Stories from Southern Africa – part three: Mozambique & Swaziland

It’s been a while since I wrote part two. Part three is about my travels in Mozambique and Swaziland.

Mozambique

I crossed the border at Milange. It wasn’t without any problems. Even though I had my visa arranged through the Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, I still had to pay a fee for the stamp. It was ridiculous since I paid big bucks for the visa itself, but well – those were the rules, so I paid something equal to € 2,50 in Mozambique Meticais. Once I crossed the border, I got back on the bike taxi (the guy had been waiting) and I told him I wanted to get to the nearest big town, which was Mocuba. He told me the buses for Mocuba or Nampula already left and I had to hitchhike. I thought he was insane. Of course I, a solo woman traveller, wouldn’t hitchhike!? He told me it’s safe and that all the locals do it. I looked around the town I was in: one long road with some shops and a few hotels on the side of the road. It would be a waste of time to spend a whole day in a ghost town like this. I asked him to take me to the place where the locals fetch a ride, and so he did.
We stopped on the side of the road to what seemed to be leading towards a highway, or semi-highway. Lots of people were sitting next to the road in the grass: old people, young people, mothers and children. I asked the bike taxi guy whether they all go together? And he explained that they will stop a truck and everyone will get in the back to get to Mocuba. So I thought, if they can do it, so can I! I paid his fee, thanked him, and sat down in the grass, next to the other people, and waited for the truck to come.

I was reading a book and when I looked up, I realised all the children had stood around me. They were smiling and curious. It was cute. I got a phone call from a friend who was also travelling and he had a stop-over in Abu Dhabi (I believe). He asked me where I was and I told him “I’m on the side of the road, waiting for a truck to hitchhike on to the next town.” This friend and I had spent a lot of time together prior to our travels, talking about all that was ahead, and none of us had imagined a situation like this, so we laughed. I told him about the children that were staring at me. He only had a few minutes call time, so it was a short but nice phone call.
When I travel, I always carry ziplock bags with me for trash. I believe I ate some fruit and I put the plastic in the ziplock bag and placed it next to me and continued reading my book. A little while later, the local men started running next to a truck that passed by. They signalled it to stop, but it didn’t seem to do so, but it did. We all got up to get on the truck. I felt some fingers tapping my arm. I looked next to me and one of the children was holding my ziplock bag that I had accidentally left beside me in the grass. I’m glad she picked it up and I told her “Obrigado”. The locals laughed and told me it’s “Obrigada” for me, cause I’m female.
I was standing in front of this huge truck. It was more like a sand lorry. Huge and the wheels came up to my chest. I had no idea how to get in! All the locals around me climbed with little effort and me, the clumsy foreigner with backpacks on her front and back didn’t know how to. Local men told me to put my foot on the wheel, but I couldn’t reach it. And where would I hold on to in order to pull myself up!? I was confused. I tried grabbing on to the sides, but I couldn’t get a grip. Then, I felt someone lifting me up and I could push myself up from the ledge of the truck. However, the person lifting me kept pushing and I nearly fell head-first into the truck! Luckily, another local saw me and caught me before I hit the floor. Great start! The guy told me, pay me so-and-so Meticais. I heard about paying for hitchhikes, so I paid him something equal to € 6,-. We all found a place to sit and we were on our way to Mocuba.

The truck was dirty. There were sand and oil stains everywhere and we couldn’t look outside, only up. I would only see tree branches go by from the side of the road and that’s it. It was a bit strange. The children were still staring and one lady in the truck spoke English and we started chatting. The truck would stop on the way to load more people, goats, bikes, furniture, and lots of other things in. While driving, various unidentified matters were flying around – dust, sand, oil?! After a few hours, the driver climbed into the truck. He was there to collect the money. I told him, but I paid already! He asked me, to whom? I looked around and I couldn’t see the guy. I had been ripped off. With a sigh, I grabbed my little purse and paid him the same amount again. Great start…
The driver told me to come down to sit next to him in the passenger’s seat. I told him I didn’t want to, I mean, why would I? He told me, because I’m a foreigner, I should sit there. I told him, but there are so many people in this truck, why me? What about the kids? The lady who spoke English told me to go. She said that there are so many other people, that they can’t choose who should go, but only one foreigner, so I should go. Reluctantly and partly ashamed, I went. I had to climb out of the truck now. With the same luggage on my front and back. I managed to climb over the ledge, but there I was, standing on the wheels and holding on to the ledge. I would have to jump backwards and I couldn’t do it. They told me to just jump. I didn’t want to, but there was no other way to get down. Of course I crashed into the grass – luckily my backpack created a softer landing… I got in the truck, on the passenger’s seat.

