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April 26, 2007

A Lick of Paint



After more than two months in South Africa and Lesotho we were both in high spirits at the prospect of finally moving on. It was therefore with some degree of anger when the Intercape bus hostess refused to allow us onto the Nelspruit to Maputo bus. There was nothing wrong with our tickets - purchased the previous day and validated that morning at the Intecape office; no, instead she became extremely rude when she discovered we were without visa's for Mozambique. After Donna politely explained that we could get them at the border (for approximately 1/3 of the price as from the local consulate) this only seemed to further infuriate the hostess.

After the bus driver and other staff were called over and it looked like we were to be left on the side of the road, we simply agreed that we would go as far as the Mozambique border post, and if the bus was ready to leave before we were, they would go with out us. Finally getting on board we were none too thrilled, a lack of air conditioning for the following three hours did not help the matter any either.

As the bus pulled into the South African border post we were poised for action. As soon as the doors opened Donna was off like a rabbit, in no time at all we were stamped out of South Africa (unfortunately in the process I had ripped my favorite travel shirt - see any photo from the last three years) and running across no mans land into Mozambique. Immediately all signage went from English to Portuguese and things started getting tricky. The counter where visa's were issued was unmanned, for ten minutes we and one other member of our bus stood there 'politely' asking everyone who walked past for assistance. Finally we were handed some forms to fill in, after which we had another extended wait for someone to walk past who we could hand them to. Finally our forms, passports and a pile of cash disappeared out the back, so far not a word of English spoken.

At this point the immigration room started to fill with the other members from our bus, and we started to worry. When the other member of the bus was taken out the back of the building to make an 'extra payment' we started worrying - especially when he sternly told us to go back inside. After 20 minutes of impatient waiting at the counter our passports were returned with change (odd seeing as I had given the correct amount of money), and we were told everything was completed and we could go. This just added to our confusion as the instructions given to us at the South African border were that we still had to get an entry stamp in addition to the visa. We jogged back to the bus who also said we needed an entry stamp. (The line for entry stamps was now nearly 100 people long and not moving). After asking two officials who both had absolutely no idea - we were relieved to find out from the very helpful Greyhound bus hostess that they had installed a new computer and the process now did not require the extra step.

Welcome to Mozambique - as the bus pulled off without a headcount, we were on board, however at least two other people were left behind.

The Maputo Wrap
We had not planned on staying long in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Both Donna and I prefer the relaxed atmosphere in the smaller rural centres and as it turns out, four days was probably long enough for us.

We opted to stay right in the centre of town - after ten days in Long Street, Cape Town this may not have been the brightest decision, but in hindsight it put us in the middle of everything we wanted to see, yet far enough away that we could still bunk down at night without hearing the salsa beats from the nearby nightclubs.

Maputo gives you the feeling of so much untapped potential - all the city needs is a lick of paint and a stiff broom. The areas we visited (well away from the obvious poverty of the slums), contain remnants of the Portuguese architecture, a communist revival, a civil war, and a new democracy. The main streets are dotted with fantastic old buildings, some restored to their former greatness, others empty shells. The roads, named after communist leaders (Karl Marx Street, Ho Chi Min Avenue) are littered with trash and sand. Unfortunately there is a basic lack of cleanliness that drags down what would once have been a beautiful city.

Corner of Karl Marx and Ho Chi Min

While walking the streets we noticed a massive difference to South Africa, not only was there a more relaxed feel, but we felt safe. From street vendors we were offered everything imaginable, from the basic boiled egg with a sprinkling of salt, to some weirder items like power plugs, Van Dam DVD's and a pet dog. One part of Maputo that failed to live up to it's hype was the coffee - I had gone in with high expectations and was unfortunately let down - big time. At least they delivered on the basics - fresh bread and fantastic (according to Donna) pastries, and talking about Mozambican food - you can go no further than the humble half chicken and chips, smothered in Peri Peri Sauce (or what we like to call Mozanainse or Maputonaise)- cheap and delicious.

