Posted by: Anna | January 5, 2011

Road Trip

After spending an extra day in Maputo, we were ready to head on to our next destination. One of our new friends, Alison, had another friend with a car coming to pick her up to drive her to Tofo. She offered that we could tag along in the backseat, which sounded a lot better than riding in the overcrowded minibus shuttle for 10 or so hours. Her friend arrived, we had brief introductions over dinner, and set off together the next morning for a two day road trip to Tofo. They had planned to stop for one night in Xai Xai, another Mozambique beach town, on the way.

Road trips can be intense; it is a lot of time together, just talking. I cannot remember ever setting out on a road trip with someone I literally just met, but such is the nature of backpacker travel. Just go with the flow. We packed our stuff and hit the road, stopping first at all of Laura’s favorite Maputo spots: the bagel shop with good iced coffee, the gelato spot, etc. Full of lots of sugar and caffeine, we were ready to spend 6 hours together in a car.

Turns out, we had a lot of fun together. Laura and Alison both work in Swaziland in public health, both in projects that are somehow related to HIV. Swaziland has the highest rate of infection in the world. Both are American – Laura from DC, and Alison from Ohio. Both have done a lot of travel, much of it in South America and Southeast Asia. I enjoyed hearing their stories about travel disasters (we are not the only ones who have them) and great places.

Driving in Mozambique is not a mindless repetition like it often is in the States; it is an exciting game with people leaping into the road in front of you, cars swerving and passing wherever they can fit, trucks piled perilously high with everything you can imagine (one highlight here include: a live goat strapped on top of a pile of furniture and bags of mystery items), elegant African women with giant bundles balanced on their heads (jerry cans of water which weigh 40 pounds, bundles of sticks, bags of clothes, baskets of fruit, and who knows what else).

You are essentially free to drive whatever speed you can, although the police will stop you to fine you if you are going too fast or you look like you might pay up. This fact is widely disregarded, with cars speeding up as soon as there is a chance to pass, sometimes passing three across on a two lane highway. The police are not generally in cars, but standing by the side of the road. They pull you over by waving at you. We debated what would happen if you just kept driving – they have no way to chase you down.

After a few hours in the car, and one police encounter (more on that in another post), we reached Xai Xai, a small beach town. We did not have any plans for accomodation, so we started to drive around looking for a hotel or guesthouse. We found a hotel, went in – they did have rooms – looked at the rooms – shabby – asked the price – rather a lot for shabby – and decided to keep looking. As we pulled away, a hoard of young boys around 11 surrounded the car offering to find us accommodation in a house. We declined, thinking we were better off looking ourselves. We found a very attractive guesthouse which was full. We found a loud group of South African tourists – drunk, shirts off, having a braai (grill) – and asked if there was any space where they were staying. After watching for a few minutes, we decided we would just keep looking.  They weren’t exactly our idea of perfect neighbors. A small boy again approached the car to offer his lodging-finding services, and this time we decided to see what he had to say. He insisted upon hopping in the car and giving us directions to the house he said was available. It was not, but a more expensive one was – much more than the shabby hotel. We declined, and he hopped out without any drama. We had driven by a campground on the way in. Lots of campgrounds here have huts or chalets for accommodation, so we decided to stop in to see if this one did. They did have a hut, or hovel is more accurate, and the price was certainly appealing. We took it.

The hovel

Shelter needs decided for the night, we set off for food. We found a fairly deserted bar / restaurant right on the beach. They did not have most of the items on their menu (common in Mozambique), but had grilled chicken, so we all had that. It was delicious, accompanied by some very hot Peri-Peri sauce – the Mozambican version of Tabasco, only hotter and more delicious. They also had beer, somewhat cold. The stars twinkled over our heads and we could smell the beach as we ate. Laura wanted to learn to play Hearts, so we got out our cards and taught her to play Hearts.

We then learned the reason mosquito nets are so important in Mozambique. The mosquitoes are absolutely vicious. I was still feeling upset after Christmas, and I didn’t sleep at all, laying there, thinking, fretting over getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Everyone else spent a fitful night of sleep trying to not think about the hungry little bloodsuckers.

I got out of bed at 5:30 that morning and walked to the beach. A golden retriever befriended me and sat with me on the beach while I watched the sun rise over the Indian Ocean for the first time. I wrote in my journal. I felt more relaxed after that and decided to try to sleep a little before we left for the day. I crawled back in bed and finally fell asleep for a little while. We got on the road around 11, then drove on to Tofo.

We rode back to Maputo from Tofo with Laura and Alison as well, friends instead of random strangers. A great blessing of travel is the unexpected friends you find along the way – thanks Laura and Alison!


  1. What an adventure! Love hearing about it!

  2. The mosquitoes sound like Minnesota where they call them the state bird. You see and hear them coming. Again so glad you had friends with you on this trip and company to distract you.

  3. […] the bed you’ve already paid for and opt instead to sleep on the ground in a parking lot. Xai Xai beach – a small hut filled with mosquitoes?  What’s not to love.  Anna slept a grand total […]

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