Camping in a laundry, breaking my finger and getting harassed by police…
I’m on my way to Mozamboogy festival in the sleepy coastal village of Ponta de Ouro, Mozambique, near the South African border. I’m coming from the north though, so I enter via the Komatipoort border post between the Kruger National Park and Swaziland. With only a few hundred kilometres to Ponta de Ouro, I should make it within two days.
I get through customs without any issues but the town on the other side is a typical border town – poor, rough, and with dodgy characters hanging around. It’s getting dark now so I cycle off quickly, hoping I find somewhere safe to camp for the night. The air is cloudy with smoke from fires that villagers are cooking on, creating a moody feel reflecting the rays of the setting sun.
Within a few kilometres, I come to a roadside motel and enquire about prices. It’s a bit out of my budget though, at 3000 Mozambiquan Meticals (MZN) for a room – the equivalent of 600 South African Rand (ZAR). I ask if I can camp around back for the night but the owner isn’t around and his employee is not comfortable making a decision. He tells me to try another place further down the road but instructs me to return if I have no luck because it’s not safe to camp on the roadside here.
At the next place I’m greeted by a friendly man who offers me a room at a similar price but I can tell he thinks its a very cheap offer. I explain that I’m cycling around the world and I’m very low on cash so I carry a tent for camping on the roadside. He’s seems a bit confused at first but then suddenly becomes very sympathetic and says I can camp for free in the back garden. He shows me where I can get water and offers me use of the shower and toilet facilities. I’m very grateful and give him ZAR50 for his troubles as I don’t have any Mozambican money yet.
After setting up my campsite in the lush garden next to the swimming pool, I go to watch TV in the bar area at my host’s request. He gives me some free peanuts and I desperately want to buy a beer but feel that wouldn’t align with my ‘poor traveller’ sentiment. I settle for tap water, which unfortunately is warm. After watching some old 80’s movie dubbed into Portuguese (the local language), I head off to spend my first night in the tent that I carried around the whole of India and never once used.
In the morning I wake early to a dewey morning and pack up while the sun rises. By 6am I’m on the road, heading direct for the capital, Maputo. The road heads towards the coast so it’s slightly downhill pretty much all the way, with no real wind to speak of. As a result I cover the 100kms to Maputo before lunch time. The road is long and boring with nothing but fields on either side until I get close to Maputo. Just before the city there is a smaller town called Matola which appears to be a busy trading post for vehicles heading north and south and delivering goods for the capital.
It’s horribly busy and the dusty streets are packed full of trucks weaving around the half-finished construction works. I pass through a toll booth just before Maputo and instead of letting me simply pass around the boom I’m told to go back and join the pedestrian route. Seems a bit nonsensical but I comply anyway. The last few hundred metres into Maputo are uphill and I arrive sweating in the midday heat at Base Backpackers.
The original plan was to stay the night here but since its only lunch time I decide to only stop for lunch and hopefully do some work using their wifi. The receptionist kindly agrees to look after my bicycle while I head out to draw cash, buy a simcard and grab some lunch. Then I head back and offer to buy a beer or two in exchange for use of the hostel wifi.
At around 3pm I decide I better head off as I still need to catch the ferry across the Umbuluzi river and then cycle the last 40 kilometres to Bella Vista. I thank the staff and promise to return and spend a night on my way back.
Heading down to the ferry I’m exceptionally careful not to break any road rules after a warning from the receptionist that police will try get money out of me for any silly reason. I arrive and the ferry is busy loading, so I quickly cycle on amongst the throngs of fishermen, fruit sellers and vehicles.
Presently, the ferry departs and starts the short 20 minute cruise across the river mouth. It provides excellent views of the new bridge that is being built to cross this section of river and connect Maputo with southern Mozambique via a brand new highway. The bridge is the last section to be completed, meaning I’ll have a fresh tar now all the way to Ponta de Ouro.
Nobody comes around asking me to pay so it appears I get a free ferry ride! I disembark on the other side and have to cycle over some rough dirt road with sandy patches before the tar begins. I slide out in some sand while passing a biker and say “Oh shit!”. He laughs and tells me I’m going to have quite a few more “oh shit” moments. Maybe the road isn’t as complete as I’ve been told?
Eventually after a few bumpy kilometres I reach a brand new section of tar road and pick up the pace, heading south. It’s after 4pm now and the sun sets at 6pm so I’ll need to cycle flat out to avoid the dark. Fortunately, the brand new road has a clean, wide shoulder so I can move quickly and avoid traffic. Unfortunately, there are some sections that aren’t complete so several times I have to take a slow, dirt road detour around unfinished sections.
Although I can’t quite see the ocean, the scenery and vegetation around here is more coastal than the farmland coming into Maputo. It’s mostly green bush with the occasional palm tree and a mild breeze that keeps me cool despite the intense sun.
After two hours I’m exhausted, I still haven’t arrived at Bela Vista and its starting to get dark. I check the map and it seems further than it should be. On changing Google Maps to satellite view I realise the reason – despite appearing in satellite photos, the new road hasn’t yet been added to the main map. The satellite photo shows it winds quite a long way inland as opposed to the old road – meaning my route is actually about 10kms longer than indicated to me.
I briefly toy with the idea of just camping on the roadside but everything around me is very dense bush and I haven’t got any food since I didn’t plan to camp. I eventually just decide to push on through the dark as it should only be another half an hour or so and traffic is slim. By the time I arrive in Bela Vista it’s very dark and I turn off the road to head into the main town which is on the coast. Loud music is coming from the end of the road and it seems to be quite crowded with people, which seems odd for a Tuesday night.
