The travel day from Amanzimtoti in South Africa to Maputo wasn’t quite bad enough to label “from hell,” but it was really close. The small commuter flight was unremarkable, and I easily passed through Mozambique Immigration, but the drive from Amanzimtoti to Durban King Shaka Airport was full of hiccups.
Travel Day Disaster
During the drive to the airport, N2 traffic was congested and slow. A truck jackknifed blocking northbound traffic, quickly bringing everything to a standstill. I worried the delay would result in missing my flight to Maputo. Luckily, there was time to return the rental call and check in. I just made it!
Excess Baggage Again
There was a misunderstanding about the checked baggage allowance, ha – the misunderstanding was explained as clearly mine 😁, not SA Airlink’s! An efficient agent helped sort it. The commuter airline – SA Airlink Ltd. – is privately owned, not the same as South African Airways (SAA), and doesn’t share the same baggage allowance limits. However, SAA handles their bookings, billing, and check-in. The baggage allowance on their website was unclear. There has been much happening with the airline in recent months. SAA is on the brink of bankruptcy and was bailed out by the South African Government. It’s becoming almost as bad as Air Zimbabwe!
Reluctantly, I paid $50 for a second bag – that always makes me angry. Having flown on so many airlines this trip, I’ve become weary of being penalized for having two bags – reasonable for a foreigner on a long trip through multiple climates and countries. I like to leave my flights open and maintain options like changing the itinerary at any time. Booking restrictive round-trip tickets hampers my free spirit and isn’t appealing.
It’s no surprise that many European and African airlines exploit baggage allowances. If you’ve followed my blog posts, it’s a recurring theme. This unexpected $50 fee didn’t seem worth a fuss. In the past, I’ve thrown a fit when asked to pay as much as $500+ for a second bag! I’ve played every possible card to avoid ridiculous baggage fees, but sometimes the effort involved just isn’t worth it…
Credit Card Problems
After receiving an email alert for an unknown charge, I notified the credit card company – when they saw I was in Mozambique, they freaked and immediately cancelled my card. The bank credited the erroneous charge within the hour, but the cancelled card was traumatic. Thankfully, I had a backup to use until the replacement arrived, another card that doesn’t charge currency conversion and other travel fees, or I’d be paying some hefty bank transaction charges.
Mini Food Crisis
There wasn’t time for breakfast. I was hungry and stopped for a quick wrap to take along. It was packaged poorly and fell apart in my bag – leaving lettuce, tomato, avocado everywhere….
More Credit Card Mayhem
My credit card didn’t recognize Maputo, even though I’d made a point of filing a travel plan, including Mozambique. The bank’s system flagged it as shady and flat-out rejected payment. After a few raised eyebrows at the front desk and an email, the problem was resolved. I like the hotel. It’s well-located, reasonably priced, and comfortable with a friendly, helpful concierge!
After what seemed like a “running of the gauntlet“, I took a few minutes to sit quietly and take a deep breath. THEN, my laptop went berserk and decided it wasn’t changing wireless networks any more. It spewed out a list of WiFi connections for past countries as “unavailable” and sent unfriendly, confusing messages. Don’t understand how the computer remembered the many previous WiFi networks from months ago! Eventually, the laptop finished expressing its ire, came to its senses, and calmed down. It’s fine now. Everything appears in Portuguese and is then translated (sometimes) to English!
Easy Peezee Mozambican Visa
The only “pleasant” surprise of the day was that Mozambique Immigration was an easy, no-nonsense, non-intimidating process. They asked for a passport with sufficient blank pages, a completed visa form, and quickly stamped a tourist visa – yeah! The charge was $50 which thankfully you could pay with a credit card – some African countries require cash in $USD, regardless of your country of origin. Two Scottish tourists held their USDs in hand ready to pay. Immigration officials took fingerprints and a photo, which appear with the visa stamp. If you stay beyond your visa expiration date, you’ll pay a fine before leaving the country.
I decided not to rent a car, since research indicated there’s hectic traffic in Maputo, and driving is dangerous. Anyway, after South Africa, I needed a driving break. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to get around, other than by walking. Undoubtedly, Maputo is best seen on foot, but hitting the pavement every day eventually gets tiring, especially in 90+ degree heat.
Public transportation in Maputo is non-existent and problematic. The government scrapped a project for building a much-needed tram system – primarily because of the high construction cost. Hopefully, they will address this, as not everyone can afford to hire a limo or physically walk long distances. I’m still pondering using Maputo taxis. In the past, I’ve had many scary taxi experiences traveling solo.
The concierge advised that crowded local buses were dangerous for tourists and suggested avoiding them, especially the minibus local taxis called “chapas“. Public transportation is a sore subject in Maputo, especially for working commuters – I missed this major point while doing my research.
After the Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992), Maputo had a “public transport crisis”. A state-owned company, Transporte de Moçambique (TPM), tried to fix the problem by acquiring several hundred buses which are now old, but still operating.
In the 1900s, Maputo was home to “one of the first electric tramways in Africa”. The tram system lost popularity and caused “protests from the public, because certain ‘classes’ had limited access to its use”. The trams haven’t been used since 1936, so maybe it’s time to rethink this?
Maputo also has three-wheeled tuk-tuks like those used in Cambodia and India. They pose a competitive threat to the taxis and are called “tchopelas“. The ones I’ve ridden are pretty funky. I wondered if we would make it to the destination without wheels falling off. The interiors were dirty, damaged, and in bad condition. Most drivers speak zero English. You can try Portuguese?
First Day Exploring Maputo
The first day, I explored areas near my hotel. Avenida Julius Nyerere and Avenida Armando Tivane, both are lined with interesting street art, architecture, shops, cafés, and restaurants. Julius Nyerere was an anti-colonial activist politician and the first president of Tanzania. Armando Tivane was a political commissar during Mozambique’s national liberation struggle. Tivane is said to have excelled at boosting morale and helping guerrillas gain the freedom and strength to defeat the Portuguese.
The cafés on Avenida Julius Nyerere are cozy and serve great pastries, tea, and espresso! The street pavement throughout most of Maputo is a mess – cracked, crumbling concrete on the sidewalks. I’m not sure if it’s damage from the civil war or cars parking on the sidewalk, but it’s definitely dangerous for anyone with a disability.
After gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique politics is obvious from some of Maputo’s street names. Mao, Lenin, Marx, Engels, Ho Chi Minh, and even former North Korean President Kim Il Sung have streets named after them. Like many other African countries, Mozambique politics seems very complicated – at least to me.
Reminiscent of Bogotá Colombia, guards are posted everywhere – some with machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. I’ve seen no direct evidence of violence or crime. Every bank ATM has an armed guard. Very little English is spoken – so I’m learning survival Portuguese, which is similar to Spanish in many ways.
It’s nice to be in a large city again. Maputo reminds me of other cities visited – of course Lisbon, and maybe parts of Bogotá, Buenos Aires or Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. The outside cafés and exotic tree-lined streets are beautiful. Food is inexpensive and fantastic with good service. It’s a late-night city with active nightlife – quite a switch from Amanzimtoti, Durban, and isolated Seychelles. I went out for dinner last night and enjoyed a lively evening.
I bought an interesting book – Maputo Architecture and Tourist Guide, by Philipp Schauer. Schauer is German Ambassador to Mozambique. His book includes maps and describes interesting walking tours. It “focuses on Maputo’s architecture” but also tells “stories of local inhabitants, giving Schauer’s perspective and in-depth history of the city”. Maputo has fascinating people, architecture, and art. Every day I get an education and learn new terms, like Tropical Modernism.
Tomorrow, I’m taking an all-day guided tour of major points of interest. The hotel concierge helped arrange it and found a reasonably priced guide. Haven’t taken many photos yet. Walking around with a camera in hand is a bit dangerous – as I was reminded by a group of rowdy, menacing young guys hanging out on the street! I’m looking into nature reserves to find an affordable one to visit. Getting there is complicated, and accommodations are pricey.
Can’t believe it’s already February! More when possible….