The travel day from Amanzimtoti in South Africa to Maputo wasn’t quite bad enough to label “from hell,” but it was close. The small commuter flight was unremarkable, and I easily passed through Mozambique Immigration, but the drive to Durban’s King Shaka Airport from Amanzimtoti was full of hiccups.
Travel Day Disasters
During the drive to the airport, N2 traffic was congested and slow. A truck jackknifed blocking northbound traffic and bringing everything to a standstill. I worried the delay would result in missing my flight to Maputo, but 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. There has been much happening with the airline in recent months – almost as bad as Air Zimbabwe! SAA is on the brink of bankruptcy and was recently bailed out by the South African Government.
Reluctantly, I paid $50 for a second bag, and 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 long trip through multiple climates and countries. I like to leave flights open and maintain options like changing my itinerary at any time. Booking restrictive round-trip tickets hampers my free spirit and isn’t appealing.
Many European and African airlines exploit baggage allowances. If you’ve followed my blog posts, it’s a recurring theme. This $50 fee didn’t seem worth a fuss, but in the past, I’ve thrown a fit when asked to pay as much as $500+ for a second bag – shameless robbery! I’ve learned to use every card possible to avoid the ridiculous fees, but sometimes the effort involved just isn’t worth it…
Credit Card Problems
After receiving an email alert about an unknown charge, I notified the credit card company – 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 filed 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 hotel front desk and an email, I resolved the problem. 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 in my hotel room and take a deep breath. THEN, my laptop went berserk and decided it wasn’t changing wireless networks any more. It listed WiFi connections for past countries as “unavailable” and sent confusing messages. Don’t understand how the computer remembered the many previous WiFi networks from months ago! Eventually, the laptop 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 and 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. 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 the visa expiration date, you will pay a big fee before leaving the country.
I decided not to rent a car, since research indicates there’s hectic traffic and that driving in Maputo is dangerous. 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 the 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 cost of construction. Hopefully they will address this, as not all tourists can afford to hire a limo or physically walk long distances.
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 commuters – I missed this major point while doing 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 early 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 – maybe they should 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 damaged and in bad condition, and most drivers don’t speak English.
First Day Exploring Maputo
The first day, I explored areas near my hotel. Avenida Julius Nyerere and Avenida Armando Tivane both have interesting 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 excelled at boosting morale and helped 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 dangerous for anyone with a disability.
Mozambique politics after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, 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 all have streets named after them.
Guards are posted everywhere – some with machine guns – but I’ve seen no 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 is reminiscent of other cities visited – of course Lisbon, and maybe parts of Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. The outside cafés and exotic tree-lined streets are beautiful, and food is 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 has maps and describes interesting walking tours. It “focuses on Maputo’s architecture” but also tells “stories of local inhabitants giving his perspective and in-depth history of the city”. Maputo has fascinating people, art, and architecture. Every day I 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 5 or 6 menacing young guys hanging out on the street! I’m looking into nature reserves to see if I can find an affordable one to visit. Getting there is complicated and accommodations are pricey.
Can’t believe it’s already February! More when possible….