Week 13: From Ready-to-Leave to Newly Rejuvenated

Huddling Down in Tofo

Our week started in the beachside town of Tofo, Mozambique, where we were hoping to snorkel, surf, and sun worship for a few days but the weather turned from slightly cool to downright cold and rainy.

A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren't about to go snorkeling.
A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren’t about to go snorkeling.

Instead of frolicking in the sun we were huddled underneath the extra comforters watching movies in our fleeces! It didn’t help that the chalet we were in had reed walls and the windows were nothing more than mosquito nets, so the whole place was windy and everything was damp. At this rate, we’d have preferred to be back in Vancouver with a nice warm fireplace and some delicious shawarma!

When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it's serious.
When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it’s serious.

Whale Sharks and Sunshine

Luckily, the extended forecast promised sun, so we decided to stick it out, eventually wandering out to get to know the town, and we loved it! We’re really bad for comparing every beach experience to our paradise in Mexico, and while it was no Sayulita (scruffier with less atmosphere and more persistent hawkers), it was perfect to hang around for a couple of weeks (warm waters with lots of activities and a small beach town where you could get to know everyone pretty quick).

All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns...and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.
All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns…and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.

The highlight of the whole stay, as expected, came during our ocean safari, where we jumped in the ocean to swim with whale sharks and rays! (Never saw the rays though…they’re too damn quick). It was mind blowing to swim next to such a giant and be able to see it up close.

We don't have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P
We don’t have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P

No Bribes to Speak Of

We left bright and early the next day (4:30am) determined to make it to the South African border and beyond. We were expecting to be stopped several times – we were told by two ladies that had just driven that particular stretch of road that it was notorious for cops stopping tourists for every possible (and often false) infraction to solicit a bribe – but we weren’t stopped once!!

They either ignored us, smiled and waved us through, or flat out motioned us on so they could get to someone behind us! For what we were expecting, it was bizarre but we were definitely relieved.

Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique's capital. Lots of cops, but none interested in us (phewf!).
Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique’s capital en route to the border.

The Panorama Route

Eleven hours later we entered the Mpumalanga province in South Africa and it was like night and day. We could finally see why this is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world! We drove the Panorama route and in the morning headed to Blyde River Canyon which was breathtaking and made us really glad we decided to detour and see it (read: Moreno was glad he listened when I insisted we see it as it was barely out of the way and likely more beautiful than the photos :P).

The "Pinnacle" viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world...
Especially with the morning fog, the “Pinnacle” viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world…

Touring South Africa

Next up: We’re newly rejuvenated and ready to continue our two week ‘tour’ of South Africa. We’ll be heading through Johannesburg to pick up some stuff and then heading to the coast via the Drakensberg Mountains!

Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.
Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.

Week 12: Searching for a Beach Paradise

The twelfth week took us from the sick bed on Lake Malawi, through an interesting border crossing into Mozambique, and onto the rainy coast of Tofo.

Leaving Malawi

We were planning on leaving Lake Malawi right at the beginning of the week, but since Moreno fell ill, we knew we’d have to stay another day or so. Well, he did get better, but the next day, I caught a weaker version of the bug and it was my turn to spend the whole day in bed. (For those of you keeping track, the wife of the neighbor that was sick also got sick when I did…strange….We never did figure out what it was).

driving malawi
Driving up the deforested hills of Malawi.

Crossing into Mozambique

We arrived at the Mozambique border a bit hesitant: we weren’t sure about the safety of the roads or whether we’d actually be able to get a visa on arrival, as any guidebook we consulted or other traveler we asked had the same answer: “They don’t. Except sometimes they do.”

driving behind a truck
Children go to school and people are off to work in the early morning drive.

But everything seemed to be going good until I noticed that beside my photo on the visa, bold and in uppercase was MORENO’S full name. The BS and lack of formality in these places, I swear:

“Hi, sorry. This is his name. Not mine.” I walk up and politely point to the visa.

The official that clearly screwed up and forgot to change the name when he took my photo and printed my visa, stared at my passport for a few seconds, then asked to see Moreno’s (yup, that’s him), and then shuffled off to get his supervisor. The supervisor walked up.

“This is fine.” He said after a few seconds of pondering.

“Can you change it?” I ask, hesitant but still polite.

He shakes his head and looks deep in thought. “This is just how our computer works.” He lies.

“You cannot make a new one?” I don’t want to push, but I sure don’t want to take a chance with an incorrect visa.

“No.” He shakes his head. “That is how our system is.”

Right, so from hereonin, everyone that comes in a requests a visa will be named Moreno, till the end of time?

Moreno takes over as I start muttering under my breath. “That is a complete lie!”

“And if the police check, this will be ok?” Moreno asks. We had heard that the police are notorious for fining tourists for whatever they can.

“Yes, they see you together, it’s ok.” Uhhh…

“Can you just print up a new one? Unpeel this one, and stick a new one in?”

Moreno’s logic was just too much. The supervisor, looking defeated but hesitant, gets on the phone.

“My boss will be here soon. He will see. Take a seat.”

