by Mark Seuring
"All around the world
we could make time
rompin' and a stompin'
cause I'm in my prime…" Red Hot Chili Peppers
So, in 2000 we were preparing our
next Mozambique adventure. Alard had been back in SA for just 2 weeks after spending a year climbing in the USA
and working in London. We had planned to leave as soon after my final exam as
possible which left us with half a day to shop for food and pack the car:
Frantic yet quite normal.
After our last expedition, we had
decided that if we went again, it would be with more climbers, gear and a big,
strong car. Last minute interventions, however, forced our other team-members to
withdraw: This was going to be another great adventure. I can’t help but admit
to a tinge of nervous excitement as we stuffed our immense mound of climbing
gear (including 20 friends, pitons, hooks and a 200m static rope) into Alard’s
blue mobile, a 1980 Toyota Corolla,1300.
At 3h00 the following morning we were up and heading north. Our psyche was high and, ignoring all others on the road, we babbled about the next few weeks and the two main walls we wanted to climb.
The east face of Mlema 3 was to be our first objective. We had gained the base of the face in 1998 but it had looked steep and hard and we hadn’t felt quite up to it then. The 'Dos Amigos Face' was our other objective and, having forgotten our hardships from the previous time, we now felt ready to complete the climb and thus dig out that thorn from our minds.
After three tough days of travel, the beautiful landscapes of Zimbabwe, Tete province (Mozambique) and Malawi leaving only static impressions in my weary reality, we reached the little town of Malema in northern Mozambique’s Nampula Province.
At night, the only oasis of activity is a small pub and restaurant located at the head of the double-lane main road. A large “boom-box” is sending out funky Portuguese/African vibes into the night and the place is bustling with people eating, drinking and dancing.
The atmosphere here is friendly and relaxed. We camped opposite the restaurant at a new establishment offering comfortable bungalows, showers and flush toilets! The owners (both from Mozambique) are very friendly and are keen on tourism, even having English-lessons twice a week. We could not believe the change: things are moving forward here.
Just 20 km's east of Malema is the Mlema range, consisting of peaks one, two and three. We had reached our first objective, and stopping on the road which passes close to the peaks, we looked up at the extremely compact East face of Mlema 3. "Is this really what we want to do," I thought, but, catching Alard's enthusiasm, leaped up and down and shouted with excitement, trying to mask my fear and reservations.
The logistics of climbing a mountain in Mozambique are pretty involved. First we had to go to the Secretario of the village at the foot of the mountain, who would formally sit us down in his office (one of the larger and cleaner mud huts) and ask us our business. : “No business.” We would say. “We want to climb the mountain for sport, for fun…just like playing football.” After a while of this he would nod his head, say something to his friend and both would laugh. Then he’d look at us, proclaim us mad and send us off to convince the District Administrator of our well-meaning insanity. Once that is achieved we would have to return with a stamped and signed letter stating we were allowed to climb the mountain and camp there for as many days as we needed. This took us a whole day.
We set up camp under some trees next to a church about an hours walk from the base of the wall. Now, all we needed to organise was a guard and possible porters for the next day. We had found out in Malema town about the standard minimum wages and we wanted to pay our porters and guards accordingly. We felt that by not throwing money and food (especially sweets) around we could possibly keep our impact on the local people’s way of life at a minimum.
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Our research had revealed that Mozambique is not only divided into provinces but these are further
divided into many smaller districts, each with their own administrator, the secretario. So, when you want
to climb a mountain you have to ask the secretario of the district, in which the mountain lies, for
permission. If there is no village nearby with a secretario, this could be quite a mission. If you want to
walk around and scope out a mountain, hope that it does not lie in different districts. Neighbouring
secretarios hold each other in high esteem and it is required to formally ask the other secretario whether
you can enter his district. Our guides would turn back because we had no formal invite. More time would
allow you to make the necessary arrangements if you want to enjoy longer hikes and trips of exploration.
Portuguese is the dominant language in northern Mozambique, next to the local language of Makua. Not
many people in the north speak English. You might find a German speaking local, if you’re lucky. Take a
Always organise the exact amount to be paid to a guard or a guide or for camping beforehand. It will
avoid a misunderstanding later on. Remember: Money is ‘Sange’ (blood)!
Always have small notes available. Often people won’t have change and you will end up paying more.
Best time of year: In winter, May through to September
Currency: 1 Rand = appr. 2000 Mozambican Meticais
Best car to take: 4 wheel drive
Train is possible, but you would be very limited
-South Africa through Zimbabwe, Mozambique’s Tete Corridor, Malawi, then either through Nayuchi or
via Mandimba into Mozambique.
-South Africa to Maputo and up the coast to Nampula. A long trip and not recommended due to the bad
roads above Quelimane
-Blantyre or Lilongwe, Malawi (faster and easier)
Malema is a quaint town with a long, wide main street lined with
beautiful, old Portuguese style houses. We were amazed to find a real
bakery, restaurant, pub, a bank, working telephone and shops in the middle
Ribaue is a quiet town with a decent market selling fruit and veggies and the last good remnant of
Portuguese culture, bread rolls, the African version sometimes containing sand: “Crunch!”.
Liupo, situated 40km from the most beautiful beaches at Quinga and has everything a traveller might
need. A lively and well-stocked market, telephone, ‘bush-mechanic’ and hospital. For good camping
contact Sergio: He offers free camping (although a donation is reluctantly accepted), pit-toilet,
bucket-shower and a guard. He is very keen to meet travellers, mainly to learn about the world and to
improve his English. The market offers nightly entertainment in the form of old, poor quality, action
videos for a mere 50c. The local people love this nightly ritual, packed into the small outdoor cinema, they
giggle uncomprehendingly at the ridiculous action shots. The level of enjoyment depends on one’s frame
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