This was my first visit back to this part of Mozambique in almost 20 years. My parents ventured to this part of the world before the civil war and exposed us kids to holidays we would never forget. So it was with much excitement that I planned this chill out holiday with my wife Gill.
The civil war only ended in 1992, and prior to that not many ventured into this poor, but beautiful country. It is a long narrow country and is ranked 15th in Africa in terms of size and is slightly larger than Great Britian and France combined. It is blessed with a 2515 km coastline and is characterised by sweeping bays with mangrove swamps, headlands and several islands off the coast. The coastal vegetation ranges from mangroves, dune forests and palm savannas. Large areas of coastal Gaza and Inhambane Province have been planted under cashew nut trees, while coconut palms are characterised in and around the quaint city of Inhambane and much of Zambezia Province.
A real cause for concern is the large-scale deforestation taking place throughout the country. Large tracts of land are being cleared of some great indigenous trees to obtain charcoal, which is unfortunately the only source of income for much of the rural population. Since the war ended and rural people have returned to their homes, large areas are also being cleared for subsistence agriculture.
Much of Mozambique enjoys a tropical or sub-tropical climate, and most of the rainfall is recorded from December to March. Portuguese is the official language, despite the fact that it is the home language of just over one percent of the population and is spoken by less than a quarter of the population. In 1992 the World Bank ranked it as the poorest country in the world, and on our visit the exchange rate was R 1.00 to Meticals 2000.00.
To quote from Willie and Sandra Oliviers book Why visit Mozambique:
"With its kilometers of pristine beaches, diverse landscapes and fascinating history, Mozambique offers something of interest to everyone. One of the top drawcards is its unspoiled 2500 km long coastline and its watersport activities - exploring magnificent coral reefs, snorkeling, world class game fishing or simply relaxing. Birders can seek the elusive Green-headed Oriole on Monte Gorongosa or venture further afield to northern Mozambique, where several East African species reach their southern limit. Except where there are activities along the coast, much of Mozambiques tourist infrastructure is still undeveloped. This makes the country an ideal destination for adventure seekers."
It always seems to be hectic at work before a week away, so left later than usual. Fortunately I had packed my truck the night before, so it was a matter of changing and hitting the highway in the Friday afternoon traffic. We had some sun during the course of the week, but the clouds had closed in, and we had rain all the way to Nelspruit. Not much in the way of birdlife, but did see a few grounded and soggy Amur Falcons, White Storks and a Trumpeter Hornbill flying over the Crocodile River.
We checked out the Border Country Inn just outside the border, but decided to stay in Komatiepoort at the Sundown Lodge (R 240/night for bed only). We took advantage of the Portuguese restaurant, Restuarante Tambarina - which was right next door. We started the holiday off with ice cold Casal Garcia and prawns, which was finger licking good.
If it wasn't for the mosquitoes and trains passing in the night, would have slept a little better. Up early, but the air conditioner drowned out the dawn chorus. It was still overcast, but did find the ever present Black-eyed Bulbul (which Im sure is SA's most common bird), also picked up a Plum-coloured Starling in the gloom. Filled up with petrol and got to the Lebombo Border Post. We weren't the only ones who had planned to get there as it opened, so had to sit patiently in a 300m queue. Changed R 1000.00 to Mets and became instant millionaires with Mets 2,100,000.00.
As usual the border formalities didn't disappoint, people pushing, jumping queues and unfriendly officials. 2 hours later we were on our way to Maputo for breakfast. There is a lot of road construction underway, and by June the new toll road to Maputo should be completed and should take 30 minutes off that part of the journey. We found the grand Polana Hotel on Julius Nyerere Avenue, there was a lot of activity and many dignitaries - there was some official government inauguration happening today. It was hot and muggy in Maputo, but sat down to a great continental breakfast. Had a couple of Yellow-billed Kites, Bulbuls and House Sparrows around the hotel. On the way out had to find a shoe shop for Gill, it proved quite easy. In general Maputo had an upbeat feel about it, there is a lot of construction underway, but there is still a way to go. The locals were far less 'pushy' than those in Zimbabwe when it came to selling their wares. We headed out and were soon on the road north, which is still in good shape, but narrow in some sections. Passed through Marracuene, Manhica, Palmeira and stopped in Macia to fill up with petrol, this was Mets 2700/litre. Picked up a Black Coucal in one of the floodplains before Xai-Xai. We thought we would stop at Xai-Xai for lunch, but it seemed to have degraded since I was last there. Couldn't find a place that actually looked suitable to eat in. Time was against us so decided to head to Inhambane and Barra Lodge, the 250 km seemed to take forever, in and out of heavy rain squalls, interspersed with hot humid weather. The weather reduced most bird activity, even during our 'wee' stops as we passed through Quissico, Inharrime, Cumbana and Lindela.
