A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009


It was with our now customary impeccable timing that we arrived in Swaziland. It soon got very grey and absolutely chucked it down, and that was very much the story throughout our few days there. Swaziland is a small, beautiful mountainous Kingdom, but with heavy rain, thunder and low clouds, much of it remained sadly out of sight to us. There was enough to get some glimpses of how nice is could be, and how much possibility the country had. It is also renowned as being the cheapest place (though I would say that currently Zimbabwe is cheaper) to buy crafts and stuff in Southern Africa, and we certainly managed to get some things.

If i'm going to camouflage myself as a wooden mask, I probably need to work on the beard...

But really, we saw very little of the small country and experienced even less. A mix up on arrival in Manzini delayed us a bit, though Swaziland Backpackers, out of town past Matsapha, was one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed at. The following day we went back to Manzini (a kind of small semi European, semi South African town of no interest to non locals except as a transit point) to eventually discover the market we were looking for was shut as it was Sunday. For reasons that are now lost in the midsts of time I ended up walking about 9km home alone in a huge thunder storm, arriving back utterly drenched: My shoes and some of my clothes were still soaking wet a week later, and some things that I had had on my person – a notebook, a watch etc – were totally destroyed.


We returned for craft shopping the following day, before moving up the Ezulwini Valley: An area which would doubtless be nicer if the clouds weren't there, and we either time or a vehicle to enable us to get off the main track. And so after a few hours diversion spent in the capital, Mbabane, a small little city which oddly instantly appealed to me for no obvious reason, we then returned along the valley to a long roadside craft market where more money was spent. With time rapidly running out, the following morning we left for Pretoria, and a painfully squashed minibus ride – oddly, from Manzini, and not Matsapha which is larger, the capital, and which we had to drive past anyway, but had no minibuses – during which i lost feeling in my right arm and hand entirely (it took a day before i had full feeling back), and suffered horrible pain in my knees, back and shoulders. My knackered old body can't cope with much more of this, although Swaziland gets added to an increasing list of African places that I need to return to and spend more time in.

But I am rapidly starting to dream of travel in Europe again, where though you may have to stand, you will at least always have headroom and you never have to fit more than the officially designated number of people into the seats (insert wistful look into distance here).

This notice was in the second hostel we stayed in. I know that all backpackers like Free stuff, but I have to wonder just how many took them up on this treat...?

Posted by Gelli 15:00 Archived in Swaziland Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)



We had left around 2am to get a 3am bus. Though legally buses can't leave so early, it is normal in Mozambique. Finding buses that leave after 8 or 9 am can be impossible, especially in the North and 4am type departures are routine. And, even more unlikely, they actually leave on time: Our bus was on the road by 2.50: Mozambique certainly does transport a bit differently - An early bus in the rest of Africa means that it leaves less than an hour after its scheduled time. Even more surrealy, a Chilean guy we had met, Ignacio, had attempted to leave northbound early the previous morning, only to return a few hours later having been told that the bus was canceled due to insufficient passengers. That really is a new one!

It was back passing through Maxixe that it finally happened: I saw my first Renamo poster and car sticker. Mozambique was in the grip of election fever – the election was held 2 days after we left – and all of the papers and TV were full of it. Virtually every other vehicle and house (and even some rocks) were sporting political adverts, and there were also many T-Shirts being worn with slogans on. However, every single one that we had seen to that point (and would see again) belonged to Armando Emilio Guebuza ruling Frelimo party.

Frelimo were a Liberation group that took over at independence and have held power ever since: close to 35years. They were not the only party in the election, and indeed in Beira (Mozambique's second city) amongst others, they didn't even hold power [in Beira, Renamo are the main group]. However in the south, and country in general, they were really the only party. I would have loved to know the official rules on party political campaigning, or to speak enough Portuguese be able to ask questions about opposition advertising (or intimidation), but I couldn't.

One of the larger Frelimo ads that we saw, in Maputo. Normally they had lots of identical (or just in 2 different colours) A4 sized ads posted together. And these ads were – and doubtless still are - everywhere

I was just happy I saw a single house and advert (doubtless that of a candidate or the party) of one other party. The election itself was a foregone conclusion, and was essentially a referendum on Frelimo: They were not fighting other parties, only the population itself and its turn out. Naturally, Guebuza kept power with 75% of the vote from a turn out of about 45%, which i not great but is pretty respectable.

For us, however, it was an uneventful journey. An afternoon back in Maputo doing a few chores, having another of the worlds best brownies, talking to the excellent Tino and Luis in the hostel and trying to avoid the group of 17teenage Finns who had invaded the hostel: listening to Maarets many threats on what she would do to me if I happened to let slip that she was Finnish was actually quite funny. Against that, the bl**dy Finns left at 4.30am and made a heck of a racket. The next day on route to Swaziland, the border crossing at Goba was the quietest and least painful that I have ever done in Africa, even if a few KM down the road at a customs check, a bottle of Jamesons changed hands...

A few people have asked about Fred – Well, i'm happy to announce that though still fragile, he has recovered from the vicious attack in Tofo. Here he is on his homecoming (note the new black mark on his nose). Fred lives, though he has been wounded for life

Posted by Gelli 14:42 Archived in Mozambique Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Dead, sleep-walking vegetables


How can you not enjoy a place where the hostel is called the Zombie Cucumber?


