The Best (just about) Of Mozambique – In a Nissan Pathfinder.

"You have come to the factory..."

I was recently at a presentation given by a pair of South African Microlight aircraft pilots who described how while they were flying up the west coast of South America they landed to refuel at a small town in Columbia, a country notorious as a producer of illicit drugs. A policeman approached them and, after making a half-hearted search of their baggage, asked whether they wanted to buy cocaine. While they were desperately trying to explain that they had no interest in anything illegal, but were actually on their way to Cape Town via North America, Greenland, Europe and Africa, the officer added with a knowing smile: 'because you have come to the factory'.

Even after thirteen fascinating years of traveling in and writing about Mozambique, after each venture through that coconut curtain I still get back to the stressful, smoky, sunny city of Johannesburg wondering how to do justice to a country that I have watched (and helped, I hope) go from "todos estragada" (everything destroyed) in 1992 to 'muito movamento" (a heck of a lot happening) in 2005. As this June/July 2005 trip had the objective of discovering the (so-called) "Best" of most of what Mozambique currently offers for the visitor, I think that with each new day this 'factory' analogy became increasingly apt as we pointed our Nissan Pathfinder towards the next elusive "source or origin" (i.e. the factory) of whatever 'the best' in the particular category may turn out to be. Hence perhaps: You want the best? 'You have come to the factory!'

Compared to South Africa, Mozambique has never been an easy place to visit or to do business in, but recently the Maputo government took everyone by surprise by finally dropping the visa requirement for South African passport holders. Anyone who has endured the indignity and irritation of the visa queues either at a chaotic consulate or at a hot, stinking border post, will agree that it suddenly became far more pleasant and easy to get into Mozambique. As we headed for the Farazela/Ponta do Ouro border post from Johannesburg via Ermelo, Jozini and Kwa-Ngwanase (Manguzi), I was debating with my companions (Dave Pierson and my 8-year-old son Daniel) as to whether the expected flood of eager South Africans would benefit Mozambique or prove to be a deluge of bad money and even worse manners that would sweep away the friendly smiles and charming Portuguese/African/Arabian mix of culture, food and lifestyle.

My sense that finally Mozambique's 'time has come' must have been shared by someone influential at Nissan South Africa, as despite my description of our route including some serious 'goat paths' and almost every type of terrain remotely navigable in a 4x4 over a distance of nearly 5000km through South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in just over two hectic weeks, they agreed to let us put a brand-new sleek-green Pathfinder 2.5 dCi 6MT (yes, that means 6-speed manual gearbox!) 4x4 through its paces with no questions asked. While this is not a story about the Pathfinder, and I will try not to bore you too much with its performance, I challenge anyone to retrace our tread-marks with the same time-constraints and wet weather in any other vehicle without becoming severely unstuck (or stuck) as the case may be.

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