Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

'Feliz Natal' as they say here in Mozambique! I wish everyone a lovely day of rest and reflection. I miss you, all those back home, especially Grandpa Cliff, Grandma Daphne and Grandpa Tom, my parents, brothers, Poppy, and of course all my friends, old and new, around the world. Thanks for reading my blog. Don't forget to comment! Peace in the Middle East!

Best wishes,
Samuel Crawley

This will not win me friends back home..

..but what I would give to be cold right now.. It’s corking hot, and until I get the scuba gear on, the outdoors is a no-go zone between mid-morning and late afternoon. I hide under my industrial-strength AC unit in my room, sipping a Dois M beer..

Perhaps the reason I’m so relaxed is that I’m avoiding the usual Xmas shopping nightmare! Sorry all those at home! Anyway, my usual haunt in the neighbourhood is Mimmo’s, an Italian / Portuguese restaurant next door to my hotel, with a large semi-open area around the edge which seems to quite effectively capture the limited breeze which stops me from passing out in the humidity. After a couple of days I work out that the menu is in English if you turn it over, which is helpful.

Irene, my friend from the Tanzanian embassy, pops over to say hello. For reasons unknown to the author, I am not allowed to show a photo of her face. Either the mafia are after her, or she has a very net-savvy boyfriend. So here are her feet instead! I think it’s the first time I’ve taken photos of a woman’s feet. Strangely exciting. Let me just use the internet, now, I’m sure there are some sites that may be of interest…

Irinah sings the Africa Bar
Yesterday evening I went out to Africa Bar with Edma. Waiting for her outside her house, I chatted with the security guard of the next building. In Portuguese. When people have zero English I do have a way of making myself understood in native speak, but this usually only works in these desperate situations, and is undoubtedly aided by alcohol.

We walk down to Africa Bar. It’s one of only three or four nightspots in Maputo. We get there shortly after 10pm, and find it’s not even open yet! When we’re in finally, we are the first customers. It’s a smart venue, popular with expats, one room with a stage at the back, bar running the length of the left-hand side, above which they’ve built a mezzanine floor which I expected to be full of sofas and chairs. It had two up there!

A couple of pints of Dois M later, and having gone through the usual British bore explanation of how unacceptable these measures would be in England “One would demand a top-up!”, some of Edma’s friends turn up, including Irinah, who is singing tonight, and who looks remarkably similar to my friend Mimi in Botswana. She appears to be moderately famous in Mozambique, as she has printed postcards of herself, for a do sponsored by mCel, the main mobile operator here.

Strangely for such a cool bar, the music is terrible! A very bad DJ, if there is one at all (perhaps not, I couldn’t see anyone), is playing easy listening stuff – Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful Life gets played *twice* in the evening. Seriously! Anyway, the bar remains relatively empty, and finally the band set up at about midnight, having lots of problems with sound which were to plague them through the rest of the night – apparently the sound technician was absent.

The band kicked off with a set before Irinah and the other vocalists joined them. The music was Afro-Jazz, a fast funky mix of keyboard, guitar and drums that frankly without the vocals I find a bit tedious. When Irinah joins them though, it picks up, with her powerful voice and cheesy but enthusiastic dancing reminding me of Sia!

Irinah on the left

For the next song two more singers head up, both very tall and thin, and apparently they’re a couple! Very sweet, to see them before the microphones singing and dancing in step. The set is good, though towards the end I can’t understand why I’m having trouble staying awake, not realising that it’s gone 3am, and is 4am by the time I’m home.

I have to say that so far (not having experienced much) I am not overly impressed with the Maputo nightlife. Considering that it’s the holiday season, and summertime, I expected the whole city to be a steaming mass of funky clubs, full of beautiful people sipping caipirinhas and dancing in ways that I as a white boy could not aspire to. Irinah says people here simply don’t have money to be going out every weekend, especially to places like this.

For the last drink, something strange happens. I buy a beer for Edma and a Red Bull for me (remember the staying awake issue I was having?). He tells me straight off it will 120 Meticals. I hand over, and I’m fairly sure of this, a 200 note. Suspiciously he runs it up on the till at the far end of the bar, the one I wouldn’t be able to see if my eyesight wasn’t so good. It comes to 90M. Hello, methinks. But then he brings me change as if I’d given him a 500 note. I frowned at the change he gave me, but he assured me in Portuguese that it was fine, and I wasn’t up to trying to explain what I suspected, given that he had overcharged me anyway. Oh well..

Other random observations around the city: Banks across the city all host enormous queues for their ATMs at the moment. Perhaps it’s payday for everyone before Xmas. Or is it always like this? Quite literally at every single bank there are never less than 15 people queuing, often many more. Supermarkets seem to stock mostly Portuguese wine, which is strange given how close we are to the South African border. I haven’t seen any panettone! How can I celebrate Xmas without light fluffy Italian cake?! Maputo is really too damn hot now the clouds have gone. And my hair is getting seriously fluffy. Am ploughing on with the delightful tome of HW Tilman’s adventures.

