A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

Day 119 - 120 – Pemba

19th -20th January 2011

overcast 25 °C

There really isn’t much to do in Pemba. It has a beach which, though we’re told is ‘normally beautiful and spotlessly clean,’ was, at the time of writing, covered in litter ‘from the storm.’ I’ve heard of frogs, locusts, first born son’s and four other bible based plagues none of which included that of raining empty packets of ‘Omo’ washing powder. No, that’ll be the locals then.

We took a leisurely four-kilometre-each-way stroll down the beach which as you’ve probably fathomed meant that we were only half way to town at our closest point. We did make it into town in Redvers to buy some bits and pieces but unless you’re list of hobbies includes any of the following it wasn’t all it was set up to be:
1. Telling each market trader that you’ll need to use your scales as his are rigged
2. Paying two quid for a can of sweet corn
3. Paying four quid for a can of Lynx Africa (surely it’s made here...)
4. Wondering how the Bengalese masterminded the world wide control of the corner shop

However, whilst dodging potholes and people, some good purchases were made, and they were four twenty-litre drums that once contained cooking oil, bought for just two dollars a piece. Five quid for four drums that will hold sixty quid’s worth of fuel when we enter Malawi, or as the Malawians would call it, one hundred and twenty quid’s worth. That last little fact is why we’ll be a rolling Molotov Cocktail as we pass through Malawian customs. Two hundred and sixty litres of diesel giving us a total range of over two thousand kilometres; we’ll be an Abrhams’ tank without the guns.

Back at Pemba Magic we met Hendy and Noa again who were still hunting for work but had moved their hunt northwards. Our roof tent cover had leaked and the rain had wormed its way in; our mattress was wet again, but, at least this time it was sunny enough to air dry. After all the excitement of Pemba, including paying twenty three dollars for a little bottle of Nivea suncream, we needed some down time. What we needed was an idyllic Indian Ocean based island with turquoise waters on which we could relax ourselves silly.

Posted by ibeamish 21:54 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 118 – Pemba ‘Magic’

18th January 2011


Laura had a little moment while we were at Libelula and left the tent door open in a tropical thunderstorm. We slept the other way around so that only our feet were cooled by the damp and the next morning Laura borrowed Hayley’s hairdryer. After a slow morning of blow drying bedding and generally dossing, we finally got our act together around twelve.

The road to Pemba wasn’t a particularly long one by our standards but neither was it nipping around the corner. It was a six hour jaunt and five hours and thirty seven minutes into it, Police Engagement #13 sealed our contempt for the Mozambiquan constabulary. Not content with our prompt display of papers in the dark thick air of a Pemba evening that was brewing another storm, the officer wanted me to get out and show him what was in the back of Redvers. Carefully stepping around the foetid puddles of another minging town street I opened Redvers to reveal not much. I wasn’t about to show our persecutor the light and so he was forced to examine everything via the red light of the baton he’d used to wave us down. He tapped Joseph on the head, (we’ve turned him around,) “Hippo,” I responded using one syllable more than I’d have liked. He opened the pasta and seemed unsurprised when he found it half full (or empty) with dried tubes of cannelloni. He tapped the gas cylinder, its ding warranted no response from me and then he saw Laura’s wash bag and insisted I open it. I did, now starting to lose my patience. “Deodorant,” it was time to be patronising, you needn’t understand the language to know the meaning, “soap, toothpaste, it’s a bloody wash bag.” His mate came over and tapped Joseph, I looked him deep in the eyes and like a twelve year old in a huff gave him my best ‘bored’ face. “OK then,” I half-stated-half-questioned as I edged the door closed, he took a step back, he’d taken my lead, the door closed, “Thank you officer.” The passenger door closed and we set off again.

It was the aftermath of this encounter, during the unavoidable period of annoyed excitement that arises after a run in with the law, with us chattering about ‘Bloody police this... next time I’ll that... if they ever... what we should have...’ well, it was during this that we invented the game of ‘Officer Idiot.’ We haven’t found a catchy enough moniker yet but for now that’ll do and besides, it’s probably not a game we should; a.) Encourage or promote b.) Play in any country where they may potentially understand you or c. )Actually take part in, ever. To be fair it’s a game of the moment, you should always respect the law, even if they only needed one year of GCSEs to acquire their elevated and ‘much respected’ place in society, and I refer you back to point b, it’s not for England if you’re English. Unless you can speak French in which case you’re virtually guaranteed that they won’t understand a word.

But more about that when we have our first game. For now I will summarise; the police are just an harassment of foreigners and as such they have rapidly lost our respect, they stop you at every opportunity and harass us without reason, bar for the occasion on which we stopped on the bridge, (which was entirely legitimate and as the kids say, ‘Our Bad.’) Our act is slick, we can’t physically break the speed limit on the open road and there are too many kids in towns to risk it there. Our papers are at hand, in order and issued to officers before they can even ask for them (unless we’re being pedantic and ‘I’m sure they’re around here somewhere officer, just wait there a minute...’) The officers of the establishment have bikes and cars with no lights to worry about and still they stop us.

A few more roundabout and bumbling kilometres we arrived at Russ’s place or ‘Pemba Magic’ as it’s also known. They had cold beers, they had electricity more often than they didn’t and they were conveniently located just eight kilometres walking distance from town.

Posted by ibeamish 21:53 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 116 -117 – English Voices

16th-17th January 2011

storm 31 °C

Nacala was another putrefying centre of overpopulated dirt trying desperately to evolve into a city. It might just do that one day but for the next ten years or so I’d recommend giving it a wide berth. Unless that is, you’re heading for Libelula Lodge; a diving lodge run by a British guy, Ian, (great name), and his Dutch-South African wife, PJ.

Here we found not only European company in the form of the owners but also in the form of their best friends, Hayley, a Geordie and her boyfriend Matt and also Ian’s dad. We snorkelled the reefs in front of their lodge, diving down to get closer looks at the hundreds, and at times, tens of thousands of fish that surrounded us. The beach hut looking out over the bay provided Hayley and Matt’s rustic accommodation and also our power shower whilst the sun set through a rainstorm.

Ian also owned a Defender just like ours, but it hasn’t been starting so well, and ever since the local mechanic tried to remove the starter motor with a hammer and chisel, it has been off the road. (How many times have we heard “The great thing about Land Rovers is there’s always someone who can fix them, wherever you are in Africa.”)

At this point we were starting to think we may have a stowaway on board. Laura had found that one of the onions had been gnawed by some sort of rodent, and thinking about it, we realised we’d been brushing bits of sponge and crumbs from under the front seats for a while now. Could it really be true? We couldn’t be sure.

Posted by ibeamish 21:51 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 114 - 115 Palacio de la Governatores

14th -15th January

sunny 33 °C

Women in Africa are baby machines. If you have functioning, sexually mature ovaries, you have either a baby in your arms or in your belly or you have both. In our previous experiences we had seen that mothers had been strapping their children to their backs using a huge sheet that gained purchase on what are stereotypically a large pair of breasts predominantly used for supplying nourishment to the aforementioned back-clingers who lie ‘star-fished’ against the back with one side of his head pressed firmly into the soft flesh. In Mozambique they seem to prefer the side sling, which looks better for the baby but worse for the mothers back. All of this is what Miss Somers had observed and she was quite right. Men bring in the money, drink beer and impregnate the women; women have lots of babies and work the fields and look after the house all whilst having kids at their feet and babies attached, inside or out.

Returning to Ilha however; Gabriel was an interior designer who also happened to own an old Portuguese mansion on the mainland that he was in the process of restoring. We’d talked about staying there and had agreed on a couple of nights. That was where we were heading as we passed the 20,000km mark for distance travelled so far. The house was next door to the Palacio Dos Governatores, the old Governor’s summer palace. As we pulled up in front of the house, a staircase swept away from us towards a veranda where the front door stood. Behind the house another veranda with a stone walled well and palm trees completing the picture. Inside, it was definitely a work in progress, high ceilings and shuttered windows, antique Italian furniture and another huge bathroom, this time without running water. It would be bucket bath time once more as the house man brought buckets of cool fresh water from the well. We had come good again. The first night we rearranged Redvers and read on the balcony.

