Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for January 04

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

2nd January 2004 Mozambique
Our journey to Vilanculos
Trying to celebrate New Year in Tete - Click to enlargeWe crossed the border from Malawi to Mozambique on 30th December at Zobué, hoping to get to the Indian Ocean coast for New Year. From the border post we took a bus to Tete, and there we stayed! We had changed the Malawian money we had left at the border, giving us enough for a night's accommodation in a grotty hotel, and a dinner of spaghetti and lumps of meat. But there was no money left to buy bus tickets onwards, and the only bus to Vilanculos left at 4.00am the next day. We resigned ourselves to the disappointing reality of being stuck in Tete for New Year.

On New Year's Eve we got a cash advance on the Visa card at a bank in Tete; enough for two weeks in Mozambique. Later we were very glad we had taken out so much (even though the man in the bank had raised his eyebrows when I asked for 25 million meticais!) We found a nicer hotel, the Zambeze, with a view of the Zambeze river and (luxury of luxuries) air conditioned rooms. It was incredibly hot there. Even in the shade it was too hot to move, and the sun beat down all day.

We had a nice meal in the restaurant there to see out 2003, but were in bed by ten, with the alarm set for 3.00am!

Of course, there were a fair few people still out on the streets at that time on New Year's Day, and we are generally wary of walking about at night in African towns, but nobody gave us any hassle. At the bus station there was a crowd of people waiting to board a bus for Beira, but nobody for the Maputo bus (the one we needed to catch for Vilanculos). When we eventually found someone who spoke English he told us that there was no bus to Maputo that day! We were determined that we were going somewhere, so we squeezed onto the Beira bus. Miraculously we even managed to get three seats, though not together.

The journey took nine hours in blazing, sticky heat. (Even at 4am it was baking hot and we were pouring with sweat.) The New Years Day sunrise was bright crimson red and flamingo pink. We watched it over a landscape of palm trees, African villages and distant wooded hills. It was rather a shame to have it framed by the windows of the crowded bus, and that we couldn't share it with each other, and that we were travelling to Beira instead of Vilanculos but, despite all that, it was beautiful.

I got chatting to the man sitting next to me, Basil. He told me about some of the problems with the government in Mozambique, and the resulting lack of infrastructure. The roads are in a terrible state of repair, and sometimes the bus diverted completely from the road to use an unsurfaced track alongside it. It was not a comfortable ride! The governing party in Mozambique today is the same party which came to power when the country gained independence in 1975. Then there was the civil war, which lasted 17 years and, as well as claiming many lives, crippled the country economically. Although there is an opposing party and the country is supposed to be democratic, the level of corruption is such that vote-rigging swings election results every time in their favour. Any alternative party lacks the finances, and therefore the power, to present a viable case for election. Basil told me that the roads were funded to be repaired, by the World Bank and other organisations, but the money has disappeared. The same problem occurs with education, hospitals, policing etc. Basil sounded very frustrated and angry at the way his life and the lives of his family are affected by this. I was interested by what he told me and sypathised with him, although I had a strange awkward feeling, coming as I do from a world where these types of problems are never issues for consideration.

Several times along the way we stopped in places where people tried to sell us things through the windows. at one of these stops, Nick took his eyes off his bag for just long enough for someone to reach inside and steal his moneybelt. It contained about 50 pounds worth of meticais and Nick's Switch and Visa cards. Nick was gutted, and I couldn't do much to make things better from my position about six rows behind him with Esther on my lap. We had a conversation about it, over many heads which were between us, by the end of which the whole bus knew what had happened. They tried to be helpful, and even stopped the bus at a police station. A policeman got on, made some fairly ineffective noises, looked into a couple of bags, and went away again. there was never any real hope of finding it. Later, when I phoned the bank, they wanted to know the police reference number and the name of the officer! Things aren't really like that here!

