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Vail travel: Speeding past the ‘island mountains’

Luc Pols
Vail Daily travel correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Luc PolsAn old church at Ilha de Mozambique.
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VAIL, Colorado – As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t seen any of the American fast food chains and even here, further north, there are no “finger-licking,” “char-broiled,” “Big Macs.”

But there is something rather peculiar in Beira, something I have never encountered anywhere, ever. It is a monument, I kid you not, in the middle of a big traffic circle, which is dedicated to Coca Cola. It is a big round monument with Coca Cola written all around it and in the middle there is a huge Coke bottle. Amazing.

Maybe I’m getting older and need a little more comfort, but instead of taking a 20-hour bus ride, I opt for the plane from Beira to Nampula, the last “big city” before the Tanzanian border still about 400 miles away. The early morning flight is uneventful and when I land I negotiate a very favorable price for a ride to the coast, about 120 miles.



On the drive I am almost imagining myself in Monument Valley. Different colors of course and vegetation instead of plain desert, but there are granite outcrops of all sizes and shapes dotting the landscape. Here they are called “inselbergen” (German for “island mountains”) and these unparalleled natural monuments are very impressive and a pleasure to the eye.

Over a long, one-lane bridge I enter the Ilha de Mozambique and after exploring this town I find it a bit disappointing. Ever since they were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1992, not much seems to have happened here. A lot of buildings are still in a state of complete disrepair or worse and, according to people I spoke to, the only renovations are being done by foreigners who then start hotels, restaurants, etc. A sad picture.

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It is also extremely quiet here with virtually no tourists. I had expected or maybe I should say, hoped for more, especially after making such a huge detour to admire this site. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

It is pleasant enough though and I wander around the town and enjoy myself. Now I need to get a ride to Pemba, the small town about 100 miles from Tanzania and relax there for a couple of days before crossing the border.

Having made arrangements, or so I thought, to share a ride to Pemba, I don’t worry until the desk clerk tells me they have changed their mind and are going somewhere else. Now I’m stuck and what to do?



I leave the island early and catch a couple of “chappas” to Namialo and this is a first. They are both extended pick-up trucks that transport 42 people, five babies and one rooster – of course all in the open, and I am 43. Talk about herrings in a tin. Great experience to do once but (hopefully) never again.

Anyway, when I arrive at Namialo I am told that a bus to Pemba will (hopefully) arrive in three hours and get me into Pemba about 11 tonight. Great.

Instead of sitting in the shade as people suggest, I decide to do something I have not done since graduate school – hitchhike. I know, at my age! But after about 15 minutes, a couple from Spain – Isabel and Luis from a Catalan Foundation – pick me up and drive us at breakneck speed to Pemba, a distance of 210 miles, in 3 1/2 hours. Absolutely incredible.

This all (for me) in the back of the pickup truck. I don’t mind a bit. There are for most of the trip and the environment is exhilarating, just fantastic. The only sad part is that lots of terrain has been and still is being burned for charcoal and wood. Lots of trees are being cut and the worst part is that no new trees are being planted. In other words they are mortgaging their future to be paid for by the next generations. Sounds familiar? Very sad indeed.

Even though the hotel – at $50 and no hot water – is OK, the beaches around Pemba are magnificent. It seems the further north I go, the more beautiful it becomes and hopefully that will extend into Tanzania.

I spend the last two nights in Mozambique in Mocimboa and Palmas in the worst hotels of the trip so far. Both, of course, without hot water, but also without shower: a big bucket is supposed to do the trick.

One of the hotels didn’t even have electricity – try doing everything in the dark when you get up at 3:30 a.m. On the other hand I also have the best meal so far on this trip in one of those hotels: one lobster and six huge shrimp, all grilled for the amazing price of $11.50. You have to take the good with the bad I guess.


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