A Travellerspoint blog

Survivor

Another 6.30 start. I woke before my alarm to the sound of nature and the sea. We breakfasted well and commenced the next leg of our journey, another 250km further north up the coast. We were promised we'd be there by lunch time so the drive time wasn't of particular concern. However what goes up must come down and it was conscious that in a few short days time we'd be travelling from Vilankulo all the way back to Xai-Xai which must by now be a good 550km away...

Eddie drove like he was on a mission. Which he was; a mission to arrive before bellies (and Mrs Finn) began to grumble. We stopped infrequently. The first stop was just for 'gas'. Steve's expression coming from the bathroom was enough to deter the rest of us from trying - Steve's in the Canadian Navy and must have seen a thing or two in his time.

The next stop was a little more exciting: the Tropic of Capricorn. The sign was rather nondescript and faced north to south so, as we were driving north, we actually missed it. Eddie reversed back and we duly filed out for photographs. It was about as thrilling as the meridian line in Greenwich. Andrew's geography lesson was a little more interesting - he explained to Sam, who'd never heard of it, that anywhere between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn was officially referred to as 'the tropics'. I'd never realised 'the tropics' were quite so vast!

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We drove on and the next stop was to admire a baobab tree. When we exited the vehicle, it certainly felt as if we were in the tropics. We'd travelled only around 100km north however the temperature and humidity had both upped significantly. The scenery was much the same as the previous journey (palms and local dwellings made from reeds and dried, woven palms) but now with the addition of some dotted baobab trees. Dana explained that they were not in fact indigenous to these parts however, when the slaves had been marched through en route to the port of Inhambane, they'd carried with them their main source of food, the fruit of the baobab trees, scattering the seeds as they ate and, over hundreds of years, these trees had grown up as a reminded of the landscape's sad history.

We arrived in Vilankulo bang on 1pm for lunch - another group bill for 19 to be divided and paid in up to three separate currencies. Whilst Mozambique's official currency is the Metical, South African Rand and USD are both universally accepted with some places even accepting euros. This had led to several complicated calculations as to who owed what, first in Meticals, then in the currency if their choice, and then adding up the totals of each currency at the end, using each establishments chosen exchange rate, to confirm we were on the money (plus tip). In general, there were circa three Meticals to the Rand and circa 10 Rand to the dollar. Andrew and Krista seemed to be our unofficial bill calculators and somehow, we just about muddled through.

The booked lodge wasn't big enough to house the entire group so the three couples were dropped at a sister lodge a good mile away before we continued on to ours. Dana used this as a great excuse to offload Mr & Mrs Finn with whom his patience was becoming increasingly thin.

The rest of us continued to Golden Sands, a resort of bungalows on a hill with spectacular views of the ocean and nearby islands. Each bungalow had two bedrooms so Jan, Krista and I were assigned one together and I shared a room with Krista.

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After spending a good hour in the sea (singing Africa-themed Disney songs), in water so warm there was zero 'eek factor' as we splashed in, a storm appeared to be brewing. Dana had told us to expect flash storms in the Mozambican summer as rainclouds opened, dropped their contents and moved on... This rendered a few of a little nervous given the approaching two day boat safari however, by the time our couple-less group ate dinner at an excellent restaurant at the beach, the wind seemed to have passed and the cloud had dumped its contents elsewhere.

Dinner was amazing: fresh prawns with the option of topping them with the local Portuguese speciality of peri-peri, 10 out of 10 on the scale of hotness.

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That night, after a bumpy trip down the sand road to the lodge and before bed, we packed a small bag for the following two days' Dhow safari and night camping.

We collected the couples and breakfasted together before boarding our Dhow early the next morning. We were headed for the Archipelago of Bazaruto, a collection of four small islands off the Mozambique coast, adrift in the Southern Indian Ocean. A Dhow is like a traditional local fishing boat; colourful, made of wood, little to no shelter from the elements, optional sail and a 25 horse power engine (the power boats we'd ridden earlier in the week had two 90horse power engines!). Ours was painted purple, old and rickety looking and called Adriana. We had with us a crew of three, a cook, a driver and a captain.

