Guest post for Notes from Africa by Willie.
Some South Africans paradoxically talk about “going to Africa” when they go north of the South African border. The obvious irony is maybe understandable when you have actually travelled from South Africa to Mozambique, as we have recently done. The difference is more than change in language or scenery, the culture in Mozambique is characteristic of most of sub-Saharan Africa, whereas South Africa for the most part resembles a more western culture. The first culture shock is experienced at the border crossing, where Mozambicans are crossing back into their home country with huge packs of “contraband” (shopping they did in South Africa). The border officials on the Mozambican side have a symbiotic relationship with the “official” guides that assist visitors through the “interesting” border procedure. “Interesting” as in the ancient Chinese “may you live in interesting times” curse. In theory you may choose to use a guide to assist you for a fee. In reality the requirement of filling in Portuguese forms with no official assistance leaves you little choice but to “hire” a guide.
The second culture shock is the morning chicken run through the outskirts of Maputo. Despite being on a toll road, you cross through the middle of various markets and minibus taxi ranks on a dare-devil roller-coaster ride. Here the best strategy is to track a local driver and to behave like he does, even if it feels totally counter-intuitive. You are probably in more danger if you drive like a typical South African, as the Mozambicans will not know how to deal with your “weird” driving style.
But I am getting ahead of myself. As often as time and money allow we get together a group of friends to go on fishing expeditions. The warm waters (25C plus) and abundant fish in Mozambique are always an attractive option. Once the trip dates and interested people have been finalized, the planning starts. The planning and arrangements concentrate on aspects such as travel and vehicles; a place to stay and camping infrastructure; food and kitchen infrastructure and most importantly fishing equipment, bait and kayak requirements. Not forgetting anti-malaria prophylactics and a first aid kit. For most the planning may appear to be overkill, but at our destination you simply do not have access to shops and other services, and you need to be self-sufficient. Most of the guys involved have got good camping equipment for trips like these and together we manage to get by. On this recent trip we had a really great group along and everyday was packed with activities and experiences. Seeing the various encounters through the eyes of the first-timers was especially nice.
Lisa has, as usual, created some homework for me by canvassing for some questions about our expedition. I should have known I would have to contribute to her blog!
Is it really necessary to travel so far to go fishing? Was it REALLY worth driving that far to go and catch a couple of fish? Describe the journey up there? Any highlights?
We travelled for three days and about 2300 km (one way) to get to Pomene. For the fishing alone the trip is worth the effort. The road trip part is also enjoyable. Well, at least going there is, with the added anticipation of the trip. You travel through the semi-arid Karoo region and then end up in a subtropical palm tree paradise. The complete experience is definitely worth the effort. If I could, I would change the duration of the trip – two weeks is too short to enjoy all that the area has to offer.
Our journey started over the Easter weekend, a traditional breakaway period for South Africans. Travelling to Nelspruit we had to battle through toll gates and roadside stops that were filled beyond capacity. We will try to avoid the Easter period in the future. Arriving in Nelspruit, staying over with our friend Heyns and eating an excellent steak braai (barbecue) was a highlight of the road trip. Reaching the turnoff to Pomene from the EN1 (the national road which runs from south to north in Mozambique) was the second big milestone.
Can you describe your camp?
The Pomene camp is located on a narrow sand peninsula between a lagoon and the sea. Most of the camping sites have got a baracca (grass and pole hut) available. Each baracca has an electrical point from the camp generator (which runs part of the morning and early evening) and a tap outside. The baracca was used to house the kitchen, water, some supplies and the camping fridges with their battery packs. In front of the baracca a big blue tarpaulin was erected as a shelter, dining area and “boa arena” (more about this later). Tents were then erected in a semi-circle around the baracca, with some parking space in between for the vehicles and kayaks. The toilets and showers were easily accessible across the road from our camp.
Why did you do most of your own catering?
