|Magaruque Island||Vilanculos Beach Lodge|
Federal Air has quit flying to Vilanculos. Here's the press release they sent on the 30th November 2012:
"It is with regret and extreme sadness that Federal Airlines (previously Pelican Air), announce that they have, after long deliberation, decided to cease their Vilanculos scheduled flights.
This will be effective 1st February 2013, therefore the last operational flight will be on 31st January 2013.
After 10 years of operation, it has been a difficult decision to make, however with the global economic downturn, the airline has seen a continuing decline in passenger numbers – even over the busiest of seasons.
Federal Airlines has elected to maintain the flight for an additional two months, so that passengers, clients, guests travelling are not affected by the decision. This also allows travelers enough time to make alternate arrangements moving forward from 1st February 2013.
Travelers, who have settled confirmed bookings in full, will be re-imbursed according to conditions of carriage.
Re-imbursements will be handled by our reservations team, who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org, or 011 395 9000."
Let me say upfront that a trip to Vilankulo isn't complete without doing a day trip to the nearby islands. It's not that Vilankulo isn't beautiful and fascinating in its own right, but more that islands like Magaruque resemble heaven on earth.
We booked our Federal Air flight from Johannesburg to Vilankulo (Vilanculos is the name of the district, the town is called Vilankulo) for the 27th Nov 2011, which turned out to be great weatherwise - every day was sunny. It cost R6,399 for return flights for the 4 of us (1 infant) on their Ola Special!
We had flown from Cape Town with Kulula, and got a free shuttle from the Garden Court Johannesburg Airport, but the shuttle driver seemed confused when we mentioned we were flying with Federal Air. I explained that it was an international flight to Mozmabique, Vilanculos, and then he understood to take us to the international departures hall at O.R. Tambo International Airport.
I've met many friendly SA Home Affairs immigration officials, but before our outbound flight had the misfortune of interacting with Mr Unhygienix, a surly fellow (grunted after we said good morning) at O.R. Tambo, who wiped his nose with his fingers every 5 seconds and then without cleaning his hand used it to handle our passports and boarding cards, this f filthy behaviour is shameful to an establishment carrying the name of the great O.R. Tambo, and inappropriate in any situation let alone a frontline tourist arena - a lesson in personal hygiene would not go amiss in helping us maintain respect for those doing this important job. His behaviour contrasted with the impeccable cleanliness and professional attitude of the Mozambican officals at Vilankulo Airport, who are an asset to their country.
On our return trip from Vilankulo, the SA Home Affairs official was courteous and efficient, a complete contrast to Mr Unhygienix.
To close off this chapter, what I really like about customs at South African airports is that they don't force you to take your baby out of their sling. At Barcelona & Frankfurt airports this not only wasted our time, but also resulted in baby waking up.
When we got to our plane, I was surprised that rather than a Federal Air branded aircraft, we boarded a British Airways Comair ATR 72. Federal Air is wet leasing planes from British Airways - something similar happened to us in 2009, when we booked an Interlink flight & ended up on Mango Airways. I think the BA Comair ATR72 is the same plane they're using for flights from Lanseria to George.
There were only 13 passengers on the aircraft - the number might scare some people but I'll take it any day, I love flying on an empty plane. Sometimes the flight stops in Nelspruit to pick up passengers, but today there were none so we headed directly to Vilanculos (saves some 15m).
The cabin crew, Cheleyn & Clare, were really friendly, and Cheyleyn let me in on the secret to flying to Mauritius - fly in September or October, as the prices are lower and the weather is better than over the festive season. It was interesting to hear that other airlines, like Air France, train through Comair, because of their high quality training programs.
On the flight back from Vilankulo I was again impressed by the quality of the service offered by the air hostesses - Ntombi is truly an asset to BA Comair. I didn't catch the other air hostess's name, but 10/10 to her for starting to play peekaboo with our son when he got upset.
On the way out the choice was a chicken or cheese sandwich, and unfortuanately I was served second and they ran out of cheese sandwiches by the time they got to me (they only had 1)...luckily, the person they had served first agreed to swap her cheese sandwich for my chicken sandwich. I didn't find the cheese sandwich appetising, so moved onto the pasta, which tasted like engine fuel! On the upside, the funky fruit safari bar and juice was good.
On the way back from Vilankulo the choice was beef or vegetarian - this time even though I was the last served there was still a vegetarian option available, and happily it didn't taste like engine fuel - the downside was that the roll tasted plain (brown bread with aubergine & red peppers just doesn't do it for me). Mind you the pasta and pesto was pretty good.
Federal Air purchased Pelican Air Services in 2006, and rebranded it to Federal Air at the start of 2007. The route has grown steadily over the years and Federal Air flies more flights to Vilanculos than any other airline.
Earlier this year, the Vilankulo Airport was upgraded and renovated at a launch ceremony by the Mozambique President. Vilanculos has moved to an international airport status, replete with an air-conditioned terminal, and a host of ancillary services. At the same time the roads were upgraded, so the short trip into town is a much more comfortable one.
The airport has a shiny & new feel to it. Security is slightly more lax than South African airports, in that they didn't request me to remove my laptop from my backpack. I also wandered out a bit before our flight to take a photograph of the LAM flight. We bought a fanta and 2 waters at the airport shop for 85 meticals (some R26).
Airlines operating at Vilankulo Airport include Federal Air, Allegiance Air, CFA (island hops to Bazaruto) and LAM.
I guess the Chinese Builders of Vilankulo Airport bought into the rumour about Mozambican men - look how low all the urinals have been hung.
Vilankulo is named after Chief Vilankulo, with some of the suburbs being named after his sons. During Portuguese colonial times they changed the name to Vilanculos as they don't use the letter K much and they like the "s" sound. After independence the name of the town was changed back to Vilankulo, but the name of the district is Vilanculos. Many residents of the area have the surname Vilankulo.
While you slow down for one of the many potholes in the main road through Vilankulo, you'll see little shops like Big Ayas Cell Shop, one of the lessor known Vodacom outlets.
Fishing harbour in Vilankulo
Dhow boat in Vilankulo
Rusting old boat
The Hotel Dona Ana, being refurbished, above the beach.
Cape Town's contribution to Vilankulo - the South West Flamingo
We stayed at Casa Rex, but had meals at the Beach Lodge and Pescador. In terms of facilities and proximity to the beach the Beach Lodge is the best (the Beach Lodge has a magnificent pool right on the beach). In terms of the quality of the food Pescador is best and the Beach Lodge the worst. Pescador had the worst views, with no view from its swimming pool - which is where guests tend to congregate around (Casa Rex is perched up well and had good views of the old fishing harbour).
We stayed at Casa Rex in Vilanculos, and loved its laid-back atmosphere. Any annoyance we might have felt at our room not being ready on arrival was quickly blown away once we saw it - a magnificent strip of a room, leading out to a view of the traditional fishing boats lying on the sandbanks (at low tide) below (or on the sea at high tide). The movements of the tides are obvious, as they uncover large strips of sand all the way from Vilankulo beach to Margaruque island.
My only complaint about the room is that the roof is too high - normally I'd like this, but in Mozambique it makes it difficult to swat the mosquitoes!
The centre-piece is a circular swimming pool (actually 2 of them), around which guests would soak up the sun.
Some folk would sit at the pool and play on their iPads, some would play their own music, and 2 youngsters even spent some time smoking weed there - just when I was getting impressed at how much they could consume, I heard one of them calling ralph on the the big white telephone (the hotel walls are thin, and they're next door to us). The pool is chlorinated (I prefer salt pools), and the temperature is just a bit warmer than a typical swimming pool in Cape Town.
Some airline staff joined us for breakfast, and they usually know the best places to go. I found the food ok, as a vegetarian I had to hunt around a bit and improvise, but then another guest was raving about the food. After driving to Casa Rex from the airport and seeing all the coconut trees, I was dissapointed they didn't serve fresh coconuts. Also, why powdered milk at breakfast instead of fresh (tip if you insist on fresh milk, like our daughter, they do have some)? The breakfast was the best of the meals, I enjoyed their "health sandwich" with a filling of avocado, cottage cheese and tomato; which I'd eat with some baked beans. Their vegetable curry was a dissapointment, and I suggest they add some legumes into it, e.g. peas or lentils. If you ask for decaf coffee, note that they bring it to you in a tiny mug unless you specifically ask for a standard sized mug. The kitchen staff were very helpful, and when I brought coconuts from the market, were happy to cut it up for me.
The 2-point plugs were my bugbear this trip - only 1 at the Garden Court O.R. Tambo and 1 at Casa Rex - I felt very smart after managing to Macgyver the 2 point plug at Casa Rex into working.
It's great to see the workers busily washing vehicles in the parking lot. However, the dirt gets slippery when it's wet, and whilst carrying my infant on my shoulders, I skidded and fell on it grazing my knee, and giving my infant a huge fright - luckily I had managed to react and catch him as he fell from my shoulders. Keep on washing the cars, I'm sure the drivers appreciate it, but I recommend investing a small amount in warning signs which you can put up around the wet spots, so as to avoid more serious injury to guests.
One of our requirements for any place we stay is that they must have a wireless internet connection (so we can keep our business running). Casa Rex had one, and whilst it got the job done it was a slow, intermittent and fussy (a bit of experimentation was required to do uploads, and youtube was blocked). Then again, that's comparing it to what I'm used to in South Africa - I'm not sure how well the connections work at other resorts in Vilankulo.
Amorous couples may want to know that sound travels far in the still of the Mozambican night. Here I was, having a little R&R, enjoying the night time sounds - the ocean, the crickets, the wind in the leaves, only for the peace to be mixed with the grunts & moans of the people in the upstairs room getting jiggy with it (and I am not talking dancing here). On the upside, they were all smiles at breakfast the following morning.
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The Beach Lodge had by far the best facilities out of the resorts I saw and its pool is positioned right on the beach.
It's a pity that the food the Beach Lodge served us was sub-par, otherwise staying there would be an easy choice. They had very little on the menu for vegetarians, eventually I ordered a Greek Salad and a toasted cheese sandwich, which arrived with ham in it - they took it back in the kitchen and took the ham out and refried it, leaving it an oily mess. The chips were too oily on the edges. My partner's chicken schnitzel was overcooked & tough, and our daughter refused to eat her pizza! If we stayed at the Beach Lodge it would be strictly on a Bed & Breakfast basis (it's hard to mess up breakfast). I must say, that it is not due to lack of trying, the staff were very keen on helping and I'm sure that if I stayed there long enough I could teach them how I like my food to be cooked!
Don't change your Rands for Meticals at the Beach Lodge, as you can get a better deal elsewhere. Beach Lodge were offering 2.8 Meticals for each Rand, which compared to getting 3.2 Meticals on the credit card and 3.1 Meticals at the Supermarket.
We got a quote for staying at the Pescador, but it was a bit pricey, and ultimately I'm glad we chose Casa Rex, as it offers cleaner views of the sea, and easier access to the beach. The pool and restaurant at Pescador doesn't have any view of the sea, whereas at Casa Rex we spent a lot of time at the pool and restaurant enjoying the view.
We went for supper at the Pescador, and whilst the service was excellent I thought their food was a bit pricey (cost some R1000 for 2 adults and a child without any alcohol or meat dishes), although I did think their menu offers more choices than Casa Rex (e.g. Casa doesn't offer the lentil curry), and was the best supper I ate in Vilankulo.
Their bar upstairs has something of a view of the beach. I loved its lighting, and it's a good spot to watch sports events. The barman was friendly, as was the manager of Pescador.
We didn't get a chance to review Motel Dercia, but it's worth noting that it is a fair distance from the beach.
Some hotels in Mauritius have kiddies clubs, which the children love to be at, and adults get to take a break whilst leaving their little ones there. I stand to be corrected, but I don't think there are any such facilities in Vilanculos.
The highlight of our Vilankulo trip was the day trip to
heaven Magaruque Island, the closest island to Vilankulo - there are 5 islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago - Bangue, Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque & Santa Carolina. Happily, the Archipelago is protected as a conservation area (including the coral reefs), and is the only official marine reserve in Mozambique.
They had a fireplace on the boat, the first time I had seen this - the last time I'd seen something similar was reading a Tintin book, when Captain Haddock set fire to the oars to keep warm. The fireplace was used to cook us lunch, make tea and cook popcorn.
The ship's captain has to have an intimate knowledge of the positioning of the reefs and sandbanks, so that he can navigate his way by zigzag'ing through them.
Wear booties and be careful where you put your hands when snorkelling the reef - I got my hands cut on the coral. I saw loads of fish...but didn't bump into any dugongs.
Do go for a walk around the island - I did this alone, and it was an amazingly spiritual experience to be one with nature, in an environment which is probably pretty much how it looked 10,000 years ago. I got badly sunburnt - use a lot of sunblock. The area we had stopped at formed a natural lagoon with the reef, which was perfect for swimming.
This group of fishermen were the only local inhabitants of Magaruque Island I could find. There's an interesting rigmarole, variations of which often play themselves out when you ask Mozambicans whether you can take their photo - first they say no, then when they see you're not phased they say they're only joking, then after you take their photo they ask you for some cash.
On the way back we put up the sail (and joked that it was the way for the firm to increase profit margins by burning less gas).
We used the services of Sail Away Dhow Safaris to get to Magaruque (which led us to sing Enya's Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away, ad nauseum). Their services were flawless, and I happily recommend them. You can get hold of them at 083-876350 or locally in Mozambique at 29382385.
Vilankulo has 2 markets, both of them selling similar produce, although I found the old market cheaper and more interesting. Be prepare'd for some of the youngsters to address you as m'lungu, and be even more prepared for the fact that people will do what they can to get a few meticals out of you.
We caught a lift to the old market with Tito on his tuk-tuk, (he charged 200 meticals for the round-trip from Casa Rex), another taxi driver wanted to charge us 300 meticals one-way. We ended up using Tito's services every day - an interesting experience was driving with him in the evening, as his headlights didn't work, so he drove with the hazards on!
First we visited the dried fish part of the old market, our 4-year-old found the pungent smells a bit much and threw up at the doorway.
At the old market we purchased a couple of coconuts for 5 meticals each. Later we got thirsty, and wanted to buy another one - this time the price (from somebody else was 75 meticals). At the new market the going rate was 15 to 20 meticals for a coconut.
Some people either genuinely don't like their photos taken, or like to use the opportunity to extort money out of you. I took a photo of an overloaded vehicle, and the driver wanted to charge me 200 meticals for the photo!
We asked for 3 fantas from a store - the price they asked for was 75 meticals, we gave a 200 metical note, and got 25 change, with the argument being that we had given a 100 metical note. Eventually, after some unpleasantness, we got our full change.
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