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We’ve taken some crazy routes to get from point A to B (like our time hitching down Lesotho’s Sani Pass or our Malawi border run) but compared to our trip from Mozambique to Tanzania, they all seem like a seat in first class. When we consulted the all-knowing Google Maps for directions from Ibo Island to Zanzibar we couldn’t believe it was telling us to go due west across the entire country of Mozambique around Lake Malawi then drive back out to the coast of Tanzania (for a total journey of 1,618 miles). We were already on the water and Zanzibar was just 479 miles up the shore…it couldn’t be that hard, right? “Ehh, what does Google know anyway…” Those were the famous last words of what would become a four-day, 14-leg overland journey…the most epic and absurd in HoneyTrek history.
Just as we were starting to get cold feet about this journey into the unknown and contemplating an easy flight alternative, we met a gentleman on Ibo who had recently done the due-north overland route to Tanzania. With much trepidation and forewarning about the rough to non-existent roads, he wrote down every single transfer and the local’s rate we should haggle for. Without this piece of paper, we would have literally been lost.
Leg #1: Once the tide came in, we caught the first dhow boat to the mainland. Weighed down by ten too many people, our boat dragged its rudder along the ocean floor and mangrove roots for the better part of the journey to Tandonhague town.
Leg #2: The dhow can only get so close to shore without a dock so our options were to wade across with our luggage over our heads or get pulled ashore on the raft of this very entrepreneurial ten-year old.
Leg # 3-4: From here all mzungu tourists were headed south in a van to the resort town of Pemba, except us (another sign that overland to Tanzania was not the wisest choice!). This converted pickup truck–souped up with two benches, a bamboo roof, and tarp walls–was our northern-bound chariot. We arrived to our second stop still brimming with energy and stuck our thumb out to hitchhike to the town of ADPP. Four hours later, after visits from the town drunk, a crazy man dancing with a broom, and a guy with the a neck goiter the size of a cantaloupe, the Catholic University of Mozambique utility truck gave us a ride
Using my best understanding of Spanish to piece together their Portuguese, the Catholic University employees said they weren’t going to make it as far as ADPP but that we could spend the night with them and they could take us in the morning. Being dark and with zero alternate options in sight, we gladly accepted. We pulled up to their friend’s mud-walled hut and sat outside in the rain as they decided where to put us. Next thing you know, the guest bed made of woven rattan and a thin mat on top was placed in their “foyer” for us. This room was under construction so it had a 6′x6′ pile of dirt in it and was partially open to the sky. We sat by the light of our kerosene lantern until we deemed it late enough to go to bed (8:30pm) then fell asleep to the sounds a mouse running along the perimeter of the roof and the dirt falling on us whenever he came our way. The whole thing was so absurd, at this point we had to laugh.
Leg # 5-6: Already a day behind schedule, we were antsy to get started on our next leg to Mosimboa de Praia. According to our trusty sheet of paper, the next mode of transit was said to be the nicest and most official vehicle of the journey. We caught the fancy bus alright, but it broke down one hour into the four. Refunds aren’t really a thing in Africa so pleaded with the driver until he scored us standing room on his friend’s bus that was vaguely headed in our direction.
Leg # 7: Our goal was to make it the Mozambique-Tanzania border by nightfall and it was already late afternoon with multiple hours ahead of us. An eighteen-wheeler full of bananas, rice, and people rolls by and instinctively we hop up and flag it down (who have we become?). Drivers in Africa almost always charges something for a hitchhike but impressed with our moxie, this one let us ride free.
Leg #8: Mosimboa de Praia is somewhat of a beach destination but mostly it is the last town before no-man’s-land Mozambique. Being two mzungus hanging out in the back of a banana big rig, we were quickly spotted as potential passengers for the crossing. A pickup starts to follow us shouting, “Frontera, frontera! Border, border! Come, come!” This would normally be shady (okay, it was still shady) but it seemed the best option as the sun was starting to go down. We hopped in thankful for a speedy transfer to the border, only to lap the town for another hour picking up more passengers, bags of rice, and crates of Rhino Gin…losing about three inches of leg room with every addition. The guys, above photo, were responsible for “overseeing” the gin shipment and testing for quality control with random sampling. With our bodies in a pretzel and face getting whipped with wind, the idea of hitting the bottle crossed our minds as well.
Leg #9-10: Four hours down a dirt road through Mozambique’s northernmost fringes, we arrived at the river separating the two countries. (With no bridge, we then realized why Google Maps doesn’t give driving directions.) The officials were just shutting down for the day and told us we better hurry if we wanted to catch the last boat to Tanzania. Leaky rowboats were the only way to cross the hippo-infested water but I was ready to pay top dollar to be on one. Mike on the other hand haggled until the the moment the captain was pushing off to settle on a price. Though I wanted to kill him at the time, I’m proud we got the local’s rate.
We made it to Tanzanian soil! But not so fast, their immigration office was totally dark and there was an angry-looking official waiting for us at the gate. He couldn’t just leave us here in limbo, could he? He lectured us in Portuguese then brought us in to process our papers. We were out of Mozambican meticais and we didn’t have any Tanzanian shillings, but U.S. Dollars always work for visa payments…if they were issued after the year 2000. Our weather-beaten 1996 bill was not going to cut it. Trying to come up with a solution, our quirky border guard kindly said he would go wrangle up a loan from our fellow passengers (was he serious?) while we waited in this office. We were waiting for an incredibly long time with nothing to do but flip through the immigration book he left on the table. Probably not approved, but we enjoyed browsing the list of fellow survivors of the Mozambique/Tanzania border.
Leg #11-12: Our loan-lender friend was also heading from Mtwapa, Tanzania to Dar es Salem so together we bought bus tickets for the following morning and found a cheap hotel for a few hours sleep. We set our alarm for 4am but woke up to a pounding knock on our door. Our friend noticed we weren’t up and the bus was leaving in 15 minutes. Apparently there is an hour time change between the two countries so if it wasn’t for him we would have missed the only bus of the day. Obrigado, amigo! Made it the ten hours to Dar and celebrated our arrival with a wonderful Swahili meal of pumpkin curry and chapati at the local restaurant, above.
Leg 13-14: With one last mode of transit left on our four-day journey, we took a cab to the hour-long Zanzibar ferry. Our eyes nearly welled up with tears at the sight of such a milestone. It was a no easy task getting here, as this lengthy blog will attest, but we wouldn’t have traded the experience for a thing. A test of endurance and boundaries of our comfort zone, this journey showed us that anything is possible. We met an amazing cast of characters, saw scenery most people would never get to see, and most importantly we proved Google doesn’t know everything.
Do you think we are crazy, brave, or stupid for doing this? We’re still not sure.
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