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We could see our destination across the water, the island of Margurite, and began a slow and winding journey. The waters were calm and shallow and, as the tide was out, we had to zigzag back and forth through the deeper waters so as not to become beached. The water was crystal clear with few rocks and it was a beautiful journey. There weren't really seats but we sat around the edge of the boat legs dangling into the warm water of the channel between the island and the mainland. As we approached we saw a flock of flamingoes in the distance in shallow water and watched a pair of dolphins arching in the water and saw another one hunting a huge fish at an aggressive speed in water so shallow it looked yellow.

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We arrived and dumped our stuff under a small shelter on the beach before donning snorkels and beach shoes, crossing a small inlet of water, climbing over the rocks before reaching the sea proper. The rocks were sharp and, having found a suitable place to drop into the deep water, I cut my knee getting in - I hoped the crew were correct that there were no dangerous sharks in the area as I was bleeding slightly.

Pulled mostly by a gentle current along the edge of the rock, Sam, Krista and I travelled several hundred meters length of the rocks looking down through only slightly murky waters at the colourful fish below. I don't know many names of fish but there were clownfish, some that looked like regular goldfish and some huge ones.

When we returned to the shelter, blood was trickling slowly down my leg but I was one of the least wounded of our motley crew; Dad had set up a first aid clinic and had been doing a great job patching people up and Andrew had a bloody bandage around each pasty calf from where he'd slipped on the rocks, Jan had sliced her finger open and Angie too had slipped on the rocks.

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After reapplying copious amounts of factor 30, we walked towards the point of the island, a long sand bank with views of one of the other islands and shallow cool water with lapping waves. It was officially the most beautiful place I'd ever been, right out of a honeymoon brochure but completely deserted - apparently the islands were lightly populated but we saw no sign of this. The tide was coming back as we returned and the 'kiddy pool' before the rocks had filled up to allow the Dhow to sail up to the shore and the crew were busy preparing our lunch on board. There was a open fireplace in the stern of the boat that they stoked with coal and what looked like hay.

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Whilst we waited I donned my goggles and swam a few lengths of the inlet, the closest thing to my normal exercise routine I'd had in weeks. And helped Angie with her floating - she was trying to learn to swim and in the shallow calm waters managed to float face down with her snorkel on and even managed a few strokes of breaststroke.

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Lunch was delicious, and especially impressive since it'd been made on board the little ramshackle boat; they'd cooked a barracuda ('caught' at the market that morning) and knocked up mashed potato salad, a coleslaw and fresh bread. They even finished it off with a huge bowl of fresh popcorn that Dad administered generously around the group. As the dishes were washed in the sea, the wind was picking up slightly and kite surfers appeared around the edge of the bay.

The journey back to the campsite over the channel was very different. It was as if someone had left the taps on and the ride was bumpier and slow as the engine chug chugged along with waves occasionally splashing over the stern. The crew called at us to 'weigh the boat' with a lot of people sat at the bow, the engine at the back was lifting out of the water so we piled to the back, where the fire was still going providing warmth (and something for Dana to light his cigarettes on). Those of us who'd been sick on the previous boat trip began to pop precautionary travel sickness pills. We sang snippets of various songs, ranging from Queen to the Wheels on the Bus to pass the time - our singing seemed to anger the sea gods and the water became choppier as we progressed.The Finns got their macs on and began to frown as the water came increasingly close to the sides of the boat - Mrs Finn contorted her expression into one of disgust and discomfort and Mr Finn determinedly continued doing his sudoku puzzles. Whilst it was a little choppy and a little chilly, it was a dream compared to our last boat trip and at one point another pair of dolphins came to play, leaping in the waves just meters from the front of the boat.

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A couple of hours after the journey began, the boat pulled up near the shoreline. There was a narrow beach lined with thick bush and no sign of a campsite. This made the Finns frown even more. We stopped a few meters from the beach and started a human conveyor belt of luggage passing bags to the dry beach as others jumped down into the knee deep water. Picking up my things I followed one of the crew into the bush down a not-quite-path that looked like it led to nowhere and 30 meters later emerged into a clearing of scattered tents and reed huts.

