Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Traveling to Ibo island

Crossing the border to Maputo

We left the car in Nelspruit and waited for a bus that would take us across the border to Maputo. Definitely the slowest border crossing I've been involved in the last years, but not that dramatic. Much worse was instead the arrival in Maputo. We booked our stay at Fatima, one of the best known backpackers in town. At the bus station we called them to come and pick us up (non-free, btw, I paid 5$). A guy showed up, with a half broken car, takes out of his pocket a piece of paper with written "Fatima" on it and says he is our taxi driver. I was not sure jumping in that taxi would have been a good idea, but at the end I went. When we arrived in front of the hostel, however, I thought we had been kidnapped. There was a mostly broekn large, dark sidewalk, with an iron door and three hooded people sitting in front of it. It did not look like a hostel at all. The guy opened the door and there was just nothing after it, no reception, just the entrance of a building, with a parked car. I entered and then I went out again amidst the complaints of the taxi-driver and the thugs outside. Even if I felt that my organs would have soon ended up in the black transplant market, I decided to enter, there was not much I could do at that point. Fortunately it was not a human butchery inside. But the rest of our stay here was awful. The room smelled like insecticides, cockroaches in the bathroom and the coldest reception I had so far. I guess having hoods on when serving, not smiling and answering half-mouthed is not the best way of warming up the atmosphere for travelers like me. The only thing that cheered me up was that I had to stay only one night. This costed us around 80$, for a room with en-suite bathroom. So, no Fatima anymore! 
By the way, later we would figure out that the best options to stay in Maputo are guest houses. Have a look at tripadvisor. I will write more later on of our experience with guest houses in Maputo.

The impact with Maputo was not of the most pleasant. We did not do our homework, so we were not that well prepared on where to go and we ended up eating in cheap places looking for an internet connection (that was our homework for the following day in Pemba).

Flying to Pemba

Our flight took us from Maputo to Pemba, where we started feeling a totally different atmosphere. They recently found gas, and probably oil, offshore Pemba. A lot of money are likely to flow in (and out) this region soon and there is all the western companies at work for the extraction and related business. Together with the tourist sector that is booming by itself, Mozambique is living a moment of fast growth. Even if growing, tourism is still in its infancy here. And Pemba is no less. Another transition town for us, another bad hotel, but this time we ran away before checking in. After the bad experience with Fatima, we decided to ask the see the room first. The hotel is called Cabo Delgado and it is just in front of the place where the morning after we would have taken a chapa (kind of bus, but not really) toward Ibo. The hotel from outside looks like a disaster. Although this time the reception was better. But the rooms where in terrible need of a renovation and there were no mosquito nets on the beds. We felt a bit sorry for the old man trying to show off the functioning tv in the room, a mosquito net would have impressed us much more. The price was just 50$.

Pemba: There is a special price for those who can take a picture of Jasmin with her eyes open,

Then we moved with our backpacks to hotel Reggio Emilia. Finally we found the first truly welcoming reception, nice rooms, good service. Of course we had to pay European prices (120$), but that was totally worth it. We had a relaxing night, restaurant on the beach and recharged a bit from the travel.

This is where we would wait for the taxi, just 12 hours later

Pemba to Ibo

It was not over yet. Now we would need a  chapa to Tandanangue where a boat would take us to Ibo. We asked the hotel for a taxi to take us to the chapa station. The owner unfortunately told that there is not such a thing as booking a taxi. However she mentioned that she usually works with a guy that drives a taxi, but she clearly said that there was no guarantee he would show up at 4 AM. And indeed he did not, leaving us in the middle of an empty semi-dark street, with no idea how to cover the remaining 4Km to the chapa station. When I say station don't think of a station, it is just the corner where these things stop. From nowhere a car comes out and we ask for a ride. This was not a taxi driver (although there is no difference in practice, the car is a normal car, like those of the other taxi drivers we used in Pemba). In the car we explained our situation in the mixture of Portuguese, Italian and Spanish that we were inventing. As soon as the guy understands that we are going to Ibo, he calls a friend and from that point we are his friend's pray. Our means of transportation for the next 4 hours drive is a small cargo truck, where wooden bars serve as seats on the sides, the center is used for luggage (mostly rise). The top and the sides are covered with some truck cover. The exhaust smoke was all coming inside and we traveled for 30 minutes in a gas chamber, trying to breathe through the clothes pressed on our mouths. Fortunately, after a while they opened the cover and there was fresh air coming in. My bum and the wooden bench painfully crashed against each other for the rest of the trip. We passed through roads with no asphalts: small villages, kids in the house courtyards, mostly wooden constructions, red soil, banana plants and bushes and women elegantly carrying things on their head. This was Africa, it was painful, but beautiful.

