7 September 2015 by Justine
Cycling in Central and Southern Mozambique – January and February 2015
It is with a bit of sadness that we left Zimbabwe, which pleased us with amazing landscapes, fresh nights, pleasant day temperature (very valuable for cycling), great people and thousands of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. We were thinking… “The coast of Mozambique is waiting for us – with the most beautiful beaches in the world, its palm trees, blue water and tropical fruits. All we need to do is to cycle this tiny 350km of in-land part, right? Plus, we chose a quiet “tertiary” road along a river which crosses a national park – a good opportunity to see wildlife again” – that’s what we were thinking. As a matter of fact, we could almost see the Indian Ocean, which we last seen it in Sri Lanka three years back. Just like in Tanzania when we were daydreaming about Malawi Lake before even be in Zambia (read “Zambian Transit”) and without knowing about our dramatic exit of the Nyika Plateau (read “The Lake, The People And The Gin”), we were underestimating the real deal.
We were, ideed, far from it. What was waiting for us would take the first place in our top five of the hardest stretches of this trip. You may here use an elder’s voice: Let me tell you the story of that time where us two vagabonds found ourselves in the real, deep, crazy African bush – sound of drums, please.
Not even 30km after crossing the border, we arrived in a lovely little African town. There, we met a Zimbabwean farmer on a Mozambican farm who knew all about the road ahead of us: “Massangene (the next city, about 150km south-east) is great! You’ll love it. It has lots of guesthouses, all aligned with small shops, all along the Save river. And then, you take the main road that goes straight to the coast! In Zinave national park, you’ll see elephants, hippos, not too much lions… It’s great!” We listened, amazed and excited. The following day, full of confidence, we cycled south until the road got smaller and smaller, to the size of a single track, and to a point where we were meeting a five-way junction every hundred meter. We asked some villagers the direction to Massangene, but they didn’t seem to understand us… “Massangene… Are we not pronouncing it right?” Remember, we are back in Mozambique and Portuguese is the official language – except for the rural areas where we were, where dialects change every hundreds of kilometers of so. We cycled back to the closest village center, we asked, and asked about where we needed to go. Another Zimbabwean man, an elder this time – who kindly offered us some of his personal weed harvest, was the only person amongst twenty who seemed to understand where we wanted to go, and also who could speak English. For us, it seemed simple. Our map was showing a road going straight south from the border post then east to Massangene, with a bridge to cross the Save river. How could it be that complicated?! The old man consulted the twenty local guys, who seemed uncomfortable. The old man asked us: “Those man are wondering why you take that road. Do you know people there?” “No” “Do you know the way?” “No” After consulting them again “They say you’ll never find your way”. By seeing our faces drop, they continued talking, and together, wrote down the villages that we would see on our way down to Massangene. Finally, we thought! “Now, you’ll have a chance to make it”. We put the precious piece of paper inside our passport and left.
Within half an hour, we got completely lost. We stopped two local guys on a motorbike. They didn’t speak English, but they seemed to get our situation. Turned out they were policeman dressed in civil, and they were now asking us our passports… We were thinking: “great! Policeman! They’ll show us the way, right?” They asked us to follow them to the post. “Shouldn’t be too far, right?” A half hour later of cycling this labyrinth, closely escorted by our new friends, we stopped and asked them where we were going. Our GPS showed we’re going west, not south. We already cycled enough for nothing today, and our patience was running low. Maybe they didn’t get where we were heading… They were in no mood to discuss, saying we needed to get to the border as soon as possible. “The border? Which border?” They tried to take our passports, but I was firmly holding on. We lost patience, and so did they. With little options left, we decided to keep on following them. Few minutes later, we got to a main gravel road. Released, we get to the police station post nearby. There, a military checked our passports – after making us wait ten minutes so they could finish their card game:
The officer, reading our passport: “You are supposed to be in Mozambique. You have been border jumping. I have to fine you”
Us: “Border jumping? Where are we?!”
The officer: “Zimbabwe”
Us, confused: “…”
Turned out the two policeman made us jump the border in order to report us and to get a cut on the fine we would get. Fortunately, the Zimbabwean military understood the whole thing and eventually took our side:
The officer: “Ok, you can go. But stay in Mozambique”
Us: “Where is the way to Massangene?”
The officer, skeptical: “Is it your first time on that road?”
Us, living a Deja-vu: “Yes”
The officer: “You’ll never find it”
Us, discouraged: “…”
So we escaped from being fined after jumping the border, but the main problem remained… How could we reach Massangene?
“The road is better on the Zimbabwean side” drops the military.
JP, with his big beard and smile, asks “Is there any chance we can get to Massangene by this side of the border?”
The military thinks for a second and answers: “Can you make a donation to fix the road?”
JP, ready to hear a big number, and to potentially agree on it: “How much?”
The officer: “… Two US dollars”
JP, working hard to keep his serious: “… Ok”
And so we left the border on the same side we arrived by – the Zimbabwean side – with a two-inch piece of paper with the military’s initials, the date and the name of the next police station we have to report ourselves to the same day. The only problem: it’s already 4PM and we are 60km away. “Try to catch transport to get there today” he says, but it’s just us two on the road until the dark comes. The next day, we keep on cycling, not too stressed out. We get to the village supposedly beside the Save river that we simply need to cross to get back to Mozambique. We spot the police station. We should report ourselves… We think of how much time it will take to explain our whole story once again, to explain why we are one day late, and the chances we get cut with more corruption, get asked for some more “donations”, and decide not to stop at their tent. The river is just there, and we have been told that there is a bridge. How complicated could it be?
We were taking a break under a mango tree when a local guy offered us his help to cross the Save back in Mozambique. He noticed our skeptic faces and added: “I don’t want money, I just want to help. It’s only 4km away but it’s quite complicated because you need to take a left at some point” he says. “Do you have a bicycle?” “Yes” “Ok let’s go”. And so he showed us the way. After 9km on little paths with multiple turns, we came to a junction facing a big tree on which a little sign was holding. Our guide carefully read it, and asked us in which district of Mozambique we wanted to get to, knowing that the Save river separates the Manica from the Gaza districts. We thought for one second and answered: “Gaza. We want to be south of the Save” “Ok, follow me” he said before taking a right. Few meters away, there was a river. He took his shoes off and pants, and crossed with his bike on his shoulders. Without asking any questions we did the same with all our panniers. Isn’t there hippos and crocodiles in the Save?! Apparently not here… On the other side, we asked our guide about the bridge. “There is no bridge, but there is a ferry. It’s right there” he said, pointing straight ahead, in the bush.
After few meters of more dust path, we got to another river bed. He whistled, listened and said: “I just called the ferry. It’s coming, I can hear the motor”. While waiting, we casually asked more questions about the ferry – not that we are skeptical, only curious (…). At this point, really, anything could have happen… He confirmed that the ferry could cross motorbikes, and even cars – no problem. “There is a hotel on the other side, you can stay there tonight. From there, the main road will bring you straight to the coast of Mozambique – no problem.” And then arrived the so-called ferry – a small wooden boat controlled by a man holding a stick. What did I say about being ready for anything now?
We didn’t say a thing. We loaded everything and we thanked our guide without whom we would NEVER have found this way to the Save river. The ferry captain professionally asked us if we had our passport and visa, “because there is a police station right across the river”. We showed him the little piece of paper and he nodded like if that kind of transit visa was common. At the last minute, a local cyclist arrived from the bush and jumped in with us. He spoke English and was going to Mavoue, a village 50km before Massangene, and 15km from the “port” where we were now heading on this “ferry”. When we got to the other side – after jumping on and off in the water to push the little boat away from sandy patches, there was nothing. Nothing. Only a long beach and a dense forest. Even though we were tired and the sun was going down, we took the opportunity of having a guide to show us the way to the main road. We asked Philip, the local cyclist, if we could cycle with him to Mavoue:
Philip: “Do you have a torch?”
Philip: “Ok, because I forgot mine. Let’s go”.
