Riding around Southern Africa on an XT250 and CRF250

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by maria41, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 55 and 56 – Malawi, Senga Bay – Monday 23rd / Tuesday 24th July – 0 km


    We woke up early. After breakfast we did some laundry and planning. WiFi did not work, so I did not buy a voucher.


    WiFi is rarely free in Malawi, except in high-end hotels. Malawi has a hotspot system throughout the country. You buy vouchers to access WiFi.


    Except, if the power is off, there is no signal. Power cuts are a frequent occurrence in Malawi and most places have a generator. In towns the power cuts are actually planned and you know which time of the day and which days are the cut off!


    So, our planning that day was mainly with the lonely planet and a road map, as the power was off most of the day.

    It seemed, from a tourist brochure, that for Mozambique, we needed to get the visas at a consulate as they were not giving them at the border!


    Things change constantly with Mozambique visa thing, so we had to find out what was the latest situation on this.
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  2. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    In the afternoon, a group arrived, some with British accent. They were a mix of Brit/ Ozzie expats and some of their family, visiting from the UK. We had a good chat with the Ozzie expat and his wife. They told us they knew of Europeans who had crossed into Mozambique and got the visa at the border. But it was a lot of hassle and things with Mozambique change almost daily, so they recommended that we would be better off sorting the visas in advance.


    I found out there was a consulate in Blantyre. It was in our way, so we decided we would stop there for few days.

    Sun bathing at Cool Runnings. Good weather at last!
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  3. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 58 – Malawi, Senga Bay, Cool Runnings – Wednesday 25th July

    We were planning to leave, but the place was so pleasant and relaxing that we decided to stay for a 4th night. We spent the day reading and lounging around the various chairs, sun loungers and sofas, with a bit of “Murder in Paradise” thrown in on TV for a change!


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    Paying the bill:

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    If you find yourself in Senga Bay, make sure you drop at Cool Runnings. The Lady owner contributes and has created so many charities it is incredible. She is doing a lot of good locally. As an ex Nurse she also had consultations in the morning to help the locals children. She is amazing.
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  4. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 59 – Malawi, Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlids (south shore of lake Malawi) – Thursday 26th July – 176kms

    We finally managed to extract ourselves, reluctantly, from Cool Runnings, and rode to the south shore of the lake.

    The weather was slowly getting warmer and less cloudy. On the day we left, it was clear sky but not too hot. Perfect weather to ride. We rode through the sandy streets of the village, back to the main road.

    We planned to spend 3 nights in the south shore and get to Blantyre, the second biggest town in Malawi, on Sunday only. The plan was to get to the Mozambique Consulate early Monday morning for our visas.


    We took a short cut through some (mainly) pleasant trails.


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  5. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    The backpacker place we had selected in the south shore had great reviews, but they only had room for two nights.

    It was now the high season, with plenty of backpackers from Europe. Cape MacClear was easier to reach by public transports than Senga Bay, I guess.

    There were lots of backpackers and long time travellers, most of them in their early 20s.

    I am always a bit bemused (and a bit envious) by very young long time travellers. When I was in my 20s I had to save a lot just to be able to afford a bicycle from Decathlon to commute to my minimum wage job! How do they finance their trips?

    The place was funky with music, nice bar area and cheap drinks. A G&T for a pound will attract the backpackers!

    We settled in a room. The shared bathrooms were functional with hot water from solar panels. The water was pumped from the lake.

    We explored the village which was much more touristic than in Senga Bay, with lots of shops selling craft and colourful clothes and bags.

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  6. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    The lake is fresh water, so the locals use the shore to wash their clothes, bath themselves, do the washing up, pick up water to take to their home. There are constantly women and little girls working on the shore doing some washing and men showering very conscientiously.


    I read a review in Google, about Cape McClear and a woman posted an outraged review because the locals were using the lake this way near her lodge! I was a bit puzzled by this. The locals have barely electricity, and certainly no running water. And it is THEIR Lake after all. Which shows not all travellers get enlightened while exploring the world!
  7. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 60 – Malawi, Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlid – Friday 27th July


    We booked a room in another lodge for Saturday night. And then decided to go kayaking in the lake. It had to be done. It was nice to go kayaking once again, We used to do this often at weekends, when we lived in Rio, years ago.

