Friday, January 11, 2008

Pemba and Six Hours Standing on a Hot Bus

I have a strange vivid dream where a Muslim guy is yelling in my face, before half waking up in a daze to the call to prayer from the local mosque. But it’s only 3am! What’s going on?! Soon after I have to get up anyway, and we head up to the island tip near the causeway to find the chapa to take us across to the bus.

We are picked up, then the chap drives back around the whole island looking for more passengers before finally crossing the causeway and dropping us. The medium-sized bus zooms up F1-style, it’s clear our driver is a bit of a boy racer and we’ll get to our destination either dead or in no time. Amazingly I get a seat, but it’s not far to Namiola, the intermediate point where I should be able to pick up the bus from Nampula to Pemba. There’s another couple on the bus doing the same, and we wait at the busy roadside for the Mercula bus to show.

I was expecting it to be busy, but nothing could prepare me for the day. We only waited a short time which was good – about 10 minutes, but when the two buses arrived they were both jammed already. Our bags went under the bus, also jammed – the conductor pulled out several large sacks of produce to make room, goodness knows what he did with those, then we had to shove our way through the coach doorway, which only really happened when the conductor squeezed in himself and made people move back a few inches.

Imagine a coach with every seat full, usually 3 to a two seat, the floor strewn with bags and children sitting all over the place, then about 25 people standing in the aisle. Then imagine this bus being about 35C and humid. Yes. This is what we had. However, I assumed there would be some passenger churn and within an hour or so I’d get a seat. Wrong. Little did I realise as this bus set off at about 6:30am that I would be standing until we arrived at 1:30pm into Pemba. Seven hours standing. And in case you’re assuming it was normal comfortable standing, oh no! I had a woman sitting on my feet leaning back on my knees for most of the way, a child would kick periodically at the back of my knees just at the exact point which makes your legs fold under you. A chap right next to me had a backpack that he kept twisting in. And a variety of other irritations existed. The only positive aspect to the affair was a rather attractive young mother breastfeeding on a regular basis right next to me. Not that I was looking, you understand!

The temperature verged on bearable whilst the bus was on the move, but every time we stopped, which was fairly frequently, it was too much, really too much, and the sweat would gather all over me. Yucks. And I should also point out that in the middle of the seven hours we were given a proper stop of 10 minutes to get off and, err, stretch our legs. When we finally arrived, I did not object to sharing a taxi with the other foreigner couple, Drew and Kara, to Pensao Baia, a guesthouse in town, with a view to finding somewhere on Wimbi beach, 5km away, for tomorrow.

Pensao Baia is rather grotty, and comes for a mere 500 bucks, or 400 if we could make do with a fan. After today, I think I’ve earned my AC for two pounds more, frankly. Cheekily, when the guy shows me to the room he switches it on, but only to “fan” rather than “cool” which I only notice 10 minutes later when I examine the unit to find out why it’s not doing anything to the sweltering temperature. Worse is still to come – there’s no running water, hence the large plastic tub filled and sitting in the corner of the bathroom, with a smaller bucket to distribute the water or pour it over oneself for a “shower”.

We head out together, Drew Kara and myself, to find something to eat, and the first place we come across, unfortunately turning left at the end of our road, avoiding the marvellous Portuguese restaurant just to the right, and the CafĂ© Delta just past it, serving up Pastel Natas, is a faded Chinese restaurant. They’re friendly enough, but our meal is blighted by flies, which for me always ruins any pleasure I’d otherwise gain from what one is trying to consume. It rains hard as we eat, though worryingly this seems to do little for the temperature or humidity!

Walking down to the waterfront, we pass a road labelled Impass Something or Other. Sadly I didn’t have my camera so I couldn’t record reaching an impass! We’d been told it was too far to walk to Wimbi Beach, the main beach at Pemba, but it’s not so bad. Still, we catch a lift with a truck, asking them to drop us outside the Pemba Beach Hotel, the most expensive hotel in town at 3 or 400US per night. The travel agents who could potentially book dhows were closed, but probably would have been too expensive.