Picking one for Kim and I at the top of the hill and watched the others filter slowly in. The site was well equipped; the tents were sturdy with thin mattresses, there were cooking facilities in one of the reed huts, a campfire area, a block of two toilets and open air, reed walled showers that even had warm water heated by a donkey (boiler, not animal). From our tent we had a great views of the sea and the horizon in the distance (and of our neighbour, Andrew who, clumsily as ever tripped over his Mozambique flop flops on several occasions as he organised himself. Wanting to wash the sea off, I hung my clothes and towel at the entrance to one of the showers and washed off, all the while able to watch what was going on further up the hill and chat to Lani and Angie as they unpacked in their tent.

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Before dinner, Kim and I took a short walk along the deserted, footprintless beach past Adriana, who was safely anchored just off shore, watching a lone windsurfer whizz back and forth and watched smaller fishing dhows bob in the waves.

We sat around the campfire as the crew stacked it with logs and quickly got it going and drank beers and wine (from tin mugs) that we'd stocked up on the previous day. Dinner was rice, a wonderful vegetable tomato sauce and grilled chicken. I tried to lighten the mood with the Finns, who I was surprised hadn't demanded to be taken back to their hotel room (upon discovering a hole in the mosquito net of their tent, she had demanded that Dana give them his tent but sadly the approach hadn't endeared him to her cause). Slowly the couples filtered off to bed and we sat around the fire telling stories and laughing. When the beer and wine ran out, we drifted off to our respective tents and Kim and I slept with the flaps up so as I dozed off I could see the outline of shadowy palm trees blowing gently in the breeze.

Posted by madeinmold 12:24 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Feeding the fish

27 °C

There wasn't much to keep us in Maputo and after an early start, we left the city at 6am - destination Tofo, some 450+ km away.

The route out of the city took us back to the seafront where, shortly after the new shiny hotels stopped, so did the road. It became a deep orange sand track where, the intention clearly was to build a road at some point but, if the distance covered by sand track was anything to go by, this would take some time. It was however already being used to full capacity as we were far from the only ones bouncing over the pot holes.

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We passed through some small villages where life was already in full swing still well before 7am. Kids went to school, people walked to work and local women sat at the side of the road already selling freshly caught fish. The 'road' briefly became a road, before becoming a sand track again before, eventually, miles later, we were on a real road. We crossed train tracks passing an ancient looking train clattering from somewhere to somewhere and the dwellings became more sparse as we left the city and entered the countryside. We passed through a couple of towns, made a couple of bathroom and coffee breaks, but mostly we drove watching the scenery slide by.

We stopped 'halfway' at around eleven am to get cash and food (petrol station or KFC - the southern Africans seem to love KFC, in fact chicken in general as we'd seen a few Nandos too). I opted for Oreos, the food of travellers, and a mango juice before we were back on the road again. As we travelled north, palm trees slowly began to appear in ever increasing numbers and the vegetation became less 'bush' and more tropical.

It was a beautiful drive on a beautiful but, the main thing I'll remember was that it was long. So long. Bloody long. One pm came and went and still we drove. After a bathroom break that may have scarred me for life, we eventually caught our first glimpse of the southern Indian Ocean and spirits were temporarily lifted. We were high on a hill and which, dotted with Palm trees, sloped down to vast expanses of blue water. But with still over 90km to go, spirits quickly fell again and tempers began to rise.

Some grumbling began, perhaps as expectations hadn't been realistically managed, but there wasn't much we could do about it; we'd get there when we got there. I felt bad for Dana as none of this was his fault, but eventually caved and quietly joined in the grumble grumble. Just after 3pm, 9 hours after our journey had begun, we eventually swung into Inhambane, former capital, former slave trade centre of Africa where passing boats would stop to pick up slaves who'd been marched from across the continent. It was a colourful little town, with Portuguese architecture, a pier and small port and narrow little streets. We made only a brief stop before completing the final 20km of our journey to Praia do Tofo, hippy/backpackers town that seemed quite empty of tourists but full of stalls and hustlers. You could even by the 'traditional' backpacker-in-Thailand elephant pants.

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Exiting the bus at the beach, I sprinted the width of the sand as fast as it would allow and, having taught the none-British contingent of the group the word 'paddle' was the first to wade into the warm waters with and overwhelming sense of relief that we'd finally finished our journey.

We checked into Barra lodge at the nearby Praia do Barra. Jan and I shared a two bed-roomed thatched beach house complete with kitchen, terrace and two additional beds in the living area.

