Expect the Unexpected… Anna’s sequel unfolds in Mozambique

It was a year in the making, everything perfectly planned, from the date, time of year, seasons, tides, moon activity, right down to the 2-ply toilet paper on the shopping list.

“If you have any expectations for this trip, let them go immediately” those were the first wise words spoken by our guide Robson at our briefing the night before we departed for Mozambique, and thinking back on it now, I recall hearing a collective sigh the moment those words rolled out of his mouth. A sense of reassurance settled over our group that not only were we in good hands but whatever happened from then on would happen for a reason and would ensure an excellent tour experience.

To put you back in the picture, last year myself and a few friends ventured to Namibia for a private 10 day trip – it was an interesting, challenging and memorable tour and as soon as the tour was over, everyone signed up again for yet another adventure, but this time, to Mozambique.

16 of us embarked on the journey, of which 8 were new to the world of adventure tours. The final route we settled for was very similar to that of the Nomad scheduled 14 day Discover Mozambique tour. Highlights being, Tofo, Bazaruto Archipelago, Kruger and others that we weren’t even expecting!

We left Johannesburg at 05:00 and made our way towards Maputo. Everyone had been warned that it was going to be a long day of driving including a border crossing so all came prepared with pillows, books, ipods and the poker set. We all took the decision at the time of confirming the charter tour that we would be responsible for our own cooking and food shopping. Nomad still provided all the catering equipment such as the pots, pans, cutlery etc, but it was up to us to design our own meal plan and make sure we had provisions – a daunting task, taking into account that there would be 18 mouths to feed as well as limited opportunities once we had crossed the border.

Nevertheless, we embraced the challenge and spent one hour in Nelspruit at the shopping centre buying our supplies. All of the planning had been done predeparture at our local seafront pub during numerous “happy hours” – we now have shares in “Doodles Beachfront”! We ended up with five heaped trolley loads full of groceries and non-perishables and with the guidance of Herco (our assistant crew member) and Robson, everything was distributed between the food crates, fridge, lockers and the freezer.

As we meandered through the Mpumalanga province, we were welcomed with a sprinkling of rain. Well, more of a downpour than a sprinkling – was it a sign of what was waiting for us across the border? Maybe we were cursed, maybe not, who knew? For the remainder of the day – there was no mention of the “R” word. The border crossing was smooth in fact, too smooth, but who’s to question a smooth border crossing?

As lady luck would have it, we all got our exit stamps from South Africa and drove across to the Mozambique office, everyone got stamped, however, one of the Swiss nationals travelling with us was stopped. The border official noticed that he had departed from South Africa (in reality about 10 minutes prior on the 8th November 2012) on the 8th September 2012, so he was sent back to the South African side to sort out his stamp. Slight panic ensued as we all checked our stamps and low and behold, my passport also indicated that I had left SA on the 8th September 2012 and not 10 minutes prior on the 8th November 2012. So off we went back to the South African office – now, how do you politely tell an Immigration Officer that their stamp is on the incorrect date? “Hi, sorry, I think your date stamp made a mistake in our passports”… Yes, that was good enough, it did the trick and even got an apology on behalf of the stamp.

The border is a hive of activity. Given that it’s the official exit and entry point of the country, one would question the local entrepreneurs who have set up shop offering everything from illegal money exchange to fruit sellers and large telecommunications companies. Arranging international roaming on the border is (in hindsight) not a good idea, the risk as to whether it may or may not work is high and it generates unwelcomed attention from the very mean (and big) Mozambique Police Officer, especially if you are sitting in a big branded adventure vehicle. Having been lucky enough to avoid a thorough truck search, we were threatened with a search if we did not move out of the border. Fair enough, but three people were inside the Vodacom office, oblivious to the anguish going on outside. Herco was offloaded and sent to inform (and wait with) the brave three while the rest of us left the border and officially entered Mozambique, what a drama! We were now in Mozambique with our truck (our mode of transport) and the 3 stragglers, plus Herco were standing in no-man’s land. We had the permit paper to enter the country but they didn’t! So for the next ten minutes (or what felt like two hours) everyone sat silently, trying to make ourselves invisible to avoid being hassled, fined or deported by the Mozambique officials. Finally we got a glimpse of the brave stragglers and we all remained silent as they climbed on board the truck. A collective sigh of relief breathed through the truck as we hit the road again. Only to be stopped 500m later at our first (of many) road blocks.