The following day we explored. One hundred metres in front of the house the mangrove swamps that led into the ocean began; the crystal clear water washing round the boats that had meandered their way through the maze of mangroves. Further along we found a little shelter that Gabriel had built with his own ‘private pool’ in front; a glorious euphemism for the channel of the Indian Ocean before us; about two feet deep and as warm as a freshly run bath. After a sojourn here we restarted our hike in the midday heat and promptly got lost. Fortunately a friendly local saw our lack of impetus and dodgy orienteering and showed us to the beach where white sand met turquoise water and a small restaurant served us samoosas and vegetable stew with fanta and sprite to wash them down. Since Somers was in charge of the purse strings and had only brought six quid (later amended to eight quid) with her, we were somewhat restricted in menu choice. As we left the beach we met a guy who could sell us a lobster as big as my arm for eight dollars. Well then we thought as our bellies rumbled. We told him he was on, we told him where we lived and we told him if he brought it there we could do business. We walked back via the village to get some fresh bread and mangoes for breakfast. An hour later, our man arrived, but shock horror, no lobster, just some poky looking fish and a black plastic bag. Oh, oh me oh my, did that bag not hold joyous quantities of prawns. Prawns that British restaurants die for, prawns so big they give langoustines and small lobster a run for their money; prawns that could bite your thumb off; thick, fat, juicy prawns and lots of them, almost two kilogrammes. But there was a rub. We’d agreed 200 for the lobster, 300 if it was truly massive. Our man wanted 750 for the prawns that lay in front of us. Little did he appreciate that those prawns weren’t leaving the property unless they were cooked and in our bellies. But first we had some commercial details to finalise. “Mate I’m not a rich man, that’s twenty eight US dollars, it’s not possible. No one can afford that. Sorry pal.” After a short explanation that he was the middleman and they’d cost him 500 meticais to buy (a lie) he came down to 600. “Sorry mate, you’ll have to take them back, lobster was what we wanted.” The game was afoot; he was in our territory, it was getting dark and he had only one prospective buyer that evening and he was looking at him. And 500 really was too much. He came down again and offered them at 500 to ‘break even’ and Laura told him that there was only one kilo of them, it was still way too much. He countered that there was 1.5kg; he clearly hadn’t weighed them. Another ten minutes went by as we feigned a few departures, ‘Not to worry, thanks for trying, take care, and sorry we couldn’t do business. We settled finally at 350 meticais and immediately had a closer inspection of our supper. They were bloody massive.

Our house man offered to prepare and cook them and it became a team effort with the three of us preparing a joyous sea feast of shr-impressive proportions. A liitle garlic, oil and lemon and some hot coals. Our guy reckoned there were two kilos and they normally go for 150mets a kilo. We’d done good, only one dollar per kilo above local rates and we had the entire Rolls Royce sea fleet.

In the house bats flitted around clearing the place of unwanted flies and moths and with full tummies we retired to our rather luxurious bed, stuffed to the Adams Apple.

Posted by ibeamish 21:50 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 109 – 113 – Ilha De Mozambique

9th-13th January 2011

sunny 29 °C

Lonely Planet told us that the three and a half kilometre bridge from the mainland to Mozambique Island has a 1.5 tonne limit; since that was just over Joseph’s live weight we would never get over it. Luckily enough for us there was a campsite right next to the aforementioned bridge; we could camp there and walk over.

Unsurprisingly, we arrived at the bridge, campsite to our left, and saw the capital letters that spelt “FIVE TONNOS WEIGHTOS DELIMITOSADADA” (that’s paraphrased pigeon Portuguese.) (Another turd in the cap of an already foul smelling head dress borne by LP.) It was splendid news, but we decided we’d check out the campsite anyway as the island’s accommodation was sure to be pricey.
The campsite initially appeared deserted but after a few minutes wandering we found our man. He looked like a crap Mexican wrestler, without his mask and on his day off. His pubic hair brimmed over his faded and stained light blue swim shorts as his spherical, pert and surprisingly hairless belly formed the mountain above the forest. He had one or perhaps two earrings and mid-neck length curly hair that was greasy and fitted well with the overall image he was sporting. He wanted 200 meticais each to camp (five quid) plus 300 for Redvers. This meant that he was a thief as well as a visual disgrace. We told him we’d look around the island and would be back if there was nothing else. We left him in his empty campsite; we’d be living it up on the island for a few days.

A quick history lesson; Mozambique Island has been a trading station in some form or another for over seven hundred years. The Arabs, Persians, Madagascans and other locales were all using it as a centre of commerce. From the fifteenth century onwards ivory, gold, porcelain, silk and slaves were traded, amongst other things, and the fortress of Sao Sebastiao was built by the Portuguese at the northern end of the island. Huge granite walls and cannons galore provided an adequate turret to see off the unwelcome advances of the Dutch amongst others. The island soon became the capital of Portuguese East Africa until it was relocated at the turn of the 19th Century to Lorenco Marques (now Maputo.) In recent times the island has become a UNESCO world heritage site for its architecture and history (they’re busy gluing roofs back on and sticking information plates to important buildings; the island is a history lesson in itself but is none the less a place that remains very much alive in the twenty first century. Every building has people in it, whether legitimately or squatting. People shit on the white sand beach because it’s what they’ve always done, if you gut your fish the entrails go seawards, if you have rubbish it gets dumped in the street, someone might clear it up. The island would be falling apart if it wasn’t only just held together. Multiple layers of fading paint are evident on the cracked and crumbling walls and some of these aged facades can hide wealthy second and third homes for those who have enough money. It is a place that has seen much wealth, a place where some of the wealthy still choose to have a home and a place that is certainly visited by the wealth from abroad. However it is a place made up mostly of the poor and it is they who live as if they were in medieval England, the island has a smell that never goes away. It’s the smell of the sea and of rotting rubbish; the rise of fancy bars and plush accommodation may signal the beginning of something different but this island is lived in and it is the leftovers and refuse from its inhabitants’ existence that fight with its history and architecture for the most memorable quality of this rock in an azure ocean. Fortunately the latter wins, but it faces stiff and relentless competition from the former.

As we drove onto the island we suddenly became the focus of attention, it felt like we might be the only vehicle there. In hind sight they probably stared because we looked like lost children far from home as we wandered slowly, wondering where to go and where we would stay. (There were several other cars too.) We came across a large green mosque that had opposite it a smart looking establishment with a fancy name. The big letters said ‘Patio Dos Quintalinhos’ the little letters said ‘Casa De Gabriel’ and our now expansive understanding of Portuguese informed us that this house was where Gabriel lived.

Inside we met a lady who spoke Portuguese and told us in sign language that there was no room at the inn. We were back outside; we’d need to make a plan. As we were formulating a plan B, a slender tanned gentleman in his thirties pulled up on board his Chinese 150cc two wheeled import. “Allo, I’ma Gabree-eller, thees ees mai ‘ouse, you’re luke-ing fora somewhere to stay-er?” Oh thank God, he was our Italian saviour who included Portuguese and English in his vocal repertoire. He was fully booked that night but he found us a place around the corner and we could stay at his place the following evening.

Amakhthini (Casa De Luis) wasn’t quite in the same league as Patio Dos Quintalinhos but the lady and her daughter seemed very nice. (We couldn’t work out which of the three men was the ‘Luis’ of the house’s title.) It had a dimly lit room with mosquito net, fan and double bed and it had showers with water. We had only been on the island for an hour and we were still in the’ little lamb’ phase. Outside I nervously poured the diesel from the jerry cans, stored on the roof, into the tank, assuming it would make it less easy to steal. We secured our things in the safe and put the curtains up and locked Redvers down. It’s fair to say we were paranoid. We always are when we first arrive somewhere; most of the time we’re proved wrong, sometimes we’re proved right, (especially after our stay in Mutare when someone had rubbed a hole in the dust on the back window to see what was inside.) The saying is ‘better safe than sorry’, but what better fulfils that white European stereotype than to pull up in an African village, in a car worth ten years salary of the average man, and proceed to look nervously around whilst bolting every last thing to the chassis. Whether we like it or not we’re consumers that live in a materialistic world and our materials included a camera, a computer and a car, the theft of at least one of those would be disastrous. An hour later we’d solidified our image but felt a lot better for it.

Our explorations led us to understand that the island is split into two. Stone town, with its huge fort and once fancy stone buildings, the historical residences of the well heeled; and Macuti Town, the semi-subterranean city which sits two metres below everywhere else because that ground was where the stone came from for the Portuguese fort. The buildings in Macuti were a lot smaller, varying from holey-roofed shacks to sturdy concrete single or double roomed buildings; mostly, they were made of wood with thatched roofs and sandwiched together uncomfortably close to one another. Our house was just on the Macuti side of the invisible border looking past the mosque, over the litter and filth lined shore and onto the channel of Indian Ocean separating us from the mainland. Our first beer came sat at a table and chair on the beach with sand between our toes and the vast Indian Ocean in front of us. We’d crossed southern Africa, Atlantic to Indian, Skeleton Coast to Mozambique Island, 8000 kilometres on land and nearly four hundred by ferry or canoe; not a bad achievement and certainly worthy of a beer.

