All roads lead to mozambique

Luckily the long trip would give us enough time to make a few plans. Chris, who had been to Mozambique, took the lead in giving advice on where to stay, how to survive the rampant corruption the country is so famous for and, most importantly, where we’d find the fish.

We hit the road hard, keen to get to some water with good weather, as winter in Cape Town had dragged on a little longer than necessary, with very few opportunities to dive.

We pushed just short of the border in one long haul, and spent the night so that we could be at the border at Komati when they opened. With all our paperwork in order, we sailed smoothly through the South African side with no hassles. I wish I could say the same for the other side. As we crossed the line separating SA and Mozambique, we were rushed by hords of people, and I was suddenly concerned about all the items stashed in the boat, held down only by my float line. Self appointed “official” helpers offered to have our passports stamped for the bargain price of R1000. I had heard about the corruption in Mozambique, but didn’t realise that it would be in my face as we crossed the line.

As it turned out, arranging our 3rd party insurance, temporary import permit (TIP) and having our passports stamped was a relatively painless experience. We were hit with a final curve ball upon exiting the customs area with our vehicle. There’s an official that takes your little piece of paper confirming you’ve been through customs and checks your vehicle and all paperwork: 3rd party, TIP, passports etc. Our guy proceeded with a thorough inspection of the vehicle: lights, indicators, tyres, everything… trying his best to find something wrong. With all in order, and trying to be polite, we asked if we could go on. The official then asked for our SA SARS form, and peered though the window at the back of the bakkie and saw a small hose pipe we had taken to flush the boat motors. As it wasn’t a declared item on the list, he made us unpack the entire bakkie and confiscated the hose along with a whole lot of other small items (pots and pans, camping chair etc..) that were not on the list. He then said we must pay a deposit to have the items returned upon leaving the country. Naturally, I asked if he would issue a receipt, but that wasn’t going to happen. The whole ordeal was totally unnecessary and very frustrating. The only advice I can give here, is to declare absolutely everything down to how many pairs of underpants you have and what colour your toothbrush is.

After the border post, on the way to Maputo, are a series of “random” road blocks (there are road blocks all through Mozambique, and in this case random seems to mean “aimed only at South African drivers”). Luckily, we had nothing wrong with our vehicle, we were wearing our seatbelts and had a valid drivers license and passed through with no trouble at all. A word of caution here: be sure never to hand over your drivers license. Rather hold it up to show the official, as he may just put it in his pocket and you’ll have to pay to get it back. We took out an international drivers license at the AA shop and used that at the road blocks, keeping our normal SA license as a back up, along with a packet of cigarettes and 20 bux on the dash board to aid frustrating situations.

We spent 2 days in Maputo, going to the fish markets to check out the catches. It was very sad to see the detrimental effects of net fishing in Mozambique. My heart sank at the sight of a pile of Spotted Grunter no bigger than the palm of my hand… but this is Africa and the people are hungry. Considering we were on an open ended trip up the entire coast, we thought it was a good idea to go to the Ministry of Fisheries in Maputo to arm ourselves with information on what we were allowed and not allowed to catch and where we could spear. We felt a lot more at ease having this information. While we were there, the bakkie was broken into and all my clothes stolen… but luckily the diving gear was left alone. Good thing, because it’s easy to live in Mozambique with just one pair of boardies and a t-shirt; but don’t touch my spearguns.

A couple of days later we arrived at Guinjata where Chris had speared his huge Marlin a few months before. As a born and bred Capetonian accustomed to a nice harbour or slip ways, I had a lot to learn about launching in Mozambique. After a bit of coaching from the local dive instructor, we were behind the surf and ready to hit the water. For the next ten days, sunrise to sunset, I enjoyed perfect weather and clean blue active water.

Locating a school of Pompano was the first victory of the trip and we got a couple of between 10 and 12kg. Pushing up back onto the mark for another drift, I let out a fishing line, only to look back to see a sail fish jumping clear of the water in the morning sun. He put on a spectacular show as I brought him to the boat.

After our lunch break, I saw 3 small Job Fish swimming on the surface, and without thinking handed AJ a 1.1m reel gun and asked him to poke one for the braai that night. He had hardly been in the water when he was up again voicing his disappointment at not having had a 1.3m gun. The Sailfish he’d just poked in 5m of water had got away and was jumping 100m off shore. A huge let down for us. The area must have been littered with Sailfish that day as we saw a couple of local row boats land a few in the same area.

