We’re back in Maputo now and to the best Internet cafe we’ve found in Africa so far.
This post is full of raw emotion as well as stuff that John and I have spent a lot of time philosophising about. Before I published it I considered toning it down and then changed my mind. After all, this is not a holiday brochure but a collection of our personal thoughts and experiences on our trip of a lifetime. A trip that is as much about learning and understanding as it is about seeing and enjoying ourselves.
Mozambique has given us a lot to think about. It came out of a decade long civil war in 1992 and looking at most of the buildings we’ve seen you’d think it might have been two years ago, five at the outside.
Maputo, as John mentioned, is an extremely friendly city, the people really are absolutely lovely. It’s wonderful to be able to walk the streets at night again without feeling paranoid about being robbed. Maputo is sprawling and crumbling though, really sad to see. There doesn’t appear to have been any buildings erected since the war and hardly anything has been restored. The pavements and roads are still very damaged and there are countless buildings that are just empty shells, no roof, no windows, no doors.
The signs of the Marxist government that took power after independence from Portugal in the 70s are clearly in evidence in the streets, they’re all named after left wing leaders. Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Mihn need no introduction but we’ve also spotted Allende, the victim of General Pinochet’s infamous coup in Chile. It’s hard to explore Maputo really as it’s very large and the places of interest so far away from each other. Tomorrow we’re going to do that in earnest though, this is no ordinary city and there seems to be so much to learn.
Last Monday we got up early to travel by bus to Tofo. Tofo gets John very excited as it has one of the world’s top dive sites. It’s about 500km North of Maputo, apparently around 6 hours.
The journey was a classic travellers experience, although we arrived at the bus station for a 6.30am departure it didn’t actually leave until just before nine. As with many of the poorer countries we’ve visited no bus moves unless all the seats are filled. This bus does only fill the seats, apparently the other bus heading North will fill the bus in a much more literal sense. Apparently with people, livestock, vegetables and whatever else needs to go up there. To be honest we’re not surprised, not many people have their own vehicles and the transport infrastructure is severely limited. I don’t know how some of those buses make it up there as some parts of the road are more like four wheel drive territory. It’s only tarmacked part of the way and is Mozambique’s only major road.
The scene on the way up was fairly consistent: flat grassy planes, derelict shells of buildings, straw huts and roadside market stalls (mostly fruit).
The journey took 10 hours in all and the bus was smelly. We were utterly exhausted by the time we arrived. In hindsight the journey was amusing, I’m not sure whether it was a bus journey or a very long shopping trip. For the two and a half hours we were waiting at Maputo bus station there was a continuous and noisy rabble of people banging on the windows trying to sell all sorts. The bus also must have stopped at least a dozen times for people to run to the bus selling their wares. In this respect it reminded us both of Asia, Laos in particular. Although, as far I’m aware, the goods were more conventional things like oranges and tomatoes, we weren’t too disappointed not to see the bats on sticks!
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At Tofo we’d booked a hut to stay in. That’s what it was, a straw hut with no windows and several large holes. We had two mattresses on the floor and a Mosquito net. We enjoyed the novelty of it although it’s certainly the most basic place we’ve stayed. Needless to say, the mozzies had a feast on us.
While we were there John was not disappointed with the diving. He swam with Manta Rays, Whale Sharks and numerous other wonders. I myself went out in a boat and saw whale sharks and mantas very close, truly amazing creatures and I can’t believe how big they are. I was too much of a scaredy cat to snorkel in the open sea though, I hate it when I can’t see the bottom and I don’t know what’s lurking.
Tofo is amazingly under-developed, there’s hardly anything there, it is like a tropical paradise. Unfortunately for us we were a bit unlucky with the weather and although John still managed to dive all other trips were cancelled for the first 5 days after we arrived. Not wanting to sit in the bar all day and the beach being too wet and windy I spent several days sat in the hut reading and getting bitten by Mosquitos.
Already feeling affected by the destruction and poverty in Mozambique I delved into a history book about a girl and the Vietnam war and read a supplement about global warming and energy that Andy Wright gave us from the Guardian. With the solitude and depressing reading, confusion reigned in my head. The confusion centres on a revulsion for humanity but a love of people. I’ve been prone to that sort of thing from a very early age, being the kind of kid that at ten worried about everyone dying, in my early teens about nuclear war and in my late teens about the environment. At Tofo it all got a bit overwhelming and I had the urge to give away everything I’ve ever possessed but had no plan what I might do with myself after that.
I was walking around Mozambique feeling guilty for being so lucky in where I was born and starting to loathe myself, I didn’t want to go out and face the world. Argh, what am I doing? John to the rescue, he acknowledged all the ills in the world but let me know that I wasn’t on my own in my thinking. I know I’m not, and thank you John (a man that genuinely understands and to whom I owe much, permission to puke granted.) We have now hardened our resolve to help as much as we can, turning angst into action. It makes all the struggles with our thoughts seem worth it. We need to figure out ways of keeping it that way when we get back to Britain, where it’s easier to forget about the world beyond our doorstep.
Five days into our stay I reluctantly travelled to Inhambane, a local town crumbling even by Mozambique standards, the school has broken windows and every other building is derelict. Weirdly, unlike Maputo, the place was very unfriendly, smiles were only returned by hostile glares. Given the recent history of colonialism and interference in the civil war by the South African apartheid government, it’s not really surprising. It turned out that unlike Maputo it had a pretty large part in slave trafficing, particularly to the French colonies of Mauritius and Reunion island. John and I have had plenty of discussions about why the people of Inhambane and Maputo are so different but without being able to speak to lots of them we can only speculate. I really wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage.
‘Travelling back from Inhambane we caught the same style bus as on the way in, while deciding which bus to catch a guy had stamped on my foot and gave John a really good push. We were polite to everybody so didn’t deserve that treatment and were feeling pretty glum when we got on the bus. There were no seats for us so I sat between someone elses feet. The more people that were squeezed in when it didn’t look humanly possible, the more I giggled. I couldn’t see John anymore, he’d disappeared at the back somewhere. We all squeezed up ever tighter and held each other’s shopping. That’s when everything changed. It was a bus full of smiles, me with my bad Portuguese and they with smatterings of English. A woman was carefully extracting the hair out of my eyelashes every time it blew in, people were saying thank you lots and telling me I had ‘lively eyes’.
What a relief, I can’t tell you how good that felt. I suppose the difference was our role, the bus was a real leveller and made everyone the same. That way we can all be friends and we, the visitors, are not walking around in a bubble.
On our last day in Tofo we had a sunny day on the beach, we had intended to travel further up the country but with the weather delays we ran out of time. The little boys who sold bracelets on the beach were watching us play backgammon. We really warmed to them even though there are limits to the number of bracelets we can buy. One of them was called Fernando, he had something different about him, a bit more talent and spark. I hope he’s getting enough education so that he can live up to his potential. He’s very good at selling bracelets but could do so much more.
According to what we’ve read, people with too much education and talent were sought out and shot during the civil war. I hope that this country can rebuild itself enough to allow people of Fernando’s ability a better chance in life. I would like to come back to Mozambique one day and see how it’s faring.
Take care all
p.s. If this post is depressing, blame it on James Blunt, maybe we should buy this internet cafe another CD?!