We enjoy a drink in the Nautical Club, a restaurant bar at the far end of the site. It’s actually not too expensive. I have a Caipirinha as Kara enjoys home-made ice-cream. They have flapjack on the menu, which I order after Drew orders it – I couldn’t exactly sit there watching him tuck in, could I? When it comes though, it’s a plate of two pancakes. This is not what I ordered. The waiter says these are flapjacks. We’re not going to agree on this point, but I send the pancakes back. The waiter looks annoyed and says he’ll have to pay for them personally, but I don’t believe him. Furthermore, we believe they were just sent back from another table anyway.

Outside, it’s overcast, and doesn’t look great. I later learn due to flooding the sewage is being pumped straight into the water and there’s a Cholera outbreak! Along the beach, I find CI Divers, who seem nice but are very very small. Further along the beach, we look for cheap places to stay, but there seems to be nothing cheaper than 50-60US$. Restaurant Pemba at the far end of the beach is clearly the happening club place - Sunday night must be party night!

Back to the Nautica Centre for dinner and drinks. We all go for tuna steak, but it comes out overdone, despite us asking us to have it under-done. Kara and I eat it anyway, but Drew sends back, and as a reward gets a nicely done steak, grey on the outside and pink in the middle. I wonder how it was cooked though – briefly poached? A bit strange still. We take a taxi back to Pensao Baia.

Next day I’m up lateish for a breakfast of bread and marmite.

Exciting Pemba

At the LAM (Mozambican Air) office, I find that it’s a bit expensive for the flight to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, 5100M, about 110 quid, but bear in mind that this saves 3 days of buses. I buy it. Then, being a diligent traveller, and down to my last few pennies, I ask them about any other charges to be levied at the airport. She tells me there’s a 500M departure tax. Remember this dear reader!

Across the road at the only internet place in town, I find Drew and Kara.

It’s hot inside and they have leather seats. Yucks. Anyway, I use my laptop and notice that if I book online the flight is only 4400M. Bugger. Well too late now. I finally get some blog updates up after a couple of weeks of nothing.

We then walk up the hill, past a Delta pastelaria. They have Nata, the Portuguese egg tarts! Hallelujiah!! I introduce the others to their delights. Approving nods all round. Up and over, we’re warned off an unmarked pavement by an armed guard – it’s a palace apparently. He has a gun. We’ll walk on the other side. Doesn’t look like a palace though, strange.

We then find Restaurant 556, and not before time in the mid-day sun – it’s air-conditioned!

I have a “Russian and chips”, plus a bowel of feta and olives washed down with plenty of beer. All very nice, and a good view too. After finishing we walk down past City Hall to look for dhows for Kara and Drew to head out to Ibo island tomorrow. This leads us past the market

towards the mosque, in front of which is a football tournament

There’s a road going right across the pitch, on which cars drive through periodically. The corner is flooded with septic water, and rubbish is piled up. Despite all this, there is a good crowd enjoying the game. There’s a different one going on when we come back past so must be a tournament.

Down by the water we find people who have dhows, and interestingly the people running them are Swahili speakers, not speaking any Portuguese at all.

The water

Kids pulling faces

Old boats

And new.

It falls down to Kara to negotiate, as she knows a few words of Swahili.

The negotiator

It’s hard to work out what’s going on speaking to these guys, as they tend to agree to everything and rapid-fire any English they know. Eventually some sort of arrangement is come to, and we head back to the match, where we find an Irish chap sitting watching.

Back home for a small siesta then we head out together to a Portuguese place round the corner, which is really nice. We enjoy a thick vegetable soup then Mariscos (seafood) mixed, which comes in a large dish with spicy rice, crayfish, prawns and very tasty crab. Delicioso!

Afterwards we retire to the bar for beer, then cocktails, including one of his creation, with a shot of Amarula, Sambucca and splash of white wine. It tastes quite strong. Finally whiskey. The owner tells us his story, he’s a nice chap, and apparently came to Mozambique with 200 US$, but now owns restaurant, farm, petrol station and other places. You can succeed in Mozambique if you’re prepared to work hard.

Post drinks, we retire. We have fun trying to get the night guy to accept the bags that Kara and Drew had already agreed to leave. I go to sleep with the AC switched off.

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