Our arrival at our accommodation stop for the first night, Casa Lisa, was late and in the dark – which was caused by the rain, lengthy shop stop in Nelspruit, the unspoken events at the border, the horrendous traffic jam in Maputo, and roadblock #2, just outside Maputo. “If you have any expectations for this trip, let them go immediately” – wise words spoken by Robson, very wise words indeed. It was only once the smell of mosquito repellent filled the air, did we realise – we were finally in Mozambique and the adventure had begun!

On Day 2 we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine, smiles all around, a quick yummy breakfast and we hit the road for Tofo, where we would be spending the next three nights. The drive was uneventful, a few rounds of poker, scattered palm trees and the smell of roasting cashews. Tofo is an amazing place and best known for the perennial sightings of Whale Shark, one of our highlights for this trip and an opportunity to go out to sea to snorkel with these gentle giants. The next few days were eventful, we bought fresh Barracuda (fish) from the locals, tried to chop open coconuts, surfed and swam at Tofo beach, shopped at the local markets and went on an Ocean Safari.

I have rewritten this paragraph three times to best describe our experience during the ocean safari. The safari has been for many prior travellers, an incredible experience and still remains a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime encounter. But let’s not beat around the bush, the ocean, like a National Park, is not a zoo and the Whale Sharks and Mantas don’t perform on demand and there are times when you are set up for disappointment.

Off we marched to the activity centre to sign up for our Ocean Safari, indemnity signed, masks and snorkels issued and a safety briefing. During our briefing our “whale shark spotter” cautioned us that the end of our safari would be quite hardcore when the rubber duck (boat) would charge through the waves back to the land to ramp the beach and park. We all mentally prepared ourselves for the ending far before we had even begun. Nevertheless, off we trotted to the beach and noted that there was no jetty but the boat was on the beach, wedged in the sand and there are were no people helping to get the boat into the sea. So we pushed and pushed as the waves broke up against the boat, eventually it started to float, waves breaking into and on the boat, “girls in”, the guide shouted, and a few seconds later “boys in”. That was the last instruction I heard from our “spotter”, the rest is a blur.

Now before you read further, understand that I am a “sissy” and am incredibly cautious and paranoid, so at this moment, I was out of my comfort zone. After about four minutes of high speed bumping and smashing around I opened my eyes and lifted my head – it was like a war zone in the boat, blood, bruises, sopping wet, yet laughter, maybe more nervous laughter than enjoyment. Somewhere between the “girls in” and “boys in” things went wrong, maybe it was a lack of not listening during the briefing or a lack of understanding of what was going to happen. I thought I was coping well, until I glanced down to my hand and realised there was blood all over my finger – that set the tone for the next two hours, not only was I troubled with a bit of motion sickness (never mind the paranoia), now the sight of my bloodied finger was the cherry on the top and I spent the next two hours hanging over the edge of the boat, vomiting. These pictures best summarise my impression of the two hours… The first image is how I experienced the trip and the second is that of my friends.

The weather and conditions change so quickly, when we were milling around our campsite earlier in the morning, the waters were calm and the sky blue, who would have thought that it could change and become so fierce within minutes (okay, hours).

We spent the two hours driving up and down the shore, no sight of whale sharks, mantas or any marine life. The swell was getting increasingly bigger by the minute and my paranoia turned into a state of sheer panic, so much so that I initiated a democratic vote (which consisted of my vote only) to end this trip and go back to shore – it seemed like a fool proof plan, stick up my hand and repeat “I wanna go back, I wanna go back, I wanna go back, I wanna go back – lets vote everyone”. Mmmm, not my proudest moment but at least it provides a chuckle or two now. We continued ramping and dodging waves – unfortunately it was not meant to be the day that we snorkelled with the Whale Sharks. After our scheduled two hours at sea, we returned to the land which turned out to be the smoothest part of the trip, yet the only thing we were warned about, the beaching at the end. Never in my life was I happier to be back on land – legs shaking, sopping wet, speechless and still bloodied and bruised, we survived! Off we (maybe just me) went, back to our accommodation, tails between our legs. This day would be the one that was remembered as the “respect the ocean” day as it reminded us of exactly who was really in control.

