I caught the 6 a. Alone on the road again, and alone in Tete is really alone! For 15 years Mozambique was embroiled in a bloody civil war. Foreign sponsored guerillas waged a campaign of destruction on the country's infrastructure and people attempting to destabilize the radically socialist government.
The peace agreement was only signed in and the ravages of the war are still quite evident. Like a lot of Mozambique, Tete has a ghost town feel. Big colonial buildings with beautiful lines, but everything dirty and run down. The hotel where I stayed was obviously once a grand place to be. But now, there are only few patches of paint left on the walls, the doors all show evidence of being jimmied and the bathroom is a museum.
Still present was the clawfoot tub, but the only functioning fixture was a bare pipe delivering cold water into a bucket. Heightening my sense of isolation in Tete, nobody spoke a word of English. It took me a long time to find the bus station and even longer for them to convince me in sign language that the only bus going to Beira was leaving at 2 a. In the restaurant for dinner the menu was entirely in Portuguese, Mozambique's official language, and I was completely in "guess and point" mode.
I fortuitously ended up with a nicely grilled chicken. Midway down the coast, Beira is Mozambique's second largest city after the Southern capital, Maputo. My guidebook listed the sidewalk cafes of Beira's central square as one of the highlights of the country. I found only a squalid little coffee shop alongside gutters running with human excrement. They did make a decent cappuccino though, the best I've had in Africa.
Arriving at 2 p. Saturday, I went through my usual "new city" routine: In Mozambique money would turn out to be a huge problem. Most places only accept Mozambiquan meticais pronounced "meta-cash" , credit cards are unheard of, travelers checks are frowned upon and all of this might have even mattered if anything was open on a Saturday.
As it was, I was a prisoner to my dump of a hotel until I could find a way to change enough money pay the bill. Since I usually rely on plastic and don't carry a lot of American cash, running out of money would haunt my whole visit to Mozambique.
It's a pleasant enough beach and the huge wrecks that line the shore are oddly decorative. They certainly maintain the decay motif. Another sad theme are the cripples and amputees, victims of the millions of land mines still strewn throughout the country. With missing limbs, withered limbs, bent and twisted limbs they work the streets on makeshift crutches begging everywhere.
Many of them are in terrible shape and they cracked my usual resolve against beggars. Land mines are a bad thing.
Late in the day I discovered Biques, a nice South African run resort on the beach that changed a traveler's check for me. I spent the rest of the day researching the bus situation in pantomime and Portuguese. I got three different answers so just chose the one the best suited my schedule. Instead, I was to make due with a 3 p.
I passed my time watching the locals partake in the national pastime of shitting and pissing in public. Modesty is not a big thing in Mozambique.
The bus turned out to be a completely non-African experience. All the livestock had to ride on the roof, the aisles had to be kept clear, excess baggage had to be paid for and -- believe it or not -- the seats were assigned. The conductor spent vast amounts of his time chasing people around the bus trying to explain and enforce assigned seating.
At midnight, the bus dropped me at the turnoff 20k from Vilankulo. No sign of the transfer lift I'd been promised would be "no problem," and no sign of any traffic to hitch on. I started to scope out the possible sleeping arrangements. The junction area is seedy little market. Thatched huts that might be shops, bars or restaurants, but of course, only the bars were open at midnight. These markets are ubiquitous in Africa and range from ok to really scary. I didn't relish the thought of sussing this one out in the dark, but of course, wandering off into the bush isn't safe either with the land mines.
I was a few minutes from throwing my sleeping bag down on the median when a local guy asked me in English if I needed a ride. I should have known something was wrong when they didn't recognize the name of the place I'd picked out of the guide to stay.
I thought for sure we were going to get stuck, but those guys could drive! Now it was getting close to 1 a. I don't have the heart to tell my ride we were in the wrong place.
I hop out and decide to go upscale. I sat there with my feet up on the deck railing and thought, "You know, this is pretty ok. I should write about it. I listened as the fan wound down, the dyeing breath from a CPU cooling into rigor mortis. I worked on it for hours, with no luck. I couldn't get the slightest sign of life out it. Plugged into the wall and trying with each of my three of my batteries I couldn't even get the "charging" LED to blink never mind anything more promising.
Finally I succumbed to my Y-chromosome and took it apart with my Swiss Army knife. No sign of any obvious problems inside although there were a bunch of loose screws. Now I'm really really alone in Mozambique! I paid my bill, it was the only place in town that took plastic, and switched to a more typical rat hole in town.
Actually, it was a very nice rat hole, after I got used to the bucket toilets and army cot bed. I'd come to Vilankulo to dive the Bazaruto Archipelago, but the weather started to go bad and the money issues were weighing me. I made plans to leave. I ended up not thinking much of Mozambique, but what many people tell me is that it gets nicer the further south you go.
Vilankulo was far nicer than Beira, so maybe I believe this theory. Trying to dump my meticais at the border I discovered an inventive little scam.
The guy would show me the rate on his calculator, but then as he did the calculation he'd switch into hexadecimal mode! I double checked all the math with me piloting the calculator I made it into town just in time to buy a ticket for the overnight train to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe and a big, modern city.
Leave Mutare at 9 p. First order of business, find the Tanzanian high commission and get my visa processing started. Second order of business, get someone to look at my computer. It took me till 4 p. Of course, as I pulled it out to show him the problem, it booted just fine. Of course, when I brought the laptop to a phone to download my messages it again wouldn't boot.
I head for an internet cafe and send a pleading message, to Sony customer support: Back to the internet cafe, no sign of any help from Sony. I send them another pleading message and confess the sin of taking my laptop apart. I get on the bus to Lusaka, Zambia. Realize I've broken a new frontier in stupidity. I left my travel wallet in Zimbabwe! This is really a drag because it contains not only my plane tickets, back-up credit cards and diving card but also my brand new cache of American dollars.
I called the hotel and they had found it! I'd put it someplace "safe" and then forgot about it. If you are ever in Harare, the Elizabeth Hotel might be a bit noisy, but the people are fabulous. Now, how to get it to me? Going back isn't a great option because it will cost me a fortune in visas as well as lost days.
A solution to the wallet issue. I'm back on schedule, so I buy my tickets for tomorrows 36 hour train journey to Tanzania.
We quickly got into the rhythm of Spurwing life which revolved around food, animals and good company. It's the ideal place to relax after a long overnight flight. We were able to go on game drives in the evenings whilst grandparents took turns to babysit at the lodge.
Still no word from Sony, but the laptop again decided to boot. I'm going to save this update off to disk and try to upload it.
Where's my apple pie? On the excuse of getting some new pages stapled into my passport, but really just to check it out, I visited the American Embassy in Lusaka. I somehow expected to flash my passport and be served a bit of apple pie.
They confiscated my pocketknife and escorted me into an office with the thickest bulletproof glass I've seen since eating in a Harlem Kentucky Fried Chicken. Using a phone out of a bad prison movie I communicated my simple request and sat down to read some tax literature while I waited. Far from being the little Yankee oasis I'd expected the embassy turned out to be a veritable fortress catering mostly to foreign nationals in search of visas.
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