Inhambane was quaint, neat and tidy, but the signposts to Barra Lodge and Tofo were not easy to find. Took what looked like the right road, this eventually proved to be right, and it was with relief after a long day that we drove into Barra Lodge at 5pm. We were allocated Cottage No 2, which was huge and had space for 6 people. The location was beautiful, surrounded by coconut trees, mangrove swamps behind us and the warm turquoise Indian Ocean in front of us.
We unpacked with speed and were the first in the restaurant, and here we went huge, all 3 courses. We enjoyed the cold seafood starters, Gill then enjoyed the prawns, whilst I flattened a large portion of calamari with our bottle of cold Casal Garcia. By then we were stuffed in more ways than one.
Headed for the bungalow, pulled the mosquitoe net over the bed and fell asleep to the sound of the wind in the coconuts and waves crashing onto the beach.
Bird of the day - Black Coucal
As children, my parents took us to Torfu once for our annual holiday, and I still remembered that when you walked on the beach, the sand squeaked underfoot. We woke early, while Gill prepared our hearty, fruity breakfast, I rushed down to the beach and yes, it still squeaked when you walked on it. It actually felt soft as well, the water was warm and inviting. Wolfed down breakfast and took a long walk up the beach, the weather had cleared, and we soaked up the sun - it was all quite perfect. The surf and side rip was strong, which restricted how far you could swim. There was a small group of Sanderlings on the beach, no other waders, no gulls or terns - quite odd.
We took it easy today, but booked on the booze cruise out in the bay. Before we left, picked up Wattle-eyed Flycatcher and Collared Sunbird in the mangroves. At 4pm, met John at reception (the cruise was R 70/person and you had to provide your own booze (!!!), found this expensive compared to the cruise on the Zambezi in December). The 10 of us were taken in two 4x4's to the small double decker boat and headed out toward Rat and Pig islands, which lie south of Linga Linga. These waters are home to the threatened Dugong (which the locals are unaware of and still spear for food!)
We slowly putted out to an exposed sandbank on the receding tide and spent time looking for intricate Pansy Shells. Many of these lovely white shells were found by all in the party (white signifies that they are no longer living). We also marveled at the dhows, which tacked up and down the bay (these apparently can be hired in Inhambane for a trip to Maxixe). Many Common and Lesser Crested Tern were seen hawking above the waters. Interestingly saw a Grey Heron catching fish standing on the edge of a fish trap (Kosi Bay style). With the receding tide we managed to get close to a large group of Greater Flamingoes and then picked up at least about 300 Crab Plovers on the mud flats. They were wary and skittish of the boat, and eventually all flushed and headed for one of the many other sandbands - but what a thrill to see them in such numbers - now a Dugong would really be a win.
The sunset disappointed when it dipped behind a low cloudbank, but it was when we headed back to the pick up point. Back at Barra we decided to join the beach braai, which was a feast to behold - prawns, linefish of the day washed down with Dos M, good champagne and some of the famous Havanna cigarellos's. We took the opportunity to improve our liguistic skills with the local Portuguese and mastered Prawns (kamarau - phonetically pronounced "come around") and crayfish (lagoste as in the shirt from France). Eventually made it back to the bungalow for a round of Gladiators - contestants - Are You Ready!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bird of the day - Crab Plover(s)
Light rain through the night, but this is fairly typical at this time of year. This day signified the end of my 40th year, they should keep on get better. Another healthy breakfast, packed the truck and headed to Tofu for a day in the surf and sun, ticked Hamerkop, Cattle Egret and Lilac-breasted Roller on route. This was the place where I had spent a great holiday in my youth, parts were familiar, but couldn't find where we had camped. The small town had a great atmosphere with viby beach bars and friendly locals. Bought a Lemon Fish (Mets 50,000) for dinner from one of the local spear fisherman (with a home made speargun and no goggles). This bay was more sheltered than Barra and made swimming more fun. It remained overcast yet hot and humid. The infamous Dino's Bar was uninhabited, so moved on to one of the others down the beach. Entertained the waiters by taking a few Polaroid pictures for their collection, we then watched the fisherman coming in from their day's fishing in their leaky rowing boats. It was quite unbelievable, these guys generally can't swim, use antiquated or home made fishing equipment and sometimes spend more than a day at sea. I had no problem buying a 5 kg Barracuda for Mets 120,000. There were Whimbrels and Common Terns on the beach and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in the Cassarina trees. Lunch was a light pasta that Gill cooked whilst I filleted the Lemon Fish and Barracuda. Relaxed during the afternoon and then stocked up on 2 kg of prawns for Mets 160,000 (using your own scale keeps the odds in you favour - also take out the ice when you weigh them). A lovely liquid call from the Lodge grounds caught my attention, and after some careful searching a Collared Palm Thrush was found in one the Coconut Palms.
