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Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012

08/09/2011 Maputo

Day 9

Hello again everyone. As promised here comes a quick update from Mozambique. Our first day's highlights of entering the country and staying in Maputo.
We got up early at our camp near the old railway line in Swaziland to get to the border quickly. Things we heard about Mozambique made it clear to us that we should reserve some time for the border crossing. From where we were there was a choice of two crossing points, we decided for the crossing at Goba. Goba is a small and relatively new crossing and therefore it is not too busy. And to get there we could ride through another small game reserve on the Swaziland side, enjoying another dirt road instead of the tiring tarmac on the main highway. However, 'game' did not seem to be aware that the place was a game reserve and apart from three warthogs no animals showed up. Probably had to do with our noisy bikes too.
The border crossing was as usual split in two parts. The Swaziland exit was very easy, just showing the passport and receiving an exit stamp. Outside we had to 'proof our ownership of our vehicles' which the Certificate of Registration did sufficiently and after a short chat about motorbikes the boomgate opened for us. It all took maybe 15 minutes.
Part two was the entry into Mozambique. We did not have a visa at that point because we knew it is available at the border. What we did not know was that at the border it would cost three times the fee than at the Mozambique embassy in Mbabane. We now had to pay 600 South African Rand (AU$85) for it instead of 200 as the other travellers did in Mbabane. So if you ever follow us to Mozambique, make sure you get your visa beforehand!
Apart from that the entry procedure was very easy and relatively quick. The Carnet for our bikes was not needed and instead we got a Temporary Import Permit for another 10 Rand fee and the boomgates opened for us again. This side of the border kept us busy for around one hour.
And before we knew we were riding through Mozambique on a beautiful sunny day.
First thing we noticed in Mozambique - there is no more English. Local language here is Portuguese. Which is one of my favourite languages. Not that any of us speaks any of it, but it sounds awesome, it sounds like sunshine, summer, party. Since my holiday in Brazil in 2008 I'm loving it. It is definitely on the to do list to learn Portuguese.
Second thing we noticed - the landscape is really green here, a welcome change to the dry brownish environment we got used to in Swaziland.
And third thing we noticed - Mozambique is incredibly colourful. We rode through a place called Boane and stopped to get some money out of an ATM. And the whole town was buzzing in all colours of the rainbow. There were lots of stalls where colourful fruits were sold. People everywhere wearing at least three colours per person. Colourful billboards covered the walls of the buildings. And there was music, chatter, cars honking. People here are not just a colourful bunch but also a happy one. Kids playing soccer whereever there was a few square metres of space, and most people's faces were lightened up by their white teeth because they were constantly smiling. People shook hands with us and greeted us without hasseling. Everyone seems to live on happy pills.
And coming into Maputo this impression even intensified. Maputo is a buzzing hub of over a million smiling faces. Riding into Maputo we were overtaken by minibus taxis overcrowded with smiles. There were small little red Honda motorbikes. No rider wearing a helmet. And there were the TukTuk style taxis zooming past us and running the red lights.
Also the roadblocks that many people warned us about were a no-show. We passed two Police checks, on both of them they were not the least bit interested in us. In almost an entire day in Maputo not even one bribe was asked of us. The traffic here seems to be chaotic when seen from the outside but once you are part of it, it all seems to make sense and it becomes easy to navigate. Like in a big river you just go with the flow and it is this flow which automatically guides you around stopping minibus taxis, potholes or broken down trucks. Whith no worries in the world and big smiles on our own faces we arrived at a nice little hostel where they allowed us to camp and bring our bikes in. From there we spent the rest of the day walking and exploring the city. And enjoing the famous 2M .
After travelling inland since my arrival in Africa it was also good to see the ocean again. And it is this ocean that we plan to follow north. Our (expensive) visa grants us 30 days in the country so we have all the time in the world. The latest iteration of our plan for the future is to travel north as far as 'Ilha de Mocambique' and then head west and cross into Malawi and Zambia. See what happens.