Beira was not a nice place. We nicknamed it 'Beirut'! We decided to book ahead for the next day's bus to Vilanculos. It was rather confusing. There were at least three buses bound for Maputo, all leaving at 4 or 5am. Estimates of journey time varied widely, although prices were fairly consistent between buses. Eventually though, I agreed a price with one of the conductors, who then took us off to find a room for the night. First we went to a place where a woman, Yvette told us not to stay there as there had been robberies and knife attacks there recently. Nice! Yvette took us to the Savoy, which was not a posh place, but had several security guards. The bus guy, David, said he'd arrange for some guards to walk with us to the bus depot at 3.45am, as the town is not safe. We felt vulnerable and insecure, especially as we were carrying quite a lot of cash (almost a years' wages to a poor person from Mozambique - two weeks' money for us!), and, having cancelled the Visa cards (a joint account), had no other way to access money. (Travellers' cheques are not widely accepted in Mozambique, and where banks will change them, they charge around 20% for the privilege).

The following morning at, long before dawn, our armed escort arrived, as promised, to walk us to the bus station. I have to say, I think two cops with huge guns may have been slightly over the top. It was not the nicest place, but still!

The journey to Vilanculos was a little more comfortable, although still vwery hot and bumpy. We had no water and, after four hours, were pretty desparate for a drink. I bought two pineapples through the window. They were big and ripe and juicy and, although a messy thing to eat on a bus, had the desired effect. The bus dropped us some 20km from Vilanculos where we caught a pickup truck to take us the rest of the way, joined by Mike, Rosarió and four-year-old Cleo, a family we had met on the bus. They are living in Lusaka, Zambia, where Mike is a teacher of Spanish and French at an American School. Rosarió is from Mexico. They were very nice and friendly, and we ended up staying together for our whole time in Vilanculos.

5th January 2004 Mozambique
Indian Ocean
Tom, Eti and Cleo playing in the sand, Vilanculos - Click to enlargeThis entry was extracted from an email sent by Lindsay and Nick and posted by Lindsay’s parents
we travelled to Mozambique on the 30th Dec, but unfortunately didn't manage to get to the ocean to see the New Year sunrise. Still, we did see the sunrise from a bus window and it was beautiful! The ocean is lovely. We were going to go snorkelling with Whale Sharks (herbivores!) today, but the trip was cancelled because of jelly fish of all things. A bit disappointed, but maybe will get another opportunity to see marine life.
Nick's money belt was stolen from his bag on New Year's Day! It was highly annoying, and inconvenient of course, but we should be able to get additional visa cards shipped to South Africa, and we're OK for cash at the moment.

2nd - 6th January Mozambique
The view on waking at Vilanculos - Click to enlarge

We camped right by the beach at a place called Josef e Tina's, and a few days slipped by very easily. The sea was warm and shallow, and the children played and swam with Cleo. In the evenings we cooked for ourselves, with Mike and Rosarió, over an open fire in an outdoor kitchen. It was great!

Security wasn't great in Vilanculos, and we (especially Nick) were feeling pretty nervous after the theft on the Beira bus. There were a lot of people out to get something out of you if they could; traders, sellers and would-be 'friends'. There were a couple of guys at Josef e Tina's to keep an eye on the place, but people did tend to be able to just wander in and out as they pleased, and, travelling in Africa everyone you meet has at least one horror story to tell (exaggerated or otherwise - they're always the best tales)! Unfortunately being jumpy spoiled our stay there a bit.

We did enjoy our time with Mike and Rosarió though.

6th - 9th January Mozambique
Tofo Beach
Eating our tea at Tofo Beach - Click to enlarge

Tofo Beach was gorgeous! We travelled there by bus, but got off at Maxixe to take the ferry across the bay to Inhambane, cutting the journey time by some two hours. From Inhambane it was easy to get a minibus to the beach.

