The day after Umhlanga, it started raining, and it didn’t stop. I was forced inside during our second public holiday that week, and my plans for a weekend ocean getaway to the capital of Mocambique were also looking thwarted. The original group of nine people started dropping like flies and I, too, had to resign myself to a weekend of gorging on fresh seafood, pastries, hot coffee while, perhaps, taking in a bit of jazz nightlife. These are the sacrifices one must make, I guess. Fortunately, I had three others who would make that sacrifice with me: Julie, Becky and Fundzi. So, what happens when you let four incredibly gorgeous girls loose in Maputo? Think “Sex in the City” meets “Charlie’s Angels”.
We left Swaziland on Friday afternoon and drove the 3 hours to Maputo. Mocambique instantly appealed to me, resembling what I expected Africa to be like: the good, the bad, the ugly, mashed together with a whole lot of Mediterranean. Coca-cola was painted across every building, rubbish strewn across the streets, there was hustle and bustle into the night, every third stall was an open tavern with plastic chairs, cold beer was sold out of polystyrene eskies on the sidewalk, the eroding beach was lined with palm trees, and turning down an alleyway instantly separated you from it all. The real shock for me came when I discovered that no-one speaks English, even those working in tourism. If you can’t speak Portuguese here, then you’d want to be good at charades.
After dropping our bags off at Maputo Backpackers, our first stop was Costa do Sol Hotel where I set about inhaling a platter of calamari, fish, prawns, and crayfish. Then it was time to sample the nightlife. Becky had arranged for us to meet up with Pablo, a local who was also hosting some Swazi folk for the weekend. The destination was CFM. Pablo had sent us some instructions but seemingly forgot that we don’t speak Portuguese. So, when we found the entrance we showed it to the bouncers, hoping they would enlighten us as to the content of the text. Instead, they looked at each other then just waved us in. Thinking Pablo had friends in high places, I found out later that the text was in Spanish, which probably meant the bouncers were as equally baffled as us. Quite an ingenious way to score free entry, really.
CFM is a still-operating railway station, with a section of the building converted into a very funky bar, and the platform into a nightclub. While the music didn’t quite fit my jazz need, it certainly made for a very good boogie, and some good people watching complete with code names like “Jesus Christ” and “Beret four-eyes”. Even more appealing was the distinct lack of groping. To my complete shock, people would actually talk to you, and thanks to the likes of Ricardo and Co., some would even buy you drinks. Such chivalry! Either that, or I’ve been in Swaziland too long. When we finally left at 4am, I took a look at all the trains that had pulled up and parked during the night, and had to wonder how many drunks they find curled up on the chairs in the morning, or worse, curled up on the tracks. At 4am, I was half tempted to join them.
Perhaps I should have, as on the way home we were stopped by police. Unfortunately, poor Fundzi, the only one of us who was sober, didn’t have her licence with her. We were willing to pay a fine but when we asked how much we were told, “How much have you got?” When we offered to go to the police station, we were threatened with jailing and given an array of convoluted plans to ensure that didn’t happen. When we asked to see their badge, we were given a fake name. In her inebriated state, Julie commenced making mock calls to her “husband in the ‘Pretora’ embassy”, while Becky argued female protection issues, Fundzi settled in for a Mexican standoff, and I sat quietly in the back observing. After half an hour, we finally succumbed and handed over our last M200 ($5). Sure enough, one kilometre up the road was another police stop. Refusing to face a repeat, we ‘politely’ told them we’d just been stopped to which they replied, “Ok, just give us a drink then”. Corruption is one thing. Blatant corruption is another.
After an eventful night, we had a slow start the next morning, before heading into town for our fill of pastries, Portuguese tarts and coffee. Then it was off to the craft market, fabric store and fruit and veg market for some hassling and a bit of souvenir shopping, following by a visit to the Nucleo de Arte. All that hard work necessitated another cup of coffee, while overlooking the beach and chatting to the best-looking, but inevitably gay, local we could find. Having not eaten for, at least, 3 hours it was time to continue on my mission to depopulate the ocean, and what better place to do that than the Maputo Fish Market?
Mobbed like celebrities from the moment we got out of the car, the incessant hassling was taking its toll even before we’d made it into the markets. Fortunately, we ran into Pablo who recommended a waitress for us, and the instant we sat down at a table, the hordes dispersed. We selected our meal from squirming crabs, buckets of prawns and clams, and rows of whole fish, which we then took to the restaurant to cook up. One word: Gastromazing. (Clearly, I made that up, but you get the idea). The whole experience was topped off by the sights and sounds around us, as we watched the touring ballroom dancer take some African dance lessons from one of the staff, and as we witnessed some local kids be treated to our neighbouring diners’ leftovers, along with a coke each – Christmas had arrived in September based on the size of their smiles.
Unfortunately, our seafood-induced high faded rapidly as we left the markets. Getting into our car, we were approached by a man asking for a car-minding tip. I gave him what change I had but he wasn’t impressed and threw it back. So, we decided to leave him empty-handed. However, as we reversed out of the parking bay, he opened the door almost scratching the BMW next to us. Beat-‘em-up Becky leapt into action pulling the door shut….on his hand. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he was too drunk to feel it, so when Becky released the door he made another attempt to enter the vehicle. Despite holding down the horn, calling out “Help” and “Police”, no-one was keen to put themselves on the line for the damsels in distress. Having had enough, Jiujitsu Julie got out and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him away from the door before landing one in his stomach. This gave us the opportunity to make our getaway, which we did while the female sellers were smiling, waving us goodbye, and mouthing ‘Thank you’ as we drove away. As usual, I sat quietly in the back observing.
The excitement of the last two days was beginning to take its toll, so an early night was called for. Not before hitting the casino, however, for our last chance to indulge in rich Portugese men. Unfortunately, there weren’t any on the menu, so we had to indulge in rich Portuguese desserts instead.
We woke up to beautiful sunshine-filled morning – the first in a week. What better way to enjoy it, than to head to another coffee shop for, yep, pastries and Portuguese tarts? (Are you sensing the theme here?). Once again, completely content, we felt we owed it to God to give our thanks so headed to the Cathedral for morning prayer, then to Clube Naval for a pre-departure drink. Clube Naval is a swanky member’s club with a very inviting swimming pool by the marina. Refusing to pay the extortionate M500 to go for a swim, however, we instead watched everyone else bare their bronzed flesh in their bikinis while we sunned our sallow skin and sipped our Sangria. We finished the trip with one last seafood feast, a prawn curry, before making our way back across the border.
Two days with good friends, laughter, action, drama, and copious amounts of delectable food: Mocambique, obrigado!