I guess he thought we were some kind of professional athletes because right from the beginning, he cycled like a maniac. Sure, there will always be a little competition between the cyclists, just like in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, basically all countries where the bicycle is the people’s mode of transport. But really… It’s pitch black out there. We cycled on a dirt road with some loose sand patches here and there, which we couldn’t spot. Our guide was taking us in those crazy shortcuts, not even half of a meter wide, in two-meter high grass. JP worked hard to follow the guy, and I was working even harder to follow JP’s light in the night. And then… Nothing. I see no more lights – because they took a shortcut. Surprisingly, I find the shortcut, and somehow, somehow, my bicycle knows where to go. Again, surrounded by 2two-meter high grass, with the reflection of the moonlight, under the stars, with a cool 25 Celsius in the air, all I need to do is NOT thinking of anything and let my bicycle do its part. As soon as I think of how ridiculous this whole thing is, I fall on a sand patch or I lose my way in the shortcut. After half an hour of this craziness that could easily made a TV show, I started to be tired. I asked the guys to slow down a bit. Philip, being nice, comments: “she’s not strong”. JP, my forever hero, answers back: “… And you cycle like a maniac for no reason. It’s not a race, my friend”. And he jumped back on his bike, like if he had a pizza burning in the oven at home. We finally reach Mavoue, and our new friend is hardly standing – too tired. On the way to his village, where he nicely invited us to stay for the night, he met a friend of his who was walking home. Obviously, his friend jumped on his bike for a ride. Since our guide is dead tired, the friend is riding, sitting on the saddle, while Philip is sitting on the back rack, holding his friend’s torch in the air. Remember that the road is still sandy and his bicycle is crooked so… They are having a hard time riding straight. But it’s Africa. They are sober, they are struggling, and they are laughing so hard that they keep on losing balance – but not laughing as much as us, amazed by this African craziness. When we get to his house, I ask Philip to try my 45kg bike. He can hardly lift it… Good. I’ve made my point.
The following day, we were as motivated as we could be. Massangene is close and there is only one main road – no chance we can lose ourselves again. Luckily, that section was quite nice. The road was wide, not too sandy… Our motivation level was on the roof. We finally arrived in that so-called fabulous city… At the only lodge there, they were asking 50 US$ for a hut with no toilet, no electricity, no fan – no nothing but mosquitos and dirt. We had to negotiate very hard with the owner in a mix of Portuguese, Spanish and English for sleeping outside. In the final price, of course, the water wasn’t included – we needed to buy our own barrel. Apparently, in Massangene, there was no water. The Save river is less than 4km away, but there is no water. We needed to pay children to roll down a barrel of water from the filling station, 500 meter up and owned by a South African guy who brought water in from a big tank. On the main street, everyone looked at us with a lot of suspicion. Completely starved, we tried the only restaurant, but we needed to make an appointment for eating or reserve one hour in advance. And even then, antelope was the only protein on the menu. No fish. In the shops, onions were the only fresh food we could buy. No fruits, no vegetables, no water. After asking many different people, we finally found the baker. Fresh bread! That just made our day!
We finally met this nice guy from Zimbabwe who explained us that the Save had been the hidden place for the Rebels for few years, and the place of armed attacks in the time Portuguese people were chased away from Mozambique – explaining a bit why, arriving from the bush, we were looking so suspicious. When the kids finally arrived with our barrel, we were ready to take a bath. Half naked, holding our towel, bar of soap and clean undies, we were on our way to the “bagnos” (bath room, in this case, an empty room with no light and no window) when three very serious man passed the main gate and walked directly to us. Dressed in civil, they were introducing themselves as policeman. The big Zimbabwean guy had to play the role of translator, as none of the so-called policeman spoke English: “They want to know who you are, where you come from and where you are going – passports, please”. We told them we were coming from Espungabero border – and kept our little excursion in Zimbabwe for ourselves. “But how did you get here, in Massangene?” “We crossed the Save on a small boat” (which couldn’t be truer). Full of confidence, we named the villages we had crossed in Manica district (North of the Save). Our conviction seemed to convince them of our legitimacy. Nodding like they knew all those places, checking our multiple times stamped passport like if they understood any of it, they asked few times the same questions, and then welcomed us in Mozambique – letting us shower, finally. Our Zimbabwean friend let us showered and came back later, and had the kindness of answering all our questions about our route. He gave us some very useful info, even calling his uncle to confirm the most of it. Turned out the road that follows the Save and crosses Zinave park was “full of trees, very sandy and hard to follow”, which left us to this other road passing through Mabote. Listen to our friend, describing our route: “That road will be easier – way easier that what you have seen so far. You will cross Zinave National Park. For that, be sure of passing the first gate at a decent time of the day, because otherwise, they won’t let you enter since you need to pass the second gate before 4PM. Wait, let me call my uncle to get more info about the distances…” And there he was, full of smiles and jokes, answering all our questions, which gave us back hope. Not a single word of what he said was true.