We stayed at Fatima's Nest, which had been recommended by Mike and Rosarió, and was nice. We opted to camp in the sandy camping area, right on the beach. There were quite a lot of other campers, mainly South Africans on their hols, and the atmosphere was chilled out. Tofo is anyone's idea of a tropical paradise. The beach is a wide sweep of clean soft white sand, backed by sand dunes and coconut palms. The sea there is clear blue-green and sparkling, with huge powerful waves. It was much, much nicer than Vilanculos!

Somehow, though, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we didn't have a brilliant time there. We should have done, but we arrived tired, the tent quickly filled with sand, someone nicked our salt and pepper pouch from the kitchen, and we were all feeling just a tad homesick. To cheer ourselves up we booked an excursion to go snorkeling with whale sharks, but the trip was cancelled due to too many stinging jellyfish being in the area. On that day I went down with, of all things, a cold!

We were ready to move on and, after three days there, pressed on to Maputo.

9th - 13th January Mozambique
Eti and Mateus at Fatima's backpackers - Click to enlargeMaputo was a pleasant city to be in, and felt safer than anywhere else we had visited in Mozambique. It had a strangely European feel, with a distinctly Portuguese look to many of its buildings. There were tree-lined avenues, whitewashed buildings and shops which sold things like fresh bread and pastries. We bought a few new clothes there, and had a very nice meal for very little money in a café-bar at the central market.

We stayed at Fatima's Backpackers' there, and it was a relaxed, easy place to be. We ended up staying a little longer than intended, as my cold developed into some kind of tropical flu, and kept me on my bed for a couple of days. Still, that was a good excuse for us all to rest, and we were refreshed and stronger when finally, on Tuesday 13th January, we boarded the bus to Nelspruit, South Africa.

16th January South Africa
Kruger National Park
Kruger gang after final drive. We saw the big 5! - Click to enlargeTom's report on our visit to the Kruger National Park

Today we went on safari in the Kruger National Park in an open Land Rover. The most common of the animals we saw were called impala. The impala are part of the antelope family. They have orange fur, large ears and some have horns. The second animals we saw were two rhinoceros grazing 10 metres away from the road. They were absolutely massive white rhinos with two sharp-looking horns. After a while we looked out onto a field and saw two enormous elephants with huge tusks but as we couldn’t see them very well we moved off, but Malcolm (our driver) said we’d probably see some more. The fourth and fifth kinds of animals we saw were called kudu and grey duiker. The kudu were in a herd and they were grey with white stripes, and black horns whereas the grey duiker had no horns and bounced away as we approached. A while after that we went back to our camp for breakfast. When we had eaten we found out that Malcolm had been told where some lions were, and we set out to find them. Almost immediately we saw a humungous white rhino walking down the road in front of us. The next and sixth of the animals we saw was called Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and Malcolm told us they were really rare and that there were only 26 of them in the whole of Kruger. The seventh and eighth types of animals we saw were giraffes and zebras! The giraffes were eating from the tops of the trees and the zebras and their child were grazing on the ground. The lions weren’t where we were told, but instead of lions we saw elephants close up! There was a whole family with a baby, and a lone elephant giving himself a dirt shower with his/her trunk! The ninth kind of animal we saw was a leopard!! We saw it just as it darted off the road but it was still amazing. We saw four lionesses ten metres from the road, resting. What a great safari!!!
This elephant was close to us-cool! - Click to enlarge  Esther says- This giraffe was big and spotty - Click to enlarge
Table of sightings:

Baboon over 26
Buffalo 8
Duiker 2
Elephant 14
Giraffe 5
Hartebeest 2
Impala over 26
Klipspringer 1
Kudu 21
Leopard 1
Lion 4
Mongoose 10
Monkey 5
Rhino 3
Warthog 8
Waterbuck 1
Wildebeest 14
Zebra 16

By Tom!

