Mozambique Road Trip – Part 3

Crossing through the Lebombo border post into Mozambique was relatively simple and hassle-free, even with the language barrier. It’s nowhere near as harrowing as international airport customs since 9/11.

Our first encounter with the Mozambique Police was about 100m past the border post. You’d think the checks at border control would suffice for another 50 Km at least? I went through the routine that was to become a feature of our travels throughout Mozambique, several times every day: passports – drivers licence – car registration papers – insurances.

Checks done, we were on our way past Maputo to the Xai Xai District and Praia de Chizavane, where the resort Zona Braza nestles on the dunes of a deserted beach. Be warned that the even though it’s only around 300 Km from the border, the drive is long, being restricted to an average speed of 80 Km/h, and the regular stops for Police checks.

Our journey was further delayed by a tyre puncture which we had to get repaired at a filling station along the way. The repairman was quite thorough and did a decent enough job with what looked like quite primitive tools (in comparison with South Africa).

One way of getting there. Spotted while waiting for tyre repair

Mozambique is a land of contrasts. Huge houses under construction everywhere dwarf the mud and tin shacks and grass huts of the poor. There is a huge gap between the rich and poor, but poverty is much more evident. As you travel further north of Maputo, you begin to wonder how these poor people survive. They seem to eke out a living through subsistence farming and informal trading of goods of various kinds. We met a few guys who were hunting large rats (they called it Movondo or something similar) on one of our drives through the winding dirt road to the resort. There is a distinct lack of any sort of industry on a reasonable scale in these areas.

The number of abandoned buildings, remnants of the Portuguese colonisation of Mozambique, is startling. These must have once stood regally, striking examples of Portuguese architecture. They dot the landscape wherever you look, from Maputo, all the way to Xai Xai and beyond.

Abandoned Hotel, Xai Xai

Fresh vegetables and various types of fruit are available at informal stalls along the roadside, but buying fresh meat is not recommended from any stalls, even in the markets of Xai Xai. The vegetables and fruit however are good at these markets, and they seem to be always bustling with activity.

Market in Xai Xai

Buying fish, crayfish and prawns is also not recommended at the markets, as the conditions are not very hygienic. It is better to drive down to the beach and wait for boats coming in with a fresh catch. Another thing that is quite noticeable is that the formal shops did not stock the “luxuries” we were used to in South Africa. It is quite apparent that these are mostly poor people with simple needs.

Market, Xai Xai

We spent most of our days just driving around, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of life away from the city of Maputo. Very little time was spent at the beach itself which remained deserted for most of our stay. We did not get to experience any authentic Mozambican cooking, but did enjoy a seafood platter in the restaurant at the resort. We also bought some fresh fish one afternoon, which we prepared the traditional South African way.

Path to Beach

Mosquitoes is not that much of a problem this early in Spring, but it can become quite a problem in Summer. Mosquito nets over the beds in our cabin helped, but the little pests still manage to get through. Lathering on mosquito repellent in the evenings is a good idea. And off course there’s the malaria tablets.

Whale Bones Found on Beach

With only a few days available to us, we could not explore further north where there are exceptional beaches and resorts. These will have to stand over for another trip. It was time to head back…

Cellular Masts. Only sign of development…

We decided to spend some time in the capital city of Maputo on our way out of Mozambique. It was not a good decision, but worth the experience I suppose. Maputo is a wretched city. Dirty, pot-holed roads, unpainted buildings, heavily congested with traffic, and some of the most reckless drivers I’d seen around. We got out, thankfully without a scratch.

Mozambique Road Trip – Part 1

The Mozambique border post is about 450 Km from Johannesburg, just outside the little town of Komatipoort. Xai Xai in Mozambique is a further 290 Km north-east, using the toll route passing by the Capital city of Maputo.

My eventual destination, the beach resort of Zona Braza, was a further 40 Km away, 10 Km of which consisted of a hair-raising drive along a winding dirt road through dense bush. This road is best suited to a 4-wheel drive vehicle, although my front-wheel drive car managed fine, except for the night of our arrival when we got bogged down in the soft sand right inside the resort.

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A little pre-trip preparation is necessary to cross the border from South Africa into Mozambique when travelling by car. Here are a few quick tips to prepare:

  1. Passports must be valid for at least six months.
  2. Make a copy of your vehicle registration papers. Have it certified at a police station or other organ of justice. You will also need a letter from the bank authorising you to take your vehicle over the border, is still under loan contract.
  3. Purchase third-party and travel insurance for the duration of your stay.
  4. Have two sets of breakdown warning triangles and reflector jackets on the vehicle. These can be purchased at most camping gear stores. A decal with the symbol “ZA” is required to be stuck on your car, preferably at the rear to indicate South African Nationality. Appropriate decals for vehicles that are towing trailers or caravans are also necessary.
  5. Keep all documentation, including passports handy in a folder inside the cabin of the vehicle, as regular checks are performed my the Mozambique Police, all your route.
  6. Adhere to the speed limits as they are enforced very strictly. Trust me, it is unpleasant enough being stopped for routine checks; being stopped for a transgression could be much worse.
  7. It is advisable to consult your medical practitioner about taking malaria tablets before the trip. These are not available over the counter at pharmacies and require a prescription.

In the next installment, I will describe my short stay at the Ngwenya Lodge resort just before the border post, which adjoins the Kruger National Park. This stop was necessary to break up the long journey to my eventual destination, especially since driving at an average of 80 Km/h in Mozambique is very tiring.