Mozambique

16th of April – 2nd of May 2024:

To enter Mozambique was very efficient thinking about the size of the border crossing. We paid each 10 US dollars and got a stamp into our passports. The policemen tried to get drinks while searching our luggage, but realized quickly that warm tap water is not that interesting.

The road was the complete opposite to what we experienced on the Zimbabwean side. A newer tarred road without many potholes led us into the first village. There, we could withdraw Meticai and eat something. During the first interactions we realized that from now on it will be more difficult to communicate with people. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and this language is not our favorite. Luckily, we found some people who were able to speak English due to the proximity of the border.

During the first few kilometers, we left the mountainous region and lost hundreds of meters of altitude in a heartbeat due to steep or very steep sections. We even overtook cars and motorcycles, since they probably did not have the newest break system. Quickly, we realized that people were more introvert and did not greet us or wave into our direction when we passed.

However, in the villages was a lot going on and especially the women were dressed colorfully. To our liking, the available food items were more diverse. The landscape stayed hilly and dozens of steep descents and ascents followed. Most of the time we had to either break or cycle very slowly uphill due to gradients of 15-20%.

To organize dinner was rather difficult, since all small shops in the village did not sell much to eat. In addition, we could not really ask due to the language barrier. At the end, we found chips and bread. We found a spot for our tent directly behind the village on small trail.

In the evening, our neighbor visited us and checked if we were alright. A bit later, a policeman with a Kalashnikov wanted to be sure that we had a safe place for the night. We tried to explain that we felt safe and always sleep in our tent. After a few minutes, he was fine with that and said goodbye.

Even before sunset, women walked around our tent on the way to their fields. In the beginning of our cycling day, there were still a few ascents. Soon, the terrain got flat and we advanced faster. We stopped several times to eat bananas, limes, fried cake and biscuits.

At a junction, we cycled further east and after a few kilometers, a 50 km long gravel road followed. The road was mostly levelled, but from time to time we were shaken heavily. In a small village, we wanted to eat a hot meal, but did not find a restaurant. Instead, we met a Portuguese guy who lives here and trades with corn. He told us about his long experience in this region and even spoke German.

In the early afternoon, we reached the tarred national road EN1, which has a total length of 2440 km from north to south through the country. In the next few days, we are going to follow this road until the capital Maputo.

Before we searched for a camp spot, we washed our dusty and sweaty bodies in a small settlement. Like this our sleeping bags should stay more or less clean.

School kids watched us in our tent in the morning on their way to school. We do not know what is going through their heads, but we are sure that it must be interesting for them. The national road has many potholes, but suddenly the tar was gone. Even the repaired potholes were numbered. At the end of the day, we were at 3000. The traffic on the only road through the country is tiny. From time to time there were trucks, busses or motorbikes, which twirled a lot of dust. However, most people walk along the road or use bicycles.

During a break, we met Johannes, who worked for several years in South Africa and therefore spoke English. We bought cashew nuts from him and talked about the situation in his country. Unfortunately, the people of this region do not even have enough food, since the dry season is very long and they do not have much agricultural lands. This was the reason why kids next to the road were giving us signs of being hungry.

While riding 120 km, we only passed one city and afterwards there were only small villages from time to time. Luckily, we found a pit stop for truck drivers in the late afternoon and could eat something and buy bread.

For the crossing of the first large river, we had two options. Either the new imposing reinforced concrete bridge or the older hanging bridge, which is closed for trucks. The road was mostly tarred, but still extremely bumpy.

In the afternoon, we saw hundreds of kids and teenagers on their way home from school in their uniforms. The schools in the countryside are in very bad condition and consist partly of tents or buildings without windows or roofs. In the villages, up to 100 kids are in one classroom. Like this, it is not surprising that only about 12% of the population speaks the only official language Portuguese. Strangely, we did not see any kids inside a school when we passed. It seems that they always have a long break, which lasts the whole day.

After the second meal with lots of rice, we wanted to pitch our tent next to an industrial zone. Shortly after, a young man arrived and said that we could sleep inside the walls. So, we had a overnight spot with a security guard and could even wash ourselves properly.