Back at our accommodation, the realisation and disappointment of the Ocean Safari was evident, although we laughed and joked at the events leading up to and during the safari, it was clear that the ocean safari was the one highlight everyone was looking forward to the most, all I could hear in my head was Robson’s voice “If you have any expectations for this trip, let them go immediately”. For some, the pain was soothed away with the 5 litre box of semi-sweet white wine that was left fermenting inside the truck for the entire day… and so the adventure continued.

It was a relatively short 5 hour drive from Tofo up to Vilanculos, which would be our base for the next 3 nights. The road to Vilanculos has improved so much since the last time I was there 4 years back, what a pleasure, no more potholes and driving on the gravel shoulder of the road, which back in the day offered a smoother ride than the actual road. Having all had our photo taken at the Tropic of Capricorn sign in Namibia last time, it was only right that we stopped to have yet another Tropic of Capricorn photo taken, this time in Mozambique. Once in Vilanculos, we settled into our cozy accommodation and what a treat it was, to be out of the sandy campsite of Tofo and have the luxury of green grass and not forgetting the swimming pool, fans in the rooms, a laundry service and the spectacular scenery of the bay.

Over the next 2 days, we would explore the Bazaruto Archipelago, which is situated 10 to 15km offshore. The Archipelago consists of five islands and we visited two of them, Magaruque and Bazaruto. The sailing conditions were excellent, calm waters, a gentle breeze and blue skies. We met our crew at 08:00 in the morning for our briefing and to be kitted out with our masks, snorkels and fins. Once we were all signed up and checked in, we made our way down to the beach where our crew were already waiting for us on our dhow, it didn’t take long for us to settle in and make ourselves comfortable for the trip.

The sail across to Magaruque was about 1.5 hours and once we arrived, immediately started with the snorkelling. Not being an avid snorkeler or being too keen on fish, the conditions were ideal. We all dropped into the water and allowed ourselves to gently drift down with the current, while marvelling at all the fish, coral and creatures beneath us. There were loads of fish, especially around our boat, you could even stand on the shore and look into the clear water and watch them swimming around.

We were left to explore for about 2 hours, which gave our crew enough time to prepare a hearty meal on the dhow – yes, on the dhow. They have a fire pit in the middle of the dhow from where they do all of their cooking (even popcorn!). As the tide had started pushing in by the time we had finished lunch, we could not drift down the reef as the currents were far too strong, but we still had the chance to snorkel on the opposite side of the reef and with the high tide came a whole new variety of fish.

It took us about 2 hours to get back to the mainland, but instead of returning to the town of Vilanculos, we headed for a lodge called Villas do Indico (which in reality was about 11km North of Vilanculos, but as we were on the sea, it felt a lot further). After being in the sun and sea the whole day it was such a treat to check into our rooms and find the aircon (although I am not a fan of aircon), it was a novel idea to cool down the room for a few minutes.

We arrived at the lodge just before sunset, but we had ample time to enjoy the spectacular view from the “sea-pool”, sipping our cocktails and receiving a bit of first-aid from our friendly barman – the reefs are really sharp and cuts are almost a guarantee when snorkelling, so be careful when getting in and out of the water. And on the note of our friendly barman, if you plan on having a few drinks at Villas do Indico, make sure you take out a bond on your home, as the drinks are very expensive, it does not matter if you are having a Jamesons with water or the local tipo tinto & coke, you pay MET245 which works out to about ZAR 81.00 and they don’t serve singles, only doubles, so best you confirm the prices before you order.

