Monday, November 30, 2009

Out Of Africa

Arriving in Johannesburg from Maputo we were relieved to find it was not the big, bad Jo’burg of traveller myth. In fact it is quite a pleasant city, at least during the day. Everything is very spread out and there are many parks, gardens and woodlands, in fact it is said that there are more trees than people in Johannesburg, although I am not sure how true that is. The downtown area is obviously less verdant but looked a lively place, not deserted as I imagined, it resembled any other African city.

As we were guests of my relations, Ken and Marie, we enjoyed a relaxing stay, indulged in some nice meals (Col’ Cacchio being possible the best pizzeria in Africa!) and were able to get an insiders look at Johanensburg. Apart from the obligatory trip to the Apartheid museum, which was moving and depressing but extremely well presented and informative we also managed to sneak a look at the new stadium that will host next years World Cup final, visited the brilliant Bryanston market, several of the northern suburbs glitzy malls and casinos and of course managed to attend the Twenty20 International between England and South Africa, escorted by Lauren (Ken and Marie’s daughter) and her boyfriend Sean. Luckily England won, if only by 1 run on Duckworth and Lewis! On the same day South Africa also played rugby against France, a game which caused national uproar, not because of the result but because of the presentation of the South African national anthem, sung by the (tone-deaf) Ras Dumasani. I am not sure how much coverage this received in the international media so if you want a laugh, watch this:

We left Jo’burg still laughing at Ras Dumasani as he had an even more hysterical interview on the radio that morning!

Our next stop was Bloemfontein, in the heart of the Free State. The Free State is generally considered to be almost an apartheid stronghold, where the clocks stopped several years ago. I must say however that we saw no evidence of this belief, at least no more so than other South African cities, and can only comment on the warm and friendly nature of all the local people. Bloemfontein is another clean and spacious city with wide streets and tree-lined avenues. We camped at Naval Hill Backpackers, just below the Naval Hill nature reserve; it is a place worth mentioning as it is housed in an old water pump-house.

I should add that South Africans can be the most friendly and welcoming people. During this trip whenever we have met South Africans, in whichever country, they have always welcomed us with open arms, thrusting beers at us and inviting us to stay at their place in South Africa, or at least to come for a home cooked dinner. This kind of hospitality is at odds with the reputation of South Africans, regardless of their race, colour or creed.

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a country in the unusual position of being totally contained within another countries borders, the only other country I can think of in the same situation is San Marino. However once across the border it feels worlds apart from South Africa. In a similar way to Swaziland it is a very rural country, although our first impression was of the chaotic and bustling Maseru market, although to be honest the whole of Maseru seemed to be one big market, traders selling all manner of goods, a lot of Chinese plastic crap and an incredible variety of cheap and tasty street food. An horrific bus journey, one of the worst on our whole trip, took us right into the heart of the mountains, to a tiny village called Semonkong, which means “place of smoke”. From here were amazing views over the mountain range, eerily reminiscent of Tibet or Mongolia, even down to the manner in which the people are dressed. A further comparison with Mongolia can be made in the country’s main tourism niche – horse riding. There is also good trekking but when it rains constantly, and even snows a bit (at the start of their summer) there is not much else to do than appreciate the warmth inside Semonkong Lodge. Admitting defeat we retreated back over the snowy passes to Maseru and down to Malealea, another tiny village but this time in the foothills of the mountains. The views across to the start of the range from here are amazing, simply stunning. There is also pony trekking or hiking offered and this time the weather held, of only for a long morning walk!

After a second brief stopover in Bloemfontein, the highlight of which (apart from staying at Naval Hill) was visiting the Oliewenhus art gallery, we took a long overnight bus back to Cape Town, the “mother city”. As we did not do so much sight-seeing last time it left us with a busy schedule for our last week in Africa. Our first outing was to the District 6 museum, charting the history of the pass laws and the cynical manner in which areas were cleared of blacks and coloureds to make way for white settlements. Although the subject matter made arresting reading the museum itself was a slight disappointment, not as well planned as neither the Red Location in Port Elizabeth nor the Apartheid museum, both of which portray similar subject matter in a far more coherent fashion. It did serve as a taster for the trip to Robben island, the offshore prison where many anti-apartheid political activists were incarcerated, including Nelson Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years on the island. It was interesting to see the island and in particular the prison (where Mandela’s former cell is the highlight for most visitors) but for me the highlight was our guide, a former inmate, Ngotse, who was also a fantastic orator. He was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for treason in 1984, a sentence he was relieved to receive as he was facing the death penalty, if he would have served his whole sentence he would have been released just 4 days before we visited Robben island, a fact which sent chills down every visitors spine.

