Celebrated Michael’s birthday with a toasted sandwich, cooked on a damp smouldering fire, whilst Staying on a rustic little camp, just outside Gorongosa National Park. Unfortunately the park itself is closed at this time of year, due to the rains,so we were unable to visit. The park has become something of a success story over the last few years,with substantial funding from a private investor. (The Carr Foundation)
As we travelled further North, the weather continued to deteriorate,with heavy rain falling for several hundred k’s. The car smelt so bad,due to nothing able to dry properly and there was not a lot of point in washing anything either
.We draped our bedding, towels etc behind our seats, but with humidity so high, it was a waste of time. That said, our sympathies,were really with the people whose houses were under several feet of water…….but why they build so close to The Zambezi, with all the river flood plains when this happens year after year, it’s a given fact, not an exceptional event.
We met a Zimbabwean who’s been living here for a few years who was very cynical about Aid/ NG0’s here and he pointed out this very fact and said nothing was being done to stop people inhabiting such areas, the government just screams help and agencies turn up and dish out food, every time it happens,the people know this also, so plan the minimum then hold out their hands knowing they will be helped, The country is clearly fertile and with a small population for it’s huge size with plenty of food everywhere,we saw first hand an example of what he meant. A small town affected by flooding – not surprisingly, as its in the flood plain of the Zambezi delta, on one side of the road a huge lorry offloading food aid – sacks of maize flour, the local staple, with queues of people waiting for a hand out and on the other side of the road a local market with farmers selling sacks of corn on the cobs and other stuff with no customers. Do you think they will plant next year or just join the queues?
This type of thing has been encountered everywhere we have been in Africa, after 50 years of aid/ NGO’s and billions of dollars nearly every country is way behind where they started on every measure you can think off – GDP, life expectancy, education etc – whatever it is they are doing is clearly is not working. One thing we have noticed is that in all regional towns you will see major international consultants names on the most substantial buildings ( budget conscious as ever!) not bad work -advise donor countries for a nice fee then get another fee at the other end monitoring/distributing the aid you recommended . All projects have a multitude of signboards listing the endless list of consultants’ funders etc each board probably costing the equivalent of a water supply to a village. Then there’s the fleets of smart white Toyota land cruisers which seem to travel in convoys – a dangerous place Africa!- before they return to their compounds and go and eat at expensive restaurants that deal only with them – Africans can spot an easy buck a mile off. Everybody wonders what it is they all do as they clearly make no difference, the main players locally, run rings around the” highly qualified “ expert consultants as ever and only they benefit from those who need help -smart boys – if only they were more constructively engaged. Did I mention cynicism? Not just me for once – its a very common theme in every country we have been in.Rant over!!
Anyway, we continued to Caia, stopping briefly in Quelimane, one of the oldest towns in Mozambique, but nothing of great interest to report here,very run- down, full of rubbish and with, as it point’s out in the travel guide, potholes of such a magnitude they could hide a family of wallowing Buffalo’s in the rainy season! as the guide says we went through what appeared to be a small one in the town and the water came over the bonnet – wondered why no one else went that way.
After too many miles in the car and no obvious places to camp for the night-we finally spied on”Tracks for Africa” a stopping place, but with no details attached….…… we would soon discover why!
Having driven down a track,with puddles deep enough to swim in,(not their fault) we soon realised we were back to West African standards. It was basically a run-down homestead and after some hanging around,the owner sauntered up. We asked permission to camp in his rather waterlogged yard. Communications,being a bit tricky here, due to the Portuguese spoken. He offered us a room,but we declined, due to the Termite and Mosquito population, preferring to stay in our four star roof tent. He agreed to this and we set up in the mud, being eaten alive by Midges and Mossies. In his so-called Bar,the owner offered us food, we were extremely grateful at this point,as extremely hungry, but fairly desperate when it arrived two hours later! A cold plate of Batatas fritas (chips) and we retired to bed, taking it in turns to swipe the mossies,whilst rather bizarrely some Modern Jazz and Classical music kicked off, played at ridiculous volumes until the small wee hours! We left at the crack of dawn the following morning………..Not all the guy’s fault, but he did rip us off good and proper! We’ve obviously been far to spoilt of late.
Decided we didn’t need any more picture postcard beaches,so, instead of moving further North headed back South- West towards Zimbabwe.
Roads here were not bad, but washed out and pot-holed due to heavy rains, meant that we had to play Super Mario pothole Kart, swerving all over the place, penalty for getting it wrong resulted in serious jolts and bangs and potentially worse. Streams of people each side of villages, as is the norm, generally carrying everything on their heads, or by bicycles African stylee, special mention must go to ladies carrying Watermelons on their heads (try it) and two little girls, one who had a coke can complete with a straw and another with flower-pot and plant, balancing rather well I might add , as ever in Africa ,children are allowed far more freedom and expected to contribute to family life. It’s not unusual to see very young kids carrying huge water-containers,with younger siblings,in a sling on their backs.
We are generally a keen source of interest once again,along the road are the usual cottage industries,Charcoal sellers fruit sellers bicycle repair shops and the like. One I don’t think mentioned before are The Stone people,who, as there are no stone crushers in Africa it would appear, so gravel and stone chippings are made by people bashing rocks into smaller pieces ,which are sold in conical piles on the roadside. It sounds harsh, but is clearly employment for a lot of people. A similar phenomenon is the verge cutter’s, gangs of men with panga’s cutting down the three ft high roadside vegetation,they work like machines,impressive to watch in the midday heat, clearly very strong and fit with a physique that you’re average gym goer would be more than happy with!Women likewise very lithe and fit – no pie eaters here.
Animal lovers out there won’t like it here. Selling Chickens here involves swinging live ones madly in the air and jumping up and down in the middle of the road to make you stop the car, the other speciality is bicycle goat transport,which involves strapping the poor goats to bikes in ingenious ways,that are not necessarily welfare friendly…………..I could go on, the list is, rather sadly, endless.
Stayed overnight at a lovely place called Mphingwe ,30 k south of Caia. Comes highly recommended,we met a very nice young couple helping to manage the nearby Gorongosa NP, exchanged our varying experiences, but can only be jealous of their funding and the way in which they are headed. They gave us a copy of a National Geographic film on the parks recovery, which has helped enormously in raising the parks profile/ if only something similar could be achieved in Malawi.
On that subject, we are heading up to Nyika in Malawi via Zimbabwe, to do a month or so’s hand-over with Geoff and Patsy, who are returning to New Zealand, then we’ll hold the fort for six months before returning home early next year.
Many South Africans were full of words of caution -quoting police corruption etc and all sorts of “difficulties” when we were there. Trust us, this was not our experience, it is a very nice country,with lovely people and well worth a visit, I am sure you will enjoy it – certainly one of our favourites. Sad to leave, but visa running out.
Hopefully posted new photos in usual place
trying new experiment below as well to see if it works