Lindsay writes: I think Tom’s report communicates well enough just how exciting our day on game drives around Kruger was. Nick and I just can’t believe how lucky we were! Seeing all these amazing animals was partly down to having ‘perfect’ weather for it. Although the previous two days had been very hot, and temperatures of above 40 degrees C are not unusual at this time of year here, there were storms in the night and our safari day was cool and cloudy all day. We even had to wrap up in sleeping bags for the drive. This meant that many animals which would otherwise have been lying low in the shade were up and active, allowing us the ‘chance in a lifetime’ of being able to see them. For me the greatest highlights were the elephants and the giraffes – you’ll see photos before too long. For Nick the leopard made his day, although he didn’t manage to get a pic of him! (Nick adds: Humph!) Also, the sense of being somewhere ancient, where animals have evolved and roamed for millions of years. For the kids, the most important thing is to have seen the big animals that only Africa has. I suppose you could say that no trip to Africa would be complete without seeing at least an elephant – and we saw it all!

18th-19th Jan Swaziland
Mlilwane Nature Reserve
Lindsay and the Ostrich - Click to enlarge

On Sunday 18th January we travelled from Nelspruit into the Kingdom of Swaziland. We had decided to head for Sondzela, a backpackers' hostel in a nature reserve, where we had heard you could see hippos. The journey took five buses, but was actually surprisingly easy and comfortable by comparison with other journeys! Our journey ended with a walk of two or three kilometres along a dirt track to the entrance to the nature reserve.

Sondzela was amazing. We camped in the grounds of the hostel, and it was incredibly peaceful. Entertainment came in the form of a group (collective noun?? - suggestions welcome!) of ostriches. They were huge, prehistoric-looking and highly amusing. As we set up camp they came over to see what was going on and whether we had any food. They stalked up to us, looking at us with their huge, beady eyes and peering inside the tent. Esther kept her distance and laughed at them, while Tom fed them mangoes from a nearby tree, which they swallowed whole. They could have been cartoon animals as the huge fruits moved slowly down their long necks, creating a bulge like a massive swollen adams apple! There were warthogs there too, which were also fun to watch, although one gave me quite a fright when I foolishly poked my head into its hole to see if it was at home!

We spent a happy few hours walking around the 'Hippo Trail'. The countryside was beautiful, rolling and green, and there were hundreds of animals to see, just roaming free in the park. As we looked at a herd of impala close by, I notice through my binoculars a small herd of zebras in the distance. We saw several more groups of them, as well as nyala, kudu, wildebeest and another type of antelope which Tom thinks were sable antelope! At the lake we stopped talking and walked quietly, hoping to see hippos. It was a big lake and we knew we would be lucky to see them. Then we heard one! It was unmistakably a hippo noise; a sort of grunt, followed by the sound of the animal blowing water out of its nostrils. We were excited and a bit nervous. We carried on tentatively. At the end of the lake, where we had a good view of the whole lake, we stopped for our picnic lunch. Nick was scanning the surface of the water with his binoculars, and he said he could see something. Three hippos were wallowing in the shallow water 100m or so from us. We saw them surface several times while we ate. Although it was not a close-up view, and I'm not sure the children saw them properly, it was still very exciting!

21st January Swaziland
Myxo´s Cultural Village Tour
Meeting our hosts at the village - Click to enlargeOur experience of Swazi culture began on the night we arrived at Myxo´s Place, with a lesson in basic siSwati. We were quite excited to find that it is one of those intriguing languages which involves some clicking sounds made between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Some words are pretty hard to say!

We left for the village at 7.30 from Myxo´s Backpackers. Sibali drove us and the three other people who were going with us (including Kirsty, from Scotland!) First we stopped at Manzini market where we had breakfast, our first taste of 'incwancwa' (both c's pronounces as clicks). It is a kind of porridge made of fermented sorghum or maize meal. It was rather sour tasting, but lots of sugar made it slightly more palatable, and we all ate some!

