Heating it up in Mozambique

March 17, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

Entering "Real Africa" - Into Mozambique
After having eased into our trip and being kindly showed around by Conrad and Trish in South Africa we were both very excited leaving Nelspruit and taking the next step of the trip and into Mozambique. This was intended to happen with the use of the infamous white minibuses...
Leaving the safe haven of the backpackers behind we headed into the unknown by foot to get to the minibus rank. We had no idea what to expect as we were wandering through Nelspruit in full gear, with backpacks on both our backs and chests as the rest of the city was waking up to another day of getting to work and taking the kids too school.

The minibus rank however turned out to be a surprisingly organised joint. Lined up with clear signs indicating their various destinations were hundreds of white minibuses. Every bus has a person allocated to it who is responsible for filling all the seats and who accepts payments for the fare. With one guy for each bus, even if you had missed the big signs, it wouldn't be hard to find the right one. The buses, or white vans as they really are, does not depart according to a schedule but rather when the ticketmaster has filled every seat in the bus, including the two next to the driver's seat. For the particular bus to Maputo we had been assigned this happened rather quickly (by African time) and less than an hour later we rolled out of the station. All up, we were one driver and 16 passengers in a standard white minivan. There were two white people on the bus sticking out like two sore thumbs. Mike and me.
Arriving at the border crossing I instantly got that little bit uncomfortable feeling that so often makes itself known at border crossings in the developing world; officilas in uniforms eyeing you up and down trying to find somwthing wrong and asking for papers no one has ever heard of in attempts to make a few extra bucks.
All 16 of us got out of the bus and walked through the South African passport check, onwards though no-man's-land and into the Mozambiquean immigration office to get our visa. It was in the smelly, crowded and very hot queue that we met Yumna and Olivier.
Yumna, a South African girl with Indian background and Olivier from Paris were in South Africa to visit her family and were driving to Moz for the day to have a seafood lunch in Maputo. As they spotted us two, sweaty tired-looking and dusty looking a bit confused they asked where we were going and if we needed a lift to Maputo. Thinking back over the somewhAt mad ride so far in the hot and quite smelly minibus, Mike and I looked at eachother and both thinking this was our lucky day and in chorus accepted the generous offer. Mike and Olivier went to pick up our packs from the minibus which was waiting up the road. Considering how full the bus already was I'm suer no one minded two less passengers...

A few days earlier in Kruger Conrad had spoken about Moz and told me to prepare for a culture shock. While realising it was going to be different from SA, I didn't take him too seriously. However in hindsight it was a very accurate observation on Conrad's part.
In the airconditioned comfortable back seat of Yumna's father's Mercedes we weer chatting to our newfound friends and the stuffy minibus seemed a long way away. The road we were driving on was impeccable condition and only a few kilometeres fown the road we hit a modern road toll block - so far could just as well  have been in Portugal. The conversation had by this point steered to admiring the modern appearance of this poverty-strucken nation, and we were all probably thinking the same thought that surely no warnings of culture shock were needed here. Until we came to the first police checkpoint.
A rather round police ub uniform spotted us a long way down the road like an injured animal on the savannah and pulled the car to the side. He greeted us all in a formal voice and asked fro the driver's, Olivier's, passport and drivers license.  These were handed over, upon which he asked for the vehicle registration papers. These were handed over and he proceeded with the customs stamps for taking the car into the country. Olivier diligently handed these over in good order as well.  Looking almost a bit annoyed the next document he came up with was the isurance papers. Looking first at Yumna Olivier explained that the car was insured in South Africa but that we had no papers with us. "Bingo" the traffic police thought, "Ah sir, you have to have insurance in Mozambique otherwise the police will stop you in Maputo." Any attempts to convince him otherwise seemed pointless and only resulted in the cop calling a colleague over who seemed to agree that the insurance documents were essential here in Mozambique. None of us were quite sure how to deal with the situation. It was quite obvious that this was all about a bribe which we on principle would refuse to offer him, however none of us knew whether insurance documents actually were compulsory or not. To buy ourselves some thinking time and to get out of the situation we offered to drive back to the border and get insurance from there. He didn't seem to like the prospect of his potential bonus of the day driving off, but there wasn't really anything he could do about it either.
We turned around and came back to the previously mentioned toll both where we tried to explain to the cashier that we shouldn't have to pay the toll again as we were only heading back to the border to get vehicle insurance since the police wouldn't let us pass without it. The guy started laughing but became quite animated when he told us that there was not requirement in Mozambique to have vehicle insurance at all, the cop was just trying to get money off us. Feeling a bit sheepish, yet very thankful to our advisor we reversed out of the booth and turned around to face Mr Corrupt Traffic Cop once again. This time, a lot more confident, Yumna told him that we know that we don't need Mozambiquean car insurance and that we would like to proceed. Realising that the bonus now wasn't going to happen his last attempt  in an authoritarian tone was "But madame, this car is worth a hundred million thousand and it is evry danerous in Mozambique." Even with a ridicilously devalued currency in the local Meticais the suggested amount would probably equal the GDP of Japan and we all couldn't help bu burst out laughing. At this point I almost felt sorry for the poor guy and as we had won he made one very last desperate attempt "But please give me a gift madame." We left him some dried apricots  and drove off happy with ourselves for not having contributed to a corrupt system.
We spent the rest of the day with Yumna and Olivier having a delicious seafood lunch at a beachside restaurant, going to the local fruit and veg market  and wandering the rundown but charming streets of the Baixa, downtown Maputo.