Irene with newly-lengthened hair

Nucleo d’Art
One block away from where I was looking for it a couple of days ago, we find the trendy art / café / bar venue Nucleo d’Art. We pay 40M each entry, and inside find Edma’s good friend Leonie, from Germany, with another German and Japanese friend. I go to the bar, which seems to be radiating heat somehow, and order beers. I ask for a caipirinha for myself, which they have on their bar menu (I always have to point it out though, they never understand me when I say it), and the guy reluctantly agrees, then proceeds to serve everyone else after me. As I can see this drink will be a long time coming, I switch to beer. I’m not standing in front of this oven of a bar for longer than I have to.

Outside, live funky music is playing, and a few people are jerking about unpredictably in some sort of dance, though given the wide berth they are being allowed, I’m not sure how much the surrounding audience appreciate the art form. The band doesn’t last much longer though, and we’re back to DJ music as we enjoy our beers and chat. These girls are all long-termers here in Mozambique – the Japanese girl has been here a year, the other German half way into six months, and Leonie a while too. She’s off to Namibia in a couple of days, much to Edma’s distress.

There’s something going on at Kampfumo, a venue I’ve wanted to visit for a while, tonight. I talk everyone into going down there. Wilson, a chap who joined us, drives us in his car. We do four in the back, which is supposedly illegal, and a bribe to the police if there’s a check. It’s strange that alcohol is legal in public, seatbelts are not required, mobiles are fine, but squeeze four in the back? You’re nicked! It’s clear the rules are not about safety and all about squeezing people for money. When we arrive, we’re told that the entry fee for Kampfumo is 200M per person, though this gets talked down to 100 somehow.

Kampfumo, a Trainspotter’s Nightclub
Kampfumo has to be one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. Why? Because it’s actually in the middle of the main train station of Maputo. As in, it’s between two platforms, using the waiting room type buildings. It’s so authentic it even has trains sitting in the platforms adjacent, the bouncers stand and collect “ticket money” at the entrance to the platform, and homeless people sleeping at the far end! I actually didn’t notice it when I visited before because I didn’t realise how “in” the station it was. Normally the action goes on inside, primarily jazz, but tonight, 340ml are playing, a local band that are resident in South Africa, and are presumably back for Xmas.

Confusingly, the venue is listed as Mfumo’s in LP. When we turn up, the venue is already full of people, with a good mix of colours and plenty of attractive girls. All the girls we were with seemed to be having some sort of relationship trouble. I talked with Wilson about the imbalance, with there being plenty more girls than boys in Mozambique clubs. Or as Edma puts it, “too many beeatches”!

The band finally comes on, believe it or not, at 2:45am!!! Their music is quite good, a blend of reggae and something faster – ragga perhaps, with most of the lyrics in English. It’s not really dance music, more sway or shake a bit music. Still, it’s good.

Just as the band was launching into one of their favourite songs, with the crowd cheering as they recognised the opening bars, a power outage kicked in and the whole district, or perhaps city, went dark. It took only a minute or two though for generator power to restore action. Soon afterwards, and in some books more serious, was that they ran out of beer. Full stop. Not clever for the venue’s finances as much as anything else.

Heading out as they wound up, I presume we’re walking home. Are you crazy, says Edma? It’s so dangerous. I don’t feel so, at least not sticking to the main roads. I can see that walking down the quieter streets lower down would be stupid, but straight up and across on 24th July? I feel it would be fine. Still, better to go with local advice. A taxi home is 100M. It’s 4am now. I suggest we go on to Coconuts, the main club in Maputo. Edma doesn’t rule out the possibility, but in the end I do, thinking sleep should take priority over catching the tail end of a club night.

Had we gone, we would have bumped into Irene (pronounced Ee-ren-eh), who pops by the next day. Was a good night at Coconuts apparently, with lots of live Mozambicano music. I am surprised when Irene says she likes Marmite. When I feed her some, she and I realise this was a mistake as her pretty smile turns into a grimace! My mate, Marmite!

Chris Berry and his Mbira at Nucleo d’Art
In the evening, I meet Leonie and Chisa, and we go with Irene to Nucleo d’Art, where Chris Berry is playing.

Who? Chris is an American who spent many years in Africa learning music, in particular the djembe and Mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano). He’s now taken this back to the US with his band and project, Panjea. The music is beautiful, uplifting African tribal music, of the kind that on hearing you cannot help but dance.

"He possesses a unique and reedy voice like Sting, a stage presence like James Brown, and lyrical content reminiscent of Bob Marley." - New York Press

Here’s the spiel from their website:
The powerful groove and socially conscious message of Panjea has its roots in the ghettos of Zimbabwe, where Berry learned to play the mbira and began commingling hip-hop and dancehall beats with traditional African rhythms. Berry's music was an instant hit in Zimbabwe (and later in Mozambique, Australia and elsewhere) though at first few Zimbabweans believed that his indigenous-sounding music was created and performed by a 23-year-old white man from America.

