Bom dia, boa noite and obrigada; pretty much sums up the extent of the Portuguese comprehension I went geared with to my first visit to Mozambique. This—plus a few other key phrases—was the Portuguese I had picked up while in Brazil for a short internship, seven years ago. Fortunately for me, unlike in Brazil, my (basically) non-existent Portuguese was enough to get me by during a recent 5-day girls’ trip to Maputo and Ponta do Ouro.
My budget holiday began with an early morning—5:30 a.m.—12-hour bus ride from Pretoria to Maputo. It was a long ride. Long and, due to the Heritage Day and school holidays, the bus (there and back) was packed to capacity. This was the longest bus ride I have been on in 5 years and a reminder of why I have restricted my bus travel from Johannesburg/Pretoria to Gaborone over the last few years. By the time the bus got to the border, I was ready to be off.
The Lembobo border between South Africa and Mozambique is a lively area. There are people everywhere; men offering to change your foreign money to Mozambican metical, men selling local sim cards as well as men, women and children selling snacks and refreshments. As one should know; it is always easy to hustled when visiting a new place—particularly when one does not know the language. Be aware of the exchange rate. If exchanging money on the streets is not your thing, there are plenty of places where this can be done easily away from the border. Additionally, South African rands are accepted widely but not everywhere. I did have issues with my South African bank card where I could not swipe nor withdraw anywhere. Not having access to funds is always stressful while traveling. Luckily, I had traveled with cash and my friend did not have the same problem with her cards.
Ladies don't say I didn't warn you; men in Mozambique are not shy. The thirst is real and began at the border with a man who was supposed to check my passport. Instead of border control, this man took his job as an opportunity to ‘ask’ for my number. In fact, by the time I arrived at the Airbnb in Maputo I had been asked by every man I interacted with whether I was married or had kids. It’s a hard no on both. Thursday nights in Maputo were said to be one of the best nights. I was not disappointed. I began my evening at associação de músicos (the musicians’ association) for their weekly jam session. Walking into the venue felt like an energetic mix of East Africa and South America. It was clear that this jam session was home to local creatives where I met friendly actors, DJs and singers. After the jam session, the rest of the night was dedicated to painting the town red. Ignore any unfavorable reviews on life in Maputo. Though it may not have the best beach, great fun can be had in the city.
After two nights in Maputo came a few days of rest and relaxation in Ponta do Ouro. Ponta is a small beach town roughly 100 km away from Mozambique’s capital city. The Maputo-Catembe bridge is now the longest suspension bridge in Africa which has shortened the trip to Ponta from seven hours down to two. Enroute you will also see giraffes and possibly elephants from the road.
Ponta do Ouro has a beautiful beach that seems never-ending and is surrounded by a lush terrain. What no one mentioned, however, was that the town was full of South African tourists. I do not leave my country to be surrounded by my countryfolk. What is the point of that? That killed the vibe my friend and I were going to the beach for. Additionally, when the weather is not good there is little to do. That said, a couple of locals I was put in contact with, proved a genuine kindness that still warms my heart.
To my fellow vegetarians, it is a struggle. I am writing this article through hunger. I have not had an adequate vegetarian meal in days. Vegetarian meals can be limited and while my travel companion feasted on local seafood, my choices generally included pizza, chips, salad or a sandwich. None of these options were mouth-watering. Peri-peri was a welcome rescue.
Safer and without the same race issues as South Africa, Mozambique exceeded any expectations I may have had. While there I was told the story of the Portuguese dubbing Maputo “The Indian Pearl” for its ability to trap like an oyster. I, myself, have also been caught by the energy and vibrancy of the city. I may often be accused of not being easily impressed but Mozambican society impressed me immediately. Now I’m just left wondering a.) why did it take me so long to go there? b.) when will I be going back?