After spending 3 days getting into Mozambique and then making our way past the border guards, we headed to Gorongosa National Park at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley - in central Mozambique. So we had to Mo-zam-boogie if we were to make it by sun down. It was an incredibly long day on the road, and we didn't make it by sun down. We traveled many dirt roads and then ended on a road that looked like it was going through puberty - more pot holes than I have ever seen in my life. I might have walked faster. Six weeks on the road was closing in, and it was apparent with most of our crew - and we had a LONG way to go. The campsite at Gorongosa is very well maintained but we didn't have time to explore so we stayed overnight and were off in the morning to the coast.
Four hundred kilometers and ten sore asses later we were ready to stop driving. I saw a sign for the beach town of Inhassaro and after a meeting on the side of the road the group agreed to check it out. It would be another hour to Vilankulos and we needed a break. The first place we stopped was the beer store to get our sundown supplies. Then off to what seemed to be the 'touristy' part of town - which was absolutely quiet. We pulled into the first lodge and immediately felt out of place, and out of budget. The proprietor politely confirmed our suspicions and told us about a place farther down the road which might suit our rag-tag, dusty group a bit better. And that it did! The campsite was just by the ocean and there was even a pool. We were in.
The coast of Mozambique was absolutely stunning and the water a crystal clear blue. We were on day three and decided to spend our last 2 days in the country in Tofo Beach. We were lucky with a campsite and I spent almost an entire day by myself in the sea relaxing and stretching from many days on the road. At 5am on the morning of departure from Tofo, a Land Rover got stuck in the sand. We pushed, we pulled... to no avail. Finally a few stronger guys from the lodge helped us get the car out and we were on our way to the South Africa border. We didn't get far when we hit our first of 2 flat tires. We had 660 kilometers in front of us and 12 hours to get there - the border closed at 6pm. We ran out of gas, had two flat tires, and made it to southern Mozambique around 9pm, clocking 16 hours on the road. One more night of camping was in our future before we made it home. It was a rough one, and I awoke in the middle of the night in a leaky tent on a deflated air mattress in a huge puddle of water. Much meditation and a dip in the sea was needed that morning, so I took my time. Thankfully, South Africa let us back in and after approximately 2,300 km we were happily in Sibaya.
Every trip poses its challenges, from closed borders, to flat tires and food, gas, or water shortages. But if you are on an expedition, you also must rely on luck. It is a chance to see the world and reflect on your life ~ drill down to what matters to you. Unfortunately, I witness few people exhibiting gratitude for the opportunity and too many displays of entitlement and insensitivity. Phrases like "Oh my goodness, this is so cheap!" exclaimed right in the face of a shopowner after purchasing a coke - someone who lives in a country with a GPD of approx $250 per capita. Even when people are trying to help, they can often make matters worse - aid gone wrong. Malaria nets provided to people around Lake Malawi sounds like a great idea, until they are used to provide income to the family through fishing and the lake is over-fished and people are still getting malaria. Is a bag of toys for kids in a small village a nice thing to do, or does it create a stereotype about white foreigners all having money, providing gifts, and paying more for produce? What is the place of aid in this world? What is given and what is being taken away? It seems more questions than answers were found on this particular expedition, but Mozambique, I shall return!
After the heat of low-lying Malawi, we headed for the hills of Zomba. The views are incredible from the plateau, the stream running near the campsite is cool and fresh, and there is a wonderful market in the town as well. A trip to Zomba is always worth it if you are in Malawi. We arrived in the late afternoon and got busy setting up camp. It was surprisingly chilly at night, but that came as a relief after a few weeks in the heat. The group loved the spot, so we ended up staying two nights - the plus side of a flexible itinerary. We hiked, had 'boat races' and enjoyed our first hot showers in a while. The owners were there and I got to enjoy a cold beer and great conversation as well, and hear about the campsite that was situated on what used to be a fish farm. It was a relaxing two days as we prepared ourselves for the long journey back to South Africa.
We were up early to get to the border 270km away before both sides closed. The drive south from Zomba is incredibly beautiful but sad, as we realized the valley used to be teeming with elephants and wildlife and now it was full of settlements as far as the eye could see. We arrived to the Malawi side of the border just in time to deal with a flat tire. The crew settled in to wait, and I challenged the border guard to a game of Bao, a mancala board game. I had gotten the board in Monkey Bay and was eager to try my luck. A crowd gathered, and soon the guard was called out for cheating - and I got much of the crowd on my side. Fun to bring everyone together and enjoy a bit of competition. It was an inspiring exchange after witnessing many selfish acts from the members of our group in the past weeks, and it filled my heart with joy. The tire was fixed before the end of the game, so we made a deal to have a rematch on the next trip. We exchanged emails, got our passports stamped, said our goodbyes, and it was off to the Mozambique side of the line.