After crossing the border into another district, the road changed abruptly. Now, the road was without any potholes and there was even a shoulder. In the last days, we ate more and more rice with vegetables and sauce. This is a welcome change. In addition there are cheap bananas and coconuts everywhere.

After we ate two coconuts, we felt full, which is hardly possible anymore. When doing a bit of research, we found out that 100 g of fruit pulp contains around 35 g of fat.

Many families sell bags filled with coal next to the road. Constantly, we pass huge piles of these bags. The coal is usually bought by truck drivers, who transport them additional to their usual goods.

The drinking water availability in Mozambique is very bad. During the whole day we see groups of people, mostly women and kids, carrying water in buckets back to their home.

Before we started cycling, a woman got water just next to our tent from a cistern. The stout woman carried the 20 liter canister on hear head back to her house without problems. Unbelievable!

After Massinga, the monotonous, landscape dominated by bushes and high gras changed. Now, there were no more baobabs anymore. Instead, there were thousands of palm trees. In addition, we realized that the people were more extroverted again and made a lot of noise when we passed them. This was very different during the first days in Mozambique.

In this region, we saw proof of the 32 million people in Mozambique, since there were always houses around. This was different from the last days. The country is 40 times larger than Switzerland and more than double the size of Germany. However, most of the land is uninhabited bushland.

After 48 days cycling, we are south of Windhuk for the first time since our start in Namibia (see map). In addition, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the first time using our bicycles.

After ten days without any rest, our goal was to find a beach where we could recover from all these hours in the saddle. Soon, we reached the Indian ocean for the first time. From there, a small boat transported us to the other side of the bay into the city of Inhambane. The crossing costs 20 Meticais per person, which is about 25 Euro Cents. Afterwards, we had to bargain the price for the bicycles. When this discussion was finished, our rides were just carried on top of the rather instable roof and the boat could leave.

We had no cash left and therefore had to find an ATM to withdraw money. Unfortunately, it was end of the month and many locals wanted to get their salary from the bank. So, we only found one machine with less than 20 people in the queue. When we were in front of all others, our card did not work. At two other machines, all our cards did not work either. We already wanted to “buy» fuel to get back cash. Finally, during our last try, suddenly one of the cards worked and we could continue to our destination for the day.

At the Mozambeat Hotel, we could pitch our tent for a few Swiss Francs, take a shower and use the comfortable spaces available.

The break in close proximity to the sand beach, after the intense days was a welcome change. We enjoyed the calm and relaxed atmosphere at the pool, on the comfortable sofas or in the village. Each day, we walked to the village to eat local dishes and to buy fruits. A restaurant, recommended by a vendor of boat tours, was located in the middle of a market and was very difficult to find. A narrow trail led through several aisles to the restaurant, which was inside the walls of an old, half-destroyed building.

We talked for quite a while with Viny about life in Switzerland compared to Mozambique. We tried to explain to him, why many people in Switzerland are not happy and do not smile that much. Many Africans think that in Europe everything is easier and everyone is rich. When we discussed stress in daily life,  suicide and the migrants without a chance for a positive future, usually the image of Europe as a paradise changes.

There were several activities on offer near the village. However, we were more interested to staying in one place for a while and just resting our tired legs. One time, we went for a swim in the ocean and were surprised by the water temperature being more than 27 degrees warm. Fabian went to the hairdresser and had all of his hair removed for pocket change. At the end of our stay, we treated ourselves with a burger and a local beer.

Recovered, we left the beach again and cycled towards the capital Maputo, again. For the first time in many days, dark clouds appeared and soon after, it started raining. Luckily, we did not get wet completely.

Suddenly, out of nothing, two bicycles appeared in the distance. It was Laura and Alee, who had been on the road for about 1.5 years. They started in Windhoek in Namibia as well. We exchanged experiences and tips for the upcoming regions, since we were cycling in the opposite direction.