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I was in my bikini faster than you can say pasty-beach-bod and, leaving my bag with the others at the beach bar was into the water straight away. It was a gradually shelving beach with shallow waters but as I wallowed hippo-esquely as the waves rolled in and jumped and body-surfed, I was the only person I could see for miles. Despite the other lodges dotted along the waterfront, the long beach was utterly deserted.

And, with no bus to get on the next morning, we celebrated. Wine was £1 per glass for something extremely drinkable. Dinner came later and went by in a bit of a blur. In true British fashion, Jan, Andrew and I could be found until the wee hours, along with Eddie the driver, propping up the bar and getting drunk for less than a tenner. Finally we were on holiday.

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Somehow, I fell into bed. Jan didn't quite make it, instead passing out on one of the beds in the living room. I slept through till 6, waking to the sound of the sea under a mosquito net, the woven roof and rafters above me, popped some painkillers preempting the hangover, and went back to sleep until 9 when I woke feeling almost human.

Breakfast had an omelet station and I was set for the day, or so I thought. The mornings activity, for all but Dad and the Finns, was an 'Ocean Safari' to go whale shark spotting. I didn't really know what a whale shark was but apparently they were big, safe sharks that we could jump off the boat and snorkel with. I was in good spirits, dancing on the beach as we tried on flippers and split onto two groups for two boats.

But they weren't real boats, they were giant motorised dingys. We sat on the inflated outer part with
our feet hooked under straps fastened to the floor and holding onto hand ropes. The sea was rough and we bounced aggressively up, into, through and over huge waves as the boat sped out towards the horizon. And we drove. And I clung on for dear life. After a while a fin was spotted, the boat stopped and we saw two hump back whales, presumably a mother and baby, making their was down towards Antarctica.

And that's when it started. Without the speed from the engines, the boat rocked nauseatingly and I began to feel sea sick. I wasn't the only one. Alex was also looking deathly pale. We continued onwards in the search for whale sharks, apparently given away by the shadow they cast in the water. We spotted a couple of dolphins hunting happily but after driving, bouncing aggressively over waves for well over an hour, still no whale sharks and our snorkels remained untouched in the centre of the boat. By this point I felt utterly dreadful and prayed that we would give up and turn around soon as all I cared about was being on dry land.

As we eventually began the long journey back, I tried to focus on the horizon and secretly prayed that we wouldn't find any whale sharks as I just wanted it get back ASAP, get off the boat and deposit my breakfast onto the beach! In a way I got my wish as no sharks were to be found by either boat on the journey back either however, sadly the drivers decided to stop at a reef, almost back and offer some consolation snorkelling. As the boat stopped moving forwards and began to move every which way again, there was no time to put on flippers or a snorkel, I just had to leave the boat so paused only to remove my tshirt before dropping into the water. Alex did the same, without stopping to remove any clothes.

Sadly it wasn't much better, as even out of the boat, we were still being rocked by the waves and the nausea continued. Those who had been patient enough to wait for snorkels found themselves drinking seawater as the waves splashed over the top of them. And when I returned to the boat, I found that those who remained on board were looking pretty rough now too. We couldn't get back to the beach fast enough. Fortunately we were closer than I'd realised and, as we approached the beach, weirdly, the driver told us to hold on tight as he sped the boat up and charged at the sand before skidding to a stop sideways.

We scrambled off the beached boat as quickly as possible and, about 50% of the party collapsed groaning into the sand. We were a pale, waxy looking bunch as we rejoined Dana for a late lunch and it took a while before I wanted to do anything other than lie down and make groany noises.

The afternoon was spent horizontal, relaxing by the beach then the pool before, in quite a sea breeze, we regrouped on the beach for a traditional Brai - a southern African barbecue. The food was excellent, the atmosphere recovered and reenergised from the morning's disaster and we ate well, drank only a little and retired for an early night.

Posted by madeinmold 12:22 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Three days on the road

The group met in the Airport Game Lodge hotel, 10km from Johannesburg airport and seemingly a cross between a petting zoo and a country motel, on the Friday evening. I arrived earlier in the day, exhausted from over 18 hours of travelling, pissed off that my airport pick-up hadn't turned up, and dehydrated from plane aircon. In the middle of nowhere, with just a few ostrich and deer (?) for company, I slept for most of the afternoon.

