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IN MOZAMBIQUE, A NEW ADVENTURE IN AFRICA
BY MARK SEURING
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Alard’s high pitched
whooping sent a tingling down my spine, my hands clammy with excitement as I
stared. “There it is! This is what we came for!”
Our faithful old Ford aptly
named ‘Mozy’ came to a skidding halt, spilling the contents of our precious
beers onto our sweaty laps. Momentarily we were engulfed by dust, our eyes
straining to see... The three Mlema peaks suddenly reappeared, the perfect spire
shape of the first one holding our gaze, as it rose from the green Mozambican
landscape, reaching high into the liquid blue sky.
Our mission: to spend 4
weeks exploring northern Mozambique’s potential for rock climbing and to
pioneer the ascents of some of the granite domes for which this area, in
particular Nampula province, is known.
Mozambique’s massive size
is sadly paralleled by its level of poverty. A recent history of war has left
the country bare of any noteworthy economic infrastructure, despite its rich
natural resources. The people of the northern provinces in particular are solely
dependant on subsistence farming and small local markets selling necessities.
We had to be well prepared
for this trip into Africa, and so sucked up all the info, even the most trivial
morsel, on Nampula and Mozambique
from maps, books and the few people who had been there. We spent long nights
planning, motivating, joking ... doing anything to sway the probability
of a safe return in our favour.
Unlike most climbing trips,
where the actual climbing forms the most challenging part, on our Mozambique
adventure the danger from climbing ranked in at a cosy 5th place. Sure, an
accident on any climb no matter where you are, can be life threatening, but in
Mozambique we would be faced with
additional dangers such as: Landmines, a bitter remnant from the war and a
frighteningly real threat when bushwhacking to the base of a climb, wild roaming
bandits, malaria, cholera and other weird tropical diseases that can force a
trip to be aborted . The greatest concern was, however, the lack of decent
medical facilities should something happen.
So, packed to the rear-view
mirror(no looking back from now on!) with extensive medical kit, weighty car
spares, food (including some luxuries like ‘hot-chocolate’) and the bare
minimum of climbing gear , a sponsored Ryobi petrol drill our most prized
possession, we headed north into the unknown.
Our first taste of
Mozambique was the 200km stretch through the Tete corridor, previously known as
the ‘gun-run’. Cars were only allowed through in convoy and with armed
escorts because of the fighting. Now, however, it seems quite safe, but the
destroyed buildings and bullet-riddled walls and the general lack of activity
along the road make for a fateful atmosphere. Here we had our first encounter
with the African brutality, not often understood by our western culture. Goats,
tied up, lying at the side of the road in the hot sun, bleating, only to be sold
and carried away on a bumpy bicycle. We hurried on through this bleak and
We decided to take the
southern route from Malawi into Mozambique, From Liwonde eastward on a track
which runs parallel to the railway-line for 50km’s. Three times the track was
blocked by old bridges with half their beams missing. Three times, by driving
extremely accurately, one mistake possibly leading to a fall into the river
below, we managed to navigate past these obstacles. By evening, we still hadn’t reached the Mozambique border
and were forced to ask at a Malawi Police Station for permission to camp. No
We had just settled into our
tent when the night duty officers disturbed us and demanded that we park the car
in their garage, hand over all the car papers, the car keys and our personal
documents, all for the sake of safety.
There was no alternative, as
our queries were met with aggression and a threat to throw us out. Seeing that
the prospect of spending the night next to the road was even more dangerous we
resigned ourselves to a sleepless night, always wondering what would happen.
Luckily nothing did and we collected our valuables the following morning and
headed off into Mozambique.
Once in Mozambique, the next
larger town is Cuamba. It is here that the mountains first appear and seem to
spread out in little clusters and solitary domes all the way east to the coast.
We had travelled 1600 km to get here and like true ‘Pavlovian climbers’, our
hands were sweaty with anticipation.
The smooth gravel road took
us eastward past some impressive mountain ranges which stoked our excitement as
we sprawled over some maps, trying to determine their size and looking for a
possible approach. Somewhat disappointed we continued on our way, their dark,
steep faces looming in the distance, to far away from any road so as to make a
closer inspection possible.
Malema town suddenly appears
out of nowhere, a welcome oasis
after days of hard travelling. Armed with icy South African beers we set off to
find the perfect mountain. As it turned out, we found it not 20 km's further
down the road.
Finally we stood below the
steep face of Mlema 1, a peak I had dreamed
about for the last two years
since my girlfriend showed me pictures from
her Mozambique trip. But
from up close the face did not quite resemble my
dreams, its blank faces were
vegetated with grass tufts and its chimneys
occasionally blocked with
trees and shrub. The obvious line heads up a
series of chimneys and
cracks to the west shoulder and then up a final cone
to the summit.
Earlier that day we had
arranged to camp amongst a small enclosure of huts belonging to a local farmer
named Tome. He was very patient with my attempts, with the use of a Portuguese
phrasebook, to explain our desire to climb this mountain. He later conveyed our
plans to the local secretario, a majestic old man with large feet, crooked teeth
and a friendly smile, and soon we were off to scope out the mountain with Tome's
son as our guide.
