Thursday, 3 July 2014

4 Days in Maputo

We've been talking about visiting Mozambique ever since we first arrived in South Africa. It's only around 5-6 hours drive from Johannesburg, the food is amazing and hey isn't it kind of really cool and exotic to be able to say 'I'm going to Mozambique for the weekend'?! In May we finally hopped in the car and hit the road to Maputo for our anniversary weekend. From the moment we arrived, I knew I would want to return. Maputo is a very special city. I feel very lucky to have been there. I am also dying to go back.


The first day of our trip was mostly taken up with getting there. If you leave before the sun rises you could get to Maputo in time for an afternoon siesta. We left at a human hour and instead arrived just as the sun was setting on Mozambique. As we drove into the city it was clear holiday weekend mood was taking over. On the outskirts of the city hundreds of little wooden kiosks lined the roads for kilometres, blaring music and selling beers and fried foods. People were hanging out chatting, jumping in and out of mini-bus taxis and everyone looked sultry and sexy in their skimpy summer clothing. Just 5 hours from Joburg but in another climatic zone completely. In Maputo it was still summer and tropical. 

After finding somewhere to stay (the Marco Hotel - not the best, but no shortage of rooms) we ventured out for food and beer. Maputo nightlife is really of note and there's always an interesting bar around the corner (my kind of city). A few blocks from the hotel we stumbled upon a public swimming pool which by night functioned as a little bar with nice music, cheap, cheap beers and chilled, friendly Mozambicans. I loved the view over the eclectic city centre architecture from the deck too.

The swimming pool/bar hangout during the day


First things first we found a new place to stay - the PalmeirasGuesthouse. Gorgeous little house with a courtyard serving the most divine breakfasts and right in the heart of the city, just two blocks from Samorra Machel street. Like most places in Maputo it was pricier than expected, but still as far as guesthouses go, it was first rate.

We then ventured off to Catembe for some much needed R & R. A short ferry ride to the other side of Maputo Bay, you land in what is essentially a fishing village. Catembe is only connected to the city by the ferry and so retains a distinctly rural pace and way of life. The beach itself is long but dirty, but that is of little concern when the prawns are this good and cheap! We found the perfect little shack serving big plates of delicious prawns and seriously cold beer, for enviably low prices. Sitting watching the dows come ashore with their nets full of fish against a Maputo skyline backdrop, gorging on seafood and watching the sunset…I can't think of a more perfect afternoon.

Back to Maputo and we hopped a tuk tuk to the guesthouse to change into our best for dinner at one of the city's finest (and most expensive) seafood restaurants Zambi. Unfortunately I didn't take a camera with me so I didn't get photos of the incredible line caught red snapper that we ate, or the mind-blowing langoustine tails which we also indulgently ordered. And even worse I didn't get to capture the random street party going on around the corner either! All along the seafront close to the restaurant people had parked up their cars and were partying. Boots were opened to reveal huge sound systems pounding out r'n'b and latino music, ladies wandered around with crates of cold beer for sale and cocksure youngsters, dressed in their finest were hanging out looking to impress. If you aren't getting the gist already - Maputo is a Party Town.

Just another gorgeous sunset on Maputo bay

After a beer and a stroll we hopped a taxi (helpful option to bypass rogue policemen) up to the Gil Vicente Club. I was a bit perturbed about paying 150 Meticais for entrance, until that is the incredible band - Cheny Wa Gune Quartet, turned up. The band mixes modern and traditional Mozambican sounds and the leader (Cheny) plays the traditional instruments Timbila (kind of giant xylophone) and M'Bira (something like a finger piano?). Watching him play that timbila was particularly mesmerising - the rhythm is played so fast that the hands genuinely remind of hummingbird wings. It was at once joyful and hypnotic. A perfect end to a perfect day. Below is a clip I found on youtube so you can better understand the kind of music we were listening to. I've started following Cheny on facebook, but so far no word on him coming to Joburg...


Day 3 was devoted to exploring the city and doing some informal sightseeing. We visited the CFM (Centre Franco-Mozambique) a buzzing spot round the corner from the guesthouse, which has a cafe, bar, jazz club, art gallery and screens films in its gardens. Do not confuse this with the actual train station (I do concede its very confusing both buildings have the same letters on the front - CFM)  which does not have bars, cafes, shops (as suggested in many articles online) - or trains for that matter - but is very graceful and has been beautifully preserved. We also took in some local markets including the Mercado Centrale (nice food market with great fruit) and generally strolled the streets soaking in the crazy mix of colonial and Soviet-style architecture.

Sculpture at Centro-Franco Mozambique made from old Kalashnikovs. Samorra Machel's statue can just be seen in the back (it stands in front of a government building so you are not allowed to photograph it)

For dinner we ate at the famous Piri Piri restaurant in the Polana district. It was busy and service was pro, but personally I still feel it was over-priced. Garlic prawns were finger-licking good though (garlic prawns are always good). We finished up with a beer at the Pirata Bar and Pizzeria (nice family place, pizzas looked great) and went back to chill in the guesthouse courtyard - the longing to learn Portuguese and relocate to Maputo seriously sinking in by this point.

'the lemon squeezer'


There were two things which we still couldn't leave Maputo without doing (actually there were more but there was no time). One was to buy this most fantastic batik deck chair from the CFM (anniversary present :)

The other was to visit the Nucleo Arts Centre. Had we more energy we would have gone and boozed it up at their awesome little bar the night before, but alas we went sober and enjoyed the art instead. The artists who work in these studios are the real deal and their prices realistically reflect their talents. You can spend anything from $200 to $2000 and next time we come to Maputo that's what I plan to do.

Unfortunately this incredible map of Africa was not for sale :(
Would have struggled to get that in the car anyway I suppose...

Back on the road it seemed to take us about 3 years to get back to Joburg. We got quite aggressively harassed by the Mozambique border traffic police (not nice guys - however having since heard other stories from friends I think we actually got off relatively lightly) and then waited for almost 2 hours to get through the SA border post. From there it was just a long drive in the dark, pushing on back home, thinking - 'boy, we spent some amount of money there!' And 'please - when can we go back!'


POLICE: Police in Maputo are thoroughly corrupt - even by local standards they are in a league of their own. Their scheme is to 'fine' anyone who does not carry their passport, no warnings, straight to the wallet. If you do carry your passport then they are likely to take it, find a problem with it and demand a fine before giving it back, so there's no way to win. And threatening to put you in the local jail is also part of the rigmarole. The whole situation is really annoying so avoid police as much as you can. Especially at night when they really get feisty. Maputo is safe enough to walk around after dark, but still it will ultimately turn out cheaper and easier to take tuk tuks/taxis late at night so as to avoid the police shake down (night time is when they really try to nail you, knowing there are less people around to spot them doing it).
The traffic police for their part are super strict, but don't tend to try and scam you for nothing. If there is a problem though they will get very aggro with you and can be nasty. If you do not have an 'international driver's license' - get one, it's one of the things they have very strong feelings about.

VISAS: South Africans do not need a visa to visit Mozambique. Most other nationalities do though. Mozambican visas cost R800 (ouch!) to make at the border and the process takes about 10-15mins. You can have the visa for a month. Multiple Entry costs more.

MALARIA: Mozambique is malarial. We didn't take any anti-malarials and risked it just by putting on loads of anti-mozzie spray (it was autumn...). I got bitten twice, John not at all. Luckily I have not since contracted malaria. However, visiting malarial areas and not taking medication is your own risk and I am not going to advise either way.

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