Mozambique: a little Portugal of minibuses and palm trees

Tofo, Mozambique

Ola from Mozambique! All that hard work learning the basics of Swahili and now, I have to learn Portuguese.  I’ve noticed that I now speak horrible English – kind of a mix of broken English without pronouns.  I guess that’s what 4 months of travel does to you.  I left Dar Es Salaam and boarded a flight to Maputo, which is the capital of Mozambique.  The flight was expensive since there’s only one airline in all of Mozambique – monopoly at its best! On my flight (which landed and took off 3 times before arriving in Maputo!), I chatted up a man from Washington who’s working for an infrastructure development company in Mozambique linked with USAID.  Hmmm, maybe that’s my next career move – yes, I haven’t forgotten that one of the goals of this trip is to figure out what to do with my life.  I think about that between lying on the beach and spotting animals.

At the airport in Maputo, I waited on the curb for a taxi and thankfully, a nice policeman helped me pick through the legit taxi drivers and the “taxi drivers”.  Everyone here is so nice that a bunch of policemen helped me flag down a taxi from the road.  Thank god they were there or else I would’ve jumped into any car since in Eastern Africa, taxis aren’t marked and can literally be anyone.  I arrived at the Base Backpackers late in the night and settled into my dorm room.  Since Tamara’s gone and my budget is disappearing before my eyes, it’s time to slum it again in a hostel.  Surprisingly, I had one of the best night’s sleep in awhile – totally passed out from my long day of traveling.

The next day, I set out to explore Maputo and was shocked at the city life.  It’s still slightly dirty and the sidewalk breaks occasionally but I couldn’t believe how cosmopolitan the city was.  Everywhere I looked were people in business suits driving fancy cars.  It’s also quite a multicultural city – there were Africans, Portuguese, Indians and even the occasional Asian person! Every time I walked by an Asian person, there was an unspoken nod of “Yay! Another one!” I stopped by a sidewalk cafe and using the little knowledge of Portuguese I have and hand gestures, ordered breakfast.  It was so nice to just sit and watch the busy life pass by – really reminded me of an European city (I guess it’s the Portuguese influence).  There are trees all along the road and little cafes where you can people watch.  I walked through residential areas and stumbled upon an art gallery called Nucleo de Arte.  Pretended to be interested in buying the very nice art on display but I think my eyes bulging out when I saw the price tags gave away my vagrant/nomad-ness.  All of the houses here were very pretty and large but the odd thing was that there’s major security around each of them – even if the house looks less valuable than the security system.  On top of the 12 ft concrete walls, there’s barbed wire, electric fences and CCTV with huge warning signs displaying skull and cross bones.  I didn’t feel that unsafe walking the streets but this show of security measures made me a little uneasy.  Maybe it’s just the culture here.

The next day, I woke up super early and took a minibus up the coast to Tofo.  All I have to say in OMG! The 11 hour bus ride is probably up there in terms of backbreaking and interesting with the bus ride from Lamu to Mombasa in Kenya or the bus ride from Goa to Mumbai in India.  We first stopped by the local bus station and waited for an hour for the bus to fill up with passengers.  And I’m not talking one person in every seat, I’m talking FULL – like every-sit-able-space-has-a-body full.  On a row of 3 seats, there were 5 and even people sitting on the door steps.  It was like human tetris trying to get everyone to fit – skinny people move here, bigger men move there etc.  Through my ever-shrinking window seat, there were so many people buying/selling random things like loaves of bread, sandals, toilet paper and even a woman selling fried chicken out of a tupperware container! It was also very interesting to see the system of filling a bus.  So there’s a driver but also a guy who attends to the bus and it’s his job to get bodies in seats (like a bus hype man).  But he doesn’t do it alone, he has other men on the ground who help him by spotting anyone with luggage who looks like they want to travel and hustling/swarming/hassling them until they agree on a price.  In return, the hype man gives them a commission which was another spectacle in itself.  Men complaining they were getting jipped, trying to reason with the hype man and then eventually swearing and waving their arms around until someone gave in.

