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For a change of scenery and an excuse to go away for holiday, we decided to head off to Niassa Province, and Lago Niassa in particular, for our year end adventure.

Car packed, (some) reservations made we headed for the hills of Lichinga and then Cobue, a far stretch away from Nampula. We split the drive over two days. The first day we drove nine hours to get to Mandimba, the town on the border with Malawi. There we spent the night in the Massinga Accommodation which consisted of a small round bungalow in the back yard and a basic restaurant. Entertainment was free as we watched an endless ant stream of “helpers” carry stock that had just arrived when the truck got stuck in the mud out front. Two beers or an hour later and we could still make out the strange shapes of people with boxes on their heads bent over in the pouring rain. What Massinga lacked in luxury was made up for by the staff. Our waiter impressed us hugely when he was able to accommodate us on our vegetarian meal request and organised a delicious meal of leafy greens and tomato relish with nsima.

Day two was far more exciting as we drove through virgin territory (for both of us). From Mandimba to Lichinga took two and a half hours but it felt like we had crossed over into a totally different country. The road was tarred and wound its way around and over hills. There is plenty of farming going on here (mainly maize and tobacco) and the villages are very different to what we are used to in Nampula Province, they are large and ordered with brick huts lined up neatly next to one another, overlooking the hills. Lichinga itself promises to be a very pretty little city in the right season, there are Jacarandas lining the roads which must look spectacular in October. Arriving in the city we drive through a mini pine forest which adds a special touch but it is small and the outskirts busy and dusty and so after a short stop at the supermarket and drive by buying of bread, we carried on to Metangula and Cobue.

on road between Cuamba and Malema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

view of lake Nyassa

Carrying on up and up the hills we eventually arrived at the top and looked down on Metangulo and our first view of the lake. From this distance it could be a small harbour town anywhere in the world with its pretty bays and buildings peeping out on the green hills. Up close many of these buildings are semi ruins and the town is quiet but there is evidence of houses being fixed and Metangulo seems a chilled place to be but as it was only just after lunch time, we decided to go ahead to Cobue and get the journey over with.

We were very lucky that President Guebeza had visited Cobue only the day before and so the roads were new and with no or little traffic, in perfect condition. (plenty of people had warned us that the roads here were bad so we felt especially lucky). Just after Metangulo we passed through some very pretty villages with pergolas set up to train blinding pink bouganvilleas and passion plants. Then the villages stopped and we wound our way through woody wilderness, completely alone until finally spotting the lake again before a particularly steep descent. And then we were in Cobue, the furthest point in the north west of Mozambique, the far corner of the country, the end of the road, literally.

Cobue is a small town right on the shores of the lake. There isn’t much here except the road down to the lake, the ruins of an old church which the guidebook tells me is Catholic and others working here say was Anglican, and a small immigration office in case you’re going to Malawi, which we were, but more on that later. We spent the night in Cobue right at the water’s edge at a relatively new local run place called Khanga Beach. This included very basic grass huts with bed and table, a communal long drop toilet and separate shower but was well run with personal touches. Having drinks in the evening at the main bar area, the owner sat down with us to discuss what we would like for dinner and the meal we got was fabulous. In the morning there was heated water waiting in buckets by the shower and coffee afterwards. Just the day before our arrival the president and his ‘men’ stayed at this very place so we felt honoured. The only problem we had at Khanga was the lake flies slipping through our mosquito net, actually dropping through and landing on our skin, not a very nice sensation, until the lights went out at around 10 (and we put a sheet over the top of the net). All in all, Cobue was a very pleasant surprise.

Africa 2 Pensao – This is a fairly clean pensao at the bottom of Ave 24 July. The rooms are standard but nice but make sure you get a room with a bathroom. Some rooms have bathrooms separate. There is breakfast included but we missed it cause it ends at 9am.

Pensao Martins – we moved here on the second day primarily because there is a pool and restaurant at the back. But be warned, the pool is booked out for kids parties on weekends so poolside lazing is out. But the rooms are cleaned daily, there is airconditioning and free internet in reception. Also on Ave 24 July.