We had a much more pleasant experience as we set out on our self-guided tour of the Winelands although we only actually visited two vineyards. The first was Fairview, a relaxed and welcoming place close to Paarl with beautiful views from their immaculate garden, they offered a delicious range of cheeses to taste in addition to the wines. The second place we visited was Tokara which had an exquisite modern design and more stunning views. The staff here were rather snooty however so we only tested a few wines and did not stay even long enough to taste their olives and chocolates. The principal towns in the Winelands are Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and we found time to visit all of them as well. Both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are quaint little towns, many buildings whitewashed and shining in the valleys. When we first arrived in Cape Town back in September we heard an interview and performance on the radio from the Jo’burg singer Laurie Levine, who just happened to be playing in Stellenbosch the evening we were there (Actually we planned it that way). It was a strange concert however, rather than standing up everyone was seated at tables and in addition to the cover charge all visitors were obliged to eat as well. Unaware of this we had already been for dinner, Monika ordering a 500gr sirloin steak, so it was with trepidation that we were forced to order desserts whilst watching the concert. Luckily it was a great show and distracted us from the complaints our bulging stomachs were making!

Enjoying a great run of beautiful weather we were relieved to wake to another sunny day on Friday and made our way across town to Newlands for the ODI between South Africa and England. Surely one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world I was pleased to see the research I made on the seating had paid off as we sat down to a perfect view of the pitch with Table mountain proving the perfect backdrop. It was a great afternoons cricket, the sun was shining, everyone was having a good time and then disaster struck, and I am not talking about England’s batting collapse... they ran out of beer! Now, there is a Castle brewery just opposite the ground and many people were suggesting a pipe should be connected direct from the brewery. Some people reverted to hot chocolate as the sun had already disappeared behind the mountain but we waited and luckily, avoiding a sure riot, new barrels arrived!

The last activity on our list was to climb Table Mountain. Going against the weather forecast the sun shone again on Saturday as we set out. We started directly from our lodge in Gardens, a tough walk up to the base of the mountain, we were already wilting in the heat before we started the gruelling 2 hours climb to the top. Many people were lying exhausted in the precious few scraps of shade on the way up. Once on top however it was worth all the exertion. The panoramic views of the cape peninsular proved to be a perfect finish to our long journey through Africa. It was our final fantastic experience, unless you count the turning on of the Cape Town Christmas lights last night, but as we missed the actually turning on its not really worth mentioning!

In just a few hours we will be flying out of Africa. All that remains for us is a week in Dubai before returning to England. A week in an Islamic country which might be a welcome rehab after the last few months of sundowners in Africa.

pres Lesotho do Kapskeho mesta

Tak Vazeni pratele ano, uz je tomu tak, dneska odpoledne opoustime Afriku!!!! Bude Nam smutno, ale uz se samozrejme tesime domu. Byla to krasna cesta, i kdyz trochu precerpala nase finance a obcas byla jak psychicky tak fyzicky narocna, tak presto jsme si to naramne uzili.

Naposledy jsem psala z Maputa z Mozambiku, odkud jsme jeli do Johannesburgu, kde jsme stravili par hezkych dni s Allanovym strejdou (bratranec mamy) a jeho rodinou v luxusni vilce s bazenem a tenisovym kurtem, jeden den jsme zasli na kriket, hrala Anglie s Jihoafrickou republikou, zacalo prset a tak podle propoctu Anglie vyhrala.
Nase par denni zastavka na ceste do Kapskeho mesta, byla malinke kralovstvi Lesotho, hornata zemicka obklopena ze vsech stran Jihoafrickou republikou. Krasne hory, trochu nam to pripomelo Tibet nebo Mongolsko. Vsichni ve slamenych kloboukach, zabaleny v tlusty dece na ponikach. Krasny malinkly vesnicky s fajn lidma.