The music features lyrics that challenge the listener. It speaks of personal power, the ability to change one's own life and the world for the better (Are You Ready??, and admonitions to those who would try to keep people from realizing their potential (Snake In The Grass? Rock It Down?, sung in both English and Shona, the native language of Zimbabwe. The foundation for these vital themes is a combination of African and American rhythms laid down by the drummer Chris Eddleton, mandolinins/singer Michael Kang, Zimbabwean guitarist Zivanai Masango and the virtuosic djembe and Mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano) of Chris Berry. An exclamation point to the music is provided by the electrifying horn section who complete the band's sound with precision lines and an almost psychic response to Berry's energetic singing, dancing, and playing.

Really wonderful, I strongly recommend you check them out!

Malangatana and Mousse
Next we head together over to Piri Piri for a nightcap of… chocolate mousse and tea! Marvellous! Leonie tries to fight her destiny, pretending that she didn’t want any mousse, but I notice her bowl was empty by the end too!

Leonie also pointed out that eating on the next table to us was Malangatana Ngwenya,

possibly one of the most famous artists in Africa. Hopefully I’ll get to see his work when I get round to visiting the National Art Museum (and when they decide to be open).

Last job of the night, making sure all the girls get home. Another police check on the streets, where an armed officer pours over my documents, with only a cursory glance and my local friend’s ID card. More money in foreigner bribes, right?

Anyway, again, I feel safer than everyone makes the city out to be. Strange. The girls all keep telling me to take taxis and not to walk. However, the only attacks I have suffered so far are the plagues of mosquitoes one finds. Keep taking those anti-malarial pills…

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marvellous Seafood and Police Corruption

Corruption in the Mozambique Police
In the evening, I head to Milano’s for beer, olives and more Tilman, before meeting Edma and heading off to Costa do Sol, Maputo’s most famous seafood restaurant, several miles round the bay. As we get close, we are flagged down by a police check. The chap dealing with us looks like a really nasty piece of work. By all accounts, Mozambique police think their job is to find infractions that might earn them bribe money, and my first experience did seem to bear this out. It is approaching Xmas after all, bonus time for police!

This guy first asked our driver for his paperwork, flicked through that in a rather derisory manner, then asked Edma what I (the obvious foreigner) was doing and whether I had my passport. Luckily I had the notarised copy, though the general advice is to have this available anyway and never surrender your passport without being taken to a police station. The guy took my copies, and poured over them with a torch, looking especially at the visa page and the validity dates, presumably hoping something was out of order for which he could suggest an appropriate payoff. One would have thought he was an immigration official. Nothing, which seemed to make him all the more grumpy. He didn’t bother to ask for Edma’s ID, as presumably locals would pay less in the way of bribes anyway, hardly worth his effort.

It does always make me nervous when you can’t rely on law enforcement to be honest, and Mozambique seems pretty bad, similar to South Africa (though SA police never venture out of the station in my experience!). Guidebooks and online advice is full of stories of corruption in the force here. And their national speed limit? 80km per hour! That’s just asking for trouble! Or more realistically, asking everyone to walk (drive) their way into fines. It seems to me the way this can be resolved is for special police types to occasionally do spot checks - deliberately drive fast through speed traps and see whether the officers will accept bribes. They do, they get disciplined. Why is this not done?

Incidentally, I’ve had another theory as to why the pavements are so atrocious – trees. Most streets here are tree-lined, but there are plenty where for whatever reason some of the trees are missing. Perhaps they’ve been uprooted where they’ve destroyed the sidewalk. Either way, I don’t think a new slab has been laid for at least twenty years!

Costa do Sol

Costa do Sol is possible *the* seafood restaurant in Maputo, an Art Deco place a few miles out of town. By all accounts it’s a nice place to stay too, and there is a recommended backpacker lodge nearby (as well as the fish market). We pull up, and head in, choosing to sit outside. It’s cool and breezy, really quite pleasant. Of course, we check out the specials board as we head in.

I notice that there don’t seem to be many black people here, just large tables of Portuguese whites. Then I realise that all the blacks are inside, it’s far too cold for them out here, hehe! I’m hungry, so it doesn’t take long to choose. We go for 500g of Garroupinha, or Baby Rock Cod, grilled with chips, and Caril de Camarao, Prawn Curry, with rice.

The fish

The prawns

Both dishes are marvellous, though there’s too much having not eaten anything all day. We wash them down with our respective beers, Dois M for me and Laurentina for Edma. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera, so apologies for the bad photos, but I figured I’ll be back here before long! I send a text message to Malebogo to make her jealous!

Edma tucks in

Back into town, we head to Che Vincente, a cinema and bar, but as we’re about to go in, I stop Edma. There’s a live band playing, and it’s terrible. I have no interest in going in, not even for a single drink. Let’s just call it a night!

