Backpacking Journeys in Maputo

So mid-semester break began and my friends, Katt and Alex, and I headed out on our bus journey to Mozambique and South Africa. Our first destination was Tofo, Mozambique and we passed through Johannesburg, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique to get there. Before leaving Gabs, we bought a small radio and burned maybe twenty playlists onto CDs to keep us entertained during the heavy-duty traveling we’d be doing. The bus rides to Johannesburg, then Maputo, then Tofo were each about 8 hours. The bus from Johannesburg to Cape Town alone was 19! We also packed food to keep the beginning of the trip cheap: bread, peanut butter, honey, granola, raisins, avocados, and a bag of apples.

On the drive to Maputo, we passed vast, empty fields of red dirt pockmarked with green bushes and scarred with stretches of fire-blackened earth. The ashes would make for fertile soil, but there was so much land that I couldn’t imagine anyone plowing all of it. As we neared the coast, waterside shanty villages popped up like mushrooms. We passed two women walking on a huge rumbling pipe that ran along the side of the road, balancing baskets of laundry on their heads.

Maputo felt oddly dystopian. A cold humidity clutched the city and thick gray clouds roiled above us. The Portuguese influence on Maputo was clear in the architecture, especially in the outdoor cafes. Maputo felt incredibly versatile, like  I could be in South America, the Caribbean, or maybe even someplace in Mediterranean Europe – not just Africa.

My friends and I checked into Fatima’s Place which had open-air common spaces, including a kitchen, sitting areas, and colorful bar. The people there were pretty chill. After booking our bus to Tofo for the next morning, we pitched our tent upstairs on the outdoor loft. We were the only campers. Sure we were squeezing three people and nearly two-weeks-worth of traveling stuff a two-person tent, but it was worth it. It was way cheaper than getting a room and we had the entire loft to ourselves which was half-sheltered by an overhanging tree.

After settling in, we walked for a bit in the neighborhood, futilely searching for one of the many cafes we had seen coming into Maputo. We caught a cab and decided to go to the market we had passed on the bus ride in. Markets are always places I want to explore in new places – they’re almost always the heart of the city – the lifeblood of the culture. This market was a maze of outdoor stalls and tables as well as an indoor area with rows and rows of counters. Outside we found crafts, makeshift tuckshops, hair products, and counters heaped with produce – fresh fruits and vegetables I had never seen before alongside neatly piled bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, and papaya. There were jars of homemade chili sauce and chili mangos, women roasting and spicing nuts, woven baskets of dried peppers, garlic, avocados, tamarind, packets of sour baobab fruit, stacked bags of beans and manioc flour sagging over each other, spices, fresh fish, soggy cardboard boxes of live crabs still coated in mud, and oysters.

We accidentally acquired a guide who led us through the market and told us the names of certain fruits and spices and even wrangled some fruit samples from the market women for us. We bought some veggies to make a stir fry for dinner, knowing it would be a nice supplement to our avocado sandwiches.  I bought a huge clump of fresh mint leaves for 30 meticais (about 1 US dollar) which I boiled for tea back at our hostel. I also bought some dried lemongrass and a carved pipe (which I want to describe as dope, but feel like I shouldn’t because of the implications) with an intricate, bearded face at the end.

After the market, we wandered around Maputo on foot and stumbled upon a dystopian and unkempt park. There were very few people and the winding pavement paths were raised, cracked, and humped. Trash was sparsely littered across the ground. We found one part that made me think of the pterodactyl birdcage from Jurassic Park, but the windows were broken in many places and the plants were wild and overgrown. Random cuddling couples were shrouded in nooks and crannies of this place. Right outside of it, was a bare jungle gym and trees that looked like they had eyes carved all over them, but it was all natural. Down the steps, was a dirty pond with a wire fence falling into it and some weird house structure sitting in the middle. We hung out at the pond for at least 15 minutes trying to guess what the little house was for. We couldn’t decide.

We returned to Fatima’s after getting ripped off by a cabbie, walked to a nearby café and (finally) got some coffee. That café made a mean espresso and it cost the equivalent of 1 US dollar. Can’t beat that.

Hostel camping was better than I expected it to be. The tent was a bit cramped for the 3 of us, but it was comfortable enough. Besides, we were up at 4:30am the next morning to catch the bus to Tofo. It rained on-and-off through the night, but we had a rainproof tarp.

The first leg of the trip was almost over!

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