Before this turns completely into a story about food and eating (which oddly enough was all we really did in Maputo), A quick side note. We dropped into Mundi's, which, as it turns out was a local South African expat haunt. As luck may have it, as I was ordering my first beer for the afternoon the Australian cricket team was walking out onto the field against South Africa in the World Cup Semi Final. We quickly settled into some prime seats and were treated to a fantastic afternoon of cricket (oddly the South Africans were a little subdued). At the change of innings we headed back to the lodge, and in true Beer and Biryani style passed Kana Kazanah, an Indian restaurant - where we watched the Australian innings eating Mutton Biryani and drinking more of the local Brew (which is pretty damn good if I say so myself). With an Australian win in the bag the only thing missing from the evening was a few bottles of King Fischer.

Zimbabwe on my mind
As most of you are probably now aware, the Australian Government has come out and said they do not want the Aussie Cricket team to tour Zimbabwe in September due to safety concerns. Unfortunately we had planned on crossing Zimbabwe from Mutare in the East to Vic Falls in the West. During our stay in Maputo we have looked extensively into recent developments in Zim including the hyper inflation and political unrest and will keep you posted on what we decide to do...

We had been forewarned about early bus departure times in Mozambique, so the 5am Chappa from Maputo to Tofo was met with bright eyes and bushy tails. With eight hours ahead of us we settled in for a long ride. The bus was slightly larger than the standard 15 seater, so our gear was unceremoniously thrown into the back seat along with all the other passengers bags. Our next stop was the local bus station, a field crammed with hundreds of other busses and passengers on the way to destinations throughout Mozambique. The next hour was frustratingly spent repacking the whole bus, then filling the remaining space with more passengers.

Our only source of amusement was a lone female passenger (of western descent) who adamantly refused to allow any locals to sit next to her, and would not agree to pay for an additional seat. This caused some heated arguments amongst several locals wanting a seat on the now full bus, she finally circummed, only to swap several passengers around demanding a 'skinnier' local to sit next to her so she would have sufficient room. After an eternity we finally moved off, only to stop around the corner to take on even more passengers.

20 minutes later we were on the road and heading out of Maputo, when we hit the outskirts we pulled in for diesel, only for everyone to pile off the bus for a toilet break - it had only taken two hours for everyone to get in. Thankfully it was a relatively short stop and we were back on the road without too much hassle. Like all travel stories on this site, somehow nothing seems to go to plan. 15 minutes out of Maputo our bus managed to clean up a small bukkie (ute for all you aussies out there) that was crossing in front of us.

Our first car accident

Two more hours on the side of the road and a replacement bus arrived, all the bags were repacked, and we drove back to Maputo to refuel. All the money had been spent filling the first bus and there was no way that diesel would be wasted. When the crashed bus arrived the diesel was drained out into a bucket and using a specially designed funnel system (water bottle and margarine container) refilled into our new bus.

Eight hours into the journey we hit the halfway point, Xai Xai where we had a brief stop, before the road turned nasty. In the space of 50 km's we passed two cars crashed on the side of the road, a jack-knifed truck and pot holes half a foot deep and two metres wide. 11 hours after starting the journey we pulled into the bus stop at Inhambane, supposedly only 20 km's from Tofo Beach, so it was with some surprise that this was a scheduled stop and everyone piled out for drinks and a break. An hour later we were back moving again and darkness had well and truly set in by the time we were dropped at Bamboozi Backpackers on Tofo Beach.

After more than 12 hours in a cramped mini-bus we were none too pleased to find that due to a troubled sale, Bamboozi was without management, reception was closed, our booking was lost and we were to spend the night in a dorm room. At least we had made it in one piece and survived our first accident.

     
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  This is like reading a Wilber Smith Or Alexander McCall Smith Book!!!!

Lachie & Stella - June 08, 2007
 
     
     
 

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