The Mozambican Debate: To go or not to go?
The Republic of Mozambique is a Southeastern African country bordered by: South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and the Indian Ocean. Until the early 1990’s, this Portuguese speaking country was engaged in a civil war (Frelimo vs. Renamo) and was considered the poorest country in the world. Fortunately, in the last twenty or so years their political situation has improved since signing the Rome General Peace Accords. However, the end 2013 – beginning 2014 saw unrest and political tension ignite in the central and northern parts of the country. Bullets were fired, rural habitants were displaced, people were injured and the general consensus was that Mozambique was in a fragile state. We questioned whether it was worth visiting at this time given the current level of risk. Military convoys were required when crossing some regions and regional travel advisories cautioned against travel in these regions but the southern third of the country appeared untouched by the conflict. In addition to the recent events there was also much consideration for the long running problem of police/military corruption. We were sternly warned by several that it’s unlikely and even unheard of to visit Mozambique without having to pay multiple bribes. Most were cautious in their advice to travel to Mozambique and some bluntly recommended that the payoff would not surpass the hassle and cost of bribes. During initial preparations for Project Banshee, our tentative plan was to overland the entire coast south-north up to Tanzania arriving within the prime Kilimanjaro climbing season of Jan to mid-March. After a lot of debate and discussion, we decided to visit southern Mozambique only and double back down south with the goal of not having to pay a single bribe. This meant that we would miss the Kilimanjaro window but also not risk being caught in the middle should things escalate. Despite having heard in the media of an agreement between Frelimo and Renamo shortly after our arrival in Maputo, we did not alter our plan to travel no further than Vilankulo – the hub to the Bazaruto Archipelago. Luckily, during our Mozambican travels we did not witness any unrest and aside from a near mugging on the beach in Vilankulo we generally felt safe.
Near muggings have a way of ruining zen moments. Blooming cactuses behind us, abandoned dhows beached at low tide, our feet in the turquoise water while munching on fresh samosas bought from a local boy who happened to walk by. Such a peaceful scene was swiftly shattered by a deranged local man although clean in appearance, cursing and shouting aggressively. He keenly observed our camera under arm, small knapsack and was behaving as though he could have become violent at any moment. Tamaira slowly made some distance and eventually Michel was able to talk his way out of the situation and burn down the beach to safer ground. Although an isolated incident, the aggressive beach encounter decreased our already cautious willingness to walk around with our camera gear in public. Whether this was the right call is debatable as we missed out on so many great shots. Although we managed to avert all losses through militant diligence, theft was a reality in Mozambique. Proof of this was seen by all the vehicle lights and emblems secured in place via rivets and a small strip of metal! Further proof of the theft problem, likely heightened in Maputo, was our newly made South African friends stolen Mitsubishi bakkie passenger side mirror (just the mirror, not the entire assembly) after being parked for 30 minutes while we sipped on some pops in a nearby pub.
The traffic police presence was in some ways impressive. We estimated that there were more traffic police than potholes! If only each policeman could fill one pothole, Mozambique would have the worlds largest pothole maintenance crew and best roadways. We were stopped for no legitimate reason by the police and military a total of ten times in four travelling days in the Land Rover and once on foot in the capital city of Maputo. Fortunately the bright yellow Yster Ratel was flagged straight through just as many more checkpoints – unsure why but we weren’t about to stop and ask. The traffic police often accompanied by military presence (read: AK47’s) were at times 5km apart on the highway. The speed limit dropped to 80km/h and then 60km/h for every village (cluster of huts) and the police with or without radar were sure to be camped out, ready to stop nearly everyone for various “infractions”. During two incidences we were stopped and told that we were speeding. This was clearly not the case as we were watching our speed on the GPS and the Yster Ratel with a top speed of 95 km/h but more comfortably 80 km/h was definitely not setting any land speed records. The first time we were stopped for speeding we firmly insisted that we were not speeding and refused to provide our original drivers license (recommended guide-book tactic) This unfortunately did not work, really pissed the policeman off and cost us a hefty fine. We did not want to pay the fine however the situation was rapidly deteriorating and in the end the man with the gun was the boss. Quickly learning from our shortcomings, we adopted a new tactic. Instead of being firm, we would attempt to communicate and negotiate in French claiming not to speak English and Portuguese. We named this simple approach the ESL Tourist. This proved to be successful at all future checkpoints with the exception of our final interaction with Mozambique’s finest. With the threat of a 4000 meticais fine lingering, the ESL Tourist approach failed to gain traction and we needed a bit of luck since we only had 400 meticais on hand. Luckily, a few days prior, a Tofu resident told us about a well-known policeman coined the hunter who commonly patrols a section of the EN1. A few months prior, after being pulled over for allegedly speeding on a section of road that was mysteriously missing the 100km/h speed limit sign, she was able to negotiate her fine down to a new hunting knife from South Africa to be delivered upon her return to Mozambique. The Hunter was skeptical at first but in the end couldn’t refuse an early Christmas present. We were on the EN1. It felt as though the limit should have been 100 km/h. Had we been caught in the Hunter’s trapline? Getting desperate and remembering the story, we asked the policemen if he was the Hunter. He proudly responded that he was indeed the Hunter and we proceeded with talking about his new knife, different hunting regions and game. Slowly the policeman forgot about the fine and instructed us to carry on our journey with nothing more than a smile. Chow chow!
In the end, we did not pay any bribes, just one questionable speeding ticket (official ticket below, Pedro Mendes to translate) of 1000 meticais (~ 33 CAD). Although the level of corruption was a shock to our North American standards, there is no question that Mozambique is a beautiful country best fully enjoyed through a well prepared outlook and rehearsed communication barrier real or otherwise.
Our famous Yster Ratel gets a star on Hollywood Boulevard! Stay tuned for the Globe’s newest surfing video “Strange Rumblings“ directed by Joe G to be released June 2014 and keep an eye out in an upcoming issue of “Surf” magazine to see the Yster Ratel in action. In the laid-back surfing and scuba town of Tofo, we were approached by a film crew who wanted to use our Yster Ratel in their shoot. This was a very exciting and unique opportunity to meet several surfers from all over the world (Dion Agius, Nate Tyler, Taj Burrow, Yadin Nicol, CJ and Damien Hobgood, Alex Smith, Creed McTaggart and Brendon Gibbens) and watch a film crew at work. What a great way to cap off our time in Tofu. We were sad to leave the warm 28 degree waters, friendly people and sand dunes of Tofu but satisfied with our experience and memories.
Our first major mechanical breakdown since the campsite alternator replacement in Blyde River Canyon occurred on our way to the Swaziland border in the middle of a Mozambican rainy season downpour when our drivers side windscreen wiper was gripped by the wind, ripped off the splinned shaft and thrown onto the roadway losing the retainer clip that had worked it’s way loose. Tamaira (Overland MacGyver Apprentice) was quick to offer a fix – a pink hair tie. Fantastic bandaid repair. Crisis averted.
If you have not already read this book, it’s time to pick up a copy. An epic life story of the struggles and triumphs faced by one of the worlds greatest political leaders. This truly was a fantastic read!
Cheers, Tamaira & Michel