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Current Location : Grounded AGAIN in Lusaka, Zambia waiting for critical bike parts before heading to Malawi. I miss my mechanic!!!

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Magical Mozambique, Part 2 of 2

After a truly epic second adventure in Swaziland I returned back to my base in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Many people swear Maputo is a dump and rush through as fast as possible, but boy do they have it wrong! If you keep an open mind and practice some standard city smart tactics, it’s a truly amazing city.

Maputo is a mysterious blend of Portuguese and African influences, with outdoor tables in front of cafes and bars on wide streets with plenty of trees and plant life to keep the concrete feel at bay. The restaurants are world class and the nightlife enough to make any dancing nut sore for days. Needless to say, I extended my planned two days to four before I finally started to make my way north towards my Christmas holiday spot of Tofu Beach.

I had already toured in the Maputo province and had no desire to ride the city streets so I took a short 7KM ride to the local bus station where I found a tattered local bus willing to take me up to the next province for about 5 dollars. I’m still amazed how cheap it is to bring me, my bike and a full mobile video and music studio to new adventure locations. I have yet to go over my shoestring production budget for my filming efforts. Bonus!

Local busses are those crazy looking busses with everything but the kitchen sink strapped to the roof and anything that will fit stuffed inside. They are cheap, slow, hot and require maximum patience as they do not leave the station until they are full and stop for anyone, anywhere. But they are also the very best way to experience the way most people in the country get around and that’s what my trip is about. So I sat in the bus for about 5 hours after my bike was strapped to the roof and my camera gear locked below the bus.

We finally started rolling out at about 3PM and everyone was worried about some town of Chissico up ahead. I did not know what that meant at the time, but would soon find out. I met dozens of unique characters on the bus and was grateful for my understanding of the Portuguese language. My plan originally was to do some more rural riding in the next province but my new friend Artur said he wanted to ride if I was willing to go up north a bit closer to his house. So I stayed on the bus with the intention to go all the way to Inhambane and start a loop of the coastal region there.

This is where it gets interesting. We were about 150KM from the turnoff to Inhambane in the infamous town of Chissico when the bus stops and pulls off the road. People started shouting and screaming, and soon enough everyone was getting off the bus and walking over to a line of pumping loud bars on the side of the road. I asked Artur what was up and he said that you can’t go past Chissico without a nighttime driving permit and the driver did not have one. Since he had no money to bribe the police and waited so long to leave the station, we had to wait until morning to carry on! It was only about 9PM at the time so we had a long wait!

The Mozambiquean people are pretty stoic and most seemed unaffected by their newly altered travel plans. The men just hit the bars and started offering me some very cheap, homemade alcoholic beverages. I gave a courtesy sip but was not interested in a hangover to start my ride the next day. Meanwhile, back on the bus the woman and children was crashed out in a congealed ball of stinky, sweaty bodies from the hot ride up so I was did not see me getting much rest in there. So I grabbed all my gear from under the bus and set up my tent on the side of the road. Before I knew it, my tent was the life of the party and I had 4 guys chillin inside and about a dozen outside. It was a sight to see!

At 1AM the bars shut down and I could finally get some rest. Three of us slept in my tent and I caught a few hours or rest before the driver of the bus came to our tent telling us to get back on the bus as it was going to carry on. I told him Chissico was as far as I was going and to take my bike off the bus and go on without me. Artur was supposed to ride with me but chickened out last minute—maybe it was the beer talking the night before. So the bus pulled away and I was left in the mysterious town of Chissico where I would start my ride by default.

Turns out the view from this town is truly amazing and I did some great filming but forgot to take photos—sorry! But from the town you could see tons of lakes and the sun rising over the ocean. I packed up my gear and made my way into the cute city center to pick up some food for the 60KM ride north to the next town of Inharrime. I tried my best to buy some bananas, bread and a cup of coffee but nobody could make change for my large notes from the ATM in the city—lesson learned, bring small notes to the villages!

