Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mozambique

Our bus ride into Mozambique was the first time we'd been on a bus since Ghana. It was one of those fancy double-decker coaches with A/C and movies, not a bad easing into the bus transport life again but I still heard plenty of grumbling out of this group. You'd think they'd forgotten that they were budget backpackers or something. Personally I was excited to be back on the road again and when we got to the Mozambique immigration with its hordes lined up in the decaying building with dingy lighting, dirty floors and a stale, sweat smell poorly circulated by a rickety ceiling fan I knew I was back where I belonged. Once again it seemed that crossing a border produced immediate results. The landscape somehow suddenly changes to something flatter and more humid, vegetation and palm trees miraculously appear....along with the mosquitoes. Yep, back to the Doxy pills, Mozambique has the lethal cerebral malarial strain and that doesn't sound so pleasant at all.
As always seems to be the case, we rolled into Maputo, the capital one hour late and just as the sun was setting. We had to call the hostel again for our free pickup since it is still not considered safe to be running around in the dark. We decided to leave the next morning on the hostel shuttle up to their sister place on the beach at Tofo a full day's drive up the coast. It was supposed to leave at 5am the next morning so we pretty much went to bed right away. The reason we head up the coast so quickly was to surprise Ben who we knew to be in Tofo already. From what we saw of Maputo it looked interesting as a city and was more developed with highrises than I expected. It also had the colonial Portuguese look to it, which is very distinctive.
In many ways Mozambique reminded me of Angola. Both had the Portuguese influence of course but they are also rebuilding after very long civil wars and have amazing tourist potential with such beautiful coast and countryside. As you drive along the road you see the people living in their little thatched mud huts and all the concrete buildings are just blown out shells. The road was often potholed and horrible, particularly the farther north we went (though we really didn't get that far). The landscape in the Tete corridor also reminded me of parts of Angola too.
Tofo has been a party beach town popular with backpackers for quite some time so it wasn't too surprising to find it busy and lively. Ben had been travelling with 2 female friends from England, as well as Alex, but Alex had just left and we were just in time to say goodbye to one of the others. He was surprised and happy to see us (well Bre anyway) again. We hung out at Tofo for a few days on the beach. Ben had hoped to do his PADI there but it was so windy that the conditions weren't the best for diving. It was significantly warmer than in SA and I love the feel of shorts and bare feet again. The only problem is that it is still a cool wind and chilly in the shade. That and the sunsets are soooo early :(
Now that we've caught Ben, we will see him frequently at various points as we head north so we managed to sucker him into taking some of our junk that we don't need at the moment (it really was too much for the crammed minibuses). That included Bre and Savannah too because he took them up to Vilanculos a day before mom, dad and I followed. They didn't want to be on the buses at all and mom has been sick lately with a cold and wanted another day of rest.
From Tofo to Vilanculos was another full day of travel for us, not helped by the fact that it was Sunday. Never travel on a Sunday, things are more shut down and transport fills up slower. We had to take a very full minibus (called chapas here) 20km to the provincial capital Inhambane. There are signs in the minibus saying it is a 15 seater but we fit nearly 30 with people standing over each other and the odd bum hanging out the window. It's not comfortable but it is the norm. Very much like Guinea again, especially in the pothole sections. Inhambane is a quiet town (especially on a Sunday morning) and very colonial in style. It has a great look and feel to it compared to other towns in Mozambique. We had to take a short boat ride to the other side of the inlet to Maxixe and then a long minibus ride to Vilanculos from there. One thing I've noticed about Moz, they don't ever stop for food or toilet breaks, which I would generally consider a good thing but sometimes it can be very uncomfortable that way.
Mom was just about dead by the time we got to Vilanculos and upon checking in, crawled into bed and stayed there for 3 days before I saw her outside again. It's just a head cold but a very persistent one. The beach at Vilanculos is more of a tidal flat and with the full moon they were reaching way out to the horizon. Lots of dhows sailing by and fishermen out at low tide collecting whatever they could. Vilanculos is more layed back than Tofo but there are still a lot of touts and it is the gateway to the Bazaruto islands just off shore and easily visible when the weather is good (which it wasn't for the first couple days). It is another famous diving and snorkeling area, famous for manta rays, whale sharks and dugongs (they're like manatees). The problem with Moz is that it is really expensive, prohibitively so and we were unable to afford to do anything, though Ben and Rachel went out snorkeling on one day. We focused mostly on healing and reading to shrink our library down a little. While in Vilanculos, we met an Israeli guy, David, who'd survived a head-on collision in his bus with another. They pass blindly everywhere here and he was saved only because he was in the middle of the bus; the people in the front seats were crushed to death. Note to self, sit in the back. Sometimes I think potholes and bad traffic are a good thing in some of these countries because it forces slower speeds. It just serves to remind me that the buses are my biggest worry and danger out here, forget all the rest of what the news would have you afraid of (wars, terrorism, etc).
