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 passed through Mozambique Immigration easily, but getting from Amanzimtoti to Durban’s King Shaka Airport was full of hiccups.
Travel Day Disasters
Havoc on the N2 – During the drive to the airport, traffic on the N2 was slow and congested. A truck jackknife blocked northbound traffic, bringing everything to a standstill. Thought the delay would result in missing the flight to Maputo, but somehow, I squeaked by and made it on time.
Excess Baggage AGAIN – There was a misunderstanding about SA Airlink’s “checked” baggage allowance, ha – a misunderstanding explained as clearly my mistake ; ( – not the airline’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 their baggage allowance limits. However, SAA handles their bookings, billing, and check-in. There has been much happening with SAA in recent months – almost as bad as Air Zimbabwe! SAA is on and off being on the brink of bankruptcy. They were 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. Booking a restrictive round-trip ticket hampers my free spirit and isn’t appealing. I like to leave flights open and maintain options like changing the itinerary anytime.
Many European and African airlines heavily 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+ in excess baggage fees for a second bag – shameless robbery! I’ve learned to use every card possible to avoid the ridiculous fees but sometimes the effort involved 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 issuing company credited the erroneous charge within the hour, but the cancelled card was traumatic for me. Thankfully, I had a backup to use until the replacement arrived. It was another card that doesn’t charge foreign currency conversion and other travel fees, or I’d be paying some hefty transaction charges.
Food Crisis – There was no time for breakfast. I was super hungry and stopped for a quick wrap to take along. It was packaged poorly and fell apart in my bag – lettuce, tomato, avocado everywhere….
More Credit Card Mayhem – The credit card didn’t recognize Maputo, even though I filed an updated travel plan that included Mozambique. The bank’s system must have flagged it as shady and flat-out rejected payment. After a few raised eyebrows at the hotel’s front desk and an email, I resolved the problem. I like the hotel. It’s well-located, reasonably priced, and comfortable with a helpful concierge!
Laptop Revolt – After what seemed like “running the gauntlet“, I took a few minutes to sit quietly in my room and take a deep breath. THEN, the laptop decided it was not changing wireless networks any more. It went berserk listing WiFi connections “automatically” connected to in past countries as “unavailable” and sending confusing messages. Don’t understand how the laptop remembered all those old WiFi networks – there have been so many! Eventually, the computer came to its senses and calmed down. It’s fine now. Everything initially 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 hefty fee before leaving the country.
I decided not to rent a car, since research indicates 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 foot of course. Everyone says Maputo is best seen on foot, but hitting the pavement all day every day eventually gets tiring, especially in the 90+ degree heat.
Public transportation in Maputo is non-existent and problematic. Long ago, the government scrapped a project for building a much-needed tram system – primarily because of the high cost of construction. They need to do something, as not all tourists can afford to hire a limo.
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 – something I missed while doing research.
After their civil war, 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, and the interiors were in terrible condition.
First Day Exploring Maputo
I spent my first day walking and exploring the busy area near my hotel. Avenida Julius Nyerere and Avenida Armando Tivane both have interesting architecture and shops, cafés, and restaurants. Julius Nyerere was an anti-colonial activist and 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 helping the guerrillas gain the freedom and strength to defeat the Portuguese.
The cafés on Avenida Julius Nyerere are cozy and serve great pastries, espresso, and tea! 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 but it’s potentially dangerous for anyone with a disability.
Mozambique economics – 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.
There are guards posted everywhere – some with machine guns – but I saw 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 has similarities with Spanish.
It’s nice to be in a city again. Maputo is reminiscent of some other cities visited – of course Lisbon, and maybe 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 Durban, Amanzimtoti, and isolated Seychelles. I went out for dinner last night and enjoyed the evening.
Bought an interesting book – Maputo Architecture and Tourist Guide by Philipp Schauer. Schauer is the German Ambassador to Mozambique. His book has maps and descriptions of interesting city walking tours. It “focuses on Maputo’s architecture” but tells great “stories of its local inhabitants and gives ideas and in-depth history of the city”. Maputo has unusual but fascinating people, art, and architecture, and every day I learn new terms like Tropical Modernism – huh….
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! Looking into nature reserves to see if I can find an affordable one to visit later in the month.
Can’t believe it’s already February! More when possible….