After a brief overview if the trip from our guide Dana, night fell at 6pm. We ate dinner together which consisted of takeaway pizzas since the hotel didn't have a vending machine that worked, let alone a restaurant service.

We were a mixed bunch: a young married American couple from San Francisco (Craig and Alex), an older Finish couple, two friends from Baltimore (Angie and Lani), an Australian and his father (Sam and Dad), a Canadian naval officer and his friend/partner, two German girls, a Scottish employee of the Conservative party (Andrew), an solo Canadian woman (Kim), a Torontonian woman on a long sabbatical in Africa (Krista), a pub chef from Nottingham (Jan) and me.

We went to bed before 9 in anticipation of a 7.30am departure for Swaziland the next day. I slept quite well and was woken by animal noises well before my 6.30am alarm went off. After breakfast, we piled into a large minibus and were off along the highway, out of Johannesburg towards the Swazi border.

I'd chosen not to spend time in Johannesburg as having heard that it was a little dangerous and that I wouldn't be missing out on two much. But I sat with Kim and Andrew on the bus and enjoyed listening to them talk about the trips that'd taken over the last couple of days.

The road was dull; according to Dana we were atop a large plateau, 1000m above sea level. There was little vegetation, little to see at all really. We passed a couple of 'townships' which from Dana's explanation, sounded a little like a cross between a shanti town and a council estate... You lived in a flung together shack whilst waiting a long time for the government to build you a house on your patch of land (and add plumbing!).

After a couple of hours the scenery became more interesting as we left the flat plateau behind and drove into the mountainous area before the Swazi border. There were more trees (apparently predominantly Australian imports), rocks, hills and shrubs. It was an over cast day and, being at some altitude, the clouds hung low over the mountains which were quite spectacular.

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After around four hours of driving, we approached the Swazi border where there were some beautiful purple trees and interesting colourful birds. We were quickly stamped out of South Africa with a square stamp that read only Oshoek, presumably the name of the border, and the date. On the other side we queued for longer, in an system where the locals clearly took priority but were eventually stamped into Swaziland with little regard for the other stamps in our passports - instead of choosing one of the eight clean pages left for this unique and interesting stamp, she chose to put mine on top of Singapore and Canada.

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Once in Swaziland the mountains and the mist continued, we were ow 1400m above sea level and it wasn't particularly warm. We checked into out hotel which was only a short drive from the border and consisted of little huts in a variety of shapes with thatched roofs. Mine was round with a wall of only about a meter high and then a high conical thatch forming the rest of it. I was pleased to be alone as the door-less bathroom (just behind a wall) afforded little privacy. But as a room for one it was perfect, if a little chilly, and very unique.

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We waited a long time, 'Africa time' (which seems to be the same as Laos time, Spain time, Indian time and all other sorts of time) for a lunch of steak sandwiches.. I knew little of southern African cuisine but perhaps toasted sandwiches and take out pizzas was it? But I sort of hoped not.

After lunch we were taken out by a local guide for a three hour hike. It was undulating and uneven - we saw little wildlife other than a few cows (and passed a chicken abattoir!) and with the low cloud leaving damp in the air, we could have almost been in Wales or the Scottish highlands.

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As we walked, our guide told us 'jokes' and gave tidbits of information about Swaziland. Apparently, through the fog, we were about a kilometre from one of the king's palaces. The King of Swaziland is 49 and has 11 wives. As I understood it, his heir is decided as the boy who has no direct siblings. We didn't get as far as what happened if there were two. And apparently, even regular (rich) men in Swaziland can take up to 5 wives and the first wife is involved in the selection of the subsequent ones.

As we ate dinner later that evening, Dana described the following day to us as a means to an end - travelling to and through the capital city of Mozambique with the sole aim of reaching the beaches. I began to wonder why we hadn't flown.

The next day however, as we drove the width of Swaziland, I understood exactly why as it was a beautiful journey to the next border. There was a slight chill in the air at first but the mist had lifted, the clouds had cleared and the sky was blue.

I'd slept well in real darkness that only real countryside affords and was woken gently as the sun came up and the wildlife came to life, well before my 7am alarm. We ate a hearty breakfast before piling back into the minibus for the next leg of our journey.

