010 withbothhandswaving

All would-be travellers to Mozambique are advised to read Justin Fox's book "With Both Hands Waving" (Kwela books 2002). Apart from many useful observations about how, and how not, to travel in Mozambique, the book includes copious historical notes. At the time that journey was done the smart tar road running west of Gorongoza crater had not been completed and Fox & Co travelled the muddy Dondo road to Caia.

Driving is on the left (except when dodging potholes).

R1,00 = MTN3,75. The standard note is MTN100 = R27 (about). Most tourist prices are quoted in US dollars ($1,00=MTN30), to which the metacal is linked.

THE MAPUTO ROUTE: On our first visit in 2003 we decided to avoid border posts and travel from Johannesburg through Komatipoort and Maputo and then the long 2500 kilometer potholed road North. 4-wheel drive is quite unnecessary, but the potholes smashed our front shock absorbers. The road is still not too good, but at least the terrible 100 kilometers between Rio Save and Nchope has been fixed.

Zimbabwe routeTHE ZIMBABWE ROUTE: The best and shortest road is the 600 kilometer run through Zimbabwe via Masvinga to Forbes Post at Mutare; then down the Beira corridor through Chimoio, turn left at Nchope on to the new 300 km Gorongosa tar road to the Zambesi bridge at Caia (opened June 2009). With the new dollar/rand financing fuel is now generally available. Transit visitors to Zimbabwe may, however, carry extra fuel which no longer needs to be declared. In 2009 we experienced numerous road blocks in Zimbabwe (13 on our last run) and there is usually a speed trap South of Masvinga.

Zambesi bridge at Caia
050 Zambesi ferry 5THE ZAMBESI BRIDGE: Since June 2009 the new road bridge across the Zambesi at Caiai has been open to traffic. The tales of sunken ferries and days of waiting to cross are now history. Once across the river there is 300 kms of good tar to Mocuba. From there to just past Alto Malocue be prepared for about 150 kms of bad detours and potholed tar. The rest of the road through Nampula and onward to Pemba is passable accasionally potholed tar.
ACCOMMODATION: Alto Molocue HotelFor accommodation there is a good bush camp 30 kms South of Caia (+258-82-3016436/ 3027804) and the more expensive Cuanca Lodge on the North bank adjacent to the bridge (+258-82-3120528). Nampula is an easy one-day run. However, Nampula accommodation is expensive and the crime risk is high, so we usually keep on driving until we get to Pemba. Before entering Zimbabwe it is a good strategy to stay overnight near Mussina (we can recommend the Elephant Inn and its restaurant some 10 kms South of Mussina), make a very early start through Beit Bridge (open 24hrs) and then do the 1000kms to Caia and the bridge in one day. If you are doing the Maputo road stay overnight at Komatipoort. Get through the border posts early in the day and expect a slow run through the traffic around Maputo. Then head the slow narrow road north-east. There is a good campsite with cabanas and a restaurant at Mexixe overlooking the bay towards Inhambane. A very early start the next day from Mexixe will enable you to cover the 1000kms to Caia in one day.

Fresh chicken (frango) for dinnerCarry plenty of food. There are no grocery stores like Spar and Pick n Pay. The local white bread is excellent and cheap. Mocuba pineapples are the very best and cost MTN30 at the roadside (2009). Bananas come in 3 sizes (MTN10 a bunch): little yellows (the best), big yellows (OK); and big greens which never go yellow and are for frying to taste just like potato chips; chicken at MTN50 is bought alive trussed upside down by the legs ("frango" for dinner means cutting a throat and plucking the feathers). The other surprise for those accustomed to Western travel facilities, is that there are no public camping sites like in South Africa. A spade and a bamboo mat screen make toileting a bit easier (there is always an audience). For a bed the Mozambiquans roll out a reed mat under the truck and sleep right there next to the road. In high risk areas (like big towns and the Beira and Nacala corridors) one just sleeps in the vehicle sitting upright. After one night of renting an expensive room with blocked toilets, bed bugs, and no water in the shower, a night in the vehicle can start to look like the lesser evil. But there can be some pleasant surprises: when we were stuck overnight at the Zobue border post on our way out of Malawi a beer shopping excursion to the local shebeen produced platters of fresh fried trout with savory rice (yum!).