It took us five endless days to cross that road which made us go through almost every single possible challenges Mozambique has in its pockets: impossible roads (huge, big, medium and little loose sand patches, mud, cement waves, junctions with no indications), crazy weather (steamy heat, dry heat, crazy heat, unbearable heat every day, rain, hot nights every nights), isolation (up to 40km with nothing, in between the villages, very little cars or motorbikes on the road), thirst (big line-up at the pumps for bad water that doesn’t hydrate properly) and problems communicating with the locals (including few episodes with people running away from us). Although it was always possible to find someone who spoke English in the villages, the quality of the info we got for this specific stretch really beat records. Let’s now talk about people running away from us… In general in eastern Africa, as we entered a remote village, we would be welcomed in either of those three ways: people ignoring us, screaming and running towards us or away from us. One day on that crazy stretch in Mozambique, we took one of those short-cuts, thinking that it would bring us back on the main road, but finally took us to a hut. Still on our bike, we greeted a women that was hand-milling some corn, sitting in front of her hut. We were probably too suspicious, arriving from nowhere like spirits on a weird bicycle, because she jumped on her feet, grabbed her baby by the arm and ran away to a nearby circle of huts. There, she screamed something and the twenty villagers hid together in the central hut. As we got there, yelling “no problem! No problem!”, the oldest boy of the group (the man were probably all working in the fields) opened the door, armed with a stick of wood, probably expecting warriors but only saw two happy tourists and started laughing – but not as hard as JP who almost fell off his bike. Oh, Africa…
The biggest stretch without services was 40km. At the very beginning of it, we crossed an old man cycling in the opposite direction, with no hat on, with no water bottle, and a small watermelon strapped on the back of his bike. He was in such bad state when we saw him, he didn’t even acknowledged us, completely sun-buzzed that he was. And we thought… Are we ready for this? It would be 40km at the worst time of the day – between noon and three o’clock, in a small sandy – very loose sandy, road surrounded with thick bushes. We could see 1km away, at the total end of the road. Same landscape, again and again. When we exit that stretch, we were in no better state than the old man we had met, even if we had drank water during the way. Too hot for breaks, too hot to breathe, too hot to think.
It was already the end of January, and we would have preferred spending JP’s birthday somewhere more civilized, in front of an ice cold beer, but Life had other plans. On January 27th, on his 28th birthday, our text-messaging GPS gave us some very sad news: JP’s grandmother died. We were in the middle of NO where. We were struggling to get drinkable water, primary schools were dangerously scattered, there was no transport to get anywhere, but still, deep in the African bush, thousands of kilometers from home, technology called us back to reality. For his birthday, we ate our last dehydrated meal, a small water melon that I managed to find in a village, and we thought of all the questions Mamie Boudreau would have had for us… Couldn’t help ourselves from being homesick that night.
To illustrate how hard it was sometimes to communicate with people in Mozambique, and in eastern Africa in general, I would have thought the people met on the way would have wondered where we were coming from on those crazy roads, or wondered why we were there it in the first place, but no1! They thought we were simply coming from the next village (where they never been themselves) or that we had a friend to visit – in every case, most of the people thought we were only cycling from a village to another. Traveling such distances for fun at our own dispenses was beyond their comprehension.
Every day, I had a little thought for Peter Gostelow, that crazy guy who cycled most of the countries of the African continent (read “The Lake, The People And The Gin”). He had cycle the whole Northern coastline of Mozambique on sandy tracks (check a map to really understand)*. While he had probably spent more than a month to cover the distance in even worst conditions, I, on my side, was crying for my mummy after ten days on that crazy road. And when we asked him about that specific part, he comely answered: “it was hot and very sandy”, which would have been just as appropriate for describing the beaches of Miami.
