A Change in Plans and Some New Friends

2 10 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 7.25.08-7.28.08

Our original itinerary for Africa began in Cape Town where we planned to join an overland tour through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. As we looked at tour companies, we found that they charged between $75- $100 per day. This cost does not include all of your park fees, not to mention visa fees (A Zambian visa for US citizens is $135). I know the cost of fuel has risen, but this seemed like an outrageous price to be crammed in a truck with 15-30 other people, sleep in a tent every night, and cook my own food.

So for plan B, we tried to rent our own car. We wanted a reliable company, and found a Hertz near our hostel. Since both of my parents are lawyers, they taught me to read every word of every document I sign. As we were reading the insurance policy, Chris and I both noticed a vague sentence stating, “Accidents will not be covered due to driver neglegence.” Neglegence was not defined (The previous clause had stated that accidents would not be covered if the driver was violating any rules of the road). So I asked the woman at the desk to explain the section of the contract. She answered, “Oh, you know, if you run into a pole then it’s neglegence.” Not satisfied with her equally vague answer, I asked, “Well, what if you swerve to miss another car that is coming into your lane and you hit a pole? Is it better to just hit the other car?” And I’m not kidding, she responded, “Oh, I’m not going to get into the insurance.” Chris and I were in utter shock that she thought we would rent a car without “going into the insurance.” So we walked out.

We tried another car company. To save time, I first asked to read their insurance policy. Their answer shocked me even more. They refused to let me see a copy of the policy. I have no idea how South Africans rent cars.

So we went for plan C and bought a bus ticket to Mozambique. Before arriving in Africa, I could not have put Mozambique on a map. But, talking to other travelers, we heard about beautiful beaches and giant prawns. A few days later we arrived in Maputo, the capital, located on the southern coast of the country. Since Mozambique was a Portuguese colony until 1975, you can see their influence in the architecture and language. We spent a full day walking around the city. Mozambique’s infrastructure has not been rebuilt since the civil war, which ended in 1992. You have to dodge giant gaping manholes in the sidewalks between glimpses of the crumbling colonial buildings.

We have learned that Portuguese and Spanish share many of the same words. If we speak slowly in Spanish, we can sometimes communicate with people. About half of the words seem to translate exactly. The only problem is that we are never sure which words translate and which don’t. This discrepancy has led to some interesting conversations. With great sea food and the ocean side real estate overlooking the Indian Ocean, we have decided that Maputo wins the Potential Award and hope to see it grow in the upcoming years.

Fatima’s Hostel in Maputo advertises a backpacker bus, which departs from the hostel and goes directly to Tofo beach, our next stop. We paid a little extra for this bus to avoid the hassle of the bus station. However, we discovered this bus is neither “direct” nor a “backpacker” bus.

We were supposed to leave at 5:00am, but the bus didn’t even show up until 6:30. The bus was smaller and didn’t have storage underneath, so we all piled our bags on the first two rows of seats as we climbed on. Fifteen minutes after we left the hostel, the bus pulled up to the city bus station. A guy walks on the bus and starts throwing some bags off the bus and shoving others under the seats. Chris’ camera was in his backpack, so he was politely trying to tell the guy to be careful with his bag without advertising the fact he had a nice camera in it. The guy ignored him, so Chris tried to ask him what he was doing. Finally the guy yelled, “Let me do my job!” Since no one else on the bus was saying anything, we had to be the “angry Americans.” Chris used some choice words and matched the volume of his voice with the bag guy’s to ask him what he was doing. The guy immediately became nicer and explained we were picking up other passengers. After repacking the bus, he proceeded to cram 5 people in each of the four seat rows. This gave each person 3/4 of a seat, and a partial backrest. Every inch of the bus was occupied by a passenger or luggage.

Our “direct” bus then proceeded to stop at every town and village picking up and dropping off locals. We also stopped for an hour when we saw another bus had broken down. Using a chain, the driver attached the grill of the broken bus to the back of our bus. With another bus attached to ours, we couldn’t manuever around the potholes, so every time we hit a rib crunching hole in the road, the chain would pop off, and our driver would pull over and spend fifteen minutes reattaching it. We dragged this bus for the next three hours, until we reached the next town, where of course we picked up more passengers.