Pressingly, we were about to learn a valuable lesson; the big bottles of beer were cheaper than the small bottles because big bottles get recycled whereas small bottles were yours to keep. The fact didn’t prevent a moderately heated discussion with the bar-keep over this alarming, (but gradually more pleasant as its true meaning sank in,) idiosyncrasy. We found another bar and as the light faded Somers spotted a couple that she’d seen in Tofo, (in Southern Mozambique,) one year previously when she’d been on holiday there with Emma and Sarah from home. Hendy was a local guy, born on Ilha (the cool-kids abbreviation for Ilha De Mozambique,) who had been working in Tofo where he had met his Israeli girlfriend Noa. Laura had originally spotted Noa’s beach time yoga sessions on the beach down south.

We got talking to Hendy for a while, it was his birthday and he suggested we could meet up later; six hours gone and we knew the locals, Somers was a pro. Our bar was pleasant in the extreme; situated on a street corner with narrow dirt roads running down two sides and glass windows looking across to a church that stood opposite. A few tables and chairs had been placed outside to take advantage of the cooler evening air; the rundown buildings with their ornate window frames and crumbling facades gave it an aged and antique feel. The night air was filled with song rising from the evening church service; the island was alive. It was a very nice place to be drinking a big beer and a mango brandy.

Our bar crawl extended to Flora De Rosa’s, another very smart bar whose major selling point, apart from its a superb Caipiroja’s, was its roof terrace, complete with log fires, that looked out over the old hospital. Whilst Somers got stuck into the cocktails I carried on marvelling that more beer cost less. We stumbled back to our abode a little drunken and a little in love with the island. We’d originally planned two nights but by the end of the first we knew it would never be enough.

The next morning we took a leisurely, onion omelette followed by mango, breakfast before moving over to Casa De Gabriel. Gabriel owned a garage so Redvers would be safe and our minds would rest easy; in fact, they would rest very easily as Gabriel’s place was beautiful. The front door opened onto a small courtyard with a huge palm tree that grew from the floor and out into the sky above. The next room back had a cushion-lined mokoro canoe suspended from the ceiling by ropes so that it could ‘float’ just eight inches from the ground; around the room stood armchairs, clocks and lamps. We continued through the building into a longer courtyard, past the stone steps to the roof terrace, and found an open air swimming pool nestled at the back of the building next to our room. Our bathroom was bigger than our bedroom and the hole in its roof allowed both the sun and the rain through and onto its black and white tiled floor. It was magnificent.

We spent the hottest part of the day in the pool with another couple, Thomas and Linda, Austrian and South African respectively and soon to be living in Tel Aviv. That evening we wandered around the island again, enjoyed a small beer in the exceptionally swanky, but during our visit at least, as quiet as a library, Villa Sands before dining at a local restaurant where we bumped into Hendy and Noa again. Over beers they told us that they were hiring a boat to get across to another island, Isla De Goa where they could camp for a night, and hinted that we might like to join them. The fact he was a local meant that he’d got the boat cheaper than anywhere we’d seen advertised and he was willing to split the costs evenly. We said we’d think about it.

We bumped into them the following morning and made a plan; twelve o’clock the next day we’d sail, aboard a Dhow, to Ilha De Goa. We’d camp for the night and return the day after. It all sounded like a great adventure and whilst we mulled it over, Laura and I visited the museum and were shown around the old fortress.

The great ocean beckoned and the next morning we excitedly packed our bags and got to the museum just in time for an almighty rain storm to arrive. We sat, thoroughly soaked, under the shelter on the steps to the museum as it became apparent that the boat wouldn’t be sailing in the next twelve hours. Plan B was a day trip the following day. We wandered, took photos and swam, before buying some fresh fish on the shore-side market as the boats came in; we bought bread, shima (mealie meal) and coke for our rum. The fish was cooked whole with a little salt, oil and lemon and tasted brilliantly fleshy and fresh. A few rums hit the spot and once more we slept dreaming of Goa.

The fact that Casa De Gabriel was located across from a mosque had not gone unnoticed. As anyone who has stayed near a mosque can attest, their call to prayer can be extremely therapeutic in the early evening as the light goes and the rum gets to work; it can also be an absolutely shocker at four in the morning when the loud hailer whines to life and your man starts screaming for Allah. I knew God was on the side of the just when I awoke with a flourish at around four in the morning to hear the beginnings of the rant only for our man of Islam to burst into a coughing fit half way through and forget to turn off his public address system, “ Allah ma... achh, aggghh, gugh, gggh, grr... Allaggghhhhhh... ag, agkh, agck. ” You could hear the phlegm. Its only saving grace was that it was so early that the affair retained a dreamlike quality and an hour later it was only half remembered. More impressive still were the two or three small children somewhere at the back of our building who would take it in turns to cry in a relay of whinging tears. If I have children they’d better behave themselves or they’re going to an orphanage. The ‘babies’ thing should bring me on to another story about Somers’ observations on African women and children but we’ll save that for a bit later.

Before long we were up, packed, and ready to ship out. We waded out to our dhow and climbed aboard. As we pushed off past the water’s edge, an edge lined with some of the most disgusting debris imaginable, turds, tampons, fish guts and rotten mango skins, our vessel crested into turquoise waters above white sands. Our dhow unfurled its sail and an almost absent wind blew us across the channel. I tacked up the rod and put it to sea, the other guys threw out their lines as the huge sail provided our only retreat from the sun. An hour or so later, we landed on the beach, still fish-less, and a rather green Somers took for a bit of beach life rather than taking a quick spin back out to catch lunch. With my new rod and reel against three other sets of line with a hook at the end, I once more felt like western whopper in Africa. If I didn’t catch I’d look like even more of prat, ‘all the gear...’ etc. Anyway I did catch, and I caught first, which made the me the winner of the unspoken competition, it was about five inches long and should normally have been thrown back in, but today everything was lunch. The guys laughed when I used a huge wooden pole to foreshorten any fishy suffering by splattering its brains on the deck.”Why would you do that?” they asked through Hendy. I likened a fish out of water to a man under the water, and told them that that wasn’t a very nice experience, I’m not sure they really cared. It was another case of weird foreign ways. Hendy caught another tiddler and when he told me it was one one-one I knew that the competition hadn’t only been in my mind. Laura and Noa swam out through the azure crystal water to meets us and we swam back with them. Back on the island we met a spear fisherman that looked like he’d been through the entire cast of ‘Finding Nemo’ and had them to offer us for dinner. This would not be ethical eating, but they were already dead and we had nothing to eat. Two dollars bought us three probably slightly more endangered fish. Garlic, oil, lemon, fire, munchy-munch-munch with rum to wash them down. They didn’t taste endangered.

Laura and I went for a wander to see the light house and on our return found that the waves were now crashing on to the beach and our little wind powered dhow couldn’t get into land against the wind. It was a silly situation, had it just been us we could have swam out easily and boarded, but we’re westerners and our camera wasn’t as keen on salty water as we were. After half an hour of trying, the Dhow tacked out to try and make an alternative landing further up the beach. Two hours later they made it. We’d whiled away our time sleeping, swimming and playing on the rocks. The rocks were fun. In places they formed blow holes where the shelf-like construct had a hole in its roof as it were. The waves would crash under creating a huge pressure jet of water that roared through the holes and blasted up towards the sky; creating both a rainbow and an amusing place to put your head.

The return boat journey became melancholically ethereal as the wind suddenly dropped, the sun set and the stars came out. The starlight guided us across the Mozambique Channel and we glided past the fortress and into the harbour.

The long day, the sun, the salt and the endangered lunch had left us hungry. Miss Somers had temporarily lost her taste for fish, shima or anything else remotely African. We had superb pizzas in the same bar that we had visited on the first evening. Later we retired to Gabriel’s for our last night on the island.

Posted by ibeamish 21:49 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 108 – No Fala Portuguesa

8th January 2012

sunny 25 °C

The next morning Somers had a little swim in another fancy pool, the nicest yet. A day of driving was required to get us across the six hundred and fifty kilometres to Nampula; the major town before Ilha De Mozambique.

All was going well, we’d driven superbly along the potted tarmac and covering some good ground, stopping for the most amazing, straight off the tree, pineapples as big as your head, for forty pence each and stopped a boy at the side of the road for a bag of the biggest roasted cashew nuts ever. All was going swimmingly when, amidst a simply stunning sunset on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, I asked Somers to stop so that I could take a picture of this delight for posterity.

