Howzit de Mozambique

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Flag of Mozambique  ,
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kruger National Park is adjacent to Mozambique. We took advantage of the proximity to take a quick trip to see part of this up and coming destination.

Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world. It has had lots of setbacks and has many strikes against it:

1. It gained its independence from Portugal relatively recently.
2. Its independence movement was Marxist (so lots of streets named Lenin, Marx, Mao Zedong... you don't see that much anywhere else). 
3. It was a haven for rebels from both South Africa and what is now Zimbabwe fighting white rule. So it endured lots of proxy warfare.
4. It suffers from tropical diseases like malaria and now has problems with HIV/AIDS.

This was our second attempt at taking a bus across an international border. The first attempt (Bolivia) didn't end well. We were particularly nervous when the bus company wouldn't sell us a ticket to our final destination in case we had problems. The border was chaotic, but the bus attendant shepherded us (and two other travelers needing visas) through the process. (Coincidently, we ended up staying at the same place as the bus attendant in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, and ended up having dinner with her).

The change in standards of living when crossing the border were quickly apparent. We actually had our first hint that there was something unusual about the economic conditions before we left South Africa. The bus stopped at a small grocery store/gas station right before the border and people got off and loaded up on dozens of eggs, sacks of potatoes, etc. It seemed very unusual as food prices are typically lower in poorer countries. As we should have expected from the shopping from the bus, prices in Maputo, Mozambique, were extremely high. It may be the case that the many aid workers from the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations have driven the prices of accommodation, food, and transport through the roof. A taxi costs about $1US/block and the trendy ex-pat hangouts with WI-FI and everything under the sun were also priced above NYC.

We left Maputo as quickly as possible to head for a highly recommended beach area called Tofo. The shuttle bus we took was marketed (and priced) for travelers like ourselves. As our readers know, we consider the standard of bad transportation to be the Romania maxi-taxi. Based on that standard, our trip was about a "0.75 Maxi". Interestingly, our tourist shuttle turned out to be a vital cog in the supply chain management system of southeast Africa (Candy sat in the appliance section, near the oven, on our return trip!). Every 30 minutes or so the driver stopped to acquire or deliver some item(s) to someone along the route. The drivers were amazingly efficient in this comically inefficient system.

Tofo was worth the trip. Within 30 minutes of getting off the shuttle, Ray was enjoying a beer from an Adirondack chair while watching huge whales surface just offshore. Better yet, we were the only residents in the lodge for every night but our first. We stayed in a large beach cabana just behind the dunes with wood fired hot water from 4 to 7 PM and electricity from 6 to 9 PM each day.  

We stayed about 4KM from town. We usually walked down the beach to town to pick up supplies or have a meal. One day Candy wanted to do some shopping for wooden and shell-based jewelry and crafts. Ray enjoys that kind of shopping to the degree that you might expect, so he looked for a place to have a beer instead. He went to the recently opened "Bread Shack" in Tofo to see what his options were.

In addition to bread, the Bread Shack sold something called "bunny chow." When Candy asked what it was, the owner responded by saying, "where can you possibly be from that you have not heard of bunny chow?" This started an afternoon of conversation that Ray won't forget.

The owner of the Bread Shack is an immigrant from Zimbabwe who used to work at the lodge we were staying at(Mango Beach). His name is Success, although his friends call him Succeed. He told Ray how he leased an informal garbage dump from the city (it seems to be impossible to own land in Mozambique as a legacy of the Marxist times), cleaned it up, and built his Bread Shack. He had studied culinary arts in Zimbabwe and built a charcoal oven out an old oil drum to bake the bread.

Ray spent the afternoon talking to him about his business (how he arranged financing, how he built the place, where he got supplies from, how he hired staff, his plans for the future, etc.). Succeed had many questions about the United States. He had learned a lot from Voice of America broadcasts in Zimbabwe. He didn't think the U.S. should leave Iraq and was the first person we've met in our travels who wanted John McCain to be the next President.
And, his bunny chow was outstanding. (Bunny chow is a spiced stew served in a hallowed out half-loaf of bread). Succeed claims to have introduced the idea of putting cheese on bunny chow (if asked "would you like the cheese topping for your bunny chow?"--say yes!)  

A major reason people travel to Tofo is to take an ocean safari to snorkel with whale sharks. Whale sharks are vegetarian filter feeders like whales. So, this trip wasn't as adventurous as ones where people dive with Great White Sharks. Still, when you jump into the water on top of something that looks like a small submarine (they grow to 40 feet in length), it's a bit scary.

We also got really close to humpback whales during our trip. However, the seas were a bit rough for our zodiac boat and Candy became sea sick. On a positive note, the skipper thought that noises she made over the side attracted the whales!

Her illness was such that we ended up spending an extra day in Tofo (Candy now fully understands the delayed effects of the violent wave action on her body that Ray had in the Galapagos). That extra time allowed us to have one of the more interesting bar encounters of our lives. We met a guy who had left what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to set up shop in Mozambique. He really loved the United States and wanted to visit (specifically, Detroit) for a very important reason--to purchase Bob Seger DVDs. He loved and couldn't stop talking about Bob Seger ("a great man") and other classic rock icons. Apparently and other internet sights don't sell the DVDs overseas. So, future travelers, leave your Levi's at home. Real bartering opportunities await you. 

Our shuttle ride back to Maputo and the next day bus to Durban, South Africa via Swaziland weren't as eventful as our trip into Mozambique. However, we have lots to write about our trip down the coast of South Africa and our extended stay in Cape Town!

Candy and Ray
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