Time to Move
Back at Andalucia, the receptionist tells me it’s his birthday, and wants me to buy him a drink! I find that it’s noisy with my window open, so finally shut it in the morning. Shortly afterwards, I’m disturbed as a cleaning women bangs on door. When I have the “Do not disturb” sign hanging!!! Unforgiveable! I immediately call Pensao Martins and book a room there. It’s a nuisance to move, but I have limits. First though, breakfast, which turns out to be very limited. Eventually they make an omelette for me, which to be fair isn’t bad compared with yesterday’s offerings at Zambese. Amusingly, the chap asks me whether I’d like cheese and ham? Yes. So along comes my omelette with one slice each of ham and plastic cheese at the side of the plate!

So to Pensao Martins, where for 45US$ per night I have a reasonable sized room, a hot shower (unlike Andalucia), a fridge (might come in handy for Xmas festivities if I can find a local supplier of Hansa Marzen Gold) and best of all, free internet downstairs, which frankly I’d always pay a fair bit more for! Free internet everywhere, come on! Blog will be up to date on a regular basis for the next week, and I of course will be receiving all of my BBC podcasts. I use it first to do some research about my route home. Seat61 has a site talking about London to Jordan by train, exactly what I’m doing in reverse. I’ll probably fly Addis Ababa to Amman, pop in to see Petra, then start home. See you all at Waterloo!

Next, off to the Tanzanian Embassy to pick up my passport. I’m told it’s closed today. So why did they say I should come back today then?! “No se!”. Sigh, more paciencia required as usual. It has brought me back to one of my favourite cafés though!

Mozambique: A Potted History
Stolen from Lonely Planet as usual..

From the 9th Century, Mozambique was busy trading with the East, with ivory, slaves, gold and spices sought by merchants from India, Persia and Arabia. The Portuguese turned up in the 15th century, but it was not until the 19th, fearing other European powers, that they locked the country down. The country was so wild though, that they leased large parts of the country to private firms, who inflicted all sorts of abuses on their workers. The resistance movement against the Portuguese stirred in the 60s after a brutal massacre of civilians by troops, and independence was finally declared on 25th June 1975, but not before the troops pulling out had sabotaged infrastructure.

The country swung towards communism, and for a while seemed to be doing well, until a combination of bankruptcy and destabilisation efforts by governments of South Africa and Rhodesia almost lead to civil war. This improved in 1986 with a more moderate government coming into power, and capitalism replacing communism. A formal peace agreement was signed in 1992. Mozambique held their first democratic elections in 1994, and again in 1999, with some rioting afterwards. Since then, things have settled down.

In December 2004, Armando Guebuza was elected with a large majority, and despite some scandals, a large bank fraud and the murder of an investigative journalist, the country is peaceful and developing. Mozambique (Mozi), with a population of about 20 million, is generally considered one of the rising stars of Africa.

Hopping Between Hotels

Walk down Avenida 24 Julio, I look for a new place to stay. First stop, Hotel Mangas, where the rack rate was something like 120+ dollars. I told the lady this was too expensive, and that I was looking for something more around the 40 dollar mark. She looked offended, then said she’d drop to 45! How strange! Residencial Palmeiras, which is in my LP, seemed very nice but was booked over the Xmas period. Andalucia caught my fancy, a grand old faded white art deco hotel with friendly staff. Pensao Martins felt claustrophobic but an Irish guy I spoke to who was staying there commended it. I asked the miserable chap behind the desk about discounts to which he replied these were available if I were to stay a month or more. Base Backers is seriously run down and dingy, plus they only had only dorm room availability, exactly what I want to escape!

Passing the British Embassy, a nice white colonial-style building surrounded by the usual military-grade security, I walk on to Independence Plaza, which hosts a nice church cathedral and City Hall.

Independence Plaza

The Cathedral

City Hall

Down from here towards the docks.

Iron Building?

At the port, people mill about and head in and out without the armed security chap even looking at them. As soon as he spots me though, his back straightens and he challenges me as I try to walk in. What do you want? To go see the port. No photos mister! Why he insisted on this, I don’t know, there were only a few dozen fishing boats moored up, but apparently there are lots of parts of Maputo where they are sensitive about pictures.

That’s what I’m here for!

I head along to the main station. This area has many of the cooler bars at night time, but is also very close to a “no go at night area”. Hmmm, challenging!

The station itself is beautiful. Apparently a student of Eiffel designed the dome, although there are no records of Eiffel actually visiting Mozambique.

The Station

The bit Eiffel’s student designed

Inside, the platforms host battered old and rusted trains, and amusingly they’ve positioned some steam train relics opposite the platforms – the steam trains look in much better condition that the current offerings!

Not that much older than current rolling stock

Back outside, I head back to the commercial area.


An sms from Edma telling me she’s having lunch brings back memories of my Portugese egg tart, so I duck into Cafe Continental, the city’s grand old café. Ignored by the waiters, I take a seat myself, then to my surprise, still am not served for the next 15 minutes! I use the time to study my map and pick somewhere else to eat, as I’m damned if I’m waiting any longer here! Along the street, past the “33 Floors Building” (a landmark in downtown Maputo), I come to the Feira Popular, which does not look so popular after all. Perhaps it’s better in the evening, but at the moment it looks like an empty neglected fairground.