A much different scene as we pulled in, with armed guards and trash strewn, empty dust parking lots. Piet went in first to try his luck, 9 of our passports in hand. The guard wanted to see all of us, so we filed into his tiny office. As he looked at our passports, we began to get a bit nervous. No stamp had been pulled out and there was quite a lot of scrutiny. Finally, he said we couldn't get the Visas at the border and asked us to drive all the way back to Blantyre to go to the Mozambique Embassy and get the correct paperwork. WHAT?! That was a half day drive in the Land Rover, and with 10 people that was quite an expense of both time and budget that we didn't have. Left with no choice, we drove back to the Malawi border to explain our situation. We were welcomed with open arms, and made promises to try and be back the following day. The sun was setting, however, and there was the issue of sleeping and eating to take care of ... and we hadn't seen anything but dust on the back roads here. We headed north, and I checked out the map for somewhere we might camp. About 40 km NW there was a place called Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve that seemed like our best bet, so we gambled and headed that way. Upon arrival we found a gate and people that seemed very surprised to see us. Despite that, we were welcome to camp for the night and given access to a water pipe to fill up some jugs for drinking water. It was a beautiful reserve, although we did not see many animals on our way to the campsite. There were beautiful rock outcrops though, and it was a wonderful surprise along our journey after such a disappointment at the border. We made a fire, cooked our dinners, and prepared for the next day's journey to Blantyre. We would leave at dawn in time to make the Embassy as soon as the door opened.
The 9 of us piled into Sparky and started 3-4 hour journey back up the hills to Blantyre. Nine people in a car at dawn and not a peep. We made it before they opened and hung out in the parking lot. A well-dressed woman arrived told us we couldn't come in without long sleeves, long pants and shoes. I got a bad vibe, and decided to volunteer to represent the group instead of having this dusty bunch roll into that embassy, as diplomacy seemed to have missed this place. I borrowed pants and long sleeves, collected 8 visas (South Africa is exempt) and went inside to negotiate. At first I was told that tomorrow is a public holiday so we would have to come back on Friday. The guy we left with the other Land Rover would die of thirst by then, and the French students on our tour would miss their flights. Not an option. So I tried my hand at diplomacy, and faced questions about how everyone in the group knew each other, why we were traveling, etc... then it got personal and they asked how I expected to EVER meet a man and have a family if I was on the road like this. I got berated for about an hour about my personal choices as the others sat outside on the lawn and awaited our fate. After a few hours the staff conceded to provide us with 5-day travel visas to make it through the country and back to South Africa in time for the return flights if we each got 2 passport photos and paid quite a bit of extra Kwacha directly into their bank account in town. We had to be back before lunch, so the group headed off to find a photographer.
After 6 hours and much verbal diarrhea we had our Mozambique visas in hand, lucky to not wait those few extra days. The group cheered and promised me a cold beer, and we piled back into the Landie to head to our camp at Mwabvi. We returned late to a very dehydrated South African and planned to hit the border as early as possible the following morning. Greetings from our Malawian friend were cheerful, and Mozambique begrudgingly allowed us to pass. It took us three days to get into this country, and now we only had 5 to make it through. Would we make it?
In September 2015 two Land Rovers and 7 nationalities set out on a Winterdodger Expedition that would travel more than 5,000 km from South Africa through Mozambique to Malawi and back again over 6 weeks. The trip took the group through Kruger National Park in South Africa, over the border into Mozambique's Limpopo National Park, and along the back roads of Mozambique into Malawi. The intention was to spend some time exploring Malawi, in addition to some field work in Liwonde National Park.
I joined the group in Blantyre after a great week of teaching in Mauritius. I hadn't spoken with them in a few weeks, but I just had to have faith, and a back up plan. I spent one night in Johannesburg on my way through and enjoyed a night at a lodge and a lunar eclipse. The next day I took a comfortable 3 hour flight into Blantyre, complete with a meal and a glass of wine. American airline companies have nothing on the rest of the world it seems. After a long, hot wait outside of the customs building I was through and excited to be back in Malawi. I collected my bags, exchanged some Rand for Kwatcha, and headed outside to await the arrival of the Landie. My last contact was 14 days prior, and I knew they had recently stopped into the Lake of Stars Festival on Lake Malawi. As I watched the remainder of my fellow passengers depart, a shred of doubt began to creep into my mind. But, an hour after my arrival a dusty Land Rover, driven by two tired, even dustier fellows pulled up to the small airport entryway. I was overwhelmingly excited, and equally shocked to see them. They quickly remarked on my polished, very clean appearance and immediately wanted to plunge me into life on the road in southern Africa. I assured them my intention was to be just as dusty by the end of the day, and off we went.