Another early night, I could safely say it was lights out at around 22:00, which was on average the time most of us went to sleep each night, not sure whether that is because the sun sets really early this time of year or if our jam-packed days just got too much for our bodies to handle. As the sun rises at around 04:40, most mornings we were all up at approximately 05:15 as the place warms up as soon as the sunrays hit you, it’s instant heat and impossible to sleep any longer. But that did not bother us at all and became a welcoming routine as it made the days seem so much longer. It really felt like we were getting our money’s worth.

On the second day of the dhow excursion we set off for 2 Mile Reef which gets its name thanks to it being exactly two miles from the shore. Again we were so lucky with the tides, blue skies and weather conditions. We arrived at 2 Mile Reef (which took about 2 hours to get to) and spent about 45 minutes bobbing around in the water. There was so much to see and explore and those 45 minutes felt like 5 minutes, it went far too quickly, but understandably, we had a lot to explore on this day, before heading back to Vilanculos.

Back on the dhow, we set sail for the next island with its massive sand dunes. Our captain dropped us off and encouraged us to take a hike up the dunes, I opted to take the short cut along the shore as there was no way I was going to put myself through the trauma of physical exercise, I suppose it’s similar to climbing Dune 45, except it’s white and not red sand and we are surrounded by sea and not more dunes… okay, maybe not like Dune 45, but in my little world, if you’ve climbed one sand dune, you’ve climbed them all! As we reached a shaded awning on the beach which our crew had erected, they were busy chopping away and cooking our lunch. This gave us ample time to explore the small reefs around the beach and also allow the others to finish the dune climb.

Fishing proved very successful for some, catching no less than five fish within fifteen minutes by standing waist deep in the water.

We spent another two hours lazing around the island, enjoyed lunch and then took the long trip back to Vilanculos. The afternoon trip back was a little choppy, the tide had come in and the winds had picked up substantially, so there was a bit of a swell, but not enough to make anybody seasick, all was well and under control (although I am certain I nearly had severe flashbacks from the ocean safari).

Overall, we were very lucky with everything we had experienced on the dhow excursion – things could not have been better.

Back in Vilanculos, the seafood lovers amongst us organised some crayfish from the locals – they were huge, never in my life have I seen such big crayfish!

We said goodbye to Vilanculous and headed down south again, back to Tofo, where we spent another two nights. Lazing around on the beach & eating way too much seafood kept us busy for these two days and I am happy to report that these days went by without incident. Our time in Mozambique was nearing the end but we still had one more night left, which was spent in the coastal village of Bilene. The only reason we stayed in Bilene was to break our drive from Tofo to Kruger National Park and although it had a beautiful setting on the waters edge, we did not have the opportunity to appreciate it as the wind kept us indoors for most of the day. The trusty poker set kept us entertained for a good portion of our time in Bilene.

And so, as the new day arrived, we packed up, and said our good-bye’s to Mozambique. The excitement of knowing that we would be stopping at a supermarket which was fully stocked with luxuries (and at this point, a Magnum ice-cream was listed on the luxury list) was evident. Everyone seemed to have a new lease on life with new found energy, whether this was the thought of the shop or the fact that we would be entering the Kruger National Park, we will never know, but one thing I can add is that neither Mozambique nor Kruger disappointed us.

It was a quick border crossing (we learnt our lesson on the way in so we knew the drill), quick shop stop and “hello Kruger National Park!”. Kruger was certainly one of my “expected highlights” as on the two previous occasions that I was in Kruger, I had seen the Big 5. So this, being my 3rd time in Kruger, (my previous Kruger visit was over New Years Eve 2011) I was confident that it would show us what we had come to see. We entered Kruger through Crocodile Bridge, which is in the Southern region, just a few kilometres from Komatipoort and the border between Mozambique and South Africa.

We stopped off at the Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp and made lunch. We had about 80km ahead of us to reach our rest camp for the night and about four hours in which to do it (the gates to the rest camps close at 18:30 which is sunset and if you are late, expect a steep fine).