08/09/2011 First pics of Mozambique

Here we go with some snapshots of our first day in Mozambique, mostly spent in Maputo.

'Welcome to Mozambique' just across the border from Swaziland near Goba

Boane is the first town on the road to Maputo. It is a colourful and lively intro into Mozambique

An arts and handycrafts market in Maputo




Maputo - back at the Indian Ocean. Just across there would be Australia. Long way across...

20/09/2011 Mozambique

Day 12 - Inhambane, Mozambique
Hello again with another short update from Mozambique. Short because there is actually not too much happening to write a lot about. The highlight of the last couple of days was to simply be here. Just cruising along. Here in Mozabique. Which is a great place to cruise along.
If you hear stories about what a dangerous place Mozambique would be, how corrupt the police is or how many bribes you would be expected to pay - simply forget about it. We haven't met anyone meaning us bad yet, nor have we met corrupt officials or police. The very contrary is true. People are super friendly here and help us in all respects. E.g. lifting the bike that has been dropped on a sandy path (but let's talk about that later). There is a police checkpoint in every small town. But it is merely a speed check with surprisingly sophisticated looking radar cameras. We try to stick to the speed limit and are usually just waved through with a friendly smile. No Police has stopped us yet.
Mozambique is a pretty easy place to get your bearings right. There is pretty much only one sealed road going all the way in North - South direction more or less parallel to the coast for around 2500km. In the centre part, where Mozambique is a bit wider there are a few gravel roads to connect to Lake Malawi or the Zimbabwe border. But that's pretty much it. All along this main road there are little market stalls selling things like mobile prepaid vouchers, Coca Cola, fire wood, bundles of straw or some produce such as oranges, cashew nuts or paw paws. Almost every village also has a bakery. We just live of 'Pao typico Portuguese' which is a piece of bread not unlike the French baguette in shape and lenghts but of rather white ciabatta like dough. One of those only costs about 8 Meticais (AU$ 0.30) and it really fills you up for a while and tastes great. There is also petrol stations every 100 or so km, making fuel a non issue along that road. Even in between those fuel is sold in 5 litre water bottles from little stalls next to the road. One litre of unleaded (unknown octane) costs just under 50 Meticais (AU$ 1.65) and is relatively expensive compared to the other costs in Mozambique. But it must be good fuel because my little Suzuki achieves an unprecedented fuel economy of under 5l/100km with it.

Maybe let's just talk about some random examples of our experience with the Mozambique people. Just to give you an idea what to expect if you ever find yourself here.
One evening we were looking for a good place to camp and just went into some tiny dirtpath which looked promising. And indeed some hundred meters in we found the perfect pitch of grass. Clearly within sight of it there was a group of people cooking on a fire and some little kids running around. So there I went to introduce us and ask if it's okay for us to camp on that piece of grass. It ended up being one such situation where I tried to start a conversation with the three words of Portuguese I know and get two village mums replying back simultaneously in rapid downpours of Portuguese while stirring the stuff in the big pot on the fire. Me not knowing the words for 'camping' or 'tent' or 'sleeping' certainly did not help. So we ended up wildy weaving our hands and arms and pointing towards things and drawing picures in the sand and shaking our heads. And laughing our ass off. And with kids running around me and two village mums laughing at me I felt like entertaining the whole village and we all had some good fun. Until I thought I got the message across and became a thumps up and 'tudo bom' ('all good') in response.
A few hours later we were visited by a big group of people. Including one young guy who spoke English. The purpose of their visit was to 'greet us', one of the village mums still had a lot of fun now that we actually had a translator between us. And we were presented with a thick piece of sugar cane to break up pieces and chew them and suck the sweet sugar juice out of it. As a welcome present to their village.
Another evening we were looking for camping again and found a road leading to the beach. The road started good enough as a dirt road with some sandy patches. However, the sandy bits grew longer and longer. And deeper too. And after I dropped my poor bike on a similar road earlier the same day it was now Martin's turn. On a particularly deep sandy uphill section he found his poor Africa Twin suddenly on her side. And within seconds people came along to help lifting the heavily laden Honda back up. Also within seconds we had status updates about the rest of the road. And friendly company again the next morning after camping on the beach when the same guys came along for some spear fishing and said hello.
Or today when it was realy hot and we used our poor bikes as an excuse to stop to give them a rest. We went straight to the pub (=container with drinks being sold). Sitting there, two ladies approached us selling cashew nuts. Hungry as we were we asked how much those would be and encountered our usual communication difficulties. Our three words of broken Portuguese against their simultaneous whole barrage of talking. After a few seconds they showed one hand and counted their fingers so we assumed the whole bag of nuts would be costing us 5 Meticais (AU$ 0.17). So I got out my 5Mtk coin wondering why it was so cheap and these two ladies started laughing and didn't stop. What they found so funny I still don't get. But they obviously asked for 50Mtk for their bags of cashews. Which is still cheap. In between those intense episodes of laughter we went tbrough all the coins I had. They picked 43Mtk (AU$1.50) worth of coins, left us with 2(?) sizeable bags of cashews and off they went still giggling and laughing.
It's a really good bunch of people to be around, these Mozambiquans.