How could we know the road we wanted to take from Zimbabwe to Mozambique was so hard, and, at some point, simply not existing? Our map, an atlas of African roads and the usually reliable Googlemap all showed the same road with about the same kilometers and city names. A funny thought is that I checked that area on Googlemap not so long ago and that road isn’t there anymore, neither is the one we took from Massangene to Mabote. A funny moment of our journey on that section was the sight of a road indications (they are quite rare) for the travelers coming in the other direction : “straight for Mechisso, left for Banhine National Park and right for Zinave National Park”. First of all, we though we were crossing the Zinave National Park by going through Massangene – turned out we didn’t. The park was apparently 61km further North. Then, for us coming from straight ahead, we were apparently coming from Mechisso. Mechisso… Mechisso ? All that time we were calling the main city Massangene (because all maps were using that name)… Any chance the people couldn’t help us simply because they only knew “Mechisso” – and had no idea where “Massangene” was ? The final kick came from the indication for Banhine… Since so many days now we are telling the people that we are going to the coast but we are still on sandy tracks, somewhere in the main land. This is a big reality-check : Banhine is closer to us then the coast. With Zinave and Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe) National Parks, Banhine closes a hot, sandy and wild triangle. Why not going there? While trying, we might end up in Kruger National Park.
I must say, after a few sun strokes, twenty punctures, a couple of melt-downs and bad news from home, we started to consider throwing our bikes in a pick-up truck straight to the coast –especially on JP’s birthday. But there was simply NO transport for us to take, nothing. So we laughed at our miserable tourist selves and we cycled all that crazy bush road. The moment we saw the main road, soaked from sticky sweat and from an unexpected shower, JP ran to get himself a cold beer in a nearby bottle shop while I was removing some dust in my eyes (or tears of joy). We then were on a mission. After all those days in the real African bush, there was only one place we wanted to be: Vilankulos. A touristy town 50km North-East of where we were with paradise beaches, restaurants, hostels, backpackers, beers, standards showers, bars, wifi, beers, restaurants, western toilets, markets, grocery stores, Wifi, beers… You get the idea.
Luckily, it took us only five minutes to stop a truck. We then thrown our bikes in, and drove north to Vilankulos, one of the most touristic spots on the coast of Mozambique. It’s crazy to think that only few kilometers separate the real African bush to those touristy spots, and most of the tourists will only see one of those sides (I’ll let you guess which one), and think that those fun bubbles represent the reality of the whole country, and that by seeing it, they’ve seen it all. Most of the tourists obviously never see behind the curtains and go home thinking that Africa “isn’t too bad, after all”. But honestly, at that point, all of that luxury was exactly what we needed – and JP’s birthday could finally be properly celebrated.
After two rest days, our body got soar, as if our mind finally allowed us to relax. We both had several blisters on our legs, from different incidents (remember my pus situation in “The Lost Pantry”). With the heat, the humidity, the flies, the dust and our not-so-frequent showers, they simply never heal. I thought… Swimming in the ocean was going to solve this. But few hours after my first dip, my foot was swollen, more pus was running out of my blisters and the skin around was red and hot. “I guess we’ll take another rest day and test the local clinics…” The verdict: seven days of penicillin and an eighty dollar bill (it was the private clinic, with aircon). I’m pretty sure that a local person having the exact same symptoms would never go to the clinic. On almost all African legs and arms, we could see the scars of badly healed wounds or infected soars. One day, I covered my toe with bandages to protect a small blister. After staring at it, a man asked me if I had lost my toe. In other words, “how badly injured is your toe for you to put a bandage on it?” Here’s another good example. In Massangene – also known as the city of dreams, our dear Zimbabwean friend saw JP covering up a wound on his leg with a strap of cotton in order to keep the flies away. For him, it was serious enough to use bandage, so he worried: “There is a clinic in Massangene and they have a good doctor. They took good care of my friend who almost got eaten by a hippo few weeks ago. They cleaned the wounds and gave him pain killers. Apparently, there was no broken bones, so he stays at home and waits to get better. His arm doesn’t quite look normal though… The hospital is three kilometers from here. You want me to show you where it is?” JP, barely holding his mouth shut: “… Thanks. I think my leg will be fine”.
We finally left Vilankulos, still not being able to have a decent night of sleep. Even by the water, the nights was extremely hot – no air could pass through our full-mesh tent. I remember noticing water accumulating in the dimples of JP’s ground mattress. We could have filled a shooter glass with his sweat (yummy though)! And that was every night from our second night in central Mozambique, and would be until the mountains of Swaziland.