LEGALITIES: You need your third party insurance papers, your TIP (temporary import permit), the vehicle and trailer's original ownership papers (or a sworn copy thereof), and your driver's licence. Most traffic officials have a smattering of English, are polite and helpful, and offended at any suggestion of "greasing a palm". Never ever get angry with them. These guys are just doing their job as best they can. Insist on a receipt for any fine you are told to pay; the legitimate ones, usually speed traps, will have a well-used receipt book. If you are towing a trailer you will need a red plastic triangle mounted at the front, and at the back of your vehicle. Strictly speaking it should be a reflective yellow triangle on a blue background, but these are difficult to come by in South Africa. Our red triangles found approval with all traffic inspections (and do not obstruct the cooling of the radiator). Mozambiquans generally do not have red triangles. When broken down at the side of the road the unwritten rule is to strew foliated branches for 100 meters uproad (This same practice is also used to mark potholes, but we found this more a hindrance than a help because it prevented accurate pothole dodging).

Every little village has its 80kms sign followed by a 60kms sign. Occasionally speeds as low as 40kms are specified. These speed limits should be meticulously observed. Signs of "children crossing" should be similarly respected.

The border post at Komatipoort leaves a lot to be desired: the Mozambique side is plagued by harassing opportunists who, for a fee, will "assist" you to jump the passport queue, get quick customs clearance, or 3rd party cover. They will also, quite illegally, try to charge "duty" on goods in your vehicle. They were only cooled in their aggression by a demand to see their boss. The Mozambique TIP (temporary import permit) authorises the duty free importation of a large variety of goods provided these are removed from Mozambique within 30 days. On good cause shown, the TIP can be renewed for two further periods of 30 days each. Duty on importing a vehicle is 67% (including 17% IVA, the Mozambique equivalent of VAT). In terms of the Southern Africa customs agreement this rate is due to reduce to 47% by 2010.

Diesel bowser MocubaYellow fuel cansCARRY EXTRA FUEL: Unleaded petrol is only available in the large centres such as Maputo, Beira, Quelimane and Nampula, so carry extra for the long streteches inbetween. Diesel (gasoleo) is widely available. Even in remote villages good clean diesel can be obtained from informal vendors in the ubiquitous 20 liter yellow cans. Best to buy a few yellow 20 liter cans for yourself (MTN100 each). Plan on nil fuel between Vilanculos and Chimoio (but "yellow can" fuel is usually available at Nchope and a long-overdue Petroport was under construction November 2009). Fuel is now available at Caia and then Nicodala near Quelimane, apart from possible "yellow cans" at Gorongoza village. Remember that even if you find a fuel pump, the tanks may be empty. Fuel costs about MTN30 per liter and is cheapest near the ports of Beira and Nacala. Petrol is "gasolina". "Petroleo" (dispensed from a petrol bowser) is paraffin (my dictionary says "querosene"?). Whatever it is, avoid it. Every English-speaking traveller to Mozambique should stick a label to this effect on his dashboard. And get yourself lots of small change (MTN10 coins and MTN20 notes). Fuel attendants ubiquitously have trouble with finding change. "Fache chaia (fash chay)" means "fill up".

Alto Molocue war damageThere 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.



Never used bridge


Combat school MocubaThe 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.

Castle gaol at Alto Ligonha1Inselberg

Vista near Nampula


Sena BridgeShire FerryAt 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.

Tete Zambesi BridgeSome 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.


Tete ferry 1965 3Tete Old Fort

Nampula cathedralCathedral congregation Alto Ligonha

Branch warning signParked truckBEWARE 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.

Piggy Back BridgeIn 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

Rolled over truck

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. 



Truck in MudYou 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. Detour Alto Molocue roadNorth 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.

PotholesOnce 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.

Chappa taxiIt 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.

New bridge on Gorongoza RoadThe 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. Bayley bridge1They 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).

Bridge into Mocuba1From 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.

Grass vergeCellphone 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.





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