    As we came back, two hours later with our kayaks, soaked, we decided to go for a swim too.

    The weather was splendid and the water was warm at last!

    It was only later that Alistair mentioned some disease from snails. He went digging his emails and found the document the nurse at the surgery sent him.

    There was significant risk of Bilharzia in all bodies of fresh water, including in lake Malawi.

    Oh well, considering the showers and all taps were with water from the lake, swimming or not in the lake would make no difference.

    We talked with the funky Cichlid’s manager about this. She said they recommended everyone to take XYZ treatment as prevention. Well, lucky we asked, as they may tell everyone, but not one of their staff told us. And there was certainly no notice, board or any sign of this!

    Bilharzia can be fairly dangerous and fatal if untreated. Although the risk of catching it is very small, it is best just to take the treatment as prevention, especially as it is a single dose to take 6 to 8 weeks later and cost a couple of dollars. So we planned to buy that in a pharmacy in Blantyre. That would be easier (and cheaper) than asking for it to our GP, back in London, who would refuse to prescribe it unless we were ill, which by then could be too late and rather unlikely to get diagnosed.

    The tests are apparently rather costly; so all the people living by the shore of the lake (including and especially all those Europeans and Americans volunteers or workers) take a treatment every 2 months.


    We did not do much after all that. We read some books again. These few days on the shore of Lake Malawi was a bit of a holiday for us, before we tackled Mozambique.
  8. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    The Wi-Fi at the backpacker hostal was working pretty well. I bought a voucher for about 5MB to get ahead with my planning. Who knows when would find working Wi-Fi again in Malawi? With hindsight, it was a wise decision!

    My research online showed various addresses for the consulate in Blantyre.

    Alistair tried to phone the embassy in Lilongwe, but all the phones numbers we found online or on guidebooks were incorrect. :twitch

    Emails were also incorrect, for both the embassy in Lilongwe and the consulate in Blantyre. :confused

    The phones for the consulate were also incorrect! Including from a Malawi magazine aiming at tourist info! The Mozambique embassy and consulate were rather elusive in Malawi! :scratch

    Finding an affordable place to stay in Blantyre took also some time. The fact, that, as usual, Google and booking.com seem to place hotels and guest houses in random locations, making them look like they are in town instead of 30 kms away, did not help.

    Any promising place we found we had to cross-reference the address using other sites, and find out it was actually totally out of town! :fpalm


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  9. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 61 – Malawi, Cape Maclear, Eco lodge – Saturday 28th July, 500 m ride.


    We packed up everything and rode out of the Funky Cichlid. The place was fully booked for the weekend so we moved 500 meters down the road to the Eco Lodge.


    The room with shared bathrooms was cheaper than the Funky Cichlid, at 20$ instead of $30, but the communal space was less comfortable and the bar very small and poky. We realised that lots of people from the Eco Lodge were actually lounging at the Funky Cichlid’s large open bar and lounge area, as we recognised lots of people there having a late breakfast!


    Our room was away in some sort of wasteland, in a poky place with lots of junk lying around. I guess at that price we could not complain!


    Once unpacked and changed, like everybody else, we walked along the beach back to the Funky Cichlid to lounge! We could not get a signal from the hotspot at the Ecolodge, so that was another good reason to go and lounge and have a nice cheap dinner at the Funky Cichlid instead.


    So we were having a relaxing Saturday by lake Malawi.



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  10. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 62 – Malawi, Blantyre – Sunday 29th July – 275kms

    It was finally time to move away from Lake Malawi and get on with our trip. We left the lake and rode to get to the second biggest town in Malawi.

    The road, for 60kms, was just constant roadwork with deviations through sandy tracks.

    It was slow going with constant people walking, cycling around and goats and sheep roaming free. This had been a constant for a while. There were constantly people and farm animals along the road, a village after another, nowhere to stop for a quick pee or a quiet rest.


    For once, at a police checkpoint, the police stopped us. They usually did not bother with us.


