First, I apologize for being offline for a couple of weeks, but I had some internet problems. When I arrived in China, I discovered that Facebook is blocked there. It’s relatively easy to go around it, but the setup is easier to do from outside China. Since the vast majority of people who follow my blog do it through Facebook, I chose not to post until I was out of censorship zone. Furthermore, I post my videos on my Youtube channel, and Youtube is also blocked! I’m in South Korea now, and I will be doing a lot of catching up this week.
So, on Sept the 4th, when I marked my one year anniversary of travelling full time, I posted on Facebook a picture of me at the corner of Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung Avenues.
I must say that I did find Mozambique unique. Although there are perfectly understandable historical reasons why all this happened, I was still surprised by Maputo, a Portuguese speaking black African city where most streets are named after communist leaders. I guess the strategic alliance choice was not that obvious in the mid-seventies, when the country broke away from its Portuguese colonial masters.
If they had chosen the west, we would have sent them architects trained in the 60’s and 70’s, and most buildings in Maputo would be ugly. Instead, they got 1970’s Soviet architects, so most buildings are very ugly.
But the past is the past, and we all know who won the Cold War. We won because the Communist Bloc was divided, while the West fought united, under the courageous leadership of Colonel Sanders (strangely known in my home province of Quebec as Col Kentucky, even though that’s where he was from, not his name).
What I immediately hated about Mozambique is the cost of living (or rather, travelling). Maputo especially, reminded me of Djibouti prices. A very basic hotel room with bathroom will cost about US$90, which is more than it would cost in many European cities or North American suburbs. There are two backpacker places, The Base, where I stayed in a little basement room with shared bathroom for $35 (but they have only 2 private rooms), and Fatima’s Place, which has horrible reviews. If you want a Western style 4 star hotel, you’ll pay Manhattan prices, $300 a night and above.
Unskilled workers in Mozambique earn under 3000 Metical a month, which is around $100. Bank employees and the like may make a few times that amount. So, where do they stay? Not in hotels. Hotels are basically for foreigners only. According to a couple I spoke to, family ties are strong in Mozambique and staying with family is the norm. I asked what they did when they didn’t have family in town and I was told that was impossible. Everyone has family in the capital and asking to stay with the brother of your second cousin’s wife is totally normal.
On my second stay, I found a brand new budget hotel, which offers decent but minuscule rooms for $50. It’s a little out of the way, but still walkable from downtown. Unfortunately, it was owned by servants of the Evil Dry God, which I kinda guessed when the reception told me the wifi password was “inshaallah”. So alcohol was banned from entering the hotel, period. But, sometimes things just don’t happen the way all would like; in this case the wifi never worked for one second and I had gin and tonic in my room.
Even food was relatively expensive, although not comparable to hotel prices. This ham and cheese grilled sandwich and a coffee I had for breakfast cost me $7. A couple of days earlier in a South African chicken chain, I had a soft drink, fries and half a chicken for that price.
I’m sorry about the cost rambling. I don’t mind travelling in undeveloped, cheap countries like Laos, nor do I mind developed, expensive countries like Luxembourg. I just hate the expensive, undeveloped world.
Unlike crime-ridden Nairobi, Maputo is mostly safe, but there is a large strip of undeveloped downhill slopes going from uptown to the waterfront where I was told never to go, even during the day. Apparently even the police don’t go. I was very disappointed. As you can see from the picture, the place was very appealing and I had to fight the urge to go in and explore.
What surprised me in Maputo was the use of Portuguese by the locals. This is not so in the rest of the country, but in Maputo, most locals use the language amongst themselves. In my experience, in the rest of Africa, people speak French or English in official contexts or when speaking to foreigners or people from tribes whose language they don’t understand. In Maputo, I heard the people selling vegetables on the streets speaking various languages, but “urbanites” all spoke Portuguese to each other.
Language aside, you still know this is a former Portuguese colony from the super typical, wavy tilling. I am starting to build a collection of wavy Portuguese tilling.
Macau, now part of China, in 2004. I never heard a word of Portuguese there and all the Portuguese restaurants are owned and operated by Chinese people, but if you look around between the giant casinos, you do find the remnants of colonial architecture. It’s quite a bit nicer than Maputo.
Lisbon, earlier this year. I don’t want to sound judgemental or Western-centric, but to say that Lisbon is nicer than Maputo is, I would say, a little bit of an understatement.
Tired of the capital, I headed for the touristic village of Tofo, about an 8 hour drive from the capital. I got a lift with a a couple of lodge managers who had gone to South Africa for shopping. Goods in South Africa are 2 to 3 times less expensive, and about 100 to 1,000 times more available. We headed out at the very unpleasant time of 4 am, in the hopes that the “police” would be out in smaller numbers. Also, in the dark, there is a greater chance of the “police” not noticing the driver is white, and thus slightly reducing the risk of being stopped for “tips”. Unfortunately, we were stopped after only 15 minutes and the “policeman” was quite insistent, despite the driver not being keen on tipping when he had done nothing wrong. He was clearly going to cause trouble, so the driver’s girlfriend said: “take this instead, it’s good for your health”. He did, and he let us go. Personally, the smallest bribe I have ever paid was $20 to a truckers’ union in Bolivia, to let me drive through their roadblock (technically, not a bribe, but an argument to adjust their strike policy). However, this time we bribed the “policeman” with 2 apples! Apparently apples are not grown in Mozambique, and so they are a bit of a luxury item.
The Tofo hotel, Mozambeat, was an awesome place to spend a few relaxing days. Compared to my normal busy schedule, 6 days in this sleepy village should have bored me to tears, but in my head, this segment of travel in Africa was over. I was just waiting to get back to Asia.
Mozambeat invites local artists to stay for free. In exchange, they paint some of the art you see on the walls.
The cabins each have their own bathroom, but they are exterior bathrooms. I forgot to take a picture until my last night there, but I assure you taking a shower under the African sun is really neat.
The Dutch owner-manager organized a lobster dinner one night. Impressive but I must say I prefer them like back home, boiled.
Not wanting to do nothing at all, I did go diving a couple of times. The visibility was very disappointing, but the fish life was abundant. Better was the whale watching on the way to the dive site. As the guide said about the bay at this time of the year: “It’s like whale soup out here!” The best happened when a juvenile humpback whale decided to come towards us and dive right under the boat! (at 1:14)
While there isn’t much to do in Tofo, the seafood is certainly fresh and plentiful. Here is the seafood platter for two at a popular local restaurant. Even the samosa contains seafood. If you want vegetarian options, you can try another restaurant!
Better than the seafood was the size of the glasses. My new Australian friend had recently quit an important sounding job in the financial sector to travel the world for a few months. She was going to look for something else upon her return. Ha, the joys of living in a rich country with low unemployment. I mean Australia, not Mozambique!