Where is the borderline?
In spite of the fact that Mozambique is one homogenic country, it is often divided into two parts: the north and the south. The southern one is perceived as more civilized, richer and safer. The poorer north is less popular among tourists and there are different points of view when it comes to its safety and political stability (RENAMO guerilla). It is also said that north part starts from Beira city – at least it is defined like that by car rental companies, which diversify insurance costs depending on where you are going to. So, is Mozambique safe for visitors?
ZIM/MOZ border crossing
Crossing the ZIM/MOZ border we thought that all possible difficulties had been finished out and just civilisation, sandy beaches and great dive sites were ahead. On the border gates nothing extraordinary happened. The fact that we were the only whites in a queue of tens people waiting rather helped (in contrary to our expectations). We were noticed and taken out of the crowd, led to the back office where our photos were taken and we were given visas. After having completed the chain of windows, officers’ desks and payments we entered to Mozambique. The way to Manica appeared to be quite good quality. In the town we easily got some cash from ATM and drank pretty good coffee. The morning started in a promising way…
Because we wanted to get Vilanculos that day, we jumped into our car and quickly continued. Unfortunately, the main road leading east to Beira occurred to be a nightmare. In the clouds of dust we manoeuvred between huge trucks trying to ram us, chinese workers rebuilding the road and giant potholes. Tired and dust-covered we reached Inchope where with the hope for better times we turned south. Thankfully, the surface become to be smoother and the traffic disappeared almost completely. We continued driving and during next hour we met almost nobody except some locals with donkeys. We didn’t analyse it too much and kept driving south trying to make up for the lost time. At one moment I noticed a running person in the rear mirror. The man was apparently waving to us, but I took him for one more hitchhiker and ignored because of being in a hurry.
Finally this run of luck ended. The road was blocked by soldiers. Guys were quite unceremonious, but obviously surprised by our presence there. In a flow of portuguese words which we did not understand one was more frequent than others: ‘colona’. Feeling problems coming we decided to pretend idiots and with innocent faces we were waiting for what it was going to happen. Gesticulating and using simple latin words we started a primitive conversation. It was clear that we shouldn’t have been there and we were not allowed to continue our trip. That silhouette chasing our car was probably someone who was obliged to stop any car coming but he didn’t manage.
‘Uno caro no’ – that was the very first thing we understood. OK, so single car can not enter and we need someone else to join us. We continued our investigation trying hardly to find any sense. “No – colona’ sounded the answer. ‘So maybe we can go with you?’ we gesticulated pointing soldiers. ‘No – colona’ we heard again. It dawned on us that this transit is possible only being a part of special column but we were not able to find how to join it. All in all after further ‘discussion’ we knew it! But news was rather bad. ‘Colona’ was going in the opposite direction that time, and all we were expected to do, was to stay aside, and join it next day when it comes back.
Guys with Kalashnikovs are always right, so we decided to wait. In the meantime we tried to negotiate a free run for us just after ‘colona’ passes. Soldiers hesitated but admitted that it was an option. Finally it arrived! It started from the armoured heavy car with the machine gun on it. Column’s commander jumped out, and after being saluted by his subordinates he attacked us. We didn’t understand all he said but he definitely wanted money and ordered us to join his column. Because we were in despair to take the opposite direction we continued to pretend idiots again At last the commander went somewhere and the column started. They were passing half an hour: hundreds of heavy cars, buses and different smaller vehicles. All of them were guarded by jeeps with armoured soldiers sitting in. They went out and we ensured that we could continue our way. It was really late but we did.
‘Save’ has nothing to do with safety and security:) It is a name of the river. After a couple of minutes of relief that we left soldiers behind and we still had a small chance to get our destination before dusk, we ascertained that if there was a control point on the one end of column’s route we should expect the control at the opposite end as well. Looking at the map things became obvious: The Save River bridge. We named it and we got it. After dozen of kilometres again: soldiers, inquisitive looks and ‘colona’. Guys were rather unfriendly and despite being given small gifts made us waiting long. Finally someone took his decision and the gate was opened. A moment later one more control and demand of a bribe. Highly irritated we refused and were waiting patiently in the car. Exactly at dusk a frontier barrier was opened for us…
At long last we could go, but where to? It was late and we were seriously tired. Continuation of driving was completely irresponsible. We made the decision to enter the word ‘camp’ in GPS and choose the closest destination. Rough ways, complete darkness, but we continued with trust in finding any place to stay in. We found but it looked strange at least. High fence, barracks, barking dog… I came closer to the gate and a guard with the gun welcomed me. We couldn’t stay there – that was the army camp! I don’t even remember the rest of our route. Somehow we reached Inhassoro camp. Exhausted we ate fried shrimps, drunk ‘dosh M” and fell into our sleeping bags. The next morning welcomed us with a fresh ocean breeze, a beach and full civilisation.
This adventure as such means nothing about safety in Mozambique. Today it is easy to speak about and joke but we were seriously upset that time. The information about all this procedure and travelling between Muxungue and Save River was possible to find in one of the Internet forums but guidebooks said nothing about it. We missed it and that is why we are writing these words. Was there really dangerous in that area, and was it the real border line between north and south part of Mozambique – we do not know. Nevertheless everything became clear: the column is organised twice a day and all you need is to be there on time. On September 2016 it was like: south direction 6:00 and 12:00 from Muxungue, and north direction 9:00 and 15:00 from Save. You are expected to be half an hour earlier.
In our opinion it is safe to travel across Mozambique but you need to be prepared!