Podle informaci cesi potrebuji vizum, ale bylo mi receno, ze kdyz si zazadam predem tak to bude trvat 3 tydny a bude me to stat 100 euro a tak jsem to proste riskla bez viz. Vetsina narodnosti vizum nepotrebuje a stejne nikdo nevi na hranicnich prechodech, co vlastne Ceska republika je:):) no a tak to proslo, jenom mi dali razitko na 30 dni.
Meli jsme 5 dni a z toho 3 prselo a dokonce pres noc i nasnezilo, 2 dni jsme zustali v horach v Semonkongu a jeden den jsme meli hezky ve vesnicce Malealea. Ale doprava byla docela pomala a tak jsme skoro celej den ztravili cekanim nez se naplni autobus, nastesti v hlavnim meste Maseru byl autobusak plnej stanku s dobrotama a tak jsme se tam nenudili.
Zpet do Bloemfontein a nocnim autobusem do Kapskeho mesta, kde nam cely tyden svitilo krasne slunicko a vyslapli jsme si na Stolovou horu, to bylo docela narocny, ale vyhled stal za to.

Jeden den vylet na Robben Island, vezeni na ostrove asi pul hodinku od Kapskeho mesta, kde byli vezneni hlavne politicky vezni, co byli proti politice apartheidu, Nelson Mandela tu ztravil 18 let ze svych 27 let ve vezeni.
Vinice v okoli Kapskeho mesta s ochutnavkama vin a syru.

Celodenni kriket opet Anglie s Jihoafrickou republikou, docela narocny kdyz clovek zacne pit pivo uz rano a kriket byl az do 10 do vecera, takze hodne vykalencu a JAR tentokrat vyhrala.

Dneska jsme rano zabalili, vyhazeli prochozeny boty a vetsinu obleceni a jedem pres Dubaj domu.

Tak se vsichni mejte, omlouvam se za sve odflakle psani a dekujem za prizen.
zdravi monika a allan

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lesotho Tips

The Kingdom in the Sky completely surrounded by South Africa and yet feeling more like Swaziland,Malawi or Zambia.

Visa: Free for most nationalities. Even nationalities requiring visas can risk it as the immigration officials are less than thorough!

Minibus from Maseru Bridge (border post) to Central Maseru - 4M
Plate of BBQ Pork with pap and greens at Maseru market - 20M
Bus from Maseru to Semonkong and v.v. - 30M, 4 hours, 130km. Very bad road. Duration does not include the up-to-5hours waiting time
Camping/Dorm at Semonkong Lodge, Semonkong - 60/100M p.p.p.n. Nice place set right in the mountains. Various walks and pony treks available as well as activities such as the worlds longest abseil (or something like that!). All weather permitting of course!
Dinner at Semonkong Lodge - 50-80M from choice of three mains plus starters and desserts.
S/M/L frankfurter from Maseru market - 1/2/2.5M
Apples, bananas, guavas, tomatoes, onions on Maseru market - 1L per piece.
Deep fried 'fishcakes' on Maseru market - 2.5M
Frozen guava juice on Maseru market - 2M
Minibus from Maseru to Malealea and v.v. - 30M, 2hours, 100km, good road. Again, not including waiting time.
Camping at Malealea Lodge, Malealea - 60M p.p.p.n (from 2010 will be 70M) Nice place with stunning views to the mountains. Trekking and pony trips available, table tennis and table football if it is raining. Nice bar.
Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner at Malealea Lodge - 55/60/90M, from a set menu. Overpriced in my opinion.

Average Daily Budget - 160M p.p.

Exchange rate - 7.5M=$1USD, 12.5M=GBP1

Mozambique Hints

Crossing from South Africa into Mozambique is like stepping back into steamy East Africa:

Camping at Fatimas Place, Maputo - 200M p.p.p.n. An OK place with nice yard but the staff are exceedingly lazy and inept and the campsite is on a flat roof with no shelter from the storms.
Internet at Twingos, Maputo - 45M per hour
Dos M beer - 40M per 440ml can
Cafe com leite at Twingos cafe - 28M. Cakes and Pastries from 15M
Tomatoes/Onions/Garlic from street stall - 15M per kg/5M piece/7M head
Bread - 5M loaf
Draft beer in local cafe, Maputo - around 17M small glass
Admission to Maputo Art Gallery - 20M (FREE for ISIC holders)
Admission to Maputo Fort - FREE
Bus from Maputo to Vilankulos - 600M, 10 hours, approx 700Km. Rough ride.
Camping/Dorm/Hut/Beachfront Hut w/bath at Baobab Beach Backpackers, Vilankulos - 150 p.p.p.n/200p.p.p.n/500 per room/1000M per room
Fruit smoothie at Baobab Beach Backpackers - 30M
Bananas/Bread on Vilankulos Market - 10M for 4
One day sailing trip to Magaruque island, Bazaruto archipelago inc. snorkelling and Seafood BBQ - from $40USD (around 1200M p.p.)
Minibus from Vilankulos to Maxixe - 180M, 5 hours, approx 300km
Ferry from Maxixe to Inhambane - 10M, 20 mins
Minibus (chapa) from Inhambane to Tofo - 25M, 22km, 1 hour
Camping at Fatimas Nest, Tofo - 200M p.p.p.n
Tasty meals of chicken, fish, squid or prawns with rice or chips w/salad at Black and White restaurant, Tofo - 50-110M
Local beers - 40M bottle
Ocean Safari with Tofo Scuba to try to snorkel with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and other marine life - 1000M, 2 hour trip in rib including gear (with wet suit, useful if it takes time to spot anything). If not sightings then a repeat trip may be offered for 370m pp.
Delicious indulgent meals at Casa de Comer, Tofo - 160-180/260-300/150-200 (starters/mains/desserts). Commonly touted as Mozambiques best restaurant, I can agree. Highlights include the crab mayonnaise starter, the carappacio of fish and the prawn and crab curry.
Beer at Dinos Bar, Tofo - 40M, with access to big screen international sports!
Internet in Inhambane/Tofo - 0.5M/3M per MIN
Shuttle bus from Tofo to Maputo - 450M p.p
Ice cream from street vendor, Maputo - 15M
Translux bus from Maputo to Johannesburg (South Africa) - 198ZAR (approx 750M)

Average daily costs - 700M p.p. (This included the sailing trip to Bazaruto and the Ocean Safari with the repeat trip in Tofo).

Approx. Exchange rate - 28M=$USD, 45M=GBP1

Swaziland Costs

Swaziland can be a welcome retreat from the stress and cost of travelling in more developed South Africa, however there are enough ways to spend your money if you have the urge!

Road tax (Compulsory for all cars crossing the border) - 50L
Cross border permit from Tempest Car Hire - 200ZAR
Entry to Mliliwane Nature Sanctuary - 25L p.p one-off fee
Camping at Sondzela Lodge, in Mliliwane Nature Sanctuary - 45L p.p.p.n. Very nice place with friendly staff, good kitchen and lounge area, patio and pool and resident ostriches and warthogs
Beer at Sondezela Lodge, Mliliwane - 6.5L 330ml can
Chicken and Chips at Shoprite - 36L
Groceries for 4 days (with spares) from Shoprite - 180L
Papaya - 10L per piece
Internet at Swazinet, Mbabane - 45L for 200min account
Oranges on Manzini market - 25L for 7kg
African fabrics on Manzini market - 25L per 2m
Entry to House on Fire gallery, Malkerns Valley - FREE
Entry to Kings Memorial Garden, Ezulwini Valley - 20/10L Adult/Concs. OK but not really worth it.
Sibebe beer at liquor store- 7.75L per bottle

Our trip also included our South African car hire which cost 187ZAR per day in addition to the 200ZAR cross border fee.

Average budget per day - 160L p.p. (plus the 187R car hire)

Exchange rates - 7.5L=$1USD, 12.5L=GBP1

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Tak uz se nam to krati a zitra opoustime Mozambik.
V Mozambiku jsme meli jen 14 dni a tak jsme se rozhodli uzit si plazi na jihu zeme, nez travit polovinu casu drncanim se v autobusech na prisernych silnicich na sever zeme. Myslim, ze uz nam to stacilo, to drncani...
V Maputu, hlavnim meste se nam libilo, prijemna atmosfera, hezka portugalska architektura a par peknych trzist a hodne kavaren. Pomerne zanedbany, ale ma to docela smrnc, hodne lidi co bylo na Kube, to prirovnava k Havane.

Kempovali jsme na betonovy strese hostelu a v noci zacalo prset a pekne nam prosakla podlazka ve stanu. Druhej den jsme vsechno ususili a v noci znova.

Vsechno mokry jsme zabalili a v 5 rano jsme nasedli na autobus do Vilankulos, snad nase posledni opravdu africka dlouha jizda autobusem. Lidi byli fajn a i jsme platili stejnou cenu jako mistni, ale celej den prselo a to ne jenom venku, ale i vevnitr autobusu, 12 hodin jizdy jsme meli reprak na plny pecky portugalsky disko nad hlavou a jen jednou jsme zastavili na zachod a to vsichni sli jen do krovi, ze nas z toho jeste 2 dny bolela hlava. Vilankulos prijemna rybarska vesnice, ubytovali jsme se v bambusovy chatce kousek od plaze, protoze jeste prselo a my jsme meli vsechno mokry.