Maputo and beach life in Tofo
Maputo is a really charming city. Despite it being almost unbearably hot, very poor and rundown like I have never seen a city be rundown before, the city has a great vibe with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes serving up some of the best coffee I have ever had. People seem to laugh a lot and just walking up and down the potholed sidewlks taking in the daily lives of the locals is a great way to spend the day.  It is also quite an easily navigated city centre with memorable street names like "Avenida de Mao Tse Tung" and others named after Stalin, Kim Jung Il, Salvador Allende and Robert Mugabe. The Base Backpackers where we stayed at is on the corner of Allende and Julius Nyere, how could you not remember that?
Over the two days we spent in Maputo we went to the National Art Gallery where loads of contemporary Moz art was displayed in airconditioned(!) halls, went to the fish market with a bunch of people we had met earlier in the day and where we bought fresh prawns, fish and clams and had them cooked up in spicy Moz style at one of the nearby restaurants - two excellent days!

From Maputo we headed up to the beachside village of Tofo, about 450kms up the coast. This is where the holiday from the holiday kicked off. For a bit over two weeks our lives was circling around the tiresome routine of waking up in our reed bungalow high up on a sand dune, eating fresh bread rolls and avocados from the market for brekky and spending the first half of the day either reading a book under one of the reed umbrellas on the several kilometre long beach or heading out to do some of the most spectacular diving in the world. The second half of the day would pretty much involve one of the mentioned routines all over again until the sun sets and we would sit on one of the restaurant's verandahs overlooking the Indian Ocean eating fresh fruit and roasted cashews and having a few Laurentina's, the local lager. It's a tough life, but someone's gotta do it...

Tofo i s primarily known for the spectacular diving you can do there, as scores of manta rays and whalesharks are hanging around pretty much all year. Mike took the plunge on the second day, but as the diving in Tofo is quite expensive I decided to not make too much damage to my budget too early on and held off a few days. It was a good thing I did, as once I had done my first dive I joined Mike in the raving and I think we both could have happily stayed and done the same thing everyday for a few months.
On the first dive we did together we were going to a dive site called Manta Reef. Needless to say on is quite likely to spot mantas there... Getting to the divesite took quite some time as our faithfulrubber dingy was battling 4 metre swells and hard wind. Once having found the GPS coordinates for the site we all rolled backwards into the big blue and just going the first few metreswe were instantly rewarded when a 3 metre manta ray cruised past right underneath us. Even though the visibility wasn't great we kept on being rewarded by these beautiful creatures  who kept circling us, seeming imensily curious in us and the bubbles we were making. Why the mantas gather in such numbers is because of the cleaning station that the coral platform around us forms.  It is almost comical as these massive animals line up in a queue and one by one, just like a airport runway, they descend on the platform below and get instantly swarmed by small reef fish who remove parasites etc from their skin. The mantas even get free dental as the little fish swim inside their open mouths and remove any bits and pieces. Watching the mantas always make me think of Star Wars as they look like space ships gracefully maneouvring their way around pinnacles and divers alike. Back in th boat and we hadn't stopped raving to eachother about what we had just seen when Jay, the Dive Master on the boat yells "Whale Shark!". As the boat was turned around we all got ready with our fins and masks. Just a metre or two away from us this gorgeous young whale shark were gently cruising the surface allowing us to keep up with him for a good 100 metres in the water untill h finally turned 180 degrees cruising right underneath Mike and me and as gracefully as he had arrived dove into the turquiose depth below us. I couldn't believe it, that we had finally gotten so close to this spectacular fish, the largest one known to man. Feeling so lucky we got back to shore an hour or so later and we both instantly fell asleep on our sarongs shaded by a reed umbrella on the beach. Experiences like these takes it out of you.