After waiting for about an hour for someone with change I finally got on the road north and boy was it breathtaking. My bus trip had teleported me from the marshy, uninspiring Maputo Province all the way up to the sandy, palm tree ridden, lush Inhambane Province and I was grateful for my decision to bus it up. The sand was a rich red color and if you were to go off the road you would sink on the bike within seconds. Thank goodness there was a nice shoulder on the road!

Everyone told me about how horrible the roads were up north and, as always, they were wrong, at least from a cycling perspective. There were lots of potholes, but they only helped my trip as they slowed the very limited amount of cars and trucks down and I was able to simply weave through them without any trouble. The scenery was stunning with adorable thatch and mud villages, friendly people waving in every direction, and tons of cyclists on the road to play with.

I had a nice jolt of fear in the mid afternoon when I was trying to film some of the action with my bigger Panasonic HD camera on the trailer tripod system. I got about 10 feet before the trailer fell off the axel and the camera came about 6 inches from hitting the ground at full speed! Luckily I was able to get the bike to the side of the road and salvage the camera from any damage but it sure got my heart pumping!

A few local guys saw the action and quickly came over to lend a hand as I was stuck in the thick sand in the sweltering 40+ degree heat trying to manage my huge load and save the camera from a falling the last 6 inches into the sand. After we got everything put away and the bike back on the road, I was able to meet the guys and thanks them. One guy was on a bike and his name was Bernardo. He has a huge smile and quite a nice bike for Mozambique standards. He was going my way so we pedaled together.

Turns out Bernardo rides 30KM each way to school on his bike and he LOVES to ride. I was soon drafting off him at about 25km/hour and having a stellar ride. He was heading home and invited me to visit his house and I invited him to ride with me from there to Inharrime. He both accepted the invitations with a huge smile and were excited about the adventures to come.

We finally made the turn to his house and rode a wild, hard pack sandy single track trail through tons of palm trees to his house. It was downhill so I was able to keep enough speed up to keep me from digging into the sand and crashing. We rolled into this truly picturesque homestead at about 11:30AM when the heat was really starting to sizzle. A massive shady tree was the center of his place with about 6 thatch and mud huts in a circle around that. Under the shade his mother, sisters, babies and other friends and relatives were doing typical rural chores like sorting and grinding maize, cooking, preparing fish and minding the kids.

I was offered delicious mangos, papayas, cold coconut milk and yummy tea that sent me to a nearby ground mat for a nice afternoon nap. I had only slept a few hours by the side of the road, if you could even call that sleep, and it caught up to me after the ride, food and afternoon heat set in. They were all very accepting, respectful and excited to have me as their guest and I could hear them shushing the kids up so I could nap in peace. Life was good in rural Mozambique.

When I woke up from my nap I was offered more tea, fresh bread and tons of fruit. This family did not have much in Western standards; no electricity, no phones, no gas, no car, no internet—but they had food, health, family and an unforgettable peace that one must experience to understand. I gave a bunch of malaria medication to Bernardo’s mother to give to the chief with the instructions in Portuguese and she shared her gratitude and told me she had lost a relative to Malaria and wished I had come a few years later. I was touched, but also saddened to hear the all-so-common story in Mozambique.

I set Bernardo up with some Assos cycling clothes for our final 40KM to Inharrime and he looked sharp! I knew he was a fit cyclist and after all the filming I had done at his house I was ready to just get on the bike and ride! We had to push the bike up the sandy trail to the main road and by the time we got there we were both sweating profusely. But the sun had gone behind some clouds and once Bernardo’s strong legs kicked in we were soon flying along at 30+ km/hour. I tossed on some tunes on my ipod with the headphone splitters so we were soon grooving to some local Mozambique music of Stewart Sukuma and having the time of our lives. It took only an hour and a half to make it to the city of Inharrime where the adventure continued.
Bernardo was urging me to get a room at a local hotel but I was in the mood for more culture and a home stay. I had no idea where I would stay but decided to pull into a gas station and sit on the steps in front of the store to begin to let the locals know of my intentions. It did not take long for the word to get out that an American cyclist on a huge mystery machine bike was looking for a place to stay and I was soon offered a bed at the house of Maria, one of the workers of the gas station store. It was a comical site as I set up my camera and microphone and just sat there ignoring people’s feedback that I should get a room at the hotel like all the other tourists. Maria walked all the way to her house to clear it with her dad and I was told to come back at 9PM when she finished work.

