Every rider dreams of an epic ride to some distant destination that evokes images of great scenic beauty, challenging roads and exotic experiences that our everyday lives lack. After having gained some riding experience with local trips of increasing range and difficulty, the one destination name that kept coming up was Zanzibar, "The Spice Island". You can almost smell the cloves and cinnamon when you say the name! After reading reports of a solo effort by a fellow on a BMW K1200 (along the inland tarred route), and then another of a trio of adventure bikes doing the trip up along the Mozambican coast and returning through Malawi, Zambia and Botswana in December 2004, my mind was made up. From the middle of the year the preparations started and gained urgency until, on 10 December 2005, mrs Owl and yours truly were ready to hit the road on a on a freshly serviced motorcycle with a large rucksack and tankbag packed with our mobile household and dry rations for a few days. I had spent a lot of time trying to get waypoints for the route (I try to get critical ones from two sources, to make sure) and read a number of 4x4 trip reports during the preparation. It quickly became obvious that the coast of Mozambique (2800 km long) is well travelled and has a fair selection of camping spots, however these decrease rapidly from about 400 km north of Maputo onwards. But the western part bordering Zimbabwe seemed like virgin territory. And so it became my goal to explore it firsthand. The final planned route was about 9000 km, as follows (overnight stops in yellow): Any route through Mozambique is almost guaranteed to be challenging, as this country seems to have beaches that extend all the way to the Zimbabwean border. Moreover, the terrain is flat and the summer rains can become real downpours, resulting in widespread flooding and impassable river crossings. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent with no garages, communications or medical facilities outside the main centres like Maputo, Beira, Tete and Pemba. Of course, the same is true for much of Africa and I will show some statistics at the conclusion of this report to illustrate. Fortunately, none of these ominous facts are very prominent when you live in the most developed part of Africa, and the lure of the impending great escape overrides all the niggling little worries about what may go wrong. Although our departure had to be postponed by one day to get everything done and we only left after lunch, the weather was perfect and progress up the N1 highway towards Zimbabwe was swift and smooth with mrs Owl at the controls. Our first overnight stop was booked at the Pafuri Rivercamp, bush lodge nestled between the Pafuri gate and the Mutele river at the very northern tip of the Kruger National Park. We had arranged to sleep over here and to get transported on the camps pickup truck through the park to the Mozambican border post (also called Pafuri) the next morning. You are only allowed in the park inside a closed vehicle because of the risk of attacks by the carnivores that the park is famous for (camps are fenced off). We arrived well after dark and had a fireside drink with Glen, our host. Plenty of bugs on the road at night left their mark on our helmets- guess which one was in front? After a leisurely breakfast, we loaded the bike and luggage onto the truck and headed for the border 30 km to the east. It was hot. We stopped on the bridge across the Limpopo river to check the level. This bridge is about 10 m high, and it was covered during the floods of 2000 when many Mozambicans had to be rescued by helicopter. The water level was pretty high due to the early summer rains. Not a good sign. There is a road from the border post along the Limpopo, which crosses the river at Mapai. We were duly advised to turn back along with all the 4x4s beating a retreat. Time for Plan B, which was to go back west and cross into Zimbabwe, then head east again along the northern bank of the Limpopo, and cross into Mozambique at a small border post called Chiqualaquala. The original route would be the objective of a later trip. After off-loading at the Pafuri gate, we said our goodbyes to Glen and headed back to Mussina via Tshipise. After some deliberation about which side of the border to sleep, we decided to fill all of our tanks with fuel and plunge into the inevitable queues at South Africa's only border post with Zimbabwe. A few hours later we were on our way. The roadworks on the Zimbabwe side of the border are not pleasant to navigate at night with overzealous Zim police trying to pull off vehicles in the dust clouds just to make it really interesting. We decided to enjoy a last night in comfort and booked into the Holiday Inn just north of the border post, slipping out at daybreak trailing luggage and heavy jerrycans to get an early start (Zimbabwe had a serious fuel shortage). A few kilometres out on the Masvinga road (part of our return route) we turned off onto the gravel road to the border post nearly 250 km away- now the trip was on for real. The meeting point of the Zimbabwean, South African and Mozambican borders is called Crooks Corner. We turned north near this point, and then east through the Malapati game reserve. We enjoyed a snack and emptied our second jerry-can at the turn-off to the reserve. Malapati was deserted- no officials at the entrance, no visitors, only a few small villages in the vicinity, very little game. Turds like this are pretty hard to ignore though- elephant country! We crossed a small bridge over the Nuanetsi river, which was at quite a low level . and then exited the park over the Maputo-Harare railway line at Nyala (three houses in the background make up this place). Like the crow flies, it's straight. A gravel road led to the next obstacle, the Zim border post at Sango. The local constabulary took great care to check all of our vehicle details before stamping the paperwork with great gusto and waving us on to the next hurdle, customs and immigration. The British bureaucracy certainly left their mark in their previous colonies. It was lunchtime and the person responsible for immigration had gone to visit a friend across the border. We brewed some tea while waiting in the deserted immigration hall with the customs man. An hour or so later the missing official arrived and after more vigorous stamping in our passports we could proceed to the Moz side. Here, a single man in a little hut did the customs work. I had to take a soldier on the bike to an official in the town who issued us with the mandatory vehicle import permit for a small fee. None of the boulevards are paved, and the past glory of the Portuguese colony is a distant memory. This is the deserted station building (CFM= Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Mocambique or Ports and Railways). We took the first track heading north out of Chiqualaquala, which happened to be the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Pretty sandy as I said, and lousy (read slow) riding. Eventually this road petered out and we headed east to the Massengena road, where we planned to cross the Save river and rejoin the Plan A route. A bit of mud here and there, but much easier to ride until we passed underneath the Cabora Bassa power lines, where a good service road headed due north. We followed it and made good time, passing remnants of the civil war every so often: the Renamo rebels regularly blew up the pylons of the Cabora Bassa power lines in order to deny the Frelimo government access to the electricity supply from the dams hydro-electric generators. But despite our best efforts, we were still 60 km from our destination when darkness overtook us and we erected our tent in a deserted village right next to the power lines. We had hardly stopped when the first spectator appeared, and soon we had an audience of about ten locals who assured us that we could sleep here and that there was a water pump at the next pylon. Mrs Owl duly made supper ... with a whole lotta flies to keep her company. The next morning we found the promised well, but no water. Broken, like the pylon in the background. We were down to our last half litre, but not too far from the river and set off at a good pace until we literally ran out of road and got a puncture in the thorny underbrush. Down with the bike, out with the tyre levers and pretty soon we were mobile again. After some scouting we found a trail leading down to the river. And soon we were passing through villages and meeting locals transporting impressive loads on their bicycles. We were to see a lot more of this. There were major roadworks in Massengena. We navigated through the town and got some fuel and drinks before heading for the Save river. It was in flood, and impassable on wheels. Time to look for a boat. After two hours of haggling we managed to agree on an exorbitant fee and loaded the bike on the rickety vessel, the back wheel hanging over the gunwale. The boats owner followed the edge of the water and then furiously rowed across the river a few hundred meters upstream. His assistants balanced the bike and baled out the water leaking through the bottom, while we wondered whether this dodgy craft would ever make it across. But we made it, repacked everything on the other side and powered up the embankment to higher ground to look for the road to the next destination, the Maribani forest and Chimoio in a north-westerly direction. Spot the mini hifi on the bucket in the foreground at the "bus stop". We passed this woman carrying her chickens. I asked for a picture- and got this image: it could be an ad for Nando's (South African chicken franchise with unusual marketing tactics).