    After the usual questions (where do you come from today, where are you going) the guy asked Alistair for money to buy a drink! It was so disappointing as so far it never happened.


    Alistair told the guy we needed to get cash from a bank, as we had no cash with us. He let us go with a smile, so the encounter was not particularly traumatic.


    In Blantyre, after some search, and despite the GPS, we rode around for a while before finally finding our guesthouse.


    In booking.com it had great reviews. The place was as to be expected for 35$ a night including breakfast! It was a bit of a dump! Alistair spent most of the nights there hunting massive mosquitoes as the mosquito net above our bed was full of holes and was so small it was probably for an infant bed only!
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  11. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 63 – Malawi, Blantyre – Monday 30th July – 0kms

    We woke up at 6am. It was daylight soon after 5am and dark soon after 5pm. With regular power cuts and no WiFi or any sort of entertainment, we went to sleep early.

    Soon after breakfast (microwaved cold fried egg, an ok sausage and some sort of fried potatoes) we walked to the town centre.

    The Mozambique consulate, according to the guesthouse owner, who described in booking.com that it was close to the Mozambique consulate, was in the town centre. We walked the 3kms (almost 2 miles) to the address we had for it, only to find out it had moved two years ago to another location. It was even further away,. The only clue given by the friendly and keen to help door guard at the old address was that the new embassy near a Roman Catholic Church, located down the road somewhere. :norton

    After a lot of asking and a lot of walking under a blazing sun, we finally found it. There were quite few Roman Catholic churches in Blantyre! Inside the embassy, the lady at the desk told us the visa would cost us 115$ each, but we could get it for cheaper at the border!

    So we walked back into the town centre and looked for an Internet cafe, as Alistair had to print some docs for our limited companies accounts.
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  12. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    After that, we tried to find a cafe to sit and have a drink. The only place we found was in the local luxury hotel. Blantyre must be the financial centre of Malawi as we could only find Banks and insurance companies offices in the town centre and nothing much for food or drinks! Where do the local bank office workers go for a drink after work, a mid morning coffee or some lunch? This remains a mystery to me!

    We then walked back to our grimy guesthouse. My steps App, which work offline on my phone, showed we walked 15.5kms that day! Not bad.

    With another power cut and not much to do, we went to sleep early again.

    During our expedition in town, we managed to get the tablets to treat Bilharzia, so we won’t die then! :D
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  13. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 64 – Malawi, Likhubula village, near Mulanje – Tuesday 31st July – 100kms


    We left Blantyre early and took the scenic route as we had plenty of time. The plan was to get close to the border with Mozambique and cross it very early the next day.

    We bought fuel and filled the jerry can as well. Once we crossed the border into Mozambique, if we could not to find an ATM machine it may be hard to buy fuel, until Quelimane, over 360kms from the border. From my investigations it seemed very few places accepted credit card payment in this region of Mozambique!

    We had decided to avoid Zimbabwe, as we did not want to get caught on protests and unrest around the presidential election, should things take a bad turn. So the plan was to cross by a smaller border further east and ride across all of Mozambique.


    The ride south of Blantyre was beautiful as we rode across vast tea plantations through stunning rolling hills. The villages around seemed more tidy and prosperous generally. As usual, there were constant busy people along the road, walking, selling stuff or waiting for a client to take around in a car, mopped or bicycle.

    Tea plantations and Mulanje mountain behind:
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  14. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    We decided to spend the night near the Mulanje Mountains. It was touristic so finding accommodation would be easy. We took a trail off the main road and found (eventually!) a pleasant backpacker place.

    There were louts everywhere vying for business, mainly posing as guides to go hiking into Mulanje Mountain. We had no intention to go hiking, but they were persistent.

    Once settled into our very clean and comfortable room we went for a little walk. Back at the backpacker place, the locals just stared at us from the road, as we sat by the windows. Even the kids! Some lads would try get our attention (more guides?).



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    We had dinner at the guesthouse and chatted with a Deutsche family on holiday in Malawi.

    The wife had spent a year as junior doctor in Malawi few years earlier. She was now back with her husband and kids for a holiday.

