We had initially planned to enter Mozambique through the Tete Corridor, making our way briskly south towards Gorongosa National Park and then on to the coast at Inhassoro. But things panned out a little differently.
Somewhere in Malawi, whilst pouring over our map for the 100th time, it dawned on us just how much of the country our original route was going to omit. Being so far north already, we also wondered if we’d ever have a better opportunity to explore a bit of northern Mozambique. Probably not. So, instead of heading west from Mount Mulanje towards Tete, we headed due east to the Milanje border post, a mere 30kms down the road.
The trip from Milange to Mocuba, our first stop in Mozambique, wasn’t so much fun, 200kms on a bad dirt road seldom is. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon and checked in at the Pensãu Cruzeiro, where we squeezed in a delicious peri peri chicken and a few cold Laurentinas, before dragging ourselves to bed. Who knows what kind of ecosystems those mattresses were harbouring, but we were so knackered after the day’s drive that it scarcely mattered. There’s not much to see in Mocuba, so we got going for the coast as early as possible the next morning.
We didn’t know too much about Ilha de Mozambique, other than that it is an island steeped in quite a bit of history. We certainly didn’t know how popular it was. We arrived there late in the afternoon after another long day’s drive, only to find every place within our budget fully booked. Rather despondently, we drove back to the mainland across the 3km causeway to find an alternative place to stay. Our trusty Bradt guidebook – which has proven to be way more informative than our Lonely Planets – mentioned some campsites on the other side of Mossuril Bay, about 40kms away. It was getting too late to head anywhere else, so Mossuril Bay it would have to be.
The sun had pretty much set as we pulled into Carrusca do Sol, a very nice looking lodge set right on the beach, which supposedly had a campsite. It took a bit of sign language and a quick sketch, but the stand-in manager eventually got the message that we needed somewhere to pitch our tent. He hopped onto the back of the Landy and proceeded to direct us to the “campsite” 2kms away, in a clearing in the mangroves. There was no one else there, no fence, and no apparent security. We were already feeling anxious about our safety in northern Mozambique, and this wasn’t helping. So, a little begrudgingly, we went back to the lodge and checked ourselves in to their cheapest self-catering room, which turned out to be infinitely more awesome than the clearing in the mangroves. Spending more money generally seems to have that effect. The beach at Carrusca was so idyllic and the weather so perfect that we ended up spending another night in our little Mossuril Bay beach house – a major contributing factor, it must be said, to our current state of cashlessness.
From Carrusca, we headed north about 70kms to Nacala, which is fast becoming one of the most important ports on the east coast of Africa. As a result, the road there is in amazing condition, thanks largely to the Chinese, who have also lined said road with massive, state-of-the-art storage facilities. This is good for Mozambique, no doubt. It’s just a pity that so many other parts of the country are being buggered up by mining exploits. As a travel destination, Nacala isn’t very appealing, but we were curious to see what is apparently one of the fastest growing towns in Africa. In retrospect it wasn’t the best decision, because frankly it was rather average. But we did find a very nice place to stay about 10kms out of town, called Libelula. With its whitewashed walls and hillside setting, overlooking a secluded little cove, it felt a bit like being on Greek island. Not that we’ve ever actually been on a Greek island. We spent a couple of days there, doing pretty much nothing, before heading off to Ilha de Mozambique. Again. This time with a booking.
Ilha, as most people up there seem to call it, took a day or 2 to get into. Our first impression was of a desperately poor town falling to pieces; a place that used to be really nice… about 500 years ago. But the island grew on us in a big way. All over the show, hidden down little alleyways and in amongst the crumbling 16th century ruins, are beautifully restored restaurants, B&Bs, bars and coffee shops. Ruby Backpackers, where we stayed for 3 nights, is such a place. In what was clearly a labour of love, the owners dedicated 2 years of their lives transforming a derelict, 400 year old home into one of the most charming and unique backpackers you’re ever likely to find. On our last evening they strung up a big sheet on the roof, hauled out an old projector, and put on some cartoons for the local kids. A Portuguese art film may have suited the setting a little better, but it’s amazing what a few glasses of wine in a rooftop garden will do for a puerile storyline. Ilha seemed like the kind of place you could easily spend a week in. We only got the executive summary of its rich history, once again through our trusty Bradt, and even that was fascinating. But there are museums and guided walks all over the island which I’m sure would offer far deeper insights into a time when slaves and ivory were the region’s 2 biggest exports. We were a bit sad to leave after only 3 days, but a quick check on the bank balance forced us to start heading south.