Three days ago, we completed the most roundabout journey to Kerryn’s folks’ house that we’re ever likely to undertake. What should have taken us 5 hours, took 145 days and 20 805 kilometers. I knew it was a bad idea letting Kerryn navigate. We’re in Skukuza, reunited with familia, back in the familiar. And it feels pretty awesome. A week ago, and six countries later, we were stamped back into South Africa at the Giriyondo border post, half way up the eastern boundary of The Kruger National Park. Kerryn’s folks were there to meet us, along with a car-full of biltong and other delicious treats, which were duly dispatched of in no time at all. Having Ken and Lyn there to welcome us back into SA was one of the highlights of the whole trip, and we spent a wonderful few days with them working our way down the park towards their home in Skukuza. Among the many emotions we felt as we pulled into 5 Leopard Street, was a healthy dose of relief. We frikken made it! No major car issues; no muggings; nothing stolen; no Malaria; no croc, lion, hippo, buffalo, hyena or leopard attacks; no snakebites; no floods or fires; no blow-outs, not even a single puncture; and, last time I checked, no missing kidneys. No shortage of fantastically good luck! It’s been the most amazing adventure of our lives, and will most definitely be the catalyst for a whole bunch more.
But back to Mozambique where, despite the emotional rollercoaster debacle, many good things still lay in store.
From the opulence of our little stilted cabin at BD Lodge, it was back down the beach to Inhassoro, and back down to earth in our not-so-opulent little tent. At least we had some delicious kingfish left over to soften the blow. We spent another night at The Seta Campsite and left early the next morning for the bright lights of Vilankulo. After the big distances we’d been doing in Mozambique, the hour and a half drive down the coast was a rather pleasant one, and we pulled into town around mid morning. Straight away, Vilankulo felt different to the towns further north – a little slicker, a bit more organised, a lot more commercialised. The influence of South African holidaymakers was also pretty obvious. The first local dudes we spoke to didn’t even greet us in English, they broke out the Afrikaans. We really didn’t mind any of these things at all. At least we could now use actual words to ask the barman if his beers were cold, as opposed to a lengthy game of Charades. But we couldn’t help wondering what the place would be like in peak holiday season, considering the proliferation of hotels and lodges dotted around the bay. You can understand why people flock to Vilankulo though. The setting is magnificent and it’s the launching pad for the world-famous Bazaruto Archipelago, which boasts some of the finest snorkeling and saltwater flyfishing in Southern Africa. Alas, we couldn’t afford to head out to the islands, so to minimise frustration we only spent one night in Vilankulo. On the upside, we did watch the Boks destroy Argentina that afternoon, in the company of 2 very cool South African couples – friends of a friend, as it turned out.
Five or six years ago, I had spent a rather eventful holiday at a place called Pomene, about 250 kms south of Vilankulo. Amongst the many “mishaps,” the car broke down and we ended up having to tow it all the way back to Jo’burg. I was keen to go back, partially for nostalgia’s sake, but also to try and squeeze a bit more fishing in. Kerryn was just keen for the beach – she’s very easy to please these days. The camp at Pomene seems to have changed a little bit since I was last there. Although considering the quantities of local rum consumed on the previous trip, I wouldn’t take my word for it. The beach and little estuary, however, were exactly as I remembered them: pretty much perfect. The fishing was a bit average, but we spent two very cool days at Pomene, camped right on the beach in an all but deserted campsite, before continuing south along the newly resurfaced EN1.
The little town of Tofu and the nearby Barra Peninsula are reputedly the biggest holiday destinations in Mozambique. In season, especially over December and Easter, they fill up to bursting point and prices skyrocket, as I discovered a few years ago at Fatima’s Backpackers in Tofu. It felt like tourists were getting horribly exploited, none more so than Gary and Brandon, who each racked up a bar bill over 1500 bucks, on the first night. Suckers. Fortunately we arrived in Tofu out of season, and we were very relieved to find that things had returned to a state of normality. In fact with so many places to stay, and so few people around, we ended up getting some of the best value for money in the whole of Mozambique. We even ended up staying at Fatima’s Backpackers, something I said I would never do again, and this time around old Fatima completely redeemed herself. With the beaches relatively deserted, it was easy to see why the area became so popular in the first place and we had a very lekker few days in Tofu, doing as little as possible really.
From Tofu it was a short hop up to the tip of the Barra Peninsula. Southern Mozambique was always going to be more of a laid-back beach holiday than a big adventure, so we just went with it. We camped at a very nice place called White Sands, where we continued to live as beach bums, a role we were becoming alarmingly comfortable with. We did manage one productive thing though, a 4-hour kayak amongst the maze of mangroves and sandbars in the Inhambane estuary. It provided an interesting perspective on the area and if we were to ever go back, we’d definitely spend more time doing that and less time lying motionless on a beach.
On the recommendation of White Sands’ owners, we continued south to a place called Paindane. On the way there, the weather took a turn for the worse, so we didn’t really get to see the best of Paindane. This was a big pity, as the snorkeling is supposedly awesome, so too the fishing. It’s a magical spot though, perched high up in the dunes, overlooking a magnificent bay. A big reef runs out from the point for about 800 meters, a bit like at Cape Vidal, and in the right conditions I could only imagine how good the fishing might be. We were lucky enough to catch the beginning of southern Mozambique’s whale season though, and from our dune-top vantage point, we quickly lost count of breaching Humpbacks.
Our last night in Mozambique was spent in Bilene, at the Complexico Palmeiras. We’d been keeping a little money aside for a big seafood dinner, and after scouting Bilene’s restaurant options we settled on a very nice little place on the lagoon’s edge, a couple of kms out of town. It was our last night as traveling gypsies, and we ate and drank like gypsy kings. For the last time in who knows how long, we tumbled into our faithful little tent, zipped ourselves into our increasingly smelly sleeping bags and, very content with the world, drifted off to sleep.
The road inland from Bilene to the town of Massingir is a surprisingly good one, and in no time at all we were driving over the wall of Massingir Dam towards the entrance of Limpopo National Park. But that’s where the good road ends, and after parting with our last remaining Mets at the gate, things were a little slower going. It was fitting, I suppose, that our last 60 kms was a corrugated goat track. After all the sand, gravel, rocks and mud of the past 4 and a half months, easing back into our old lives on a tarred highway just wouldn’t have been right. We bumped around a corner and suddenly there it was. Suid Afrika! It’s safe to say there was an above-average amount of hugs and happiness at the Giriyondo border post that day. After getting our passports stamped for the last time on this trip, we followed Ken and Lyn in convoy to Mopani, Letaba, Satara and finally Skukuza, happy to let them make every single decision along the way.
Three days ago the first rains arrived in Kruger, and you could almost hear the parched bushveld breathing a massive sigh of relief. Around here though, it’s not just the Acacias that have been sighing a lot lately…