I’m somewhat reluctant to write about Mozambique, I’m still getting over not being able to be on holiday anymore. I feel sad thinking about the good times when they are over. If I had the time and the money, I would spend it exploring this amazing continent. The more I see, the more I want to see.
My plans were to meet my friend Gaby. She was supposed to be back in Maputo by the time my holidays came around. But it was not to be. Life seems to be steering her in another direction, namely Latin America. So, in the end, I got to do my favorite kind of travel … solo. I would have loved to see her, but I am also kind of happy I was alone. Hard to explain.
The plan was to take a bus to Johannesburg, from there a train to Komatipoort, and from Komatipoort, I would take a chappa to the boarder and from the border find Ressano Garcia train station and take a train to Maputo. In theory that was supposed to happen.
So, Thursday evening, 18 April, at the bus station, planning to board and Intercape bus to Johannesburg, I was informed by the lady behind the counter that my ticket was actually for the next day. And the bus for that day was fully booked, so they couldn’t rebook me for that evening. What a nuisance it would be to go home and miss a day in Mozambique, and also lose out on my train ticket from Johannesburg to Komatipoort. Luckily I had the sense enough to ask if there was another bus company operating who had a trip that evening. Intercape was kind enough to refund me with a voucher, and I booked a ticket with Eldo Coaches, which turns out to be managed by a friend of mine (would you believe). And the change was for the best because the Eldo Coach was very comfortable, and not fully booked. I also realized that they are probably the cheapest comfortable bus transport. If I had booked in advance, I would have paid ZAR500, but I paid ZAR700 instead for booking last minute. SA Roadlink would be the cheapest, but they look a right old mess. People were queueing (bundling) and nobody let them into the bus. It looked alot like a service delivery protest gathering. I think SA Roadlink are very very disorganized, and seemed to have overbooked their buses. I felt very sorry for the people who were travelling SA Roadlink. Their tickets are VERY cheap though, I think ZAR300 from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
I was a bit nervous, as always, I’m a very nervous passenger on the road. The bus felt to me to be speeding, and it being dark I had thoughts of head on collisions, crashing, veering off the road, and all of that. I met a nice lady on the bus. She as travelling with her little baba, who was the cutest little podgy thing wrapped in a blanket. And he had a smile to light up the universe too. She was travelling to her hometown Bloemfontein for the funeral of her father.
The bus stopped twice only, other than when the driver stopped to take a wizz on the side of the road. They told us that they were not going to stop as much as they normally do because it was Easter, and it would be too conjested at the 1-stops and Shell Ultra Cities. By 1.30 pm on Friday, the bus pulled into Park Station. From here I would catch the 6pm train to Komatipoort, so there was alot of hanging around to do. Park station is quite a busy place. Its a hub of informal business. Terminus for long distance buses, and a train station for long distance trains, local trains, and even the Gautrain. Time can move quite fast when you have things to do. So it didn’t seem like too long to wait. I went to Burger King where I charged my phone, caught some snoozies and a coupla coffees. Then my friend who lives near Park station came to say hi and brought me food for the road, and then I boarded the train which left right on time.
Once seated, This young lady, Lungile came to ask me if she could sit with me. She was told that this Shosholoza trains are very dangerous, because people will steal you stuff when you fall asleep and one should sleep ontop of all your stuff. I chose the sitter option. There was an option to take a cubicle with a bed/sleeper option, but for the experience, I chose the sitter option. Not long into the trip, I was being told Lungile’s whole life story. The reason she had come to Johannesburg was to look for a job. She had a friend there who had offered to help her out. From what I gathered, Lungile expected the friend to spoon fee her and find the job for her. But things didn’t work out, so she was on her way home. She claimed to be struggling alot, that there was no money at home, and no jobs. Yet on the other hand, she was dressed rather modern, with a pair of Nike shoes, and pretty fashionable bags, halfway through the trip she changed into a pretty looking frock too. I gave her some advice on where to start when she got home, in terms of going to study something so that she could have a better life. But she was not really interested in that, saying it was too hard to go to local government offices and ask for advice on bursaries etc. Before long she was playing on my sympathies asking for even just ZAR50 so she could buy her little brothers and sisters something nice at home. On the other hand, Lungile was not short on airtime. She was foning everybody all the time. Cell phone calls are very expensive in South Africa. And she was saying, she will never take the train again, its too slow. The only reason she took the train is because it was cheap. I thought she seemed very ungrateful and in some way spoilt with a sense that everybody should just help her and do everything for her. She sent me a few please call me’s when I was in Mozambique and even when I got back to SA. Wow, what a person.
The train took a full 12 hours, and by the time we got to Mpumalanga province, the sun was coming up. Just before Komatipoort, we passed some banana plantations, and I could almost feel Mozambique.
Once in Komatipoort, all the train travellers filed out of the station in two lines, to catch a chappa to Mozambique.
Eish, I think one has to have alot of patience to live on this continent. At first the taxi guy told me it would be ZAR 60 and then later, 100 meters from the station, the taxi stopped, and everybody’s bags had to get taken off, and passengers names taken, and people came with merchandise to load onto the trailer of the chappa where our bag were to go, then stuff got taken off and put on, and people were given new prices for what it would cost for bags and stuff. In the end I think I paid ZAR100. Lost of people actually went to find alternative chappas because they were not happy with the deal this one was giving them. The trailer was loaded to high heaven with merchandise to be delivered to businesses in Mozambique, and all our bags, and tables and chairs. All sorts of things. I think it was actually 2 or 3 hours before we got on the road.
In the meantime, while we waited. A lady with a stack of money came. This is how they do foreign exchange. I like it alot. She gave exactly the 3:1 exchange rate. Had I gone to a forex place, I would have definitely got less for my money.
Once on the road, one of the guys on the bus started making conversation, and before long he was proposing to me. It was quite an entertaining ride. He made it fun and interesting.
Some 10 km or so into the drive, the trailer got a flat which, by the looks of the load is not a surprise.
Crossing the border was quite an adventure. Once one gets to the border post, everybody gets off, and passes through the SA customs, which is a proper building. Then walking another few meters, one gets to the Mozambique customs which is a guy standing outside a door with a stamp. Just the way I like it. On the other side, my first purchase was a little cone of what the ladies said was something edible “para comida” they said, it turns out to be sand. I guess they eat sand. I still have my sand at home. I was quite hungry, at the time, but not hungry enough for sand.
The journey became even more interesting as a result of my new love interest asking me where I was going, and I showed him on a map that I needed to be in Patrice Lumumba street in Maputo. Then he said, no, that’s not really in Maputo, and the taxi ended up dropping me at another taxi station where they transported me to Patrice Lumumba township. This was not where I planned to be. But it was a unique experience in itself which money can’t buy. It was still daylight and a friendly shop keeper lady got her friend to accompany me on the local transport to take me into Maputo. Two buses, a tuk-tuk later and an hour later, I was infront of The Base Backpackers on Patrice Lumumba street in Maputo central. All in all, it had been quite a nice experience getting there. It was Saturday afternoon by then.