My intention of a continuous journey down the Swahili coast – from Lamu Island in Kenya to northern Mozambique, via Tanzania – ground to an abrupt halt at the Mozambique embassy in Dar es Salaam.

Mozambique travels

Due to politics, Mozambique required travellers coming from Tanzania to have a visa beforehand. Every other land crossing was just a visa on arrival. So after wasting time in the Tanzanian capital over a closed weekend and an Islamic holiday, I went to the embassy to face a bureaucratic brick of a woman.


Taking a small boat from Likoma Island – across Lake Malawi, to the Mozambique side and the village of Cobue.

After viewing the visa rules – $100 for visa and a 5 day wait, usual passport pics and forms, invitation letter as to why I wanted to go to Mozambique, bank statements declaring that I had $US 5000 in my bank and other petty shit; I just walked out muttering obscenities. I knew that a week-plus of more waiting around in Dar es Salaam, would be too much frustration.


Lake Malawi, near Cobue in Mozambique, where it’s called Lake Niassa.

I knew there were better options. Studying the map, I found an alternative.


Sunset over the boat “port” of Cobue. I got a visa on arrival for just $30, with no extra paperwork and done within 15 minutes.

But not without an extra 1500+ km added to my already long Cairo to Cape Town overland trip. New plan: cut south-west from the coast across the highlands of southern Tanzania and down into northern Malawi, then across the lake to remote north-western Mozambique.


6AM departure: Traveling northern Mozambique. On the road in the back of a truck – the only public transport – that would later be packed with timber, a bicycle, and loads of people. It was an uncomfortable 6 hours sweltering along dusty roads from Cobue to Metangula. I shared sack of pebbles as a cushion with a young woman. Every time the bumps and sloping roads sent passengers and stuff moving  – sometimes into each other in crushes of agony.

I would arrive at the tiny settlement of Cobue on the eastern shores of Lake Malawi and hope for a visa on arrival. And from there, travel  east to Mozambique Island and the Indian Ocean.


LEFT + TOP RIGHT: Crammed van stopped for drinks in shade of tree. I waited 2 hours for this van to leave Metangula; many other passengers had waited 5 hours for it to full and depart and later got really shitty when the driver stopped regularly to pack even more people inside – like cattle to market. It was totally stuffed – as  African bush-taxis always  seem to be. I was cramped – elbow out window for some blissful space – with 4 others into the backseat,  numb bum, legs towards my chest, hot and unable to move an inch. Extra passengers rode standing on the rear bumper. BELOW RIGHT: the only meal available in Cobue. Fish, spinach-stuff and pulped maize – that resembles mashed potato. Bland but okay. And the cheapest meal I found across the country @ $US 4. Beer was better value.


Hanging out in Cuamba for 2 days, awaiting the train’s departure to Nampula.


The train from Cuamba to Nampula. It took all day, and arrived 5 hours late …

train vendors mozambique

At stops, vendors swarmed the train.


Kids at village stop. RIGHT: Inselburgs – granite humps – dominated the landscape and along with bright summer leaves, it reminded me totally of Korea in Autumn. BELOW: Inside the “executive class” carriage. (I had decided to treat myself with movable feast – it was only $5 more.  BUT despite it being a new addition to the train service, after only 2 months in service this A/C carriage was now broken, so it was sweltering. But at least not over-crowded like the other carriages – where luggage safety posed issues. A South African para-medic, working for the railway company and doing this journey regularly as his job, told me that some months ago, he’d had his entire backpack – including laptop – stolen when traveling 2nd class).

traveling northern mozambique by train

It was an amazing, dreamy train trip traveling northern Mozambique. Hunger and sweltering heat was offset by my red wine picnic – and additional cold beer bought from vendors … I arrived that evening in Nampula, trashed and elated.

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