A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

How to beaten up by a bus driver in 2 easy steps.

1. Arrange to take the hostel arranged shuttle from Maputo to Tofo
2. Complain that you haven't been taken where you were promised and pre-arranged, and so withhold a small amount of money.

After that, it pretty much takes care of itself.

The main reason most tourists come to Mozambique is it's beaches, and to that end we soon headed north to Praia de Tofo. It did not begin overly well; our door-to-door transfer to Tofo began with collection at 5.30am, before dumped in a bus station for over 90minutes before, on arrival to Tofo, being left somewhere random in town and not were we wanted to be. From there it was but a short step to the driver and conductor physically grabbing and attacking Maaret after I had gone to get help due to their abusiveness. It was only good luck and reflexes that prevented her not ending up with a black eye, broken bag or worse. She had a bruise on her arm for several days.

As such, I can highly recommend NOT using the transfer to Tofo that most hostels offer. If you want to be beaten up by your bus driver, you can do it cheaper for yourself.

Tofo was certainly pretty, if small and very touristy and not the sort of place I tend to visit by choice. Decent, long open beaches, and a wealth of watersport and water activity options abounded, though none of which had much interest to me either because of their cost, or more often, due to the simple fact that I can't swim and so have fairly limited water requirements.

Though obviously our arrival was not ideal and that coloured perceptions a bit, Tofo did kind of grow on me. I am not, and never have been a beach person, as I feel sure that i have mentioned somewhere here before, but I was happy enough spending a couple of days not really doing very much at all except sitting in the sun and relaxing. Away from the coast, it was scorching hot, but on the beach side, a constant strong wind blew through refreshingly – if dangerous for sunburn.

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We had 3 full days there, and I didn't really do anything with them at all. Maaret went out swimming with whale-sharks (getting really close to these huge animals), and two friends Dan and Rachel went fishing and caught a large tuna which we helped them eat, but otherwise it was just a case of lying around, reading a book and just being for a few days. i know that this blog is supposed to be a constant tale of wonder and excitement, but really, there has to be some boring normality to it as well, and this is just one of those times.

Posted by Gelli 13:19 Archived in Mozambique Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Maputo

I am not sure what i expected of Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and so I don't think that what I saw was it.

But i quite liked it anyway.

It is a mix of cultures and ideas – African, Portuguese, Colonial and Communist. The Portuguese language holds together a disparate mix of local languages and tribes with surprisingly little friction and resentment compared to colonial languages in much of Africa, and the architecture has obviously been dictated by communist support (after the very messy civil war led to independence from Portugal in 1975) with interspersed colonial gems, such as the art-deco railway station designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Parisian metal tower fame.

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It also looked and felt like a real city – even on the outskirts and many suburbs that we saw - as opposed to a typical African one, which surprised me a bit. Portuguese touches like a cafe culture were something I really enjoyed, and were a welcome addition after the South African impersonal Mall experience. Cafe culture and people watching is something I have really missed in much of Africa.

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Maputo also has its fair share of beggars, pickpockets, prostitutes (We had been in the city barely 10minutes when I had to have a discussion with 2 prostitutes over the contents of my pockets, which I felt, not unreasonably I think, should stay in my pockets but they disagreed) and street sellers, and with not many tourists around that mean't haggling and decent prices could be got for those with time and patience to play the game.

The city is also home to a chain of Italian-style restaurants, called Mimmos, which Maaret reliably informs me make the best chocolate brownie in the world: which bearing in mind all the brownies in the world, is some claim. Two months later (as it is now, obviously, because I have been such a lazy b*stard in not updating this for a long time), she still talks about that brownie.

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To be fair, there isn't really all that much to see or do in Maputo in terms of tourist style sights (although the nightlife is semi-legendary), but there are many worse places to spend a few days. It is the sort of city that I think I could happily live for a few months, or perhaps a year, during which I would always be discovering new things and would rarely get bored. But at this moment in time, sadly, i don't have a few months, and so that side of the city will stay hidden to me, at least for now. Instead, it is time to move up country.

Posted by Gelli 02:03 Archived in Mozambique Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Bumpity Bump

In Mthata the major town of the area, a woman drove into the back of us at traffic lights, and bumped us a metre down the road. She then drove off without saying anything (I got her registration number at least), but luckily Lydia didn't seem to have any obvious damage.

From Mthata to Kokstad was one of the most uncomfortable drives I have made in some time. We were on the N2, the main road along the South Coast-ish, and one of a generally pretty reasonable standard. It twistily wound around constant mountains and over hills with traffic moving at high speed, until coming to occasional small towns which suddenly degenerated into narrow roads full of parked cars, minibuses pulling out willy-nilly and pedestrians and animals wandering all over the damned place in extremely dangerous ways.

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Passing through Mount Frere on the main road of Southern South Africa. Call me fussy, but to me when a road goes from 4lanes and a 120 limit to this (and then much worse) in the space of 50m, it is just really bad planning

It was also still miserable weather wise, grey and raining, and on a couple of the higher mountain passes, we drove through extremely thick fog. I don't mind driving in snow or rain, and actively prefer driving in the dark, but fog I hate. And South African drivers are pretty much all fecking stupid &/or mad. In places visibility was down to a few metres at best, and we were crawling along at 50 or 60 with full lights and hazard lights, half in the hard-shoulder lane, whilst the majority of the locals shot past at at least double the speed, often with no lights at all. How there were no accidents, I don't know, but it was one of those moments where you almost thought it was safer to driver faster even though you couldn't see the road ahead, rather than slow and safe but with the extremely real risk of some local muppet driving into the back of you at high speed. To say I was happy when we descended to lower altitudes and clearer skies would be an understatement.

