This is Africa (T.I.A.), the real Africa of mud huts, jungles, crazy roads, barefoot people, , and police with machine guns; the Africa we envisioned. The Africa where we’ve had no hot water, no phone signal and definitely no internet. South Africa was an amazing experience, but with its modern highways, malls, fast food chains, Las Vegas style entertainment, and the diversity of its people; it assimilates more to the United States than to its neighbors. Right now we are on our way to the Malawi border in the best transportation available, a cramped minibus that is carrying way more passengers than its capacity and all sorts of luggage (tv’s, tractor tyres, live chickens,etc.) in the the aisle, our shoulders don’t fit in the seats and we cannot stretch our legs. This has been our story in Mozambique for the last 8 days. Regardless of that we have really enjoyed our time here as it is truly a beautiful country.
We took a South African bus from Nelspruit in SA to Maputo. That was the last proper transportation we had. The border crossing went pretty smoothly as we both had easily obtained the very expensive Mozambican visas in Pretoria. One of the procedures at the border we needed to do was reclaim our tax for the purchases we had done in South Africa. The bus company told us that if we were not done by the time everybody else was done with immigration the bus would leave us behind, so we were prepared to look for alternate transport to Maputo. As it turned out we were done one hour before the rest of the passengers on the bus. We did our paperwork in the short queue reserved for passengers on car instead of the long queue for bus and pedestrians. It was a smart move, leaving us with plenty of time to enjoy cold beers from the Mozambican Duty Free shop. We had left the cold temperatures of South Africa and had entered warm Mozambique.
5 hours later we were in the small capital city of Maputo. Instantly we felt safer and had no concerns about walking the streets at night. Previously we had tried to book a hotel in Maputo without success, as hardly any hotels can be booked online and none responded by email. It proved hard to find one as the few hotels in the city were booked out. Not only is the accommodation in Maputo scarce and of inferior quality, but really expensive. It was even more expensive than what we had been paying in SA during World Cup.
SA is so easy to travel in that it had been like a real vacation to us, now we were back on the real one year adventure. During our brief stay in Maputo we had a fun time with two crazy Irish lads who had been given directions by locals to turn into a one way street where the police with machine guns was waiting for them and naturally expected a bribe from them. This was not the only story we heard of police asking bribes from foreigners. T.I.A. We also met a very nice Swiss couple who shared Malawi travel tips with us over dinner. After eating so much fast food in SA we were craving good food and Mozambique had plenty to offer: lobster, crayfish, crabs, clams, etc., mainly grilled or cooked in curries, in a combination of Portuguese and Mozambican style, and with a twist of the fiery Piri Piri chili sauce.
In Maputo we strolled the avenues, visited the beach, the Saturday handicrafts market, the fish market at the beachfront, and the marvelous train station designed by Gustav Eiffel. Then we headed to Tofo in an overpriced shuttle that takes travelers directly. The 8 hour journey was very uncomfortable as they stuffed all the luggage at our feet. We had to climb out the windows at the pit stops. We stayed in a traditional rustic hut and spent two days relaxing at the beach and delighting ourselves with fresh seafood. Tofo is becoming the “it” beach stop amongst travelers, and although the beaches are long and wide we prefer quieter beaches. As expected because of this affluence of tourists prices are high. In general Mozambique is an expensive country for travelers, as we are charged double or triple than the price locals pay. South Africa was expensive but prices are advertised and do not depend on color of skin.
Looking for a more peaceful location we arrived in Vilanculos, a sleepy town overlooking the Bazarutos Archipielago where once again we chose a traditional hut to sleep in. To get to Vilanculos we first had to get a chapa, a boat and then another chapa as once again it proved impossible to book a ticket with the luxury bus company. The bus company does not have an online booking system, the only office is in Maputo, and the phone lines were down, so the only way was to wait for the bus and try our luck with a seat, which apparently is impossible as all buses come packed from Maputo being the only decent bus per day. The prices are about 30 Euros for a 400 km trip so it is expensive. 3 hours later and the bus was still not there so we opted for the chapa. A chapa is a beat up van that crams at least 5 passengers to a 3 person seat, luggage under, over and hanging from the back and front of the van. It collects and drops passengers along the way, resulting in extremely uncomfortable long trips. T.I.A. The police did stop us several times to check the car’s documents but not once did they have any concerns about the safety of the vehicle with the excess of passengers and the faulty conditions of it.
Vilanculos was nice. The beach is not as wide as in Tofo but it has calm and clear turquoise waters. We spent two more days relaxing, buying from the market, cooking our own fresh seafood and interacting with the villagers. For peace and quiet go to Vilanculos, for a party scene go to Tofo. From Vilanculos we traveled once again in local minibus then chapa to reach Chimoio en-route to Malawi. We spent the night in unremarkable Chimoio and now here we are on the last leg, on the local minibus to Tete and hoping to get some sort of transport from there to the border. Oh and to add to it most routes depart between 2 and 4 a.m.
Mozambique is a very large and especially long country so in this occasion we limited ourselves to the South part before heading into much anticipated Malawi. As I have related most of the time in this country we’ve spent in transportation and although uncomfortable we have obtained a first hand look at the country and at the culture, both through our window and inside the chapa. We also have enjoyed very much looking at the merchandise on offer at every stop we make, from water bottles to fried mice on a kebab stick. In Southern Africa it is winter at the moment, but the only place where it is cold is South Africa. Since we reached Mozambique the temperatures have been over 25 degrees. It is funny to see the people wearing wool hats, scarves and even fur coats. The bus journeys are obviously very hot and sweaty, but I still have to fight with the locals who get annoyed at me for keeping my window open. The last chapa ride in Mozambique turned out to be the most curious of all. The driver would rush passengers to get in or out, he would sternly reprimand the passengers, but it turned out to be the slowest journey of all as he would stop wherever he saw something that he would like to eat or whenever he saw a hot girl that he would chat up.
There is much poverty as it is just starting to recover from colonization and long civil wars. However, unlike India, the people do not harass you. They are very innocent and friendly, so much that they even ask us to take their picture and break out laughing in joy when they see it. This is the Africa we’ve been waiting for and although it may not sound like it, we are loving it! THIS IS AFRICA!