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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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