Too many to choose from!
The last 10 days of our southern Africa tour are in Cape Town. We go from the grit and vibrant street life of Maputo, and the amazing beaches of the Indian ocean, to the very European city of Cape Town. At the Maputo airport we met another American couple on their way to the Cape. She works for the US CDC and he is the accompanying spouse, also employed at the embassy. She commented that Cape Town has the distinction of being a western city very close to Africa.
But of course it’s more complicated than that, given the history of South Africa. The population of the city is 50% colored, a third is black, and the rest are white and others. The emotional leftovers of apartheid will affect the country for many generations, despite Mandela’s work toward reconciliation upon majority rule. Apartheid’s strength came not from a massive police presence so much as dividing the population into competing groups, even for instance dividing the coloreds into 5 groups, all vying for a very limited piece of life, and each just a bit lower on in rank than the next.
As we’ve driven around the Cape, we’ve seen prosperous areas and huge swaths of dire poverty. Street kids beg for money for food. Mitchell’s Plain and Kayelitsha, the townships off N2 on the way to our digs, are jammed with shacks made of metal and plastic pieces. There is also evidence of rebuilding, with brightly colored substantial houses in orderly rows.
In our time here, three young men in their early twenties, one white, one colored, and one black, have given us their take on their country. All three were quite positive. The white man was a waiter at Delaire winery and restaurant near Franschhoek, in law school and planning to be a lawyer. Incidentally, while the clientele was mostly white, the wait staff was mixed and the guy in charge was black.
The colored man was a guide on our tour of Robben Island. He confessed that he had messed up in high school and his mother wouldn’t pay for college, so he is working his way through in computer science, a field that is guaranteed to grow, he said. Once he makes some money, he’d like to get a political science degree and become a politician in retirement. The black man was a waiter at the cafe at the Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town. He was studying marketing at the technical university. Each of the guys told us that this was a great time to be a young person in South Africa. They and those even younger aren’t burdened by the attitudes and psychological loads of 20 or 10 years ago. They see a lot of possibilities for themselves. (We haven’t had opportunities to talk to young women for their perspectives.)
I think that has been the most exciting aspect of our time here in southern Africa. The last time I was here white man’s rule was supreme, although it was obvious when I left in 1961 that it was coming to an end. In the case of South Africa it took another 30 years. Now all countries run themselves, with varying degrees of freedom, corruption, and success.
Far too soon we had to head back to Maputo from Tofinho. It’s an 8-hour drive, but this time we left at 8:00 am. This gave us time to take some photos of the little towns and villages, and the landscape of palms and cashew trees. We also stopped for a picnic lunch in a park along the Limpopo river in Xai Xai. Our curious observer as we ate we identified as the town crazy. He laughed and talked to himself and got quite a chuckle out of us.
The challenges of driving in Moz included driving on the left, the fluid notion of lanes, and a 100 km section of the highway where it was reduced to one lane or was full of potholes. But the highway is getting fixed and where it has been completed, it is smooth and wide. Our biggest recurring mistake was mistaking the windshield wipers for the turn signal…our automatic response to 50 years of driving on the right. I was stopped again by the police on the way home at a speed trap. His radar gun had clocked me at about 5 km over the limit, but he was feeling charitable and said, “Today I’ll let you go, but go more slowly.”
Upon our return to Palmeiras Guest House, Celia, our hostess, informed us that we had missed some excitement and chaos in town in the form of a general strike against the government’s decision to raise the price of bread. Unfortunately it resulted in several deaths and vandalism. The strike began on Wednesday morning and lasted into Friday. Luckily we had left on Tuesday and returned on Sunday. Had we tried to leave on Wednesday we would have found all roads out of town blocked.
For our last meal out in Maputo, we returned to Milano Grill House where we’d had the first meal and where I discovered Laurentina beer. We like that place because it caters more to Mozambicans than to ex-pats. The very last meal the next morning was yet another splendid breakfast at Palmeiras…fresh squeezed juice, fresh fruit salad, yogurt, a vegetable egg pie, a variety of breads, spice loaf with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, and Portuguese shrimp and meat pastries. It was a grand farewell after a wonderful week.
The Indian ocean really is gorgeous, with deep blues in the depths and greens in the shallows. The sands are golden and the waves roll in with white surf. What surprised me is the dark rock along part of the shore that looks like lava. I don’t know what the geology of this area is and at the moment don’t have access to research it. Its surface is peaked and rough, not something you’d want to fall on or body surf into. Away from it the surfing is great.
