After an amazing 3 weeks of soccer and celebration in South Africa, we head off to Mozambique for a change of pace and hopefully a few good days at the beach. We don’t really know what to expect – I’ve heard a lot of different stories, so I’m a little anxious as I tend to be when I leave my comfort zone. And south africa is my most comfortable comfort zone.
We’re driving, and the border crossing is chaotic. I recall reading about on travel forums, but that was months ago and before the World Cup and I can’t really remember what I read. First, even before the border, there’s a bustling black market in currency exchange and car paraphernalia – cars going into Mozambique need third party insurance, a yellow safety vest (always displayed) and a South African sticker. Of course as this market – 5 minutes from the border – is unofficial, it’s hard to know if we actually need all this stuff.
The border is total mayhem. As soon as we get to the South African side, someone comes to ‘help’ us. Turns out, the whole process is so confusing and lengthy that it has spurned an industry of ‘helpers’ who nobody really wants but needs.halfway through the process I fire our helper – the visa fee for Liora and the kids is $82 per person, and after I hand him over the money (In US $ because I don’t have enough in any other currency) he says my perfect $100 bills from Wells Fargo in Seattle may be good enough for the USA but Mozambique only accepts notes from after 2006. In the melee of people who follow I’m not sure he’s given me back all my money so I tell him to leave. Strangely enough, the official border control people are happy with my 2003 notes.
It goes on and on – photos, forms, more forms, more forms for the car until eventually we’re in. We’re on the 90km toll road to the capital, Maputo. Immediately we’re in Africa, full of huts and shacks. But the road itself is perfect because it’s managed and maintained by a South African company. The traffic into Maputo is staggering – we’re hardly moving – but at least that gives us a chance to study the street names. Our guesthouse is just off Mao Tse Tung, and to get there you have to go through Karl Marx and Lenin streets. The street names are a lesson in African and Marxist Socialist history and it’s really an eye opener.
Once in Maputo, I’m able to forget the car and we walk around and have a very good time. It’s an interesting city : you can see the double vestiges of a colonial power suddenly leaving (Portugal 1975) and the terrible civil war. Everywhere there are gutted buildings and ruin, but most of all there’s huge amounts of trash. Mozambique, despite the civil war ending more than fifteen years ago, is still one of the world’s poorest countries, and it shows. Yet we enjoy ourselves, traipsing from market to market, bargaining for all sorts of things. There’s a rundown charm to the place, very African and we like it.
Next day we’re driving to the beach. We have no idea what we’re in for. Apparently it’s 480 km’s to get there but the road itself is a bit of a mystery. we set out and it’s painstakingly slow. Just getting out of the city takes 30 minutes. And from there it just gets slower. It’s a Sunday morning and there are masses of people and markets all over – it seems the whole of Mozambique is shopping by the side of our road. All around there’s signs of terrible poverty, interrupted only by a nearly completed modern football/athletics stadium along the way being built apparently for the Pan African games in 2012. It takes us 3 1/2 hours to get to Xai Xai, approximately half way but on the best stretch of road. From here on in we don’t really know what to expect. We do know though that if we had any sort of schedule, we’re way behind.
Xai Xai is a big town with basically no road. Although we’re on the main highway it has sort of disappeared and has turned to mud with the biggest potholes I’ve ever seen. In fact they don’t deserve to be called potholes, but rather carholes. After 15 minutes of road negotiation, the road improves and becomes a kind of hard clay which isn’t bad after I get used to it. We go along well until we come to probably the worst stretch of road I’ve ever been on – 15 miles of road decimated by enormous holes, some half as deep as our car and often stretching across the whole road. The scene that unfolds is very bizarre – all around us cars are vying for position on any piece of road that they won’t sink into, so the side of the road is just as popular as the main area, and where people must, they drive on the wrong side of the road. Basically it’s survival without any other rules.
We’re disheartened to get into Tofo after 6pm (we left Maputo at 9.30am) and in the dark; we can’t see anything and I want to get out of the car forever. we can’t find our cabin, and when we do it’s locked with no sign of life, although we adventure around a bit and find a key.
Marginally more energized we walk to the beach and discover the ‘village’ of Tofo. It’s really a collection of shacks making up a market and a few bars and restaurants, virtually on the beach, and after a long, unpleasant day in the car, it’s very pleasant and uplifting. Immediately all the misgivings are gone. We find a place to eat, and our mood continues to improve, even after Benjy throws up.
The following day is a beauty – perfect blue skies on a glorious beach. Ilani and Liora are going to dive but only the next day, so we spend the day hanging out on the beach, swimming, playing cricket, walking on the beach. A perfect day which we end by swimming at sunset as the Indian Ocean waters seem to warm up. And just as we have a perfect day, the weather changes and we get a rainy, gloomy one the next day.
After another beach day – spent diving (Liora and Ilani), swimming (all of us), walking around ‘town’ (all of us; town is a few dirt roads and the ‘shops’ are a few shelves of goods, mostly food staples and liquor), and playing on the beach. Oh, and eating. We discover a restaurant – another hole in the wall shack – Black and White – that is just astonishingly good. We order chicken and rice and for less than $2 we each get a huge plate of sublime grilled chicken and mounds of incredibly tasty rice. We all love it and Ilani doesn’t even like chicken ! It immediately goes down into our Best Local restaurants Hall of Fame.
Next morning at 6.15am sharp we’re off back towards Maputo. I’m terribly nervous about the drive now that I know what to expect, and there’s been a torrential downpour that night. I’m going to be counting down the miles to the South African border. Turns out the road is even worse than on the way here, as the semi decent clay part has turned to mud. It’s really awful with cars all over the place and at one point Liora has to get out and negotiate our way through two trucks that have broken down and blocked the road. It takes us even longer than last time, so no wonder I’m eventually pulled over by the Mozambique police for speeding (they say I’m doing 81km/hr in a 60km/hr zone; I’m too tired to argue). We have no local money left to pay the ticket (or bribe depending on your point of view, but we manage with a collection of Rands and Dollars. And then we race to the border which thankfully is far less menacing, and soon we’re back in the relatively calm surroundings that is South Africa.