Day 60 -Day 61: Into Mozambique, Portuguese and Beira........
Time to leave Mutare, and also Zimbabwe….!
What a wonderful time I’d had in Zimbabwe, the country and its people really got to my soul, sometimes making we wince has I listened to the many stories about the struggles for freedom in the country, the loss, the stress, and yet the human dignity and how these people have all come through huge personal challenge with huge hope, a non-judging outlook, and still smiles on their faces. It’s a humbling experience, and one that also challenged me to question whether I am actually appreciating what liberty and easy living I have…..
To cap off my Zimbabwe experience in true form, I had my last breakfast in the Wise Owl, the staff still wonderfully respectful, polite and ever wanting to please. There were two well dressed men at the breakfast table next to me, and I assumed they were normal business men, forced to spend the night in Mutare for a days business. My waiter friends, didn’t seem as chatty and friendly with me this morning. I tried to engage them in the deeper talks we had had on previous days, but no there was something wrong. I just went about my breakfast, thinking maybe it was because I was leaving, and they were expecting me to do more in helping them with their work situation dilemma. But, no that didn’t seem to gell with my reading of Zimbabweans, there must be something else. The business left before me, and when the place was clear, my waiter friends came to me like normal again, and the mystery was solved: Those two guys were apparently secret police from Mugabe’s spying group. They move around, seemingly as innocent business men, but are actually private eyes listening for anyone who is talking bad about Mugabe and / or the government. The waiters told me that if we had been talking about anything politically controversial, they would have stood up and arrested one or all of us….. Scary stuff, man!
My waiter friends were truly sad to see me go, I do sense they saw me as being able to save them somehow, but alas, I couldn’t and as they gave me email addresses and phone numbers, I sensed I could only disappoint them in the future, and this mad me sad, but I knew there was really nothing I could do….
I popped into Nick and Sue Fawcett, just down the road from the Wise Owl, to say goodbye and wish them all the best for the upcoming election, but sadly they were out, and I could only ask the maid to pass the message on…. What nice people, and once again a tower of strength in dealing with what they have been through…..
The last time through the pot holed main streets of Mutare, and very soon I was at the Zimbabwe border control. No issues, and then through to the Mozambican side (Panamatenga). Well in the first minute, I knew I was in another country, and unlike Zimbabwe, I’d better really keep my wits about myself. Moneychangers haggling me, car insurance, temporary importation agents, all just touting their services in a very official, but also aggressive way. It wasn’t clear who were Customs and Immigration people and who were just touts. Part of their strategy to confuse and disorientate one. I decided to change some money before entering Mozambique, and then maybe some more just after. The rate I was offered by a team of three money changers was OK, and I managed to rachet them up a bit, but I soon learnt that the way they make their money is not on the rate, but on short changing one. Like magicians they count it all out in front of you, and then if you check it’s short. They dispute that at first, but when I got truly insistent they acknowledged the shortfall, took the money back added some, counted out for me again, showing me it was now right and handed it over. Yet again I had been short changed, and so this time I gave them all the money back, and told them how disgusted I was, and didn’t need their mozambican money anyway. I had similar bad vibes with the road insurance guy, who once he found out I had a Carnet de Passage, and I wasn’t a big rip off opportunity on a temporary import permit, lost interest in providing road insurance…. Ok, so Mozambique will be different.
The abrupt change of language to Portugues, and a more lasse fait approach to formalities signalled a new country and experiences ahead. I was soon on the main road to Beira, and was struck by how European everything seemed. Portuguese architected building, roman catholic churches everywhere, the rivers all with Portuguese names, and the little towns along the way had a distinct European look and feel to them. I passed a few very inviting roadside cafe’s that looked so surprisingly European and inviting for a proper coffee and continental breakfast… Not sure they served that, but it looked like it and I vowed to stop at the next one! Gee, what I nice experience: As I had imagined I did get a great coffee, Portuguese tart, and a freshly baked bread, with cheese sandwich. How nice, I love just experience this type of dramatic change in culture....
The ride to Beira was long and there were sections of the road where I had never seen a national road so extensively pot holed…deep and huge ones that forced one to slow down to crawling speed. It was easier to zig-zag around the potholes on the bike, and I’d hate to do those sections of that road in a normal car. Gradually the population density started increasing and the villages and towns were closer together, and I could feel I was getting close to the big city of Beira. Stopped for a very nice lunch about 20 kilometeres from Beira. When I say nice, it was just so good to have more choice, than just beef and chicken, and here I even had a lovely piece of fresh fish….. and a new beer brand: Manica. I am learning to be appreciative of slight improvements or variants, this is not about having a huge diverse culinary experience!
The other new ‘thing’ I came across was the charcoal industry, the tearing down of forests, ‘charcoalification’ of the timber, and then bagging the charcoal and transporting it by bicycle to the nearest village town user / buyer. All along the road I passed cyclists with heavy charcoal loads on their bikes, destined for some 3rd party buyer.
I was soon entering the outskirts of Beira, and the roads became cluttered and traffic a challenge. I could feel I was in a city that at one stage had been well planned and laid out, with lovely wide boulevards, but the uncontrolled informal growth has made that all chaos and aesthetically very unappealing. Informal traders overflowed the streets, few sign posts, and I was just following my nose, hoping eventually I’ll end up at the Indian ocean coast. The main road into Beira that I was on, seemed to go on and on forever, miles upon miles of a mixture of informal and formal stores lining either side of the road.
I eventually found an upmarket guest house, with a fitting name, Beira Guest House, however in a not very upmarket area, and being able to negotiate a very reasonable rate I took it. It was positioned about 0.5 kilometres from the once grand, Grand Hotel, and in an area that clearly was very upmarket and in demand. Well the Grand Hotel, is merely a concrete skeleton now, taken over by squatters who now look totally self sufficient with even their own informal traders providing essential right in the building. As I walked around the area and looked closely at the state of the Grand Hotel and other, once stately buildings, I had so many question come up that ripped into my soul looking for answers, truths, and meaning. This all didn’t make sense, but having seen similar scenes before on the surface it all does make sense…. It’s the real humanitarian issues that don’t….
That night I went out on the bike, exploring along the ‘famous’, Avenue de Praia, once a place where the Portuguese colonialist and tourists hung out in their drones. Still a vibrant area, but nowhere like its former glory. I had a wonderful sea food dinner, entertained by a fantastic Mozambican band, complemented by some good wine. My motorcycle attracted a lot of interest outside, which initially worried me, but as I eased into things I sensed the locals were not a problem, and genuinely friendly. Time to leave, and too relaxed from the wine probably, I missed the turn off to my place, and ended up on the dark dingy road around the Grand Hotel. That was OK, until it turned into soft, soft beach sand and my bike got stuck! Not a clever thing to do, with all these bad elements around, and me a sitting duck with obvious money, credit cards etc on me After a bit of a lone, adrenalin fuelled effort I managed to get the bike out of the mess, but scolded myself for the slip of attention, that could have cost me a lot more!
The next day was spent really exploring Beira, and wow what a soul jaunting journey that was…. It reminded me so much of Siberia, where once grandiose infrastructure has just been abandoned and left to decay to the point that it will never be usable again, and has become a sad part of the challenging aesthetics of the modern Beira. It would appear that the locals don’t have the same aesthetic values, with other priorities, but what one can’t help miss, is that Beira was once a city built with vision and noble intent, and was a very desired holiday and residential location. To see the destruction of both its beautiful edifices and noble soul, and to think that human conflict has produced the current disaster warrants some serious thought into what went so wrong, and how humans can think they have improved the situation. But we all know colonialism is a very complex issue….. Of real concern was the extent to which redevelopment has started again, seemingly funded proportionately by the Chinese, and on a basis of little care for asthetics or the cities soul, but rather a functional provision of roads and infrastructure in return for cheap commodities and other natural resources. It didn’t appear to me that there was a holistic vision of greatness for the city, but rather a piecemeal, pick the gems, development plan for the city. Maybe that’s all that the powers that be want, maybe that’s all they can afford, but it is clear to me, that the Beira of the future will never look a patch like the beautiful city of its old Portuguese days.
I had an interesting experience with the Chinese developers. The Chinese have built a huge hotel / resort complex a few kilometres south of the airport on the road closest to the coast. Riding along that road my attention was drawn to a huge sign, with marketing images, proclaiming a new hotel, and next to it a huge double gate entrance constructed in the form of a Chinese temple like structure. I stopped read the sign and feeling like a cup of coffee, decided to ride in through the open gates to the hotel. Through the gate it was a little bit construction site like, and probably a kilometre ride to the beach and the hotel. Mostly the hotel still had scaffolding around it, but as I rode around the site, what struck me was how huge this resort was and how geared for Chinese culture tourists it was. It was a Saturday, and so there were just two guys on site, one seemingly a Chinese site manager, and the other one turned out to be a Mozambican banker. I rode up to them and asked them if there was anything open as I was wanting a cup of coffee. They said the hotel was only opening in October, and then asked me what I was up to? I took a few photographs, bid the farewell, and rode back down the road to exit via the same gate. Well, the gate was now locked closed and two guards standing either side with AK47’s were waiting for me. I pulled up, greeted them and asked for them to open the gate and let me out. To which they responded aggressively, even angling their rifles upward in my direction, ranting that I was trespassing and had no right to be in the grounds and they won’t let me out. They asked why I had taken pictures and had obviously been reprimanded by the guys I had spoken to for letting me in. I returned their aggression with assertiveness, that I saw the hotel sign, wanted a cup of coffee, and saw the entrance open so went straight it…. No signs said I couldn’t go in, and the marketing signage infers the hotel is open and operational. Well the conflict escalated until finally they saw I was in the right and they didn’t have a case, so reluctantly unlocked the gate and let me go.
I had lunch at the Club Nautique, clearly once a grand place for the rich and famous to socialise, with magnificent beachside location. I rode and walked up the northern beach, once again being presented with glimpses of the quality and beautiful infrastructure that did exist, but that was now nothing of its former glory. Lighthouses left to rust and decay, no longer providing the traditional security to mariners for which it was originally built.
That night I changed accommodation, moving to the MiramarHotel one street back from the Ave de Praia, and much more conveniently located, and a retro Africa decor. I had another very enjoyable night at the Miramar restaurant with another, real lively duo playing live.