There is some war damage still to be seen. A broken building in Alto Molocue and busted bridges along the road. The piles of wrecked vehicles have at last been removed.There are no more teenagers with AK47's lurking in the bushes on the Komatipoort - Maputo road. We met one victim who was attacked back in 1995 and received gunshot wounds with the driver shot dead.
The survivor was invited by the Mocambique authorities to an identity parade some months later and he suspects that the two youngsters he identified were immediately taken behind the building and shot dead.
There is no longer a danger from landmines provided you are travelling on the main roads. The locals walk, or ride, their bicycles everywhere and have detonated most landmines in populated areas. But if you insist on bundu bashing then you may have a problem. Scotty at Mocuba had a timber concession where his men have detonated 3 anti-personnel mines, and removed several others.
A special land-mine removal team run by the Mozambiquan Government is systematically working its way through the country. Near Pemba suspect zones, including deserted villages, are marked with sticks ringed in red and blue.
At Sena 100 kms west of Caia there is an old railway bridge across the Zambesi which served as a road bridge for many years. Sena is the original capital of Zambesi province. The bridge is 3 kilometers long and only wide enough for one car, either way. In 2006 it was closed to road traffic and is now being converted back to carrying railway trains. It made for a colourful road journey in the days when it was open to cars: There were Government control posts at both ends with radios. the driver was handed a radio set to call for help if he had a problem. He handed it back on the other side. Having gotten over the bridge one then had to cross the ferry on the Shire river. This is a well run operation (notably no bribes and no queue jumping and you go off facing the same way you came on). However, one traveller reported arriving there to find that the Shire pont cables had been stolen!. He turned around and went through Malawi. We went the Sena/Shire route in June 2003 after the Caia Zambesi ferry had "sunk" for the second time that year (the day before we got there). We arrived at the Shire too late to cross the same day so we camped amongst the truck drivers and mosquitoes for the night. The scenery is magnificent. However, the 240 kms of very bad dirt roads make one cautious about a second attempt. The road runs from the ferry through Murrumbala and then east to join the Caia-Quelimane tar at Rozendo. The AA map does not show this road at all.
Some people still prefer to travel the old route on the tar road across the Zambesi bridge at Tete, through Malawi to the Milanje border post. After Milanje there is 200 kilometers of good dirt to Mocuba. With the new road bridge at Caia the advantages of travelling through Malawi are no longer so obvious. We have also had a report (2007) that the tar road from Chimoio to Tete is very badly potholed.
BEWARE OF NIGHT DRIVING: In order to reduce the accident rate the Mozambique authorities have banned buses and trucks from driving at night. We met one couple who prefer to drive at night because the traffic is so much less. Our own experience of night driving was that potholes in tar show up very well in headlights (but not on dirt roads). Night driving is plagued by oncoming vehicles with defective headlights: often only one left headlight, or worse, with only the bright on one side working. We suspect that they drive at night to evade the numerous checkpoints that are manned during the day! On the roads further North, where traffic is negligible, night driving is a pleasure. Due to the ever-present pedestrians speed needs to be curtailed. Another major hazard is trucks stopped in the road for the night, yes, just left of the centre white line. One recent accident near Pemba took 3 lives when two trucks blocked the road, the one with headlights on full bright and the other facing the other way with nil taillights.
In Mozambique the left flicker is used to indicate to a vehicle behind that it is safe to pass! The right flicker means "Dangerous to pass". The right flicker is also flashed at night f
or every oncoming car: most necessary if you have no headlights. In Mozambique right flickers are flashing constantly up and down the road, day and night, without there being any intention of turning.
You are well advised to avoid driving in northern Mozambique during the rainy season (December to April). Speed signage is used to alert drivers to "one-car" and "humped" bridges (bridges built piggy-back on top of weakened bridges). The road surface often deteriorates severely near a bridge. So even if the bridge is not marked as risky, one should be alert to the need to slow down. On the older tar roads there is a high incidence of road subsidence adjacent to the bridge, the bridge then rises above the road surface like a massive speed bump. The worst incidence of this near Mocuba has recently been fixed.
