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The Long Road Through Mozambique

Or: "Advice to Nick from one who has been there, avoided doing that as much as possible, and did not get the tea-shirt as these were very scarce in Mozambique at that time."

Mozambique is a long country. The distance by road from the mouth of the remote Rio Rovuma Cabo Delgado province in the north, to the Dunes of Gold at Ponto do Ouro in the south is over 2800km (1750 miles). For those of you in the northern hemisphere, think along the lines of pulling on your trainers and running from Paris to Moscow or from New York City to Denver, Colorado. Yes, Mozambique is a very long country... (Nick, you must not get tired easily).

At the end of 2010 I was contacted by Nick and asked whether I could arrange support for his proposed 3 - month fundraising run through the length of Mozambique. Now a quarter of year is a big chunk out the schedule of most mere mortals who spend most of our energies struggling to make sense of the universe and to put bread and the latest iPod on the table, at the same time. Let alone for a haggard South African bloke who first fell in love with Mozambique at the wrong end of an automatic weapon during a tropical cloudburst over twenty years ago.

A mountain of mangos, a soccer ball and a cask of horrendous wine saved the day, then. What I learned from this was: Mozambique is not for sprinters. So Nick, it is good that you have decided that 3 months is a reasonable target to complete your task. 3 years would be even better; The longer you can hold your breath, the more likely you will surface beyond the tunnel (old cave-diver adage).

During 1992, Moz was still just another post-cold-war casualty, struggling to shake off various life-threatening parasites of the nation-state and microbial variety and was (by far) the poorest country in the world (in economic, not social, terms, as you might understand). During that same year I spent 6 months traveling by truck, smugglers boat and bicycle, from Beira to Tanzania. All this folks for just over US$200, including beer!

So Nick, good manners, courtesy and an immodest amount of humility and excellent luck, are better to be in possession of in Mozambique, than money.

Description of the Route.

Mozambique is really three countries. The northern third (comprising the provinces of Niassa, Cabo Delgado and Nampula) has a lot in common with Swahili Tanzania, Betsimisiraka Madagascar and Yao Malawi. Expect to speak (along with Portuguese) Swahili, Makonde, Macua and (closer to Malawi) English. Expect to eat the flavours of Arabia, the salads of Africa and the starches of Britain. Carlsberg beer from Malawi, rum from Madagascar and nipa from Mozambique are available to toast the aching beauty of almost three hundred African sunsets.

Apart from what you will be eating to provide those essential low G.I carbohydrates, take careful note of what might be eating you. North of Mocimboa da Praia is territory of the Tsetse and the land of the lion. Personally I would prefer a pride of lions to a swarm of Tsetse following me, as the latter are, during daylight anyway, far more likely to bite. Tsetse have the alarming habit of creeping up your shorts and enjoying a leisurely chew on the soft and dangly bits. Don't wear anything dark (khaki is really best) and note that while climbing a tree will deter most lions, the Tsetse will still make you consider throwing yourself to the lions for a quicker, more merciful end.

This region is well into the tropics and while night temperatures may drop to the mid twenties (°C), expect very hot (mid thirties °C) and humid days, with perhaps the odd cooling afternoon downpour. This sort of climate is fungus central so plenty of remedies for athlete's foot, ringworm and crotch-rot are in order.

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What lies underfoot is important to runners everywhere and from the Rovuma to Palma is thick sand of the beach variety, and perhaps some putrid swamp and cotton soil if the rains have been good. After Palma to Mocimboa da Praia the going hardens a bit, and from here to Diaca it is broken tarmac. Diaca to Macomia is loose gravel so beware of stones thrown up by wheels as the trucks and buses thunder by. Bicycles are an increasing feature the further south you go so hard-shoulder space is going to be shared by frantic pedallers with no brakes.

You will by-pass Pemba (a detour from Sunate of 110km each way by car may be in order for a break from the monotony of the road and to repair, resupply and reinvigorate man and machine). Pemba is a town where the increasing number of tourists is attracting a rising tide of miscreants, so vigilance is advised. The granite domes of Nampula province dot the distant horizon along the road to Namapa and Namialo, the junction with the road that leads to mystical Ilha de Mocambique.