Around noon, another rain cell approached us. We decided to take a break and this was a good call, since a few moments later, it rained like crazy for two hours. The road changed into a stream and we were glad to be under a roof.

When we bought a coconut and some limes, more than 20 people watched us. It was a break with lots of entertainment, as people had a lot of humor and tried to sell us everything that was around. For example, Piri Piri, a spicy sauce, which is found to every table in restaurants all over Mozambique.

As it got dark, we asked at two houses, if we could pitch our tent somewhere close by. Strangely, we were rejected two times. We assumed it was due to the language barrier, as we hardly experienced such a situation in Africa. In the end, it was dark and we found a spot not far from the last house in the bush. Soon after, people arrived and wanted to talk to us. Unfortunately, we had problems to communicate. Around 10 PM, a young man visited us, who spoke English. The village arranged for him, because he works in South Africa and could communicate with us. He said that the family misunderstood us and we should sleep in the house, since there were some teenagers around who were thieves. We decided against the proposal, since we were already set and almost asleep. We appreciated the helpful gesture, but we were too lazy to move all our equipment. Finally, we had an unproblematic night and were only observed in the morning by some people who were interested in seeing us pack our things.

In comparison to the last days, there were many ascents and we continuously passed villages. This made it easier for us, so we did not have to plan where to stop for food.

After a long ascent, we had a stunning view on a laguna below us. The colors looked artificial and because of the many palm trees, the panoramic view seemed like it could be from a movie.

In all countries of Africa, many women wear wigs to look special or more like western women. Regularly, we see small shops, that sell Chinese artificial hair and offer to knot them onto real hair.

Luckily, it was Friday evening and we found a small school. Underneath the roof, we pitched our tent. During the night, a heavy storm passed and it rained for several hours. The next morning, the strong wind was still there. We discovered that there was a second school building, which had no doors, windows and not even a roof. Thanks to the blackboard that was being used, we knew that the demolished building was still  in use.

The hilly main road led us through several villages and small towns until we reached Xai Xai, the next major city. Even before that, the traffic increased and sometimes there was a traffic jams for a few minutes.

Afterwards, the landscape got flat and suddenly, we were in the middle of a swamp area without palm trees. Instead there were reeds. We passed many small lakes and rivers. In this region, farmers grow rice.

The wind came from the side, except for the last 15 km. Fortunately, we found a restaurant after a long day and over 130 km. The owner organized two plates of chips and salad. When we finished the meal, it was already dark and we were allowed to pitch our tent behind the restaurant.

For the first time since the highlands in Zimbabwe, the temperature in the morning was below 15 degrees. Unfortunately, the strong wind was still active and made our progress difficult. We made several stops to conserve our energy. During these stops, we admired the beautifully painted shops that we had been seeing since we entered the country. Without any posters or billboards, it was easy to tell what each shop was selling based on the meticulous paintings.

Despite the stormy wind, we managed to reach Maputo in the early afternoon. Surprisingly, the drive into the city was relaxed. A newer two-lane road combined with the non-existent Sunday traffic allowed us to enjoy the drive. Many neighborhoods in the suburbs were still completely flooded. About a month ago, there was an unusual amount of rain, and due to the currently colder temperatures, the water couldn’t evaporate quickly. Mozambique has unfortunately suffered a lot from cyclones and the resulting floods in recent years.

Before reaching the city center, we sat down on a beach and enjoyed the view of the unusually tall buildings of the metropolis. Interestingly, it’s not Maputo but the suburb of Matola that is the largest urban area in the country. From 1950 to 2017, Matola grew from 9,000 to 1.6 million inhabitants.

We have been in contact with Mariig for several weeks. Mariig works as a biology teacher at an international school and is our host for the next few days. Fabian’s girlfriend Fanny met Mariig in Eastern Europe during a bicycle tour. He knew exactly what we needed after the past cycling days and we felt welcome from the moment we entered his flat.

After 500 km in four days, facing headwinds on the last day, our legs were tired once again. We enjoyed the spacious apartment to relax and appreciated the view from the balcony overlooking the sea.