I chilled at the restaurant watching the world go by in Inharrime until evening and rode in the dark back to the gas station where Maria and all her friends were actually surprised to see me actually show up. I rode Maria down the hill with all her friends yelling and laughing as we coasted to her house. Her dad was waiting and offered me some maize meal for dinner but I had already eaten and all I wanted was a bath after a hot day in the saddle. The house was a modest concrete structure with limited electricity so I bathed with my headlamp and a bucket of cold water in the grimy tub and they showed me to my own room with clean sheets, a queen sized bed and fresh blankets. I hung out with the family for a bit before getting a nice night sleep with this lovely family.

Next morning I woke up to light rain and my bike had been outside but luckily it was all watertight with the Ortlieb panniers so I was set. I was supposed to meet Bernardo at 8AM to ride again to the next town of Lindela but when I arrived at the service station he was not there. He sent me an SMS message on my phone in Portuguese telling me he would try to meet me up north more. So I pedaled down the empty road in the rain feeling a bit lonely but excited to have some alone time—just me and the trusty Ipod.

There were dozens of potential riders that morning but I was enjoying the cool rain and music so passed them by with smiles and waves. I stopped in a small village for a snack and met one of the chief’s wives who gratefully accepted a stack of malaria medication for the small village, which was about 50KM from the nearest clinic. The kids sang me a song and I pedaled away smiling ear to ear. I had ridden about 30KM of perfect, practically car-free riding when another cute village loaded with people beckoned me to stop for some food and drinks.

I picked up some fruit, bread and biscuits and sat in the shade surrounded by at least 50 people. Nobody spoke much English and I was able to relay the message that I was up for a guest rider to pedal with me to Lindela, about 30KM away. I was eyeing the guys on their bikes and inviting them from my lunch spot, but most of them had plans. That is, until Nadino came up. 17 year old Nadino told me he would be happy to ride with me if I paid for a bus back to the village afterwards. It seemed like a fair deal, and I gave him the Assos riding jersey and gloves to get ready as finished my lunch.

Nadino got huge cheers from the village when he reappeared in his riding jersey, gloves and helmet. He was stoked, and so was I! We pedaled about 1KM down the road and soon realized we were being followed by another bike. He came up besides us and turns out it was Nadino’s friend Juan. Juan was hammering a beat up single speed bike with an innertube used to hold the tire on and that had the tendency to lose the chain every 5-10KM with a vicious clank sound. But he pedaled on, and we decided to name our team for the journey “Team Juan” since he was the one working the hardest.

Team Juan was in full affect that day with huge smiles and waves to the brightly dressed woman on the road carrying water, firewood, maize and other goodies on their heads. It was just how one would envision Africa. Other honorary members of Team Juan rode along for various distances on their own bikes and it was a divine adventure for everyone. About ˝ way to Lindela I invited Juan on the tandem and Nadino reluctantly took over the battle against the single speed. We had to stop several times to fix the tire, chain, drive train and brakes. But it was an adventure and we were in no hurry as we were making great time.

We finally made it to Lindela and I was due for a huge meal and my own room at the local hotel. The boys managed to negotiate a huge room with a balcony for 4 dollars overlooking the action in town and I treated Team Juan to a huge meal of grilled fish, chips (French Fries for you Americans), and cold “Preta” (dark beer) and cokes. The meal and their bus tickets back to their village were offset by the fact that I scored local rates on my hotel so it was a huge win-win and we celebrated our victory in style that night.

The boys took off and I had a long shower and got all my stinky clothes washed by the local restaurant worker for under a buck. After a few days riding and sharing my cycling clothing with African guys, the stench can get down right repulsive. And the last thing I want to do after a long day of riding and filming in the heat is wash clothes. I spent the rest of my night charging my batteries, resting, writing and relaxing.

The next morning I wanted to get an early start as I knew the hills were going to come my way as I headed east toward the ocean to Inhambane and eventually Tofu Beach. I woke up, packed up the bike, ate some bananas and bread, and asked the hotel staff for my clothes. I was a bit shocked when she came out with a bucket of soaking wet cycling clothes saying there was no sun yesterday to dry them! My bike was soon transformed into a colorful mobile drying line as every possible space had clothing tied on with carabineers and nylon straps. I forgave the worker and denied her request to return of my money for the washing. At least they were clean!

The morning light through the palm trees created the most stunning morning ride as I made my way to the turnoff to Inhambane. As I turned off I immediately noticed the hills up ahead and prayed the cool morning temperatures would somehow miraculously follow me through the rest of my 70KM ride to the ocean. My prayers were futile and within an hour of the sun’s steady baking the temperatures were well into the high 30’s with major humidity to match. I was going to need a strong and willing guest rider to help me out or I’d be a mess when I rolled into Tofu.

The most adorable village ever showed its face after a few short hills and I found the shade of a tree to rest my bike to take a closer look. Bamboo houses, small gardens, perfect maize fields, chickens, dogs, donkeys all surrounded by endless palm trees was what this place was about. I worked a bit on my rubbing brake pads as the locals soon surrounded me to check out the bike in awe. It was time to recruit a guest rider and I was prepared to wait in the shade until I found one.

There was tons of laughter and joking when I told the guys I wanted to take one of them with me to Inhambane, but no serious takers. I untied the jersey from the backpack, now properly dried from the ride there, and put the jersey, gloves and helmet on the rear handlebars. A few guys said they would go if I paid them, and I immediately told them that’s not the way the program works and that I wanted to make a new friend and not hire a slave. Finally, a cool chap Cardoso came up and said he was more than keen to make the journey and a new friend. That’s more like it!

Cardoso spoke no English, but my Portuguese had really sharpened up by then so I was able to discover that he was 22 years old and already had 3 children and a wife. He was shocked to hear that I was 34 and had no wife or children and had no plans of having any in the near future. He was a farmer and dabbled in auto mechanics to feed his family. His legs were fresh and strong and he was unaffected by the heat so we were motoring along quite nicely through the curvy, hilly roads to Inhambane.

We arrived at Inhambane about lunch time and I told Cardoso I’d treat him to a meal at the local bakery. We chomped down some sandwiches and cokes and I soon got an SMS message that Bernardo was in Inhambane! Bernardo knew I was heading to Tofu in a few days and he scheduled his meeting with the regional passport agency to take care of his passport on the same day I would be there so he could get some more riding in. I told you this guy loves to ride!

As we were sitting at the table eating a long dreadlocked man name Dino introduced himself after seeing me, the bike and Cordoso. After I told him what I was up to he invited me for a free meal at his restaurant on the beach in Tofu. I told him I would be super hungry and will have a guest, but he invited us both and our appetites nonetheless. I also met a local guy named Thomas who also had a food stall and invited me over for some grub. Ah, the benefits of Peace Pedaling!

It took a while to finally catch up with Bernardo but we finally met up and Cordoso took off the riding jersey and gave it to Bernardo to continue the mission to Tofu Beach. It was an unforgettable relay of strong, stellar local riders. We only had about 25KM to go, but the temperatures were well into the high 40’s and we were told the hilliest part of the ride was ahead of us. But after the lunch and shade stop, I was willing to power out the last 25KM in any temperature as long as I could jump into the ocean when we arrived.

