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Mozambique – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Mozambique – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

We recently returned from a road trip across South Africa, into Mozambique and all the way up to Vilanculos, just North of the Tropic of Capricorn. We had expectations in our mind of something like Mauritius – tropically beautiful with a booming tourism industry and a mix of first and third world. So we piled into our regular family car, chucked in a few bags full of beach wear and off we went. Boy were we in for a surprise. This was probably the most eye opening trip we have done as a family – so vastly different to what we expected and so very far out of our comfort zones.

Here is what we found:

The Good

 

Natural Beauty

As a serial optimist, I have to start with the good. And the best place to start is with Mozambique’s vegetation and coastline. It is quite simply smack-in-your-face beautiful.  The bush is thick and unspoilt. It changes from lush Lowveld thicket in the South to leafy palm plantations, peppered with magnificent Baobab trees the further North you drive.

Baobabs and Tropical Palms

The beaches down South are wild and rugged – the warm blue waves crash onto the yellow sands, reaching out and pulling the enormous crabs back into the surf, again and again. As you head past the Tropic of Capricorn, the sand fades into soft powdery white and the angry azure waters chill out into aquamarine lagoons as clear as glass.

The beautiful Archipelago Resort

As we headed off the mainland from Vilanculos to Bazaruto, a pair of humpback dolphins danced around our dinghy, delighting us as we tried to capture them underwater on our GoPro.  Bazaruto itself is heaven on Earth. Its waters are pale turquoise and they lap softly onto the warm sandy shores. The views from the top of it’s infamous sand mountain are phenomenal and combing the spit below for  pansy shells is quite simply in a league of its own.

See why it’s called Pansy Shell Island?

Best Snorkelling

When we jumped out of the dinghy into the luke-warm waters above Two Mile Reef, that literally took the cake – never have we seen such a vibrant, colourful reef teeming with crackling coral in every colour of the rainbow and inhabited by hundreds and thousands of fish in ever shape, colour and size imaginable. This alone is reason enough to venture into the Mozambican tropics.

Snorkelling at Two Mile Reef

That Bread

On the food front, hats off to Mozambique for its amazing bread. I imagine this stems from a Portuguese legacy of baking bread rolls that are crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. In Vilanculos, there are bakeries that churn out loaves that are somewhere inbetween a French baguette and a Portuguese roll – sublime smelling, warm, crusty delights that are as cheap as chips and oh-so-moreish.

 

The Bad

 

The Price Tag

We chose to do a road trip all the way to Vilanculos, and opted for self-catering accommodation in the hope that we could have a tropical island holiday on a shoestring budget. It might have worked out that way had it not been for the insanely expensive prices for all the activities. We were hoping to spend the week fishing from the shores of our lodge and renting local boats to take us to the islands but we were very wrong. The local fishermen have obliterated all living creatures from the seas within their reach making fishing and snorkelling from the shore impossible and the price tag for taking a boat trip to the unspoilt parts around the islands is eye-wateringly high. If it’s underwater life you are after, Vilanculos is an expensive destination, no matter which way you choose to visit.

 

Lack of Medical Facilities

When we looked into medical travel insurance, everyone told us that the most important thing was to make sure we were covered for medical evacuation. I thought this was strange, I mean we really weren’t doing anything overly risky – surely the local medical care would cover most risks? Well that was where we were wrong. There does not seem to be any medical care in Mozambique. I would imagine the fancy lodges must employ a doctor, but for regular tourists there did not seem to be any doctors, clinics, pharmacies or hospitals.  Thank goodness we did not get to test the medical system out as I am quietly confident it would have been far from satisfactory.

 

Tourism not Optimised

We were surprised by how few tourists there were in Mozambique. Most of the lodges along the coast south of Vilanculos were virtually empty, and this during the South African school holidays. In Vilanculos itself there was a constant flow of safari vehicles transporting wide eyed tourists from the airport to the beach to sail off to the fancy island lodges. These lodges are super expensive  so it’s safe to assume that the majority of tourists are fairly well oiled. This should present a nice opportunity for the locals to earn some very much needed money – perhaps by selling local crafts, mementos and experiences. But the locals do not seem to have figured out how to earn income from tourists, and from a government level, the country does not encourage tourists to its shores. What a lucrative injection into the economy this could be.

 

The Ugly

 

Poverty

Mozambique is poor. Dirt poor. It is the most poverty stricken place we have ever seen. The people survive on the few stringy plants they are able to coax into life in their little homesteads. There are no big companies or shops – I can’t even begin to imagine where the residents are supposed to find work.

Street Scenes from Mozambique

Living Things Obliterated

There are far too many people and there is way too little money. The people are all stick-thin from their meagre diets and the hunger in their bellies has driven them to eat all the living creatures. As soon as we crossed the Giriyondo Border Post from the Kruger National Park into the Limpopo National Park, all signs of life disappeared. No animals, no birds, no reptiles. In the towns, there were virtually no dogs or cats and the sea life has been completey raped. It was so sad to see nature being so thoroughly destroyed.

Watching local fishermen netting the estuary

Republic of Vodacom

Mozambique’s landscape has been branded in red. Every wall, hut, road sign, village and house has been painted red and plastered with Vodacom logos. We have never before seen a country so thoroughly  branded by a single company. It’s really sad, as the bright red corporate branding spoils a lot of the charm and individuality that was surely there before.

Welcome to the Republic of Vodacom

A Final Parting Gift

Finally, Mozambique gave me a really ugly parting gift which just keeps on giving. I picked up a stomach parasite (which according to my GP was probably transferred from human faecal matter to lettuce to me – eeuugh!) that has caused havoc in my gut and continues to remind me of our voyage of discovery to the Republic of Mozambique.

 

Do the good things make up for the bad and the ugly?

 

This is the wrong way of looking at it. Travelling opens our eyes to different places, people, cultures and ways of life. There is good and bad everywhere, and that is part of the beauty and allure of travel. When jetting in to a fancy island lodge, you may get to skip out on the bad and ugly things, but driving through Mozambique opened our family’s eyes to how it is to live in utter poverty, how lucky we are to have access to a healthy diet, good education and a booming career, and made us very grateful to live in South Africa, despite our country’s problems.

 

Yours in Travel

 

 

Read more about our epic cross country road trip here:

The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 1)

 

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