For the past week, Alisa and I have debated on whether we should include Northern Mozambique in our travel plans during our stay in Southern Africa this summer. We have two weeks in the region before we need to pick up our car at OR Thambo and head to Rustenburg for the England – US match. We have debated whether to spend those two weeks in Mozambique and endevour to head north to the Ilha de Mozambique. It’s a place that has been on our radar since we first looked into heading to Moz on our spring break in 2007 while in Durban. However, we learned that to get all the way up there it would take at least a week to make the journey through the countryside.
I’ve yet to find only one resource that has talked about traveling that far north and it is dated in 2007. Reading the author’s further blogs makes me worried that having only two weeks to get up there and come back would put our plans in South Africa during the World Cup at risk. However, I’m wondering if we’ll ever be so close and have that much time to get up there as we will this summer. We are considering using the four weeks after the World Cup to make the journey, but what state will our funds be in by then?
Most of the blogs I have read on traveling in Mozambique never convey much confidence in the transportation, and while that’s to be expected, I have yet to find a recount of someone pressed for time in getting around the country. The one instance that I did find someone in a time crunch, they had the fortune of teaming up with someone with a 4×4; a luxury that is out of our price range. We also can’t head there in the hopes of someone else making the same journey we are and wanting to split petrol costs.
The question that we posed to the famous backpackers, Fatima’s, was how long would it take to make the journey north. They replied that the roads to Beira were quite good, but going further north was playing roulette. Unfortunately, Beira looks to be a 2-3 day’s drive at the least, and if that’s the best part of the transit system, it would surely be close to double that to reach our destination, thus putting us 9+ days away from Johannesburg if we turned around as soon as we arrived. It looks as if the easiest way to the region would be through Cuamba, which we could then catch a train to Nampula, and then onto the Island. However, it looks like the best way to Cuamba is through Blantyre, Malawi. Even that route sounds challenging. Plus, Alisa does not have the best memories of the 35+ hour bus ride from Joburg to Blantyre…
Alisa is worried that I am too enamored by the challenge and will take us on the journey just to prove that it can be accomplished, and as I read more and more blogs about the journeys through Northern Mozambique, I am starting to agree that it is simply a route that cannot be navigated by two people with limited time. However there is a travel agency offering a $500 dollar package for a three night stay on the island, including airfare. Even though would make a serious dent in our budget for just three days, I am serious considering whether this might be our best and only chance to make it. I am not sure what the allure of the island is beyond the difficulty in reaching it. But I have always had a fascination for seeing the ‘oldest’ or the ‘first’, and on the Ilha de Mozambique, there is the oldest European building in the Southern Hemisphere: a Chapel built by the Portuguese in 1522. It was the first capital of Portuguese East Africa, and has since been named a World Heritage site. All cool facts that increase the desire to be able to say “I’ve seen that”.
The other part of wanting to make it all the way up to Northern Mozambique is the fact that most of Mozambique is still wild. It’s not yet a tourist location, yet on every travel site, that fact is repeated over and over, thus it can only be a matter of time till the beaches of Mozambique become world-renowned and ‘civilized’. A part of me wants to make this journey not just in spite of the difficulties, but also because of them. If we return in 20 or 30 years and make it to the Ilha, and take a chartered tour, or hire a nice car with aircon and set it on cruise-control up the nicely tarred roads all the way from Maputo to Nampula and over to the Ilha, there will be a sense of failure. Challenges like this inspire me and drive me forward, and even as I read how difficult it is to make the journey, it makes the possibility of accomplishing it so much more tantalizing.
So as our accommodations for the World Cup are nearly complete, Alisa and I will spend the next month finalizing the rest of the journey. I’m afraid I won’t be able to convince Alisa of the merits of a adventure to Northern Mozambique, but perhaps we will find another challenging adventure that will satisfy even more…