub-bass beat of which even the earplugs couldn’t exclude, began at 6.00am. I had no breakfast and couldn’t find any. I had a very long, pretty boring ride. I had great difficulty finding a place to sleep. Now my iPad seems to have died completely. Even my new Post Office credit card refused to operate, which suggests some problem with the direct debit I set up but didn’t utilise before leaving. Not a good day.
Mt Taurean character doesn’t make these situations any easier. My extreme obstinacy and dislike, on principle, of being ripped off can make life difficult for me. I admit it.
I spent almost two hours touring hotels an Chimoio, not an attractive place at all – a major dump, in fact. Already tired from the long ride 302 miles – and five hours in the saddle, I reached this untidy, ugly, scruffy city, Mozambique’s fifth in size. Two frustrating hours later I admitted defeat, with my customary bad grace, and took an over-priced room (£24 and worth half that) that was the best of a very bad lot. I saw one place, asking price £20, that was far below even my fairly flexible standards. I wouldn’t have paid £5 for it.
And then, to crown a lousy day, my iPad won’t open at all. It’s funny, but the iPad has become part of these journeys as I could never have imagined, most of my travelling being done before these technologies were invented. It stores my journal, logs my expenses, keeps me in email touch with friends and business, and even sometimes I even access the internet for information. I never thought I’d miss it, but I will if it doesn’t open one last time. It feels strange to be sitting here with pen and paper… Something that became a daily routine for so many years. Well into my tenth year of travelling (putting all my travels out of Britain together), I must have written long hand records – fountain pen and ink round half the world – for at least eight of them. (NB. Obviously, since you are reading this in legible form, the iPad opened one more time. more about that in tomorrow’s entry, since I am now typing this out from my penned record).
Oh, and then my new credit card, from the Post Office of all suppliers (no charge for foreign currency transactions) stopped working today as well, I suppose some problem with the direct debit I set up the day before I left home.
At nine I turned my back on the Indian Ocean. Maybe I will see it again down in South Africa later, but for now my journey will be totally land-bound. It is already. My long road brought me inland on a diagonal course to the north west.
The first fifty miles were wearing and tiring, scanning the road ahead for potholes amongst the patches. Any one of those holes, six or nine inches deep, could spell a lot of trouble for me and the bike. Fortunately, after crossing the long bridge over the Save River, the road surface improved with only occasional easy to spot holes. Traffic was astonishingly light – sometimes I would ride for ten minutes or more between vehicles. not a place to break down. This is the only north/ south road in this hugely long country. Added to the long distance was the stress of not knowing where i would find fuel en route. This worry, at least, was reduced by finding petrol about half way, the only station on the 300 mile ride.
I can find no redeeming feature in Chimoio, except perhaps, that it is only 100 kilometres from the Zimbabwe border. My poor-value hotel does have a sort of balcony with bar and restaurant on the third floor roof. It keeps the mosquitoes at bay s I write and drink a dark beer. I ate a considerably cheaper chicken and rice at street level! Traffic grinds by outside, there is dust in the air and loud, tedious music pounds from neighbouring bars. This is the main highway that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe to the Mozambican port city of Beria.
Actually, the one attractive feature is that Chimoio is a good deal higher than the rest of Mozambique, so the air is cooler and fresher and the scenery less flat and boring. An interesting feature hereabouts are the great granite ‘domes’, as bare as an egg, rising directly from the green bush country. I recently found that the second largest, after Ayers Rock, is in Swaziland.
I am yawning widely. No idea of the time – the iPad tends to be my timepiece too. If, by chance, it switches on randomly, as before, I shall not switch it off as long as I can keep it charged. IF it comes on again. Or is it dead?
Time to sleep off this bad day. I suppose that without the bad ones you wouldn’t appreciate the good ones? Try to be positive…
DAY 45. THURSDAY JANUARY 22nd 2015. MUTARE, ZIMBABWE.
OH, HOW I LOVE ZIMBABWE!!!!
Within moments, the smile was spread-eagled across my face once more! This is a very remarkable country. What is it that makes this country so delightful? The answer, simply, is ‘education, education, education’. Zimbabweans are the best educated Africans. It makes them articulate, conversational, aware and, above all so cultured. Add to this a country full of beauty and you have, for me, my favourite in Africa. I love Ghanaians for their gaiety and laughter but their country cannot be called beautiful and their education and culture is far more rudimentary than these wonderful people. Already, I have been conversing and joking with everyone around me. We interact with more equality than I have found elsewhere in any African country. I feel no sense that I represent ‘The White Man’, a ‘foreigner’ or a ‘rich’ person.
I am SO happy to be back.
And another remarkable thing… A few moments after I crossed the border into Zimbabwe I stopped by the roadside to rearrange my papers in my pockets and bags. As I reached into the bag on the top of my seat, where I keep my valuables and things I need during the day, I pressed the ‘on’ button on my iPad. It came on as normal! I spent two hours last night and some time this morning trying to get it alive – and a disturbed night thinking about it. It must have known I was back in Zimbabwe. Now I shall attempt not to switch it off for as long as I can keep it charged.
Yesterday should be expunged from the record. A bad day and gloomy mood. Forgotten in moments in smiling, friendly Zimbabwe.