On the bike side of things: both our bikes are holding up really well. Most of our km are done on the paved main artery road but it's the little bits and pieces of when we leave that road which make the trip interesting. Obviously our tyre choices (Pirelli Scorpion MT90 A/T for my bike and Mitas E07 for Martin's Honda) are not great in sand but which tyres would be? They are easy to ride on gravel roads though and also on the tarmac. Although the hot and rough tarmac here eats away the rubber quit rapidly. So I guess before we go into the DRC we might need to find a new set of tyres in Dar es Salam and hope our 21" and 17" sizes will be available. There should be tyres available in Dar, right?
In terms of DRC we might be lucky with the visa situation. Our hostel in Maputo was just down the road from the DRC High Commision so we thought we go in and ask some questions. And the lady there was really cool and helpful but couldn't give us a visa. Because we are not residents of Mozambique and embassies can only issue DRC visas for residents of the country they are in. However, she also showed us an official letter from the government in Kinshasa that the immediate neighbours of the DRC are exempted from this rule, explicitly listing Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi as examples. She also phoned the DRC embassy in Lusaka (Zambia) for us and got confirmed that we could be issued a visa there. So we now have a choice and cross fingers thant these guys all received the same letter from Kinshasa. We shall see...

20/09/2011 Mozambique

Day 14
Hello again from tropical Vilanculos in Mozambique. We are still enjoying ourselves in beautiful Mozambique and will continue to do so for another one or two days until we cross into Zimbabwe.
The last couple of days have been pretty lucky ones for us. Since the last update we stopped over in Tofo for one day. All the keen divers of you might know the place for it's diving resorts. And apart from that it is the Tofo beach which is just stunning. It goes on for km on end without any houses, without anyone on the beach. And it is the perfect mix of white sand, turqoise ocean and blue sky which creates the perfect playground for ocean lovers. In Tofo we booked ourselves onto a boat trip for snorkeling with whale sharks. The boat trip itself was already a great experience. We cruised along the neverending beach in search of whale sharks while watching nearby Humpback Whales breach and play around as a happy family. And after a while a Whale Shark was spotted for us and the four keen snorkelers on board dived in. Once under water we were only meters away from the shark. And OMG was that a massive monster! Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet, not counting in whales for they are mammals. The one that we met that day was approximately 10-12m long. And even though they are sharks, lucky for us they only feed on plankton. So there we were in the ocean together with a huge speckled shark. Just elegantly swimming along with us, more like just floating a metre or two underneath the surface. That was sooo cool.
It is however not the big attractions like the whales and sharks which fascinate me most but the little everyday routine stuff. Even now I am not over the initial sensation of being in Africa yet. And just sitting on my little Suzuki and just riding along is an awesome feeling.