In the end, the boss came and disappeared into the back room where we had our photos taken to issue me a new visa like I expected them to do (a Western expectation perhaps) and they managed to peel off the incorrect one and stick in the new one, and that was that. *Phewf!*

Beaches of Bazaruto

boats in vilankulos
The turned over boats, slightly filthy water, and empty beaches of Vilankulos weren’t exactly what we expected paradise to look like.

By mid week, we were finally on the coast (and I’m happy to report we had no scary incidences and only got asked for a cold drink bribe twice). We got to the small town of Vilankulos, where our main task was to take a dhow (a wooden sailboat) around the Bazaruto Archipelago. And while the beaches in town lacked a bit of “come hither-ness,” the unspoiled islands were exactly the sort of beaches we were waiting for. We boated around (more on that later), swam and snorkeled, and came back very sunburned and very pleased.

Vilankulos

But Vilankulos isn’t known as a very safe town, at night anyway, and staying at the lodge we once again felt like we were in a guarded off compound (we technically were), so while the girl that was managing the lodge took us around the town a couple of times and we got to see it, we were ready to move on to somewhere we could actually enjoy.

ordering at casbah
Sarah orders from the menu board during one of our lunches out.

To Tofo

We arrived in Tofo, one of the three main beaches in the Inhambane peninsula and it seemed immediately to be what we were hoping for…with a small caveat: the weather had turned gloomy and no one was on the beach!

chalet view
The view from our chalet: since it’s not considered ‘right on the beach’ Moreno managed to talk the guy down to almost half price. Score!

What’s next: We hang out here for a few days and wait for the sun to come back out. We’ll go from there.

Week 4: New Frontiers, New Horizons

In week 4, we left the animal sightings of South Africa for the ever-changing extremes of Namibia.
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Our first border crossing!

On our last day in the Kgalagadi, we made our way north to the Mata Mata gate which is also a ‘tourist access’ point into Namibia. We had gotten stamped out of SA two days before at the entrance gate (you need to spend two days at the park in order to use the gate – ensuring there’s no commercial crossings), so they checked us out of the park, I lifted the gate, effectively letting us into Namibia, we filled in some papers and we were in. More like this please!

Lion on dune
A lion rests on top of a dune in the Kgalagadi.

New Horizons

Namibia was immediately a land of strange and different landscapes. The gravel roads dusted the dry grass and shrubs, giving them them a fluorescent yellow color. The green bushes dotting the red sand hills against a backdrop of blue sky….it was all so improbable and beautiful.

Yellow grass in Namibia
Namibia’s surreal landscape: almost fluorescent yellow grass and endless blue skies.

And lonely. Namibia has about 2 million people living in it, less than the number residing in Vancouver, so there’s almost no one filling up its great expanse. We past maybe five rental Hilux trucks (Toyota Tacomas) and one donkey cart en route to camp.

Another World in Mesosaurus

Not wanting to risk finding camp in the dark, we stopped at the Mesosaurus Fossil Camp. So bizarre! It was full of quiver trees (more on this later) and it felt completely otherworldly.

Our Land Rover at the Mesosaurus Camp
The bizarre quiver trees lined the perimeter and made for an other-worldly setting for our camp.

The only other people there were Hanas and Swenja, a German couple that had just started their holiday in Namibia, so we shared some beers, chatted and star gazed before going to sleep in the bush camp.

Fish River Canyon

Our next stop was Fish River Canyon, supposedly the second biggest canyon in the world, and we stayed for sunset. Just jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Fish River Canyon
(Possibly) the second largest canyon in the world. Breath taking.

And the next day, drove to the /Ai-/Ais hot springs (the ‘/’ is a ‘tsk’ sound) at the other end of the canyon. The signs were hilarious. They said: WARNING. EXTREMELY HOT…ABOUT 65°. About??? 65ish?

Luderitz

From /Ai-/Ais we took another crazy beautiful road to Luderitz, which is a tiny German town right on the coast, wedged between the sand dunes and the Atlantic. We stayed at Shark Island, which used to be a concentration camp, and it was wiiiiiiindy!!! We met a South African woman from Cape Town that had been travelling in the south for the past 10 months by herself (!) so the five of us (her, us, and the Germans, who we kept running into) huddled together by the braai (BBQ) pits and chatted until we were too cold to stay up.

Coast of Luderitz
View of Luderitz from Shark Island

The whole reason people go to Luderitz is to visit Kolmanskop, which is a ghost town – a deserted old diamond mining town. It’s the only place in the area which is  allowed easy access to tourists: everywhere else you are required to be part of a tour, or are simply restricted from entering. Everything to the south is the Sperrgebiet, literally translated to ‘forbidden territory,’ where there are still working diamond mines operating.

Houses in Kolmnaskop
Houses stand abandoned in dusty Kolmanskop

After a quick visit to Cape Diaz, a peninsula completely open to the Atlantic, where it was so windy that Moreno embraced being held by the wind (and I concentrated on not flying away), we went back to Shark Island to get away from the wind, really glad we didn’t leave right after the ghost town.

What a productive and amazing week! We’re still working out some kinks in the Landy, but Namibia is not disappointing one bit!

Fetching water from the Landy
Getting water in the Landy – there’s still some improvements to be done….

Next: Further northward, this time to Sesriem, the base town for the Sossusvlei dune park.