The Coin of Destiny

Blog 34 by Mick: The Coin of Destiny

 

From Praia do Bilene it was a 386km blat up the tar to Tofo, a famous beach that tourists love to lounge on in southern Mozambique. We rolled into town late in the afternoon and straight into Fatima’s Backpackers where we pulled up to the bar, ordered a few beers and settled in. Tan and I had planned on camping but arriving late and tired, and finding the price difference between camping and the dorm minimal plus being assured we could have a private dorm for the 3 of us, we opted for the ease and convenience (and laziness) of the dorm.

 

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Our vegetable lady in Tofo. Some negotiation was requited but she looked after us when she realised we were coming back every day

 

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Some young boys who had been selling eggs, but sold out in the afternoon. “we had a good day” they said

 

We had little in mind for our time in Tofo. Diving for whale sharks was high on the agenda along with relaxing on the beach and… ahh… yeah… not too much else really. We had been told that their were some fantastic pizzas to be had at a place called Branko’s, which was easy to find and lived up to the reputation. The beers were reasonably priced and Mark and I ended up sitting there until closing with a kite-surfing Swede named Nikki. In fact the pizza was so good, we did the same thing the next night as well, excessive beer swilling included.

 

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Taking the scenic route home after a grocery run. Life is tough sometimes

 

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The dive boat, was good fun launching and coming back in through the surf. The boat was a bit sad though, the pinion on the starter motor of one motor had completely rusted away, as well as part of the pull start mechanism, so a rope had to be loaded on by hand to start the thing. Was pretty dodge

 

After two days of achieving little, we figured we should go for a dive. We had spoken to a bunch of dive shops and unfortunately it seemed the whale sharks were elsewhere for the time being; there hadn’t been a sighting for about 6 days. But we went anyway hoping for the best, and ended up at a spot named “Chamber of Secrets”. The diving was nice but not great, the visibility was maybe 10m and the coral and fish life pretty but not particularly spectacular. And no whale sharks sadly. But it was definitely nice to get out for a dive after so long for both of us.

 

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Our bread lady

 

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Mark on squid prep duty

 

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Mmmm fresh calamari for lunch

 

After another day chilling with cheap gin and fresh seafood, we headed north again. Tofo is situated out on a headland and we had heard there was a ferry across the inlet to the main highway north, which would save us about 65km or so of tar to end up less than 3km away directly over the water. We rolled up to the ferry station and Tan went in with her Portuguese language skills to sort some tickets. Mark’s and my ability to talk crap were not overly useful here, in fact its not overly useful anywhere, but we are proficient none the less.

 

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Mark and Rosie on the jetty

 

Tan came out having confirmed that “yes motorcycles can go on the ferry”, paid the modest fare (10MZM each, about US30c) for us and an additional 10MZM for the bikes. And with a ferry just pulling up to the dock, we were looking good to save ourselves an easy 30min of riding. We rode down the jetty to a few curious and confused looks and got to the gangplank where things started to get a little interesting.

The gangplank was narrow and seemed really only setup for people; mmmm, this didn’t look right… As the boat was unloading I asked some of the people walking up if this was the right ferry (to Maxixe) and motioned if we could take the bikes down, ahh yeah sure just ride on down seemed to be the common answer. So, with the boat empty and people starting to load, I did.

 

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Mark on the gangplank. We pushed him up backwards from here

 

Down on the pontoon I got many gawks, smiles and waves. Looking at the boat, there was no loading ramp, in fact there was no real way on at all for anything to get on the boat that couldn’t be carried by hand. There was a fair amount of small cargo on the boat, and maybe the small Chinese motorcycles that are reasonably common in Mozambique could be manhandled on easily enough, but our loaded bikes looked a fair bit too big for this. Quite a fair bit.

Tan was all the way down the gangplank by the time I told her not to come down on the intercom… too late.   She rode down onto the pontoon, and confirmed with ferry workers using her Portuguese that we wouldn’t be able to get on the boat; it just was not going to happen. We managed to stop Mark before he got onto the pontoon and pushed him back up. So now it was our turn to extricate ourselves from this little mess…

 

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Me about to ride back up the gangplank form the pontoon

 

There was a good 300mm high step to get back up onto the gangplank from the pontoon which was plated with aluminium, and with our tyres I was expecting plenty of wheelspin to get up. And if the bike slipped on the step and fell over at slow speed, it would be ugly and might even end up in the drink as the pontoon had no sides. So I had to make sure of it. No stuff ups.