I often think back to the planning phase. One and a half years ago when the idea came up and I spend many sleepless nights over books and on the web for information gathering. And drawing all the info I could get onto a big pencilled map of the continent. It has been very clear that I wanted to go to Africa. Back then I couldn't explain why. But now I know. It's not so much for the elefants or lions or Kilimandjaro or safari part of it. Even though all that is cool. But it's much more about the everyday's life bit. To live in between the attractions and see Africa as it is outside the tourism hubbs.

Around a year ago the excitement got even bigger when I was sitting at a friend's house in Sydney and we spent a long evening watching photos and listening to stories about their two previous long adventure trips through Africa. Back then everything was still so uncertain for me.

Then the excitement got almost unbearable the week before leaving for the trip.

And now we are here. This is what it was all about. This is it. Living the dream that was just a dream for so long. Things that seemed so exotic back then are now routine. But no less exciting. It all comes together here. And now. Cruising along on my little Suzuki, feeling the heat of the tropical sun, smelling the smoke of the little grassfires people light for cooking in front of their little huts and hearing the chatter of the women walking in colourful groups along the road with huge buckets balancing on their heads.
Every day we wake up to a blood red sun rising over the east. Every day again we camp with a sun setting red as blood in the west. And while we're lighting the camp fire to the alien sound of crickets and unfamiliar birds we are watching a huge red moon rise. In between all that we look into many smiling black faces while we are cruising along. People who just get along with their daily routine as they probably have done for many years and still, for us watching these people is just as fascinating as it is for them to see these two guys cruising past on these unbelievably huge bikes as it is now our routine. A random moment in time which is nothing special at a random location in Africa suddenly becomes a memorable event for all of us. That is the stuff I wanted to see and wanted to live for in Africa, the stuff in between things, the little everyday routines, the conversation with locals, the warm handshakes and genuine smiles. And I am loving every minute of it. Cruising along is like watching a good movie, there is so much dynamic and colour in everything. And as soon as you stop the perspective changes completely and you are immediately part of the same fascinating film.

Another very pleasent experience found us last night. We stopped in Vilanculos for buying some stuff for dinner and getting ready for camping. When we were suddenly aproached by another white guy. And so we met Uli, a German expat who happend to own a guest house in Vilanculos. And as it turns out he loves motorbikes and touring as much as we do. He has a couple of KTM 450's and 640's in his workshop and prepares himself for a major bike trip through Mozambique. Ready to start in just two days. So we ended up staying at his guesthouse and had a great chat about motorbikes and Mozambique and the life as expat while sitting by the campfire. If any of you guys ever travel to Vilanculos, I can only recommend saying hello to Uli at his guesthouse 'Casa Guci' and you will hear some amazing stories about what you can do with a KTM in Mozambique!

