We departed Cybele at 7 am for the four hour drive to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Luckily our route took us in the opposite direction of the construction and our driver Excellent was capable and friendly. He would be our driver and handler through the Mozambique customs. Leaving Cybele took us through planned forests and banana plantations, then passing some very scenic areas with rock formations and rivers. The terrain changed to flat farm land with crops of sugar cane and tomatoes, to name just a few. We also passed another Kruger gate, the Malelane Gate. Rain plagued us the entire drive from Cybele through the border.
Thank goodness we had taken the time to get our visas in DC. The border customs routine went well, Excellent telling us it was his smoothest crossing ever. Immediately after crossing into Mozambique we saw a change in the amount of people walking along the road and litter. In South Africa the roads are clean and well maintained. There were long lines of people going into South Africa from Mozambique.
Mozambique’s civil war ended in 1992, but they have had a hard time coming back. The country needs infrastructure and much more. Excellent recited stories of his experiences driving in Mozambique, including stops by the police. As luck would have it, as he passed a truck and only momentarily exceeded the speed limit, he was clocked by roadside police and motioned to pull over.
We watched with some concern as he searched for his license then exited the vehicle to speak with the police. Eventually he returned and told us a US $20 bill allowed us to continue. He also said that the Mozambique police target cars with South African license plates and that corruption is rampant. The driving was hectic, with many cars disregarding the stop lights. It was no wonder, as Excellent had told us, that many of his colleagues refuse to drive the transfers into Mozambique.
Excellent’s job was to escort us to the Maputo airport, which he did. Our original plans were to take a helicopter from the airport to White Pearl Resort at Ponta Mamoli, a 30 minute flight, but we had been informed the night before that the helicopter was down for maintenance, and it would require a 5 hour ground transport. It was a disappointment to not get the helicopter ride, but our motto for the day was “Keep calm and carry on”, which is exactly what we did.
We were easily spotted by the White Pearl representative, who unfortunately spoke very little English. Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique, and our Portuguese was about as good as our drivers’ English. We all piled into the Toyota and started our slog to the resort. The trek would take us weaving through the streets of Maputo, a busy and litter filled city with ageing buildings in disrepair. We did get from our driver that the war had taken a large toll on the city, and it was evident. It was noon time as we made our way through the streets, seeing cars with their tailgates open and women selling lunch out of the back of the car. The sidewalks were full of vendors, shoes being a popular item. The local taxis, a van called a “chapa”, were stuffed with people, making many stops and more people cramming into the already full van. Embassy workers are forbidden from using the taxis due to the frequent fatal accidents they are involved in.
We got a bit of a surprise when we pulled up to a ferry dock and pulled into line. The 5 hour transport included about one hour of downtown traffic, one and a half hours of waiting in line for and then being maneuvered onto the ferry, and then 2 ½ hours of dirt road driving which was more like off-roading. The ferry was packed with people who work in Maputo, but who live on the outskirts. We saw school children returning home, vendors hawking wears and cars and trucks of all types. The tedious loading of the ferry took about 5 times the length of the ferry ride, which was quite a short distance.
On the far shore we drove off the pier and onto rutted dirt roads. As we drove past ramshackle stalls of goods, I asked our driver to stop at a stall lined with the colorful textile sarongs or skirts called “capulana”. Married women wear them to get the respect they deserve. We got out and purchased two from the local boy. The cost was 150 meticais, approximately $6. We had changed our South African Rand for Mozambique Meticais at the airport prior to our transport. The exchange from US dollars to rand was about 8 to 1. We got 3 meticais for each rand, so we were figuring about 25 meticais per US dollar.
As we bounced along the dirt road we recounted our adventures and kept up a steady stream of jovial banter, everyone keeping up the good humor. The resort phoned our driver and checked on our condition several times.
What a relief it was to pull into the White Pearl Resort at around 530 pm. The staff was soft spoken and subtle, the rooms were clean and white and the beach was inviting. As we toured the facility, my friend Augie got a big grin on his face when he saw the white baby grand piano in the dining room. He was welcome to play at dinner, which he did, to all our enjoyment.