    After that we went for an early night, as we had to leave very early the next day, in order to cross the border and make it to Quelimane.
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  15. crashkorolyk

    crashkorolyk just happy to ride

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    Brilliant R.R. and pictures,thanks for sharing your adventure,very entertaining,looking forward to the rest of your trip!
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  16. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 65 – Mozambique, Quelimane – 400kms - Wednesday 1st August


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    We woke up at 6am and left Mulanje backpackers soon before 8. We stopped at the petrol station to buy some more fuel, as well as enough water and snacks for the day. We knew it would be a long day.

    Then we rode to the border with Mozambique.

    My head was full of all the blogs I read during my research back in England about this central part of Mozambique: the armed gangs roaming and holding up cars and trucks on the roads, the robberies, the army escorts on some roads, the insanely bad roads… I did not know what to expect. The UK Foreign Office was alarmist as usual (you would never leave the UK, or even London, if you listened to them!) while the CIA advice was more nuanced.

    Malawi had been good; at least we enjoyed our stay around the lake. It was designed for tourism and catered well enough with fantastic backpackers accommodation and plenty of stuff to do around the lake if you are sporty.

    The food was fine especially the fresh fish from the lake.

    The country is still very poor, but the tidy tea plantations and busy business centres shows that maybe the country is now starting to pull out of deep poverty. It was still one of the poorest countries we crossed so far, in our trip, but we saw schools everywhere, children walking in their school uniforms, all the various churches and canny mosques with water pumps next to it, in every village, farm animals roaming everywhere. Too much unemployment was the main issue I would think, with too many young men sitting around not doing much most of the time, while the girls and women were spending too much time carrying heavy loads on their head, fetching water or doing constant washing by the lake. But they looked happy, always smiling and joking with their friends. There was a feeling of hope.


    All this was about to change… We got at the border at 9am.
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  17. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Exiting Malawi was simple enough. Once stamped out for both passports and Carnet, we were sent to the health centre, where they checked our yellow fever certificate.

    It was a bit strange that they checked it at exit but not when we came in! Mine was done on 2004 and I was told, back in the UK, that it was valid for 20 years or for life, I can’t remember!

    The health worker at the Malawi border told me he did not care but that I could have problems on entry to Mozambique, as it should be less than 10 years! With that in mind, and the added stress, we left Malawi.

    After changing our remaining Malawi Kwachas into Mozambique Meticals, (we had about 12 dollars equivalent in cash left) without much hassle at all, we rode to the Mozambique border post.

    At the consulate, they told us that the visa was $75 at the border or 115$ at the consulate. But immigration at the border asked us for $50 each, only. First for 2 months but then they changed their mind and said it was for 30 days only! It took a good 2 hours to get all done.

    It was not busy at all at the border, inside the offices, although there was quite a crowd of people, hanging on or waiting outside. Inside, many border officials were sitting around not doing much, faffing with their mobile phone, staring at some empty space or using a sheet of paper to slowly fan their face.

    Meanwhile few locals annoyed the official in charge of stamping passports as he had to do some work instead of playing with his mobile phone.

    We handed over our passports to be processed to that same official. He called various people as he did not know what to do with us. He did not appear too happy but his boss took our passports and told us to wait.

    So we moved to the Customs office, next to the passport window, where I spent a while, explaining in my rusty Portuguese (we lived in Brazil for a while and have not used it since we left in 2012) to the custom officer, how to fill and stamps our Carnets! They obviously did not see many of those! But the guy signed and stamped the talon as I asked him to, and that was what was important to me.

    Then we sat on a bench and ate some peanuts, and stared back at the glaring locals queuing to get their IDs stamped. No way to rush anything!

    Meanwhile an older white couple came through and got their passport stamped without any problem. I guess they were South African as there was no faff around their entry or visas.

    However, Customs refused them entry for their vehicle. I am not sure what was the problem, some issue with a document that was not the original. Maybe they rented the car? They spent time on their phone but it was Afrikaans (or German?) so I could not understand. Not that I am nosy :D, but there was not much in term of entertainment and it was not easy to avoid ear dropping :ear!