I realise I’m getting close to one of the 'no go any time of day' zones as marked on my map, gulp. There are a few of these, along with several no-goes at night time. Central C and the area east of Robert Mugabe Sq are supposedly the worst bits. I seek safety by ducking into the “Macau Restaurant”, which is quiet, and where I have fried rice (with prawns) and tea.

Today is not hot but it’s still very humid somehow, a strange sensation, feeling sticky but cold! I feel hot just drinking their tea. Outside some security guards play a board game using bottle tops as pieces. Time to head back to dingy Fatima’s.

Overall, Maputo has that Brazilian retro look to it, with lots of 50s and 60s concrete blocks, but often adorned with swirling patterns, mixed pastel shades that would not be approved of in Western design circles any more (or perhaps are back in!), green and yellow tiles, blocky fonts used for signs.

Billboards advertise tyres and huggies, and the cars all reasonable, German and Japanese models, with occasional Range Rovers and Mercedes. I notice the UN World food programme guys drive around in large gleaming new 4x4 trucks.

I’m interested in learning more about the civil war here and how much it is to blame for the mess. One of the guys I was speaking to at the airport was complaining that there are no jobs, but people, whilst not seeming overly affluent, certainly all seem to be busy and there are no signs of extreme poverty. Then again, this is a very big city and I’m right in the middle – perhaps the suburbs are different.

Certainly there is a strong sense of nationalism and pride. Everyone here loves their country and few consider leaving for anything but short trips. This comes out quickly in conversation, and I wonder if this is one reason why Mozambique is relatively unknown globally – no one is spreading the word as they’re all here sipping caipirinhas and eating prawns! Culturally, they like praise of their country. I remember hearing a report on FOOC about this, how some nations like you to criticise their country, others like praise. Here’s it’s good to say you find that it ”Izz verrry nice.”!

Many schools

Walking about, one notices that many women still carry stuff on their heads, and I saw a lady carrying a wheely suitcase like this! Girls walking past all make eye contact, unlike South Africa where if you’re a different race you’re not worth looking at. One thing worrying me is the look of envy I see on some young men as they check me out. I don’t feel unsafe here, but am heeding advice as to where is good to go, and it’s definitely a good idea to avoid giving any signs of having anything worth robbing you for, as I see hungry eyes looking at my bags, and the bulge in my pocket where they think my wallet is (the ladies make other assumptions perhaps, hehe!).

Back at Fatima’s, I use their shower, although the room is very dirty, and despite not even being dusk there are mosquitoes floating about already. I hate putting insect repellent on straight after a shower! I have a couple of beers with the Afrikaans guys, this time alternating between 2M and Laurentina, before walking down to Mimmo’s to meet Edma and a friend of hers, Chico, a poet who speaks about as much English as I speak Portuguese! He’s from Inhambane, a small laid back countryside town which I’m heading to later, and dislikes Maputo with all its pollution, crime, dirty beaches etc.

I walk home late. Edma tells me to take a taxi, but I don’t feel unsafe. That said, it is *very* quiet, even on supposedly busy streets. It’s just after midnight and perhaps one car drives past every minute or so. Not enough to seek help if anything happens. Came back without incident though, and crawled into bed in the quiet dorm room.

Escaping Fatima’s
Again the room was noisy from 5am, this time the Afrikaans bunch leaving, and then leaving the door open too, so after they’d gone I still was disturbed. Just when things appeared to be getting quiet, the cleaner decided to come in and make up the rest of the room. I gave up and got out of bed. After packing my bags, I headed round to the recommended Zambezi restaurant for brunch, just a couple of minutes along the road.

I ordered an Omelette Mista, which was not very nice, you know when the omelette is almost chewy from being overdone? My tea with milk turned out to be half a pot of water, and a tea bag hidden under the obligatory three bags of sugar. The milk looked lumpy and smelled slightly strange, if not completely off. I read my Tilman and ploughed on.

Why didn’t you use the milk, they ask me in Portuguese when they collect my plates? Because if it’s not totally off, it’s certainly not far away from being so, I don’t of course say. Instead I just reply “poquito”, Spanish for “a little bit” which seems to also work in Portuguese.

Back at Fatima’s, out of courtesy I tell a chap who I think is staff that I’m leaving, which quickly descends into an argument about whether I’ve paid, which I certainly have. He seems to have little idea about the system they use here though, which is apparently as he starts getting shirty with me and it’s only resolved when someone a bit more clued up turns up.


Then when I try to walk out the front gate, the security guys won’t let me leave because I don’t have a “paid slip”. I’d seen other people being given these before, so knew what I they were talking about, but still found it annoying being made to wait a few minutes more until they were given the all-clear. No apology or anything. Overall I’m not very impressed with Fatimas. It’s the sort of place which is nice as a bar, to go for a drink or two with friends, but not the kind of place I’d like to stay.

