I know this will sound strange or pretentious to a lot of you hard working people at home but when travelling for longer periods, every once in a while you need to take “a holiday from travelling”, if not you risk to catch ‘travellers burn out’. On my previous trip the ‘traveller’s burn out’ hit me really hard after 4 months travelling in South East Asia. I remember being in Kuala Lumpur and being really tired all the time, apathetic to whatever the place had to offer and hardly being able to get out of the hostel. Too many impressions and experiences in a short time and the fact that there is no routine whatsoever (having to look for places to stay and eat and things to do and see every day) makes travelling rather tiring after a couple of months. When you start dreaming about a cupboard to put your clothes in, it’s time to take a break.
On this trip, I decided to not let things get that far and as prevention, so I have built in a couple of ‘holidays’ in our travels and what better place to take a break than at some lovely beaches. The first break was to be after 2 months in Mozambique. Nothing
too early actually, because traveling in Zimbabwe had made me really tired and the two day trip from Zimbabwe to the coast in Mozambique was another tough one, so I was completely spent when I reached the coast. It was nice to see the Indian Ocean again that had left behind when leaving Zanzibar. I spent the first couple of days in the beach town of Vilanculos. From there we visited the Bazurato Archipelago with a bunch of people from the hostel. It is the beginning of the rainy season in this part of Africa now.
In practice that means that there are some more clouds and 1 or 2 days a week there are some thunderstorms that usually last only a couple of hours. The day of our trip to the Bazurato archipelago started really bad weather wise, with thunderstorms and heavy rains. After 2 hours by the time we reached the islands, the sun was out…and we were very glad that there was some cloud cover in the afternoon sun.
After that it was off to Tofo (pronounced Tofu) or ‘the vegetarian place’ as I was referring to it. This is where I would really sit down and relax…for the full six days. And I found the perfect place for it: ‘Mozambeat’ a brand new and very stylish hostel/hotel owned by a couple of Dutch guys (the Dutch seem to be constant on my trip in Africa). The whole theme of the place is music and soul and you would almost stay there only for the soundtrack. But that would be doing injustice to all the delicious (sea)food they serve and the great company. I spent my days recharging my batteries and getting into some kind of routine of reading by the pool or at the
beach, having cheap seafood lunch in town, going for a surf in the afternoon with the surfboard rental guy who always ‘forgot’ to charge me half the time we were surfing. As I would be travelling with some candidate marathon runners in South Africa the next week I also decided to do some morning runs for the first time since Zanzibar. These runs were always interesting as I would be running when the first fishermen (mostly spear fishers) were getting back on land (5.30 am) and so I could admire their catch and even got a try at shooting the spear gun…not easy.
It was a bit of a quiet before the storm in Tofo as the week after the place would be invaded by South African tourists when the summer holidays for the ‘construction sector’ starts. At those times the nice little village turns into some sort of a Sodom and Gomorrah at the Indian Ocean…the Mozambican version Kuta Beach or Blankenberge (for the Belgians).
Next up would be a brief visit to the capital of Maputo. The transfer to the capital was another 8 hour minibus ride starting at first daylight (4am). My last minibus; one last time sitting between two seats and being nearly squeezed to death in between two big Mozambican “mamas” and with a little girl that spent most of the time on my lap spilling her food on my clothes. On the way South there was a constant flow of South African vehicles travelling to the beaches, all in huge 4×4 pick-up trucks (bakkies) and nearly all with trailers with either boats, jet skis or quad bikes.
Maputo is getting very mixed reviews from travellers. Some really hate it, while others are really charmed by it. I must say that it did not really do anything for me. It is more relaxed than some of the other capitals (Nairobi, Dar, Jo’burg) I have been and there are some nice old buildings (often in a complete disrepair) and cool art galleries, but I would not want to spend more than 2 days there.
Mozambique is a bit of an ‘odd man out’ in the region partly due to its past as a Portuguese colony and also due to the ‘would be revolutionary/communist’ regime.The country was destabilized during the seventies and eighties by a ‘civil war’ between the leftist party that had achieved independence and a rebellion group that had very little popular support and that was basically created and funded by the South African Apartheid regime. This rebellion that killed thousands of people in the countryside eventually ended in a peace treaty where both parties would agree to have elections.
Today these struggles are in the past but there are still landmines in some regions. None of the minefields are mapped so it will take forever to clean up the remaining mines. The right wing party has become completely overshadowed by the leftist party these days and the names of the streets in the capital are a nice reflection of that: from Marx, Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Min to Nkrumah, Lumumba and Olof Palme.
The Portuguese influence is of course still clear in the Portuguese language that is still the official language. I had brought a little book ‘teach yourself Portuguese in 6 weeks’ and had been studying by the pool or in the busses the last 6 weeks and it turned out to be very useful. I was speaking Portugol (Spanish with Portuguese words); just enough to be able to get the prices down a bit more than the average English speaking traveller and to be able to understand when people were talking about me behind my back.
Another odd thing in Mozambique is the police. The cops are considered as some of the most corrupt around. Especially if you are driving a car, they are incredibly creative in coming up with ‘traffic rules’ that have been broken by the tourists. One of the most used ones is the fact that you are not allowed to wear sunglasses when driving unless you have prescription glasses. It is nowhere in the official traffic rules but hundreds of tourists are being ‘fined’ for it every year. The problem is that these cops are really underpaid and just want to top up their meagre salary. The fact that they all have huge machine guns also helps in collecting these fines. Actually it is very interesting to see the female cops walking the streets, swinging their hips and elegantly swinging an AK 47 (Kalashnikov) as if was a stylish handbag.
I managed to get out of the country without having to pay a fine/bribe even though I was actually caught jaywalking in Maputo. I was able to smile and joke my way out of it. It only cost me a couple of the cashew nuts that I was carrying.
From Maputo I took a ‘real bus’ to Nelspruit in South Africa where I would meet up with Koen, Nick and Kris with whom I would spent my last couple of days in Africa. The bus was supposed to take 4hrs but it ended up taking 8 hours. 4 hours were spent standing in line at the border. 1,5 hours at the Mozambican border just to get the exit stamp (they had 4 officers that had to serve over 1000 people) and 2.5 hours at the South African border (6 officers). At the South African side it was a complete disaster. The line was not moving at all and all these people who had arrived long after me, were getting out long before me. It wasn’t until some guy explained me that you had to pay 20$ to some guy to get to the front of the line. When I finally arrived at the counters I saw how it worked. Some guy would arrive at the counter with 20-30 passports and would slip some money to the immigration officer, who would just stamp them all without even doing a check of the passport or without seeing the people in front of him. You wonder why South Africa has such a problem with illegal immigration. My passport on the contrary was checked three times before I finally got the entry stamp. The South African guy that was behind me in line, told me this was a textbook example of how “his country is sliding”. I must say that I did not see these things happening at any of the borders (with Swaziland and Lesotho) when I was travelling in South Africa, six years ago. Not really a nice way to enter the country.