So what was it about Mozambique that left me so dissatisfied? Well, I have said it so often: I travel for the people. Mozambicans, I have decided, are utterly inscrutable. I found it impossible to read their reactions, so strange amongst African nations. I never got so little response anywhere on the continent, not even in black South Africa, where people harbour so much suspicion and I AM judged as different. At least most black South Africans will return a smile, sometimes with surprise, it’s true. Mozambicans just gazed back implacably. Of course, the language barrier made communication difficult on any level but basic needs for me. But I have travelled enough to be able to communicate in other ways – with facial expressions, signs and body language. Few people even seemed to want to bother to understand my needs. I just seemed to leave them unaffected in all my approaches. I wonder if it is a hang-over from Communist days? I recollect that communist Russians were the nastiest, meanest people to each other that I ever witnessed.
The sea and beaches and the remarkable sea life that abounds off its shores, from manta rays (‘those guys’) to coral reefs, big fish and a plethora of dazzling bird species are all very fine. But not really what interests me. The landscapes of the interior that I rode through – and it must be remembered, I wasn’t even half way up the country – were flat and uninteresting. The architecture was run down and knocked about and a veneer of utilitarian Soviet-style greyness had been imposed in the recent socialist enthusiasm. Faded stained concrete and peeling paint is the normal street-scape. And there is litter and rubbish just everywhere. It is a filthy country, verging in places on the squalid! Even the lovely beaches of that lagoon at Bilene were so littered with broken beer bottles that you have to walk in shoes or sandals or risk injury.
Zimbabweans, sunny Zimbabweans, are the opposite nature. Even the immigration officials chatted and smiled with me as they, quite efficiently, processed me through: visa, customs import permit and third party insurance – and the inevitable petty road tax charges and gate permits that these borders seem to proliferate. It was all done with great politeness and charm. Even the immigration officials!
While rearranging my papers at that roadside, a car pulled alongside and I was welcomed and greeted with the African fist to fist greeting by the driver. I rode the five miles to Mutare, where I stayed in March last year, and was immediately struck by the clean streets and cared-for air; this in a country with a ruined economy and bucket-case politics. The street lights don’t work and the traffic lights are bulb less, and there are potholes but drivers quietly cooperate at junctions and it all seems to work somehow.
I noticed here last year, the way people behave to one another with respect and mutual support. One of my conversationalists today put that down to the deeply Christian nature of most of the people. Maybe, but I ascribe it to education.
Not often do I break off and drink beer in the middle of my travelling day, but I felt so warmly relaxed to be back amongst so many friends that I sought out a hotel with a garden bar where I sat for a couple of hours, much of the time in conversation with the staff. Ernest is a charming waiter who really should be better employed but is happy even to have this job. He lives a few miles out of Mutare in a rural area. “Life in rural areas is much cheaper!” he chuckled philosophically. “There I can do my farming and it’s cheaper for the schools for my children. I have three children, Shalom, Mabel and Shikira. No, they are names from the Bible! Don’t you know them?” And then he related in detail where these people arise in the pantheon of biblical personages. “The elder one, Shalom, is in secondary school. The fees? They are one hundred dollars a term. For three terms…” Those are the fees for a government school. Boarding fees would be more like $400 per term. Private schools – and there are a LOT of schools of all sorts in this country – would be more expensive. One hundred US dollars, three times a year, is a lot of money to find on a basic salary as a hotel waiter. But Ernest will do it for all his children out of respect for education. This is how most Zimbabweans live, hand to mouth, uncomplaining and with the greatest fortitude. They hugely value education. Ernest has two more O levels than me. I may trump him with my one A level, but that’s because he had to leave school as his father could not afford for him to stay longer.
The hotel was quiet and I ended up chattering with all the bar staff, including the barman himself, an upstanding gentlemanly fellow of about my years, his curly hair greying at the edges in a distinguished manner. Courteous to a fault and patently a responsible elder citizen, he exuded a calm charm and honesty. He made gently disparaging remarks about the ‘problems of Zimbabwe’s politics’. Mugabe has kept education as a priority in this highly literate country and caused almost everyone with whom I speak to see him as an irrelevance. None of them voted for him; no one respects him and everyone waits for him to die. What will happen then, though, is an open book…
This country, once one of the wealthiest in Africa, so full of potential to be great again, is a mess economically and has lost all its world standing – but, if you come and see for yourself, and don’t believe the media hysteria, it’s still one of the finest countries in the world.
I rode a very rocky track high onto the mountain peaks above town and looked over the landscape of these lovely Eastern Highlands and then rode down to the edges of town to the Utopia Guest House, where I stayed ten months ago. Walking into reception, a great wail of welcome went up from the unlikely named Tracey, one of the staff. Because unemployment is so very high – said to be 90% – there always seem to be a lot of people with small jobs in these places, another manifestation of a general generosity amongst the people, I reckon. “Hey, you are back! Mr Bean! Welcome, welcome! How is your new year? Oh, we are pleased to see you! Where is your little motorbike, the one you brought; the small model from wire? I remember it well!”
Tracey had to be photographed beside my motorbike, and then, daringly, astride the saddle.
Now isn’t that nice? Several others recognised me as the evening progressed and I settled back into the same room I occupied ten months ago, with the same hot water supplied in a bucket, the same threadbare sheets and the same lumpy beds. Still over-priced at £20, the room may not be up to much, the furniture disintegrating, most of the sockets still don’t work, only one half of the old settee is possible to sit on, the same wires hang alarmingly from the wall, the water supply is intermittent – but what price do you put on a warm welcome and sense of equality?
Yes, my journey turned a corner at Forbes Border Post, Zimbabwe.