Swaziland is divided into three distinct landscapes, we'd overnighted at the highest point in the mountains, just a short way from the South African border and continued through mountains passing colourful villages, rickety houses and plenty of cattle. The mountains were stunning, impressive and likely home to some excellent hiking - I wondered If Swaziland was indeed a hiking destination, perhaps for South Africans. And despite the altitude, some good, busy and well built roads had been constructed, winding a path through the peaks. Gradually however we seemed to be descending, the mountains became more rolling and less dramatic and eventually, after several hours, flattened almost completely as we reached c.400m above sea level.

Mid morning we stopped at a supermarket. Dana told us he didn't know how long the border crossing would take and that we should get some snacks in case. I've always enjoyed foreign supermarkets and this one was no disappointment. They sold brick-sized slabs of cake that came packaged with just one fork and I was surprised to see marmite on the shelves.

As the journey continued, we reached the low lands and one of Swaziland's three national parks, Hlane. En route, Dana had told us about an Irishman called Mick Riley who was essentially responsible for the population of indigenous animals in the country. Apparently he'd arrived in the 60s and, after remarking how the wildlife had so little protection, had befriended the previous king, convinced him to give him a patch of land, today the Milhawane (?) national park, and regenerated much of the wildlife. It'd been so successful that the King had given him two more patches of land where he'd repeated this success.

Hlane was the largest of these three parks and the only one to house predators and Big5 animals. We drove through on the main highway that seemed to cut through the middle and, although Dana suggested we may see elephants, the road was fast and busy and the bush was thick. We kept our eyes peeled but I remained dubious, until, from the front of the minibus, Krista suddenly yelled 'Giraffe!!!'. It was on my side and about 20m from the road neck stretching up into a tree. And that was it, my first sighting of a 'real African animal'.

After the park, we crossed a small range of mountains that formed the border between Mozambique and Swaziland and came to the border. Leaving Swaziland was east enough, there was little queue and, just a day after receiving our entry stamps, we were stamped out the other side.

We'd been strongly advised to get visas for Mozambique in advance as they had been known to turn people away at the border. Since we were to spend 9 days of a 14 day trip in Mozambique, this didn't seem like a risk worth taking so I'd duly trekked across London to the Mozambique embassy several weeks previously, paid my £40 and collected my passport, complete with visa the following week. Most of the group had done the same but via post; the Finns had posted their passports to the Mozambique embassy in Sweden and the Canadians theirs to Washington since the Mozambicans clearly didn't see Finland or Canada as embassy-worthy countries. Two of the Canadians, two of the Americans and the Australians however had not taken such a precaution. Dana didn't seem concerned and as those of us holding visas waited with the driver, he walked them through to the other side, past an un-uniformed 'official' sat at a swivel desk chair under a mango tree.

We crossed with the minibus about 20minutes later to find that things were not going smoothly at all. The six of them were stood in a corner looking unhappy. Dana looked extremely frustrated. Apparently they'd told they weren't allowed to get a visa on the border, despite there being a price list in various currencies on the counter.

As we entered with our visas and Krista headed first to the counter, this only seemed to worsen the situation, leading the woman behind the counter to question if some Canadians in our group had managed to get a visa why the others had not. We filed through slowly, our passports heavily scrutinised but without too much trouble as Dana continued to negotiate with one of her colleagues, all the while becoming more and more pissed off.

Whilst the people behind the counter were in uniform, there was also a local, who spoke much better English, mingling around wearing jeans and a tshirt, talking to our visa-less group members. Initially we thought he was being helpful but it turned out that that was far from the case.

Whilst we waited outside, stamped into the country, those inside began to fill out forms and mr tshirt came outside to fill us in. What had originally began as we don't do visas at the border, had now become $100 USD per visa. Although the list price was $82. And the very fact that there was a list price, indicated that they quite clearly did do visas at the border. It was obviously a bit of a corrupt system but it didn't seem too outrageous if it would help us on our way. But that was just the start of it.