Our accommodations in Tofinho Beach are at Casa John, six self-catering cottages built on a hill overlooking the ocean, the last of a series of rental houses on the sand track from Tofo. Our cottage has a center room with living, dining, and kitchen, and a bedroom on either side. A porch stretches along the front with views of the ocean. Open beams in the ceiling, thatch roof, colored stones as accent, light brown cement floors, palms, and the roar of the ocean! While we ate breakfast the first day, Isabel, a Mozambican woman appeared and said she was there to clean, an unexpected service. If we hadn’t washed and dried our own dishes the night before she would have done them for us. We continued to wash up after ourselves but in the morning she would come in several times to tidy up after us.
I asked her where she lived and if she walked here. She lived near Bar Babalaaz, about 8 km up the road to Inhambane, and either walked or took the chappa. When we left, we were happy to leave her a nice tip and some food items that we hadn’t been able to finish.
Tofo is the hub of this beach area, with backpacker camps, lodges, dive shops, bars, and a little vegetable, fish, and craft market. For the big food shopping we drove into Inhambane, a good half hour drive on rough roads. The market women sold us veggies (eggplant, peppers, cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, garlic) and fruit (papayas, tangerines, and REAL bananas), rice, pasta, and beans, salt, pepper, and piri piri peppers. The Chinese store had yogurt and goat cheese, the Portuguese meat store sold us chorico for bean soup, more cheese, and lamb for curry, a mestico couple who might have been from Goa had some canned goods, and Translandia supplied our wine, beer, and water. For about $60 we bought enough food for 4 people for 5 days!
That brings me to Mozambican beer. Doug and I are beer drinkers. He also drinks wine but it doesn’t agree with me. In Angola the main beer was Cuca. In Namibia it was Windhoek. Both were very light, mostly tasteless beers. Then we came to Mozambique and discovered Laurentina, a dark, full, malty beer that has been made there since something like 1923. An excellent accompaniment to any meal!
Leaving Maputo for Inhambane and Tofinho Beach was another adventure in transportation. We had reserved a car through AVIS for 9 am. As we read up on how long it would take us to drive about 500 km, we realized we should try to leave as close to 8:00 as possible, especially since we had been advised to arrive before dark. In southern Africa daylight arrives abruptly at 6 am and ends just as suddenly at 6 pm.
What we didn’t take into account was how impossible it would be to change the time. The car wasn’t at the airport and we were told to relax in the lounge upstairs. Hmm, telling Doug to relax when he wants to get going is also impossible. 9:00, 9:30, 10:00 came and went; still no car. It was being cleaned at their other location; it was blocked by a truck; it was stuck in traffic. At last it arrived and we took off after 10:30. Getting out of town without a real map meant some detours and asking on the street for directions, but finally about 11:00 we were on the national highway, a 2-lane road. It went through many market areas (throngs of people) until finally we were on the open road.
It was hard to keep a speed of 120 km for the constant little towns on the way, through which you must slow to 60. If you fail to, you are good pickings for the police. We were very careful to follow the rules. As luck would have it, we were waved through several police checkpoints and when we were stopped and asked for our documents, the guy was smiling and very pleasant and it definitely helped to be able to speak Portuguese to him. He instructed me to teach the others in the car to learn some Portuguese too. It was also good that we drove a Mozambican car. South Africans traveling in make for more enticing marks. There is still some uneasiness between Mozambicans and South Africans, left over from the long and vicious war when S. Africa (before their independence) sponsored the rebels against FRELIMO. This coast is a big draw for South AFricans, where the Indian ocean is much warmer than any along their coast.
It was impossible to get to our beach cottage before dark. We had some harrowing times trying to maneuver potholed roads between Inhambane and Tofinho, and sandy traps. Just trying to tell which little track to take was hard. After bothering one woman twice to ask directions, we finally drove in to Casa John at a little before 7 pm. It’s a lovely place, even lovelier in the daylight when we could look down to the emerald sea, white surf, and spouting humpback whales with their young. Wow!
**I’m doing this post at Tofo Beach, up the coast near Inhambane. I can’t post photos since my wireless won’t work here, my photos are on my computer, and the computer has no USB. I have a few issues with Steve Jobs here! My friend’s HP ecomputer has worked everywhere!
A full day in Maputo, Mozambique gave me a sense of the city. I was last here when I was 14 years old, for only a few days. Absolutely nothing looks familiar, not even the gorgeous train station where us 5 teenagers caught the train back to school in Southern Rhodesia. I had no idea at the time that the station was built by an architect in the Eiffel school. It’s a handsome building, white withlight green accents, a squared dome, and beautiful high wooden window frames, built in 1910. On a Sunday afternoon, things were quiet and we were free to wander down the platforms and check out the few shuttered businesses.
On the way out I chatted with 4 security guards. I told them I had been here 51 years ago and came back to see how Mozambique is doing. I asked if trains still ran out of the station. Yes, they said several trains run to border areas of surrounding countries such as Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Two old engines were on display near the platforms and one guy mentioned that maybe the engine over there was runnning when I rode the train. But it turned out to have ended its run in 1945. I said I was old, but not quite THAT old!
Security guards are posted everywhere, as in Angola. At least they provide some employment. I wished we’d had someone protecting us as we walked along Av. 25 de Setembro, snapping photos, when 2 policemen hurried across the street and asked us for documentation that we had permission to take pictures. The guidebooks had warned about this ploy of the street police to extort money from us. The books suggested rather than giving over any money that we insist on being taken to the police station. I tried that, in my inadequate-to-the-task Portuguese. He made a show of calling a car to take us to the station, and we should have waited him out, but we ended up giving him some meticais. This unfortunately a fact of life in Mozambique.
I expect that when we drive up the coast in a couple of days we will run into something similar. At breakfast I heard another hotel guest taling about being stopped on the highway as she and her diplomat husband were driving north. His diplomatic passport didn’t impress the police. The owner of our hotel said she reports these incidents to the tourist board, but they have little power to affect change over the police. Normally these incidents don’t end badly, but can be frightening because the police are armed with machine guns.
Our little hotel, Palmeiras Guest House on Patrice Lumumba street, draws an international clientele. Since we have been here, guests have been from:
Ireland: a radio journalist doing a story on food security for women in northern Moz.
UK: a communications officer at the embassy in Luanda, here on brief R&R
Italy: the diplomat and wife, on holiday from their posting in South Africa… and of course us from the US.
Maputo has a diverse population. Walking around you see black Africa, lighter complexioned Mozambicans like our hostess, mixed couples, Muslims of African and Arab origin, Indians and Pakistanis, Europeans from Portugual and France, and South Africans. Traditionally dressed women with baskets on their heads and babies on their backs mix with young women in tight skirts and high heels. On Sunday the Franco-Mozambican Cultural Center was hosting a number of singing and dance groups, and at the park next door a French instrumental group played North African inflected jazz.
The streets of Maputo reflect Mozambique’s political heritage. Patrice Lumumba was the Congolese leader killed by the CIA. Other streets are Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Julius Nyerere, Salvador Allende, Vladimir Lenin, Kim Il Sung, Agostinho Neto, and Samora Machel, the first President of Moz. The dominant feel onthe street is one of hustle and entrepreneurship. Along the principal drags, street vendors hawk wood carvings, batik hangings, candy and cigarettes (with warning about its dangers), and cashews, a major crop. Last night at an outdoor restaurant, a vendor walked along trying to see the diners chips!
A couple of things about Namibia definitely took me out of my comfort zone: taking pictures of the San as if they were zoo animals on display, and eating the sorts of wild animals that roam Etosha. Doing both required a mind shift.
On our way to the eastern Kalahari San camp, Peterhein explained his philosophy about the San and why he has worked hard to set up this village. He grew up in the north on the border with Botswana. His parents worked as herders on a cattle ranch, trying to provide for their 11 kids. Often the most present people in the village, those who looked after him, were the San. He learned their language, their traditional crafts, their knowledge of nature and life. Once he was in a position to give back to them, he devised the idea of bringing in a small group to this village, getting them away from the toxic atmosphere of Talisman.
To foster a sense of pride and earn some money, they practice their skills and sell crafts to the tourists that Peter brings in. In return, they open their lives to us and allow us to photograph them. It wouldn’t do to walk into just any San village and take pictures, as they are very shy people. But because of Peterhein’s relationship with them, they trust that they will not be exploited. Tomas, the young man who knew some English and had had some schooling, told us that he and the other families love to be there, and they dread having to go home to Talisman. Peter wants all groups in the village to have a chance to come, rotating them out after about a year is part of his scheme. He feels that once the small band goes back to Talisman, they gradually exert a positive influence on the whole village.
How about eaating wildebeest or oryx or crocodile or giraffe or ostrich?
Every restaurant in Namibia has a variety of those meats on its menu, not to mention beef, lamb, chicken, and pork. Namibians are BIG meat eaters! The climate is far too dry for agriculture. Instead people raise cattle. Interspersed between the cattle ranches are large game reserves, where the aforementioned animals are raised wild. I’m not sure of the mechanics of game reserves, if hunters shoot the animals and the meat then goes to market, or if the reserve managers do the culling. In any case, the steaks and kabobs I had were extremely tasty and tender.
If you have a philosophical objection to eating meat, don’t come to Namibia. It would be hard to eat at a restaurant. I don’t want to deter you from visiting though. We barely scratched the surfact in a week and Doug and I are already plotting a return to see more. Normally, for my health, I don’t eat red meat. When I go home I’ll go back to my normal diet, but in Namibia I did as the Namibians do.