It became apparent that we were amidst Police Engagement #12 whilst I was taking photos. Redvers was blocking one lane of a two lane bridge. Of all the places on our half thousand kilometre trek that day, we’d stopped about sixty metres in front of a police car and three cops. Of course we were in the wrong; but that wasn’t the point. It was time to show the officers that we understood no Portuguese. It was a definite case of ‘good cop’, ‘super angry cop’ and ‘can’t really be arsed cop’ as the angry one approached first. He was definitely angry but we pleasantly didn’t know the language. Laura began the sweet talking despite the fact that they spoke as much English as we did Portuguese. License and papers were handed over and then, the long pause. They took our papers and disappeared off behind us somewhere. I wondered if I could sneak back out and get that photo, but common sense got the better of me. Somers was all over the situation telling me how the sun was going down; we just had to politely stand our ground and ask to go to the police station if they persisted, easy peasy. Our accommodation that night was sketchy at best anyway given that the campsite was called Sjebeen Campsite. (A shebeen in Southern Africa is a poor man’s unlicensed ale house.)Maybe if stopping in a public by-way was a big enough offence we’d get some free accommodation for our antics? After ten long, long minutes they returned, the guy who couldn’t really be bothered was trying to tell me off, whilst Mr Nice said something in Portuguese to Laura. Finally, Mr Nice pointed forward; we were free.

We pulled into Nampula at around half eight, it was dark, it stank like a rubbish dump, and the streets were lined with staring eyes. We made our way to the Sjebeen campsite which was at the end of a dark alleyway. We drove past some chaps, who looked very shifty swapping money at the back of a building, and the track opened into a dark courtyard that was at the back of, (as described in the name,) a shebeen. It looked like the kind of courtyard that you could speak to a lethargic policeman in; the day after you had set up your tent in the dark and some nasty men held knives to your throat and stole everything. With that in mind we checked into the Bamboo hotel next door, with massive fences, guards, air conditioning and a monkey in a cage.

We ate dinner like we were in the Mediterranean; chorizo, cheese, black olives and bread, fresh pineapple and mangos for desert; beers throughout. The next morning Redvers was still parked where we’d left him and the only knives we’d seen were with cutting through our sausage.

As we left the following morning we found that our noses had told no lies. Nampula is a full blown, five-star, top of the range, everyone-is-helping-the-cause, [excrement] hole. It smells of disease and decay, its putrid air is breathed by either ignorant or undereducated citizens who cast their rubbish at their feet; whether by the water, in the road or in a bush. The cities inhabitants have no pride for their surroundings; if you’re passing by, change your route.

Posted by ibeamish 21:48 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 107 – Playing the Money Changers

7th January 2012


We had a long way to go to complete the ‘trans-Africa’ leg of the journey. An hour down the road was Chimoio, a town big enough to provide us with internet, fuel and shopping on a Sunday. The Shoprite supermarket had us salivating over their beautiful, sweet, delicious foods, fruits and delectable’s and we went nuts for it. From chorizo to whole butterflied peri-peri chicken, fresh crusty European style bread, Cadburys chocolate, olives and cheeses, not to mention gin; we had discovered sanctuary and we weren’t leaving without a several pieces of it.

Outside money changers loitered harassing potential victims. We were dollar-rich and metical-poor the money changers could reverse that. As always their exchange rate was promising but we’d need to keep our eyes peeled; firstly because they’d be out to screw us and secondly because money changing was illegal. But with rewards to be gained it was worth a shot. We set ourselves up within the security of Redvers, sat in the middle of the supermarket car park, Somers in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger seat. Laura’s window would be the trading point and I could be the counter. The first guy appeared and after negotiating a rate of thirty meticais per dollar for two hundred dollars (current exchange rate 27.4:1, an improvement of almost ten percent) our tricky little chappie counted out ‘6,000’ meticais from his wad. Our dollars were well hidden, he handed over the dosh and there were only 5,800. He insisted on recounting and had an entirely frustrating method of counting the money; each note was folded slyly back on itself towards his chest. More over his counting was deliberately off, first he intentionally miscounted, his words accelerated briefly past the flicking of the notes, he would reach 6,000 with only 5,800 (but we’d spotted it so remained silent,) then as he counted the last few notes his words slowed as this time his hands over took his words. Someone in the background murmured the word ‘police.’ This quickened our hearts a little as by this point we had a crowd of moneychangers who were hustling and being harassed by the shop security guards who also appeared to be in on the act as they made lots of noise but didn’t actually achieve anything. Our man apologised for the miscount and handed Laura two hundred meticais before handing the wad back to me as another louder shout of ‘quick, police’ was raised.

The returned wad was a lot lighter than two minutes previous. The ruckus stepped up a notch outside the car; inside, I recounted; 4,000 this time. We looked him in the eye and told him firmly to ”[push] off.” The ruckus was worsening, new guys were now pushing past security guards to trade but we were outside of our comfort zone. Once more Redvers rumbled to life and dragged us out of trouble.

We found an internet cafe in town to begin the necessary dissemination of engagement notifications and caught some sodas in a little cafe. On the way back out we still needed money, if we could beat those little monkeys at their own game we could turn a profit on what the banks would charge, it was time for round two. We pulled back into the car park and waited to be approached. The same saga ensued; this time our new man was 400 short to start and moved to a total of 3,200 at the ‘final’ handover as the ‘police’ shouts reached their crescendo. Once more defeated we told him plainly to “[sod] off.” I added a malicious “[Richard-] head” as I looked him in the eye and Laura threw sixteen two hundred metical notes out of the window.

Four hundred kilometres later, in the moonlight, we crossed the Zambezi River once again via a pretty flash new bridge that had replaced the ferry service from three years prior. We had a few beers before retreating to the tent, fearful for the preservation of our Malaria-free status against a mounting army of miniature screaming banshees who wanted only our blood.

Posted by ibeamish 21:46 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 105 – 106 – Casa Msika

5th – 6th January 2012

sunny 31 °C

Well, if everyone didn’t suddenly start speaking Portuguese I’d have been damned. One minute communication was sixty percent speech and forty percent body language; the next it was thirty percent speech (English with an ‘o’ at the end of every word and not as effective as first hoped) and seventy percent charades. After the border we’d made a bee line for a place we’d seen advertised on the road and in ‘the book.’ It was called Casa Msika and offered fishing and camping. Set on the shores of a dam whose name I’ve forgotten and you probably don’t need to know anyway the place was a fairly pretty spot. There were mountains in the far distance, blue skies above and mango trees heavy with fruit all around us.

That same evening we bumped into the children of the current owners as they came running to see what Laura had stepped on and subsequently squeaked at. Laura had bent down to wipe the ants from her feet, when a chameleon simultaneously decided that the upturned heel of the flip flop looked like a nice spot to relax. As Laura set off she partially squished him. (No bones were broken you nature lovers.) We’d noticed the girls feeding a rather large juvenile African Hawk Eagle just seconds before the incident and over the next twenty four hours they introduced us to a Spotted Eagle Owl, two duikers, a pig, about fifteen million cats, a duckling, two rabbits and a baby bush baby.

Casa Msika was my chance to break my new rod’s duck and catch a fish. As I marvelled at the snail lined shores of this freshwater lake I wondered how long it would be before Laura and I both get bilharzia. Yet after two days fishing the duck was not broken; I had caught no fish. We got back to the campsite to find an overland truck of Germans and a very recently engaged Irish couple. Sadly for the Irish couple the Germans were complaining that the Irish had organised a private dinner the previous evening and now had their own room to ‘celebrate’ their new status. The Germans believed that Irish bliss was segmenting the group. Everyone else believed the Germans were idiots.

Posted by ibeamish 23:39 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Day 105 – Into Mozambique

5th January 2012


We arrived at Quest resigned to finding out how much trouble we were really in; we entered like children queuing to find out exam results. As we pulled in, the guys appeared. We greeted Lovemore again and five or six guys started fiddling with the car. Underneath they were adjusting Redvers’ low ratio link bar and before long the gear stick was off, the handbrake lever and gear box cover were off and the ground was visible through the centre of the car. I looked on, watching and learning with four or five heads inside the cabin at any one time. Hands were everywhere, unscrewing, loosening nuts, removing mats and covers. Laughter and stories flowed non-stop while the team worked hard. After an hour and a half the linkages had appeared fine. Every time the guys found nothing was wrong with a particular part they delved deeper and every time it felt like the cost increased exponentially. The top of the transfer box was unbolted and it was normal inside. We were approaching gear box removal time. As two of the team were undoing the low ratio link bar the guy next to me started fiddling with the transfer case top that had one of the links running through it. When he turned the bar, the link at its end moved in time just as it had when the first guy had tested it. But then he held the bar in one hand and the link in the other. They moved independently; they were loose! He yelped out for an allen-key and showed the others; excitement rose, there was nodding and raised voices. That had to be it. I ran over to tell Laura, whom Lovemore had insisted should be sat somewhere more comfortable to read her book. The guys tightened the link and resealed and closed the transfer case. With the links reattached we had low ratio gears once more! A few more adjustments on the link bar and we were sorted. The floor was reassembled and final testing performed. Redvers was fully functional again. When I suggested a photo of the team, they burst out laughing and handed each other tools for the pose. They lined up in front of Redvers, some grinning with pride some looking serious with their super cool ‘Fifty-Cent photo-face.’ We had some big cokes in the fridge and so we passed them around for a well deserved toast to their success.