There are more than 700km to get to Maputo, which we will cycle straight. Just like Lake Malawi, the Indian Ocean is hiding behind 5 to 50km of sandy roads, east of the highway. At that point, there was no way of convincing me to cycle in the sand – especially off our route – even by promising me a double chocolate sundae on the beach. Sand with my 50-kilo bicycle under 35-40 Celsius, even for 5km? No thanks. There were many opportunities… Our dear Lonely Planet guidebook presented us six beaches and few backpackers for all the coast, but they are so many, all along the N1, and reach all tastes and budgets. Mozambique… We urge to get out of that beach paradise. The heat… The heat that stopped us from cycling between noon and four. The heat that didn’t let us nap in that time (neither did the flies), and the heat that didn’t let us recover in the night. Mozambican heat.
One day, we were enjoying the breeze and the freshness of a mild 27 degrees. It was late in the afternoon – our most pleasant time of day for cycling. We had seen two very interesting signs on the road that day. The first one was announcing the crossing of the Tropics of the Capricorn, and the second, a warning for wild elephant crossing (so exotic). We decided to stop for the night in a small village where the vibe was nice. An older man came to ask us some questions. This classic one came up: “How old are you?” We would every time ask back with a smile: “How old do you think I am?” Hear the answer we heard so many times: “You have a very big beard! You must be around forty years old! Are you traveling with your daughter? Is she married!?” (…) So there they were, each one arguing on their own age – the older man was convinced he was 83 while he looked like 60, and no one believed we were both 28. We then built the tent close to a house, under a mango tree, under the amazed eyes of a dozen quiet kids, and started cooking. It was already dark and for some reasons, I decided to turn on my headlamp before grabbing the kitchen kit besides me. Just on time, I saw an enormous bug on it, and it didn’t look friendly… Some kind of hairy centipede with huge crocs and shiny carapace. I asked the kids, busy checking our camping gear: “Problema o nada problema?” After looking at the bug, one of them took off his sandal and hit it. They were between six and eleven years old, and hitting the damn thing until it stopped moving – which took at least fifty hits and the help of four more kids. I guess it wasn’t a friendly bug.
We were cycling in hilly palm tree plantations for the past days when suddenly the landscapes changed. It finally got to the image of Africa we all have in mind: Flat, hot and dry with grasslands. We were crossing the Limpopo River and getting closer to Maputo. But first, Xai-Xai (said “Chai-Chai”). We got there and thought we had landed in India for a second. Sand was blown in the wind, there was a chaotic car and truck traffic, it was more than forty degrees. We spotted a grocery store and entered. We were all pimped with adrenaline from getting sooner than we thought at that point. We were looking for our stove carburant, Methylanol Spirit, and the shop (owned by an Indian man) didn’t have any. He gently offered that we have a drink, which we gently refused. He then took a juice box from his fridge and gave it to us: “Please, drink something”. Like waking up from a dream, we sat down and felt like what I like to call “sun-drunk”. Just a little bit too much sun… We listened to the old man and didn’t get back on the saddle for the next two hours. One, it was still so hot, second, we tested the ice cream cones of our very first African KFC. We were eager to get to Maputo. Our Christmas gift was waiting for us there and we couldn’t help ourselves dreaming of it. We were watching the kilometers going down. 200km… 150km… 100km… We got to that last sign late in the afternoon. Excited, we pushed a bit more. There was a stopped truck on the road and JP, smiling, said: “If that truck’s going to Maputo, I’m jumping in”. The trucker agreed on taking us, but we didn’t think for a second that he would, so we were there, smiling, sun-stroked, with big eyes, and not moving a finger. The trucker: “I go now… You come?” “Ok!”
