Our first few days in Mozambique

After our long, involved border crossing into Angola earlier this year, we weren’t sure what to expect when we got to the SA/Moz border at Pafuri. Greg organised our vehicle insurance online, thankfully, as it would not have been possible to do on the spot. We deliberately chose places to stay close to the border on each side, in case it took us a long time, but it all went very smoothly.

To get to the Pafuri border, one has to drive through the very northern part of Kruger National Park, so we had to pay the entry fee of R774 AUD$77. We were in the park for about an hour, but we did get to see part of the park we hadn’t seen before and some wildlife – a couple of elephants, a couple of water buffalo, a couple of blue wildebeest, some warthogs and some monkeys.

We’d been assured that we didn’t need a ‘fixer’ to ‘help’ us get through Immigration and Customs on the Moz side, and in fact there was no one around apart from officials and only a few people entering and leaving Moz. A very quiet border post. We knew we had to pay for a visa and had brought enough USD with us. At first the Immigration official would only accept Rand, but we didn’t have enough. So he said he’d accept Rand for one visa and USD for the other. Still not enough, so he finally agreed to accept USD for both visas, but only notes that had been printed after 2009 …. <eyeroll> He ended up making USD 10 out of us because we couldn’t come up with a hundred bucks in post-2009 notes. Whatever. We’d thought the visas cost USD $80 each, so we felt like we were ahead.

Then on to getting the Temporary Import Permit TIP for the car, which was a very straightforward (and free!) process. I like asking people where their family home is, and they like to tell us, and I think that helps us make a connection and ease us through the bureaucratic stuff. And then to Customs, whose ‘office’ was a desk and 2 chairs under a large shelter. They wrote us up in their big book, checked our paperwork and had a look at Clancy. They were mainly interested in whether we had brought any alcohol with us, not because we weren’t allowed to, but to see what they could get out of us. We’d hidden our booze because last time we entered Kruger we weren’t allowed to bring any in with us. This time no one checked. When we were in Louis Trichardt, Greg had bought the supermarket’s entire stock of 2L Pepsi Max bottles and before we crossed the border, I said to him ‘I bet we end up bringing n – 1 bottles into Moz with us. And that’s exactly what happened. The customs guy asked us what we had brought for them, Greg offered them a bottle of Pepsi Max (locally known as a refresco, small bribe. In Angola it was a gasosa) and we were good to go.

We planned to stay at the Dumela campground about 7kms from the border. They had posters up at the Kruger entrance office and at the Moz immigration office, but finding the actual campground was not easy. Partly due to poor signage, but also because iOverlander has the wrong coordinates entered in its information section. Or rather, it has the location of the reception/office rather than the actual campground. The  office is at the top of a very steep, windy, 4WD only dirt track that makes Greg’s driveway at Willunga look like a straight, level piece of road (hint: it’s neither of those things!). So we got to the reception and the receptionist told us we were in the wrong place and that the campsite was down the hill. She didn’t mention anything about paying camping fees and at that stage we just thought we were in the wrong place. We flailed about in the bush for a while, trying to find the campsite and ended up back on the main track (definitely not a ‘road’) and finally found a sign to the campground with instructions to go and pay at Reception first. Um, nope, not going back up that track again, we’ll pay at the campsite.  It was okay and we were the only ones there.

Next day, Wednesday, we were up, packed and on the road before 7am. Incredible. Our final destination was Praia Xai Xai, almost 500kms away. We knew it would take us a couple of days, but didn’t know much about the condition of the road, and as the first part was nothing more than a single dirt track, we wanted as much daylight as possible to drive in as we were only averaging around 25 – 30kms/hr. The road did improve when we got to Mapai, and for a while it was a really good sealed road, but parts of it were terrible – just a very thin layer of tar painted over sand. Other parts were very potholed and some bits were rutted sand/dirt. We found a quarry about 300kms south and camped there on Wednesday night.

Just vefore we decided to finish for the day, we drove through our first police checkpoint in Moz. A policeman checked Greg’s drivers licence and Clancy’s paperwork while a soldier checked our passports. I had to get the passports out of the places we hide them in our living area and while I was doing that, the soldier came around and said ‘Oh, this is your little house!’ Maybe he thought it was a delivery truck or something. Apparently all our paperwork was in order as we were waved off. We’ve driven through a few more checkpoints but haven’t been stopped at any more yet. In contrast, by the time we’d been in Angola for a few days, we’d been stopped at quite a few already.