Mundos –  probably one of the more well known eating, drinking spots in Maputo but it comes at a price. The pizzas are good but one would hope so given they are more expensive than eating out in a reputable restaurant in Joburg or Cape Town. We were charged a 175 Mtn service fee, only to be charged this again on a separate, later drinks bill of 3 beers! Someone is trying their luck.

The Polana Hotel – had cocktails here. Very yummy and beautiful setting. This is a typical old school colonial era type hotel with palm lined grounds, large balconies and leather couches in the bar area. The cocktail menu consists of signature cocktails from all the Serena group of hotels around the world. I had a David Livingston, from the hotel in Vic Falls.

Mimmos –  a South African chain restaurant serving Italian, this is a fairly safe bet but can be boring if you’re looking for a more Mozambican experience. The service is good, pizzas and pasta too.

The Arabic takeaway place of Ave 24 July – can’t recall seeing an actual name but this was a favourite lunch spot. Can get falafel or humus sandwhiches, in a pitta bread for only 50Mtn and it’s good! The Arabic pies were a disappointment as there was about 1 mm of filling in each – but what can you expect for 10Mtn…

The bookshop next to Villa das Mangas – if you’re looking for a map of Maputo or a road map of Moz, this was the only place we found that had them, also had a guide book to Moz. And they have English mags.

Vintage Indian Restuarant – this also hails from SA but they have great curries and the decor in the Maputo branch is far more cosy than the one in Cape Town. The manager/owner is very helpful but watch out he tends to order dishes for you that lean on the more expensive side – if you’re watching your budget ask the price first or just order from the menu.

The Maputo Waterfront – a restaurant and large pool catering for the rich mainly expat community of Maputo. The service is great, the views good and the food looks good. I only had some chips. I wouldn’t say this is the most exciting spot in town but that could be my own aversion to feeling like I am in mini SA when in a totally different country.

Friday 23 February and I am finally in
Mozambique. In the days preceding my arrival I’ve had friends and family asking about the rains and floods and cyclones and is it okay to be going there now. Admittedly there wasn’t all that much real information on the cyclones but knowing that news of one part of a country makes us automatically presume it means the entire country I wasn’t too worried. The cyclones were heading on a path of Bazeruto, Inhambane, Zambezia and

Sofala
Provinces
which are in the south. As it turns out Cyclone Favio actually hit Vilanculo, the other I have heard nothing about.

 

But walking off the Air Mozambique (LAM) flight to
Maputo felt almost as if the country had in fact been completely flooded, only all that water had mixed with the air to create a soup bowl of stickiness through which I had to wade to get into the terminal building. No respite here. The air was just as humid, its heaviness squeezing the breath out of me.

 

At least I had a welcoming committee. Jack and friend Micro were waiting. Their journey to the airport had ended in a 10 minute walk as their taxi had broken down before reaching its destination. A quick stop at
Fatima’s Backpacker’s
and off again for dinner on the beach –
Miramar restaurant
. The place was packed, the city’s middle classes and some foreign visitors enjoying the rainless evening with a sea breeze cooling down the cotton wool head symptomatic of extreme humidity. Apparently
Maputo has been having a heat wave which locals blame on the aluminium smelting plant, Mozal’s presence in the city.

 


Maputo and more and more of
Mozambique it seems isn’t actually such a cheap destination as one would think. The food prices are on par with
South Africa’s better establishments and accommodation is, as far as I’m concerned, way overpriced. It seems Fatima’s, having a monopoly on the backpacker market (don’t think there are actually any others in Maputo), charges bed and breakfast rates for a dingy room, even dingier shared toilets and no free breakfast in sight. In fact there isn’t even a restaurant. But people seem to accept it – perhaps because the alternatives are not much better – but I will have to see when I have more time to explore the Capital.

Just before Christmas I quit my job to go and live in the middle of nowhere, in a city, on a river, on an island. This blog is about going to Nampula Province in Northern Mozambique and joining my partner on the Topuito Isles project.