Peknej sobotni trh a v nedeli jsme vyrazili na vylet do Narodniho parku souostrovi Bazaruto, ktery je znamy krasnyma plazema a podmorskou faunou. Jeli jsme jen na ostuvek Magaruque a protoze bylo po bource, viditelnost na snorchlovani nebyla nejlepsi a byl moc silnej proud a tak jsme se spokojili s bilyma plazickama a tyrkysovym morem a bajecnym obedem s krabama a kalamarama. Bylo by krasny na ostrovech Bazaruto zustat par dni, ale ubytovani je tam jen luxusni a vsechno stoji kolem 10 000kc na noc za osobu, a tak snad nekdy jindy:):)

Minibusem, za kterej nam zase nauctovali vic nez mistnim jsme dostali do Mixixe, pak trajektem do Inhambane a minibusem do vesnicky Tofo, kde je krasna nekonecna bila plaz, par hotelu a kempu, maly trziste a asi 200 obyvatel. Kde jsme kempovali jen par desitek metru od plaze a zustali jsme tam 8 dni, to jsme nezustali snad nikde jinde tak dlouho na tomhle vylete. Jeden den jsme jeli na organizovanej vylet, snorchlovani se zralokem velrybym, ale hodne foukalo a more bylo fakt divocina a nic jsme nevideli a ani by se nikomu nechtelo do takovejch vln skocit a tak nam nabidli, ze muzem ject znovu a to jen za cenu benzinu a tak jsme cekali na peknej den bez vetru. Nas posledni den jsme vyrazili a videli jsme 3, prvni asi 8 metru dlouhej, vsichni naskakali do vody a on si jen tak plul par metru od nas....uzasnej zazitek a dalsi byl jen asi 3-4metry a nekde v hloubce mel brachu. Je to nejvetsi paryba na svete a cloveku neni nebezpecna, ale stejne je to divnej pocit, vypada spis jako zralok nez velryba, sedivej s bilejma teckama a placatou hlavou. Opravdu nezapomenutelny zazitek!!! taky par delfinu a zelv jsme videli po ceste.
Jinak zbytek tydne jsme si uzivali slunicka a plaze, obcas jsme si varili morsky priserky z trziste, a ochutnali jsme par mistnich specialit, vyborny ohromny krevety, kalamari a uzasnou barakudu. Doprali jsme si a navstivili restauraci Casa de comer, prej nejlepsi v Mozambiku a verim tomu, bylo to luxusni.

Jeden den jsme navstivili mestecko Inhambane s krasnou architekturou a pohodovyma lidma.

A minibusem zpatky do Maputa, kde jsme ted.
Zitra odjizdime smer Johanesburg, navsteva Allanovych pribuznych, a jedna vecerni hra kriketu Anglie s Jihoafrickou republikou.

ahoj monika a allan

Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique

Crossing the border from South Africa into Mozambique meant returning to Africa™. Long queues at the border, toilets dirty and flooded with water but strangely lacking running water, dozens of people selling food, drinks and of course cell-phone airtime. Across Africa it seems the second most important person in a town, after the police, is the guy selling phone vouchers. In every single small village, regardless of whether anyone has enough food to eat, there are guys in illuminous bibs calling ´voucher! voucher!`. The cell-phone revolution has also spawned ´charge shops` which have rows of phone chargers hooked up to car batteries or generators for those who have no access to electricity. Even if your whole village is without electricity you can still own a cell-phone. No food? No clothes? No worries. No mobile? Disaster. So, the moment we crossed over into Mozambique the entire population of our bus rushed to buy new SIM cards or airtime for their old cards and the rest of the bus journey to Maputo passed by in a crescendo of half-conversations!

Maputo generates predictable comparisons with other Latin cities such as Havana or San Salvador due to its faded colonial beauty, its decaying buildings and decrepit streets emitting a sense of charm and personality that has evaded most African cities. Coming from South Africa another facet that imposed itself on our senses was the exotic aromas, or odours, present, the heady mix of diesel, cooking oil and overripe tropical fruits, smells that took my mind back to Colombo of all places.

But it rained, all the time. Therefore we soon set off north to the coastal village of Vilankulos. The ´Junta` bus station in Maputo was quite a shock, identical to most Ethiopian bus ´stations` it is simply a dusty (or muddy) square on the corner of a busy intersection full of dilapidated buses preparing to head off to all corners of the country. Vendors were crowding around the open windows, selling bread, soft drinks and yet more airtime to the passengers, who risked soaking their seats by hanging out of the window making their purchases. Our bus was crammed with people and luggage, the luggage compartments underneath having already been filled with beer and wine to be delivered to hotels and restaurants along the way. Scrambling over the plastic guttering that lay in the aisle we grabbed two of the last seats that were not being soaked by the rain pouring in not just through the windows but through small holes in the roof as well. Many passengers spent the whole 10 hour journey holding plastic bags or empty Coke bottles to catch the rain. And 10 hours later in Vilankulos it was still raining.

