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Mozambique is a big country with a long coast full of lots to see, but it can be a mission just to get there so I had not been that far north. Kat a friend of mine from Ghana was visiting on the way back to the States after she was done in Ghana. We decided to head up the coast of Mozambique to see some of the far sights that I haven’t been two, but since it is quite a far trip we decided to do it in stages, so for a start we got to Vilankulo where we spent a couple nights.
I decided to do a diving trip out to Bazaruto Archipelago, Kat decided to do a dhow trip like the one I did at new years. The diving trip was good, first of I got to see the archipelago which I have yet to really see since it’s far away, we did a 45-min boat ride just to get there. There were only 4 divers and the rest were snorkelers, so the divers dropped in and the snorkelers were taking to their site. It was a nice dive, the water was a bit cold, but it was clear, and we had turtles and moray eels and large schools of fish. After the dive we got to go to Bazaruto Island where there is a large sand dune. The divers got to have two hours on the island before our second dive, the snorkelers just stayed there. I climbed up the sand dune and enjoy the views; it is a beautiful setting with the white sands drifting into the turquoise waters, with small sand bar islands around and colourful fishing boats bobbing in the wave. The second dive was like the first and soon we were done and heading back to the main land. On the trip I met two Israeli girls called Paz and Emily who had finished their military service and were doing some traveling, they had come to Moz after trekking round Madagascar. After talking to them I found out they were heading to the lake of star festival to and they asked if they could join up with us since they liked our plan, I said no problem and we made plans to leave Vilankulo the next day.
The bus from Vilankulo to Beira left at around 4:00, most busses here tend to leave early as the traffic is light for a bit and the distances to cover are quite large. It was an easy trip, and took only 10 hours so we got to Beira at around 14:00 and got dropped at the main bus station for long haul busses. This was impressively actually a newish building with windows to buy tickets for various companies, convenience store and a nice waiting room. This was surprising because usually the bus stations are dirty parking lots crammed with cars, minibuses, busses, people and garbage. We were able to buy our tickets to Nampula for the next day, leaving of course at 4:00.
We hoped in a taxi and found a cheap guesthouse in the middle of town then head out of foot to explore the city. Beira has a certain charm; it has beautiful art deco style buildings, and even though they are a bit faded and dilapidated, you can get a sense of how some of the neighbourhoods looked in their prime. It is a bustling city with lots of people and the downtown area has a lot of life around its market and bars. The commercial area has some amazing old building from the Portuguese times, as well as advertising that must be from the same period. Large metal framed light up signs (that no longer work) for beers and other products sit forgotten on top of many of the larger buildings. It was a very interesting city to walk around and we got back after dark and then fell into bed.
3:15 came all too soon and we were up and hoping into a taxi by 3:30, now we had been told the bus would take 14 hours, so we would be in Nampula by 18:00, now of course we took this with a grain of salt. But the bus left at 4 on the dot and we did arrive in Nampula at about 18:15. The trip was long but there were lots to look at as the scenery changed from the southern coasts I am used to getting into hilly dryer interior. The bus ended up not being full the whole time and, so we had a few seats each to stretch out on. We headed up through plateaus, through villages where the huts were made of mud instead of reeds like in the south. We got let of at the train station in Nampula, and then found out some information about the train which heads into the interior and then found a guesthouse for the night.
The next morning, we got on a chapa and headed to Ile de Mozambique, it only took 2 hours and culminated with crossing the 3.6km bridge across the clear blue waters to the island. Ile de Mozambique has been an important location for hundreds of years, the Arabs had set up a trading and ship building site here that linked all through the Indian Ocean. Vasco de Gama landed there in 1498 and it was colonized by the Portuguese soon after. Forts were constructed, and it became the capital of Portuguese East Africa, a title it held until around 1900 when the capital was moved to Maputo (Called Lorenço Marques at the time). The name Mozambique is derived from Musa Al Big, an Arab trader who first visited the island and later lived there, the name was then later given to the main land.
All this melding of cultures has turned the island into a festinating place to walk the streets. The island its self is tiny, only 3km long and only 500m wide so you can walk the whole thing without much trouble. The old Portuguese buildings mixed with a touch of African and Arabian, all mostly faded from their former glory. The Stone town which was the Portuguese quarter which has the most interesting buildings lies at the north of the island around fort of São Sebastião. There is the impressive old Governor’s mansion (dating from 1610), statue for de Gama, a countless villa which create narrow streets to wind your way through.
