Road Trip to Mozambique Island

posted in: Africa, Travels | 2

“400km can’t possibly be considered a road trip!”, will think those that have never been in Africa…..

I was in the north of Mozambique, visiting my amazing friend A. who was donating few months of her life to a (private and for free) medical clinic in Pemba. With K, a volunteer nurse working for the same clinic, we decided to explore Ilha de Mozambique, a small island UNESCO World Heritage, that was described to us as a corner of paradise.

Tourism in Mozambique for dummies: how to reach Ihla de Mozambique, 400km away??

Moving around the country it’s complicated.

Map of my road trip in the North of Mozmbique, from Pemba to Mozambique Island, drowned in fantasy style.
How I imagine the map the North of Mozambique.

The main roads, as in other African countries, are not well maintained and they often consists in two lanes. With a faded line in the middle, when lucky.
They run through hundreds of little villages where pedestrians, children and animals might suddenly cross the street without thinking twice.

There are buses, sure enough, we looked into this options. They are cheap but you know when you leave (maybe) but not when you arrive. Furthermore, the one we needed was leaving at 5am from the “bus station”, meaning we needed a taxi to get there and another one from where the bus would have dropped us to reach the final destination. It was doable, but honestly fairly risky, from a planning point of view.

Good news is, the two amazing girls I was going to travel with, built many good friendships during the time they had been working in the clinic and the owner of a Chinese restaurant offered us her brand new pick-up. Like that. For free.

And so it happens that on a random Thursday we leave with our shiny black pick-up for a Road trip in the North of Mozambique, to reach a tiny island in the Indian Ocean.

How to ride a pick-up like a pro”

The first passengers to board the pickup get the seats, obviously. When the overflowing number of passengers is reached, the back of the pick up starts getting packed. On those uneven roads, it’s not comfortable to seat on the metal surface. Therefore the best spots are the standing ones, behind the cockpit, with a secure grip onto the metal bar.

I had to try the Mozambican way!

RThe Lady riding on the back of the pick-up, in the African outskirt.

For a day, I leave behind the comfort of a seat with air-co in favour of a travelling method that here in the West would be fairly illegal!
Best Ride Ever.

In Mozambique, white skin is associated with richness. And if white people have a fancy pickup like ours, they also have air-co. Mozambicans that saw me enjoying my standing ride could just not understand what was going on. I spotted many laughing at me or gesticulating to invite me, while overtaking us, to sit next to them in their half broken van.

How to face the African roads

For a road trip, food and water are important, especially in a warm and often wild place like Mozambique. We did some grocery shopping at the street market before leaving and some more in the many villages on the way. What did we buy? Fruits like there is no tomorrow! Bananas, oranges, papayas… oh, papayas…. The Mozambican Papayas have no pairs! It can also happen that as you stop your car on the side of the road, the vehicle gets surrounded by vendors with roasted corn, suspicious “bread”, badjia (a sort of fried… thing) and nourishing boiled eggs sold together with a little salt paper bag. Brilliant.

Street sellers surrounding a van on the road side.
Window shopping, African style

On the road you can see a bit of everything. We encountered some African stereotypes, like people carrying massive amount of stuff balanced on their head, women washing and drying clothes at the riverside, beautiful combo of red ground and wooden huts and curious stares while driving past.
We met workmen on the way, busy patched the asphalt up. From our privileged fresh and comfy car, we wondered how could those men survive the day in the scorching heat and we gave them some oranges. But they probably melted in the heat a couple of hours later anyway….

African stereotypes seen during a road trip in Mozambique: Clothes washing at the river - heavy load balanced on the head - village with straw rooftops in the red ground landscape
African stereotypes: Clothes washing at the river – heavy load balanced on the head – village with straw rooftops in the red ground landscape

The roads are full of women walking on the side of the road. They walk kilometers to go to the next village market or to visit family, because most of the time, they can’t afford the local “bus” (which is a big uncovered van that hosts as many people as it can squeeze in and stops apparently randomly to load and unload more and more travelers). These women walk with their bags balanced on the head and the children wrapped on their backs in colouful textiles. They are beautiful.

We asked some of these ladies if they wanted a lift in the back of the pick-up. Some were suspicious of these too kind white girls (I’ve been told that around here people tents to disappear far too easily). Others, maybe, didn’t have to go too far. But what a joy to load a bunch of “mama” and look at them laughing happily waving to the other ladies still walking like they would have had to do!

We learnt the signal to ask for a stop (’cause even if they had told us the destination before jumping on, we would obviously have not understood it or would have had no clue where that place was): two or three pats on the outside of the car’s body, end off they went on their ways.

A family outside their house looks smily in the camera
A family looks with curiosity the pale tourists passing by

Destination: Ilha de Mozambique (Mozambique Island)

A lifetime later, we arrive at the bridge that connect Ilha de Mozambique with the coast: 3 km of single lane road on low pillars on the sea, with a fee to pay only on your way out, as if they wanted to keep you there forever. The view is bizarre: the island is visible in its entire length and when the tide is low you could walk your way up to its beaches. Otherwise, With high tide, that part of the sea is literally packed with fishermen in sailing or rowing boats.

Fishermen: a boat is ready to sail in the late afternoon and another one is waiting for a higher tide.
Fishermen: a boat is ready to sail in the late afternoon and another one is waiting for a higher tide.

And here on Ilha de Mozambique our holiday starts. Children constantly follow you around, huts cover up half of the island and the hospital gives you the chills (I’ve read that recently there have been some works going on), but unlike most of Mozambique, on this island there’s a holiday feeling all year around. Inhabitants know that tourism brings money, even offering little services like renting snorkeling masks. And whoever works in this business can earn enough to live decently. It is certainly not the “real” Mozambique, but it’s a beautiful example of Mozambican hosting and development/investment skills.

On the way back there will be another 400 km of pavement-no-pavement roads, other mama, other markets, other animals and children to avoid. But for now, we enjoy the sea and the well deserved time off.

My road trip mates pose for a picture, framed by tiled old windows with the sea in the background.
Beautiful volunteers on a day off.

If you’re thinking to plan a holiday in Mozambique, check out the Mozambique Tourism Facebook page for some extra info and ideas.

All the images in this page are owned by the author and therefore protected by copyright.
Some can be bought on Shutterstock and Dreamtime.

Pinterest image for "Road trip to Mozambique Island": a woman balances a heavy load on her head and a baby strapped on her body

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