There were 10 of us traveling, and the other 9 seemed to have quite an adventure prior to my arrival. The night was filled with many stories, including a hold up at gunpoint while wild camping in northern Mozambique - something I was not sorry to miss! It was nice to be back, and I was excited for our next destination - Liwonde National Park, where we would be researching the klipspringer antelope that reside in the hills in the southern part of the park.
We set up camp just outside the park the first night and the next day met with the main steward from African Parks who provided us with a guide that had recently seen the klipspringer. He was to assist during our time in the field and revisit places the elusive klipspringer had last been seen. Our team spent time on foot but it was very hot, so we decided to spend three days driving the area to cover more ground and revisit locations of recent klipspringer sightings. I piloted my drone over the hills on two occasions to survey the habitat of the antelope, and managed to only have it drop out of the air one time. Success. The footage didn't reveal any klipspringer, but the hills are beautiful and it is always fun to fly. Camera traps were placed in two locations,both rocky outcrops on the hill, but we didn't have much luck capturing the camera-shy klipspringer. After a week in Liwonde viewing vast amounts of other wildlife, we hadn't had one klipspringer sighting. We had found hair and dung, and heard about sightings from other visitors, but we left for Lake Malawi slightly disappointed. I would highly recommend the campsite at Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde though - the pool is wonderful, the staff are friendly and you can watch the sunset and elephants across the Shire River. An excellent way to end a day of field work, and get in touch with your inner Tolkien!
The next week we enjoyed staying at Mufasa Rustic Lodge right on shore of Lake Malawi. After speaking with the owner I ended up making a trail map as well. The idea of the map is to provide local kids with ways to identify trees; by showing them on the map and placing label markers on the trees. The time of year made it difficult to identify most of the species, but we were able to point out notable trees and mark the hiking trail. We took a side trip to Cape McClear, where we heard there was a klipspringer in captivity - the crew was very excited. So off we went on a day trip to finally see the elusive antelope, and check out a more popular tourist destination. The klipspringer was tame and got plenty of attention from our team. Cape McClear was nice, but we were excited to return to the more peaceful surrounds of Monkey Bay where we spent the rest of the week having some time to ourselves, exploring the local markets, and relaxing before getting back on the road to head south into the Zomba Plateau. From there we would cross into central Mozambique and back to Sodwana Bay via the coastal route. But first, the refreshing, cool breezes of Zomba awaited us.
If you're interested, here is the final report from our work in Liwonde National Park.
In September 2015 I had the honor and privilege of teaching a five day course on open source geospatial tools as a visiting lecturer at the University of Mauritius. I had met the Dean of the Department of Ocean Studies that February and liked her instantly. She was doing great things for the University and the department, and I was excited at the prospect of becoming a part of such a dynamic team. After a short talk at the University in March 2015 about using open source tools for mapping, the Dean and I collaborated on a short course in GIS for professionals.
Through a partnership with the Adaptation Fund and the Ministry of Environment, we had full enrollment with 27 participants from both the public and private sectors. There were a few people already using GIS in their work, and many others learning about mapping for the first time. The basic requirement for the course was knowledge of how to save files and unzip folders in a Windows OS. The course was designed to familiarize participants with the many features in QGIS and other open source tools. Participants learned how to create new GIS data, edit data, find and use open data, manage plugins, convert data from one format to another, and symbolize it on a map. They were introduced to cloud-based mapping resources including CartoDB, editing in OpenStreetMap and collecting data in Field Papers. Since the Adaptation Fund was involved and their focus is climate change, I included an exercise on mapping low-lying areas for analyzing coastal sea level rise. All but one student made it through the entire course and this was due to pressures from her employer. A full course report is available here.
Highlights included a day out mapping the campus for OSM and two drone operating sessions, and one day even demonstrated how drones recover from crashing into faculty buildings, and then how to race across the quad and onto a building to retrieve it... Despite the crash (the drone suffered only minor injuries), it was an inspiring experience and I hope to get the chance to repeat the course at University of Mauritius and other universities around the world.
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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