We went to speak to Lovemore to see what the damage was. It was ten o’clock. He asked what I thought we should pay which I found as impossible a question as Laura asking if she looked good in a particular dress. I avoided a figurative answer and suggested two hours labour. I watched over his shoulder as the figures went into the calculator. There was a forty eight before his shoulder blocked my view, then there was a two-zero-something, he moved again, then as the screen reappeared it read five-zero-six. My heart sank and I was already bartering and suggesting discounts inside my head. “Does fifty-one dollars sound reasonable?” said Lovemore. He hadn’t been using a decimal point on his calculator. I held the joy deep inside me and maintained my straight face only pausing to look down at the desk; feigning thought. I turned to Laura and said gravely. “It’s going to cost fifty one dollars hon. Does that sound OK? It could have been worse.” Laura repeated in a sombre tone with the faintest hint of pleasant surprise, “Fifty-one dollars?” I could see behind her eyes she wanted to jump through the roof with glee. I felt the same. “That sounds about right Lovemore; your guys have done a good job. I’ll just need to get it from the car. Thanks.”

Two hours, seven men (myself excluded) and a tube of silicon gasket sealant and our worst fears had been allayed. We gave them a tune on our weakening horn as we drove out. It wasn’t yet lunch time, we could get supplies, use the internet and still make the border at Forbes Post and Machipanda by mid afternoon. In town we did a decent food shop in TM. Laura bought her body weight in fresh fruit from the ladies selling at the road side, a dollar for ten peaches, a dollar for a bag of lychees, we had oranges and bananas too.

The Zimbabwe border post and customs went easily. As we entered the Mozambique offices an impending sense of doom hung over us with stories of people emptying out cars and their belongings being scrutinized. We had nothing that would cause serious trouble, at least nothing they’d find, but plenty that could create questions. We were assigned a sort of facilitator who accompanied us. We filled out the forms and handed over our passports. The chap took them to a heavy set, (read; massive and muscled,) man who looked at them and then motioned for us to come behind the desk and into a side office. Our heart rates increased.

Inside the office we were photographed and index fingerprinted. Laura insisted on blinking every time the guy clicked the mouse button to take the picture. Our jokes were lost on him. Our hearts slowed to normal as we saw a visa with our face on stuck inside our passports and he said we were done. Now there was only Redvers and his contents.

Our facilitator took us to a customs official who asked what we had inside. “Err, blankets, and clothes, and err, some stuff we’ve bought.” He looked suspiciously at us and asked could he see inside. “No problem.” We marched over and I opened the back door and removed the curtain obscuring a huge wooden hippopotamus’ arse. “What’s that?” he asked. “It’s a hippo.” I replied.

“Are you bringing it back?” he asked. “We’re going to Malawi, he’s coming with us.” “OK, OK. Go.” Joseph was making our lives easier.

As we left no man’s land the guard asked for a “New Years box.” I felt like asking him how he would say ‘Not unless Hell freezes over,’ in Portuguese but instead we politely shook our heads and drove on.

Another high-five celebrated our entry to yet another country, no more rivers, only Rio’s; white washed buildings with wooden shuttered windows, old stone churches and communist iconography on the public statues. We had entered someone else’s colony. Como estas amigo?

Posted by ibeamish 23:35 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 104 – Gold ‘n Gears

4th January 2012


By the end of the day we wanted to be in Zimbabwe’s third largest city, the border city of Mutare. Given that we had some philandering to do in Chimanimani, I wanted to be done and out as quickly as possible. We met Collen and Morgan once more, I’d written a short advertising spiel for them to e-mail to the major guide books. There was an ‘old man’ that lived in Machongwa, a village twenty kilometres away whose name means Cockerel, who should be able to help us. As we drove there who should we pass but Joseph our tardy taxi driver, who, we would find out, had a sideline in gold. Collen told us that Joseph dealt on behalf of the ‘old man’ but, to be honest, this is where the trail got messy. It suddenly seemed a little more like opportunity knocks. By this point, it didn’t really matter to us. We had gotten a hold on the value of the gold as a commodity and now we just had to get hold of it. Joseph still had to finish dropping his client off and so we sat in the ‘Nhandaro Bottle Store’, next to the ‘Paradise Bar’ in town waiting for his return. The single, unshaded light bulb lit four fifteen foot shelves filled with bottles of spirits. We wandered around and bought some bread and a couple of cokes. We chatted to the bar owner and took photos to pass the time.

When Joseph returned we drove a short distance to his house. It was set amongst a somewhat ramshackle, dense settlement of brick and concrete houses whose gardens were filled with growing produce. It was certainly smarter than the average house. Before we knew it we were entering the darkened room that was Joseph’s home. The television blared in the corner on top of a DVD player and music system. The toilet was around the corner, a small foul smelling hole, too small to be consistently accurate, chiselled into the concrete floor. On one side of the room a double bed occupied half of the floor area; in the middle a small wooden table and a couple of wooden stools. We took a seat. I turned the television off. The room was lit dimly by the light seeping past roughly sewn curtains. Somers turned the light on, it helped; a little. Joseph produced a set of electronic scales and pulled out a tightly folded million dollar note. As he slowly unfolded it he revealed the glittering golden shimmer that was 10.4 grams of gold dust. As far as our inexperienced eyes could tell, it looked like gold and holding the note it certainly had the weight of gold for such a small volume. We bartered, he wanted 4.5; we settled on 4.2 per point when I told him he wasn’t the only one selling it. A done deal, we shook hands, made an exchange and opened the door. The searing light hit our dark-adjusted eyes as we stepped out of his house. The excitement was pumping through our veins, and the heat of the sun made it feel even more real. It was insanely romantic. We giggled in the car. My wedding ring would be made of gold from the mountain on which I proposed.

Collen and Morgan appeared overcome when we handed them the camera, we genuinely hope and believe they’ll use it well. They told us of a scenic route along the mountains that links up with the main road to Mutare, it would likely be little used but they reassured us that Redvers would find it easy.

Earlier in the day, whilst driving to Josephs house in Machongwa I’d noticed out low ratio gears wouldn’t engage. Now we were driving out on a track that may get rough we tested the gears again. High range was fine, it would move into neutral too, but no low range. Once more Redvers was ill. From high to low, impossible for our gears, but easy for our hearts as once more we were dejected trying to figure out what might be going on inside him.

It is difficult to explain how sick you feel inside when the vehicle that is your everything on a journey like ours starts misbehaving. We weigh two and a half tonnes, low ratio gearing is essential for some of the roads we’ll be using on our way back home. Now we were driving winding through heavily forested granite mountains, beautiful, stunning and all the right qualities for superlative inducing scenery and we were feeling stressed and tired as we contemplated what might be awry. Universal joints are one problem, gears are an entirely more sophisticated and expensive undertaking. Even though the gear box overhaul is only three spanners difficulty in our trusty manual, you have to be able to remove it and it’s one big lump of steel. We didn’t have the gear to overhaul the transmission. Then again, maybe it would just be a bolt that was loose, or a simple part that needed replacing, and it’d be easy. One thing was for sure, we had three hours driving, through heaven sculpted granite peaks, in which to ponder just how expensive a new gear box and fitment would be.

Arriving in Mutare at 4pm we came up with a plan. We would drive around until we spotted a man with a Defender, we’d stop him and ask him where he takes it when it breaks down. Within five minutes we had spotted a National Parks Land Rover and Laura jumped out to chat. He was actually based in Nyanga, a little way north of Mutare but he said a place called Quest motors would be able to help and that that was where he’d go. He was also a bush mechanic himself, a skill of necessity having driven Land Rovers for so long, and he thought it sounded like one of the gear linkages that had come loose. The ‘Fault Finding’ section of Haynes had suggested something similar. Everything was crossed as we pulled into Quest.