The driver was asking me questions and we had conversations about the Netherlands and Mozambique. He bought some bottles of 7-Up and shared it with me and another lady who was sitting on his bed. It was the first time I saw the bed part in a truck and I didn’t want to know more about it. The road got bumpier and bumpier and the sky was getting darker. It was a long, long way, and somehow, somewhere… I fell asleep… Yes, while hitchhiking!
I woke up when we had arrived in Mocuba and it was all ok, but I realised I have to do something about my ability to fall asleep at any time, any place. It’s not very safe…!
The lady who spoke English shared a motorbike taxi with me and brought me to a hostel for that night. We had dinner together and I paid for her food to thank her for her help and we said goodbye. Back in the hostel, I realised how dirty I was. My face was a few shades darker, not because of the tan, but because of the dust, sand and other matters that were flying by. My hair was so disgusting, I could twist them into dreadlock shape! But at that time, I didn’t even care.

The next morning, I woke up early to continue my travels to Pemba, in the north of Mozambique. The bus ride was long, very long. I encountered some funny experiences too. The bus would stop in every little town and people on the bus would buy all their groceries on the way. I was in a window seat and the lady next to me bought things at every little town. She was shouting so loudly and pushing against the windows that I had to try really hard not to be squashed between the windows and her boobs. It was ridiculous. Also, during a toilet break, I noticed there is no such thing as privacy. I asked the people where the toilet was and they pointed towards this little cabin. I walked over, but noticed the door was locked. The people pointed at the fence next to it – there was a bamboo-fence-like structure in a square shape next to the cabin. Was this…?! And the stench told me it was. I walked in, hesitant, but I had to go. So, I did. And while I was peeing, this lady just walked in. I told her “Espera!” but she continued. She squatted next to me and started peeing while talking to me in Portuguese. I finished as fast as I could and ran out. That was awkward!
The bus ride continued, in uncomfortable fashion, and I reached my destination after about 10 or 12 hours.

Pemba palm trees

Pemba was interesting. It was a beach place, but the beach wasn’t that great – mostly because the current brought with it lots of seaweed that was stranded on the beach. I stayed at a place called ‘Russell’s Place’ and had a lovely time there. I met a British guy who worked there for a few years and his much older friend, who used to be a sailor. They had some interesting stories to share. The showers at ‘Russell’s Place’ were lovely. There were to tin buckets with water. One had cold water and the other was heated by coals. There was a cup and you could mix your right temperature. The coals made the shower smell really interesting and nice and while at first I was like “What is this?”, by the end of my stay, I knew I would miss the showers the most.
I made some cultural mistakes in Pemba. Thinking it was a beach place, I walked around in shorts. I thought it was ok, since women were breast-feeding their children in public everywhere, but I soon noticed that the standards for legs and boobs were very different. I must never wear shorts in a Muslim country.
I stayed for two nights and I moved on to Ilha de Moçambique next.

Ilha de Moçambique is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I had to get on a bus to an intersection and change onto another bus to Ilha de Moçambique. On the bus, I met a French couple. They were my parents’ age and had quit their jobs in order to travel for two years: from Egypt down to South Africa and then cross over to India and travel through Asia as well. They were a lovely and fun couple. They were also very stubborn. They told me how they refused to pay for the stamp on the border and told the officials they don’t have money. The officials told them they can’t get a stamp without money. So, the couple decided to sleep in no-man’s land and set up their tent on the border crossing. They were hungry and thirsty, but they didn’t want to give in to corruption, so they decided to suffer. The next morning, the officials stamped their passports anyways and let them through. Wow, I thought I was stubborn, but I wouldn’t go against this. We talked a lot on the way and after many hours, we got to the intersection. I got off the bus and so did they. They had left their luggage in the luggage area of the bus and now the bus company wanted to charge them for the luggage. We now understood why all the Mozambicans carried all their stuff into the bus, blocking the isle and everything. The price of two pieces of luggage was the same as the price of one person’s ticket. They refused. So, the bus left, with their luggage. I thought it was a joke and that they would stop after a few meters, but no – they went on. They were furious and called the police. The police went after the bus, but didn’t return for a long time. In the meantime, one of the lady’s bags got stolen. It was chaos all over. They later found the stolen bag and the police officer returned with the news that they will just have to come back here the next day in the morning and wait for the bus to go back to Pemba. They can pick up their bags then, but they will still need to pay the price. It was insane.
We waited for the pickups to take us to Ilha de Moçambique.

A little while later, we arrived in Ilha de Moçambique and it made up for a lot of the hassle we had been through. The couple wanted to stay in a different place than I did, so we parted ways. I found a nice place close to the beach, next to a statue – I can’t remember the name of it now. I dropped my luggage, grabbed my camera and started walking around the island – it was absolutely beautiful. The strange thing is that it is also a bit of a ghost town. You can see the rich Portuguese history, but it’s mostly a tourist place now and  there is not much going on regarding livelihoods. There are a few small shops and restaurants, but not much else. The children were begging and asking for their photos to be taken (which I usually don’t like to do) and then asking for money in return. It was a strange atmosphere, but I loved the architecture. I bumped into the French couple a few times and we would share a lunch, coffee or walk. They were nice company. People were making fun of us, calling us ‘mzungu’ (white person in Swahili and other Bantu languages). One person asked me where I’m from and I told him “The Netherlands” and he said “No, you’re not.” It made me laugh. Of course they see my Asian exterior and wouldn’t understand, but I would lie if I said I was from Hong Kong.
I believe I spent one or two nights on the island. I woke up every morning by the sound of the Muslim prayers and the sunrises were gorgeous.