We took our woven mat to the beach for sundowners (Moet and Chandon) with great snacks - a fine setting and end to a relaxing day. Dinner was marinated Lemon Fish on a fire and a really good bottle of Roodeberg, even though the wind and rain picked up through the night.
Bird of the day - Collared Palm Thrush
By now we were used to the generator kicking in at 5 am, weather wasn't the best, so slept in and had a late breakfast. We lazed around, played some table tennis in the games room - was rusty to start off with, but then it all came back to me. I took a drive to the tidal flats on the edge of the mangroves, which must be really good for the odd rarity. Ticked Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and White-fronted Sandplover. Some of the White-fronted Sandplovers were quite tawny and buffy coloured on the upperparts - couldn't find this illustrated in any of the fieldguides.
We then took a drive out to Torfu and saw Brown-headed Parrot and Thick-billed Weaver. We carried on to the monument at Torfhino, which looked like a good place to fish - steep cliffs into deep water. There were a few Grassveld Pipits on the slopes and both Little and Common Terns following some feeding gamefish and diving for titbits just off the cliffs. Back at Torfu, did some bargaining with the locals for a table and paintings. A drive through the small quaint town gave us Red-backed Mannikin, Masked Weaver and Grey-headed Sparrow. I got a glimpse of a medium sized bulky grey raptor flying over, but couldn't get out of the car fast enough - Southern Banded Snake Eagle crossed my mind, but I couldn't confirm it.
Back at the Lodge, felt like some hot chips for lunch - but added calamari and prego for filling. Gill rested, and I went back to the tidal flats, added Common Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Greenshank, Greater Flamingo, Sand Plover and Terek Sandpiper to the list from the morning. For dinner, it was me to cook - filleted the Lemonfish and added coriander, cumin and garlic whilst Gill got the mushrooms and butternut ready. It all went down very well with a chilled bottle of Hamilton Russel Chardonay/Sauvignon Blanc
Bird of the Day - Sand Plover/Terek Sandpiper
Rained through the night, but slept right through - feel that my neck is now wound back in again. Tried an early morning walk on the boardwalk in the mangroves - tried calling Mangrove Kingfisher at a few spots, but to no avail. Did find Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-eyed Dove, Little Egret, Reed Cormorant, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Curlew Sandpiper. Back to the bungalow for breakfast, the weather was improving so packed some snacks and the fishing gear, and Gill and I walked to the lighthouse along the beach. There were a few huge flocks of terns resting on the beach, one of them had a lone Subantartic Skua sticking out like a sore thumb amongst them. Got to the point just as the tide was turning from low to high. Put on my big white plug and cast it out beyond the reef - 5 casts, 3 Bigeye Kingfish on the beach and 2 dropped. It was great sport and lots of fun, but then the water got rougher and rougher. The locals caught a few on their hand-lines, which was real fun to watch. I gave them one of the Kingfish as I wasn't going to eat them all (they probably sold them to the lodge, as there was Kingfish on the menu that night!). Picked up White-fronted and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in the Cassarina Trees (no Sooty Falcons). The walk back seemed much longer, made lunch while Pedro skinned and filleted the fish.
Had a late swim in the sea, then relaxed in the pub. Had another torrential shower late in the day, but the wind was abating so things could look up tomorrow. Made great pasta for dinner and fell into bed.
