Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trying to Buy a Bus Ticket and Beira

Trying to Buy a Bus Ticket
I head up on my own to look for a bus ticket for the following morning to go to Beira, whence I hope to fly to Nampula, close to Ilha de Mozambique, my next destination.

Beautiful small unused church

There is a bus, but no one inside it. The trip is not entirely wasted though, as I pop into the café for ice-cream and a pastel nata. Yum! Back at Zombie Cucumber, I shower and shave, after which I am told by the staff that I don’t look so American, but more English now. Interesting! I purposefully wait till 5pm to start my first Dois M beer of the day, and sit well away from the still-hot sun – no need of that any more, my arms are a noticeable shade browner after today, and I’m feeling slightly tender all over – I hope I won’t start peeling.


The guys who work here are from Beira, and strongly recommend I do get my ticket today, so Ben runs me up in his Land Rover. This time someone is sitting in the bus, so I get my tickets for 350M whilst Ben buys some fruit for Shenaaz. Back at Zombie, Natalie, a girl I recognise from Bamboozi, a Canadian, has turned up. She’s also coming towards Beira tomorrow, and tries to persuade me to head up with her to buy her ticket. Not for the third damn time in the last two hours!!

Dinner, as cooked by the Yorkshire lass who is the joint owner of Zombie Cucumber, is fish with coconut curry, lovely but again way too much food. I start with the assumption that I should leave rice and concentrate on the fish, which I just about manage to eat. Of course, as our last evening together, much beer is consumed, then Ben brings out some vodka. I always suspected it wasn’t going to be an easy start the following morning at 3:30am for the 4:30am bus. At the end of the night it’s just Ben, Shenaaz and myself, and we wish each other warmly on our travels – they’re a lovely couple.

A few hours later, Natalie and I head off in the dark, finding our bus where we expected it. We’re told that the seating is fixed, which is somewhat annoying and fairly pointless. They charge us 75M more for our packs – each – which we argue about but don’t manage to reduce. I ask for a receipt at least. I’m sure we’re being screwed. After we’re all given our fixed seats, me getting a seat near the back, not next to the window, with a girl next to me who has no legroom owing to the wheel arch under her seat and so has put her legs where mine would normally be. Then of course just as we set off another set of chaps pile in and stand in the aisle. I have one with his backside just in front of me, and another effectively sitting on my shoulder.

It’s so damn uncomfortable, and of course as soon as the sun comes up starts to warm up.

And we’re off
The guy in front of me of course keeps closing his window, and after a while when he cottons on to me sneaking it open a little as soon as he turns his head starts guarding it with his hand. After all when it’s well into the 30s, we wouldn’t want a little draught, would we?! The bus whizzes at a fair pace along the surprisingly good condition road, which is almost empty. No local traffic, no oncoming vehicles. It seems very unpopulated compared with the stretch from Maputo up to here – continuous settlements have been replaced by the odd occasional village. Either that or they’re not so close to the road perhaps.

Not impressed!

Amusingly if I weren’t so uncomfortable myself, the fat woman to my right actually can’t get out whenever we stop as her bottom is too big to fit down the aisle – she has to roll herself over each seat division, and so doesn’t bother getting off, even when we’re stuck for some time in the middle of nowhere as we change two tires. Finally we reach Inchope and Frank and Natalie both leave, on to even worse bus journeys to Malawi from what I later understood, including a 3am start 17 hour endurance test. I’m sure I’ll have something similar on my Kenya to Addis Ababa run! I’m almost left behind too as the bus door is shut and they start to drive off, with me banging the back of the bus to stop them.

The next stretch is more interesting, as we descend towards the lagoon of Beira. There appears to be widespread flooding – I’d think it was supposed to be like this, but there were lots of houses and thatched buildings partially underwater.

Flooded areas

People are getting off regularly now so I assume we’re near. I ask the conductor about the airport, and he says he’ll drop me somewhere I can take a chapa there. Soon after, I am deposited at an unmarked motorway intersection. I walk round to the other road, and in seconds find a full chapa which will take me – somehow forcing myself in the door with my horrible big bag. It’s very hot and uncomfortable, but short, and as I walk in to the airport, I’m really hoping I can skip out of here. The airport is apparently “international” – which gives one a certain amount of confidence in the place.

Inside I ask, and … No afternoon flights! DRAT! Stuck in Beira! Also it turns out my reservation for tomorrow existed then was cancelled (they had emailed me rather than calling), and it’s now more expensive, so much for “we’ll contact you”. Still, I’m flying tomorrow morning. I’ll be back!

A Night in Beira
So I’m spending a night in Beira, whose “merits and demerits are a subjective matter” according to a guidebook left about in Zombie Cucumber. To get into town I take a chapa which for some reason turns around and heads in the opposite direction after a short while. Chapas are the small minibuses that they cram with people and goods. In my case I have a wobbly seat at the edge, with my full pack sitting on my lap. It’s not comfortable, not by a long shot! In town I have to switch to another, which drops me in front of the modest but pretty cathedral.

The Pensao Moderna isn’t answering the phone, and when I arrive, I see why – it’s under renovation. The reception women are sitting outside relaxing. The room is 590 for the night, quite expensive, and the whole place seems really grotty. In fact given the state of the building, I’m surprised they have rooms available at all. As she shows me the room, I feel like the receptionist is taunting me. You want this awful room, you want it??! Well do I really have a choice? 100% humidity and 35C outside, damned if I’m walking around looking for anything else.

I head out to find a bank. Beira is very run down, but was clearly a very beautiful city a long time ago. The streets are lined with old trees, and buildings were clearly beautiful before being allowed to fall apart. There seem to be two places to eat, Café Riviera, on the main square, just across from the Coca Cola statue. The other place, the Naval Institute, well I have no idea where it is, and no map, so Riviera it is. I pass Africa Bar, which looks nice, i.e. out of place, but I doubt I’ll be drinking tonight.

Definitely don’t like the feel here, it’s a bit edgy, there are lots of young guys lingering about which apparently not much to do. I wouldn’t like to be walking around here at night. The pavements are of course to the usual high standards.

I get to use the internet for the first time in about 10 days!! Amazing, I’m not sure I’ve ever gone without net access for this long. The connection is pretty good, but not enough to get my podcasts down. Café Riviera isn’t great either, looking on to the glum Placa Municipal. As I sit down, my waiter Apologises for not speaking much Portuguese, fine by me!!!!

Looking at the menu, I realise there are no gastronomic treats available. Certainly not the Steam Crabs mentioned in the guide books. More toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, which is what I end up with, with some lychee juice, or lit-chee as they seem to say down here. I take away a pizza for dinner, walking back a similar route to my hotel, this time passing a beautiful mosque, not far from the cathedral. The town definitely has a very Indian feel, and there are lots more beggars here than in most Mozambican cities. I don’t like it.

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