We were asked twice the price asked to the others travelers (400 meticals per person, rather than 200). We settled for 250 per person. Last bit was the boat, waiting for the chapas and the tide. Everything, we would soon learn, depends on the tides here. We were ripped off again, paying twice as much for the trip but we finally arrived in Ibo Island.


If you are travelling to Ibo any soon, this is the prices that you should expect to pay
Pemba Tandanangue, by chapa, is 200 meticals per person
Tandanangue Ibo is 50 meticals per person.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kruger National Park

Why not Sicily?

This year I would have liked a relaxing holiday, really. But Jasmin had a round-trip ticket paid for South Africa and we decided that would be economically wise to venture down there. This would be a couple of weeks holiday:  we decided we would spend the first 3 nights in Kruger National Park and the rest of the time in Mozambique. I was not too excited about Kruger, my objection was "well, we watch animals, and then?". Asking advice back home did not help. Everybody seemed to expect me to be obviously excited about seeing wild animals in their own habitat. I was not sure I was going to be. So I ended up agreeing on going, not without complaining a couple of times on the way with things like "ah, we should have gone to Sicily". 

So did I like it? Yes, admittedly, it was totally worth it. Driving around our (rented) car in the park was both fun (the game is to try to spot the animals before others do) but also truly bewildering. Stopping the car to let giraffes cross the road, being surrounded by elephants or buffalos, was not as boring as I thought at a first time. I would totally recommend to try to experience this once to those, like me, that might thing this is boring.

How to Kruger

The way it works at Kruger, is that you choose a camp where you want to stay overnight and during the day you roam around with your car. You can also do some guided tour, both by car and by foot. We did both. The one by foot was an order of magnitude more interesting than the one by car. You actually get to walk in the bush, with a couple of (armed) guides. We came across a couple of Rhinos that were fortunately more scared than us than what I was of them. The sunset drive was less interesting, we did not see much, it was cold, and anyhow you are by car, it is totally different than walking.


I read a lot of bad things about Skukuza. For us it was not much of a choice, given that we booked late and that we had to come from the airport the same day. Mind that we arrived at 9 in Johannesburg, but by the time we rented the car, bought some food and got used to driving on the wrong side of the street, we arrived at the Skukuza gates after the regular time and we had to deeply thank the guardian for not letting us sleep with lions outside the gates. But at the end Skukuza was not that bad. Maybe it was not party season, but there was no noise at night other than the animals lullabies. We got the luxury bungalow with view on the river and we did not regret the choice. I would not call that luxury, but I would not even expect to pay what we paid for real luxury. The only negative thing about Skukuza, for us, was the food at the restaurants (we tried both). Staff was friendly, but food tasted like microwave crap. We had a much better time cooking by ourselves on the bungalow grill: wild local meat, grilled onions and a bottle of great wine.
Walking in the bushes.


No, we did not see all the big five. Damn it! We missed the Lion (Jasmin would saw and pet (!) them later on, when I would already be back home). We saw most of them already the first day. Second and third day we almost got used to see these many. Apparently the area around Skukuza and Lower Sabie is so densely populated with wild animals that does not take great luck to spot them.
One of the biggest trophies was spotting the leopard, quietly crossing the street in front of us. We stopped to see the beast going through the bush, while a car was speeding toward us to try not to miss the show. Once they arrived the leopard was gone. The driver, realized he was too late, decided to go off the car and squatted down to see whether the Leopard was still around. Fortunately for him he was not. This is that silly thing that one is not supposed to do.

A scared rhino.


  • Renting a car in South Africa is very cheap (at least compare to Mozambique), it costed roughly 110$ for three days.
  • It took us about 6 hours to get to Skukuza from the Airport. We stopped for food only once.