The evening meal was the big social event of the day, where everybody gathered under the big blue tarpaulin and shared their stories, planned the next day and downloaded and viewed the day’s photographs. The food was the main part of this social event. Most of the people in the group also enjoy the planning and cooking process. We believed we could provide cheaper and healthier food than the local eating place. And there is no way that their puddings could match what we had! See the Top Chef Mozambique 2011 post for a description of the meals we cooked.
Describe the visit to Vilanculos and the dhow trip.
We added a detour in the middle of the Pomene stay to Vilanculos to take a dhow ride to the Magaruque Island that is part of the Bazaruto Archipelago. This chain of islands is really beautiful and well worth a visit. We took one day to travel from Pomene to Vilanculos for sightseeing and to find a good dhow operator. After some negotiations we settled on Dolphin Safaris who took us out to Magaruque Island the next day. We returned home to Pomene later in the evening. Travelling to the island and back on the dhow was as much fun as snorkelling on the reef and doing some light tackle fishing. Our runner friend ran around the island which was for him a personal highlight. The Dhow trip was an excellent addition to our holiday, and a special birthday experience for one person in the group.
How did the two ladies do on the trip?
They were a bit apprehensive at first after listening to some horror stories about the roads and how primitive the camp is. They also had some safety concerns at the camp. After our camp was sorted out and they went on discovery walks, they got more comfortable and started to enjoy the experience. They were both energetic and one of them joined the runner in the group on his morning 10 km beach run. Everybody took part in the snorkelling and casual paddling on the lagoon. I expected the ladies to get tired of camping on sand but that was never a problem. The only issue was the mosquitoes and sand flies that had to be kept at bay.
Do you fish in the sea, a lagoon or both?
I plan to do a more detailed writeup of the fishing stuff, but it may be far more than you would ever like to ever know! In Mozambique we fish everywhere and from every platform possible. One is not allowed to catch bottom fish or reef dwellers, so we focus on the predatory fish that move between reefs. The main focus is on fishing in the sea off a kayak, normally during an early morning session. Afternoons were spent fishing in the lagoon or from the shore.
Is it possible to fish from the shore, or do you need to kayak into deeper water?
Fishing from the shore is productive and a large variety of species are caught with traditional rock and surf equipment using bait. In the lagoon we fish with light tackle using various lures. The most exciting and successful method though is to fish from a boat of sorts, our weapon of choice being fishing kayaks. The kayaks enable us to get to the offshore reefs and also chase the sighting of fish or birds “working the water”.
Do you use lures or bait – um. . .er, or is it the same thing?
We use both – they try to be the same thing but are different. For bait we use, for example, Cape sardines, red-eye sardines, chokka (calamari) and mackerel. Lures are made out of plastics and metal and mostly try to imitate bait fish through induced movement. Fishing with lures requires that it is kept in motion through casting and retrieving, or trolling behind a boat. Bait can be trolled as well or kept stationary; therefore fishing with bait can be sustained for longer. On our recent trip most of the fish from the kayak was caught by trolling bait.
Do you plan on eating any of the fish that you catch? Or I guess if these questions will only get answered AFTER the trip – Did you eat any of the fish that you caught?
Some of the species like Kingfish are released as soon as possible after they are caught as they are strictly “catch and release”. The fish caught from the shore are mostly “catch and release” as well. From the food post you would have seen that we had some excellent Couta sossaties and fried fish. Couta or King Mackerel is a really excellent eating fish that we caught off the kayak and for them it was mostly “fillet and freeze”.
On trips like this, do you keep to a schedule (get up at 3am, pack breakfast and head off to fishing spot) or does it depend on the weather and the tides?
The tides are mostly not that important and are only relevant for the surf and lagoon fishing. The size of the swells on the sea and the wind direction and wind strength dictates what we do and where we will be fishing. Lisa’s job was to look up the swell and wind on Windguru.com and text the information through to us in the evenings. This helped to plan fishing activities for the next day. A typical day started with a quick breakfast just before 5 in the morning. Kayaks got loaded with tackle, bait, water and energy bars and we launched once it was light and we could see what we were doing. About 6 hours later we returned for lunch and a break, during which the afternoon’s activities were planned. In the evening we had a good meal and would then fall over to recharge our muscles and start all over again the next day. Brilliant isn’t it!?