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The longer the negotiations went on, the more the extortion continued. First they wanted more money because our bus driver 'used a tone' with the woman behind the counter, then it was because our trailer wasn't registered, then a road tax. Mr tshirt flitted back and forth between the visa-d and the visa-less as if he thought he were in some border-crossing soap opera, stirring up the situation explaining how he was the woman's neighbour and 'she wanted extra money for a nice lunch' or some such nonsense. Dana was fast becoming furious as we were threatened with having to return to Mbabane, the Swazi capital, where it would take 'a week it get visas'. And the week later became a month. Then in became 'criminal to get visa at border' which seemed odd since the crossing office had all of the necessary application forms and photo-apparatus to facilitate such a crime.... A packet of cigarettes later, Dana, steaming at the ears, seemed to reach some sort of agreement.

The visa-less reappeared with visas, all shiny complete with photographs having paid $100 each. This was still less than the $200CND that the prepared Canadians had paid to send their passports and visa application off to Washington but the uncertainty made the extra money worthwhile. We coughed up another $120 USD to mr tshirt for reasons unknown and boarded the bus. But the negotiations were not yet over. Mr tshirt pointed out the final barrier to us, all the while still smiling, as he and a friend boarded the bus and started talking about taking us to the ATM.

What happened next can only be described as a hijacking, or even kidnapping, as with these two men aboard our minibus, we drove through the final check point into Mozambique. Mr tshirt looked at us smiling telling us Welcome to Mozambique. We glared back at him.There were billboard advertisements telling us that 'we all smiled in the same language'.

A kilometre or so later, we reached the first ATM on the road, Dana, still muttering about corruption, withdrew the maximum amount from the ATM as the two guys stood by flirting with some local women. He handed it over. He was looking more than pissed off (understandably). Then they shook hands and we drove off leaving the two men to make their way back to the border to rip off the next bunch of fools. I'd heard of corruption at borders but was shocked at the blatantness of this extortion and the lack of power that we'd had in the situation. And that mr tshirt and the officials were clearly all in cahoots!!

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We were a subdued bunch as we drove towards Maputo, the country's capital. It was hot now and after lunch time and we'd been on the road for about 6 hours.

The landscape in Mozambique quickly became exactly what I expected. No longer in the mountains or the hills, the vegetation was clearly tropical with palms, mango trees and banana trees in abundance. The buildings initially were colourfully painted brick with tin roofs rather similar to southern India.

As we drove into Maputo however, my optimism that perhaps Dana was just exaggerating when he described Maputo as the arse-end of the world began to fade. It wasn't the worst place I'd been, but it wasn't looking positive...

It was indeed an ugly city with high-rises that looked like they could collapse at any minute, pavements that were barely pavements and seemingly very little going for it at all. After checking into the hotel and having a beer, we went for a 'tour' around the city and learnt a little more about the history of Maputo and Mozambique more generally.

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I'd known very little about the country's specific economical and political situation and the snapshot we received from Dana was enlightening. About all I'd known previously was that Mozambique was a former Portuguese colony. His condensed summery went along the following lines: the Portuguese had left/been pushed out in the late seventies at a time that the country was beginning to prosper however the locals lacked the finances, skills, resources and education to continue this growth and within just a couple of years the country had declined dramatically and fallen into civil war. Only in recent years had things began to recover. This was evident in the dramatic state of disrepair in which most of the city found itself. Accommodation crumbled, billboards peeled, pavements were not pavements and the place mostly looked quite destitute. The parliament building sat next to a Portuguese style cathedrals, similar in architecture to those I'd seen in Goa, and opposite buildings that were completely beyond repair. Vast amounts of the city seemed to have been abandoned mid-demolition or mid-construction.

It wasn't all bad news however. Dana explained that more recently the country, and the city, had enjoyed investment from various sources, namely the Russians and the Chinese - which had led to a relatively Marxist form of government - which slowly was leading to some regeneration and the country was on the up with potential.

We drove the seafront where the evidence of some of this investment was becoming apparent. There were several shiny hotels and restaurants on and towards the costal road and Dana explained that the plan was to build a 'strip' of hotels, bars and casinos along the seafront. The palms were in place already.

It was dark and windy but we stopped at a bar on the waterfront for a blustery beer before heading back to the hotel for dinner and an early night in advance of a 6am departure the following morning. Dana explained that the, seemingly quite densely populated city got incredibly busy early on (understandable with daylight hours of 5am-6pm) and that a lot of the roads became one way to facilitate the flow of traffic and therefore he wanted us to get an early start en route to the beach.

Posted by madeinmold 11:57 Archived in Swaziland Comments (0)

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