After being cooped up in a hire car for the best part of the last month we were very pleased to be squashed back on a bus with everyone else, travelling on poor roads in crappy buses, disorganised and cramped and how long does it take Africans to disembark from a bus? In fairness however the buses, as in many African countries, have had an extra column of seats put in (a 2-3 seat configuration) and then an extra few rows squeezed in the back for good measure, increasing the capacity to well over a hundred people, plus luggage and at lest 40 kids on laps! Great to be back.

Vilankulos is a fishing village like any other in Africa, a crowded market selling fish, fruit and vegetables and other necessities as well as colourful Tanzanian fabrics and plastic Chinese crap. There were also women selling washing powder by weight from huge buckets and young guys offering services as a guide, dealer or gigolo. The beach itself is not suited for sunbathing as it is very much a working beach full of fishing boats, guys fixing their nets and large groups of people haggling over the price of fish. Vilankulos is however the jumping off point for visiting the Bazaruto archipelago, one of the most famous beach paradises in Mozambique. To visit means either a meeting with the bank manager or a one-day dhow trip to the closest island in the archipelago, Magaruque. Just 20km offshore, when the tide is out, and it goes way out, it seems as if it would almost be possible to walk there. That probably would not be advisable however so the one-day trip offered by Dolphin Dhow is the next best option, including some snorkelling time (although the bad weather during the previous days meant the visibility was very poor), sunbathing on the island and a delicious seafood braii on the beach. It is a tropical paradise – white sandy beaches lined with palm trees, turquoise waters and clear blue skies – but unfortunately we have seen too many beach paradises, and often in places with far better value for money than most of Africa. Still it was a nice day out though.

We were surprised by the warm and friendly welcome we met from most Mozambicans. We had been warned by many people throughout Africa that Mozambicans are “the most unfriendly people in Africa” and that we would be ripped off everywhere and even the vendors selling in bus stations would run off without paying change back. We experienced none of this, well apart from being ripped off for a couple of short bus rides, and even that for less than half a dollar each time. We received only friendly welcomes and sincere greetings. Perhaps this different experience is because for many people Mozambique is the first African country they visit after South Africa and they are not prepared for the Africa™ lifestyle. Our introduction to Africa came in Ghana and our impressions of Ghana were very similar to those that people have developed regarding Mozambique. And in a very similar fashion most people we have met who have also been to Ghana are very shocked at our opinions.

Heading back south we wanted to stop in Morrungulo but in the end headed straight through to Tofo beach, one of the most famous beach resorts in Southern Africa. We were pleasantly surprised to find it very low-key, we expected to be stuck between big resorts but actually most of the options are still small, intimate places in secluded settings. The beach is very wide and clean with accommodation options perched on the dunes above. The water however is exposed and therefore quite rough, more suitable for surfing rather than swimming, and there are barely any palm trees, evidence of the fact that we had once again crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on the road from Vilankulos.

Close to Tofo is the quaint old town of Inhambane. Full of colourful colonial architecture and remnants of the religious fervour of both the Arabic and Portuguese influences it made a perfect break from the rigours of lying on the beach. A busy market, a clutch of very Mediterranean cafes, hot sun and a laid-back atmosphere combine to make wandering around the town both invigorating and enervating at the same time!

Mozambican cuisine is hailed as some of Africa’s best. Consisting of seafood, seafood, seafood and peri-peri chicken it does not take long to work out why. Delicious plates of prawns in garlic, grilled fish, slabs of tuna steak, calamari curry and steamed crabs cooked to perfection whether in a cheap local shack such as Black and White in Tofo (probably the best value meals we have eaten since Tanzania) or in a lavish restaurant like Casa de Comer, also in Tofo and touted as Mozambiques best restaurant their menu of French-Mozambican fusion is quite exquisite - the crab mayonnaise starter, the carpaccio of fish, and the prawn and crab curry being some of the highlights. If this gorging on seafood becomes monotonous then there are plenty of places to sample peri-peri chicken, Mozambiques national dish, stolen and made famous by Nando´s, the South African chain of restaurants. And even when moving from place to place it is impossible to go hungry, vendors selling fresh fruit and freshly picked and roasted cashew nuts by the half-kilo!