Bird of the day - none
Dips so far - Pied Mannikin, Sooty Falcon, Frigatebird
Time has just flown by, wind and rain through the night and during breakfast - seemed like a tropical monsoon (little did we know that 3 weeks later Mozambique would be devastated by floods). A walk around the camp gave me Spectacled Weaver, Black Sunbird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and a Laughing Dove. Talked with John (my Welsh neighbour), he knew a way to the lighthouse that we could take our 4x4's. So packed our fishing gear and headed out there again. This time the surf was huge and even rougher than yesterday. Didn't get any bites whatsoever, the bee-eaters were still in the cassarina trees as well as some Bronze Mannikins and a Pin-tailed Whydah. This time I had brought my binnies, and the flock of mixed terns were Common, Little and Lesser Crested with a Grey Plover and some Sanderlings. I tried all the different plugs that I had, but after 3 hours of being pounded and burnt by the sun I called it a day.
We didn't feel like cooking so had the usual prego, calamari and chips. Relaxed on our porch with a book for the afternoon. I drove back out to the tidal flats. This time the tide was in, and there weren't many waders at all - did find a Burchells Coucal calling from the top of a small palm and then flushed a pair of Mozambique Nightjars out of the scrub on the dunes. The sunset looked like it could be spectacular, so rushed back to fetch Gill and some champagne and drove back to the tidal flats. By then a low bank of clouds had moved in and spoilt it for us. We drank the champagne and watched a Green-backed Heron feeding. When we turned to drive back were treated to a magnificent full moon rising over the sea through the palms - life is so hard sometimes.
Cooked up some of the barracuda for dinner, which was absolutely delicouos. Tried to finish Richard Branson's autobiography.
Bird of the day - Mozambique Nightjar
Had the usual wind and rain through the night. The sunrise was disappointing, but the calling Collared Palm Thrush and Spectacled Weavers made up for it. After another healthy breakfast, took a drive out to the tidal flats - although the tide was on its way out, not a wader in sight, only a few Greater Flamingo's out in the bay. The clouds cleared, it was going to be another scorcher of a day. Walking back to my truck, picked a stunning pair of Lemon-breasted Canaries on one of the Lala Palms, they were most obliging and my damn camera was still in the car. On the way back to camp found Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.
At the camp joined up with John and his wife, and we decided to head back to the lighthouse for a spot of fishing and lunch. The conditions seemed calmer, but we were really distressed to see what the local spearfisherman had 'shot' off the reef at low tide - all sorts of reef fish, way undersized. It was too difficult to communicate with them, but the threatened Dugong which feeds on sea grass often suffers the same fate. That's the problem, when people are poor and hungry - Red Data Species are all part of a meal to feed hungry families. I tried my small spinning rod for some of the awesome Kingfish, but to no avail. Took my car keys out of the side pocket of the cooler box to get my bigger surf rod from the truck. On the way back down the hill heard the girls screaming "Thief, Thief" and saw two of the locals whom we had shared this spot with for the past 3 days (and had given some of the fish I caught) sprinting off with our belongings - which included John's video and 35mm cameras. I chased them for about 500m, but could not catch them when they ducked into the coastal vegetation. This really put a damper on the end of a perfect holiday, but just goes to show you - don't turn your back, don't trust and always watch your belonging's.
Back at the cottage cleaned and marinated the prawns whilst watching a Kurrichane Thrush hopping about outside the bungalow. Met John and his wife at the beach bar and watched the full moon rise over the sea - it was spectacular. John had decided to report the theft to the police at Torfu (for insurance purposes) and had us in hysterics explaining how difficult it was to do through an interpreter. The police wanted his parents' names, he said they were both dead and was here to report a theft and not a death - they didn't see the humour. We then cooked our delicous dinner washed down with ice cold Casal Garcia. Gill packed the bungalow whilst I packed the truck. What a wonderful relaxing few days it had been.