Now we’re at the beach just south-east of Xai Xai, spending a couple of days at the Montego Resort. We’d really like to spend up to a week somewhere, but the beach here isn’t all that good for swimming, so we’ll head further up the coast tomorrow to see what we can find. Weather’s great, it’s off-season so we shouldn’t have any problems finding somewhere to stay.

Fever trees next to the Limpopo river, just inside the border past Pafuri gate
Abandoned brick kiln near the Limpopo River
more abandoned buildings. The Limpopo River flooded in 2000, and got to be 5km wide, so this town near the Limpopo is mostly abandoned

 

A method of building construction we had never seen before. This one is deteriorated but essentially its a frame of timber but in-filled with rocks.
This is a better example of a timber framed rock in-filled building
Overtaking one of many trucks transporting charcoal
A train we passed we guessed pulling fuel wagons headed to Zimbabwe
train headed to Zimbabwe
Driving through Mabalane, about half way on our Journey from Pafuri crossing to Xai-Xai
The main street of Mabalane
A cop stop outside Mabalane
The “main road” N221 from Mapai to Chokwe. It could be could tar or rutted sand
Camped for the night in a sand quarry south of Mabalane
Crossing the Limpopo River at a weir at Chinhacanine
An avenue of Eucalyptus trees we drove through
Market town
We continually dodged wandering cattle
The toll gate before the toll bridge. We paid R100 to cross the bridge over the Limpopo River, except there was no bridge, it had been washed away years ago.
crossing the dry Limpopo River
Crossing the Limpopo River, this is the ferry on the dried out river. I don’t think we would fit on it.
A small market running in a little village south of Pafuri gate
Once we got further south it was potholes after potholes
If you don’t have a jack, get a pole and a few guys….
Kids pushing hand made toy cars
We finally reach the ocean after 2 days of heading south
Camped at Montego Resort

Angola

Oh. My. God. We’re in Angola!

It took us 4 hours to get through Immigration and Customs yesterday, I’ll write more about that when our internet access is better, but to be honest, I didn’t even think we’d have internet access here, other than in large towns.

We spent last night camped near a huge baobab tree near Xangongo, about 130kms from the border. It’s reputed to be the largest baobab in Africa. We met a young Frenchman today and spent a couple of hours chatting with him (Hi, Joffrey!) and we’re staying here again tonight because it’s a nice place and we’re all set up and comfortable. We’ve said bom dia good morning and boa tarde good afternoon to visitors and locals. The locals walk near where we’re camped to go and get water to take back to their village. The visitors, including a local policeman who was born near here. come to see the tree.

    1. More later.

      Dealing with some locals selling Sim cards for mobile data
    2. Russian Tank from the civil war by the side of the highway
Thorn bush fences for keeping cattle and goats in. We have seen lots of these in Angola
Greg, Joffrey and Judy at our campsite near the Giant Baobab Tree

Judy fixing our insect screen door

Meeting the locals

We now have our e-visas for Angola, thanks to a lot of hard work on Greg’s part – scanning, applying online and emailing. The process was (fairly) straightforward, but there were a few hoops to jump through, in terms of getting the scan sizes right. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum has a very helpful thread/post on how to do it.

So, we are now committed to crossing the Namibian/Angola border at Oshikango/Santa Clara on Saturday. Distance from Windhoek to the border is around 750kms, which is 2 days driving for us. We did 420kms to Tsumeb yesterday, so we’ll have a shorter drive today. When we reach the northern border, we will have driven the length of Namibia, all on the B1 highway. Some parts south are pretty ordinary – just a narrow strip of bitumen with a line down the middle. And then there’s the new bit just north of Windhoek – new road, still being built, 2 lanes on either side, lovely.

There’s a police checkpoint a few kms north of Windhoek and we were stopped by a young woman wanting to check that we had paid our road tax. We had paid the N$295 AUD$29.50 at the southern border, so we just had to show her the official bit of paper, plus Greg’s passport and driver’s licence and that was all good.