Tofo is justly famous for its underwater attractions, one of the most impressive being the chance to snorkel with whale sharks. On our first trip we were unsuccessful, spending two hours being chucked around in a small speedboat searching for something, anything, to look at under water. Our second attempt made up for it however. We had two opportunities to swim with whale sharks. What is most shocking is the first sight of this giant fish (they can grow up to 20m in length) swimming towards you. It is very important to remain calm as any sudden movements, air bubbles or splashing can cause the shark to dive down but these reactions are very hard to suppress, especially when there is a group of large remora eels swimming around just below! Whale sharks feed on plankton so are no danger to humans but the fact that it is A SHARK is enough to put the wind up most people on their first encounter. Some how I was lucky enough to be at the front of the group of snorkellers and managed a full minute or so snorkelling alone with the whale shark before the rest of the group caught up, inevitably soon after that he dived away out of sight. The second encounter was of a smaller, 4m, whale shark and again he dropped out of sight soon after we had entered the water, following what I thought was his shadow down below I looked up to see that the rest of the group were heading off in a different direction. There were two down there! Like the No. 49 bus, waiting for days and then two come along at once!

After more than a week lying on the beach at Tofo (the longest time we have spent anywhere on this trip) it was time to head back to Maputo. The ´shuttle` bus is scheduled to leave Tofo at 4am daily. Normally this would mean everyone getting ready for 3:45am and the bus sauntering along sometime after 6am. However, on this occasion the driver was beeping frantically from 3:40am onwards. An African bus driver in a hurry, surely not?

Walking around Maputo on our return we were surprised to see all shops, travel agents, internet cafes and other services closed. Has there been a national strike? No, Maputo City celebrated the 122nd anniversary of its elevation to city status on 10th November!

Mozambique by Bob Dylan (from Desire, 1976)

I like to spend some time in Mozambique
The sunny sky is aqua blue
And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek.
It's very nice to stay a week or two.
And maybe fall in love just me and you.

There's lots of pretty girls in Mozambique
And plenty time for good romance
And everybody likes to stop and speak
To give the special one you seek a chance
Or maybe say hello with just a glance.

Lying next to her by the ocean
Reaching out and touching her hand,
Whispering your secret emotion
Magic in a magical land.

And when it's time for leaving Mozambique,
To say goodbye to sand and sea,
You turn around to take a final peek
And you see why it's so unique to be
Among the lovely people living free
Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Namibia notes and hints

Entering Namibia from Botswana is a further step towards development and Westernisation. To further complicate matters regarding costs Namibia has a non-existent public transport system and barely any sealed roads on which to hitch from place to place.

Visa - if needed it costs $50 (payable in USD$ only) from any Namibian embassy. The embassy in Lusaka will accept/return applications on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.

Lift from Buitepos (border town) to Windhoek - 100ND in a truck
Camping at CardboardBox Backpackers, Windhoek - 65ND per person per night. Including free pancakes w/ tea or coffee for breakfast.
CardboardBox was OK but very loud. At the time I was staying there they had a whole rugby team and full entourage (Around 50 people all in) who made a 48 braii party, drinking throughout the night and basically keeping the whole place awake with no respect for other guests. They also left the bathrooms and kitchen in a filthy state. If they had not have been there we may not have noticed the scant regard that the FHM reading, fat chav owner gave his guests, using the place simply to fund the daily drinking, braii and weed smoking habits of him and his friends, who treated the guests with more rudeness, dominating the bar and choice of TV/music. Quite poor really considering how popular it is (or used to be).

Beer/Wine at CardboardBox - 10ND bottle/ 13ND very full glass
Tasty Boerwors hot dog at MK fast food , Windhoek - 10ND
Internet - 10ND for 30-40 mins depending on place.
Car hire from Europcar for Hyundai Atos(booked through - advertised as USD$228 for 7 days but terrible exchange rate meant we were charged USD$310, later reduced to around $270.
Petrol - 7-7.5ND per litre. Hyundai Atos full tank cost around 220ND.
Groceries for 7 days self-catering camping - around 400ND
Entry fee for Nauklauft mountains National Park - 40ND p.p. plus 10ND per car.
Camping at Nauklauft mountain National Park - 200ND per site.
Delicious cakes at Mooses bakery, Solitaire - 18ND each, coffee 8ND
Entrance to Sossusvlei - 80ND per person plus 10ND per car.
Breakfast at Wimpy, Mariethal - 30-40ND per order. Wimpy MegaCoffee - 12ND
Entrance to Fish River Canyon - 80ND per person, 10ND per car.
Camping at Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek - 70ND per person. Excellent place, friendly staff, nice bar and pool, fairly quiet (bar closes at 10pm), amazing free buffet breakfast, free tea and coffee all day. Only problem is severly limited camping space. Rooms and Dorms available at higher prices.
Beer at Chameleon - 10ND
330ml can of 100% pure tasty fruit juices from LiquiFruit - 5ND
Intercape Sleepliner coach from Windhoek to Cape Town - 620ND p.p.