Though I couldn't really explain why, I enjoyed Vilanculo – another beach resort, further north - significantly more than Tofo, even though I did just as little there as I had in Tofo. Our main reason for visiting, to pay a trip to the Bazaruto archipelago, had sadly been canceled on financial grounds. We simply could not justify the 50euro cost of a trip to the main island, and though there were cheaper options to other islands, it was one of those situations where if you don't do it properly, it isn't really worth doing at all. So we didn't

With the one place I really wanted to visit on Mozambique – Isla de Mozambique – having already sadly had to be dropped on time grounds, this was not really a great piece of news. But, as they say, sh1t happens. Instead we just spent a few days wandering around Vilanculos (of which there are at least a half dozen different spellings). There were some interesting people around, and, we discovered in the way that you do, that an English guy there used to go out with a Finnish friend of Maaret, and the two had missed meeting in Ecuador a few years previously only by a few hours.

But mostly what kept me interested in Vilanculo was the bay. The the bay is extremely shallow, and as a result, the tide goes out a ridiculously long way: If you time it right, it looks like it would be possible to walk all the way to the islands some 14km away. And when the sea is going out, the vista shows glorious layers of colour, as sand, water channels, shallow water and green seaweed and plant life all intermingle. It is absolutely beautiful, and no picture can ever really do it justice.




The pictures really don't do it justice; In reality, it is much more beautiful that than

It is a town with some security issues, especially after dark, and a chunk of which had been destroyed by a cyclone a few years previously and after which a short burst of redevelopment/rebuilding had been undertaken before the government quietly withdrew funds leaving several half built concrete buildings and an air of decay. It is also the sort of place that i think could be hideous in high season, when it would doubtless be flooded by mostly South African holiday makers. But out of season, it was fine – good seafood, and colorful and happy locals (especially when the fishing fleet came back in mid-afternoons, something we watched repeatedly) and I enjoyed being there.


Women surround one of the fishing vessels on it's return to Vilanculo, and (below) some of the days catch



Posted by Gelli 14:30 Archived in Mozambique Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A few hours in the lap of luxury

I'm not sure exactly how it happened. Indeed, I am still in shock and confusion at the whole situation. What I do know is that one minute we were sitting by the side of the road in Maxixe and the next we rolling North through the Mozambiquian countryside on a purple beast which is arguably the swankiest bus I have been on since Korea in 2005, and would be a luxury bus even in Europe. Even if not – it was, after all, the same basic design as buses I had used in Namibia and South Africa – it was certainly the nicest I have used in 'real' Africa: double deck, stewardess service, plenty of leg room, reclining seats, and real working air conditioning were all real 'wow' factors for such buses which are invariably lots of people (and chickens) squeezed tightly into narrow rows of seats, and broken windows the only chance of air con.

Having already been on a chappa (local minibus with the inevitable bits falling off) and a knackered old boat (a ferry of sorts) both crammed with people that morning, such service was, to say the least, unexpected.

But what was really amazing was the fact that there was no livestock at all on the bus, and most surrealy of all was that the bus was ¾ empty. I have never – never – been on a bus anywhere in Africa, North of the Sahara included, which has ever been so empty. Heck, I once even broke into a bus in a depot as i needed somewhere to sleep the night, and even that had more people on it! It is rare that I have even been on a bus which has 'only' been 'full' with the manufacturers specified maximum passengers on it: most buses have been significantly fuller. And to travel almost 4hours on such a bus in such spacious luxury with only a single passenger joining, is an event which even now is almost beyond my comprehension.

In truth, i have started to become a bit jaded with African travel and part of me is starting to desire to be back in Europe where transport (even British Rail) is generally reasonably punctual, efficient and comfortable. But one small incident in Mozambique has proven that African travel still has the occasional capacity to surprise me. Perhaps I won't leave just yet.

Posted by Gelli 13:22 Archived in Mozambique Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Fred is dead. Long live Fred

And in the charge of murder by Obnoxious Drunk English guy of Frederik von Giraffe (Esquire), how do you plead?

Tragically, It was only a matter of time.

Fred had been enjoying the party at the hostel in the way that only Fred can. The wine and beer had been flowing, the drinking games played and the cards out. Fred, as is his way, became the life and soul of the party. And, of course, when it was suggested that the party move down the beach to a club (in part because the bar was closing), Fred was eager to come as well, despite the fact that he is not currently the healthiest of giraffes.


Fred on his way to the party which was to end so tragically, and (below) at the bar 30minutes before the vicious attack


For a while, everything was going well. Cheap drinks at certain times were consumed, and Fred made countless new friends whilst part taking over the dance floor, and part taking over the bar. And then, tragedy stuck. A random obnoxious, drunk English guy (is there any other sort?), partly upset at loosing out to the affections of a beautiful young lady to Fred – he's a gay albino giraffe, ffs – and partly for reasons that we will never know, decided to take a bite out Frederik's nose. To a human, it would have been painful and bloody. To an inflatable giraffe, it was life threatening.

Fred instantly started to rapidly deflate, and in short terms was soon packed away and put on a ventilator. The drunk English guy, either through luck on his part or realisation of the GBH (Giraffe-Bodily-Harm) he had just committed, disappeared, leaving a group of very angry and extremely upset human companions of Fred thirsting for his blood.

It was not a pretty situation, and things did not improve as the evening wore on, especially a the tide had come along way in by the time we left, and several people struggled to find their way back to the hostel, hidden by a sand dune in the pitch black 25minutes away down the beach. What started as a happy evening out had descended into a hard, emotional fraught and anything but happy night.

The following morning, Fred underwent emergency surgery, and after an arduous and painstaking operation involving the complex use of duct tape, i'm pleased to announce that Mr. von Giraffe has been removed from life support.

He remains in a critical but stable state.

Posted by Gelli 13:21 Archived in Mozambique Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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