Finally, we were off! The landscape in Mozambique is quite different from East Africa – there aren’t any mud huts (well at least not on the road we were on) and most people live in small towns and villages of buildings made out of concrete.  The weird thing is there would still be people randomly waiting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere – still don’t know how they got there.  Every time someone got off the bus, we would pick up 2 more people and this continued on the 11 hour ride.  At one point, there was a small boy sitting on my lap! Other than myself, there was one British girl from the hostel but she’s lived in Mozambique for the last year.  Her boyfriend is Mozambican and every time we would stop, he would come back on with a new food item – loaves of bread, fried chicken, bananas, a pineapple! It was so funny, I couldn’t stop giggling and would anticipate when he got back on the bus just to see what he bought.  By the time we arrived in Tofo, they had the entire produce department at their feet.  Late in the afternoon, I finally arrived in Tofo and was picked up/driven down a sandy road to Bamboozi Beach Lodge.  The Lodge is hidden amongst palm trees behind sand dunes that line the beach.  The grounds are very nice and the people working there were super welcoming.  I guess it’s low season because I had an entire 6-bed dorm hut to myself! One of the waiters told me that there’s only 10 tourists staying in a place that could easily sleep 70.  I settled in and walked up the dunes to the restaurant perched on the top.  The view from the restaurant was amazing! The beach below with turquoise waves crashing along a crescent-shaped cove was awesome to see.  Also, there’s no debris, development or people on the beach so it was very peaceful.  All of the resorts are hidden behind the sand dunes so it really seems like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

For the next 5 days, I bummed around on the beach trying not to itch the massive mosquito bites I received in Maputo.  I swear, it looked like I had spikes on my shoulders or leprosy – either way, I was just glad I didn’t get malaria.  Every morning, I would start my day with breakfast perched on the sand dune, then would walk all along the beach all while trying to avoid the jellyfish scattered along the beach.  The jellyfish were so awesome to see – they’re transparent and slimy looking with a hint of blue veins.  I met some German ladies who had this awesome 4×4 jeep with tents on the roof and talked to the employees who were always super friendly even if there was a major language barrier.  One night, while walking back from another restaurant down the beach, a stray dog started viciously barking at me while on the phone with my mom.  She probably freaked out because all she could hear was barking.  I don’t know what the dog was barking about or even what it was trying to guard because there was nothing around but I seriously thought I would get bite and then my next thought was “Great! The only shot I didn’t get is for rabies.”  However, I again turned to all those hours watching The Dog Whisperer and stayed calm and assertive as the pack leader and the dog stopped barking after awhile.  On my second last day, I decided I needed to get some exercise in and went for a boat snorkel trip.  It was kind of a flop because we were looking for whale sharks and manta rays on the boat before jumping in but didn’t spot anything.  The cool thing was riding full speed on an inflatable boat over the waves and spotting dolphins a couple meters from the boat.  Also, the beach changes dramatically once out of Tofo and there were all these rock caves along the coast with huge waves crashing upon them.  When not trying to look for whale sharks, I spent the rest of the time trying not to barf from the crazy waves throwing us around in the choppy Indian Sea.  After 1.5 hours of boating around, we decided to just jump in to get some sort of snorkeling done.  It was pretty cloudy because of the waves but I could make out small fish and starfish.  Definitely not one of the best snorkeling experiences but then again, I’ve been spoiled by Maldives.  Trying to get back into the boat was another feat! Basically, one of the other snorkelers had to haul me up and over the boat which ended up with me splayed out on the boat floor laughing.  I really need to learn how to gracefully get back into a boat since that’s the second time that’s happened (another time rafting in Costa Rica).

The next day, I said goodbye to everyone at Bamboozi and drove to the Inhambane Airstrip which is in the big town nearest to Tofo.  The airstrip itself is so primitive – no computers or technology so all boarding passes were hand-written and the security check was by hand.  Waited around for a bit and then boarded my 3 hour flight (via Vilankulos) to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Although Africa’s been amazing so far, a welcome break of Western civilization in South Africa sounds nice after 4 months of traveling!

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One thought on “Mozambique: a little Portugal of minibuses and palm trees

  1. […] on lamp posts in Durban or laugh with you over the random child that was tossed in your lap for an 11 hour minibus ride to Tofo. Keeping a journal helps remember and get some of those funny moments out on paper. I still laugh […]

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