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Old 08-09-2007, 11:02 PM   #1
1NiteOwl OP
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The Lure of Zanzibar

Every rider dreams of an epic ride to some distant destination that evokes images of great scenic beauty, challenging roads and exotic experiences that our everyday lives lack.

After having gained some riding experience with local trips of increasing range and difficulty, the one destination name that kept coming up was Zanzibar, the Spice Island. You can almost smell the cloves and cinnamon when you say the name!




After reading reports of a solo effort by a fellow on a BMW K1200 (along the inland tarred route), and then another of a trio of adventure bikes doing the trip up along the Mozambican coast and returning through Malawi, Zambia and Botswana in December 2004, my mind was made up. From the middle of the year the preparations started and gained urgency until, on 10 December 2005, mrs Owl and yours truly were ready to hit the road on a on a freshly serviced motorcycle with a large rucksack and tankbag packed with our mobile household and dry rations for a few days.


I had spent a lot of time trying to get waypoints for the route (I try to get critical ones from two sources, to make sure) and read a number of 4x4 trip reports during the preparation. It quickly became obvious that the coast of Mozambique (2800 km long) is well travelled and has a fair selection of camping spots, but these decrease rapidly from about 400 km north of Maputo onwards. But the western part bordering Zimbabwe seemed like virgin territory. And so it became my goal to explore it firsthand. The final planned route was about 9000 km, as follows (overnight stops in yellow):




Any route through Mozambique is almost guaranteed to be challenging, as this country seems to have beaches that extend all the way to the Zimbabwean border. Moreover, the terrain is flat and the summer rains can become real downpours, resulting in widespread flooding and impassable river crossings. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent with no garages, communications or medical facilities outside the main centres like Maputo, Beira, Tete and Pemba. Of course, the same is true for much of Africa and I will show some statistics at the conclusion of this report to illustrate.




Fortunately, none of these ominous facts are very prominent when you live in the most developed part of Africa, and the lure of the impending great escape overrides all the niggling little worries about what may go wrong. Although our departure had to be postponed by one day to get everything done and we only left after lunch, the weather was perfect and progress up the N1 highway towards Zimbabwe was swift and smooth with mrs Owl at the controls.




Our first overnight stop was booked at the Pafuri Rivercamp, bush “lodge” nestled between the Pafuri gate and the Mutele river at the very northern tip of the Kruger National Park.




We had arranged to sleep over here and to get transported on the camp’s pickup truck through the park to the Mozambican border post (also called Pafuri) the next morning. You are only allowed in the park inside a closed vehicle because of the risk of attacks by the carnivores that the park is famous for (camps are fenced off). We arrived well after dark and had a fireside drink with Glen, our host. Plenty of bugs on the road at night left their mark on our helmets- guess which one was in front?




After a leisurely breakfast, we loaded the bike and luggage onto the truck and headed for the border 30 km to the east. It was hot.




We stopped on the bridge across the Limpopo river to check the level. This bridge is about 10 m high, and it was covered during the floods of 2000 when many Mozambicans had to be rescued by helicopter. The water level was pretty high due to the early summer rains. Not a good sign.




There is a road from the border post along the Limpopo, which crosses the river at Mapai. We were duly advised to turn back along with all the 4x4’s beating a retreat. Time for Plan B, which was to go back west and cross into Zimbabwe, then head east again along the northern bank of the Limpopo, and cross into Mozambique at a small border post called Chiqualaquala. The original route would be the objective of a later trip.

After off-loading at the Pafuri gate, we said our goodbyes to Glen and headed back to Mussina via Tshipise. After some deliberation about which side of the border to sleep, we decided to fill all of our tanks with fuel and plunge into the inevitable queues at South Africa’s only border post with Zimbabwe. A few hours later we were on our way.

The roadworks on the Zimbabwe side of the border are not pleasant to navigate at night with overzealous Zim police trying to pull off vehicles in the dust clouds just to make it really interesting. We decided to enjoy a last night in comfort and booked into the Holiday Inn just north of the border post, slipping out at daybreak to get an early start.




