Leaving the Kruger national park via the Crocodile Bridge gate I headed for Komatipoort where I would spend the night before crossing the border at Lebombo into Mocambique, to see what this new emerging tourist destination has to offer.
In the morning I needed to change some money into Mocambique Meticash and was pointed in the direction of a bureau de change at a SASOL Filling station just before the border crossing point. I parked in the garage forecourt and was immediately bombarded by men trying to sell me third party insurance, which is necessary in Mocambique and which I had already paid an extravagant amount for when negotiating the hire car rate for eight days whilst in Swaziland. With hire charges, insurance and cross border permits this worked out more expensive than my air fare to Johannesburg. I used the ATM then changed an amount into Meticash, all very simple; we are still in South Africa.
The friendly cashier pointed out that if I was driving I would need a red triangle, which came with the hire car and a bright Yellow vissi vest which did not. However she said I can get one in the garage shop, which I did, but at a price three times greater than in the UK. Apparently I need the vest to put on if I get stopped by the police and am asked to exit the car. Without one I am liable to be fined. With Meticash, red triangle and Yellow vest at the ready I drove to the border crossing.
As like most African or Asian countries the border crossings are always very busy and this was no different. There were lots people in uniforms doing not a lot, just sitting or standing around talking and other non uniformed suspicious looking people wanting to help me, carry things for me or direct me somewhere for a small tip. I don’t let them as I am not sure of them or trust them. I finally muddle through and get out of South Africa into a little area of no mans land between the two borders, 200 metres on my own, no helpers.
As I approach the Mocambique line the bombardment begins again, more unwanted helpers, more direction givers and more forms to fill in, which this time I had to pay for. But as always, I got through, an hour in total, without any real problems and turning down numerous offers to change money, I was in Mocambique and no one even smiled, but hey, this is Africa!!!
I had planned this trip on the back of a six day stay in Swaziland where I was a guest of the S T A, Swaziland Tourist Authority, which was a great success.
I had planned my route well in advance, but had nothing booked, as I had never been here before and was unsure of the road conditions of which I had heard various tales. Some of good roads and others of sand roads and was not sure how far I would be able to travel each day. I knew the road to Maputo was recently built and tarred by the Chinese but to my surprise, the road was far better than I had expected and after approximately 80 kilometres of good fast motoring I was nearing Maputo.
My journey had taken me through bush land all the way from the border, with very little sign of industry or agriculture, only small patches of crops growing by the mud and straw huts of the small settlements that dot the country side along the road. Derelict brick buildings, some whole, some collapsed and some burnt out line the road standing ghostly since the war. There is a constant stream of people walking along the side of the road that disappears a long way ahead on the horizon. They are obviously going somewhere but, there is nowhere in site.
Women carrying large bundles of wood and many other objects balanced on their heads disappear in the bush to there small settlements and other women and children carry plastic water containers to fetch water from the nearest water pump which is sometimes miles away, whilst most men sit doing nothing. As I neared Maputo the sprawl of shanty town buildings and industrial sites became more intensive, the traffic became thick and jammed due to the on going road building works, the forming of two new major roundabouts. I crawled on and after 30 mins I reached the NI going north and decided I can make it to Xai Xai (Shy Shy) just over 200 kilometers ahead. I had seen beautiful images of Praia do Xai Xai (the beach area) in the Mocambique tourist brochures and decided to head there and spend the night. Again, the road was better than I had imagined and I passed many more small settlements lining the road and passed through some larger villages or small towns all showing the signs of war, with many building derelict and burnt out. The constant stream of people walking and carrying continued and people sat at the side of the road or in timber and thatched market stall like shops hoping to make a sale from passing motorists. Near rivers or lakes people sold fish and white plastic bags full of cashew nuts hung from tree branches propped up at the side of the road to temp a customer or two. Brick built kilns became common with stacks of freshly fired bricks piled outside.
After many photo stops and a three hour hunt for a coffee stop without success I crossed the Limpopo River and arrived in Xai Xai a small scruffy town with many closed or derelict buildings and the normal mass of people just going about their daily business. With the town having nothing to offer and my sites set on the beach I drove through Xai Xai on to Praia do Xai Xai a journey of about 20 kilometres which ended on a bumpy sandy road in the sand dunes 100metres from the Indian Ocean.
