Fawlty Towers in Mozambique!
2007-08-04 to 2007-08-06
I`ve seen some run down spots on this planet but I didn`t expect to find one here. It had been advertised as the `emerging cultural jewel of Africa` (thank you Lonely Planet again!) but it was like a war zone.
We arrived into Maputo where our bus driver, after dropping everyone else off to their respective places, informed us that this was the end of the line, nowhere near where we wanted to go. So out we got on to this main street and a steamy throng of people. All heads turned to see the new white folk in town and I have to say it wasn`t accompanied with any warmth. (We were to have a game over the next few days to see if we could spot ANY other white people in town!).
Becky, Amy, Tom and I negotiated a price with a `taxi` (our love affair with that word was about to start) and we jumped into the back of a Ute as we drove through the streets to our hostel. We could hardly find a tower block with all of it`s windows intact, rubbish littered the streets and the traffic was made up of stock car derby entrants. To be fair, Mozambique has been ravaged by civil war and famine and I was happy to be in one of the more exotic places I can say I have been.
We drove down Ho Chi Minh St, turned on to Vladimir Lenin St and arrived at our hostel on Mao Tse Tung St! Hmmm, distinctly Communist feel about this place (I am reliably informed that the Fidel Castro St was around the corner!).
We got to Fatima`s which I can officially say is one of the worst hostels I have ever been to, severely suffering from Lonely Planet disease (ie they are in it so they don`t have to try). You can`t imagine more unhelpful staff who literally sighed when new customers turned up, forcing them to beligerently direct us to our rooms, giving half hearted promises to get us blankets and then retreated back to not man the bar or reception again! We went for a beer and found that the hostel had 5 left?! What?! So once we had polished them off, we asked about somewhere to go. They helpfully reminded us that they didn`t serve food so rather than disturb them anymore we set off.
My ATM card, which works everywhere else in the world, doesn`t want to work here so I would have to pay for dinner for the weekend and get the money back off my travelling companions. Also, for some reason, my phone couldn`t pick up reception here. Feeling distinctly stranded in this `jewel` of a city, we went out. After dinner, we went to Gypsy`s, a bar that had been recommended to us (as much that it was in the middle of the red light district as anything else) but the trip there was an epic!
Firstly we hailed a cab. But the cab behind him was convinced that he should have got the fare so he pulled alongside, screamed abuse and then drove ahead and blocked us off. He wouldn`t let us go around so we got out of the cab and walked away before we became some road rage statistic. The next cab we got was a beaten up car where the guy had a handmade sign and threw it on his roof as he got near us and then brought it back in when we got in!
His car was literally dying and he turned off the engine when we were coasting or going downhill and would then try and turn it on to avoid another car or to stop at traffic lights. I`d have suggested turning off the radio but he didn`t have such a luxury. His car finally gave up the ghost and I looked around to where we were and by some miracle he had stopped outside our hostel! We got out and got another cab (the same guy that had brought us to dinner) and once again had to watch him `hot wire` his own car to get it started!
The drive to Gypsy`s through some of the worst areas spurred me to ask if the gang had seen Blood Diamond (the DiCaprio movie about Sierra Leone) which they hadn`t. I found out a few days later that the movie had been shot in Maputo and clearly no attempt had been made to clean the place up afterwards. Again we were greeted with strange looks (although that will happen when couples go to red light districts I suppose!)
We ended up in Coconuts, this HUGE club outside the city. They had a huge pool, table tennis tables, massive TV screens showing Fashion TV and Road Runner cartoons and a DJ who insisted on remixing even the remixes of the good songs. But the place was class and speaking of class, a group of Debutants arrived in, resplendid in their gowns and suits! We stayed long into the night until we realised that we were the last white folk there!
Getting back to Fatima`s (or Fawlty Towers as it had been dubbed) we hadn`t been provided with blankets so I had to go on a recognizance through the other dorms, taking unused blankets (and ok one that looked like the unfortunate owner had just left to go to the toilet!)
We went for a walk next day to try and find some food and we walked for hours around the city, shutdown and rundown, stores and houses with men sitting outside 24 hours a day to prevent theft or looting, stalls of mobile public telephones on the street corners (my fraud spider senses were tingling!) and eventually we had to rely on the Colonel (KFC) for food. Fortunately they took Visa cards!
A sign at the Hostel told us that we had to take our passports out when we were in Mozambique as the police would regularly stop tourists to check visas and would be more than happy to relieve you of a fine if you didn`t have it. Also, if we were caught in possession of drugs, we could give the name of Fatima`s and they would come down to the jail for us but could we kindly have paid off the police before they got there because all they could do if we hadn`t bribed them was to suggest a good lawyer!
Also, helpfully, we were strongly informed not to take our knives out at night as the police had a pesky tendency to confiscate them from us! Like, come on! A man from Limerick without his knife!
We went out that evening again (suckers for punishment I suppose) and we found this walled off entertainment area where they had dodgems, a ferris wheel, the waltzer, a roundabout and computer games that I haven`t seen since the 80`s!
We had dinner where we all tried this hot chilli accompaniment for the bread. Good God above in heaven, there is no-one, NO-ONE that could eat this stuff without passing out or at the very least downing a gallon of water soon after!
We returned to Fatima`s (our lips still stinging!) and we had to wait an hour to pay for our accomodation. While I was down there, a range of complaints from no water in the taps, no taps in the sinks, no change in the till were raised but my favourite was when someone came down and calmly told the receptionist that he had just fallen through his top bunk and nearly killed the guy sleeping below! I followed this one back up and found that it was in fact in our room and all the response that we could illicit from our guy was, “Well it`s never happened before” and he walked off, leaving the bed as was and subjecting the person who owned to a night out in the corridor! FAWLTY!!
I was happy to leave next morning and get back to S Africa. I am sure that Mozambique is not properly reflected by its capital exclusively (that is the case worldwide) but I have to say the experience we had between ATMs, the hostel, the cabs and the general run down conditions of the city left me feeling sorry for this `jewel` of a place.
But I did have to smile as I got on the bus and was handed a form to fill in that wanted my name, my nationality, my passport number and the number of my next-of-kin!! For a bus journey?!! Get me outta here!