A Motorcycle trip to see the solar eclipse in Zambia. (Cont) Adventures in Mozambique
Sunset over the Zambezi
On his Yamaha XT600 Kevin continues his African motorbike tour. He leans that when things start to go wrong that you can meet wonderful people
Tete in Mozambique is a very run down, dirty and unpleasant town. The streets are potholed or have small islands of tar. The buildings have broken windows and have not been painted for decades. I saw many buildings and facilities like tennis courts and a large swimming pool that have for years been left to ruin. With the nearby river, its Portuguese architecture and facilities, Tete must have been a very interesting and pleasant place about 20 years ago.
Later in the day I became irritated with having to frequently slow down for livestock in the road and foolishly approached a flock of sheep without slowing sufficiently. One of the sheep struck my front shock absorber then my boot and I was lucky to leave the scene on two wheels. I rode away, thankful for my good fortune and with my system buzzing with adrenalin.
Late in the afternoon while still 200 km from my destination, my back tyre went flat. An ominous coincidence was that I came to a stop in a remote area next to a graveyard of wrecked vehicles. The grass around the rusted chassis’s had been cut and red stakes had been driven into the ground. I remembered reading that as result of Mozambique’s independence war millions of landmines remain unaccounted for. I did not know what these stakes meant but the thought of landmines worried me. The weather changed; for the first time in my trip it clouded over and began to rain. The combined ‘evil’ of the puncture, the rain, the thought of landmines and the rusted vehicle skeletons made me wish for a second that I had never left home. It amazed me that it was only minutes earlier that I had been happily crossing the landscape without a worry in the world and that my outlook had changed so quickly.
Rather than adding myself and bike to the graveyard I attempted to repair the puncture. I removed the wheel but could not separate the tyre from the rim. Soon after starting the repair a foreign tourist and his wife stopped and asked me whether I was all right. I explained that I had a puncture and was struggling to fix it. His response was, ‘If you see a lion, bite him before he bites you’. He then closed his window and drove away.
It was soon dark and was I thus forced to camp at the roadside. I positioned the tent close to the road because of the danger of landmines. It was a quiet evening, very few vehicles passed and I could not get any signal on my radio. I ate with grease-caked hands since I did not have sufficient water with which to wash. Later the clouds cleared and the stars, meteorites and satellites entertained me. I imagined that departure of the clouds marked the end of the ‘evil’ events.
In a sleepy daze at dawn, the reality of my situation struck me. With a fright I was awake and an instant later I was longing for the return of my oblivious sleep. Since I did not have sufficient water, on the morning that I most needed it, I missed my cup of tea. Still groggy with sleep, I pushed the bike to the roadside, removed the rear wheel and waited for the next vehicle.
Shortly, an old truck approached and stopped after I indicated that I needed help. The driver jumped out of the cab and threw an empty gin bottle onto the ground. I noticed crude tattoos on his arms and that the skin around his eyes wrinkled as he peered at me. His crew of 5 appeared from various parts of the truck.
Somewhat worried about how they may respond, in Portuguese I said ‘Good morning, please, puncture’. To my relief they understood me and did not hesitate to help.
Having lit a cigarette for motivation, the driver directed the others and they set to work on the puncture. The truck’s sound system was turned up and I was pleasantly surprised to hear familiar tunes by the band ‘Dire Straights’. Within an hour the repair was complete. I was extremely relieved and thanked them many times before they left.
Sweets from the Bush
Many baobab trees grow in northern Mozambique. Their pods are harvested and sold at the roadside. The cream of tartar that surrounds each seed within the pod is eaten as one would eat a sweet.
But in the saddle of my motorcycle I was overlooking the sea at Inhassoro by midday and leisurely eating fresh bread and bananas. A Dire Straights song was merrily replaying itself in my mind. Nearby, fishermen were repairing nets and under a tree a boat was being built at an unhurried pace. On the beach there were small groups of people, waiting for the return of dhows that were visible, scattered between the coastline and the Bazaruto islands. I spent some time on the beach, talking to the fishermen and to a man who was in the process of building a motorised boat. He was very eager to show me his boat and explained that once complete, he will earn a living by ferrying tourists to and from Bazaruto.
Above: The team at ‘Serious Repair 2001’
While waiting for the puncture to be repaired I was amused by a soccer match between two local club teams. It was a public holiday and it appeared that the entire village was in some way or other participating in the match. The field was very uneven and when taking a corner kick, the kicker had to run uphill out of a ditch before reaching the ball. The players, referee, spectators and linesmen were however all as committed as those seen in a televised premier league match.
At a roadside stop while on my way to Inhambane a man handed me a huge paw-paw and indicated that it was a gift. I accepted it, thanked him and then had a problem since I had no space in which to carry it. I put it in the bag that I carried on my back and had to stop a few km down the road to repack since the weight on my shoulders was uncomfortable.
My (sometimes) logical engineer’s brain told me that this problem had two solutions. I could either increase the size of the free space within my bags or I could reduce the size of the Paw-paw. I chose the easiest and most enjoyable of these two options and began to eat. Proud of my problem solving ability, I was soon full and was able to fit the leftovers into the bike’s top-box.
Later in the day the dreaded sideways wandering of rear tyre returned, indicating that it was again flat. Not knowing what else to do and while muttering choice adjectives, I began to remove the rear wheel. Shortly thereafter a Landrover with very foreign looking number plates stopped and the driver asked whether I would like some help. I accepted his offer and he introduced himself (Arend) and his wife (Claudia).