Burnt out empty houses, derelict buildings including a large three story hotel lined the road and faced the Ocean. There were piles of litter and a filthy beach with bottles visibly laying in the sand, a small square with empty ruins once the former market place lay to waste with a few make shift stalls acting as shops. There were a number off private dwellings, some scruffy, some grand and a Hotel which needed a complete make over completed the village of Praia do Xai Xai.
With no choice for my accommodation, I checked out the rooms, choose one that was just about exceptable and I reluctantly checked in even though no one spoke English. The room was sparse and in need of lots of tender loving care but the sheets were clean. I was shown a piece paper telling me there was a dance tonight in the dance hall attached to the hotel and I was welcome to take part if I wished. Souvenir vendors and boys wishing to mind my car finally gave up on me after countless refusals and as the light faded they crept off into the night. With darkness now upon us I sat on the front terrace which was lit, bought a beer, ordered dinner and read my book and minded my own car at the same time, it was 10 metres away.
My book finished, beer and dinner consumed I turned in for the night at 9.45 pm and with only one TV channel and no sound I went to bed. I was woken at 10pm by the sound of ear bursting dance /disco music booming from the hotels dance hall reverberating around my room which I now realised was above the dance hall. The music was so loud it was impossible to sleep and after a couple of hours of trying, I got up, dressed and went down to find what time the dance finished. Question asked and a broken English answer of “between 3.30 and 4am depending on what time people leave” was the reply. I checked the dance hall and to my surprise there were only about ten people, all this noise for ten people seemed unreal. I had no choice but to sit it out, so I grabbed a couple of beers and waited for it to end, 3.45 I went to bed.
Fortunately breakfast was ok, with bread, cereals, tea and coffee and it also included a cooked breakfast of which I had an omelette and chips. My journey back to Maputo was the same as I had travelled to Xai Xai but in reverse and in about two hours I was entering the city. With a small free hand out map of Maputo I headed for the famous Costa del sol, parked up and just walked along the Marginal Avenue looking at all the locals cooking, selling souvenirs and just enjoying the beach as it was a Saturday.
Many South Africans and Swazis travel to Maputo on day trips just to eat the prawns and sea food dishes in one of the many shoreline restaurants along this famous avenue. I choose the Costa del Sol Restaurant which was extremely full both inside and outside and can boast many movie stars, presidents and royalty a amongst its customers. I tackled the mixed sea food which consisted of 6 large prawns, half a lobster, large fillet of white fish in a creamy sauce, squid, salad and of course CHIPS all washed down with a local beer.
The meal was good value for money costing approximately £10.00 and afterwards I walked for an hour before returning to the car to search for a hotel. Due to lack of sleep and basics the previous night, I decide to go up market and negotiated a travel agents rate at the beach side Sun Hotel (Ex Holiday Inn) which has a magnificent position on the beach and boasts very good services. I took a one hour tour of Maputo by a Vodacom sponsored red Tuk Tuk driven very well and cautiously by a young man who spoke good English. He pointed out the main parts of the city and anything of interest from Cathedrals, High Commissions, markets even a massage parlour where apparently the ladies have very good hands? I had dinner in one of the local bar Restaurants watching south African rugby on the TV before returning the short distance to the hotel. A quick beer at the hotel bar and then bed for a good quiet nights sleep.
After breakfast I thanked the hotel staff for making my stay an excellent one and for which I can highly recommend and decided to travel back to Swaziland. I had intended to Visit Inhaca island for two days, but having spent a day too long in Komatipoort Tiger fish fishing, one day would not be enough to justify the cost. With only three days left of this African journey and maybe the chance to white water raft the Great Usutu River in Swaziland, something I have wanted to do for a long time, I headed back to Swaziland.
As it was a Sunday morning the traffic was almost non existent and I reached the outskirts of Maputo in ten minutes and decided to take the direct road to the Swazi border via Boane and crossing the border at Goba a distance of 68 kilometres. I was amazed at the good road all the way, fully tarred with a perfectly straight yellow lines down both side all the way to the border and only a handful of cars. This section of the journey took me through more bush land over undulating hills with no buildings or main towns and with very few road side settlements. I reached the border in just over an hour and I was the only vehicle there, no helpers or would be assistants were present, only uniformed border guards dozing in the heat of the morning. Also due to its remote location there were no people crossing on foot or by bus, it was like it was closed and I passed through in a matter of minutes and was back in Swaziland.