The following day we climbed
Mlema 1, a first ascent, requiring 12 roped
pitches with grades
including 21 and some sketchy leading, using grass
tufts as holds and for
protection, the ultimate in feel-good adventure
climbing: The view from the
summit was in itself worth the entire effort. Our guides and friends were
waiting for us at the bottom, their joy at seeing the 'Msungu's' (whites)
descending slowly towards them from the sky paralleling their sense that we must
be crazy. Hence the route name: 'The whites must be crazy '.
The next morning Alard and I
felt pathetic, totally exhausted from a long drive and the previous day’s
climbing. Also, our malaria prophilaxis , taken the night before, contributed to
our general state of fatigue. So, having decided to drive toward the coast and
see what mountains are out there and then being able to choose the most
appealing, we bid farewell to our hosts.
Around the very next bend
the east face of Mlema 3 appeared, its 700m near vertical face reaching into the
sky. We were boggled by its size and its
compactness, with no simple
line bisecting its massive bulk. At the end we
left this wall unclimbed,
vowing to return with more time and resources.
After spending some rest days on the Island of Mozambique, we headed south for 3 hours on good roads to the town of Liupo with its with its distinctive 200m high sphinx-shaped dome, capped on its highest side by an 8m roof.
Having completed all the
tiring formalities of securing permission to climb the mountain and organising a
place to camp, we focused on finding a way through the roof. We packed all our
gear under the watchful gazes from the local people. One thing you have to get
used to in Africa, is being watched, constantly. When you’re eating, packing,
walking around and doing whatever, you will be stared at, mostly by children who
think you are the most interesting thing in the world. Learn to relax, with time
they will get bored, even with the crazy ‘Msungus’.
Our route leading up to the
roof is characterised by clean, moderate climbing on good rock, with good gear.
Alard learned to trust his micro nuts when a friend popped on a short aid
section. He is still seen, tilting his fuzzy head to the heavens and thanking
them for saving his life. The roof looked daunting and did not yield to our
attempts. The crack was to large for any protection we had, so we opted to haul
up our drill and protect it with bolts. We had hoped to do the roof free, but in
the end it was worth every bolt: swinging out high above the coastal plains and
gulping at the intense exposure, our whooping echoed by a group of local people
watching from below. The climb, “Gone Batty 21/A2”, is a classic 6 pitch
route in a spectacular setting. Alard and I managed to add another 3 natural
lines to Sphinx rock, all characterised by rewarding climbing on good rock. We
were especially excited to find two clean Yosemite style cracks , “Cherry in a
minefield” being a fulfilling 18 and “The Spirit of Totonto” a harder 22.
We seem to have climbed the most obvious natural lines but there is still a huge
scope for some excellent bolted routes.
Quithele is a quiet village
on the slopes of the majestic 650m face of Ribaue mountain; in its midst is our
tent, peaceful under a large tree: I was having a bad dream; it was dark
outside, the stars bright, enhanced by no moon. The dream: We only climbed 150m
in a whole day, eating nothing but dirt and a single roll, shared between the
two of us. Grovelling up scary pitches of chimney, aiding, placing bolts off
hooks lodged over loose flakes and holding onto tufts of grass. A dream where I
was pulling lumps of dirt into my face, placing gear in cracks lined with a
crust of soil and finally, exhausted beyond belief, abbing down an old 10mm
static line in the hazy light of an approaching dusk. A dream where everything
could have gone wrong, but didn’t. We escaped only with some scratches and a
battered psyche. A dream, no, I only look upon it as a dream, a dream caked in a
We thought the worst was
over when we started up the climb the following day with our haulbag, planning
to free-climb the route in 2 days. At 250m the obvious line we were following
was blocked by a smooth 20 m face, only climbable with bolts or aiding at A5.
The latter option was too risky and the former impossible, seeing the drill was
sitting in our car, useless. It was a difficult decision, but we aborted our
attempt, giving the lack of motivation to re-climb the first 150m as our reason.
We’ll be back!
On our way home we passed
through Malawi where we relaxed on the islands of Lake Malawi for a few days
before embarking on our last mission: to climb the famous 1700m high Chambe West
face on Mt. Mulanje. The massive size of the face and its fantastic location in
a mountain range which offers some good hiking make it an appealing challenge.
We managed a one day ascent of the face and relaxed on the beautiful Mulanje
plateau for a few days. A great place and well worth a visit.
For the climber and
explorer, Mozambique offers a feast of adventure. Whether you want to be the
first to climb some of the many domes in Nampula Province, explore the mountain
ranges with their wild and exotic ecosystems, seek out forgotten villages
sometimes found along the endless white beaches or just want soak up the
atmosphere of a country with remnants of a colonial past, this is the place to
visit. Mozambique is rebirthing into a time of opportunity and growth. The past
is always near, haunting the present in various forms: the damage of a recent
war, general poverty and often derelict roads. All in all, the ingredients for
an unforgettable adventure. Enjoy.
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.
Portugese 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 Portugese phrasebook.
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
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
-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:
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