While working on the tyre Arend explained that the two of them had been on the road for 5 months and had driven all the way from Germany.
Their Landrover was equipped to make any adventurer envious: it had solar panels, extra tanks to carry up to 400l of diesel, modified suspension, water tanks with a pumping system, a laptop with maps on CD, a GPS, a tent on the roof and a special box between the front seats for their puppy. They had bought this puppy in Malawi and had called him Peanut.
The cause of the puncture was, yet again, the patch not sticking to the tube. Arend suggested that it was possibly the puncture prevention product that I had used that was contaminating the glue and preventing the patches from sticking. It was clear that I needed a new tube since patching the puncture would not work.
Realizing that I had serious problem I began to consider my options. I considered leaving the bike at a nearby hut and catching a bus to a town where I could buy a new tube. Arend, obviously planning something, began measuring the bike and the width of the Landrover.
Shortly, he revealed his plan: “We tie zee bike onto zee back door of zee Landrover. Zen you travel wif us to get a new tube.”
My first reaction was that his plan was ludicrous and that a stranger with crazy plans should not be trusted. Thinking that it would eliminate his crazy idea I stated the obvious: “Because of the puncture the entire (heavy) bike will have to be off the ground and there is nothing to put the bike on.”
He was aware of these difficulties and explained more. Having few options and even though I doubted its feasibility I accepted his offer.
Above: My Yamaha on the rear of Arend's Landrover
Wet with sweat and smelling as miners would at the end of their shift we stepped back and admired our work. Appearing impossibly out of place, the motorbike was about a meter off the ground, parallel to the back of the Landrover. The length of the sand-ladder was just longer than the distance between the bike’s axles so each of the bike’s tyres were barely on the corners of the sand-ladder.
With all 3 of us in the front seats and with windows open so as to prevent the accumulation of armpit odour we travelled to Inhambane. Time passed quickly as the conversation drifted from travel stories to the many gadgets and modifications in the Landrover. Inhambane province seemed to be immune from the effects of winter. Being Mozambique’s agricultural centre the countryside was alive with citrus orchards, coconut, paw-paw and pecan nut plantations. I kept a worried eye on the motorcycle in the rear-view mirror and breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived safely at the campsite.
A dhow is a small Arab sailing vessel whose design has not changed in hundreds of years. At Inhassoro they are used for fishing and ferrying people between the mainland and the Bazaruto Islands. A ride to the islands takes between 4 and 5 hours and costs US$ 44.
|The following day we explored the town of Inhambane while looking for a new tube. It’s old architecture; Indian population and the fact that it is clean and well maintained make it different to other towns that I have visited in Mozambique. I even saw some road-works taking place (something that I did not think existed in Mozambique). The town is situated at the end of a peninsula and a turquoise bay separates it from the mainland. Many dhows were on the bay as they ferried people to and from Maxixe (pronounced ‘Masheesh’), on the other side if the bay. Coconuts are grown around Inhambane and there is a small coconut processing industry on the outskirts of the town. |
Above: The bay between Maxixe and Inhambane. A dhow is in the foreground
I found a replacement tube and because of my desperation gladly paid the ridiculous sum of money for it. With the new tube fitted and functioning as a tube should I could relax and enjoy the beach and sea.
My newfound German friends signed up for a scuba diving course and would thus stay at a campsite near Inhambane for about a week. I was pleased with this arrangement and spent a few days with them at the camp. We had many interesting discussions about the changes that have happened in South Africa and the effects of the merger between East and West Germany.
The only thing more beautiful than the tropical landscape was what could be seen underwater. I hired some snorkelling equipment and managed to sneak onto the dive school’s ski boat for a trip up the coast to a reef. The water was clean and the reef and its life were as spectacular as one would see in a dive magazine.
After 3 days at the dive camp it was time for me to begin the ride back to South Africa. Between Inhambane and Xai-Xai the road passes between many wetlands and freshwater lakes. These lakes have very little development or tourist facilities and I felt like I was missing something by just riding past and not stopping to explore.
It was, in a way, good to be back on South African roads. It was pleasant to see vehicles that are in a good condition rather than as in Zambia and Mozambique where most vehicles are overloaded with bent chassis's, no working lights and wobbling wheels.
I have learnt the value of trying to speak to people in their own language. Attempting to speak Portuguese to Mozambicans always resulted in a positive and friendly response. Do not miss out on experiencing an interesting place because you cannot speak the language. A book of translations and the correct attitude is all that one needs.
Travelling on one's own and on a motorcycle has its advantages. While travelling alone I found that I was more likely to initiate a conversation and that likewise, other people were more likely to approach and speak to me. A motorbike, loaded with bags and equipment is unusual and therefore attracts attention. I frequently found that while stopped at the roadside a crowd of spectators would begin to gather. I was once ordered by the police to move away from the bank because a crowd of curious locals had gathered and the police were worried about the security of the bank!
The next total solar eclipse will occur on the 4th December 2002 and will be visible form around Messina and Tzaneen in South Africa. I’ll see you there!
Portuguese traders first visited Inhambane in the 15th century, making it one of the oldest European settlements in Mozambique. In the mid 18th century Inhambane became a centre for the slave and ivory trade. Slaves were exported to the Americas and to French sugar plantations on islands in the Indian Ocean.
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