Coutadas and heading home

The Conclusion

Those brave souls who have read the 3 part story of our trip through Mozambique, will know that we had to cut it short due to a propshaft bearing that collapsed under the punishment meted out by a certain rutted road, leaving us temporarily stranded at Mphingwe camp, just south of the Zambezi river. I can’t think of a better spot to get stranded mind you – comfortable accommodation surrounded by lush forest, good meals, cold beer, not to mention good company and bird life to savour.

Day 11 : Coutada 12 Birding (Squeezing in)

I woke up early and rather despondent this Sunday morning, not knowing how we were going to get ourselves and the vehicle back home. There seemed to be just 2 options – fix the car here and drive home or get home by other means and arrange to repatriate the car – neither would be simple but it would be a lot easier if we could just drive the car back ourselves.

To take our minds off the problem and encouraged by the others in the group, we squeezed the whole team into the remaining 2 vehicles and set off to do mostly forest birding in the Coutada 12 area, along with some woodland birding, hoping to clinch some of the difficult (for the time of year) specials. Thanks are due to Owen and Sue for making room for us in their vehicle, which turned a potentially depressing day into another great day of birding. In fact I was able to add another 3 lifers to my list :

  • Short-winged Cisticola perched high up on a dry tree
  • The very distinctive and colourful Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, which was followed moments later by a group of their close cousins, Retz’s Helmetshrike
  • Orange-winged Pytilia in woodland
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Mphingwe camp
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike – not pleased for some reason

Other significant birds we came across (any one of them would be a great sighting for the average SA birder) :

  • Martial Eagle circling overhead
  • Common Scimitarbill
  • Green-backed Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Cuckooshrike
  • Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
  • Cabanis’s Bunting
  • Narina Trogon – flying right over our heads

In the forests we tried the “waiting for the bus” routine again, hoping that some of the shy species would be curious and come and join us, but we only came up with Tiny Greenbul, which called frequently and then played hide-and-seek with us, affording a brief glimpse or two

Back at Mphingwe we enjoyed a last dinner with the full group, as those still mobile would be heading to Zimbabwe the next day. Our fate lay squarely in the hands of Joe, the resident mechanic looking after the sawmill, who would look at the Touareg in the morning and confirm our options. We had a date with him for 6.30 am at the sawmill.

Day 12 : Solving the Car Problems and Time for Contemplation

We took the car to the sawmill just after 6 am for Joe to have a look and once we had it up on the ramp, his recommendation was simple and quick – get the part and he will fix it.

 

By lunchtime our arrangements were done and we could relax for the rest of the day. I took a walk along the Suni Trail which winds through the forest and had a magical time with the many butterflies, which posed for some beautiful photos in the soft dappled light of the forest.

Suni Trail
Suni Trail
Army ants on the march
Army ants on the march
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)

Birds were not plentiful in the immediate vicinity of the camp but some nice specials occur including Crested Guineafowl (aka The Rockers – which will make sense if you’ve ever heard a group of them doing their call, which sounds like a rock band warming up, plus their wild hairstyle), Black-bellied Starling and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. The resident Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves and Tambourine Doves provide a constant soothing background sound with their calls right through the day.

Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part-time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp

The evening meal was memorable for a great sirloin steak and good conversation with Neithard and Kathrin, all of us in the same boat at that stage, in rough waters and no paddle in sight.

Day 13 : Waiting for the Part and some birding at Mphingwe

A day of waiting, while the vital spare part travels from Pretoria to Mphingwe near Caia in Mozambique via Jo’burg (by plane to) Beira (by Shapa to) Mphingwe all courtesy of Pat and her daughter Carrie, or Wonder Woman as I was now regarding her. Our hopes were that it would arrive the next morning and be fitted without a problem – what if it was the wrong part?

To pass the time George and I took a long birding walk along the Suni Trail, diverted to the track down to the sawmill and returned via the main dirt road back to the camp.

This helped to push the pentad total (I hadn’t given up atlasing) up to 31 with some exciting species such as

  • Terrestial Brownbul
  • Bearded Scrub-Robin
  • Mangrove Kingfisher
  • Common Cuckoo
  • Red-throated Twinspot
  • Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike
  • Eastern Nicator
Mphingwe walk
Mphingwe walk
Terrestial Brownbul
Terrestial Brownbul
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)

All in all some excellent birding and plenty of Butterflies

The rest of the day was relaxed with another good dinner to close out the day.

Day 14 : Replacing the part – an all day event

The bearing arrived
The bearing arrived

We took the Touareg down to the sawmill just after 6 am and left it with Joe who had assured us it would be a quick job. Well it didn’t turn out that way as an “hour or so” job turned into a whole day affair as Joe and his men had to dis-assemble and re-assemble the propshaft bearings to get the centre carrier bearing in place, in the process having to fashion special tools to fit the VW components.

So we postponed our departure until the next day, hoping an early start would get us to Beit Bridge in the day.

We got through the day with much sitting around, reading and contemplating – the only birds that raised any interest were a pair of Crested Guineafowl making their way through the camp and a Bateleur and what looked like a Long-crested Eagle soaring high overhead.

Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)

With plenty of time on our hands, there was a chance to appreciate the smaller wildlife and the camp was full of interesting lizards, bugs, ants and others – the shower and toilet block was a magnet for them and I counted over 20 species of insects, moths and dragonflies during one “sitting”. A couple of small black snakes had to be persuaded to leave the toilet including one which was curled up under the hollow seat!

Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp (as long as my middle finger)
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp

Day 15 and 16 : The long and winding road home

We set off at our planned time of 5 am in near dark, gradually getting lighter as we progressed slowly along the potholed road to Inchope. The first 260 km took all of 4 and a half hours as I drove gingerly around and through the badly potholed sections.

From Inchope to the Zimbabwe border was a little better, but there was a constant stream of trucks to contend with and some hazardous overtaking manoeuvres were the only way to make some progress. It was a relief to get onto the Zim roads which are generally in a good condition, albeit narrow.

We proceeded through Mutare and Masvingo (Fort Victoria in the “old days”) where we decided to carry on to the Lion and Elephant Motel another 2 hours away, as it was only 4.30 pm. With the light fading, I didn’t see a 60 km/h sign along the way and was stopped by a cop who tried the by now familiar scare tactics – according to him we would have to appear in court the next morning and he was clearly looking for some “persuasion” to help us avoid this fate. I stood my ground refusing to play along and eventually he wrote a R200 fine which I paid and we proceeded on our way. I was only too glad to get away from that spot, having smelt alcohol on his breath.

The motel was a welcome sight some time later, after 14 hours of driving the 950 kms from Mphingwe.

Next morning we were up early and at the Beit Bridge border post where yet another pair of cops looked for some reward for letting us through, after a veiled threat of having to search the vehicle for drugs – “but the guy who does the search will only be here at 10 am” implying a 4 hour wait for us.

Once again we refused to play along but “rewarded” them with a couple of our remaining snack bars which they took in disgust and waved us on.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful other than another speeding ticket – think I was just too tired to spot the signs by then – and we got back to Pretoria around 1 pm, thankful that Joe had done a good job on the Touareg, which had made it without further problems.

Impressions of Mozambique

The Birding

With our trip cut short by car trouble we spent about 10 days birding in a diverse range of habitats and places including

  • Wetlands and floodplains
  • Forests
  • Tidal flats and estuaries
  • Beaches
  • Woodland
  • Roadside spots
  • Bridges

Birds were plentiful and the Moz specials were there, although it proved quite difficult to get a good view at times. I was very pleased with the 30 lifers that I chalked up and with the general quality of birding overall.

The Roads

On a long trip like this the quality of the roads becomes important and this is where Moz is a less attractive birding destination, unless you are prepared to risk damage to your vehicle, don’t mind dodging potholes for long stretches and can remain relaxed despite some atrocious road conditions. We drove many different roads and experienced every imaginable road condition :

  • Good tar roads limited to the south of Moz
  • Severely potholed tar roads further north with the Inchope – Caia road being the worst
  • Sand roads varying from reasonable to poor, but still preferable to potholed tar
  • Rutted, rock hard gravel roads – such as the one that caused 2 of the vehicles damage
  • Rain in places added to the stress of driving

Villages and towns we passed through often have hawkers both sides of the road and buses, trucks and cars parked anywhere and everywhere so require particular caution

The People

The vast majority of people are obviously poor but friendly and we saw some back-breaking tasks being performed for probably very little compensation. I did not pick up any feeling of aggression from the “have-nots” in the way we often experience it in SA.

Bicycles are an important form of transport and we were amazed to see the loads that get transported – 3 or 4 heavy bags of charcoal and in one case cement get transported long distances in this way.

Strings of people along the roads near towns are a common sight as taxis are few and money tight.

The Food

Chicken is a popular item on menus and often the safe choice. Surprisingly fish was scarce, even at the coast. Our best meals were at Mphingwe where we had superb sirloin steaks and all meals were tasty. The local beers were good – Manica and 2M (Dosh M). Our other meals were self-prepared and simple – rusks early morning with coffee, snack bars in between and tuna, pork in tins, sardines, cheese etc on cracker bread and the like for lunch. Being able to boil water for coffee/tea wherever we stopped long enough was a real boon.

The Weather

We expected hot and humid and we got exactly that – winter may be a better option as being in a constant bath of sweat is not enjoyable and can detract from the pleasure of the surroundings and bird life.

Occasional rain brought some respite from the oppressive heat, but not for long.

The Accommodation

The tour is not about luxury accommodation – what you get is fairly basic but comfortable in rustic surrounds – a clean bed, simple bathroom (communal at Mphingwe) aircon (except Mphingwe) and the important mosquito nets

The Guide

There is no question that having a guide with the expertise in birding and the knowledge and experience of Mozambique is invaluable and trying to do this trip without Etienne would have resulted in dipping on many of the special birds.

Personally, I would have liked to have spent more time photographing some of the birds, but this would only be possible if a specific photography trip was arranged, as it requires a very different approach – ie spending a lot more time in certain locations rather than trying to cover as much ground as possible.

Exploring Southern Africa's Natural Wonders and beyond

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