We could only get these LAM tickets from the consulate. R80 sounded dodgy, even then, but I was young, relatively poor (not dissimilar to today) and just the name Mozambique sounded like adventure.
Think of it – a civil war still going on, a tropical island close to Maputo, and there was free accommodation in my sister’s flat (which was definitely in a dodgy part of town). Water ran only at ten am for about an hour – you would run the bath full and that was water for the day.
There were more potholes than coffees in the city – the only place to serve coffee from an espresso machine was the Intercontinental hotel.
We soon found a Cuban pilot to fly us in an Islander aircraft the shortish distance to Xai Xai. We couldn’t get a lift cos there were roadblocks manned by Frelimo and Renamo, and the fighting was not quite over.
Halley’s Comet hotel was where we found our beds. Not a white face in town, Sting’s Gueca Solo (We Dance Alone’ – beautiful and suitably revolutionary) played from the tinny patio speakers – in Spanish. I felt quite exotic.
The beach and stars were magical, the colonial houses shelled and empty, and the locals so friendly.
We soon hitched up to Inhambane, in the back of a flatbed truck. It was a long drive, interrupted by roadblocks manned by young teens with AK47s desperate for cigarettes.
Dolphins arced across the lagoon we crossed in a dhow from Maxixe (I think). On the other side we had the obviously best tasting Black Labels and prego rolls, the sort that accompany the romance of travel.
The Intercontinental wasn’t great. The fact that we had to wash our hair in the (clean) toilet bowl was irrelevant, as were the guts hanging out of the mattress. And the fact that some nuns had been shot on the beach a few years previous…collateral damage, part of the cruel history of a pointless civil war.
t was real travel, packed with learning and experience.
The re-opening of Maputo’s iconic Polana Hotel, for me, despite for quite some time to come mostly populated by NGO staff, was the reopening of Mozambique as a destination.
A bit like my visit to Lugenda Wilderness Camp in Niassa Game Reserve for Travel Africa magazine maybe 15 years later. This countryside (where I saw my first elephant shrew) is other-worldly, reminding me in the ‘stunning stakes’ of Serra Cafema in Namibia. A definite honeymoon spot.
We’ll look at Ibo island next. And maybe touch on the shark-fin investigative doccie I produced north of Tofu for Carte Blanche a few years back.
But that’s for another Lockdown day.
Remember this is historical, and I’m not recreating a ‘Holidays in Hell’ a la Paddy O’Rourke.
Most of Mozambique is still raw as a tourist destination, the bells and whistles are waiting to be rung and blown in a number of special locations.
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