Bobby Macaulay continues his journey in southern Africa and reports back from a trip to a holiday resort in Mozambique.
Our time in the capital of Mozambique, Maputo, was relaxed and high-living. We were staying in a big air-conditioned house with constant transport, good food and a plethora of old school friends wanting to head out and catch up on old times. It was a pleasant change from our couple of weeks of travelling, cooking for ourselves and staying in cheap hostels. For those few days we experienced more luxury than we do at home.
The look of Maputo is very different to other cities in southern Africa and the city takes on a different atmosphere. Although I know next to no Portuguese I felt relatively safe wandering around the city without a translator which had always come in the form of one of the guys from school. We ate, drank and lived the highlife for what was, in some places, more expensive than it would have been at home. The contrast between the wealthy drinkers and the poor street sellers, both hanging around outside pubs and clubs, was all too apparent. Ricardo, a Mozambican student who was in the year below me at school, quietly professed one morning that he had drunk the same amount as the annual salary of two maids the night before. That says a lot more about Mozambican wages than Ricardo’s capacity for alcohol.
After a few days of such luxury we left half of our stuff in Maputo and got the 5am bus north to the beach. The hazardous road conditions, comprising giant potholes and drivers who rarely stay on their designated side of the road, were not helped by the process of building a new highway which meant half of the journey was spent skidding around on soft mud in our ageing Chinese bus. We stopped at one point as the radiator was overheating due to the mud caking the underside of the bus. Luckily a local mechanic had a pressure hose to chip some off, a canny business diversification for the situation which presented itself.
The destination, which we reached about 10 minutes after Germany kicked off against Argentina, was Fatima’s Nest Backpackers in Tofo. Tofo is a small holiday resort outside the picturesque town of Inhambane (In-yam-ban). Inhambane’s Portugese architecture is still relatively untouched and little coloured houses with carvings and small porches line the winding streets. Tofo is largely a South African holiday resort but has developed a small following from international backpackers due to its unspoilt beaches, watersports opportunities and general chilled-out atmosphere.
We stayed in a small traditionally built bungalow with palm leaves covering the roof and the modern additions of a shower and mosquito nets to keep us comfortable. The bar area was a hubbub of different languages playing cards, drinking local beer and eating home-cooked food. Days were spent sunbathing and reading books, while we watched three South African students launching water balloons at sunbathers with a large elaborate catapult.
The highlight of the few days was the diving. For around £20 we were taken out in a boat for a morning with flippers and snorkels as various local guides looked for interest in the water. The trip was designed for us to swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. As well as being a pretty impressive animal considering its size and markings, the animal was a perfect candidate for such a trip due to its slow saunter just below the surface to allow us to swim alongside them for minutes on end. As a bonus the guides managed to find some dolphins, an altogether quicker, smaller and deeper-swimming animal but still pretty impressive to see in the flesh.
Its easy to be caught up in the holiday atmosphere here and to forget that you are in Africa with poverty still existent but manifesting itself in different forms. The market is overpriced in relation to other small towns and the stalls resemble a tax-haven in their provision of cigarettes and alcohol. Young children stroll along the beach with home-made jewellery, cashew nuts and small savoury doughnuts that taste like coconut. Undoubtedly people earn less here than they deserve but it is refreshing to see many engaged in various forms of micro-enterprise as opposed to begging.
The most impressive person I have seen here and indeed, in the entirety of my trip so far, was a woman who joined us on the bus from Inhambane to Tofo. She carried a baby in a towel strapped to her back, three bags of firewood in her hands and a 50kg bag of maize-meal, a filling staple resembling savoury tasteless porridge, on her head. Her arms were thin but rippling with muscle and her skin was leathery through work. It was clear that she had struggled through life but appeared to show all the hallmarks of someone who was determined to continue that struggle.
As I write this the Backpackers is gearing up for a night of entertainment with live music until late on, with a brief interlude for the Holland game half way through. We head back to Maputo on the early bus at 4am tomorrow morning and have one night there before jumping back into South Africa to visit another friend from school and have a look at his business development project in his home town in Limpopo Province, in the north of the country.