After 11 hours of traveling hell, we arrived in Tofo Beach. The Fatima’s bus took us to their sister hostel, Fatima’s Nest. We had heard of shady deals at this hostel. Travelers complained to us that food and drinks were added to their bills, and that they look the other way when rooms were rented for a few hours. We asked our bus driver to take us to a different hostel, Bamboozi, about 2 km away.

The only room available at Bamboozi was an open air cabana, a reed bungalow with a straw roof and open windows. We could feel the breeze and hear the ocean, besides I was just glad to have a room. However, the next morning, we woke up and our room was flooded from the rain during the night. All my clothes were soaked. At this moment I realized I was losing my sense of humor.

But a room change and two days on the beach can fix most things. We had been told by other travelers that Tofo beach was “touristy.” We saw two other groups of people on the half mile stretch of beach in front of our hostel. Locals would occasionally walk down the beach selling fruits and crafts, but I would not consider this touristy.

Because of our malaria medicine, doxycycline, warns us that it may cause sensitivity to the sun, we cautiously spent an hour in the sun to se how we reacted. Chris was fine, but my nose and knuckles turned splotchy pink. They weren’t burned because two hours later, they looked normal.  I now use SPF 60 everyday on my nose.

We found a great restaurant in town, Casa de Comer, a French and Mozambiquan mix. We stuffed ourselves with giant prawns in a puff pastry. The town of Tofo consists of a few sandy streets, so afterwards we looked at the stalls of colorful sarongs, then headed back to Bamboozi, our hostel.

Later that afternoon as I was stretching in front of our hostel to go on a run, three kids walked over to sell me something. One was selling beaded necklaces, and the other coconuts. Generally children have not through through a sales pitch, so they use the “please, please, please buy my coconut!” approach. They were very persistent, “It’s such a nice coconut. A really nice coconut.” And it looked like a great coconut, but I explained that I didn’t need one before I went on a run. “You are about to go make run? Can we come with you?” Two of the boys were wearing flip flops and one was barefoot. “Sure,” I shrugged, “If you think you can keep up.”

We ran out of the hostel down a sandy path that cut between the reed houses where the locals lived. About five minutes into our run, we ran past the barefoot boy’s house and I guess his mom saw us before we saw her because his sister jumped out from behind a tree and tackled him, while I saw his mother marching over from where she had been working in the garden and looking like she was about to give him a piece of her mind. The rest of us did not break stride. His friends were laughing and explained to me that he had been skipping out on his work.

Without breathing hard, the two boys wearing flip flops and still holding their beaded necklaces and coconuts told me they were 11 and 12 years old, how many siblings they had, and where they went to school. They helped me expand my Portuguese vocabulary, and told me they each spoke three languages: their home language, English, and Portuguese. Two miles later, we reached the center of town and they turned off to run home, while I ran back to the hostel.

We ate dinner at a pizza place down the beach where another couple who recognized us from our hostel joined us.  We ended up talking until the restaurant closed. Sophia is Portuguese, but is studying for her PHD in Copenhagen. Her boyfriend, Anders, is Danish and produces educational documentaries. We continued to hang out with the for the next few days, so I started refering to them as our Daniguese friends. On the way back from our pizza we were walking along the beach and Anders and Sophia began looking at the ground as if searching for something. I walked and shined my flashlight on the sand thinking they had dropped something. Sophia quickly said, “No, no, it’s Phosphorites!” I asked, “Is that Portuguese for something?” Apparently they are tiny creatures that glow if you step on them. The four of us started stomping on the sand and looking at our footprint, as if we were going some tribal dance, but sure enough we saw tiny glowing spots in the sand.

After two days on the beach, I have decided I can get back on a bus, but only to get to the next beach.




One response

2 10 2008

Hi Laura and chris, its anders here. Great to find you blog. I’ll write you guys on the mail. Thanks for good time in Mozambique. Best from Copenhagen

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