The next week produced its fair share of Spanish Mackerel, many species of King Fish, Rock Cods, Wahoo and Pike. We had some amazing experiences, such as swimming with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, being within touching distance of Humpback Whales while in the water, and one of my favourites: being encircled by hundreds of Wahoo in the crystal clear waters.

Only two of us on the trip meant it was always one in the water and one on the boat. For two days I was eluded by Wahoo, until I finally got a shot on one and landed my first Wahoo of 17kg. Although our catches were good, Mozambique’s reputation had preceeded itself and I thought we would get far more fish than we did on spear. However the diving in the Cape and Mozambique are very different from each other and it took some time to acclimatise.

Guinjata is an incredible place with many resorts, all with facilities for the whole family. From what I hear, it gets very festive over the holiday season. I met some great friends and fellow fishermen and even had the chance of going to sea on a brand new boat (straight out the box) with a couple guys that had arrived looking for some fishing.

I was pretty content to stick around, the fishing was great and I was pretty settled in, but after a good run the weather turned and we decided to jump north and see what else we could find.

As we headed up north and over the Zambezi I quickly realised that the trip was not just about the fishing, but about the experience as a whole. We saw new sights and experienced the little challenges that the road threw our way. As we pushed further north, it became more difficult to spot the tar road between the potholes. But there is plenty to see on the road as you pass the ever changing terrain, from baobabs to coconut trees and the red skies as the sun sets. We headed up further and further north as the weather was still unfavourable and indulged in the local cuisine. Half peri peri chicken and chips seemed to be the safest option at all the stops, you can be certain that the chickens are fresh when you actually see them running around a few minutes prior to hitting the grill.

The road blocks continued and you can’t do much more than nod and smile as you have your car inspected time and again. In the end, we figured the best way to avoid paying a “fine” (read: bribe) everytime was to just speak Afrikaans and only Afrikaans. The officials all spoke broken English and not a word of Afrikaans, and if you can’t communicate then they can’t ask for money and normally just let you continue on your way and wait for an easier target.

We worked the roads on a GPS and map book, and found it very necessary to have both as often they did not correspond. Never trust the GPS shortcuts, as after a good few days driving we were confronted by an old railway bridge that spanning 150m across a 30 to 40m high ravine. Driving over the train tracks was unsettling, wondering when the next train was coming, and with the wooden planks below not looking all that safe. About one third of the way across, a couple of planks gave way and the trailer fell and the axel hit the railway line as we slowly pulled it out with the 4×4. It was one of the most frightening experiences on the trip, not knowing if we were going to plummet to the rocks below, but we made it dodging the many pedestrians using the narrow bridge at the same time.

Bridge out the way and heading for Nacala with 1 km to go, we were greeted with by a truck overtaking a motorbike, coming at us head on. We mounted the curb… but the trailer was not so lucky and the truck took out our axel. We limped to the nearest available accommodation, where our planned one night stay became a week while we mended our wounds.

Since we were stuck in Nacala for a while, we convinced Mike, the owner of Kwalala Lodge and a local fishing guru, to take us out onto the water. He was very generous in sharing his knowledge and did his best to help us land a Dog Tooth Tuna (although we never managed to land a shot in any). At Nacala, there is a giant bay with depths of over 1000m, great viz and clean to almost 60m. The fish are extremely volatile to the tidal movements, which play a huge part in where they would be at what time. We found some areas, where you couldn’t do anything wrong at the high tide, were totally dead on the low. I would love to have spent more time diving this relatively untouched “secret spot”. Anybody who ever finds themselves in the area should definitely hook up with Mike for one of his deep sea charters that he offers from his Kwalala Lodge.

While at Kwalala Lodge, I went man down for a number of days – sore, stiff joints, fever, bad stomach. As reluctant as I was to hear it, I knew the locals were right when they told me I had Malaria. I was not in a good way. Luckily, we had brought a full medical supply of malaria test kits and antibiotics with us. I began the strong course of Coartem (which I advise anybody going to the north of Mozambique to pack in their medical kit – at least one course per person). It’s a 4 day treatment but within 2 days I was feeling Better.