Ave cost per person per day (inc car hire for 7 days with 4 full tanks but sleeping in the car 5 nights) - 340ND
Without car hire the cost would be around 200ND but you would not get anywhere and hitchers are generally requested to pay the equivalent of a bus fare.

Approx Exchange rate - USD$1=7.5ND (pegged to South African Rand), GBP1=12

Botswana tips and costs

Botswana is considered to be just about THE most expensive country for a tourist to visit in Africa. There are however ways to keep the costs down to a reasonable level, albeit losing a bit of the exclusive nature of their 'high income-low impact' tourism strategy.

Visa (if needed, citizens of most Western countries do not require visas, those from Eastern Europe, Israel etc may do) - USD$75, the application can take up to two weeks and may be rejected without refund. A hotel booking, proof of sufficient funds and an onward/return flight may be required. Pretoria seems to be the best and fastest place to apply. Monika applied in Lusaka, it took 5 days.

To enter Botswana from Zambia requires a short ferry across the Zambezi to the town of Kazangula. This costs around 2000Kwa, or $0.50USD

Taxi from Kazangula to Kasane - 30P, 5km
Camping at Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane - 60P p.p. Really luxury lodge with nice pool and bar overlooking the river. Campsite hidden behind the chalets, warthogs wandering around the gardens.
Info at Botswana Tourism Board, Kasane - good, friendly and free
Meal of rice and beans with salad at Spar or Chappies supermarkets, Kasane - 15P per tray. Good value.
Internet in Kasane - from 4P per 10 mins!!! Horrifically expensive.
Beer at Chobe Safari Lodge - 16P (we only had one!)
Afternoon boat cruise in Chobe NP - 235P p.p. inc 70P park fee. From WaterLily Lodge. All lodges offer the tour but many are in 55 seater ferries, WaterLily has a 12-seater which allows exploration much further into the park and also much closer to the animals.
Bus/Hitching from Kasane to Nata - 55P p.p. 5 hours, 300km, shit road.
Meal of rice and beef stew at Crossroads Cafe, Nata - 18P
Groceries in Nata - only tomatoes, onions, bread and other basics available! Toms/Onion - 1-2P each, Bread - 7P loaf, Water - 7P 1.5l
Bus from Nata to Planet Baobab - 15P p.p. 1hour, 70km
Camping at Planet Baobab - 65P p.p. Great experience, like camping in a fairy tale. Excellent secluded location, fantastic design and construction, friendly staff and good trips.
Trips to Makgadikgadi salt pans from Planet Baobab - from 750P p.p. inc lunch, game drive, quad biking and visit to meerkat family. If you are lucky you may get offered a good deal to join an existing trip.
St. Louis beer at Planet Baobab - 11.5P
Bus from Planet Baobab to Maun - 37-40P p.p. approx 200km, 2.5 hours
Private/Shared taxi/minibus from Maun to The Old Bridge Backpackers - 20P/3.8P/2.75P, 7km, 15 mins
Camping at The Old Bridge - 33P p.p. Nice place by the river, friendly atmosphere, good music, well run. Many local ex-pats frequent the bar.
Internet in Maun - from 15P per hour.
Groceries in Maun - everything around 6P per kg/packet
Mokoro trip to Okavango Delta from The Old Bridge - 605P/770P for 1/2 days trip (pick-up and speedboat transfer and mokoro with poler only, self-catered)
Beer at The Old Bridge - 11-15P depending on brand.
Birthday cake at Chappies - 30P
Cheeses - from 15P per 200gr.
Hitching from Maun to Windhoek (Namibia) - 900km. No public transport. Can take two days, we did it in 14 hours. It cost us around 100P plus 100ND each but could cost more or less depending on your luck.

Ave budget per person per day - 240P.

Approx exchange rate - 6P=USD$1, 10P=GBP1