Monday, July 28, 2003

[Macaneta - Episode 1 - Photos will be uploaded soon]

What a journey! Luiz had hired a car but soon after we set off I discovered he had a Brazilian (or at least Cariocan) journey plan: don’t take a map, just ask people along the way. This in a city where almost no-one has a car, let alone uses it to travel outside Maputo.

Several interesting rides through dusty outskirts later, we arrived at the airport, which is tiny – kind of the feel of a UK supermarket circa 1985, e.g. Fine Fare: small carpark and dark concourse. Its hard to describe how strange it was to simply turn off a normal street and two seconds later park right in front of the main entrance of the capital’s international airport. Furthermore, as it was Sunday the place was almost deserted – as far as I could see only one international flight arrives today, from Lisbon.

Anyway we weren’t actually there for the flying, instead we were going to pick up a couple of girls that Luiz had somehow arranged to meet, at an abandoned petrol station across the road from the airport. Don’t ask me why this was the rendezvous. Anyway Luiz can’t have arranged very well, because after an hour of no show we rang up and they had allegedly ‘gone to church’. At least that’s what they’d told their brother… We’ll find out next week no doubt.

So at this point we decided to head off anyway – Luiz always choosing the dodgiest and least geographically-aware looking types to ask for directions, though he professes to be a cautious person. I have to admit that we did find our way to the big road north without too many wrong turns, and eventually I wangled the car through the chaos onto the expressway (imagine doing a right-turn onto the A8 except there are no traffic lights or road-markings, and pedestrians wandering everywhere).

Luiz likes his cars and he was obviously itching to head out on the highway now that we’d passed Nutbush city limits, so I stopped on one of the few patches of the hard shoulder which didn’t have street-hawkers, and we swapped.

Now we burned it up through 30 miles of beautiful ‘countryside’, except unlike in Britain it is populated all along the roadside for miles outside the city, people building their own one-storey houses with concrete blocks and cement. Other houses were still ruined shells, damaged or abandoned during the war. 11 years ago you would never have driven in this part of the country except in convoy, there was so much danger of attack by the ‘rebels’ [read a history book if you want to find out who I mean – given my job here I am staying off national politics]. Perhaps the war was also the cause for the total lack of signpostage – which was a bit serious since we were doing the trip mapless.

Eventually we pulled in to an almost-deserted pitstop where the barmaid gave very simple directions which her half-cut husband repeated with more drama but less clarity. We passed one tiny turn off in 20km and decided that it had to be the one. Just to boost our tally of Mozambicans to randomly interrupt, I double-checked in a roadside store which could have been in rural Zimbabwe, except it had even less on the shelves. Although I only managed to say “hello” in Shangaan, this pleased him immensely and he described the turn-off as being on a curve in the main road, as it comes down a slope.

This might sound rubbish but in fact the road is v. straight and flat, so the curvy hill in question was indeed an ideal landmark. We took the turn off and a few minutes later we could see the wide band of the Incomati river as it nears the sea [see pics]. Down the hill and we arrived at the ferry terminal and joined a small queue of cars. Finally we were almost there (we thought). But it took another 40 mins till the ferry had got enough cars on the other side to be worth its while to make the crossing. As there were no boarding lanes or anything, all the disembarking cars had to kind of fight their way through the cars trying to embark, a real palaver. Luckily there were no bangs or crashes, and soon our car was perched perilously on the ferryboat, which was really more of a motorized raft, about 10 yards to a side. The back of the car was sticking out from the deck but then other more expensive cars were in the same situation so we decided it was fine.

While the final cars were loading, I wanted to take a picture of the captain and the pilot who were squeezed into a tiny cabin sticking up from the flat raft. To be on the safe side I went to ask him first, as people here can get awful touchy about furriners photographing strategic assets such as this. Unfortunately this was the wrong plan, as I realised he really wouldn’t have given a sh*t. However once I had asked him and he had chewed on the apparent bizarreness of my request, he realized there might something in it and ask me for 10 cigarettes.
“I don’t smoke”
“10 cigarettes”
“So... I don't smoke, I don´t have any cigarettes”
“Well, you can just go up to the bar on shore and buy some”
“No its alright, I’ll just leave it”

This kind of thing is why I gave up taking pictures for so many years. I must admit though a digital camera makes it 10 times more fun, definitely a good purchase.

[continued above...]

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