After a long time, we found a bicycle shop in Maputo and brought our bikes in for service. Additionally, we wanted to change the brake pads and chains. After a day, the mechanic said our bikes were ready. So, we walked there to pick them up. Unfortunately, only the chain was mounted, and the brake pads were not and even the new brake pads we brought for installation had disappeared without a trace. Eventually, we watched over the shop owner’s shoulders and waited about three hours until the bikes were ready. This unreliability seems to occur often and many expats reported similar experiences.

On the second day in the capital, Luca and Mike, two more cyclists, arrived and were accommodated by Mariig. The five of us visited a restaurant nearby and ate a local dish with lots of chicken and coconut sauce, which we hadn’t found in the villages before.

After two days, we didn’t want to move on yet, as we wanted to discuss and plan the route for the next month more precisely. So, we spent a third day in Maputo and could comfortably plan the route and activities all the way to Cape Town.

Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975. In 1976, a 16-year civil war began, leading to a complete economic collapse and claiming up to 900,000 lives.

Interestingly, Mozambique, along with Togo, Gabon and Rwanda, is part of the Commonwealth, despite none of these countries being British colonies. The first democratic elections took place in 1994 and until 2017, the country was mostly peaceful. Unfortunately, since 2017, a group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) has been spreading in the north of the country. For a few years now, the military and the jihadist group have been fighting each other. As often is the case, it’s about resources or money. In this instance, it’s about the unequal distribution of profits from the region’s gas deposits.

The consequence of these conflicts, natural disasters, and deep economic struggles is widespread poverty. According to UNICEF, there are 1.6 million orphans, and only 6% of children under five have a birth certificate. Due to the lack of documents and poverty, children are exposed to abuse, child labor, and forced marriages. In Mozambique, almost 40% of adults are illiterate. Only 30% of children attending school reach the 6th or 7th grade. That’s why many people in rural areas do not speak Portuguese, as regional languages are spoken in the family.

After we said goodbye to Mariig, his roommate Anne and the two cyclists Mike and Luca, we took the elevator from the 11th floor down to the base level. This elevator was the first we used since we were at the airport in Frankfurt.

When we cycled through the city, we took a look at the train station, which belongs to the most beautiful of the World. There are not many trains on the tracks, but the building is still in a good condition, despite his age. Only the clock was around four hours ahead, but probably only Swiss people care about that.

When leaving the city, we saw a huge bridge reaching to the other side of the river. The bridge is the longest suspension bridge on the African continent, after the Matadi-bridge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which we crossed on the first part of our journey.

It took around an hour to leave the traffic of the city. Then, only a few vehicles were around and the landscape was dominated by agricultural.

When we ate lunch, we started a conversation with a police officer. He spoke English, that’s why we could ask him a few questions. He said all policemen are corrupt, since the salaries are very low. He earns mor than 1000 Euros per month, without bribes of up to 500 Euros. Before he joined the police, he was a high school teacher and earned around 350 Euros per month. This is a large difference and many policemen earn by far less than him, since he works for the customs. It surprised us that he was honest with us would prefer not to be corrupt. However, if he would be honest with himself, 1000 Euros per month is definitely a decent salary in a country like Mozambique.

Then we passed a small hill, before we cycled uphill for about 15 km until we reached the last town before the border with Eswatini. We treated ourselves with some ice cream made by a Chinese machine and bought bread. We asked a young man who sold Samosas filled with fish, if he knew where we could by some containing potatoes. He was very helpful and went to search for them. When he came back, he had a bag of potatoes in his hand. We had to laugh loudly and explained him the misunderstanding. He took it humor and brought the potatoes back. Then we exchanged the rest of our Meticais into South African Rand and cycled to the border. In a heartbeat we left Mozambique and therefore had the stamp in our passports.

Mozambique was a special country for us, as it is the only country in southern Africa that does not have English as its official language. It was partly difficult for us to communicate in the Portuguese-speaking country. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the relaxed and open nature of the people. Additionally, it was a highlight to taste the many tropical fruits and swim in the ocean.

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