Once we passed the security guard we parked and in the office we met a chap called Lovemore. He called a mechanic to have a look at Redvers and after fifteen minutes of fiddling he suggested that the linkages were good; the gear box would have to come off; a day and a half’s work at least. Aybo! Lovemore refused to meet our fears. He suggested that it was late, he had another guy who was better with Land Rovers and if we were there at half past seven the next morning the guys could take a proper look and see if they could fix the problem.

We wanted numbers; I asked how much he thought it would cost. He asked us to wait for a minute whilst he ran inside. When he reappeared five minutes later he told us he couldn’t give us a price as anything could happen. His eyes were genuine. I pushed for a ball park figure only for him to insist that he had no idea and there was no point in guessing. “I can see fear in your eyes my friend. Don’t worry; we’re not here to steal your money.” His eyes spoke in the same language as his words and his mannerisms. They seemed to be honest and they made us believe him. He smiled gently with his crooked stained teeth pointing in at least six different directions. We trusted him; we’d be there holding Redvers’ hand anyway so we would have some control over mounting costs. We thanked him and agreed to be there at half past seven.

We drove back through Mutare and on to the camp site eight kilometres out of town. It was expensive at $10 per person with no running water before 8pm, due to public works, and no toilet paper. But it was a nice setting and we were distracted with weighted minds. We subconsciously distracted ourselves from recycling possible outcomes and costs in our heads by cleaning out the drawer and reorganising the car. We cleared out the cabin and emptied the safe so that it could be stripped and the gearbox accessed the following morning. Laura cooked a Tuna Hot Pot that tasted scrumptious and it was washed down with Zambezi and Bohlinger beers.

Posted by ibeamish 07:20 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 103 – Waterfalls and Gold Dust

3rd January 2012

sunny 25 °C

Early to bed, early to rise. We’d closed our eyes at half past eight now we were up to see the rising sun and head out for a morning view over Skeleton Pass into Mozambique. On our way we passed another cave, favoured by those naughty illegal panners, and Collen found a Pumpkin plant and some ‘wild herbs’ from which he took some leaves that would be good for breakfast and some that would be good for smoking later on. We met the replacement rangers, both of whom we’d met in Chimanimani the day we arrived. One was the lady at the desk who had helped us with maps, the other, was an albino guy who had been in the Blue Moon with us.

It was still early morning and we wanted to get back to the mountain hut for breakfast. Along the way we stopped at the Babbling Spring, a small spring, in the middle of a field, almost overgrown with thick green grass. The water was crystal clear and the sand at the bottom granite white. The sand vibrated as the water pushed up through it and crouched on our knees and reaching down, we took it in turns to place our hands into the undulating white sand. It was an extraordinary feeling. Collen and Morgan had also asked for some sadza from the rangers and at the hut they prepared sadza with pumpkin leaf cooked in a little oil and salt for breakfast. From there we walked to the Hidden Valley where we would find Digby’s Falls. We spent a beautiful hour, jumping in and out of the water, enjoying the exhilaration of a natural shoulder massage under the power of the water and panning for our own gold, sadly with little success on the subject of the latter. This had been our last chance of finding enough gold for a wedding ring on our own merits. By the time it was time to leave, we’d grown cold from continually being under water sifting the rocks but the warmth of the sun as we walked soon fixed that. We walked for another three hours through the banana groves back to the base camp office from where we’d left three days before. There was no sign of Joseph.

Although Collen had spoken to Joseph earlier in the day, our taxi had been travelling away from us at the time and now he was out of contact on the phone. It was stupid of me to have given him the money, even if it was on Collens’ head. At three o’clock, realising we were in a tight spot, we started walking the 19km back to Chimanimani. If I was annoyed, Collen was disgusted, “It’s my word he’s dishonoured, and he is making me look bad; it will not be forgotten.” Morgan continued with similar rhetoric. A few kilometres on, Laura suggested they call him again. This time they got through. He was on his way but he was late. Finally he pulled up to relieve our wearisome legs. I gave him a mild telling off but I think it was lost on him. Collen and Morgans’ angry front dissipated like mist in the wind as we cruised back to the Blue Moon to spend the change we’d left behind the bar three days before.

By this point we’d mulled over the idea of procuring a little gold dust of our own. Morality had come back into it, whilst it was definitely theft from the Zimbabwean government, it was justifiable in that no one was dying whilst panning for it, the Zimbabwe government was already as bent as a nine bob note and even if they had taxed it, it would only have bought six square inches of carpet in a new E-class for the Minister of National Parks. With the lack of jobs created by expelling the white farmers, many newly unemployed men had found panning to be the only way of earning a living. Even Collen had done it for a few years but said it was hard work and long hours. Furthermore the whole thing seemed to be a very ‘village’ affair. There would be no armed guards, Russians or police to contend with and by using Collen and Morgan, who gave ‘cultural village tours’ we could keep our hands relatively clean and pull out if things started to feel queer. Collen had told me idly on day one that the panners were being paid $4 a point; we just needed to make sure our price was right. They seemed to think they might know one or two panners with some shiny stuff to sell. I worked out the current international price in relation to what was on offer here. I’d need scales that I could check weren’t weighted; we’d need to see before we bought and we’d have to make a price that worked. I knew Laura’s’ ring was four or five grams and counted on my needing seven or eight grams of gold for a wedding ring. Laura’s wedding ring wouldn’t be gold so we only needed enough for one.

During the last few days we’d heard extensively about Collen and Morgans daily lives, where they lived and how they were trying to make their own business work. The future of their business was tricky as although they appreciated that the internet could help, they didn’t yet know how to work their newly created e-mail addresses and would be paying the cyber cafe owner four dollars to set up a Facebook page and upload photos from their phone. I had a spare camera that I wasn’t using anymore and it seemed the perfect time to give it a new life. If they could help us with the gold they’d get a little present that could help promote their business. After a couple of beers in the Blue Moon, Collen told me discreetly that he was going to see if he could find some people and he would be back shortly.

An hour later we were eating some more sadza and beef in the Msasa Cafe when we were introduced to Desire. He had eight grams of gold dust that he would part with for $4.20 a point. We knew nothing at this point apart from the fact that gold has two distinctive properties; one, its shiny; and two, it’s heavy. I told him I wanted solid gold, not dust. He said he’d have to smelt it; a process that involves lots of gas, and the loss of ten percent, by weight, of your gold dust. These would increase the price. I told him I wouldn’t be paying more than 4.2 a point and he could think about it by the morning.

We exchanged details with Collen and Morgan and paid them for their services. We had a bath at the lodge, toasted our engagement with glasses of whisky and slept like we were dead.

Posted by ibeamish 07:19 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 102 – Holy Crap! Yes.

2nd January 2012


We were up before six o’clock. As we had morning tea, sickly sweet and black, we saw four rangers approaching along the valley from the north. That was where we had been told the most gold was found by the illegal panners and that was where the rangers had constructed a hut to keep watch. As they arrived at the hut they were a voraciously friendly bunch, two solid weeks in a hut the size and construct of a garden shed probably has that effect, and we offered them tea. Each had an AK-47 slung over their shoulder; each gun’s strap tied with something different; blue bailer twine, a bag strap, a piece of leather or a piece of string. One gun’s muzzle had lost two thirds of its circumference, either through shoddy maintenance or through overuse. I wasn’t about to pose the question. We were told that these guys are legally allowed to shoot the panners but most of the time a warning shot has them running for their lives. Morgan told Laura that in the nineties an eighteen year old panner was actually shot dead without a warning shot being fired. The ranger behind the trigger was fired and since then the rangers’ guns are more of a theoretical deterrent that accompanies an active presence in the area.

The rangers shook our hands and thanked us for the tea as they left and we set off in the opposite direction towards Mount Binga. Conversation flowed and frequently came back to the idea of so much gold around us. The panners would collect what they could and sell it to dealers in town at four dollars a point (one tenth of a gram) who would then set up ‘international’ deals. With my plans for the day this was becoming more interesting than was comfortable. As we climbed we found a small waterfall and we climbed up inside the cave from which it emerged and filled our water bottles.

This was Klipspringer territory. A small deer or bok that lives in the mountains amongst rocks. They can run uphill at gravity defying speed, more agile than a mountain goat and with a vision of astounding resolution. There were plenty around, stood atop rocks, watching from afar, quick to flee.