Do you take a break from fishing when you’re there?
Not too often. But pau (local bread) needs to be fetched from the bakery, shops needs to be visited, a bit of sightseeing to be done and there are some other water sports like snorkelling or casual paddling to take part in. Occasionally somebody gets a nap attack and disappears from the scene for a little while. Then of course there was the ongoing boa tournament that resumed every day. Young Michael (9 years old) who came along on this trip, was an aggressive player. He would devise new “killer move” strategies and would spring it on unsuspecting players.
How much time will be/was spent on taking photos for Lisa?
Every person that went along had a camera of sorts. There was also a waterproof camera in the group. Fortunately, there were some prolific photographers and we got good coverage of most of the activities. Occasionally when I took a break I would take my camera out and go for a photo walk to try to capture more interesting shots. Unfortunately we could not stop for all the amazing opportunities along the main road (EN1) north of Maputo. This included the various colourful markets and the sometimes macabre bush abattoirs.
How has Pomene and Mozambique changed since you first went there in 2005?
The people are still friendly and the places have not changed much since out first visit. What has changed dramatically since our first visit is the quality of the road infrastructure. On our first visit the road north of Maputo had more potholes than tar surface. The drivers had to concentrate the whole time to keep their vehicles intact and evade the oncoming traffic that was more often or not travelling on your side of the road. On subsequent trips we had to deal with the road works and now finally the road has been completed.
Pomene has had more changes, but none of them dramatic. The campsite that we used the first time (in 2005) has since been washed away by a hurricane. The main building has also been upgraded and some chalets have been added. The local community has also recognized the business opportunities from the campers, with pau and fresh fruit now being available.
You’ve been to Pomene three times now – why keep going back there?
Paindane may be a better kayak fishing spot and the Bazaruto Archipelago may be more scenic, but as a total “of the beaten track” experience we still enjoy Pomene the most. We have been to a number of other places and the Hell’s Gate / Santa Maria area is also great. But when the first emails go out when we start planning a trip, Pomene is always on top of the list of places to go.
What were the best things about the trip? What were the worst thing about the trip?
About half way through our trip I was woken up one morning by one of the guys with the news that he had a “small problem”. He was standing in front of my tent with a large flap of thick skin hanging from underneath his foot. Going walkabout early morning he scraped his foot on a sharp tree stump. Despite his almost hopeful description of the wound on his foot as a “small problem” it looked bad (I will spare you the pictures) and I had visions of us rushing him to a hospital in South Africa. We had learned from an incident on a previous trip when we had to casevac one of the guys to a South African hospital with tropical blood poisoning. Everybody got their medical kits out and we cleaned and dressed the wound and started the patient on a course of broad spectrum antibiotics. For the rest of the trip the guy had to wear diving booties during the day to keep the wound dry. The injury did not slow him down much though except for the daily visit to the “medics”. Lessons learned? Besides taking your torch along when you go walkabout in the dark, we may need local anaesthetic and equipment to stitch up wounds for our next trip.
The trip had many highlights like the dhow trip and the fishing boat trip, but for me the highlight was the perfect fishing day we had around Day 4. We had a flat sea with virtually no wind and the fish were fighting to get to our bait. The launch was easy and for the only time during our trip we could paddle right in through the lagoon mouth to beach almost at our camp. We could have caught many more fish but took enough and then just enjoyed the day. One live for days like this.
The Mozambique 2011 Series:
- This is how it starts . . .
- Why I didn’t go along
- Daily life in Mozambique – hardship and happiness
- Arts and crafts in Mozambique
- Top Chef Mozambique 2011
- Chicken run to Pomene (this post)
- Sharks getting a raw deal – on the dark side of Mozambique
Thank you to Theo van Zyl, Piet van Zyl, Berry Linde, Kobus Venter and Bobby Esterhuizen for allowing me to use their beautiful photographs for this post. See individual photos for credits.