After breakfast we drove to the village, some 70km away. The place really was isolated, and high in the mountains. The views in all directions were spectacular, as though Swaziland was laid out in front of us. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful and, at night, totally dark. We stayed in traditional Swazi houses, like bee-hives made entirely out of grass.

First we were given an introduction to Swazi culture, given in 'grandmother's house' by Sibali. He explained various customs and answered our questions. Grandmother´s house is the central meeting point in any homestead, where meetings happen, disputes are settled and children take refuge from angry parents. Marriages are celebrated there. (On the subject of marriage, men can have as many wives as they like - or can afford, as for each he has to pay the family seventeen cows) In the house the women sat on the left and the men on the right, ready to fend off any marauding invaders, right hand first! Left-handed people (like me!) are considered defective. Many are forced to use their right hands, and left-handed girls are not worth as many cows as their right-handed sisters. I was glad I was leaving the following day!

We went for a walk around a nearby homestead. It was surprisingly authentic! We had expected some kind of show to be put on as is often the case on "cultural" excursions, but it was not like that at all. We just saw real people going about their daily lives. We were introduced to two old men, George (Titus) and Jerome. We were greeted and responded in siSwati, and were invited to sit with them. Men sat on wooden benches and women on the floor, on reed mats. We tried some home-brew, made from sorghum. It was a bit strange, and looked even stranger, but, as we found out later, is better if you drink it in the dark!

The children of the homestead were lovely. Obviously used to visitors to their home they were happy to interact with us and to play with Esther and Tom. They also showed us some impromptu traditional dancing, and even made up a dance "on the spot" for us!

Back at our homestead the fire was lit and the meal being prepared when we returned. It took hours! First, pumpkin leaves were cooked in a big pot on a tripod over the fire. Then the woman put that to one side and cooked some beans. There was also a pot of tomato and onion - a sort of sauce. By the time she was ready to cook the pap (maize meal porridge, the staple of their diet) it was dark, and several more people had arrived from the village. Maize was being cooked (corn-on-the-cob) by the fire, and we all shared it as a starter. It was an incredibly friendly and sociable environment, which we really enjoyed. We all had a go at stirring the pap as it thickened, which was very hard work. Then the men moved the biggest logs aside and barbecued steak and onions over the hot embers.

The meal was fantastic, eaten with fingers in the dark!

When the children had gone to bed the sorghum beer came out. Nick had ordered this and bought it from the men in the village. There was a small bucketful! In the dark it was somewhat more appetising, and everyone had at least a mug-full!

We slept well in our bee-hive house, although the cockerell woke us up at 5-ish! In the morning we dutifully ate our incwancwa for breakfast. Actually this time it was less sour and a bit nicer. Tom had three bowlfulls!

The best thing about the cultural tour was the authenticity of the experience. It was fantastic to meet people in such a genuine way. We shared food with them and chatted to them about their lives and ours. The older people didn´t speak English and the little bit of siSwati we knew was really necessary to greet them / say thank you etc. And the setting was so peaceful. We looked out over the African landscape knowing that we were at the home of an African tribe and clan who have lived there for generations. Home comforts were few, but the experience, priceless!

January - February South Africa (again)
We took a minibus from Manzini to Durban, where we stayed at ´Home´Backpackers for a couple of days. We were not too keen on the atmosphere there, or generally in Durban, feeling that there was still a lot of tension between racial groups there. We never felt threatened at all there, but people kept warning us not to stand here ar not to wait there, or to take a cab if we went anywhere. We found it a bit claustrophobic. In the aftermath of apartheid, whites live in little walled compounds behind barbed wire with `24hour Armed Response`burglar alarms, scared of the indigenous people outside, while the ´blacks` try to live dignified lives in sprawling "squatter camps" on the outskirts of town.

Don´t get me wrong, I´m sure Durban has a lot going for it. That´s just the impression I had. Direct all angry responses to me, just a naïve European!

July 03August 03September 03October 03November 03
December 03January 04February 04March 04April 04
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