Nampula City is busy, brash and noisy – no place for anyone accustomed to the solitude and serenity of the open road but a night out of town at nearby Montes Nairucu guest farm will end the first leg of this Long run. Nampula's well-developed infrastructure and Shoprite supermarket will provide much needed supplies and services before the long slog through under-developed Zambezia province that is the first challenge of leg number 2.

Mozambique's second 'country within a country' sprawls from the Rio Ligonha through the (dwindling) forests of Zambezia province (where the pineapples are bigger than rugby balls and the feral dogs are as fierce as cornered foxes), to Sofala and Manica provinces. Here the languages change to Sena and Shona while the influence of English-speaking Zimbabwe becomes increasingly dominant the closer to the Beira – Mutare highway one moves.

The alignment of the road takes you a long way from the cooling breezes of the Indian Ocean so this could be one slow, sweaty struggle to the Zambezi where the malarious mosquitoes await in their millions. Cool comfort may be found at Zalala beach north of Quelimane before a long haul to the brand-new bridge over the Zambezi River. South of the Zambezi the road curves through open Savannah and on the horizon watch out for the cloudy heights of massive Monte Gorongosa – something cool to contemplate while you pound the baking tar.

About 74km before Vila de Gorongosa (the town), I know of a secret spot in the foothills of the mountain where there is a hidden pool ideal for a few nights camping while you roll in the kilometres towards Gorongosa National Park. Parque Nacional de Gorongosa (PNG to those who know) www.gorongosa.net is one of the greatest good-news stories to come out of Africa in recent decades.

During the 1978 - 1992 period of civil strife in Mozambique, commercial loggers, Soviet meat-canners and bush-meat poachers plundered Gorongosa. The rebel Renamo movement that moved into the Park, making Chitengo Lodge its headquarters in the mid 1980's, struck the final blow. With almost anything edible massacred by 1990, and slash-and burn agriculture encroaching ever deeper into its territory, the Park seemed lost to wildlife and destined to become overgrazed, deforested and desolate.

Almost miraculously, in 2004, American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Greg Carr www.carrfoundation.org was shown Gorongosa and he decided to rescue it. Since then this National Park, in the geographic and symbolic centre of Mozambique has been transformed into a conservation and commercial success story that embodies the hope most Mozambicans have for a better and kinder future.

Nick, after running with the people we expect to fly in to join you a way, you will be persuaded to literally put your feet up in Gorongosa for a day or three as I know people there who will pamper you and fatten you up in preparation for leg number three.

Southern Mozambique, or 'country number three' starts at the swaying suspension bridge over the sinuous and sandy Rio Save, the gateway to the provinces of Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo. Inchope to Vila Franca do Save is remote, oppressive and cris-crossed by tracks down which there are excellent bush-camping spots. Supplies and humour may well be running at critical levels by the time Vilanculos is reached – a town which is the tourist hub for this region of Mozambique and another much need resupply and R&R (rest and recouperation) opportunity.

From Vilanculos south the main road has been recently rebuilt but while the hard-shoulder may be wide and inviting, the lone-runner can expect to share it with local cyclists, livestock, mangy dogs, traders, massive wheezing logging trucks, weaving buses and over-hasty overtaking tourists and buses. Large towns such as Xai-Xai and Macia will be significant obstacles to progress, and the outskirts and centre of Maputo will be particularly jarring and hazardous to a running man.

A ferry across the Rio Maputo to Catembe and a relatively quiet gravel and sand track skirting the Reserva do Maputo (beware of elephants) brings this leg, and a momentous life-changing challenge to an end. A run along the golden sands of the beach south of Ponta do Ouro village to the border with South Africa will be a fitting finale to a grand display of true grit and determination.

Mike

Sites

http://www.northtosouthrun.com/

Please support Nick's charity at:http://www.concernchallenge.org/nicknorth

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