THEREâ€™s good news for Zimbabweans driving to Mozambiqueâ€™s Coral Coast, centred on the picturesque ancient Arab slave port Vilankulosâ€¦and some bad!
Good news is that following much belated, still tremulous, local dollarisation and reappearance of some essentials, itâ€™s not vital for thousands of our fellow citizens to cross international borders each day seeking food, drink and clothes Â
There are now no queues at Zimbabweâ€™s Forbes Border Post, the chaos at which, certainly until Christmas, would have had the eponymous Major Patrick Forbes, spinning in his grave.
At Machipanda (Mozambique) thereâ€™s still unbelievable inefficiency, red, tape, bureaucracy and lack of interest in serving travellers. A notice in Portuguese and English claims Mozambique offers Zero Tolerance to Corruption, but one feels customs and immigration functionaries toiling away with all the drive of Madagascan two-toed sloths might buck up ideas if an American sawbuck were waved in front of themâ€¦or if a bomb hit the ramshackle office.
I would love to show the most lethargic of a pretty clueless bunch, Heathrow, Gatwick, Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Port Everglades on a hectic day. Not even the Western world: Let them see any Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan or Tunisian airport or harbourâ€¦.they should die of shame!
So, frustrating time-consuming cross border formalities have been certainly cutâ€¦but much room for improvement.
When we flew the short hop from Vilankulos airport to Bazaruto Islandâ€™s Indigo Bay in October, the drive from the frontier took under six hours. I could probably have done it safely in my little old clunking Toyota Corolla estate.
Last weekend the journey was over seven hours and the last drag, from the Rio Save bridge to Vilankulos municipal area had me worried about tyres, rims and axles of the nearly new 4WD Jeep Super Cherokee in which we went
At a recent Press conference, new Zimbabwean tourism minister Walter Mzembi (who impressed me with apparent candour) blasted our countryâ€™s â€œkiller potholesâ€ between Beitbridge and Masvingo (presumably he hasnâ€™t driven Masvingo-Mutare..or on some awful suburban roads in Harare and Bulawayo?) I donâ€™t know what Mzembi would label craters between Save and Indian Ocean:Â potholes of mass destruction, murder and mayhem, maybe?
Theyâ€™re like World War I tank-traps of sunken reinforced concrete. Hit one fast and youâ€™ll join legions of wrecked cars, bakkies, luxury 4WD vehicles, trucks and heavy lorries that came to grief. Nowadays a ripped tyre or tube is dear enough to fix. Try having a complete axle zapped in the midst of Mozambique bush!
Anyway, we got there safely, just over 11 hours from Harare: thus things werenâ€™t as bad as they might be. During short bundu comfort breaks we ate great ham-, egg- and chicken-filled rolls, fruit and biscuits; drank flasks of coffee and cool drinks.
The gleaming, deep, pristine, ice-blue swimming pool at our destination: Archipelago Resort, Vilankulosâ€™ South Beach lured: far more enticingly than either tea or an icily chilled 440m can of 2M or Manica lager or tall frosty gin-and-tonics clinking with crushed ice and fresh lemon.
South beach seems to attract, be staffed by and owned by mainly Zimbabweans and ex-Zimbos as opposed to north beach, where Afrikaans-speakers appear to dominate.
The Archipelago is, in the opinion of many who knowÂ Mozambique far better than me, the most impressive, best designed, finest planned, laid out piece of tourism real estate on this mainland of the Coral Coast. Yet it is very affordable.
Zimbabwe has produced some talented hotel and resort architects and, with the possible exception of John Winter (now in Australia) Clinton and Evans have done possibly the best work.
Currently the complex has 18 â€œcasasâ€, mainly three bedroom, but thereâ€™s an odd four bedroom, timber, thatch and reed built Indonesian-styled accommodation units, widely spaced for privacy in sculptured, lush. green tropical gardens. Half look out to sea from atop a rugged cliff (a natural security feature, but with easy daytime stroll to a soft golden sand beach and blue-green, blood-warm Indian Ocean)
They are soÂ designed that if (or more likely when) aÂ cyclone hits, the top of the almost pagoda-like structures â€œpopsâ€Â releasing pressurised air which would otherwise flatten the building.
They are comfortable (I slept like the dead!), cool, mosquito proof and if you are on a real economy holiday away from the stresses of Zimbabwe, fully kitted for self-catering: down to the last tea-spoon, -strainer, -towel or can-opener.Â Thereâ€™s a four plate gas stove, fridge, freezer and braai stand.
But if you arenâ€™t in favour of marring Maâ€™s leave, having her slave over a hot stove, thereâ€™s a superb restaurant Vista do Mar, with head chef head-hunted from the five-star blue-chip up-market and ultra-dear Indigo Bay, across the water. It boasts excellent cuisine (obviously specialising in seafood); thereâ€™s a great friendly pub, where we
slurped cooling drinks watching rugby on TV, and all the activities you could manage whether booked in for two nights, two weeks or two months.
Among great meals, we enjoyed, seafood platters comprised a magical flaky white line fish called Prodigal Son, calamari to die for, queen and king prawns, crayfish and clams all with fragrant steamed saffron-coloured basmati rice and/or chips. They serve the best clam chowder this side of New Orleans and the finest prawn curry youâ€™ll taste west of Goa!
Part two of Viva Vilankulos! (with contact details) is in this Sundayâ€™s Standard newspaper: donâ€™t miss it!
BY DUSTY MILLER