Sunday, May 9, 2010

Moztly Harmless

Phew! Only half a year has passed since I returned from Mosambique, my photos from the trip are ready to be scrutinized by your eyes. It wasn't supposed to take that long, but it did. And in the meantime I've visited Jordan and India fairly extensively, so now I have two more mountains of photos to conquer. It's a good think I rather enjoy editing photos.

This trip was more rushed than I usually prefer it to be, because I chose to join a typical (not too) organized overland truck tour. With a purpose-built vehicle and fairly seasoned guides, this part of Africa was all too easy to visit. I escaped from the rather dull program as often as I could, and most of these photos were taken on the "side trips" I made on my own.

We started out by driving from Johannesburg into Swaziland, the tiny country stuck between South Africa and Mozambique. Our camp was in Hlane National Park, known for its many predators. Supposedly we were safe there, as our camp was surrounded by an electric fence. This worried me slightly, since there was no electricity whatsoever available inside the camp. But we were fine nevertheless. And compared to the 120 or so members of the Johannesburg police force who were killed in 2009, we were absolutely fine.

I won't blog about the animals I found there. Look at the photos instead.

We continued into Mozambique, which made a noticeable difference. Strange sights kept popping up. In Maputo they were building a football stadium, paid for by money borrowed from the Chinese, as always eager to befriend countries with more natural resources than they can handle. Originally the stadium was meant to be used in connection with the 2010 World Cup tournament taking place in Southern Africa. I'm eager to find out in what decade it will be finished.

Mozambique has lots of unemployed people. The strategy seems to be that instead of having workers get things done, let's have time take care of business on its own. When it comes to camouflaging planes and helicopters, this works very well. By leaving the flying machines out in the open at an airbase just outside the capital, they've succeeded in hiding them all inside a wide selection of bushes and weeds. Well done, Mozambique Air Force!

Little work was done at the petrol stations as well. People were employed there, but they had precious little to sell. On a good day there would be petrol on offer, at other times the selection was limited to yoghurt, old bread, engine oil and soap. Which makes sense, since most of the petrol stations were owned by PetrolMoc, and I assume Moc is short for "Mock-up".

Mozambique is huge and the roads are horrible, so even with more than a week in the country, it wasn't possible to make our way more than about a quarter up along the coast. We camped on beaches and ate mostly food we had brought from South Africa. There's not much that can be easily and reliably bought in Mozambique. If you choose to eat what you can find there, chances are you'll have bananas and mangos for breakfast and grilled barracuda for lunch and dinner each and every day. Unless you become a meal, yourself, that is, which is quite possible, thanks to a healthy population of crocodiles.

My final verdict is that I found Mozambique to be a pleasant country to visit. However, if you're the kind of person who prefers a certain minimum of comfort and reliability, you might want to wait 5-10 years before you go there. There are many beautiful spots, but sort of difficult to get around unless you have your own transportation. Also, the country is haunted by cyclones, which may mean that anything of any size, up to and including small towns, can suddenly be gone. When you choose when to go, choose wisely!

The return to Johannesburg went via some days of safaris in the Kruger Park in South Africa. There's almost no way that can fail, unless you go there for the shopping and hiking in the mountains. What you'll find is a tranquile, savannah-like land, where easily driven roads takes you between a huge number of different species of animals. I had a great time, and I'd also like to recommend a visit to the Moholoholo Rehab Centre just outside the gates of the Kruger Park, where you can have close encounters with birds and animals desperately in need of some care, medical assistance and/or psychiatrists. Just make sure you don't play too wildly with the young rhino they have!

This is how thick your skin should be before you head for Mozambique.

Good luck, and happy trails!