With the batteries charged, truck windows wide open and each person strategically positioned in the truck, we headed off into Kruger, following the tarred roads, in search of the Big 5. Over the next two days, we had the most incredible sightings, including: elephant (herds), rhino, warthog, various buck, various birds, baboons, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, hyena, buffalo, lion, hippo, and so much more. Okay, so we never saw the leopard, I was so certain that we would see it, but if you had ever told me that I would see a cheetah instead, I would have laughed at you as I was always under the impression that the cheetah’s preferred the open plains way up north – oh boy was I wrong. We had spent our first night in Skukuza which is almost like a mini town, with a bank, post office, car rental bureau, you name it, Skukuza probably has it. We had the perfect accommodation; just metres away from the Sabie River where we watched the hippos float around in the water at sunset, just incredible.

Our second night in Kruger was spent at the Pretoriuskop Rest Camp – we had all decided that we would leave Skukuza at 06:00 in the morning and meander on down to Pretoriuskop, the camps are approximately 50km apart, have breakfast there, check into our rooms and then hit the road again for additional game viewing. In the evening, a few of us had booked an optional game drive operated by SANParks in an open 4×4 vehicle, it was a sunset game drive and lasted three hours, so we headed off at 17:00 as the sun was setting and returned at 20:00 in the dark.

We saw an abundance of animals, but it was the question asked by one of my friends “what’s that crossing the road, with the bushy white tail?“ that had us all on the edge of our seats! Maybe it was a jackal, a buck or probably something “boring”, so our guide drove towards the “bushy white tail” and low and behold, there stood a cheetah! Luckily for us he was marking his territory, so he was standing still. No amount of words can describe the next five minutes of watching the cheetah walk right behind our vehicle, give us a stare, walk on a bit further, turn around and stare at us again and then disappear into the bushes. It was a sight that I will never forget and it was the first time I had ever seen a cheetah in the wild!

The tick list was complete! And with that, the final day of our tour had dawned upon us. Sombre yet excited, we knew we had 600km ahead of us to reach Johannesburg. We packed up for the very last time and made our way out of Kruger. And what a farewell Kruger gave us, just 1km from the exit gate, a pack of hyenas were lying in the grass next to the road, adults and youngsters were, “chilling” in the morning rain.

The plan for our route back to Johannesburg was to follow the Panorama Route, stopping at Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Three Rondavels and God’s Window, however this didn’t go according to plan. I have a confession to make, I went against everything that I preach to our guests “we strongly recommend you book your flights for the following day and not the day your tour ends”. There is a reason why we say this, anything could happen that could cause a delay, meaning a late arrival at the end point and subsequently missing flights. As luck would have it, as we were entering a little town called Graskop, we were pulled over by a traffic official, for exceeding the speed limit when entering their town. Without disrespecting the traffic laws and rules, we were well within the 60km speed limit (which was displayed on the sign board) but according to the traffic official, we were restricted to 40km – not one of us saw the 40km limit sign for trucks. Being a foreign National (Zimbabwean), Robson was required to settle the fine immediately in the Magistrates office, so off our Robson went with the official. While Robson was away, the time was ticked on and it was during this time that we pulled out the fancy phones with GPS and those gadgets and figured out the shortest route to Johannesburg, after all, we had a flight to catch. We had a tough decision to make, go with the original Panorama route or skip everything to make it to Johannesburg in time. We went with the latter and had to sacrifice everything to get to the airport. Lesson learnt, if it happened to me, it will more than likely happen to everyone else.

We made it back to Johannesburg and had enough time to clear out our belongings from the truck, check in and have a quick beer. And so, another adventure ended, who knows where the next one will take us, but I’m already looking forward to it!

PS (I have never successfully climbed Dune 45)…..

We also have four scheduled Mozambique tours to offer you

14 Day, Camping, Discover Mozambique
14 Day, Accommodated, Mozambique in Comfort
8 Day, Accommodated, Mozambique Explorer
8 Day, Camping, Escape to Mozambique

If you’d like to find out more about these incredible tours, please contact me on marketing@nomadtours.co.za or you can call our Cape Town office on +27 (21) 426 5445.

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