Ilha de Moçambique

I took my first and only paid flight within Africa since I was getting a little exhausted from the long travels in uncomfortable and slow buses. The flight was from Nampula to Beira and I met another traveller on the flight. We were headed to the same place, Vilankulos, and we decided to travel together. We both stayed overnight in Beira, which was a strange place with a lot of poverty and begging children who were asking for ‘dollar, dollar’, and moved on to Vilankulos the next day.

The bus ride from Beira to Vilankulos was long as well and I couldn’t wait to see the turquoise waters again. I believe it took about six hours, but we got there in the afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get in the water! It was great and I saw my first sea cucumber.
I organised some trips to Bazaruto Archipelago and Magaruque Island. I was picked up the next day, even though they almost forgot me and I had to make a few phone calls for them to send a speed boat my way, and we were in a dhow towards Magaruque Island. There were two other couples: an older couple and a younger couple. We would go to the island, spend the morning there, have time to swim/snorkel, have lunch, and head back to the mainland. We arrived and I think it was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen until then (later I was lucky enough to travel to Zanzibar, and so far, those beaches have been the nicest). We walked around the island and enjoyed the beauty. The couples went snorkelling, but I didn’t want to. Even though the British girl in Malawi taught me how to snorkel, I was still not comfortable with it. I realise now that I made some mistakes by looking down too much and thereby putting my snorkel’s end in the water too.
The older couple came back and told me I must go, otherwise I would regret it. So, reluctantly, I went. I took their fins, mask and snorkel and went in the water. They were right, it was unbelievable! Parrot fish, all kinds of reef fish and I was enjoying every bit of it! But then, suddenly, I saw a strange fish right in front of me. Black and white with various fins it seemed. I didn’t know what it was, but it freaked me out and I decided to climb out of the water, even though there were only rocks (with lots of shell formations on them). Of course I scratched my leg getting out of the water and I didn’t know how to walk on the fins. I didn’t want to take the fins off cause the rocks were very sharp. Clumsy all along. I later learned that it was a lionfish and it was a good idea I didn’t continue swimming into it.
The trip ended with more clumsiness. I was very cold after this swim. We had our lunch, but I was shivering on the beach. The guy from the younger couple lend me his sweater and that was very nice. After lunch, we got on the dhow to get  back to the mainland. The weather started to get more windy and it rocked our dhow a lot! So, we got lots of water and I got colder and colder. When we got back ashore, I got out of the boat, but when I had put one leg down in the sand, the boat moved away and I fell in the water, completely! Worst thing was, I was still wearing the guy’s sweater so I had to give it back, all wet and smelling like salty ocean water. I had to transfer onto another small boat that took me to my hostel on the beach. I fell in the water again when getting in, and again when I arrived and wanted to get out. I promise I’m much better with water and boats now. I had no idea what was wrong with me. It was a great day nevertheless.

Magaruque beach

Vilankulos was also the first place I went to experience night life in Mozambique. I met up with a couple of young people and headed to town. But, what I saw wasn’t pretty. People were dancing and celebrating, but there was a strange vibe. There were two very old and nasty white men who were dancing on the dance floor and the young and pretty Mozambican girls were dancing around them. Of course, I understand why, but it wasn’t nice to see. Now I live in Thailand, it is a daily image (that I still can’t get used to). I still remember one very drunk woman who was dancing wildly with her newborn baby on her arm. The baby was crying and crying, it was horrible to see. At one point, another woman told her to sit down, stop drinking and take care of her child.
I decided to make it an early night.

From Vilankulos I headed straight to Maputo, where I only spent a day. I planned to stay at a hostel, but after the chapa had dropped me off in the middle of nowhere, I decided to go for comfort and stay in the first hotel I saw. My one night of luxury during my whole trip. I was in Maputo on the wrong day, most places were closed, so I just relaxed indoors.
I moved on to Swaziland the next day.

Swaziland

I took a bus from Maputo to Mbabane and on to Manzini. Honestly, I can’t remember much from Swaziland, except that the people were lovely, nature was gorgeous (I loved the purple Jacaranda trees), and I went to a place called House on Fire, which was a strange but interesting entertainment venue with lots of art in the garden. I also remember going into a bar and being invited to join a group of expats. There was an old Dutch man who told me I’m not Dutch because of the way I look – he said he was Dutch even though he hadn’t been in the country for ages, didn’t speak the language much, etc. I remember his leg was black from a snake bite. I think it was karma…. 😉

I only spent one or two nights in Swaziland and then moved on, back to South Africa. But I’ll write about that one, next time.

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