By far, and I mean, by FAR, I am sorry to say that Mozambicans are not the friendliest people around. As a population, I mean. I come from Asia, my country is right behind Thailand in the ‘land of smiles’ category for the Kindness Awards every year, so yes I do get to say that with some authority. I am not so thick as to paint a whole country with one brush, so in the same thought I have to stress how there are also amazing, friendly, and warm-hearted people there. Without those people, we would never have made it to the ferry, or had help getting our heavy bags from hotel to the bus station across town at 3am.
I was in South Africa last year and fell in love with the country and the people. Seeing more of the country now only reaffirmed my passion. I guess I wasn’t ready for Moz. But damn, did that hit me hard in the face. THIS IS AFRICA. I mean, this is ACTUALLY Africa. South Africa is modernised, has enjoyed relative economic wealth and does well. But Mozambique was plagued with civil war for twenty years which ended just about two and a half decades ago, and it shows. The government is corrupt to no end, and even that is evident in the 1200km that we witnessed from a bus window. Whenever our bus stopped somewhere, dozens of people would swarm around our vehicle, trying to sell Coke, a bag of oranges, or even, on several occasions, women’s undergarments. I can’t say I was shocked by it, the poverty. But coming from SA where we mostly followed a well-beaten tourist path, I wasn’t prepared for the tourist-un-friendliness of it all. Signs are only in Portuguese, people tend to ignore you, and it’s almost always by chance or luck you find the right place.
Our first hostel was also disaster beyond belief- maybe the comfort of the fancy Kruger lodge we had booked as just a little bit too stark of a difference to the hectic city of Maputo. But… then again… the internet didn’t work and when we asked about it all we got as a response was a shrug. While the bunk beds all had individual mozzie nets, the ones on the lower bunk (where I slept) basically was a net covering for you- mozzies could just literally sit on the nets and have their fill of you.
Our endless bus rides were kind of an accident- or should I say, we didn’t really check where we were going. Before the trip, I couldn’t even find the places on google maps because I couldn’t spell it right. As soon as reality hit us, though, it was too late to book flights (and we were already sitting on the damned bus). But no matter- this is all part of it: going with the flow and seeing where we end up. In a way, it was great- never do you get a clearer picture of a country than when you are saddled up in a chappa for 12 hours, wedged between your friend that can sleep on any mode of transport and a young Mozambican girl whose head keeps lolling onto your shoulder as you stare out into the undeveloped countryside. Even towns didn’t seem to have much town planning. Often they consisted of the main road, which we were driving through, lined with banks, a few market huts, and unfinished cement brick houses that were only one storey high, and no roof. Almost no houses were neatly stacked in a row. Some were 4 feet from the road, others 6, a few more 10…. there was no rhyme or reason. And, most important and telling of all, most of the abandoned shacks without roofs were painted Coca Cola red- often for Coca Cola, but more frequently for Vodacom, the nation’s biggest mobile provider. There is no supermarket, and most kids aren’t at school but trying to sell you bracelets. But anywhere and anyone will sell you Coca Cola. Fucking capitalism.
Back to the bus- no aircon, loads of people, 30 degree humid heat. Everyone seems to just chuck their trash on the floor, so at the end of the journey you’ve not only got major BO to deal with but also a small mountain of chicken bones, styrofoam takeaway boxes, soda cans, all collecting at your feet. One toilet break in 12 hours- I quite literally, shit you not. I’m so scarred by the toilet at the ‘rest stop’, you’ll have to buy me a few drinks before I let you in on that secret. When we booked our seats for the big bus from Villy to MP, the conductor literally plucked the seats off the chair and hid them in the compartment above- essentially guarantee that you get a seat when you arrive at 3am to claim it.
There are police checkpoints every 50km or so, I would say. Sometimes they wave thee bus down, sometimes they don’t. This is why foreigners cant drive in Moz- they’ll see you’re white and charge you on something ridiculous like having your arm hanging out of te window (yes this is illegal in Moz). Our bus driver, I noticed in my inability to sleep, would anticipate the police by the sudden slow down of traffic. Discreetly he would slide on his seat belt, wave and smile at the cops, and as soon as they were behind us he would unclick the seatbelt. Literally, ever time. He wouldn’t just leave it on.
But once you arrive, oh my god do you arrive!! Water so blue, blue eyes will never have an effect on me anymore. Skies so deep, I’ve seen the other side of the universe. And water so clear… you get the picture.