I walk down with full gear, main backpack on back, small one on front, headphones and sunglasses, attracting the usual stares of interest. It’s 20 minutes or so down to Andalucia, where Rosemin is on the desk again, welcoming me with a big smile. I’m given room 206, where I get comfy, unpack everything, before going for a shower. Bathroom’s not spotless, and seems to have only cold water. I’ve booked this place until the 27th, but am not averse to switching to my other choice, Pensao Martin, if any more “features” show up. For now it’s nice to have some space and be able to use my laptop and relax on a large bed without another one a foot above my face! The TV shows four terrestrial local channels, all in Portugese. No BBC Food here!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Portuguese Egg Tarts in Maputo, Mozambique

The day I go to Mozambique, or at least thought I would! I spend the morning relaxing, not having to jump out of the window this time, so can walk over to the Sandton Mall, to use Seattle Coffee Company, with their 15 minute internet trials. I even got all my podcasts down, Happy Fish would appear to be tolerant of a fifteen second gap in connectivity. Back to Travis’, his friend, Violet, is coming over and taking him to a wedding, and she’ll drop me somewhere so I can get into town for a bus to Pretoria.

They call him ‘Bama

Once we’re all in her 4x4, almost by chance I mention that I’m going to Pretoria on the bus. But that’s where we’re going, she exclaims. Excellent, I have a ride then! I still haven’t heard from Thabiso and Malebogo. They’re going to be late, as they have a 3-4 hour drive down from Gabs. Given that I’ve got time, Violet invites me to the wedding too, it’s in a township in Malepopo, apparently the place where Violet goes to reclaim her car if it ever gets hijacked! The wedding is a black wedding, and everyone is friendly, even if it is strange that Violet turns up with the only two white guys in the whole region! Food and beer is plentiful, and there’s lots of singing going on, apparently with the women present offering advice to the wife about how to please her man.

Making grits, traditional Alabama fare

I get a call. It would seem there are complications with cars in Botswana. They’re not coming. What a mess. We leave the wedding, and head down to Hatfield, to a place called Divas and Dons, for some drinks and food. Violet invites her friend to join us, Lebu, but she shows up just as I invite Diyana, a Mozambicana girl who is sitting on her own, to join our table. It seems to be a bit frosty at my end of the table for a while, but it’s worth it to hear Diyana’s cute accent – apparently everything “izzz verrrry niiiyyyce”. Later we swing by her friend Miriam’s house, who plies us with dodgy sweet rose wine and a strange sandwich with achar pickle, which tastes like a spicy gone-off mango chutney, and all sorts of other things. Travis doesn’t eat much of his, but I kinda like it! At midnight, it’s his birthday, and we toast and congratulate before heading back home – he’s had a long day and plenty of booze. Violet says I won’t get into the club she’s going to wearing Crocs, so I hit the sack too.

In the morning, I check out buses and flights to Maputo. Bus is 250r, takes 8-9 hours, and is sold out for the next few days. Flight is 1,000r, takes less than an hour, and I can leave tomorrow. I book the flight. The weather is strange today, it’s cool, and raining most of the day. Violet, and her friend Audrey swing by, and Travis makes them grits, a maize dish not dissimilar to pap or sticky cous-cous, which he made for me the previous day.

Anna, an English friend, pops by too, and we spend the day lazing about, drinking beer, and finishing with pizzas. In the morning, Audrey kindly takes me to the airport.

Johannesburg airport is rather chaotic at the moment, as there’s lots of pre-2010 World Cup construction going on. Inside, I find a queue in front of the economy check in area, join and wait a while before realising that this is the plastic wrapping queue. Yes a long queue, perhaps 25 people long, waiting to get cling-film put round their bags. I don’t know why people don’t do it at home! Anyway, the short queue for check in takes a while as there is just one person doing economy check-in for South African Airways in their hub airport. I finally make it to the check in desk, and the girl goes through the usual formalities, putting the baggage tag on my bag, sticking it against my advice on the flimsy piece of elastic that is part of my rain-cover. I make a mental note of her name so I can sue her personally when my bag goes missing.

Just as we’re seemingly done, she suddenly says abruptly “Where's your ticket?”. I don’t have one, it’s an e-ticket, I reply. Well I need your e-ticket confirmation number, she says. I reply that I have a booking code that the SAA website texted me immediately on booking. No, I have that too, she says, I need a ticket. Well what’s the point of booking on the internet if you need a ticket, I don’t say, instead asking her how I resolve this. I suggest going to the reservations desk, which she agrees with, telling me I have to take my main bag with me. The reservations desk woman is stroppy with me as I skip the long queue by going to the First and Business part, but I tell her the other lady told me to do this. She grumpily prints out my ticket, and I return back to wait more to finish check-in. Not impressive, SAA.

Inside, I find there’s nowhere to eat except a coffee bar with a couple of overpriced sandwiches. The Oceans Basket outlet is outside security and in the domestic area. Damn, I was so looking forward to it! Anyway, no choice, I wait for my flight, which eventually leaves somewhat late, supposedly due to bad weather conditions. I have a nice snooze on the way to Maputo, interrupted only by the serving of a box of fruit juice and a tiny salad, the drinks trolley apparently only being for business class passengers.

At Maputo we walk over to the terminal building, a no-nonsense approach that I greatly prefer to being herded on to an overcrowded bus for a fifteen second drive to the terminal. Inside the first check we hit is a Yellow Fever Vaccination check, the first time this has ever happened to me. I do have the vaccination, as it’s needed for some countries in South America (though I later discovered that if you don’t have it, they just give it to you, at far cheaper cost than the UK!). Anyway, they didn’t ask to see my vaccination card, as a glance at my passport as being British was apparently enough to ensure I wasn’t carrying the disease.

Next, the immigration official puts in an arrival sticker, taking another half a page of my passport, then stamps inefficiently in the remaining half! So if I hadn’t pulled out the incorrect visa sticker, Mozambique would now be occupying 2 ½ pages of my passport! Don’t they realise how much these damn things cost?! Outside it’s hot and humid. No sign of Fatima’s Backpacker pickup, so I find an ATM, take out 5,000 Meticals (exchange rate 45 to the pound), and then look for a shop selling SIM cards, which I find at the far end of the terminal. The beautiful and friendly Nima advises me to use mCel not Vodacom, and helps me to put it in and switch the language to English. Somewhat embarrassingly, having lugged my bag about in the heat, and now being in the airless stuffy building, I am sweating like a pig, but she doesn’t seem to mind! She gives me her number and offers to help me out if I get stuck.

Back outside, I call Fatima’s, who tell me the pickup will be in about 10 minutes, so I wait. And wait. Speaking to some of the guys there, I find that they can understand some Tsetswana (Botswanan language) words. The key word for me though is paciencia, the Portugese for patience, which apparently you need bundles of in Mozambique. I wait and wait, and call a few times, each time being assured that the pickup is there and will be turning up in a couple of minutes. A chap asks me why I’m still sitting here, and when I tell him I’m practicing paciencia he even says to me that three hours is a bit too much paciencia! I ring for a final time, and tell the guy I’m beginning to get a bit annoyed, when the van turns up. Another five minutes and I was leaving for another place in a taxi.

The rains start

The hostel, Fatima’s, has a mixed crowd of mostly foreigners staying. It’s a chaotic place, obviously having grown up over time. I pay 150 SA rand for two nights when checking in, but am not really given a tour of the place like one normally is. I order a “Dois M”, or 2M beer, and meet the Afrikaans chaps I’m sharing a room with. The room is hot and cramped. I can’t see myself staying here for an extended period of time. I decide to head out and look for these infamous giant prawns that put Maputo on the global food map, but am stopped by a torrential downpour which starts just as I head across towards the gate. Just coming in is Edma, a girl who has some friends she’s meeting here, so we agree to have a beer together until the rain stops. She estimates it will only be for five minutes or so. It doesn’t stop till the early hours of the morning.


Edma, the third Mozambicana girl I’ve met, is every bit as lovely as the previous two, or in the local dialect, “Izzz very nice”! I had been told before coming here that taking a girl to Mozambique is like taking sand to the beach, and I can understand the sentiment. The girls here are all dark chocolate coloured, with big gleaming smiles and beautiful eyes. Not to everyone’s tastes, for sure, but I certainly feel at home! Anyway, Edma has trouble understanding my English, being used to American or South African dialects. She, and the Brazilian guys she’s friends with, all like the sound of “proper” English, as well they should, of course.

She talks about what is going on in Maputo, with performances at the Nucleo de Art, but it would seem most things were happening yesterday! Monday is a quiet night in Maputo. I use my phone to call Malebogo to see how she is, and how severely she’s beaten Thabiso for ruining our carefully crafted plans for this trip. Apparently not so badly. I suspect she used the ultimate weapon, i.e. the feminine “I’m not angry, I’m just very disappointed”, a marvellous guilt-laden knife through the heart!! Talking to her uses up all my credit, but it’s good to hear from her. We haven’t entirely given up on the idea of Thabiso and her coming over, possibly with Thabiso’s half-sister Sthwanda.

Although I’ve used up all my credit with this call, I still seem to have plenty of free minutes and sms’s, which only work for local calls. They seem to be big on bonus minutes etc here. We sit, and the Brazilian guys play music, as we all drink 2M, or Laurentina in Edma’s case, the “other” lager. The Brazilian guys are friendly, but after Edma has gone they do screw me by using my money to buy themselves beers, which leaves me with a slightly sour note.

