Thursday, December 20, 2007

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 cafĂ©. 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!

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