With a boat full of onlookers, I started the bike and in the 5m or so of run up the pontoon allowed, got standing, grabbed the throttle, pumped the clutch and popped the front wheel up over the step. The first second went to plan perfectly. The next second however…. not so much. The rear wheel hit the aluminium step, slipped to the right and then gripped as I rapidly accelerated over the step and up the gangplank, all on my rear wheel. I near shat myself and rolled off the throttle just in time to save my bike careening into the gangplank’s guardrail, all to the loud cheers and screams of delight from the onlookers on the ferry. Tan, having witnessed my monumental near stuff up was spooked, so I got a chance at redemption on her bike. Having learned my lesson, with far less throttle and no clutch pump wheelie action Tan’s bike went up under perfect control.

 

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Round two on Tans bike. You can see quite well where I grabbed the throttle, pumped the clutch and went wheel spinning up the gangplank. Was quite the moment

 

So we wasted a good 30 minutes at the ferry and ended up taking the long way around the inlet anyway, so it was at sunset a few hours later that we arrived at Baobab Beach Camp in Vilanculos. We got an unexpected surprise when we were met in the carpark by a familiar face. Ido, who we met first in Ai Ais in Namibia in late October and then again at Elephant Sands in Botswana in late November. heard us park the bikes and came out to say hello. We knew Ido was in northern Mozambique at the time but we thought he was still a long way north of us and had never arranged to meet up, this was just coincidence.

 

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Our lunch stop on the way to Vilanculos. This kid was selling fresh coconut cake on the side of the road and it was damn good.

 

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The end cap of my cheap DG exhaust came loose and needed a bit of wire to get us through to Vilanculos where I could fix it properly

 

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Ido, Mark and I talking shit.

 

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Who needs a GPS? Really?

 

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Fresh catch being sorted on the beach

 

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Straight off the boat… awesome

 

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Ladies doing the hard yakka

 

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Rhonda Rousey eat your heart out

 

Vilanculos was 3 days of chilling with gin and tonics, rum and cokes, beers and seafood on the beach. Nothing more. With that completed successfully, and only a few more days left on our visas we headed north for Malawi. Two 400km days later we were in a position to go for the border. Tan’s shoulder was getting better and with few opportunities to get off the beaten track in Mozambique to date, I was keen on exploring some dirt tracks in the north-west of the country and entering Malawi through a remote border post called Milange/Mulanje.

 

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Calamari about as fresh as you can get it. That will do for dinner just nicely

 

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Fresh seafood on its way to the market

 

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Kids collecting the by-catch to sell for a pittance, or eat, or play with it, not too sure

 

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Happy kids all through Mozambique

 

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We got some barracuda to go with the calamari

 

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Filleted for a small fee at the fish market

 

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Mark and Ido and our dinner fresh from the braai. This was a good meal this one

 

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Vilanculos. Beach and palm trees and all that shit

 

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Dodgy repair job on my exhaust end cap with a few beers. The Mozambican beer was actually pretty good.

 

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The 4 of us on the way out

 

However Tan was not so confident with her recovery and was also concerned about leaving the country on the last day of our visa and risking a USD50 per day overstay fine incase something went wrong and we were delayed. She was keen on using what looked like a major crossing at the southern tip of Malawi at Villa Nova/Marka and having some time to spare on our visas. All we had to do was roll 100km up the “M1”, how easy and boring would that be? With no compromise between the two options, we flipped a coin, a 10 Mozambican Metacais coin, to decide our fate. We joked that only the coin could determine and destiny, and Tan won. So of course I demanded we go to “best of 3”, where she won again 2 to 1. I tried my luck for “best of 5” but Tan wasn’t having it. The “M1” bore-fest to Villa Nova it was going to be.

 

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We stopped for lunch on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and Africa being Africa, a kid hoped out of the bush to say hello. He sold us some cashews, which are everywhere in Mozambique, and we gave him some Tuna and crackers. He was friendly and smiley before he got in front of the camera!

 

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Ahhh potholes. So many potholes.

 

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A quick stop in town for a drink and getting mobbed

 

First things first though, I couldn’t get the GPS to route up the M1. What on earth is going wrong? After some detailed investigation of the map I could see that the main bridge over the Zambezi River was noted as “bikes only” and a potential alternate route noted that a bridge on that route was destroyed and there was no operating ferry. Ok, this is rapidly getting interesting…. So we asked some locals, and got the confirmation that motos could cross the Zambezi on the main bridge about 55km upstream at a town called Sena, which is where the M1 started. “No cars though”… Ok, I wonder what that means?

