I am a stats junkie when it comes to all things Internet. Looking through the incoming links for this blog, it seems that a good few people came to the site looking up the various articles to do with backpacking through Mozambique – something that I have only spoken about from a personal point of view, or through talking about specific backpackers (if you don’t read the post, stay away form Fatima’s in Tofo – it is a dank hole). It seems useful then, with the dust now having settled and hindsight being a bit clearer, to put together a list of useful things that I think you should bear in mind if you intend to go exploring Mozambique.
Bear in mind, that I only covered the southern coastal section of the country, and cannot speak for the north – which I am told is cheaper, more architecturally beautiful and harder to get around in. That said, what you should probably know before you go includes:
So if you see a policeman, cross the road. You will generally be safer on the side with the criminals.
Do not trust the police
Unless you really have no choice – i.e. you need to report a crime (and it wasn’t perpetrated by a policeman), give these folk a wide berth. Like most countries where the police carry AK47s, customer service is not high on the list of popular electives at police academy. If a policeman can speak decent (or even semi decent) English, then he has probably learned how to turn it to getting bribes from foreigners. Nearly every traveller I met from Maputo to Inhambane had a nasty story of some sort involving a policeman. Ranging from being stopped on bogus pretences to make life difficult in exchange for a bribe, to being outright thrown in a cell until someone from the ministry of tourism (or whatever it is called) came to rescue them, none of the stories were particularly pleasant and most involved some degree of personal expense. So if you see a policeman, cross the road. You will generally be safer on the side with the criminals.
Lonely Planet was wrong about the walk to Baobab
The LP guide, who I generally respect highly in all matters of guidance and warning, was (I believe), probably wrong in stating that the walk from the bus arrival point in Vilanculo to Baobab Beach Backpackers was unsafe. I walked it numerous times in the middle of the night around Christmas and twice at 2am in the morning with pack and all en route to catch the bus back to Maputo. All of those times, although eerie, it seemed safe enough. Walking around in the day seems to pose no danger whatsoever either. There are no lights (at all), and so it can be hard to find your way, and if someone wanted to mug you, they would be hard pressed to find a more opportune place to do it, but in spite of that, there seemed to be no suggestion that it was unsafe. I asked the barman at Zombie Cucumber about the walk as well, and he confirmed my suspicions, not regarding the walk as in any way dangerous.
That said, I am a guy – a tall one – and am talking on limited experience here. So I take no responsibility whatsoever for you enriching the criminal underworld through silliness. Further disclaimer, etc.
Junta is a cheap way to leave Maputo going north
If you are in Maputo and want to travel north, and don’t mind putting up with (frankly terrible) poorly maintained buses or crowded chapas, then it is most cost effective to depart from a place called Junta. Some distance from town proper, it is a large, dusty open place where buses of all manner congregate to die (and occasionally act as transport) and you can get an excellent deal on a bus north (I went as far as Vilanculo – 12 hours, 550MTN), but I suspect you can go further if you wanted. When returning to Maputo, odds are good that you will be dropped at Junta as your final destination. Rather than catching a meter cab for a few hundred Meticais to get back into town, take one of the public transports instead. They look like small buses (often with Japanese writing on the side – god knows why, I imagine they are old stock, dumped in Africa or something) and ask to be taken to Pandora. This is a church maybe 500m or so from Fatima’s in Maputo and will cost you 25MTN for the whole trip – a considerable saving.
If you can find a mercado (market) , buy stuff there
Beer is around half the price, and vegetables and fish are much cheaper in the markets. Do not buy stuff from supermarkets, or worse, from the backpackers directly, as this will cost you a large amount more than in the markets. If drinking is your thing, try to find the local rum, called Tipo Tinto (and written rhum on the label). It is local, cheap as water (well, almost), and makes a halfway decent mixer for Mojitos.
Portuguese is useful
Who would have thought. Duh. If you are travelling remotely off the main routes, knowledge of English rapidly tapers off to nil. If you can familiarise yourself with some basic Portuguese phrases and learn basic counting, you will find life a world easier. Also, learn your five times table in Portuguese (especially the words for 15, 50 and 25) and you will be able to understand the response to many price requests.
December is very hot
Very hot. Super hot. Sweat so much you think you will cry hot. If at all possible, try a drier season to go adventuring – your skin will thank you for it. If you have no choice or, like me, are stubborn, then take light clothing and try not to do too much walking. If, like me, you are insistent on doing too much walking, then do it outside of midday. If, like me, you insist on walking around in the midday sun, put on sunscreen regularly. If, like my brother, you get badly burned because you followed none of the preceeding advice, you will likely become an object of fun and ridicule among your friends. At this point, the sympathy train has left the station and you will have a sad and burning set of days ahead.
Mosquito nets are not necessary, but repellent is
If you are staying in backpackers, nearly all of them will have mosquito nets provided for you, so you need not worry about carrying one around with you. Repellent is useful, however, for the times when you are outside, hanging around at the bar or otherwise being out of your bed in the evenings, and will save you a world of mosquito bites. There really are a lot of mosquitoes, so taking an anti-malaria prophylactic is a must.
It is a beautiful country
It really is. In Vilanculo, there is bathwater-warm sea and bone-white sand beaches. There are friendly people and more coconuts and palm trees than an angry monkey could shake a stick at, and it is most definitely worth your time to properly explore. While the country is poor (largely a product of South-African-sponsored civil war and Portuguese colonisation), you will find yourself paying above average tourist prices for most things if you buy them from places on the tourist routes (above average meaning more than in South Africa by 20 – 40%). The exception to this is the markets, which will give you closer to local rates and save you a bundle of money. I understand that in the far north, general vegetable and grocery prices are less than in the south (driven up by South African tourists), but I didn’t get to see this myself, as I did not go further north than Vilanculo. It’s definitely worth seeing, and is one of those special places in modern backpacking, where you actually feel at times like you are in a different world properly – not surrounded by a comfortable bubble of backpacker tourism, or that you are walking the same path as a ton of other backpackers before you.
Finally, as Douglas Adams so wisely mentions in the Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy series, bring a towel. To that I would only add, keep it dry. Mine got damp and I didn’t – so it grew mould. Which made me sad. So do not make such a silly error when you explore this beautiful country.
If you have been in Mozambique, I would love for you to leave your own impressions here for others. This writeup gets a lot of traffic from folk headed to the country, so any information you could add would likely benefit them a great deal too. Thanks!