2 weeks later I relapsed, instantly started another course of Coartem, but soon got to the point where I knew I needed medical attention. After a long drive in a 4×4, and 3 aeroplane flights I landed in Jo’burg where an ambulance was waiting to take me to the closest hospital. A couple of days in hospital being treated with drips and antibiotics did the job. As soon as I was released I flew straight back to Mozambique.

Let me just say though, that Malaria is not something to mess with and is a huge killer in Africa. Never again will I think that I can be hardcore and just get better on my own. My advice to travellers in Mozambique and other Malaria areas: be prepared and pro-active, and if in doubt seek medical attention.

On our travels, we were fortunate enough to have Mike set us up with Jack, a guy who held the rights to 2 small islands. Jack was busy building a small lodge on one of the islands and generously said we were welcome to stay there for as long as we wanted (although we were warned that there was not much infrastructure on the island and the road to get there was very bad even by Mozambique standards).

Only one thought raced across my mind: Virgin waters.

Passports in hand and heading for the island on a poor gravel road, the trailer finally gave up the ghost and started disintegrating on every weld, plank and joint. Eventually the boat was resting on the axel, the support struts dragging on the ground. Two sections of the broken trailer had pushed nice solid holes into the hull. 13 hours later we arrived at base camp with the island in sight. We spent the next two days repairing the boat, hard work which was rewarded when we ran out the river mouth and 10 miles out to sea to the island, with our boat loaded to the gunwales with tents and supplies.

Having bought all our permits to fish, spearfish, dive and use a boat in that province, I was pretty surprised to see marine and wwf officials monitoring fishing around the islands. We showed them all of the relevant documentation. The language barrier is a huge disadvantage, but from what I could understand, they wanted us to buy additional permits before we could commence fishing in the area. Being in a foreign country and unfamiliar with the law, I agreed to purchase the permits and have one of the officials come with me as to make sure the right permits were bought as soon as the offices opened. We said that we would not partake in any fishing activities until we had the correct paperwork in order, as not to break any rules. The local officials had their own ideas and said we could fish without the permits if we paid them now, but we would still have to buy the additional permits when the offices opened. But, we didn’t like the idea of not playing by the rules, so said we would just wait till the offices opened and not fish until then.

I’m sure these guys were a little unhappy about not getting their weekend “bonus”. In a show of power, they arranged for a massive rubber duck, carrying 6 officials and 6 plain clothes guys from the local town to come “inspect our paper work”. Being interrogated about our documentation while 12 AK47’s were pointed at our chests was a rather uneasy experience.

All of my fishing rods, tackle, lines and spearing equipment was confiscated, as apparently we didn’t have a license for the equipment and the boat. My island dreams sank away as we headed back to the mainland, without any equipment. Once there, I phoned the Department of Fisheries in Maputo… who said I should contact Provincial Fisheries. After a little help from Jack’s staff who made some phone calls, 3 days and a long drive along gravel road, I had my equipment back. All intact and accounted for, apart from a couple of bumps and bruises on the rods and guns.

Paperwork in order and gear in tow, we headed straight back to the island where we immediately got pulls on the back lines, landing a good size Spanish Mackerel (Cuda). This was a great consolation prize after all the problems we’d experienced, and we really thought we were going to smash it in the area when the water cleared up.

Unfortunately the weather at the island was not always what you see on the postcards. The wind almost blew our reed hut over. However, over a three week duration it gave me enough time to sus the place out and get a few decent fish.

With our visas expiring soon, we chased for the nearest border which was Zimbabwe and drove down through to Beit Bridge (where all our floats were stolen off the boat). If you’re planning on heading very far north in to Mozambique I definitely recommend coming back though Zim as the roads are very good. There is little or no infrastructure, other than the petrol stations and bottle stores, so unless you know somewhere you can sleep you need to push through the night.

After my first hardcore trip into Mozambique I can really say that the trip as a whole is an adventure. I’ll quote the title of Kwalala Lodge owner Mike Donald’s DVD here: “It’s not about the fish.” It’s about changing wheel bearings, rigging temporary fixes to boats and equipment and meeting the people. The journey there and back, seeing the country and making new friends is what made it exciting; the good diving was simply the cherry on the top.


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