Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting to Mozambique

Day 15

Deplane in Maputo; not into a jetway, just straight onto the tarmac. I follow the crowd into the arrivals hall and I look up to see a huge yellow sign – something about Yellow Fever. I’m already worried; I don’t have a vaccination card. I’ve heard you can get a shot at the border, but I don’t know what I’m more afraid of, yellow fever or getting an injection in a place with an HIV/AIDS rate as high as Mozambique [in some places reported to be 40%]. Luckily, my passport exempts me from the necessary shots. A flashback to the Middle East reminds me of the benefits of traveling on American documents.


Wait in line for a visa; they ask for the address where I’m staying. I just write Ribaue. I tell them I’m visiting my brother, a teacher at la escola secondária. Does that place even have an address?


While the officials deliberate over my visa, a Romanian man looks at me; he’s waiting too. We are the only white people in sight.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, in a tone somewhere between confusion and accusation.

I tell him I’m on my way to visit family, which I think confuses him even more, given my complexion.

“Aren’t you afraid?” He asks.

I look around, noticing the official sign hanging above us that offers a number to call if/when you encounter corruption in the airport.

“A little” I admit.

“I’m here for work, but I did everything I could to try to get out of it. This place is hell on earth.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well, best of luck” he says with a smirk, as the border official returns with his visa-laden passport.


It takes nearly 2 hours to straighten out the reservation for my flight to the northern city of Nampula. There is a moment when I really doubt whether I’m going to make it, but eventually my credit car helps to clear up the confusion. Once the flight has taken off, I pull out my guidebook to Mozambique.

“So far as tourists are concerned, Mozambique might almost as well be two countries…the south coast of Mozambique is already established as a tourist destination… the north, by contrast, has few facilities for tourists, and getting to those that exist takes determination and either time or money.”

Great, I have neither.

“Any honest description of northern Mozambique is bound to repel visitors seeking comfort, predictability or packaged entertainment. Equally, it is likely to whet the appetite of travelers looking for an adventurous trip through one of southern Africa’s least-explored regions…little visited even by backpackers, northern Mozambique offers the sort of challenging travel that recalls conditions in countries like Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda in the mid-1980s – but exacerbated by linguistic barriers, humidity levels that reach intolerable proportions in summer, relatively high costs, and a public transport system that in places defies rational comprehension.”


The author goes on to describe travel in the north as “downright frustrating” and “a great deal of bumpy motion with relatively few highlights.”

Sounds fantastic.

I scan the history and culture sections, where I read about Mozambique’s brutal civil war that killed 100,000 people and the disastrous flooding of 2000 that left 500,000 people homeless. Finally, I get to the “Practical Information” chapter where I learn that “there’s a high likelihood that you will become ill at some point on your trip” given that “as with most of sub-Saharan Africa, Mozambique boasts an array of tropical diseases of varying degrees of severity and inconvenience.” I read on, cringing, as I make my way through page after page of gory details.

I’ll spare you the particulars, but I decide that’s just about enough of the guidebook.

Opting for some escapism, I pick up the novel I have with me. The Poisonwood Bible details the story of a missionary family that moves to the Congo in the 1960s. I make it through the part where Ruth May dies after being bitten by a green mamba, before I give up on reading material altogether.

I look out the window, then at the Moçambicano seated next to me, who is clutching both arm rests with a death grip.

Panic. Wait a minute…what am I doing here? What the hell was I thinking? I don’t belong here. Mozambique is the kind of place that people try desperately to leave, not the kind of place they go to voluntarily. Is it too late for second thoughts?

I look back at death grip; his eyes are closed, his lips moving slowly.

Praying? Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.


Step onto the tarmac; it’s hot…really hot. I look up and see Scotty on the balcony waving. Okay…I’m alive; he’s here; everything is going to be fine…right?

Here we go…

No comments:

Post a Comment