The fort is huge, finished around 1608 it makes it the oldest complete fort in sub-Saharan Africa, it still collects water from its roofs at stories it in giant cistern that the islands inhabitants still use today. It has been recently renovated and is in ok condition, but it is not really presented well and is nothing compared to the forts in Ghana to which a lot of time and effort has been given to make them excellent tourist attractions. It is an impressive piece of history and repelled three major Dutch attacks during its active service. The Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte which sits on the eastern tip of the island was built in 1522 and is considered the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere.
Outside of Stone Town in the old quarries is Makuti town which is full of huts of various construction, reeds, mud, wood and obtained stone. The place was where the non-Portuguese were set out to live and is still full today, as you stand looking over the multitude of tin roofs, with a symphony of smells and sights coming up at you it creates its own mystery that adds to the island.
There is another little fort on a tiny island just off the southern tip of the island, you can walk to this at low tide and we did, and then scrambled up through a hole in the coral wall. It is not maintained or exhibited and is open and you can walk through the whole thing (it is small). There is another old cistern there and some boys were washing their cloths using the water when we were there. On the ramparts of the fort a dozen old cannons lie rusting in the sun, the quarters lie open and nothing, but stone and metal remains. The tide was returning and, so we left and walked slowly through the tide pools taking in the life, sea urchins, sea stars, starfish, and a host of other little fish and crabs. The tide pools were being picked clean by women and children looking for food, a process repeated all around the island when the tide was out.
We spent two nights on the island in a lovely guesthouse called Ruby Backpackers that is a renovated villa complete with lovely roof top garden, so we spent our time just resting up, exploring and soaking in the culture, it’s not a great place to go swimming and there is not really a proper beach that is clean. It is a place I have wanted to go since arriving in Mozambique and it was extremely satisfying after the long trip north to sit on the roof and listen to the island life and know that we did it.
It was back to Nampula then, a city which has no good budget options and we paid way too much for a shitty room, it’s not a city a fell in love with. We were there however to get the train that heads to the interior to Cuamba a city in the Niassa province that sits along the shores of Lake Niassa/Malawi. We got our tickets (treating ourselves to second class) and then found a place to sleep for the night.
At 4:30 we boarded the train and at just after 5:00 when the sun was just coming up behind the train station we pulled out. We had assigned seating in second class, which was six-person berths with fold down beds, the other two Mozambicans spent the time sleeping as did we for some of the trip, it was probably the most comfortable trip I have had in Mozambique, if not Africa, being able to lie down and watch the world whip past. Third class on the other hand was a carriage packed with people on benches, think it was worth the extra $5 for us.
The train ride was spectacular, the scenery of huge rocky hills, the green disappearing as we headed further into the dry interior, and villages of mud that pop out of now where and disappear again into the bush. The whole thing was very Africa, there was a “restaurant” car with people already drinking at 7:00, it served chicken and chips or xima (maize flour) and of course drinks, when we pulled into a station the train was accosted by hawkers yelling and thrusting their wares up to the windows, everything from fruit and bread through to meat, live chickens and woven goods. The most memorable part was however when the train was not strong enough to get up some small hills, we would make it almost up then fail, so we would back up a lot and give it a running go, we would try this a few times and sometimes it would work others it wouldn’t. So, they would split the train, leave the rear half, of which we were a part of sitting on the tracks and then drive to the next siding leave the front half come back and get the rear half and then put the two back together, this happened three or four times and was just amazing to watch and chuckle about.
But we stepped of the train about 12 hours later in Cuamba just as the sun was setting behind the station and then were hustled into a chapa which was going to Lichinga but would past Mandimba on the Malawi border which was our destination. The driver drove like a mad man as fast as he possibly could along dirt, corrugated, potholed roads; of all the chapas I have been on in Africa he drove the fastest on a dirt road. We make it to Mandimba, safe but a bit shaken. Mandimba is a nothing of a town about 4km from the border. We checked into a very grotty cheap guesthouse and passed out.
Tomorrow we are getting up very early to head to Malawi and to the Lake of Stars festival which also begins tomorrow. The whole trip has been fantastic, isle de Mozambique was what I hoped it would be and the train ride was awesome, I would thoroughly recommend both.