There’s a particular form of greeting here that I’d forgotten about until our exchange with this lovely young woman

Her: Good morning, how are you?
Us: Good thanks
and then before we had the chance to enquire after her own wellbeing, she replied: I’m good also
Then got down to the reason for stopping us. It’s a friendly, efficient way of getting pleasantries out of the way. She also had a quick look in Clancy, because he’s interesting both in terms of where’s he’s from – South Australian numberplates, AUS sticker on the back – and what might possibly be behind the side flaps and door.

So, our first brush with a Namibian official was fine.

Later in the day we stopped at a SuperSpar in Otjiwarongo, which is near a couple of popular national parks – Waterberg Plateau to the east, and Etosha to the north. A lot of overlanders, travellers, tourists and buses stop there to get fuel, food and whatever else they need. The SuperSpar is big and very well-stocked, including a whole aisle of imported German food in cans, packets and jars. Anna, Henry and any other Germans reading this – it’s worth a visit if you’re missing anything from home.

As we were parking, a local man went up to Greg and started talking, asking his name, how it’s spelt, where he’s from, why we’re there. Then another man started the same with me, asking the names of my kids and if I had any grandkids. By the time we had locked the car and camper, the men had carved our names on pieces of stone that they wanted us to buy. Our standard reply to this kind of sales pitch is ‘we aren’t allowed to bring it into our country’, and these days I just don’t buy souvenirs, I don’t need any more stuff. So that went on for a short while, then I found a car guard who happened to be carrying a big stick, asked him to watch Clancy and we went into the retail haven that is SuperSpar. We didn’t buy much, having already stocked up at Food Lover’s in Windhoek – cold drinks, a South African power board, razors for my hairy legs (just checking to see who’s really reading this – ha!). Our stone carvers were still waiting for us when we got back to Clancy, but quickly changed to just asking outright for money ‘for bread to feed their children’. No, sorry guys, we don’t give money to beggars, although if they had just asked me to buy a loaf of bread before we went into the supermarker, I probably would have.

And so … onwards, towards Tsumeb and our final and most interesting encounter of the day.

We got about 80kms up the road and were stopped by another police officer. This wasn’t a checkpoint, just a single police car with a couple of cops parked under a tree near an intersection. He told Greg that we had been driving 86kms in an 80km zone. The speed limit on the B1 is 120kms, unless otherwise signposted, but this particular short stretch of road is 80kms because a lot of heavy vehicles turn into and out of the intersection.
Okay, so we missed the 80km sign, but Clancy doing 86kms on a flat bit of road is extremely unlikely, he just can’t go that fast unless we’re going downhill with a tail wind. Anyway, Greg was very apologetic and contrite. Cop asked for his driver’s licence, but no other paperwork, which seemed odd. He told us it was a N$400 AUD$40 fine, and that we would have to pay it at the town we had just left, 80kms south.
Us: oh gosh, well okay, that’s what we’ll do then. How do we tell the station what we have to pay?
Him: Oh, I’ll give you the paperwork, but you have to drive 80kms to pay it because we don’t have a receipt book here.
He made a big point of what a hassle it would be for us to drive all that way back.
Eventually he gave up waiting for us to just offer to give him the money, and he let us go without paying, so he could move on to some other poor sucker who would cough up on the spot.
We didn’t realise while it was happening, but as we were driving away, we figured it was a con. Greg was definitely not driving 86kms/hr, but because we appeared to be prepared to drive back to pay the fine, the scam came undone. A lot of people would have been needing to get to Etosha or wherever they were going before dark and would have just paid … we were intending to get to Tsumeb, but that wasn’t essential, so … sorry sir, we don’t give money to people in uniform just because they ask for it.

To anyone reading who might get caught in a similar scam in the future – tell the cop you’ll go with him to his police station so it can all be sorted out. If it’s legit, you’re doing the right thing. If it’s a scam, he’ll back right down and let you go on your way.
We stayed at a lovely campground just south of the town in Tsumeb, part of the Kupferquelle Resort. Grassy sites, lots of trees, swimming pool and probably heaps of other stuff that we haven’t found.

Camped at Tsumeb, its getting dark earlier and earlier as we get closer to the equator
Some slightly different Jam flavours