Before looking like total cheaters, let me tell you how horribly dangerous the road had become. We had been cycling on the main road, the National One – the only main road that crosses Mozambique from North to South, since we had exited the crazy bush more than 600km before. As we were approaching the capital, we were sharing the way with more and more trucks and buses. The road was fairly wide enough, until that last day when we hitched that truck. Just to pimp things up, a huge construction field was waiting for us. Cycling that zone in the dust under the Mozambican average forty degrees seemed too much. And so we decided to be opportunists. Eighty kilometers after meeting us on the side of the road, the trucker left us outside the capital – as he was continuing to South Africa. It was past eight o’clock, we were at a huge chaotic intersection with lines and lines of truck, buses and cars, people were standing in front of little BBQs where corn and meat sticks were grilling, other were walking around in the dark, like if they had waiting all day for that moment when the sun finally goes away. We were twenty-five kilometers away from the entrance of the city, and thirty-one from the place my mom had found for us. JP had only one thing in his mind: he wanted to get there. We would cycle in the night, zig-zag in the traffic and arrive late at the guesthouse where they were waiting for us the next day. Jeez… Could we live more on the edge?!
And so we arrived in Maputo in the dark, at its busiest time. Cycling at night didn’t seem very wise in an African city but I must admit it was our best guess for our arrival in Mozambique’s capital. With its line of street lamps to light our way, our flashing red light on the back of our helmet, our flashing headlamp on our forehead and the dozen of reflectors on our panniers, the cars were actually giving us more space. On top of that, the air was at a comfortable twenty-five degrees and the dense traffic allowed us cycle almost at the same speed as the cars. The drivers were probably thinking we were some kind of champions, crossing Africa non-stop on our bikes – we have been asked many many times if we were cycling twenty-four hours a day. Yeah, of course! Every day, all day! Careful not to drive too close! Would you risk hurting an international champion?!
I almost felt sorry for the poor owners who opened their gate at ten at night to two sweaty, smelly and fully dirty cyclists. But on the bright side, they could never get happier and easier to satisfy customers. The best Christmas gift ever given by my mother: a guesthouse room booking for cyclists touring in Africa. Mom, how can I say this… Air conditioning, hot shower, espresso machine, plasma TV, swimming pool, included breakfast, fluffy clean bed, laundry service, free and good Wi-Fi connection, bowl of fresh fruits, box of cereals, coffees and teas… Everything (almost) we dreamed of was there for us at Guesthouse 1109. All of this seems unbelievably awesome for anyone living in the modern era, so imagine if you’ve been struggling to get washed for three months, and struggling even more to get drinking water for the past two weeks. Oh! And how exciting is to watch National Geographic’s “Deadliest animals” in this perfect bedroom. Hippos, lions, buffalos, crocodiles, elephants, scorpions, black mambas, leopards… Wait a second. These shots are all taken in Africa, including some in areas we have been… Yeah. We’re living on the edge.
It’s sometimes hard to explain to people that we sleep better in our tent, under the stars. From Uganda to Malawi, accommodation was cheap enough to pay for a room, lock the bikes inside, take a shower, and put our tent in the back or in the interior yard. Even on hard cement, we would sleep much better outside. So for the nice people who offered us to sleep inside, even later on in South Africa, we DO sleep better outside, in our – sometimes – smelly stuff. And that’s what happened in that gorgeous guesthouse. Our 4th night was a-ma-zing. We could have been in our own bed. We were then used to the noises, the smells, the AC, the mattress and… The general amazing cleanliness. But the three nights before… Awe! Was it because our body and mind were exhausted? Or because we were getting used to the burning heat? OR, because we programmed the air conditioning to twenty-five Celsius when it wasn’t even that cold at night? I don’t know. What I know, is that JP got a dreadful migraine – the real one – for a straight 50 hours and that sleeping besides someone sweating from pain wasn’t an option. So I surfed the net (because that’s what we do when we have Internet) to get the best tricks to calm a migraine. Essential oils, shower, tablets, massage, relaxation, tea, coffee… We tried everything. But then, I found a YouTube video** named “Funny Method of Treatment of Migraines in Mozambique”. What are the chances!? But wait… It’s four in the morning, JP’s in child position, shivering of pain, and I can’t control my laughs. “What are you laughing about?!” burst JP, upset. “Nothing!” I said, as I was putting the video in muting mode and controlling my laughs – watch it and you’ll understand…
After four days in that piece of paradise, we had to go back on the saddle. And it was for the best: leaving Mozambique’s craziness and entering the mountains, the ones that we would follow for the next month. Next stop: Swaziland!
* Follow Peter’s stories on his website: http://www.petergostelow.com
** Funny Method of Treatment of Migraines in Mozambique. Available on Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkSZFh70hGc