Back in the Drakensberg, we spent a day slowly heading North along winding gravel roads. But our luck had not changed, and despite hearing that previous days had been wonderful and clear, the weather was not ideal, and it was frustrating to know that so much beautiful scenery and possibility was being missed on account of clouds and drizzle. By then, poor Lydia had started leaking large quantities of something watery from the engine, and thus needed to be nursed along carefully, whilst we were also due back in Pretoria to return Lydia and meet some people. So, with wishes of more time and better weather, we drove back to Gauteng, inevitably spending most of the journey in the middle of ferocious rain and huge lightening strikes.

Yay.

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Sign in Mthata, the kind that every Welsh (or Kiwi) person loves to see. 30seconds later, the stupid woman crashed into us

Posted by Gelli 04:24 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Of Time and Money, though Space can wait

Time is a sadly precious commodity. A friend of Maaret's has a theory that when you travel, time and money total 100, a constant number that can never be exceeded. Within that total, time and money are flexible: You can have a 50-50 split; You can have lots of money but little time; Or little money but lots of time. It's not a bad theory, although in our case it was more a case of having little money or time, and the remainder of the the 100 being debts and bosses insisting that you should have been back in the office 9months ago. OK, I admit, I might be a little late returning to work. But so what....?

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Just what you expect to see on the top of a hill in a remote part of South Africa: An old passenger jet and 4 ex-London double decker buses

But limited time and money mean't that we had to pass through the Wild Coast in a couple of days, instead of being able to spend a week or two savouring it. Rugged coastal scenery, interspersed with occasional empty golden bays and beaches. Inland, more mountainous landscapes prevail, with twisting often tortuous roads, but – weather allowing, even though it rarely did for us – often wonderful vista's opening out in front of you. It is somewhere i would love to cycle or hike through for 2 or 3 weeks, although that is rapidly becoming a constant wish on this trip, and in South Africa. Even though I have only seen a smidgen of the country, I know I could spend a few weeks around the Wild Coast, a few in the Karoo and a few in the Drakensberg. And with large swathes of the country still to go, that probably means I'm going to need at least 6months, a car and a bicycle for my next visit here.

Traveling is frustrating sometimes: The more you see and the more places you visit, the more you realise what is out there and the more places you need to return to, spend more time in, or discover to add to your list.

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Images from the Wild Coast

Posted by Gelli 04:22 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The perils of hitchhiking

A few years back, two friends of mine, John and Sarah were on holiday in South Africa. They were in the prime of life, and things could not have been better. Married for just under a year, they were wonderfully in love, had a large group of devoted friends and family, excellent jobs and prospects and barely 2weeks beforehand had discovered that Sarah was pregnant with the first child they both desperately wanted. In the grand scheme of things, life really could not have been any better for them.

John had spent some time growing up and working in South Africa, and was definitely not the average naive tourist. It was late morning and driving through a remote, scenic and fairly un-touristy area of South Africa they came across an old woman by the side of the empty road, looking for a lift to the market in next town. Both having hitchhiked in the past and with space in the car, they had no compunction in slowing down to offer her a lift. Indeed, though always careful who they stopped for, they had already given lifts to locals several times on the trip.

Details of what happened next will necessarily always remain hazy, but in general terms 3 or 4 drunk men suddenly appeared from their hiding places near the road and attacked them. Amongst much else, John ended up with some stab wounds and was knocked out, whilst Sarah suffered a much worse ordeal. The men and the old woman then took off in the car with all their papers/possessions, leaving them badly injured in a ditch by the side of the road.

Luckily, John and Sarah were found not that long afterwards by a passer by who raised the alarm. Both spent several days in hospital, but the baby was lost. Perhaps understandably, neither was ever the same again. Both were shells of their former lively selves. They divorced 2 years later and Sarah committed suicide - at the 4th known attempt – soon afterwards. John moved and melted away in an attempt to start some kind of new life. Nobody I know has any idea what became of him, or where he is. It is a horrible, horrible tragic tale.

I bring up this horrific story with great reluctance, and only as an – admittedly extreme – illustration of what can happen when you let your guard down. I have hitchhiked extensively over the years: Indeed, tales of Matt and I hitching around obscure parts of Europe and Asia with Erik, our wonderful (if now sadly deceased) giant inflatable camel have gone down in local legend, and at least one border post still has our photograph up over 10years later.

Normally, I have no problem stopping for hitchhikers although I obviously will not stop for every last one, rather using gut instinct as to whether to stop or not. But in South Africa, despite us normally having the whole back seat spare, I refused. I am sure that the vast majority – possibly absolutely all of them - of people were genuine, and i felt especially bad leaving old ladies or women with babies by the side of the road. But I just could not stop. One incident 5years ago has meant that I (and many others who knew John and Sarah) will never be able to stop for a single hitchhiker/local in South Africa, and will indeed regard all with perhaps overly deep suspicion. And that is a very sad thing.

* note that due to one of the couple having a very distinct and unusual name, the names have been changed to protect identities and to avoid causing any accidental offense by bringing up the whole tragic episode again.

Posted by Gelli 04:21 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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