Well in case you do ever travel to Mozambique, let me just give you a quick wrap up what it is like, based on our experience here. Our route took us from Swaziland to Maputo and then North till Vilanculos and from there another 250km north and then straight west towards the border to Zimbabwe.
Mozambique is a stunning place to travel through full of amazing people. Although most major attractions have to do with diving or snorkelling and are quite pricey. A standard dive will cost you around AU$65. Also accomodation in these dive resorts will set you back a couple of hundred dollars a night. Backpacker hostels can be found in every decent size town and cost around the same as in Australia. (AU$20 a night). Petrol is available every 100 or so km along the main road from a major service station and is of good quality. But also at a rather high price of beyond AU$1.60 per litre. The further north you go the more expensive it gets. ATM are everywhere but in the smallest towns. The most I could get out of them on my Visa card was 5000MTK (AU$ 167) which will last you for a couple of days. Food is available from supermarkets, these are getting very rare once you are north of Inhambane. Supermarkets are just a bit cheaper than in western countries. Beer is really cheap though (AU$ 8 for a sixpac). Every village also has a market but there is not much to buy from those. It's mostly for local clientel so they sell big buckets of salt or sugar or straw or palm leaves or live chicken etc. You can however pick up some fresh fruit for cheap prices as well. And also soft drinks for next to nothing. But again, once you get north of Inhambane the markets are getting more and more useless for hungry travellers. We live mostly of bread and bread rolls which are fresh and delicious and available from bakery stalls in every 5th or so village market.
The quality of the sealed N1, which is the only main arterial road is very good. There is a pothole or two further north but nothing much to worry about. However, if you turn to what the map identifies as 'unsealed' roads to the east of the N1 you pretty much always end up in a deep sandpit. Believe me, we did try many of them. Apparently the roads to the west of the N1 are decent quality graded gravel but we will see about that tomorrow when we turn west towards Zimbabwe. And when you go along the N1 be aware of the speed cameras in many villages!
In terms of safety our experience showed Mozambique as an extremely safe country. People tell you honest prices for goods at the market and do not negotiate. You are hardly ever hasseled by people trying to sell you stuff or asking for money and if they do you just say 'no' and they leave you alone. Traffic in Maputo may seem a bit chaotic but is manageable, outside Maputo traffic is no problem at all and people generally obey the rules.
Good spots for camping are very easy to find and it never took us long. If you setup camp and are approached by locals it is always just to greet you or to see what's going on in their neighbourhood. If we camp in sight of someone we usually go and say hello first. And even if we never speak a common language it always ended up a good fun conversation and us camping there with no worries. From what we were told the land mine problem is only a real problem in the far North where dodgy areas are signposted if mines are expected in the vicinity (that's what locals say). However, many local people warned us of Cobras and we did indeed see one just a day ago crossing the road in front of us and making a couple of people jump. So be careful when bushcamping in grassy areas.
Highlights of Mozambique include lots of diving stuff and if you're not into diving the distances between other sights are quite daunting. The famous Gorongosa NP will not let you enter on a motorbike so you need to find someone with a car to catch a ride.
In terms of bike parts I don't think Mozambique has anything to offer for western style adventure bikes. You see a lot of Honda XL125 around and they are the biggest bikes you see. And there is a couple of chinese 50cc bikes too. Local bike shops only cater for those sort of little bikes and I doubt even Maputo would have a shop with spares for bigger bikes. But I guess that is not unexpected.

20/09/2011 Mozambique pics part 1

A typical camping spot - we usually just camp somewhere to the side of a little road or path.

People fishing - for people in small towns still a sure way to feed the family and generate some income.

Typical picture of smalltown Mozambique. For those of you who have been here before you will remember the many buildings painted in red with either 'Vodacom' or 'Coca Cola' written on the fassade.

Typical picture of smalltown Mozambique again - two ladies selling cashew nuts.

Real people mover - utes are a great way to transport people.

A small pub on the road - a good way to spend some time in the shade during the mid day heat and have a cold Coke or '2M' .

Sunset over Inhambane Bay

20/09/2011 Mozambique pics part 2

..and some more pics of Mozambique:

'2M' is the probably most typical drink for Mozambique - Martin and me at the beach in Tofo

Crossing this line will take us into tropical Africa

Little Suzuki posing in front of a Baobab tree

At the end of this trip we will be able to tell good decicions from bad decisions. When it comes to our choice of equipment Martin and me, we chose quite a variety of things. E.g. Martin travelling on an RD04 Africa Twin 750ccm with aluminium boxes and using a flip front helmet, I'm riding my little 2010 Suzuki DR650 with soft panniers protected by Pacsafe mesh and I'm wearing a full face helmet. So far all our equipment works perfectly fine. However, it is always Martin's bike which draws a crowd whenever we stop whereas my bike stands largely ignored.
We once checked ourselves out on a weight bridge. Both bikes with almost full tank and full water bottles. Little Suzuki with my 80kg on top showed 320kg, Martin on his Africa Twin brought it to 400kg.

It is sometimes unbelievable what size loads some women are able to balance on their head while walking

Snapshot from the market

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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann