Category Archives: Mozambique

Mozambique, again (ZW)

We have a long driving day today, trying to get as far as we can so we can relax at a nice beach campsite a bit longer. Last night I slept in a dorm room with 4 others, regretting it the minute I set up my mosquito net. Not because of the others, they were perfectly fine, but because the bed had two soft foam pieces instead of mattresses and because next door in the common room another group was having a really loud party with horrendous music blasting until late. I didn’t sleep well and the only consolation was that I didn’t have to take a tent down at 4.30am this morning.

We are on our way to Malawi, to get there we have to go through Mozambique. We heard stories of long border crossings so we set out early and arrived at the border at 11 am. I was the only person with a visa so I saved myself $30 although that was an error on their behalf. My visa is for single entry only and I already came to Mozambique in February. The immigration guy was sidetracked by my two passports and the few empty pages in the old one so he probably missed my entry and exit stamp from last month and he simply let me through. While he was going through my paperwork he lectured my tour guide about single and multiple entry visas but I didn’t mention that I had already used the visa, why would I? We then had two wait until the same guy manually filled out the remaining 13 visas, stuck them into all passports and copied every move into a big log book. None of this ever happens fast but we were lucky with only a 90 minute wait time in the end.

Mozambique instantly looked different from Zimbabwe. It’s still very green but now it’s also hilly. Kids come running towards the truck to say hi. We get a whole lot more curious stares here. And the police seems stricter. In Tete where we once again crossed the Zambezi River over a very modern suspension bridge we had to register with the police. Our driver said the last time the guys simply refused and demanded to be bought some drinks instead. It’s that sort of thing that derails any itinerary but for now we seem to be lucky. If we can make it to the Malawi border before 6pm we will continue driving further in the evening, if not we may have to bushcamp on someone’s property (with their permission and for a couple of dollars obviously).

Maputo, Mozambique (MZ)

As there are no well organized city tours as such here in Maputo, and the hop-on-and-off bus tours are known for not showing up, we asked two tuk-tuk drivers to show us the highlights in a three hour period. We were 6 people, 3 in each back seat that was made for two. The pothole obstacle course made the ride even more uncomfortable…

Tuk tuk from the inside

We were shown a local fish market, a craft fair (somehow people here seem to think that I need a table), a nice park that is used for dates and weddings, city hall, and the beautiful Natural History Museum (outside only). We passed the posh area that houses international embassies (German embassy: cold, functional. Chinese embassy: bombastic) and we went inside a very modern looking church. Inside, the gate to heaven is evidently closed for me – but the narrow spiral staircase that took us to it was definitely hell.
The tuk tuk drivers then took us to a local lunch spot where I ate something I can’t pronounce that looked and tasted like stewed spinach sauce. It had shrimp in it, I only found the shells for one though, they must have been blended in. Finally they took us back to the hotel where we are now chilling out a bit as much as that’s possible in this heat. Our tour guides are downstairs in the restaurant drinking beer, I think they haven’t left their seats since we arrived yesterday.

These guys are fun actually. The official guide is Maretha, a fairly big girl who has been doing this job for 8 years and has probably seen it all which would explain her patient nature. Janika is an intern who needed some time to warm up with us (we are neither a loud nor a boring group). Janika is the best South African cyclist in her age range (20s) – she has won numerous awards. Right now she’s taking a break.

The real killer is Barry, our driver. He reminds me of Crocodile Dundee. He’s a weathered guy in his 50s probably, with long greasy hair and always barefoot, even in the truck or restaurants. He said he was a marketing manager years ago and he quit that life when the early midlife crisis hit and never went back (here goes my career). Barry smokes a pipe all day and cooks oxtail stews for us with questionable other ingredients, and he seems to be keen on making me his second best friend (the other one being a woman his age who sounds equally homeless). Barry is priceless. Yesterday he tried to fix the truck’s cracked windshield with regular duct tape.

 

It is now 10 pm and I just got back from a great night out. We decided to try the roasted chicken by the beach across the street from the hotel and four hours later here we are. We started with one full chicken, three of us wanted to eat and three didn’t but when the food arrived we all dug in and quickly ordered another chicken.

Organic chicken

The food was delicious, fresh grilled meat, fries, salad and polenta, all eaten with our hands – screw the hygiene. We had beer with it of course and half way through the meal there was a power outage but you wouldn’t have known it from the locals, nobody seemed to have noticed. Soon we were joined by a bunch of kids and some other guys we gave our leftovers to and many pictures were taken. William, our 24 year old Brazilian lawyer had to translate and it was fun to watch him in his element. Because of him we quickly learned the names and life stories of so many people we met here, from the cab drivers to the street vendors. He ist the youngest most mature, grounded and old fashioned young person I know, makes sure everyone is taken care of, speaks six languages including Chinese and says things like “A man must know his way around a ballroom” without a trace of irony. In comparison our youngest member of the grop, a 19 year old from Sidney, is about as smart as a piece of bread – he was supposed to bring us hand sanitizer from William’s day bag, instead he somehow got into the girl’s room, rummaged through my things and finally returned with a big bag of wet Cottonelle towelettes from my toiletry bag (it clearly says ‘toilet paper on it, where was the confusion?).

I am not sure why we were warned of any potential dangers here but so far we’ve only met sincere and open people who even waited for us to get home safe and who had no other interests in mind but ours. Even the guys who got out of their cars to pee against the wall straight across the street were waving 🙂
All in all our entire meal and the huge beers (not in single digits) plus a fat tip cost each of us 40 rand, i.e. less than $6. It was by far the cheapest and most delicious meal we’ve had in a week.

Mozambique (MZ)

We left Kruger Park in the morning with zebras and entire elephant families waving goodbye to us. At the exit we crossed a bridge and spotted three pairs of hippo eyes in the water.

Hippos!

Then it was off to Mozambique, the border being only 40 bumpy kilometers away. Despite a number of warnings from our tour leader the border crossing was fast and simple. Although it was rather busy it only took about 15 minutes including the clearance of the truck and nobody got charged extra as sometimes is the case when fees are made up on the spot. We first got an exit stamp for South Africa and finally an entry stamp for Mozambique. I already had a visa, it’s in my old passport, but that caused no issues either.

 

I read in my tour book that Mozambique is unsafe for tourists and that everyone should stick to the capitol, Maputo, which spends all the money on improving the city and making it look like paradise. We were already wondering why we only spend so little time here but this would explain it. Maputo is right by the Indian Ocean and it appears to be a fairly nice city. We entered at peak traffic hour and it took us an hour to get to our hotel which is right on the beach. We had plenty of time to see the Portuguese influence (white cobble stone with black patterns, just like in Brazil, Macao…and Portugal). Wide avenues, palm trees, beautiful big cream colored buildings etc. The divide between rich and poor is not really that obvious, although none of the people we saw roaming the streets probably live in any of these buildings.
There was a market on a big intersection where you could buy anything you ever needed, and individual vendors are everywhere along the main avenue.
We were told not to walk around alone and never to leave our valuables out of sight so the anticipation of a menacing vibe was there but not called for. People were no more curious about us than a regular street vendor in Harlem. Nobody stared, nobody begged for money, nobody bothered us – and we clearly did not blend in.
On the way to the hotel we passed the entire beach front which is beautiful but underdeveloped. Some stretches have a lot of discarded trash, yet people set up souvenir or food stands in the middle of it. One of the local favorite hobbies seems to be parking their car by the beach and food stands, blasting music and just hanging out for hours. You can buy alcohol everywhere and it’s legal to drink on the beach. Unfortunately the sand is covered with glass despite the fact that everyone walks around with flip flops.

View from hotel window

Since it’s boiling hot here with quite the humidity (41c) the ocean is really warm. Too warm, it’s not refreshing at all. The tide was out when we arrived so we could walk half a mile or so into the ocean, there were plenty of sand banks and the water was knee deep in the deepest parts. We passed a bunch of kids playing in the water or simply sitting in it as if they were taking a bath.
We are staying in a hotel that is perfectly fine but makes no effort to improve their service or general state in any way. It is in the perfect spot, it’s pretty full and the large restaurant on the patio that overlooks the beach attracts locals as well. However this place could profit so much more from a renovation or the introduction of simple things (English speaking staff, bigger breakfast, more toilet paper…) but it’s almost like the manager doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t have to (yet). Already there is construction for condos, shopping malls and there is a huge, posh looking Radisson down the block. The movie “Blood Diamond” was filmed on this beach and Leonardo di Caprio stayed at that hotel.


On our walk along the beach front with the little tin huts where mostly roasted chicken or fish and alcohol is sold our Brazilian guy, William, talked to half the population to get tips on where to go out at night. So once a fairly stale seafood dinner at the hotel had been polished off we hopped into cabs and took off to the city center again to check out the one bar we repeatedly got recommendations for; Gil Vicente. It was Wednesday night, not a prime nightlife time… The cab ride proved to be entertaining due to the dodging of massive potholes and lack of obvious traffic rules, and the radio channel that played New Kids on the block and MC Hammer without any irony (also because our youngest tour member is 19 and wasn’t even born when these songs came out). The bar was empty – we were too early at 9.30 pm – and had a cover charge due to the live band at 11pm. William threw himself into price negotiations, one of many times he would do this here in Maputo. The guy is a young lawyer and it shows. After a number of beers a bunch of other white people joined us, and a few locals as well. The band was great, jazz + funk sung in the local dialect.
The cab ride back was equally entertaining as our cab driver suddenly did a hard turn into some back alleys, drove without light and a cd player at full volume which cut out every couple of seconds. He explained to us that he was hiding from the police as if that made us feel more comfortable. We eventually got stopped by two armed policemen who shone flashlights at us and yelled at the cab driver in Portuguese, but got away without having to show any papers (In Moazambique you get arrested if you cannot produce your passport upon a random police check up).