I sent Cordoso on his way with his bus fare, a full belly and a bit extra for his family and Bernardo and I began our ride towards Tofu in the sweltering heat. The scenery was so stunning at first that I forgot how hot it was. Endless palm trees and rich marshland kept me grinning as random villages dotted the hills with traditional thatch huts and locals seemed unaffected by the tourist traffic speeding to the beach for the Christmas holidays.

It was not until about half way that the hills, heat and exhaustion really set in. The hills were short, but very steep and even Bernardo’s strong legs could not keep us from suffering. But each pedal stroke got us closer to our free meal and swim at the beach so little by little we inched our way closer to paradise. We finally made it to the sandy beach town of Tofu and had to push the bike the final 500 meters to Dino’s bar and restaurant, and boy were we a sight to see when we arrived. We were dripping in sweat, stinky, dirty, thirsty and ready to eat more than Dino could have imagined.

Bernardo and I powered down fresh prawns, fish, pizzas, cold cokes and beers, and took our victory swim in the cool blue ocean smiling ear to ear. After lunch he asked me when I was going to continue on to the border of Zimbabwe and shared that he was excited to join me as I headed north. This is where lack of communication and the language barrier can be a bit dangerous. My plan was to stay in Tofu through Christmas and head to Zimbabwe in 2007, over two weeks away. But he did not get that information and was depending on the bike to take him back to the main highway and eventually back home. Oops.

So I invited him to stay with me that night and offered to pay his fare all the way back home (still under 7 dollars) and we enjoyed an awesome evening of swinging in the hammock, chatting and meeting other travelers. The next day he headed home and I began my search for the best spot to park my bike, secure my camera gear and relax for a few weeks in paradise. I had a good friend Rachael from London I met in the Caribbean earlier in the year coming to celebrate the holidays with me so I wanted to find just the right place. I finally agreed to a lovely backpackers resort called Bamboozi where I found a tent spot in the sand under a bunch of palm trees just steps from the ocean. I set up our little home using bamboo mats for the floor and colorful African fabrics and rope to create walls.

I picked up Rachael back in Maputo and we spent the next two weeks lying in hammocks, surfing an amazing swell that came in from an offshore cyclone, and diving with the endless underwater creatures including whale sharks, mantas, dolphins and so much more. Liquid Adventures ( hooked me up with 5 free dives in exchange for my surfboard, which traveled all the way from Cape Town using all sorts of creative transportation strategies. Tofu Beach is true paradise and to celebrate Christmas with great food, interesting people, endless sunshine and the energy of the ocean was just what the doctor ordered to recharge my batteries for the upcoming challenging ride to Zimbabwe.

Rachael and I headed to Maputo one last time to celebrate New Years Eve dancing and drumming in the rain with good friends before she finally boarded a plane back to chilly London. I made my way back to Tofu to fetch my bike and gear for the journey to the border of Zimbabwe and bid farewell to my new friends from around the world. It was time to get back on the road again.

Tofu was still a full two days of hitching on trucks to get to the border of Zimbabwe and I managed to make it to the border just before dark and entered Zimbabwe on a Friday night ready for the adventures that lye ahead in one of southern Africa’s most distressed countries. Stay tuned for the next adventure!

Mozambique has captured my heart and I will never forget the people, nature, culture and music. The country sometimes gets a bad wrap and many travelers just breeze through it and only discover Tofu Beach. But I encourage you to dive into this magical land with an open mind and heart. Oh, and bring a Portuguese phrase book or it will be challenging! You will be happy with the delights you discover if you do!

Over and out from Lusaka, Zambia where I’m awaiting yet more bike parts to carry on north to Malawi. It’s been some of the most challenging times of the expedition so far in Zimbabwe and Zambia, but I’m growing and learning a lot. Stay tuned…

Live Big. Give Big.

Jamie :)

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