The roads of Mozambique are notable for producing a SURPRISE around every corner. One has to be acutely alert all the time. We did not hit any pedestrians, chickens, goats, or other vehicles, but we did have some horrendous experiences with potholes. Mozambique provides many kilometers of fine somnambulance-inducing tar road surface. Then just over a rise, and without any signage, the road deteriorates to wall-to-wall 12 inch deep potholes. If you hit that sort of thing at 100kms an hour you will have difficulty keeping your vehicle under control. North of Vilanculos, at the approach to the Save Bridge, you will meet you first barrage of officially installed Mozambique speed bumps. There is a minor toll fee to pay before crossing the bridge. The speed bumps are unmarked, difficult to see, narrow and steep, and designed to produce the same effect on your vehicle as massive potholes. There are really bad speed bumps just past Nchope at the truck weigh station.
From Komatipoort to Maputo is an excellent tar road. But to go North through the suburbs of Maputo one has to crawl through a melee of pedestrians, buses, market stalls, and vehicles turning every whichway.
Once clear of Maputo the road to Vilanculos is fair, with a sprinkling of what we now know to be "minor" potholes. The worst part of driving the stretch is the other traffic on the road. Slow, very slow, black smoke belching trucks heading north. Many oncoming buses and trucks heading South. The road verge is in poor condition, sometimes precipitous, so no-one wants to give way. We saw one Range Rover with its entire side sliced off and a massive truck a little way off surveying his own damage. When the traffic disappears towards dusk then the pedestrians take over the road. Sometimes even sitting in it to chat. A loud functional hooter is essential.
It is a myth that one needs 4-wheel drive to travel in Mozambique. Sure it is nice to have 4-wheel drive for getting to remote spots off the main road, when you get there. But for just getting from Komatipoort to Pemba Bay 4-wheel drive is quite unnecessary. In fact 4-wheel drive is a liability. We observed several 4-wheel drive vehicles with wobbly or tilted front wheels. Those complicated universal joints in front just fall apart from the banging on the potholes. Much better to have a sturdy rear-wheel drive bakkie with big wheels and good clearance.
From Johannesburg to Quelimane you can now travel on A-grade high-speed tar. The terrible Dondo road to Caia travelled by Justin Fox is now history.
The roads inside many towns are often in far worse condition than the national roads outside. Probably because the local municipality has to pay for the in-town roads, and it eliminates the need for speed bumps. On entering Nampula there was (until May 2004) a half-meter deep pothole in the main road so big that a car could park inside it (if it were not for the traffic that had to go through it). Mocuba (near Qelimane) gets the prize for the worst town roads that we travelled (but much tarring work was in progress November 2009). The AA map shows tar between Mocuba and Alto Molocue (pronounced Molokwe). In reality only 65% of the distance is tar, with some tar stretches lasting as little as 100 meters, interspersed with varying grades of dirt road and detours. There are many beautiful bridges for which the approaches have never been engineered. They stand waiting for their day to come. Other bridges have mangled railings, the leftovers of military ambushes. The roads of Mozambique are kept open by numerous portable ex-military "Bayley" bridges supplied by the British Government. The Mozambique quick-fix for potholes is a man with a spade who shovels roadside soil into the potholes. After this has been done often enough for several years the tar road disappears under a layer of dirt and only vestigial tar sticks out here and there, sometimes at oblique angles. That is the "tar" road marked on the AA map (we heard some irate comments by other travellers).
From Nampula northwards to Pemba Bay much of the road in April (end of the rainy season) is lined on both sides by a thick forest of elephant grass 3 meters high. In some places this bends over the road to produce a tunnel effect. For local pedestrians this is a nightmare. There is nowhere to walk but in the road. To avoid the cars pedestrians have to squeeze themselves into the grass wall. Only the low traffic volumes keep down the potentially high accident rate. The road north from Pemba to Pangane Peninsula is even more heavily overgrown.
Cellphone coverage (Mcell and Vodacom) is appearing at major centres (Maputo, Xai-Xai, Inhambane, Pomene, Vilanculos, Manica, Chimoio, Tete, Mocuba, Nampula, Nacala, Pemba). We even picked up a signal near Gorongoza town. Pre-paid cards are available. Vodacom provides a more reliable service than MCell.
One day in about 2012 there will be a tar road from Malawi north to Lichinga and then east to Montepuez and Pemba. The engineers are already busy.