Africa in a Beetle (1997)

Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi Mozambique. 1’025 liters of petrol. 90 days. 14 military and police checkpoints, 7 small break downs, 1 big break down, 1 unique car.

Click here for the German version.

We were in a National Park half the size of Switzerland. We met a culture where people clap their hands to greet each other. We dived in between coral reefs that are some of the most beautiful in the world. But the guiding thread of our 1997 journey through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique was the mode of transport: a VW Beetle a.d. 1974. This is the story that made it three million times into newspapers, magazines and radio stations: Africa in a Beetle.

Randburg, South Africa, 0 kms. It’s green, just reconditioned and has nearly our age. A forest green 1974 VW Beetle shines inside the workshop. On that first day Africa has us back we have already  looked at many cars. There are no motorways where we want to go, or they are undeserving their name. The choice boils down to: old, unreliable and cheap (old pickup); old, unreliable and expensive (old four-wheel-drive); or new, reliable and expensive (everything else). In the end we go for old, reliable and pricewise somewhere in the middle: a Volkswagen 1600 (Beetle), 1974 model, reconditioned 1997, changes hands for 6,400 Swiss francs. We are told it is light (good for sandy roads), air-cooled, with back mounted engine as well as benefitting from rear wheel drive (also good for sand), and it is an unlikely highjacking target. Thanks to our friends Ken and Angela Self, who live in South Africa, the administrative challenges (currency, insurance, road worthy test) are solved within two days.

Then the Beetle goes north. In it, spares, camping equipment and two young Swiss who have just purchased their very first car. An idea that is as mad as it is spontanious becomes reality: Africa in a Beetle.

Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, 672 kms. We are on our way to the ‘real Africa’, off the beaten tourist track. We have just crossed the Limpopo and have thus entered Zimbabwe. The border looks like chaos, but within an hour we are on the other side.

Main Camp, Zimbabwe, 1557 kms. Near the entrance to the Hwange National Park we are greeted by a sign: ‘Give way to elephants’. Welcome to Africa!

Even on the way to the inexpensive Main Camp we meet elephants and giraffes. In the evening dances are performed by the park’s own primary school which we are going to visit the next day. In the whole of Zimbabwe ecology is on the curriculum from class one.

southluangwanightdriverThe next day: the biggest (125 kms) and so far best game drive we’ve had. At around 9.50 am, a time when few animals are to be seen because of the heat, we come across four obstructions on the road. Are they tree trunks, the kind of thing we will have to move out of the way frequently from now on? No, they are three male and one female lion lying peacefully on the dirt road. The magnificent cats do not seem to feel disturbed by our presence – and we are the only ones that could disturb them. Later an elephant literally crosses our path.

Sinamatella Camp, Zimbabwe, 1773 kms. From this fantastic camp we can see Africa as it was 150 years ago. A fantastic indescribable view – one of the best in Africa – gives the impression of total wilderness all around. For around 13,000 square kilometres that is indeed the case. For lunch we sit outside and watch squirrels drinking out of a water container labelled ‘animals only’.

We have a close encounter with an elephant as we cross the bush early one morning on a ‘game walk’ accompanied by an armed ranger. We are actually  looking for the lion that was heard in the night. Instead we find the elephant. ‘He sees us, but he doesn’t smell us’, says the official. We don’t know what he means by that. But when the thick-skinned animal starts wagging its ears, we know. 3.5 tons (in comparison: the Beetle is 790 kgs) are coming rapidly our way. During out retreat to the back of a tree I quickly press the shutter again.

One would wish an elephant would run over the bureaucrat in charge of  the organisation of the accommodation in the parks. If you haven’t booked in the Central Booking Office in Harare you have to queue up every day at 5 pm (an ideal time for game viewing) to find out if you still have a room the next day. Thanks to an unofficial (illegal) telephone call to Harare we beat the system pre-book the rest of our stay in Hwange..

Shumba Picnic Site, Zimbabwe, 1815 kms. A night in our tent at Shumba Picnic Site. We are the only people for miles around. In the evening we have a barbecue, in the morning we are woken up by thousands of singing birds. We observe buffaloes, hippos, impalas and many elephants. ‘Buddy’ as we have now named our Beetle is still doing very well, even if we have acquired the first panel in in Bulawayo. The roads deteriorate.

Nantwich Camp, Zimbabwe, 2198 kms. In ‘Robin’s Camp’ you heat your own water on a woodburner. We just wanted to drive quickly through the Hwange Park; now we have been here ten days. Postcard Africa: acacias, then bush, then grass again… Fewer animals in this part of the park.
‘Nantwich’ then is the only camp without a fence. In the evening Sandra barbecues the buffalo meat we have bought from some hunters. As I am looking outside with my head lamp, I am spotting two eyes: a hyena is after the meat. We flee into the house, and it takes a while for our heartbeat to normalise…

victoriafallsLivingstone, Zambia, 2324 kms. We are crossing one of the most spectacular border crossings in the world, a 111 meter bridge over the Zambezi. ‘You are now entering Zambia’ it says in the middle of the big viaduct. To our left the mighty Victoria falls thunder downhill, on our right some tourists try a bungee-jump. The Beetle glistens in the African sun. Livingstone is still a piece of real Africa, whereas Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side tries to be anything, just not  Africa. Bungee-jumping, Free Fall, River Rafting (two years ago, we were also on the adrenaline trip) – businesses owned by whites while the blacks have been driven away into the suburbs. Overnight stay at ‘Tatenda’, the only black tour operator in town, inexpensive and friendly. Don’t forget to say hello from Marcel and Sandra if you go there. Before we cross the border, we ask for the panel beater and the key master. The first one beats out the panel, or to be more exact, changes the shape of it, while the latter tells us we don’t actually need a new lock, the car would be safe, even in Zambia.

In Livingstone there is still something like a local population that greets us – like everywhere in Zambia- with exceptional friendliness. We spend the first night under a mosquito net on a tree platform. Alivingstonefamilynother tree house, the so-called ‘lookout tree’ which offers a most unique view of the falls is in such a desolate state that even climbing up to it would be life-threatening.

For Sandra’s birthday we (I…) splash out on our most expensive lunch ever in the probably most bizarre place you can have lunch: on Livingstone Island, in the middle of Victoria Falls, only a few metres from where the Falls go down  more than a hundred metres. In the motorboat I am asking  the driver what he would do in case of an engine breakdown…’We often test the engine’ he says, ‘and it’s always worked so far’. On the island there is champagne a discretion.

By now we have decided we would travel to the remote Western  Zambia. ‘You’ll trash your car’, comments an arrogant employee of Jolly Boy’s Backpacker’s Lodge dryly. ‘You won’t get any further than Sesheke’. We will send him a postcard later on.

beetlecrossesriverSesheke, Zambia, 2909 kms. Western Zambia is the first major challenge for our Beetle. With literally the last drop of petrol we reach the only service station for 300 kms, a BP service station. ‘This week we don’t have fuel’, a smiling youth is welcoming us, ’maybe next week’. ‘Maybe next week’ in Africa means: ‘definitely not next week either’. The only solution is the Caprivi strip in Namibia. We are driving to Namibia to buy petrol. At the border the first offer for the Beetle. No, we still need her. Back in Zambia the roads get progressively worse, first tar with the occasional pothole, then potholes with occasional tar, then only corrugated iron with occasional sandy gaps which remind us that we are moving towards a stretch of the Kalahari desert.

Somewhere in Western Zambia, 3020 kms. One of the sandy bits was our downfall: we’re stuck. Thanks to a beginner’s mistake of mine (I tried to reverse…) we are digging ourselves in deeper. It is 12 pm somewhere in western Zambia. To our east   the Zambezi, habitat for a few crocodiles and to be crossed by humans only by ferry, to our west, much, much more to the west, Angola. Vehicles hardly ever pass here. Merely irritating tsetse flies keep us company while we are trying  to dig out the car. Sandra develops a surprising amount of energy for digging. After a few hours we are as desert-coloured as the Beetle. At last help arrives. Ten rather lively Zambians carry the 790 kg vehicle back onto the bush road. I am so excited I even forget to take a photo.


We’re in high spirits now. From now on speed is the secret as soon as it gets sandy. Third gear, full throttle and the Beetle swims until the familiar corrugated iron shakes its bones again.

Maziba Bay, Zambia, 3042 kms. Our self-confidence is unshakeable now that we have passed five kilometres of fine sand without getting stuck even once and without hitting a single tree while negotiating a corner. The latter is a distinct possibility since the sand is so deep that the Beetle only reacts with a few seconds’ delay – much like a boat. Obviously sand gets into the pedals and the throttle stays down. The involuntary speed-governor is almost welcome: slowing down would almost certainly mean getting stuck again. Maybe we should not have listened to the Zambian up there who said ‘no problem’? The man probably only drives a bicycle. Sandra is covering her face with her hands at every corner. At the bottom of the hill the South-African co-owner Andre is greeting us with the unforgettable words: ’I have never seen a Volkswagen down here!’

A few nights in the tent, a trip to the Sioma Falls, a trip in a canoe as well as one in Andre’s ultralight aeroplane, driven with our reserve fuel. Good food, strange people (some of them racists) who live here almost as hermits.

hwangebeetletreeIn this remote area of Zambia the Zambezi still looks much the way it did when Livingstone was here. Only most of the animals have become extinct thanks to the poaching. Still, if it were not for the Victoria Falls 300 kms away the Sioma Falls would almost certainly be a big tourist attraction. This way we have them all to ourselves.

It can only be described as a miracle that we manage to get  up the said sand road again. Or maybe there is much truth in the Beetle legend.

Sioma, Zambia, 3048 kms. Sioma’s secondary school is being built for ten years, for the last two years without any visible progress. Empty promises from the Government. Even more serious is the situation in the mission hospital: not enough drugs for the number one killer, malaria. The rooms look like you would get sick here not better. We leave our spare pack of ‘Lariam’ in the hospital. ‘God bless you’ says the Italian sister as we are leaving.

The fact that there is nothing to drink in the ‘restaurant’ seems a mere trifle. A trifle not without cause as we are about to discover for ourselves: the main supply line has been interrupted.

ferrypointshopKalongola Ferry Point, Zambia, 3135 kms. A suspicously large number of vehicles are waiting for the ferry, the only way back to civilisation. They have been waiting for three days. Once again the ferry has broken down and is being repaired with all the enthusiasm of a school detention. There is overtime pay to be had at the weekend so why not use the whole weekend? Spare parts are being transported by canoe to and fro. Most the stranded would have something urgent to do on the other side. We, on the other side, keep our composure, pitch our tent and buy two live chickens for supper.


Mongu, Zambia, 3278 kms. The story so far: In Senega, on the other side of the ferry we meet with the nephew of the Prime Minister of Barotseland (West Zambia), which had been independent until 1964. The king (Litunga) and his Prime Minister still exercise power mainly based on old customs and sort out many local matters. The nephew asks us – since we are going north anyway – to take a present to his uncle: six coca-cola bottles and a personal letter.

boatoverloadedThe story: We are being shipped by canoe from Mongu, the ‘centre’ of West Zambia to one of the two capitals, Lealui. It is the capital that the king resides in during the dry season. After more than three hours in the canoe and a hike of about one and a half kilometres we arrive at a few huts. Is this supposed to be the capital? Our two Zambian boatsmen don’t know where to put themselves for pride and awe. As everywhere in Western Zambia the Lozi clap hands for a greeting and we show our respect by clapping too.

Timidly we ask for the prime minister. We are being shown to a concrete building where about ten elderly people are holding a court of law. In the middle are sitting  two people who have a disagreement (for example about land ownership). They have sometimes travelled here on foot for several days. In order not to disturb the proceedings we simply join the queue until we are seated on those two chairs surrounded by the eldest in Lealui, Zambia.

‘What is your mission?’, one of them asks, surprised to see two whites here. I am telling him that we have a present and a letter and only the best of intentions. While I am saying this I try to look at everyone at the same time because I don’t want them to know that I don’t even know which one the prime minister is.

primeministerHe makes himself known: An old man, rather hard of hearing, asks me enthusiastically to give him the present. I am pulling  the cola bottles from the backpack. Now he is so full of joy that he cancels the rest of the hearings for today. He has two VIP’s from Switzerland, he announces.

As we walk through the ‘capital’ with the premier the people literally throw themselves onto the ground. And clap. We clap, too.In his house there are luxury goods like a fridge. A photograph on the wall shows him at No. 10, Downing Street where he was once a guest in happier times. While he lectures us for several hours on the reasons why Barotselnd must under all circumstances become independent again (we have to promise to petition our own prime minister in this matter), more people keep knocking and receive instructions from him. The situation becomes even more surreal as I suffer from diarrhoea and find myself forced to use the prime minister’s toilet twice – a hole in the ground. When I come back he tells us that president Chiluba called him yesterday. Some weeks later we read that the prime minister was in Singapore with the President.

Near Kaoma, Zambia, 3457 kms. Anti-poaching control. Do you have any firearms in the vehicle? Ammunition? A brief glance at our back seat – full of luggage, covered by our towels. Thank you, carry on, and as everywhere: ‘Thumbs up’.

kafuecampingwildNear Itezhi-Tezhi, Zambia, 4156 kms. ‘You want to drive that thing into the Park?’ enquires the envious owner of a Landrover. That is precisely what we want to do, drive into the Kafue National Park, half the size of Switzerland. With  fuel for 800 kms, food for four to five days and drinking water for the same amount of days we start this latest adventure. For several hundred kilometers everything goes well. In the north ‘Busanga Trails’ runs three excellent camps. During a single game drive we see no less than eight lions. The variety of antelopes is hard to describee. Only the elephant population has not recovered from the years of poaching. Never before have we seen so many hippos as here at ‘Hippo Pool’. Kafue is indeed the real, wild and romantic Africa.

beetledrivessandIn the deserted south of the park the back wheels are again stuck deep in sand. If we can manage these critical four kilometers we can manage the whole distance to ‘Nanzhila Plains’ we were told. Well, we didn’t manage. The National Park has the distinct disadvantage of lions, hyenas, and buffaloes running around as casually as your cat does in your living room. Theoretically it is not even allowed to leave your vehicle. 

Practically we have not much hope of the TCS (Swiss breakdown service) passing by and therefore have to make plans. Collect firewood, camp outside, tomorrow I walk by myself, carefully of course… If I’m not back by four o’clock…It is an unpleasant situation, the only one (before our journey home)  that brings us very close to tears. We went too far. Apart from wild animals there are also poachers here that do not hesitate to shoot. Just when the Robinson Crusoe feeling was starting to take over we see a car! They are hunters – thank god no poachers. They help us, but we still have to spend the night in the bush. During toothbrushing our headlamps peer nervously out into the wild. Are those not two eyes?

Lusaka, Zambia, 4528 kms. Zambias capital seems a stronghold of civilisation with things liek showers (after a few days they even carry water) and supermarkets. We give our Beetle a break, too, and have a new horn fitted. An unnoticed pothole had muted the old one…

During our stay in Lusaka we are neither robbed nor murdered, both of which had been prophesied to us. Even in the neighbourhood of the infamous Cairo Road we feel quite safe even though I might have second thoughts about asking the guys from the Soweto Market to babysit my little daughter. The private security guards in front of every shop in town deter even car thiefs.

We dive into Lusaka’s night-life with Jetty, a Zambian who works for an American AIDS project. It is dominated by the Zairan rumba – and of course ‘Mos’ -beer. More detailed memories escape us. The Zambians meet us with more friendliness, openness and warmth than we have found in any other African country so far. And these people more than make up for the poor infrastructure. We already know now that we will always remember them.

After stocking up on supplies we drive to the crossroads where the only two major roads of the entire country meet: the Great North Road and the Great East Road. We turn right.

Mfuwe, Zambia, 5808 kms. Some of the potholes on the Great East Road could have swallowed up our entire car without too much trouble. The state of the road is as up and down as my adrenaline levels during the journey. Sometimes it looks almost like a real road, so we accelerate, 70 kmph, even 80, after all, we would like to get there today, please, 90 kmph – then out of the blue a road section that reminds us of a bomb site or a moon landscape – hit the brakes!

On top of that, a bush fire helps to stop any boredom setting in. Seeing it licking across half of the road is a good moment to consider that we have 75 litres of spare fuel on board. And being surrounded by fire altogether only leaves one option: go for it! Passing through we feel the flames and keep the fire extinguisher ready.

Change of scenery: Game viewing  in the South Luangwa National Park. Turning the engine off seems to startle the elephants every time, but they carry on chewing unimpressed when the vintage motor rattles loudly. Sometimes we can observe them close up, while making sure the car is in reverse gear just in case any of the beasts feelling disturbed after all…

The South Luangwa now has one of the highest densities of elephants in Africa. In other areas, too, the park can compete with all the important national parks. Herds of buffaloes two to three hundred strong are not uncommon. Lions and leopards, too, can be observed. While in South Africa you will find at least five cars around every lion, the reverse is sometimes the case. We can recommend particularily two activities:

Firstly, game walks. For several hours we walk through the bush led by two competent guides. We observe two lions trying to attack a buffalo but the buffalo drives them off with the help of his herd. We hold our breaths. As we drive back to the Wildlife Camp two tyres burst. Spare tyres we have, but not with us. An extended game walk.

Secondly, night drives: controversial but unforgettable. Powerful lights light up the night. A magnificent leopard lies on its back under a tree and seems entirely unperturbed by us. If you have your own car you should also visit the south of the Luangwa valley. It is very scenic and for observing wildlife it can easily compete with the central part of the valley.

The Wildlife Camp is more pleasant than the Flatdogs, but we are severely disappointed by the German owner, Anke, who cancels the promised drive to the practically deserted North Luangwa Park, we hear along the grapevine that she does not earn enough out of two people.

The 120 kilometer road from Chipata down to Mfuwe resembles a dead-end road  into the bush more than the road to one of the main attractions of the country. At times the gear jumps out at only 20 kmph, the road is so bumpy. On the way back we pass no less than four broken-down vehicles. Of course we ask if we could help. And yes, of course we are married but we are still working on the children.

Chipata, Zambia, 6061 kms. We are sad to be leaving Zambia soon. One last night at the camp site of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Chipata. In the bar in the evenings the local foreigners and the Zambian middle and upper classes meet. One man is from West Zambia and finds it hard to believe that we met the Prime Minister of Barotseland. As recently as last year, he insisted, we would have been shot only for showing up there. It turns out to be an inexpensive evening: The people here are so pleased with these two young Swiss  with their VW Beetle and their mad stories that the beer and food supply is ample without our help.

The border into Malawi, 6079 kms. The Zambian side of the border (picture) is probably the friendliest border crossing in the whole of Africa. The Malawians, however, are less than enthusiastic about our arrival. It takes half a day before the precious visa stamps adorn our passports. No more visa at the border, you have to queue up for one in the capital Lilongwe. The official who bullied us there discharges us with the words: ’You will not like Malawi.’

In Lilongwe – where we visit among other things a tobacco auction hall – we discuss earnestly the option of dropping Mozambique and instead visit Zambia once more – we really miss it. The vote goes for Mozambique, just. Sandra does not feel well for the first time.

Forest Rest House, Malawi, 6606 kms. An unforgettable trip is neither ‘sight seeing’ nor luxury accomodation. It is Joseph, for example, the friendly caretaker of the Forest Rest House between Lilongwe and Mzuzu. The 38 year-old man provides accomodation (approximately US$ 3) that he could easily demand $ 100 for. A wonderful, tastefully furnished wooden house in the middle of the forest. The shower resembles a turkish bath. He learnt his trade from the British woman who previously owned the house. Whatever one’s attitude towards British colonial rule, this man clearly has style. He’s a fantastic cook and lights a fire for us in the evening. He simply treats us like royalty and assures us that God will make sure we will have children, as ‘He’s the boss’.


Livingstonia Mission, Malawi, 6830 kms. At 2000 metres above sea level the British missionaries had found refuge from the malaria here. For us it means negotiating twenty horrible S-bends. At the top there is only one other car, a Landrover reminiscent of an expedition. It belongs to two drop-outs, Chris and Estelle. ‘I am definitely not a tourist’, Chris answers my question and them muses: ‘I live in this Landrover, I’d say.’ For more than six years by now. During this time he has been several times to all African countries except Sierra Leone, Angola, Lybia, Liberia and the Cape Verde Islands. He travelled completely on his own in the Landrover for a full year. He never caught malaria once and it was always others that got shot by the Tuareg in Algeria. Chris made the interesting observation that the first time he saw the Tuareg they were riding on camels – machine guns in their hands – guns and the second time they were already on motor bikes – still with machine guns in their hands. Oh yes, and if we have no hot water in Stone House (where the first missionaries used to sleep)  he would always have some in his bush shower. Chris and Estelle now want to get married, up on top of that mountain.

livingstoniahouseA  boy washes the car in exchange for the privilege of a ride. I drive him through Livingstonia and tell all his friends I am the new taxi driver. His familiy invite me for lunch. An opportunity for the numerous siblings of getting a good look at me.




Nyika Plateau, Malawi, 7028 kms. Horse-riding on the Nyika Plateau. And a last night in Zambia, without border controls, on the Zambian side of the plateau. There we accidentally cause a bush fire which destroys a quarter of our tent. ‘Let it burn’ is the reply of the fire police, having rushed here on their bicycles.

Nkhata Bay,Malawi, 7303 kms. Nice little town, nice beach at the big Malawi Lake, but we can’t quite warm to this country. Rather irritating are also the countless backpackers that steal their way through the country and display the most remarkable ignorance. One German backpacker for example tells us how he asks for everything to be put on his bill and then disappears from the hotel early in the morning. And well, this mission, it doesn’t really appeal to him that much. Dope (Malawi gold), beer and sex seem to be the main reasons for a visit to Malawi. The latter incidentally applies to women too. Despite an HIV rate of up to 80% there are shocking scenes to be witnessed on the beach. A 35 year-old woman in the arms of a 14 year-old boy. The first senses youthful stamina, the latter a lottery win.

Nhkotakota, Malawi, 7539 kms. Malawi may not represent the greatest of adventures but we still get surprises. Suddenly the sky turns black over Malawi Lake. Millions of seaflies are being blown inland by the wind – a remarkable spectacle of nature. The Malawi people wield baskets and turn the flies into a sort of pie. When the flies reach us they hail down onto our Beetle and thousands are stuck to her.

circumcisionA little later hundreds of people are dancing happily on the streets. A village celebrates the successful circumcision of ten boys who can legitimately call them men now. The chief himself welcomes us and soon all the attention is diverted to this unusual round thing in the shape of a…beetle!

Everyone wants us to take their address as our number plate ‘BTL 886 GP’ stands not only for Beetle but also for Gauteng Province and that represents the dream of a better life in a big city.


Senga Bay, Malawi, 7635 kms. A roadblock. Insurance documents! Horn! Wipers (average rainy days in September: 0)! Neutral gear (for whatever)! And if we could possibly spare some salt, they are just cooking. One official asks me for ‘papers’. As I hand him the bundle of documents he says: ’Only two’. Which of the two, he doesn’t care.

Cape McClear, Malawi, 7843 kms. On the way to the tourist village of Cape McClear we cross a small river – and thus add another true story to the stock of stories to be related to the grandchildren..

Suddenly my travel partner Sandra runs a temperature of 40 degrees centigrade. The first doctor is absent, the second one a few kilometers down the road is not there at the moment. When will he be back? In six weeks… Another 80 kilometers further, a hospital. ‘You’ve got malaria’ – the lab assistant says, clearly bored.  Malaria is a daily business here in Malawi. Surprisingly, we get the drugs for free.

On the way back to Cape McClear the potholes are now demanding a sacrifice. It happens to be our clutch cable. Now ‘Herbie’ is out of the ballgame. Sandra is supposed to take the pills as soon as possible and rest afterwards. A four-wheel-drive full of British tourists stops. ‘Any problems?’ one of them wants to know. ‘Two’, I say, ‘the car is broken, and she’s got malaria.’

They give Sandra a lift while I push the car with the help of one of the locals several kilometers to the nearest ‘bush mechanic’. He indeed fixes the problem within an hour. And thanks to early treatment Sandra is also better the next day. We continue our diving course at Lake Divers (PADI basic course $150 – very professional). The underwater world will become our hobby during the rest of the journey.

Blantyre, Malawi, 8464 kms. On our way across the Zomba Plateau it rains – in the middle of the dry season. Sandra sees another doctor. Later we will learn that she caught Bilharzia. (Contrary to what the tourism industry wants to be true, Lake Malawi is not Bilharzia free.) And a dose of typhoid. We still decide to go ahead for Mozambique.

Tete, Mozambique, 8703 kms. The Malawi border official assumes we work for the Red Cross when he sees our red passports with the white cross on them. Apart from that the farewell is as friendly as the greeting three weeks earlier. But on the other side in Mozambique we evoke pleasure: ‘The year before last we had another Beetle here’ the friendly border official smiles at us and makes us feel that Mozambique is now just as safe as its neighbouring countries. We cross the Zambezi for the second time – we have come full circle.


To our great surprise we find brand new roads in Mozambique. They seem ghostly at times because they are so little used. At the first police control a smart officer all in white: ’7kmph over the speed limit – you can pay in Zim-Dollars, Malawi Kwacha or Meticais’ – we had bought cigarettes in the vain hope that they can be bribed…

Despite dire poverty the people greet us with incredible joy. Stopping in a village we are immediately surrounded by dozens of children and nearly as many adults and at times can’t even see out of our windows. Our lack of knowledge of Portuguese does little to help the communication but the people try very hard and are happy to have visitors again in their country that was destroyed by civil war.

Chimoio, Mozambique, 9096 kms. This town in the Harare – Beira corridor will be forever remembered by us as the ‘Coca-Cola town’. The lemonade manufacturer has put up a factory here to supply the young and the rich of North Mozambique with the sweetened water. Not only do they seem to employ half the town, they also appear to have bought half the town. From shop window to playground: ‘Drink Coca-Cola’. Very friendly people.

Something we would never have thought possible in our wildest dreams is perfectly normal here: We can walk back to our hotel on foot, through the back streets- in Mozambique!

childrenwindowBeira, Mozambique, 9332 kms. The motorway to Beira looks just like in Switzerland – perfect. A romantic lighthouse near a shipwreck. In the restaurant we meet two very interesting people: a German who just crossed the whole of Africa on his motorbike and just happened to be in Zaire when everybody else was trying to leave the country and a Swiss drop-out, a former delegate of the ICRC who bought the golf club in Beira and turned it into a bar/disco/restaurant.

Vilancoulos, Mozambique, 9899 kms. We park the Beetle for a week and clear off to the islands of the Bazaruto National Park. It was not quite so easy. ‘Mr. Rex Mr. Rex’, everybody says as we ask how to travel to the Bazaruto Islands. Finally we find the villa of the American multi-millionaire who owns one of the islands. He happens to be on the island. We radio: ‘Magaruque Magaruque Magaruque Vilanculos’ – he’ll collect us by boat tomorrow, we hear him reply in German, Swiss German at that. He has travelled quite a bit himself actually… He also recommends that we should spend all our money on his island.

Spending money is not hard to do in the Bazaruto National Park. Even on the more reasonable island Magaruque we spend US$467 all told for two days (including boat transfer). Not enough, states Mr. Rex, disappointed that we are not staying longer. There would also be a tax for parking our car next to his villa. $5 per day. When I refuse to pay this sum later as it had not been agreed, his housekeeper locks me in his estate.

divingmarcelApart from the western highway robbers that have a keen eye on our money the place is paradise. It looks as if the civil war never happened: phantastic beaches reaching for miles and not a soul to be seen apart from a few fishermen. What they cath decides what there is for dinner. A diving trip at Two Mile Reefs near Benguela will always stay in our memories as will the phantastic food at Bazaruto Lodge. Small wooden sailboats travel between the five islands and the mainland. Only the bill prevents us from staying longer.

Benguela Lodge is the best accomodation by far, very tasteful with baskets and other objects decorating the walls.

Some two kilometers from the Lodge a former employee has staged a revolt against ‘big business’: accomodation for backpackers. He even resisted the offer of money in order to stop him from trading, he tells us. Travellers come by ‘dhow’ – sailboats instead of the speedboats and bring less money, but more time with them.

Never in the world have I seen such beautiful beaches as the ones in Bazaruto National Park.

Morrungulo, Mozambique, 10153 kms. We would love to come back to Mozambique to see the re-opened National Parks and above all the north of the country, still largely untouched by tourism. This time, though, we have no choice other than to follow the sea. But then quite honestly, there are worse places indeed to end a journey like this one.

morrungulowoodThe thirteen kilometres down to Morrungulo are lined with palm trees: a palm tree avenue. Morrungulo is more of a camp than a village. 40 kilometeres to the south and 20 to the north there is nothing but virgin beach. The water is rather wild, the atmosphere romantic. The only nuisance are South Africans who have bought four-wheel drive cars on credit and feel they have to show them off on the beach.

The best Peri Peri Chicken of the whole of Mozambique is for sale on the main road just past the turning for Morrungulo – and he has dozens of different beers in stock, too.

Barra, Mozambique, 10349 kms. Indescribable beaches here, too, indescribable underwater worlds, indescribable drives through Mozambique. The roads are very good but the pedestrians are a little reluctant to share the tarmac with the motorised traffic. For decades, they had ruled the roads. Very few vehicles, sometimes almost ghostly, colossal, a phantastic experience. In between times the starter cable comes loose, an old problem that we can fix ourselves by now: jack up on the right, take off back wheel, crawl underneath, reconnect dangling cable, and hey, the Beetle starts again…

Maputo, Mozambique, 10937 kms. The capital of Mozambique, once among the most beautiful cities in the world, is our last stop before returning to South Africa. A city, incidentally, which is full of Beetles! We join a 24 hour party called ‘Feira Popular’ and celebrate our adventure which we already know we will be the only ones to ever really understand.


Randburg, South Africa, 11598 kms. Three months and 1025 litres of petrol later we end up where we started. The now treasured Beetle has carried us across sand roads, potholes and creaking wooden bridges, and has even crossed a small river. Now we have to sell her, not without, it has to be said, shedding a small tear. She changes hands for 4600 Swiss Francs to an employee of the French embassy. Ken, who sold the car for us did not point out to the buyer where exactly she has been…

Text and pictures: Marcel Stoessel

We would like to thank Ken and Angela Self, two exceptionally nice people who helped us to buy and sell the car and assisted us in many other ways.. „It’s so easy to give”, Ken said – and I am impressed to hear that in a world where egoism has definately taken over. I would also like to thank all black and white Africans – especially the Zambians – for the legendary hospitality they live up to.

Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika