Travel in Mozambique - Gorongosa National Park and Beira
I have been fortunate to participate in USAID's Farmer to Farmer program twice now. Both times, I have traveled to sub-Saharan Africa to teach farmers about tomato preservation and value added products.
During this trip, I was stationed in Dondo which is about 30 km north of Beira. I had a weekend off in between my two weeks working with farmers, so I took advantage of the opportunity to visit Gorongosa National Park which was only about two hours away.
Day 1 - Evening Game Drive in Gorongosa National Park
After I finished work, the organization with which I was working, arranged for a driver to take me to Gorongosa. I was really fortunate to have their assistance booking everything since the national language in Mozambique is Portuguese, which I do not speak. As is often the case in developing countries, my driver picked up and dropped off about 10 people on the way to Gorongosa. I speak Spanish so was able to understand a lot of the conversation in the car. But I was disappointed when I responded in Spanish, and no one understood a word I was saying.
When I got in, I checked into my room and got my things arranged quickly so I could make it out for the evening game drive.
Our guide was Irish which I thought was interesting especially since everyone else on the drive only spoke Portuguese, and he was of course giving the tour in English. We saw a lot of kudu, antelope, and warthogs, but since I'm a plant person, my favorite was the fever tree stand.
The fever tree has bright green bark that helps with photosynthesis. The colonists named them fever trees because they occur in areas where there was a lot of malaria and the trees were considered the culprits. This was a case of correlation not causation as Fever Trees grow in areas where there is standing water which is of course ripe territory for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Another really cool thing I saw on this drive were some wild honey bees in a baobab.
We keep bees on our farm, so I have been fascinated with the differences in beekeeping in Virginia and Africa. The beekeeping I have seen in Africa is basically the cultivation of wild bees in hollowed out logs. African beekeepers just let the bees do all the work and don't attempt to manage the bees into making neat frames like we do in the US. They split the log open when they want to do a honey harvest, and then they get a new log to start a new hive. Our game drive guide told me that people in Gorongosa also use bees to keep elephants off their property. They hang beehives at elephant height around the perimeter of their property, so when the elephants bump into them they are scared off by the bees. Pretty ingenious.
The game drive ended with a sundowner, as South Africans like to say - a beer while watching the sunset.
I got some dinner in the park restaurant - an octopus salad since Mozambique is known for its seafood. Then I turned in early so I could wake up early the next day.
Day 2 - Morning Game Drive, Relaxation, and a Sundowner drive at Gorongosa National Park
My room price included a pretty impressive breakfast buffet which pleased me greatly as I am most definitely a breakfast person. I also loved that they had it all available before I met up for my morning game drive. I saw a lot more of the same on the morning game drive, but had a different guide who was much more of a bird lover and shared an impressive array of bird calls. I learned from him that the most constant bird call I had been hearing came from the Hammerkop, which is the last living member of its family and has a very distinct hammer-shaped head. My new South African safari friends let me know that kop means head in Afrikaans.
After my game drive, I had hoped to take a hike to a nearby waterfall but I learned that the park was no longer taking tourists there because Renamo, a rebel group, had taken control of the area. Before traveling to Mozambique, I had read a little bit about their civil war in the 80's and 90's, so I was surprised to hear locals talk about the ongoing civil war. This article in Foreign Policy reflects the sentiment that I felt after talking to several Mozambicans about the civil war. Gorongosa is of course an isolated little portion of Mozambique where it is generally easy to ignore the troubles that ail the country at large, barring this one exception.
During the afternoon, I hung out by the pool and enjoyed watching baboons and warthogs pass by.
I started chatting with some ex-pats from Zimbabwe that were taking a weekend break from their agricultural non-profit work in a nearby area. They were working on some beekeeping and tomato projects amongst others, so we had a good time sharing stories about our work. They also shared with me their stories about being forced off their highly-mechanized family farms in Zimbabwe. The most amazing thing about their stories was that they told them without a hint of bitterness. I could tell that they were incredibly sad to leave their farms, but they were all also very grateful to now be living in a beautiful part of the world with really fulfilling work to do. They had their own vehicle and so let me ride along with them to their favorite sundowner spot. They said they did this every evening, which I am certain is the reason that they hold no bitterness in their hearts.
Day 3 - Beira
After another delicious breakfast, I caught a ride to Beira which is where I would be stationed the following week. eira is a beach town and was really hot during this time in September. I had followed fashion advice from the internet and packed what i thought was Mozambique business casual for a lady - long skirts and long sleeve blouses or cardigans. To my dismay, pretty much every woman I saw was wearing a short skirt and a tank top. I guess beach towns all over are generally less conservative in their fashion choices.
I wandered round Beira for a bit before meeting up with my translator and a new Farmer to Farmer volunteer for dinner.
My translator recommended a restaurant by the ocean that was selling 15 oysters for less than $2. I'm not an oyster connoisseur, but I thought they were pretty darn good. A great way to finish out my weekend adventures before heading back to work on Monday.
game drives - $75
lodging - $164
food - $24
Total - $263
Note I got a free ride to and from the park, but I read that the park does offer transfers from Beira airport. There are also car rental options in Beira, and while I did not drive while in Mozambique it seemed like a pretty chill place to drive. I would just hate to get lost, so if I was arranging this on my own, I probably would have opted for the transfer.
Also note that I did this trip on my own without my husband or kids. There were a couple of teenagers at the park while I was there, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. While my kids are still very young and I'm not quite brave enough to take them to Africa, I think safaris in general must be magical for the 8 - 13 age range. So I think I would wait until that time frame to take my kids on this trip. If you were to take younger kids, I would just recommend paying for the park-approved airport transfer to Gorongosa and making sure your kids can be trusted not to drink the water and wear their bugspray.