 

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Mark parking up in the market before we attempt to get on the bridge

 

Some 45 minutes of easy gravel and lots of smiles and waves from the locals later, we spotted the bridge, and it was big. I followed the trail marked on Tracks 4 Africa to get on to the bridge and ended up on the banks of the Zambezi 15 or 20m below the bridge with no way on without a helicopter. So we turned back, met some waving locals, and got directed to a small market where we could apparently get on. A large crowd gathered as we parked and got first sight of what “motos ok, no cars though” actually meant. We would be crossing the Zambezi on the pedestrian walkway of the railway bridge, we just had the small matter of a steep ramp and some stairs to deal with.

 

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Scoping out the couple stairs and the planks of wood

 

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Planks on. This will be sweet as this will…

 

When it is just Tan and I, I always go first on the nasty obstacles to prove the route, however with Mark there it was a good opportunity to have someone else be the guinea pig for once. So after we had walked the stairs and put some loose planks up the couple stairs in what we thought was a good place, I volunteered him; “Mark you should go first”. Which he did, and managed it with the loose planks spitting out from under the bike just as he got up the stairs onto the walkway. Mine and then Tan’s bike soon followed with slightly better plank location.

 

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Mark full of nicotine and ready to roll

 

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Tan, as entertained by all this as the locals were

 

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Bringing the blue beast up and getting ready to ride up the dodgy ramp

 

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Time for Tan’s bike. We had a bit of a crowd by this point

 

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Riding up loose planks. Always fun

 

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Regroup on the walkway. The bikes weren’t too much narrower than the walkway itself!

 

We were on the walkway, we were home free! Or so we thought… about 500m later we came to a second set of stairs; a proper flight of stairs. There were a couple helpers there lifting luggage and bicycles up and down for a small fee. There were also a pair soldiers guarding the bridge. We had a quick talk with the guards and soon realised we might not be doing something legal, certainly not for foreigners. So we paid the two soldiers about 50MZM each for all 3 bikes, a bit over US50c per guard per bike. Technically I suppose you could call it a bribe, but we weren’t keen on going back, the guards were chilled and friendly and we wanted to keep it that. We then paid the helpers a small sum to help us up the flight of stairs.

 

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Obstacle #2, a small flight of stairs…

 

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Tan’s bike following. I had the bike in 1st gear and was walking it up, with some help

 

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Rear wheel spun and the bike nearly went over, but not quite

 

Now we were on the walkway proper, we were home free! Or so we thought… The pedestrian walkway hadn’t seen a great deal of maintenance over the years, and there were gaping holes in the concrete through to the river many many metres below that had been bridged by random bits of steel and timber of varying quality. But it was all ok. We got many strange looks and photos taken of us, and stopped for a number of photos ourselves. Of all the ways to cross the mighty Zambezi, one of Africa’s greatest rivers, this was definitely a unique way to do it.

 

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Up on the walkway and riding over the Zambezi

 

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Just a few holes in the walkway to contend with…

 

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This fella thought the idea of riding some loaded up 650’s across a railway bridge over the Zambezi was pretty novel aswell!

 

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The view from Mark’s KLR

 

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The 3 of us having a good time

 

We got to the end of the bridge and were presented with a very large flight of stairs to get back down to ground level. Mark was leading so got to go first, and very nearly made a hash of it as he feathered the rear brake a whisker on the descent, momentarily locked the rear wheel, got a bit sideways, bottomed out when he hit the ground and flew off to the left bringing his bike to a dramatic stop in the sand just as he nudged the bicycle of a very polite and non-flustered Mozambican guy who was forced to dive out of the way or risk being KLR fodder. He got up smiling and remarked that Mark must be a very skillful and experienced motorcycle rider, took a few photos of us on his mobile phone and went on his merry way.

 

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Mark getting ready to ride down. He gave the train driver a bit of a show.

 

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And… GO!

 

The average African person is so much more chilled and unperturbed by this sort of stuff than what we were used to; that same situation in a western country would have lead to stern words and even blows. But here its no problem, people smile and don’t get too worked up. We see it on the road too, someone will get blatantly cut off, or completely run off the road, or whatever, and they just accommodate it and don’t react. We people from western cultures could learn a lot from the African way of acceptance and tolerance.