Bird of the Day - Lemon-breasted Canary
Had a 05h30 start, packed our frozen fish and prawns into the fridge (in two weeks' time we were still able to eat fresh fish) and hit the road. The tide was in, and in places next to the mangrove swamps it covered the road. On the way to Inhambane though the coconut groves, picked up Rufous-naped Lark and Crowned Hornbills. Found a handful of Grey-headed Gulls in the bay at Inhambane. Headed back south after filling up with petrol. Birding at 120km/h produced European Swallow, Plum-coloured Starling, Pied Crow, Yellow-billed Kite, Red-shouldered Widow, Scimitar-bill Hoopoe, Fan-tailed Cisticola, 2 Black Coucals and an African Marsh Harrier - a lot of these were seen over the extensive floodplains outside Xai-Xai (the area now that is still underwater after the recent Cyclone that hit Mozambique).
Saw many disabled people whilst passing through some of the towns, many of them had no assistance whatsoever and had to make use of the little mobility they had to get to where they were going. Providing wheelchairs, walking rings and crutches could certainly be a worthwhile project for an enterprising charity. A stretch stop gave us Rattling Cisticola and Klaas's Cuckoo. In no time we arrived at Bilene - took Gill to Parque Flores (where my parents brought us as kids). Unfortunately it was completely run down and overgrown, which was really sad to see as it is a stunning setting on the edge of the lagoon. We then headed south along the lagoon looking for Praia do Sol; it was well hidden, but we found it. Our booking despite been paid in full, had not been confirmed by the Johannesburg office. Before even getting to Reception we confronted by the following sign:
Praia do Sol - WelcomeThis was before we had even checked in and weren't sure if it applied to guests or visitors. We were given Tent No. 2 and unpacked - it was really hot, so had a swim in the warm water and had a pizza for lunch. We then lounged around on a small white beach and saw Common Sandpiper, Somber Bulbul, Southern Boubou, Black-eyed Bulbul, Grey-headed Gull, White-breasted Cormorant and Yellow-billed Kites. Watched an interesting interaction of a large flock of gulls and cormorants following some feeding gamefish. The cormorants were ahead of the gulls and ran and flapped across the water diving for titbits. The gulls wheeled and dived from above. Not to be outdone, a Yellow-billed Kite joined the masses, and I saw it twice take some scraps off the surface only to be chased by a mass of gulls trying to snatch away its prize.
30,000 entrance, no refund, no alcohol, cooler boxes, if caught in your possession you will be charged corkage fees
After a shower, when it had cooled a little, I took a brief walk down the road through some coastal bush - proved quite rewarding with Southern Boubou, Spectacled and Yellow Weaver, Rattling Cisticola, Palm Swift, Black-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Red-backed Shrike, Burchell's Coucal, Speckled Mousebird and Red-necked Francolin. Also saw more mosquitoes in our camp than we had seen the whole trip - relaxed and eventually finished Richard Branson's autobiography.
Grabbed a hot shower and hit the pub for sundowners and dinner. Met a whole bunch of guys who worked for Alcatel and were doing the M-Cell network for cellphone coverage in some the southern Mozambique cities.
Bird of the Day - Yellow-billed Kite doing a Fish Eagle impersonation in amongst the gulls and cormorants
Up early again, greasy breakfast, and were on the road to the border by 07h00 - saw a few Grey and Black-headed Herons and a large roosting colony of White-breasted Cormorants. After filling up crossed over some more flood plains picking up Red Bishops, African Marsh Harrier, Red-rumped Widow, Fan-tailed Cisticola's and a circling Black-breasted Snake Eagle.
The traffic into Maputo was really heavy and slow for a Sunday morning - had to concentrate on the "under construction" section of the road before the border. Had the windscreen cracked by the car in front of me - always right at the end of the trip. The border crossing at 10h00 in the morning was an absolute breeze, despite people jumping the queue with no remorse whatsoever. We were home by 3pm to unpack and do the car wash thing to get the salt residue off the car, and we both agreed that it was a really wonderful and relaxing holiday, and Mozambique was definitely a place to get back to soon.
Biggest dips of the holiday - Pied Mannikin, Sooty Falcon, Frigatebird, Olive Bee-eater and Mangrove Kingfisher.
Barra Lodge, Inhambane: 16-22/01/2000
Praia do Sol, Bilene: 22-23/01/2000
|Species Seen||En Route||Barra Lodge||Bilene||Total|
|Great White Egret||X||X|
|Black-breasted Snake Eagle||X||X|
|African Marsh Harrier||X||X|
|Lesser Crested Tern||X||X|
|Cape Turtle Dove||X||X||X|
|Collared Palm Thrush||X||X|
|African Marsh Warbler||X||X|
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