Driving Geography! - A Tour of Southern Africa - Mozambique

Crossing into Mozambique towards Maputo was pleasureable as the landscape was very good at redirecting your attention from the obvious change in the road surface. Potholes were scattered across the width of the road every few km's and sometimes there were some policeman scattered across the road as well. The landscape does eventually flatten out to reveal a country that we know is still in recovery from the aftermath of a brutal civil war. The scenery transforms from a green, hilly jungle to reveal pockets of war-ridden buildings, clearly inhabited, but probably without the means to fix the remnants of the Kalashnikov fire. Anyhow after negotiating the Potholes and as you approach the capital City of Maputo, you realise that there is something else you need to negotiate: Oncoming traffic! From all directions. There is no sense of .... no wait. There is no SENSE in the way Maputo-'eans' drive. They seem to drive as the Crow flies. If there is road underneath them then great, but if not, they keep on ploughing along. I felt a sense of relief when the road widened to a dual lane freeway but that relief was short lived as was the highway.

We had to take an exit heading towards Inhambane, the coastal district. This road would prove to be the worst start to a holiday I have ever had. What was probably a 60km drive out of the city took us nearly 3 hours in peak hour traffic. And that traffic was not just cars. It was everything! Mopeds, Trikes, Tuc-Tucs, Buses, Trucks, Cars, Animal-drawn carts, Taxis, Pedestrians, Salesman, Bicycles, Wheelbarrows you name it, was on this road. And going in every direction you can think of. You would think that when you approach a four-way stop, you would do just that. But no! Nobody Stops. Everybody plays Chicken and sees who can get through the maize of things on the road without hurting themselves. They don't really care about scratches on their paintwork and dented fenders and all that, as long as they get to where they are going. It is insane! Nobody pays attention to traffic signals, traffic lights or anything traffic related. They just drive and hope they get there. Which is why the sides of the road are full of make-shift panel beater shops, tyre centres, bumper replacement specialists, food outlets, you name it. The theory is simple. If while you're barreling down the road and happen to lose a bumper, grille or fender, you can get another one back on in a few minutes. And then those same blokes will sell your old one to someone else. There is also everything else flanking the road: food outlets, shebeens, grocers, bed-makers, clothing etc. It's almost as if you can do everything you want to while driving, without actually driving. Cause that's definitely not what they do in Maputo. Driving is absolutely not what they do!

Eventually we did get out of that place and 'headed for the border' - literally. But the border was far so we needed to make a stop or two along the way. And so the woes continued.

We now had to travel 420kms up the coast of Mozambique to Inhambane and one might normally think this would take about 6 hours if we include pit stops and coffee breaks and chilled driving. Mmm..It took us 10 hours! Why you might ask. Well. No changes from Maputo really, except that the roads become narrower and the traffic lessens to more of the car and truck variety. The potholes are everywhere, the trucks are plenty and the undulating road surface only gets worse. So you could imagine that driving at night is quite treacherous and it is! The trucks are the most treacherous: They all drive quite quickly and they use their brakes sparingly. They do warn you that you're in the way with a flash of their high beams and a yank of the hooter and that's awfully nice of them. "Hey you're in my way - Get Out!"

However, we did pick up a trick about all of them. They have all realised how bad the roads are and they've probably all lost many trucking jobs for driving stupidly before, so they seem to have developed a way of telling driver's behind them when it is safe to overtake and when NOT to overtake. They crest a blindrise and monitor the situation. If all is clear, they put their left indicator on which means, 'put your foot to the floor and try overtake me.' If however, they see an oncoming car or a dead cow or some pieces of road have vanished (yes this happens), they turn on the right indicator basically saying 'if you overtake me now, I will not be friendly to you in heaven' or 'I will be unemployed and steal all your wheels'.
We found that the indicator trick was great and eventually our average speed seemed to get better. Thanks Mad Truckers!

I could wax lyrical about Mozambique drivers and roads as we still travelled a further 780kms in this place, but here is a shortened summary of advice:

1) The roads are not good but a normal sedan can cope unless you're staying in a beach villa and traversing beach sand roads is the only way to get there.

2) There are some service stations that do not have/run out of petrol and diesel. In this case, ask around and someone, somewhere around the corner will have some drums of the stuff in a makeshift shed at the back of his hut. You'll pay for it though. Rather go to Mo in a diesel. Its more economical and seemingly in more abundance.

3) Don't expect a friendly welcome reception from the Police. They seem to want money only. Nothing else. Not even good driving.

4) Listen out for the trucks and get out of the way when they ask you.

Yeah I know it seems a pitiful place, but remember, this blog is about the roads and the drivers ... and they are both BAD! The end!

(Mozambique as a holiday destination is magnificent. But I don't blog about that. My wife does. Follow her stories here.)

Driving Geography – A Tour of Southern Africa - Swaziland to start!

Having just completed a near 5000km round trip through four Southern African countries, I am somewhat sad to be back on South African soil, and moreso on South African roads. Don’t get me wrong, South African roads are a dream. In fact, they are undoubtedly the best roads I have ever driven on. But I digress. Let me set the scene:

10 days, 2 cars and 3 different border posts made for some interesting driving lessons. And I can definitely tell where a driver comes from just by observing driving style – no number plates required.

Crossing into Swaziland from South Africa is a good revelation. The roads are actually better on the other side. (only for a while though) Swaziland has recently built a Highway that runs from the Oshoek/Ngwenya border through the capital of Mbabane and into Manzini, the other commercial hub of the kingdom. Although sometimes littered with cows, goats or dogs and of course roadkill, the Highway is a dual-lane haven full of twisties for those who enjoy their driving. It meanders its way down the infamous Malagwane hill: a 5km descent through some breathtaking scenery. This hill used to be treacherous and many a life has been lost on this road. There was a murmur some years back that the hill had a Ghost hitchhiker. It used to scare the love out of me when I was younger, but I never saw her so I don’t believe it anymore. The story was that you would pick up this beautiful woman dressed in white, and when you got to the bottom of the hill, she would have vanished from the back seat of your car. Anyways, there was also a murmur that the hill was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the most fatal stretch of road in the world. I never looked into that one.

Like some of the neighbouring Southern African countries (except South Africa), Swaziland has been flooded with second hand cars from Japan and Singapore. The cars are more affectionately known as ‘Dubai’s’ and you’ll find everything from weirdly named Toyotas to Subaru WRX’s and of course, the ever famous Nissan GT-R in all it’s different forms. The cars are cheap, but the banks don’t fund them so it’s a cash-only game. But it seems to be working, as the roads are full of them and young, hardworking guys can actually afford sports cars. It’s fantastic!

Swazi drivers are fantastic too. They’re polite, they drive slowly and obey most of the rules of the road. If anything, you need to keep your eyes open in the evening for: 1) black cows in the middle of the road; 2) Zionist worshippers walking on the road in the dead of night; (3) An old battered bakkie or tractor with absolutely no lights and any other forms of wildlife. (I have been fortunate enough to witness a huge Lion crossing the main road in all its majestic splendour. What a sight! I will never forget it.)

Other than that, an amazing country with amazing people, respectable roads and similarly respectable drivers. Yes there are potholes and unroadworthy cars, but as you read on, you’ll realise Swaziland has a twinkle in its eye. Bayethe!