A few kilometres out on the Masvinga road (part of our return route) we turned off onto the gravel road to the border post nearly 250 km away- now the trip was on for real.
The meeting point of the Zimbabwean, South African and Mozambican borders is called Crook’s Corner. We turned north near this point, and then east through the Malapati game reserve. We enjoyed a snack and emptied our second jerry-can at the turn-off to the reserve.




Malapati was deserted- no officials at the entrance, no visitors, only a few small villages in the vicinity, very little game. Turds like this are pretty hard to ignore though- elephant country!




We crossed a small bridge over the Nuanetsi river, which was at quite a low level….




…and then exited the park over the Maputo-Harare railway line at Nyala (three houses in the background make up this place). Like the crow flies, it's straight.


A gravel road led to the next obstacle, the Zim border post at Sango. The local constabulary took great care to check all of our vehicle details before stamping the paperwork with great gusto and waving us on to the next hurdle, customs and immigration. The British bureaucracy certainly left their mark in their previous colonies. ‘t was lunchtime and the person responsible for immigration had gone to visit a friend across the border. We brewed some tea while waiting in the deserted immigration hall with the customs man.

An hour or so later the missing official arrived and after more vigorous stamping in our passports we could proceed to the Moz side. Here, a single man in a little hut did the customs work.




I had to take a soldier on the bike to an official in the town who issued us with the mandatory vehicle import permit for a small fee. None of the boulevards are paved, and the past glory of the Portuguese colony is a distant memory. This is the deserted station building (CFM= Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Mocambique or Ports and Railways).




We took the first track heading north out of Chiqualaquala, which happened to be the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Pretty sandy as I said, and lousy (read slow) riding.




Eventually this road petered out and we headed east to the Massengena road, where we planned to cross the Save river and rejoin the Plan A route. A bit of mud here and there, but much easier to ride until we passed underneath the Cabora Bassa power lines, where a good service road headed due north. We followed it and made good time, passing remnants of the civil war every so often: the Renamo rebels regularly blew up the pylons of the Cabora Bassa power lines in order to deny the Frelimo government access to the electricity supply from the dam’s hydro-electric generators.




But despite our best efforts, we were still 60 km from our destination when darkness overtook us and we erected our tent in a deserted village right next to the power lines. We had hardly stopped when the first spectator appeared, and soon we had an audience of about ten locals who assured us that we could sleep here and that there was a water pump at the next pylon. Mrs Owl duly made supper…




…with a whole lotta flies to keep her company.





The next morning we found the promised well, but no water. Broken, like the pylon in the background.

We were down to our last half litre, but not too far from the river and set off at a good pace until we literally ran out of road and got a puncture in the thorny underbrush.




Down with the bike, out with the tyre levers and pretty soon we were mobile again. After some scouting we found a trail leading down to the river.




And soon we were passing through villages and meeting locals transporting impressive loads on their bicycles. We were to see a lot more of this.




There were major roadworks in Massengena. We navigated through the town and got some fuel and drinks before heading for the Save river. It was in flood, and impassable on wheels. Time to look for a boat. After two hours of haggling we managed to agree on an exorbitant fee and loaded the bike on the rickety vessel, the back wheel hanging over the gunwhale.




The boat’s owner followed the edge of the water and then furiously rowed across the river a few hundred meters upstream. His assistants balanced the bike and baled out the water leaking through the bottom, while we wondered whether this dodgy craft would ever make it across.




But we made it, repacked everything on the other side and powered up the embankment to higher ground to look for the road to the next destination, the Maribani forest and Chimoio in a north-westerly direction. Spot the mini hifi on the bucket in the foreground at the "bus stop".




We passed this woman carrying her chickens. I asked for a picture- and got this image:

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Old 08-09-2007, 11:23 PM   #2
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Amazing!!!! Thankyou for sharing!!!
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Old 08-10-2007, 02:12 AM   #3
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Wow, great shots! I wanna go.
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Old 08-10-2007, 05:21 AM   #4
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Fantastic. I was having palpitations just looking at the picture of the AT in that boat!
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Old 08-10-2007, 10:32 AM   #5
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trip

Thats quite a trip, two-up with the wife along!
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Old 08-10-2007, 10:41 AM   #6
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Lucky man to have such a loving and supportive wife willing to join you on this adventure!! thanks for the great report and pics
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Old 08-10-2007, 11:24 AM   #7
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That's what I call adventure , and a wife that is a real trooper.
Happy to see your AT made it across the river ....and not the bottom.