The weather was even better than the previous day. We had struck very lucky. Up and up we climbed until the ground gave way allowing us an intermittent view into Mozambique. Eventually the steep ground gave way as the summit impended. The butterflies in my belly started flickering more animatedly with every step closer to the top and I began thumbing the little box in my pocket. At the summit the clouds cleared somewhat affording views across both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The trig point sat astride the international boundary and on one side was engraved the letter ‘M’ for Mozambique and on the other the letter ‘R’ for Rhodesia. We passed lollipops around and Somers jumped onto the stone plinth, one half of her in English speaking Zimbabwe, the other trespassing in Portuguese Mozambique. We had some photos with Collen and Morgan before they asked to borrow the binoculars and said they were going off for a cigarette, they added that they wouldn’t be far and if we needed them we could call.

I turned to Somers; we were both tired and a little dishevelled after our climb. The usual summit chat ensued, “Isn’t this wonderful... what a great view... truly amazing... I love you.”
“Do you love me?” I asked
“Yes, very much.” Replied Laura.
“Will you always love me?” I further questioned.
“Yes,” came the answer. Followed curtly by, “As long as you’ll always love me.”
“Well, I will, and since we’re agreed on the matter...” I said lowering to one knee. Laura’s look was still one of bemusement as the words came out. “Would you do me the honour of being my wife? Will you marry me?” I opened the small cube of a box that contained the Elizabeth Duke at Argos, £4.99 quartz and sterling silver ring that I’d secreted in the roof lining of Redvers’ cabin three months before. I’d been too nervous to bring the real one, uninsured, on our expedition.

“Oh my God!” Laura exclaimed past the banana ice cream flavoured lollipop in her mouth. Sat on her pedestal she suddenly felt very high above me. “Oh my God!” she reasserted. Now wasn’t a good time for an agnostic Devonshire lass to be finding God; I was waiting for my answer. “Holy crap!” continued her blasphemous outburst as my heart raced and eyes glistened.


“Amazing.” We jumped and giggled and I placed the ring on Laura’s finger, we took some photos and after a while I shouted across the mountain top to Collen and Morgan, “Guys! She said yes!” A huge cheer came back. I’d spoken to Collen the previous evening and arranged the disappearing act whilst I popped the question. No longer boyfriend and girlfriend, now fiancé and fiancé we turned around and began our descent.

We swam in the lake again, like love sick puppies reunited, giggling and chirruping. A quick pot of tea at the hut and then we began walking again to where we would spend our second night; the Red Cave. There was no firewood at the cave and so we split into two groups and went wood hunting. Half an hour later we were stocked for the evening and Collen and Morgan were insistent that the newly engaged couple would not lift a finger for the rest of the evening. Before long we had another cup of tea that was followed by another meal of rice with beef stew, in a different sauce. Laura fingered the shiny metal that encompassed her finger and I sat proudly, rather pleased with myself.

With the fire still blazing we fell asleep in our cave, the stars visible as the chilly night air was held by our sleeping bags. That was it. The trail blazing bachelor days were over.

Posted by ibeamish 07:18 Comments (4)

Day 101 – Mount Binga

1st January 2012

sunny 26 °C

The alarm rang out at six o’clock. We had a mountain to climb.

As we‘d fallen asleep we’d had second thoughts about leaving Redvers parked alone in the National Park whilst we walked for three days. Especially now the entire village knew we would be in the mountains for three days. It made more sense to leave him parked with our present houseman, Timothy, and arrange alternate transport to the hills. (In hindsight the park guards with their AK’s may have been more of a deterrent but hindsight is clear for a reason.) A cup of tea and two hours later Redvers was packed, as were our bags. We’d booked the lodge for our return evening and we strolled the one and a half kilometres into town getting excited about the promising sky above us.

Collen and Morgan were waiting for us in town. We told them we needed transport and Collen immediately set off on a mission. Morgan took us shopping; two kilos of rice, two loaves, four packets of soup flavouring, a kilo of biscuits, a kilo of sugar, six candles and eleven lollipops. We had tea bags, a half kilo of beef and some left over bread already. The car situation turned into a debacle. Collen returned to say that he couldn’t get to the door of the car owner’s house as there was a dog there. His totem was a dog and he thought that was bad news. I joined him and five minutes later was creeping closer to a door guarded by a salivating and barking old timer with a look of ‘don’t make me do it’ in his eyes. Two metres from the door, the dog would concede no more ground. In turn, with our pants still clean, we conceded that had the car owner been in the house, he’d have been out here by now.

Back outside one guy with a pick-up wanted fifty dollars. We waited, leaving the responsibility in the hands of Collen and Morgan. Eventually, we found a taxi driver called Joseph. He was from Mozambique and was Collen’s connection. His price was a handsome thirty five dollars and he’d be available in fifteen minutes. Collen suggested some breakfast and with that we were scurrying through the market to a stall that was a particular favourite with Collen and Morgan. The ladies had three huge pots cooking on wood fires in the open surrounded by a scaffold of wooden poles that formed the barest skeleton of a hut. Two benches sat either side of a table and we sat, pouring ourselves some water from the jugs on the table. Collen reappeared with a jug of water and bowl to wash our hands before eating. The price was one dollar for a plate of sadza, sauce and a piece of chicken. The sadza was piled high and the guys insisted we’d need full bellies for the climbing ahead. The chicken was delicious and beaten only by the mouth watering tomato and onion sauce.

We washed our hands again in the traditional way after eating and clambered into our taxi. Joseph would need every cent of that thirty five dollars as he bumped and bashed his way past old overgrown coffee and tea plantations, now owned by those ‘heroic’ war veterans; past diamond fields, now owned by those ‘friendly’ Russians; and up a battered stone track which required a vehicle with a little more ground clearance than the Toyota Corolla that we were in. By the sounds coming from the underside of his car he’d need to reattach his exhaust as well as patch a few holes and polish out a few dents.

Collen and Morgan filled us in on the farms. They told us that the white farmers who were active in politics were the ones who had lost their farms. The guys who now had them used only small sections for their own ends. Tea plants grew six feet high, with no one to pick the tender fresh leaves and keep the bush preened. The diamond fields were at one time unregulated; people were picking the ‘stones’ from the mud and selling them to passers-by from the city for a few dollars. The Ruskies had bought in. Fifty one percent of what they mined went to the Zimbabwe coffers. Forty nine percent went to a similar place within the Russian establishment. That is, around ninety percent of all mining profits probably lined the pockets of a few oligarchs and corruptioneers.

Now that the diamonds were owned, they were protected with guns. People still tried to mine them illegally but with armed guards it had become a very dangerous game. They added that where we would be walking there was a lot of gold. The ‘illegal panners’ were always trying their luck and the National Parks had posted some rangers at one particular site were the panners had most luck. That got me thinking.

At the parks office, Joseph needed paying. Fully aware that the job was only half done, and that a return leg may not be looked upon with great enthusiasm after half of his car had been left on the slope, I offered him fifteen dollars. The rest, he was told, would be given to him on his return. He didn’t look happy, which made me more confident that he might actually come back. He spoke to Collen, Collen spoke back and then turned to me. “He says he’ll return and that he wants all of the money now.” “How do we know he’ll come back?” “He promises.” “He’ll definitely come back because I’ll have his twenty dollars.” “I can vouch for him, he needs the money today.” That was the crunch. I told Collen that in vouching for him it was his salary on the line. He agreed. We handed over thirty five sheets, said our farewells, turned around and started our climb.

The rains of the last week had suddenly abated that morning. Mountains that we had come to climb were visible for the first time. Blue skies with wisp edged cumulus came closer as we ascended our first days climb. Water had been one useful omission from our packs. There would be lots of streams and waterfalls from which we could refill our half litre bottles en route. As we gained altitude the views grew in both their range and majesty. Frequent breaks took the pressure off our legs, (legs that I’m sure are emaciated from three months sat in the car.) As we rounded the summit of our first days climb we were taken to see some ‘bushman paintings’ on a nearby rock. They weren’t particularly great and though nice to see, they were nothing to dwell upon. A little further we reached the mountain hut; and what a place it was. The hut was set overlooking a slope of Msasa trees that gave way to a valley; a valley through which flowed a small river feeding and draining several small lakes. The land then turned slowly upwards peppered with huge granite boulders and outcrops building towards the cloud topped peak of Mount Binga powerfully straddling the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The hut was built from granite blocks procured in the immediate vicinity. A veranda led inside to a large concrete-floored communal area with an open fire as its centre piece. The place was tired, black soot lined the mantle-piece and the wall above the fire where one too many fires had raged a little too brazenly. Either side of the fireplace a door led into a separate dormitory with eight beds in one and two rooms of four on the opposite side of the building. The inside would be cosy enough but this building was all about its location.