Ben left Vilanculos a day ahead of us and only a couple hours after he left, Kees rolled in. Once you've heard it, you can't forget the sound of that truck coming down the road. It was another pleasant surprise and we stayed another day to hang out with him. He's still travelling with his son and its mother, more or less on the same route as us as well. We still hope to hook up with him again in another month or so when he becomes free again.
Leaving Vilanculos we had to catch the bus at 4:30am. Almost all the transport leaves at 4-5am in this country, I have no idea why. It seems strange to leave at 5am and arrive at 11am or maybe 2pm on a long ride when you could just've easily left at 7am and arrived at 4pm, still before dark. Whatever. We play the game. With one change at Inchope we made it to Chimoio, another small provincial capital, where one of those wonderful moments that makes travelling fun occurred; we ran into Oliver. Oliver, from Germany, was with us on the boat to Timbuktu, Mali last Christmas. He was on a 2 week holiday then and was on another fairly short one now, and he just happened to be in an insignificant town like Chimoio as a transit stop like us, but headed south. What are the odds of something like that happening 8 months after meeting someone? Only once before had it happened to me after a full year, back in Cairo, but it is one of those moments that really makes you stop and wonder at how small the world has become. You never know who you'll meet, or when, so better be nice and leave a good impression on every occasion I think.
Unfortunately Oliver had bad news for us, every place to stay in town was full and the two of us spent the rest of the day trying to find anywhere to stay. It wouldn't've been a problem if the people were a little more creative (we just needed a place to camp) but they have a hard time thinking outside the box here. In the end we bought tickets for the 4am bus the following day, and like half a dozen or so locals, "slept" in the bus. Did I hear more grumbling from the group? Did random people keep knocking on the windows all night? Did we suffocate from an overpowering stench of urine and get bitten by mosquitoes? Did the bus have no luggage racks so after loading we had no leg room on an already cramped ghettomobile? Did the bus leave an hour late and hit every gigantic pothole in the road for the next 6 1/2 hrs to Tete? Oh yes, yes indeed. I love travel. The only consolation was that as we were settling in for the night in our bus, Ben showed up and showered us with sympathy and a little food. Did I mention that we hadn't really eaten either?
Upon arrival in Tete we decided that it was in our best interest to make a press for the border with Malawi so jumped in another squishy minibus for the 2 hour run to the border. We were mobbed by money changers at the border but got out quickly and easily to find ourselves in a taxi for the 5km drive to the Malawian immigration. Malawi is one of the few countries in Africa that doesn't require a visa so we were thinking it would be an easy crossing. No. I forgot, we're still in Africa, there's always something. In this case I actually found it quite comical. The official refused entry to dad because his new US passport has extra pages added to it that are in the old US passport style. He claimed that it was altered by dad, therefore invalid and his responsibility to refuse entry. At one point he even asked dad to separate the two parts. Wow. Having been through this nonsense how many times now, we didn't even blink when he told us there was a problem. I guess he was fishing for bribes or doesn't like Americans or something, I don't know but it must've been obvious that his attempt at intimidation was having more effect on the wall behind us. I would've laughed more but the day was getting on and we really wanted to arrive in Blantyre before dark and had another 2 hours to go. The guy held out for about 1/2 hr or so and then we got through and were off to the attemped pressures and hassle of the minibus touts for Blantyre. They had no luck with us either but we did arrive in town just after sunset but while it was still light. Fortunately we were dropped off right at the hostel and somehow I managed to stay awake long enough to set up my tent and eat before falling asleep at around 8pm.
Blantyre is the largest city in the south of Malawi but it is pretty quiet actually. The people are friendly, they speak English here and it is much cheaper than Moz so I like it already. We are off to Lake Malawi next and another reunion with Ben in a few days.
Ammon

2 Comments:

At 2:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon,
Great to hear your digits an dhumour getting back into the game. Sorry for not commenting on the previous post butread it and came back today only to find to my joy another.
I found your syntax in the following interesting:
" He's still travelling with his son and its mother, more or less on the same route as us as well. We still hope to hook up with him again in another month or so when he becomes free again. "

Did you really mean to dehumanize her? and the kid too? Just curious, have you met them, were they really that bad?

Anyways, love the adventures, and laughed at the bus travel comments, it is easy to get soft isn't it, easy to get used to comforts and modern advantage.

Tell you mom I hope her cold id bedder, and she can breath again.

Be safe, and take care.
Big Bear Hugs
The Bear

 
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