Saturday, May 4, 2013

Away to Mozam

What an incredible experience - we set off on Friday last week in ZDL for our first international flight on an adventure to Mozambique flying with our mates in their Sling 2 - SAA. 
Our plan was to fly the 2 1/2 hours to Maputo, clearing out first through passport control and customs at King Shaka International (a five minute flight from our home base at Virginia). This was an experience all by itself.  After handling immigration and customs, we then stayed in Maputo for the night and on Saturday we flew the next 2 hour leg to Inhambane up the coast north of Maputo where we parked the plane for the next 5 nights. Homeward bound this Thursday we flew directly back to Maputo to again clear customs and passport control and continued on to Durban - doing the full 4 1/2 hours flying in one day. With 2 international airports and the 3 legs to get us home to Virginia it was a long day departing at 8am and only getting home at 5pm with our brave little plane all washed and packed away in our hangar for the night.

We laughed at Inhambane Airport when the trolleys came out to fetch our bags

Casa Algodoal was an excellent choice for a beach cottage at Tofo, 24kms by road to the coast from Inhambane Airport

This photo I took near the end but was so proud of our little plane standing at King Shaka on our return with the big guys I had to shift it up out of sequence. In fact to land we had to be slotted in between heavy traffic and I followed an airbus in from long final approach.

A rare experience to arrive at an international airport in your own plane!

Again out of sequence but we were also proud to wear our uniforms for the international flight - seen here on day one as we prepared to leave Virginia Airport for King Shaka

In the air and on our way

Maputo Bay with Maputo on the other side coming into view. I was last in Maputo when it was Lourenço Marques before independence and about 35 years ago. My step-dad was a Springbok yachtsman and he used to compete in the LM to Durban race, so we sailed with him to LM from Durban in his yacht "Golden Fleece" and then flew back while he raced. My has the place gone down and resembles a slum African dump, when once it was a proud Portuguese city, although we did see signs of construction and renewal. Is there hope for the future? 

Maputo Airport is brand new and actually pretty modern and nice and organised. I was pleasantly surprised. We also used a ground handling agent here and we were whisked through passport control, customs and the apron office as fast as the system would permit and also refuelled our plane, paying some exhorbitant prices for fuel, landing fees and immigration.

From Maputo up north-east the coastline is known as the Lakes District with brackish fresh/sea water lakes hugging the coast as far as you could see.

After 2 hours of flying out of Maputo we reached Tofo, flew over the beach where we would be staying then turned inland 25 kms to the Inhambane Provincial capital "city" where we landed. Inhambane Province is also the coconut capital of Mozambique with some 2 million coconut palms and contributing a major portion of the income of the country with some 14% of the total population in some way involved in the industry.

The favourite drink in Tofo, apart from the good local beer, is Tipo Tinto, a cheap local rum which you conventionally mix with Sparletta strawberry juice. I think between the four of us we consumed 3 bottles in 5 days along with copious numbers of beer. My favourite is 2-M, whilst Laurentina is the other favoured brand which came in a good clear, Premium and dark variety. All very good. We found it cheaper to buy the rum in 500ml plastic bottles for 50 Meticais which brought the price down to about R30 a litre (approx Euro 2,50) which was ridiculously cheap, tasty and strong.

Casa Algodoal - our rustic but excellent beach cottage for our stay. Excellent open plan design, lovely bedrooms and spectacular view over the Tofo Bay and beach with Mozam's typical reed thatch style roof, and our own walkway down to the beach.

Poverty abounds and we marvelled at the fishermen who rowed these 2-man boats out kilometres into the sea and reefs each morning to bring in their catch of fresh linefish, squid and crayfish by lunchtime.

Yummy crayfish tails in the outdoor pizza oven at our cottage which our mates Marc and Lee experty prepared for a nightly feast.

A feast fit for a king!
A typical roadside view of the Inhambane area with coconut palms and groups of family thatch huts

Those entering Tofo beach by road will be familiar with the oddment of signs announcing the dive centres, abundance of accommodation and restaurants in this quaint little village alongside the bay. We joined Tofo Scuba on one of the mornings for some snorkelling and managed to find a whale shark swimming about 3 metres away from us which was an incredible experience. I took my underwater camera with and tried to get it out of my pocket without dropping it to the ocean floor and I think managed to get some pics of my goggles as I peered at the camera trying to turn it on, by which time the whale shark had long disappeared. Am going to see what footage I did get and will do another post.
Local market in Tofo where you need to bargain enthusiastically for the array of local crafts. 100 Meticais local currency was about R30,45 so it was easiest to divide the Meticais by 3 to get a rough Rand equivalent. Beers generall cost 40M in the market to 60M at a restaurant, so between R13-R20 for a beer which is about double what would pay in South Africa at a liquor store but about the same as you would pay in a restaurant... you win some, you lose some.

Liquor bargaining also took priority and there was a good range of local but mostly South African spirits as well as beers with at least 15 liquor "shops"/stands all selling the same things. If you bought a 6-pack you could get the beer price down to R10 a beer.
A visit to Inhambane would not be complete without a dhow ride across the bay to Maxixe, the larger "city" in this province and the only point in Mozambique where the national EN1 road touches the coast. This makes it a first stop for backpackers and travellers by bus to get out, then catch the cheaper and faster ferry across to Inhambane town and Provincial capital and then a short hop to the beach where we were staying.

The dhows used to be a major feature in the Inhambane bay as it was the southernmost trading port for the arabs from Zanzibar and further up the coast where they had influence. Inhambane was also in its day a major slave-trading post and thousands of slaves were shipped out from here in the past. Now we only saw a few and they were definitely relics of the past leaking and patched together.

Maxixe as we were about to land. The town was pretty derelict and most of the town's folk seemed to be queueing at the ATM machines everywhere we went. Cash is king here and small notes are in short supply, so I don't know why the ATMs chuck out 1000 and 500 meticais notes. In many places you need to buy up to the cash in your hand as there is limited change available. It seems like ATMs are in short supply and are one of the main growth centres for the economy. Some of them would not take our visa cards and we had to find a BIM bank to get our cash.

Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique after it gained independence from Portugal on 25th June 1975 (my matric school year and shortly after my last visit there). Machel was killed in an airplane crash over South Africa in 1986 in mysterious circumstances and his wife Graca Machel is now married to our former President Nelson Mandela. The statue stands proudly along Independence Avenida in Maxixe.

The view coming into Maputo from Inhambane on our way home with the bay of Maputo and city ahead and the airport out of the picture to the right.

After parking at Maputo, we are joined by our mates in their Sling ZU-SAA. When asking where to park, we were told "Park at your discretion", so I was debating whether we should pull up and expect the walkway to come down and connect up with our cockpit, but I chose a quieter spot to the right of the the big planes (I think there was only one there from the Mozambique Airline), but we also saw an SAA Airbus come in later... looked like there were only about 5 scheduled flights per day compared to about 10 per hour at home.

My favourite pic of our Dragon Warrior ZU-ZDL having delivered us safely back to the apron at King Shaka airport. Again we used a ground handling agent - BidAir (best and inexpensive thank you guys). So now that we have the international procedures waxed, I am looking forward to planning something else, like a trip to Victoria Falls, or Namibian desert, or Okavango Delta in Botswana or even Lake Malawi... yee haa!!! I will be publishing a comprehensive checklist on the route, the frequencies for the radio-work and the procedures for anyone who wants to make a similar trip to Mozambique. Watch this space.

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