The tree pics are awesome.
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Old 08-10-2007, 05:35 PM   #8
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This is The Right Stuff.

Pleae, continue.
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Old 08-10-2007, 06:12 PM   #9
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Wow...what a ride! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 08-10-2007, 10:53 PM   #10
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WOW! My little adventures in the states seem rather tame compared to yours. Heck, Canada seems rather civilized after contemplating Africa. Good job!
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Old 08-11-2007, 12:55 AM   #11
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very cool. thanks.
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Old 08-11-2007, 05:41 AM   #12
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Five stars all the way!!

This is true adventure riding, the stuff all of us dream of but few could actually do. Thanks for the inspiration.
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Old 08-11-2007, 06:05 AM   #13
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lekker...
I used to work in these places.. brings back good memories..
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Old 08-11-2007, 03:33 PM   #14
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Wo hooooo, great shots.

That title caught my eye. To the best i knew, Zanzibar was one of those places which would be spoken about in some treasure hunting adventure movies. Its a place right out of adventure stories. Amazing. Kinda reminds me of the place where the pirates hid all the gold and what not....
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Old 08-11-2007, 04:37 PM   #15
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Bluhduh Through the Tete Corridor


It may be possible to spot the right route on Google Earth, but at ground zero it’s a different story: foliage restricts the view and the maps don’t always match the footpaths ahead. A GPS can only tell you the distance to the next destination, not necessarily how best to go there. So it was for us: we were trying to get from the Save river at Massangena to Macobere (see map below), but ended up on the track running northeast to Chiboma (spot the pen marks). This is from the “highly detailed” GPS Infomap for Mozambique. Dotted tracks are “4x4 recommended routes”. Not that difficult on a bike if you are not in a hurry- we have only half the number of wheels to worry about- it looks worse than it rides.





The only road we found actually followed the river in a north-easterly direction and took us to Timbi-Timbi, a village too small to make it onto the ”detailed map”.




We bought some welcome cold drinks (there are paraffin-powered fridges all over Africa!) at the general store and met a friendly amigo (with the hat) who got us 5 litres of fuel from the local dealer while most of the village came to watch the strangers in town. In case you haven’t noticed, fuel does not get dispensed from pumps here: it gets transported in drums and then resold in 5 litre chilubas or plastic containers. An inefficient mess rather depictive of the economy as a whole that we would experience lots of times in Mozambique.




All too soon the light was fading and it became time to start looking for a camping spot again. We entered a village and when we asked if we could pitch our tent there, we were offered a house! When we declined, a spot under a big cashew tree was quickly swept and cleared of army ants (hence the fire in the background). The headman’s son was sent to fetch water for us, and duly returned with a 25 litre container of clean water. Two chairs appeared from one of the houses and we could wash and make supper, closely watched by the aquarius and his friends.
Captain’s log: 192 km for the fourth day, 1324 km from home. All is well.



This was actually our wedding anniversary, and I presented my wife with an iPod pre-loaded with some of her favourite music to relieve the inevitable boredom such a long trip entails. The pleasure was short-lived; the software hung the next day: I had also ordered an intercom five weeks previously to ensure we could communicate along the way; that arrived a month after our return.


Unknowingly, we had arrived in the middle of the cashew growing region (Manica province), and it was harvest time: all through the night we heard people moving about and singing happily. Signs of a good harvest! Cashew nuts grow on trees, suspended from the bottom of the (pink) fruit.




These get picked, sun-dried and packed in 50 kg bags, which are transported to factories where they are shelled, roasted and sealed in containers to be sold to consumers like you and me.




After watching the action for a while the next morning, we thanked our hosts and went on our way to Camp Msika near the Zimbabwean border. As I said earlier, the beach extends all the way from the sea, and it’s slow going at times.




