If we had to pick one tip for would-be travelers looking to set out and explore the world, it would undoubtedly be to travel overland as often as humanly possible and to go overland even when “they” tell you it’s not possible. This form of transit might add an extra day or two to your journey, but the experience will be one you could not get in a lifetime of flights or private car transfers. Case in point: Our three-day journey from Lake Malawi to the exotic coast of Mozambique.
Malawi to Mozambique
African travel is a zen-like experience. If you have the patience of a monk, a dances-with-wolves desire to live amongst the locals, and the sense of adventure of a free climber….well….you will love African travel as much as we do. This photo was taken, during one of our “free climber” phases, just 15 seconds before the driver of the vehicle in front of us lost part of his finger in a machete attack by an irate passenger (the driver apparently took money from some passengers under the guise he was going a certain direction, then changed his mind). NOTE: This was very atypical of our entire African overland experience. Of our 60-70 legs on the road and sea, this was the only one where we even felt the slightest bit unsafe.
As we filled out our disembarkation documents at the Malawi border, a gentleman asked us if we needed a lift for the four kilometers to the Mozambique immigration office. After a bit of bargaining, we hopped in the bed of his pickup truck with a few locals to the shack-like office. Anne’s visa printed perfectly in just under three minutes; however, mine was nearly a two-hour ordeal. The officer vs. printer stalemate ended with me sneaking a blank visa page from the pile on his desk (my heart was pounding!), removing some appliances from his surge protector and fixing the paper jam so that we didn’t need to wait an additional three hours until his supervisor returned to fix the beast.
Of the 245 nights of lodging thus far on our HoneyTrek, this room easily wins the prize for “Most Likely to Have Hosted a Crime.” Very long story on how we would up in this nightmare of a room but it’s moments like this when you we can not overstate the value of having our own sheets and pillows on the trip. Some travelers might think the added weight is overkill, but knowing that you can turn a CSI crime-scene into a decent night’s sleep is beyond invaluable on an RTW.
The following morning we woke before dawn, attempted to shower from the communal bucket, strapped on our headlamps, and hopped across the train tracks to the ticket office. The queue was nearly 200 people deep with only about 50 women, so when people tried to explain in Portuguese that Anne and I had to separate into our gender-specific lines, we just played dumb. Together we navigated our way through the lamp-less 1950s train cars and found our communal cabin for the next twelve hours.
This train ride from Cuamba to Nampula, Mozambique was one of the most beautiful cross-country journeys either of us have ever encountered. Incredibly unique mountains burst from the landscape, rivers swept under our tracks, and the traditional villages left us in awe.
The local villagers survive on what they can sell during the 3-10 minutes that the train stops at each station, so needless to say a barrage of bargaining, and endless entertainment ensues at every window of the train. One of our favorite parts of the journey was seeing what new vegetable/animal/handicraft would be for sale at each station–one stop all onions, the next carrots, followed by baskets or chickens.
This was our cabin mate purchasing two bunches of carrots for his wife’s stew recipe. Such a vibrant orange, we couldn’t resist buying some ourselves and man, were they sweet!
For a reason unbeknownst to us, the train from Cuamba doesn’t go all the way to the coast of Mozambique but ends in the rough-and-tumble town of Nampula. The following morning after our train ride, as we walked to catch a bus to Ilha de Mozambique a hoodlum bumped into me–hard. Holding onto my arm, he apologized profusely while his friend lifted the iPhone from my pocket. Thankfully I knew something was amiss and felt my phone brush across my thigh so I swung around to grab both forearms of the perpetrator and worked my way towards his hands until I felt my phone under his newspaper. He shrugged, said he was sorry, and quickly ran away. Just when we thought we’d had enough thrills for the morning, we boarded the bus above. This is where Anne and I sat ten-people across on four bus seats (total head-count: 4 adults + 6 children)…it was then that I went into my Zen state of African travel!
We finally arrived on Ilha de Mozambique as the sun was about to rest its eyes over the bay. With a stiff drink in hand, we recalled our six-leg overland adventure from Lake Malawi to the coast of Mozambique… a doozie we’ll never forget.