As soon as the sun goes down, the mosquitoes are out in force. Clouds of the buggers. Remember that the whole of Mozambique is a malarial zone, and malaria varies in seriousness, with the worst, celebral malaria, leading to death within 24 hours. It’s not a disease to take lightly. Prevention is the best, avoiding being bitten in the first place, but with the numbers of mosquitos out, I realise that it’s unavoidable, so drugs are the only way – I’m on doxycycline, which is the cheapest one, but also a general purpose antibiotic. In South Africa I needed a prescription to buy it, but no such issues here, so I now have plenty. Anyway, I shall be taking these pills diligently every day.

I hit the sack in the end, and try my best to use the net which is rigged up underneath the top bunk bed, not really giving it enough clearance for me. Anyway.. the rain continues on….

A Busy Day on the Streets of Maputo
In the morning, I try to get up at a respectable hour, despite having been disturbed by a couple of girls leaving very early. I take my bags which I had left in the “safe”, i.e. cupboard behind reception, as there’s little security inside Fatima’s. I stuff my main bag under my bed, which is probably fairly good protection, as I have to lift the bunk bed to get it under there. I need a single room. This one is cramped, and dirty, and the bathrooms are not that clean either.

I walk out on to the street. The plan for today is to try to apply for a Tanzanian visa. There’s no urgency, as I’m now planning to be in Maputo for Xmas, but might as well get it done in case they close the embassy for a period, as with the lazy Mozambique embassy in South Africa. What are you supposed to do, if, being British, you need a visa before you go to the border, but the embassy is closed? Fly back to the UK? Or more likely, just not go to a country with such a ridiculous visa programme. Anyway, rant over!

The streets across all of Maputo are generally tarmacked, but of a very poor quality, with potholes and rubble everywhere, especially on the pavements, most of which look like tanks have been driving up and down them. Mozambique had a bloody civil war about twenty years ago – is this the legacy from then? More on the history when I’ve done some research myself.

There’s also rubbish everywhere. Piled up by bins as if the rubbish collections have been suspended, but also strewn along the streets and any open areas. They need to ask Botswana what the secret is of keeping streets clean when your citizens are messy!

The buildings are mostly communist-style blocks, often in faded pastel colours, many with rot or mould stains from the tropical humidity they experience here. It’s a little like Burma. Sitting along the streets are many fruit and vegetable sellers, and their products look very nice actually. In general, Mozambicano people have very dark skins, big eyes, and wear quite smart clothes – there are plenty of suits about, which you wouldn’t expect from the surroundings.

I turn left off Mao Tse Tung Street on to Vladimir Lenin Street! Yes, Adrian would feel at home here. There are lots of armed guards about, mainly near banks or the more affluent shops. My first stop is the Notario, where I need to make a notarised copy of my passport – effectively an authorised one that I can carry in place of my passport. It’s compulsory to carry ID at all times here, and the likelyhood is that the Tanzanian embassy will want my passport, so this is the solution.

Downstairs in the small Notario building, I hand my passport through a metal grill to a chap doing photocopies. He charges me 2M (no, not the beer) for a single copy of my photo page. I then realise I’ll probably need my Mz Visa page too, so ask for a copy of that. He only charges me 1M for this second copy. I don’t understand!

Upstairs, I join a long queue snaking up the stairs into a cramped office, itself full of people waiting around for their copies to be produced. A chap who is clearly not an official tries to “help” me, but I suspect there would have been a fee for this, so I refuse and remain in the queue. Behind a counter sit four or five women, all busy doing things, one receiving documents and cash, one handing out finished notarised copies, and it’s not clear what the others are up to. I’m surprised to find that they don't check the original documents?! So I could doctor any old photocopy of a passport, have it notarised, and away we go! Seems like a silly system.

The lady tells me with the aid of a calculator that the charge is 8.50M, so I’m surprised when she gives me 190M back from 200? When did the price become 10, or is she taking her “cut”, or do people always round like this here. I don’t understand, and my Portuguese is not up to querying! I then mill about with the twenty or so others, all of us wondering what takes so long? Especially when the finished product turns out to be an illegible blue stamp with a scribble on it, and a hard pressed stamp which one can hardly make out either.

Next a walk to the Tanzania Embassy, where a chap who doesn’t speak any English issues me with two identical forms to fill out, then tells me the charge is 50 US$, though I heard this as 5th floor, so kept looking for the lift or staircase, until a girl turned up who could speak English. They don’t take meticals or rands, so once again one can see that it’s always worth having a stack of dollars to hand when travelling anywhere, there have been so many occasions when they’ve got me out of a fix. And hey, at today’s rates, they’re cheap too!

The visa will be ready in two days, the pretty girl behind the counter says, as she teaches me a couple of Swahili words. I’ll be back! I head round the corner to a café where after explaining that I’ve just arrived here, and it’s my first time in Mozambique, the waitress chooses a toasted cheese and ham sandwich for me! I enjoy this with a cappuccino, brought along with no less than *three* sachets of sugar! Clearly a sweet-toothed country!

Next, a Portugese egg tart, or pastel nata. I cannot explain how good this is, except to say that when I ordered it, the waitresses exclaimed in delight “Ahhh es multo bon!” (Ahhh it’s verrry good!).