 

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About to get to the bottom and get a bit out of shape

 

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The bicycle rider who was not so concerned at all about having to dive out of the way of a crazy KLR

 

I followed Mark down on my blue beast and then went back for Tan’s bike; with her right shoulder still quite weak she wasn’t too keen on riding a fully loaded DR650 down a large flight of stairs, funnily enough. Now with all 3 bikes down we took a few more photos and just generally reveled in the awesome experience of riding three adv bikes across a railway bridge over the Zambezi. It was a crazy and totally unexpected mini adventure. A totally “Africa” type thing to do.

Next up for us was to simply roll down the M1 to the border…. Well it turns out the title of “M1” was more aspirational rather than actual; it was a single lane gravel road lined with very poor villages, even by Mozambican standards they were poor. We dodged cows and goats and darting pigs, and received many waves, it was obvious very few tourists get on this side of the Zambezi.

 

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Lets take the motorway shall we?

 

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“OMG the traffic jam on the M1 was so atrocious this afternoon!” said no-one, ever. This photo shows the type of traffic on the M1; cows, bicycles, and the odd small china bike.

 

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Mark tearing down the M1

 

Arriving at the border post was a confusing affair, as from the outside the Stalin-esque concrete monstrosity looked completely dilapidated and abandoned. Which wasn’t far from the truth, it was certainly dilapidated, complete with bullet holes and significant damage from Mozambique’s years of civil war, plus it had been pilfered, with all doors and most roofing missing, but it wasn’t abandoned.

 

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Mark and I doing some maths before changing some money. You can see the security checkpoint in the background, its those benches there. And the larger guy directly behind mark, he was customs. No idea where he came from or where he went, but he was quick and efficient

 

We found the border security sitting in the shade on some worn benches on the outside the building and signed in. Tan and I were then politely escorted to the immigration office by the official who had also been chilling in the shade. His office was the only one inhabited as far as we could see, and had no door and no lights, only a desk covered in forms and books and a couple old chairs and layers upon layers of mould growing up the concrete walls. We got our passports stamped and were registered in the all important hand written immigration ledger, which are ubiquitous in this part of the world. We noted that there were no people to cross the border today, however there were two the day previous, and 1 guy about 4 days ago. Villa Nova is not a busy border post by any stretch of the imagination.

 

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The Villa Nova Border control building. During the civil war years, rebels used Malawi as a base of operation and then would attack from there, so this border was the front line technically. And it showed the signs of war. Mark snuck these photos for us

 

Customs was easy; the official met us outside next to the security benches, took our Carnets and Mark’s paperwork for his South African registered KLR and returned not long later with everything sorted. We don’t even know where his office was, or even if he had an office. But it was very straightforward. After some polite negotiation we changed our money with the only changer there for a very fair rate and moved on. It was so stress-free and simple; we love remote border crossings. The officials are so relaxed with little work and unfamiliar with foreigners that they are happy to see us and to have something to break up their day, it is a much calmer experience. As there are no people crossing the border, there are no fixers, no people stalking your bike and scoping your gear, no one trying to sell you things or push in front of the line. Its just so much easier, I’ll gladly ride a couple hundred kilometers extra to get that.

The Malawi side of the border was excited to see us, and we were quickly stamped in. Customs formalities soon became a problem though, as the official had never seen a Carnet de Passage before and wasn’t keen to stamp it through. We’ve had this happen many times before, however we generally just talk them through the process and up until this guy they had always been happy to oblige. This young guy was not confident however and called his boss, who said we should stay the night in the border town of Marka and he would stamp us through in the morning. We had wasted over an hour and a half on the Malawian side of the border by this point trying to sort out the importation of the bikes and the sun had since set, so we were fine with sorting it in the morning.

 

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Kids were hanging around the bikes like moths in the headlights

 

We found the one and only guesthouse in the tiny village and got a room for very cheap, we extracted ourselves out of our sweaty riding gear and got directions to a pub. We were all completely shattered, and Mark and I bought a pile of beers and promised to return the empties the next day. The shop keeper handed us our change and was very confused that I was handing him back one of the beers; in the time it had taken for him to walk to the till and complete the transaction I had emptied the first bottle and was cracking the top of the second. Damn I needed that beer. Real bad.

 

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Shattered. What a great days riding.

 

With no restaurants around we cooked dinner on the floor with the camp stove, drank all our beers, rested and recounted our unexpected adventure. It had been a hot day and we were exhausted. When we had flipped that ten metacais coin at lunchtime we had no idea whatsoever what we getting ourselves into, but that is riding in Africa in a nutshell. You might plan and prepare, however you never really know what will play out in the end. But one thing is for certain, the Coin of Destiny had delivered.

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