Towards the end of our stay in Tofo the sea was getting rougher and rougher and they sky a bit more cloudy. A cyclone brewing in the Mozambique channel was causing the sea to stir up and for a few days the dive operators were unable to launch their boats as the swell was simply too high. One of these days we decided to head into Inhambane, the nearest town to stock up on a few things, access internet etc. A really pleasant old colonial town, Inhambane was a refreshing change of scenery for a day as we spent the better part of it just strolling around, eating great food and having many coffees at our favourite Verdinho's bar. We got back to Tofo at 2pm, strolled along the beach to Bamboozi's, the lodge we were staying, and bumped into AJ, a fellow diver, and decided to meet him at one of the beach bars an hour or so later for a few drinks and card games. By 4pm we had had lunch, gotten ready and headed back to the beach only to realise that we were not to head down to Dino's along the beach, the waves were so high that we couldn't pass. Due to the swell from the tail end of the cyclone combined with spring tide and equinox the waves that came crashing in over the beach were enormous even reaching the bottom of the sand dune which the restaurnats are nested on making the beach impassable. By 6p, we had reached Dino's bar by walking the back way and were stunned to see that as the tide peaked, it eroded metre by metre of the sand dune and eventually took half of the wooden outdoor deck with it into the roaring waves. A few minutes later a whole deck was swept out to sea, never to bee seen again. Very dramatic and with all likelyhood a testament to global warming as the locals told us that never before had the sea reched this high, but every year it is getting higher and higher.
As the weather stayed unpredictable over the next few days we only managed to fit in a few more dives before we started to plan our departure. After lengthy farewells on our last day we went to bed early to prepare for our 3am rise the following morning to get back to Maputo and onwards to Swaziland.
All together Mozambique has been a fantastic experience. The lovely people we have met with their big laughs and smiles, the dancing and the music that is everywhere you go and the fantastic food will be hard to match as we are moving to the rest of our big journey.

See photos of Mozambique!


Pictures

Memorable street names in Maputo
At the old fort in Maputo
Maputo highrises
Local bar and kiosk
 
 

6 Comments

Erik Sandell:
March 17, 2008
Yay! Finally an update! But now I don't know what to write, I am to jealous to even think straight! Snowstorm i G'burg! :)
rouky:
March 17, 2008
hi doods,it was a great read. so much happenings and excitement. pictures are great too. jo don't stay so much in the sun. well i know you can't help it but take care. you both look wonderful. my worry is you will want to do it for the rest of your lives!!!!!!!!!!!!.Love you..............
milan:
March 17, 2008
Hi Bud, Jo
Looks like you're having a ball and I look forward to your updates. Heading off tomorrow to the Maldives and am half way. How about we meet in Madagascar for a beer? Take care of yourselves and keep those pictures coming.

Love Milan and the girls
Håkan:
March 18, 2008
Hi Jo “the rednosed reindeer” (you never learn…) and Mike.

Seems like you’re having a hard time. But what is a cool beer on a veranda on the beach after a swim with mantas and whale sharks compared to a typical Gothenburg setback when the first warm and sunny spring Sunday is followed by a Monday morning snowstorm.
And Mike, it must be the genes. I have similar photos of Gerd on planes and trains sleeping her way through the outback (but she doesn’t dribble...).
Take care and say hi to my uncle Sven and Janet in Cape Town.

/håkan
Jen:
March 19, 2008
Sounds and looks like you are having way too much fun!

Keep enjoying your travels and I look forward to the next entry.

Jenxx
rouky:
March 24, 2008
was wonderful chatting to you last night. can't wait for next instalment
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