I’d never crossed a land border post before my trip to Mozambique in December. Of course, I’d heard horror stories, seen a few pictures and conjured up my own images of queues of sweaty people stuck together moving towards a common goal of a stamped passport. And as the universe would have it, it really was none of those things.
Packing everything and checking it twice (and luckily I got off the hook on this because my boyfriend’s folks did most of it) was an eye-opener for me. I didn’t quite comprehend how much we actually needed to take with to feed, medicate and entertain six adults for three weeks. Food, tinned food, frozen food, drinks, antibiotics, sunscreen, linen, more sunscreen; it just kept getting packed up tight into two cars, a trailer and a boat. It was literally incredible in the truest sense of the word: inconceivable and astonishing.
Even though I’d never been across the border into our neighbouring country, the family I was travelling with has been doing it for over 20 years. They know their stuff, and have learnt through trial and error that any conveniences you may even desire in the slightest sense, you have to provide for yourself.
Pulling into the queue on the South African side was a simple enough affair. Stamps acquired, we crossed over into Mozambique, holding our breathe that we wouldn’t be knitted into a stream of trucks, trailers and cars that would see us waiting for hours.
We were lucky, there was little traffic, just plenty of chancers. Guys offering to get your passport stamped and then disappearing with it entirely if you’re not aware enough, insurance kiosks, ladies with handbags laden with Mets to exchange in place of any formal forex system, some scattered livestock and drinks vendors to top it off.
It’s a two-day drive, with a stop overnight just outside of Maputo at a spot called the Blue Anchor. The drive through Maputo is a literal wall of traffic that gives you more than enough time to notice that all the streetside vendors sell the same three things: bread, wooden furniture and couches covered in rather loud, floral patterns.
The buildings of the capital have been ravaged by years of civil war; yet still hint at their former majesty. It’s an architect’s dream in many a sense. The detailed work of Portuguese artisans that has managed to survive has been tarnished with neglect.
The buildings give way to a sprawl of straggling suburbs, that in turn stretch out into villages that all seem alike. They pass by in the rearview mirror slowly. It takes time to pass through each as often the police are competing for a bribe with the military and any slight error on your part can result in a fine, payable directly to the officer of course.
We headed to an area of coast just outside the town of Inhambane called Guinjata Bay. It’s gotten more popular in recent years, but all it has to offer as a token of civilisation is the small shop that sells a rather rudimentary selection of fruit and veg, freshly baked bread and local beer. Oh, and a haphazard selection of cereals, bad wine and plastic handbags.
In short, Guinjata Bay is a paradise. It’s the kind of paradise though that has been overtaken by tourists that gather around its beach in holiday season, but is likely isolated and poor throughout the rest of the year. A big deep-sea fishing competition brought about its awareness a few years ago, and South Africans have been snapping up small concessions since.
There had been some political infighting and riots in Mozambique ahead of our arrival so the beach was not as busy as it has been in recent years over December. Coupled with the closing down of a rather dilapidated resort also meant less people around. Fine with me, more paradise for me to enjoy.
Views from the house were ludicrous, with a small but very steep pathway down to the beach below. A dedicated gazebo on the stretch of sand to escape the harsh sun was also an ideal way to enjoy Guinjata. A dive school right on the beach proved itself popular throughout my stay, trucking in divers and jetting them out to the nearby coral reefs in a seemingly never-ending stream. I questioned of the same people that went out ever came back in.
Two weeks of beach bliss with lots of prawns, pao (the local bread) and the occasional crayfish were a delight. I can see the obvious appeal of Mozambique, but the schlep of taking everything with was one I don’t think I could stomach too often to be honest. That being said, there are resorts further up the coast and hotels in Inhambane that could satisfy traveller’s needs should you require some modern comfort, but that isn’t the appeal of the place to begin with…
Here, you want the isolation and the abandonment. You want to be alone and at the same time, can’t believe the conveniences you enjoy back home aren’t around.
A trip to the local village seemed surreal. Drinking my expensive coffee, visiting the poor, massive families and then going home to eat seafood extremes for lunch.
I loved Mozambique, but it also brought about a self-awareness that I’m still not comfortable with. I’d like to go back though, if that counts.