    Then, an officer took Alistair into a small dark room! Alone! For a very long time! :hmmmmm
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  18. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    I remained on my wooden bench, with the bag of peanuts, worried he was given the fearsome American style full body intimate search (latex gloves and all! :uhoh) but they were just trying to work out how to take his fingerprints and photo:D ! Not sure they use those machines often!


    I think most people who need a visa get it in advance or use the main border toward Tete. Eventually he came out alive and not wobbling! :jack


    It was faster with me! By then the guy in uniform had figured out how to use the machines!


    Then we were sent to a small office outside the main building, where a nice young lady was the health care officer. She took details of Alistair’s yellow fever vaccine batch number, by then I was rather nervous and worried I could be refused entry!


    She took a look at mine, wrote some numbers in a big book and asked us if she could take our temperature, as she mentioned something about Ebola!


    Apparently there was Ebola in DRC, but we did not go anywhere near DRC! We were both judged fit and healthy enough to be allowed into Mozambique.


    Then it was time to buy insurance for our bikes. We were quoted 880 Metical per bike ( about 14$) or, we could pay in US dollars and it would be 10$ each! Go figure!:scratch

    A good 2 hours later, we were let into Mozambique.
  19. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    I want to say a few words about the luggage at border crossing. Lots of people worry that if they have soft luggage, things may get stolen while doing the paper work.

    Our bikes at that particular border were out of sight for a long time. You have seen from photos what we carry. Valuables are usually in my tank bag and backpack. My back pack is always with me as it has the carnets. The iPad is at the bottom of the tank bag and rather concealed. I never really bothered to take it with me in my backpack. I would remove the phone and pocket camera from the tank bag and nothing from the panniers or roll bags.

    We never had anything stolen. Not in and out of Russia, not across central Asia and not in Africa. The panniers would take a million years for someone to figure out how to remove the 2 sets of very tight Rok straps, one set horizontally and one set vertically. It would not be fast or discreet or even easy to cut the straps. Then opening and unrolling the panniers would add to time. It takes time even to us!

    So for the occasional “grab and run” thief at a border, this is not good as it wastes time and would get them noticed. The camping gear in the big roll bag is in a Packsafe. The most vulnerable is probably the tank bag and I remove most valuables. To get to the iPad, if you don’t know it is wedged there in a dark padded sleeve, you will think it is the bottom of the bag. To extract it from there is actually not easy as it is a very tight fit. Anything else is tightly packed there and is not valuable: big bottle of water, peanuts, fat Lonely Planet, notepads, various knickknacks.


    Back to Mozambique now! The road was mainly roadwork and slow going for about 20kms, but then it was in very good condition.
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  20. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    All along the road, there were constant villages and houses, as well as many people walking and we passed many markets along villages, but in general we maintained good speed. For once, we saw no farm animals roaming free!

    The locals stared at us as if we were aliens from another planet. Unlike Malawi or Zambia, no one waved or smiled, not even the kids!

    We stopped at a small town where supposedly there is an ATM machine to get cash. We just stopped at the fuel station and emptied the 5 litres jerry can on my bike. We had enough local currency to buy some more, so we put 6 litres on Alistair’s bike. With that done, we had enough to make it to our destination for the night. So we did not bother looking for the bank.

    We were very keen to get to Quelimane (or Calamari as Alistair quickly renamed it!) before dark. I did not fancy getting cash from a street ATM machine after dark in town! Nightfall was very early as we were still in the same time zone than Cape Town and Namibia. In Namibia, daylight was about 8am, on the east coast it was 5am. It was starting to get dark soon after 5pm. With few stops on the road, we got to Quelimane soon after 4pm.

    The town is by a delta river in the edge of the Indian Ocean. It was very hot.

    Without Internet access for several days, we relied solely on the very unreliable Lonely Planet to find accommodation.

    The first budget hotel listed there, with its bucket showers and dilapidated description, did not appeal much. We selected the hotel slightly more expensive at about 50$ a night including breakfast. It was a good choice. Probably the best in town!
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