We got the fire going, using plastic bags in preference to paper, cardboard or kindling, and got the kettle going. We had no milk and so black tea sweetened with teeth-browning amounts of brown sugar would be the tonic for tired legs and thirsty bellies alike. We dunked cobs of bread into this sickly sugary soup and revived our selves. We sat on the porch, bare footed, looking at the mountain ahead of us. Clouds merely grazed their hulls as they sailed across its summit. I had big plans in store for that summit. The weather had to hold.

Later in the afternoon, we walked down into the valley for a swim in one of the lakes. The tannin stained water mirrored the mountains above it perfectly whilst the small beginnings of the river meandered their way south. There was no delay, t-shirt off, shoes off, and in, head first. Cold, cold water; the kind that makes your eyes three times as wide and magnetises your eyebrows towards your hairline. The water was cool, refreshing and delightful to taste. As we swam we could draw in huge mouthfuls, the taste of tannin enriching its flavour. This was storybook material; the granite house, through the wood, atop the hill; and us swimming in the lake in the valley over which our stately home resided. Collen jumped in too; his short dreadlocks maintaining their semi-erect stature and his beard glistening in the water. Morgan stayed on dry land as we swam laps to keep warm before sitting on submerged rocks and splashing ourselves clean. More stories of gold ensued; we were almost definitely swimming over nuggets of gold worth thousands of dollars.

Back at the hut we restored the fire, prepared rice with beef stew and had a candlelight supper. After dinner we sat around the fire and talked about Collen and Morgans’ families, Zimbabwe and the climbing still to come.

We doubled up the well used ‘distressed’ foam mattresses and climbed into our sleeping bags, it would be one of the best nights sleeps so far.

Posted by ibeamish 07:16 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 100 – Procuring Guides

31st December 2011

rain 19 °C

Arriving at our lodge the previous night we were little unsure as to what we should expect for twenty dollars each per night. Delight filled us from head to toe as we walked in to a four bedroom, thatched lodge complete with log burner and interior thatching to boot. An old wagon wheel, restored as a chandelier hung from the roof beams some twenty or twenty five feet above. The curtains had flower patterns and a pelmet. The stone walls screamed, Oxfordshire village, and the wooden floors were pleasant under our bare feet.

Another night of listening to mosquitoes through a net ensued. Which is still an incredibly unsettling feeling, and despite the net Somers took three head shots as her brow came against the net mid sleep. The morning came with the sun and blue sky. There was no time for idling. The tent was put up to dry, the cover came in for repairs, [we had both spare canvas and contact adhesive like good boy scouts,] the mattress was put out for another round of drying and the underpants were washed saving us a solid six dollars. The smell of fresh filter coffee accented the crackling of the eggs frying in the pan; a noise punctuated only by the pop of the toaster signalling breakfast was almost ready.

The bulk of the day was spent with Somers reading and me writing the last ten days of our blog. At three o’clock we went down into the village to find out more about hiking up to the summit of Mount Binga and find some diesel. Laura got chatting to a guy that led her to a dreadlocked chappie named Collen who was a mountain guide with his friend Morgan. We went round to the Blue Moon Mountain Club for a beer and to chat more about the summit. They could guide us for the next three days, business was very slow and so other than asking that we would pay at least a basic sum they told us we could decide when we finish. The club, that sounds so civilised a venue for a chilled beverage was in fact the basement of the petrol station. The slope of the hill meant it was at ground level and opened onto a small beer garden. The dingy brown walls of the Blue Moon held a few posters and only spirits and beer were served at the bar. We arranged to meet our guides at seven thirty the following morning, New Years Day. From there we could head to the base camp where our next adventure would start.

At our extremely comfortable lodge we got the fire roaring, roasted squash, mushrooms and tomatoes and baked some potatoes. As our under crackers dried in front of the crackling fire we drank wine and, eventually, I stopped writing this blog and paid attention to my lovely girlfriend who was sat cross legged writing her scrap book on the settee. We drank red wine and counted down the end of the year and the end of the first half of our trip. One hundred days down, one hundred days to go.

Posted by ibeamish 02:56 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 99 – Who’s going to Chicken Inn?

30th December 2011

semi-overcast 24 °C

The first thing to do was take another spin around the ruins and take some pictures whilst the rain was only light. From there we headed out to the craft market, after a minor debacle trying to chase my four dollars change at the parks office. We took a fancy to one particular fish eagle monolith, made of highly polished, black serpentine stone. A few minutes making sure he was the one, two minutes bartering and we had a deal. Fred the fish eagle joined the Scramble. He’s a beauty but he lacks Joseph’s charisma. He acts all high and mighty and says very little. To be fair, his new home was a stinking hulk of damp.

We continued our journey to Masvingo in search of the Laundromat. We found one and by the time our Liverpool track-suited launderer had totted up the list we had a grand total of forty two dollars worth of washing. This was a price, which in all honesty, wasn’t too bad considering the volume and rank nature of our one week old damp belongings. But still, I had to try to barter. I failed. Somers pointed out he was charging a dollar per pair of under scratchers, the same for a towel or T-shirt. That was too much, we took them back. Our pantie-less price adjustment came to thirty six United States Federal Reserve Dollars to put smiles back on our faces and freshness back into our bedding; a bargain. They’d be ready at four. It was half eleven, time to go to the bank and head for lunch. It was whilst I was stood in a rather long queue at Barclays, (it made me feel at home,) that Miss Somers approached. “Do you want to know our latest mess-up?” I only managed a growl. “We left my shoes on the wheel at the campsite.”
I’d put them on the wheel under the wheel arch to keep dry. We would have reversed over them as we left. Forgetting stuff is what I’m good at, but as a team, we were presently a liability. One good thing came of our forty kilometre return journey; once again we met Kenny and Tracey as they pulled away from the craft market. We pulled over and chatted for a while. They’d stayed in a hotel in Nyanga, which at £200 a night wasn’t cheap, and they’d been put in the family wing. When the Zim family next door started going mental making noise galore, Tracey had phoned down to ask reception if they could have a word. Two minutes later a burly black Zimbabwean father of four had knocked on her door to ask what her problem was and ask why the hell she was complaining. He threatened her and Kenny and told them they were no longer in Rhodesia, they should go home. Tracey called reception to tell them to move her. They did, and the problem was solved until evening when, in the restaurant the Zim-daddy came over and berated them in public for complaining again. Kenny was a fighter, his reasoning was thus; “If he knocks me out, then that’s fair enough. But when I knock him out, I’ll go to prison.” His words rang true in this part of the world; in Africa, it’s only racism if it comes out of a white guys’ mouth. I liken it to a man in an England shirt on the Algarve. One guy can stain a nation.

The good news was that their stay at the ‘Lodge at the Ancient City’ had been magnificent. The service, food and room had been tantamount to luxurious perfection and half the price of the room that came with the angry next door neighbour. Once again we said our goodbyes, this time had to be the last, they were heading south and we were heading east. We found the shoes and about turned to Masvingo. On route we stopped to buy about a kilo of mushrooms, one the size of Lauras’ face. That journey brought our total of ‘stupidity’ miles to two hundred. Back in Masvingo we were late for lunch; we hungered for some traditional African fare, but, at the last minute, just metres from the door, we walked straight past Chicken Inn and into the Pizza Inn next door.

With all this enterprising time wasting we still had an hour and a half to spare. Somers is a people watcher; she’s very good at it. If someone catches her, she can stare them down until they think that they were the voyeur. An hour and a half was time a plenty for a spot of ‘Wig or Weal.’ It’s not a hard game, we sit in Redvers, partially disguised behind a lightly tinted windscreen, and take it in turns to say whether the lady walking by is wearing a wig or if it’s her own tufts on display. There’s probably an eighty-twenty split, wig to weal, Somers’ rule of thumb that will get you right eighty percent of the time is; long, sleek and shiny, the hair has been bought; short and fuzzy, its home grown . We slipped in a game of “Who’s going to Chicken Inn?” You could see the fatties coming from a mile away, but some would keep you on your toes. Having picked them at fifty yards they would hold true on their course, until, at the last second they’d bank hard right and head for a bucket of greasy chicken wings. Inside the car we’d be rejoicing. One woman missed out on our discriminatory advances as she momentarily bewitched us due to the fact that she had a toilet on her head. It was clean – brand new in fact – but none the less, an entire, sit down, porcelain throne, balanced with no hands on top of her head. She marched on, we sat in silence. Show me a single woman in ‘Great’ Britain with skills like that.

We booked a lodge in Chimanimani, collected our pristine, folded, lovely washing at half four and Somers drove like a pro for four hours all the way into the mountains. The highlights were a random elephant at the road side and a bridge, exactly the same as the Runcorn bridge in a little town called Birchenough Bridge

Posted by ibeamish 02:53 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

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