But all is well that ends well. After a while we heard the familiar sound of cars and trucks: we had finally reached the EN1 main road between Maputo and Beira at Chiboma. As you can see, not a big place.




We promptly pulled in at the nearest shop for some cold agua (not the Knock Out stuff on the counter), and asked where we could get some gasolina (funny how quickly you learn the important words).




Whaddaya mean, there isn’t any here? We were in trouble, and ran out of fuel 10 km further. But luckily we were taken to a nearby road-builder’s camp 2 km up the road, and got 5 litres from the Chinese foreman- they are building roads in return for raw materials!




We reached the Beira Corridor (EN6, connecting Harare to the Indian Ocean), refuelled and headed west to Chimoio. Along the way carpenters ply their trade in the open. Most of the furniture on display is made from kiaat, an indiginous hardwood chopped down and sold everywhere.




By sunset we approached Casa Msika campsite, named after the surrounding lake.



A sight for sore eyes indeed, complete with a restaurant selling cold beer and bream from the lake. These fish are also fed to the crocodiles raised in pens nearby (they are also on the menu).




We used the camp facilities to wash our smelly kit while trying to digest the bream.




By noon we were both still queasy, but had to get a move on up the 400 km long Tete Corridor heading north to Malawi. The Corridor is a good, flat road, with mounds of rock like this one near the Zim border side to break the monotony every so often.




A filling station is indicated on the map at Catandica 130km further, but they had no fuel. Luckily, we had left with a full tank and by keeping the speed around 100 km/h, rolled into Tete at sunset (again!). Here was fuel (from pumps) and, after some searching, we managed to find the Pensao Alves that a local directed us to. Here is the charming view from our bedroom.




It was cheap and nasty, but we were dog-tired and after a shower in the communal bathroom, fell asleep on top of our beds.


We took a walk around the block the next morning, and were soon breaking a sweat. Time to get moving. Which happens to be across the Zambesi river here, on the downstream side of the Cabora Bassa dam. The elevation at Tete is just over 500 ft AMSL.




On the other side of the suspension bridge live the poorer citizens. Fat people are rare in this country; it’s a hard life with a low life expectancy (see stats later).




We were heading for the border at Dedza, 270 km further down a good road, which was gradually climbing to more than 5000 ft in Malawi.

The scenery got much more interesting as we entered Malawi and saw more and more people hawking fresh fruit, beans…




…bicycle parts…








…and huge mushrooms along the way.




These fellows were making little rocks out of big rocks, using fire and hammers. What a job.



While this guy was carting a load that would have made an ox sweat!

After a leisurely lunch at Lilongwe, the capital, it was time to find the road to Lake Malawi. We found the turnoff at our third attempt- no signpost. Once again, it was dark when we arrived at our destination, Livinstonia Park. We awoke to a spectacular view across the lake (it’s 600 km long and about 50 km across).




Unfortunately it was a weekend, and pretty soon a schoolbus emptied its human cargo near our tent, shattering the peace. Time to move on south,towards Monkey Bay.




Malawi is famous for its wood carvings, and at the turnoff to the Bay we found this “curio shop”.




Pity you can only take the pictures with you on a bike.




Although construction work was underway, this road was pretty corrugated. We took refuge at fat Monkeys, a well known watering-hole in the Cape Maclear Nature Reserve with lots of kids in tow. The beach scenery here is idyllic, and diving around the nearby islands is a popular attraction.




For once we were all settled in behind a fresh pizza during the “blue hour”, as photographers call the time just after sunset, while the local fishermen went about their business.




Mozambique was on the menu again the next morning as we refuelled near Mongochi, where fly-covered fish are sorted and traded while hawkers peddle coconuts and fruit nearby.




Crossing from densely populated Malawi….




… back into Mozambique is like flipping a switch!




These pole-bridges packed with rocks and mud are a feature of Niassa province in northern Mozambique, through which we were now heading east towards Pemba, a popular coastal resort town. The natural materials used are easier to find than steel and concrete. Every so often, a big storm washes much of it away.

1NiteOwl screwed with this post 08-17-2007 at 10:45 AM Reason: Add title
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