I stop at a guesthouse and explain my story, asking if there is anywhere safe to camp off the street. The owner seems uncertain but invites me inside, asking if I’m sure I wouldn’t like to take one of his rooms. Again they are out of my budget and I offer to pay him something in exchangefor camping on the grounds. We eventually agree on R150 (about $10) for me to camp in the laundry room which includes my own private toilet, so as long as I leave early in the morning. I assure him I’ll be off at 6am.
After setting up my tent on the rather hard concrete floor, I head down to the bar area to get some food and drink. I can’t say no to their 50 meticais beers (less than $1 US) so I have two while getting some work done.
I’m up with the sun at 5:30am and packed and on the road by 6, as promised. On the way out I pop into the bar to see if I can get a coffee but the staff direct me to another room. There I find a few people having breakfast. I sit down and ask for a coffee which is promptly delivered along with a breakfast of bread, cheese and salad. Apparently this is included with the rooms, although I’m not sure the kitchen staff realise I’m not an “actual” guest. I keep quiet, eat quickly and head off before anyone says anything.
Today is a short day of only about 70kms which means I should make it to Ponta de Ouro with enough time to find a lift to the festival and setup camp before dark. The last few kilometres to the festival site on the beach is entirely sand and accessible only by 4×4.
About halfway, I reach a game reserve which is gated off but the entrance isn’t closed or manned by security, although it does have a sign warning of some wildlife, including elephant and crocodile. I guess not a lot of people cycle this road but there is no other route south and I figure the animals will likely avoid the main road, so I head in.
I keep a keen eye out but don’t see any animals and the few cars that pass don’t appear to be concerned with my presence. After a few kilometres the park ends and I exit onto the main road and continue south through sandy, coastal grasslands. At around 12pm I arrive at an intersection and turn left towards the Ponte and the ocean. After a few more kilometres the road ends in a construction site and I continue a bit further until the dirt becomes sand and I have to start pushing my bike.
After pushing a short distance throug the blazing heat I reach a small wooden bar and decide its beer time. I grab a cheap quart of beer and join some locals on a log outside. They’re very interested in my bike and as usual can’t believe I’ve cycled so far. We get chatting and I mention the festival which they say they are also attending. We make introductions and I tell them I’ll see them there, before continuing on through the sand.
Eventually I reach the centre of town, grab a beer and begin hitch-hiking at the intersection, hoping someone will take me to festival. Within a few minutes a guy stops and says he saw a post I put on the Facebook group asking for a lift – what a stroke of luck! We grab a few more beers, pile my bike into the back of his 4×4 and head off.
We get chatting along the way and by the time we arrive we’re best mates and he invites me to camp with him and his crew, which turn out to be a huge contingent of festival goers from Durban in South Africa.
The festival goes down well except towards the end when I slam a thorn through my finger while trying to make a fire. It gets stuck between the knuckle of my middle finger and I have to yank it hard to get it out, tearing through the flesh and joints. I manage to patch up the bleeding but by the next day it’s very purple and swollen.
As a result, I end up spending a few days longer in Ponta de Ouro than expected, during which time I chill on the beach and strip and clean my bike as best I can with diesel. Eventually, about a week after arriving, I’m ready to head back. I leave very early Sunday morning with the plan to cycle all the way to Maputo, about 110kms.
Again I have to go through the game reserve and this time I am lucky enough to see an elephant quite close to the road. I stop for lunch at a tiny roadside stall and have a conversation with some friendly locals who again can’t believe I’m cycling all the way to Maputo, which at this point is only 50kms away!
I reach the end of the tar by about 4pm and once again have to brave the sand and dirt to the ferry port. Unfortunately, this time the shaking wobbles a screw free from my pannier rack and I can’t find it in the dirt, so have to improvise with a cable tie – the cyclists lifesaver! I join the queue for the ferry and have to actually pay the 30 meticais fee this time.
Once across, I disembark and start cycling back to the hostel. Along the way I stop on the roadside to check my Google maps and a sneaky police car that I didn’t notice, stops and calls me over. Here we go..
The police ask for my passport and then tell me I owe a 5,000 meticais fine for stopping in the road because it’s ‘dangerous’. There’s no way I’m giving these clowns 5000 meticais so I show them a 100 meticais note and tell them its all I have. After some resistance, I insist they can take me to the station and I’ll pay a fine there. Of course, as usual, they eventually give up and send me on my way.
Back at Base backpackers hostel I check in to a dorm room for R180 (about $12) and grab a much-needed beer and shower, in that order. I think this is the only backpackers in Maputo and its clearly popular as its quite busy with a mix of travellers from Germany, the UK, the States and various other places. One guy said he’s been staying there for over a week!
My left crank is loose and has been giving trouble, so the following day, after getting some work done, I head off in search of a bicycle repair shop. I find one and they simply tighten the crank and send me on my way. Seems to do the trick.
Back at the hostel, I get chatting to a cool British guy who’s been traveling and working throughout Africa, in places like Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. I tell him of my plans and he gives some recommendations on places to visit. Then we head out to dinner with an American girl and grab more than a few beers at a pub afterwards.
I haven’t got too far to go on my final day, assuming it will only take a few hours to the border, as before, so I awake late and only leave at 11am. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the mild uphill and a gale force headwind. The initial 10kms is okay but once I turn with my back to the coast I have to fight into a wind so strong I might as well be walking. Eventually, at around 4 pm, I stop and wave down a taxi to take me the last 20kms to the border – I’m finished!