Thursday, May 13, 2010

Africa beginnings and endings

Tomorrow I head to Paris for the night, followed by a mammoth trip via Istanbul and Johannesburg to Cape Town where I'll be spending a couple of weeks working with researchers and friends in the UCT who specialise on topics in applied AdS/CFT and especially the area of emergent geometry. This is something that I've recently started working in and is a fascinating topic.

I thought that, even if only briefly, I should try and finish off the stories from the Africa trip last month before starting a new adventure.

Last I wrote we were on tofu playa, near Inhambane, a few hours north of Maputo in Mozambique where we had arrived after a 19 hour non-stop road trip. We'd swam with dolphins and attempted to do the same with whale sharks, some with more success than others, and we'd been generally chilling in the wonderful beach hut, sampling the local fish (from the outrageously overfished waters) and getting ridiculous tan-lines as we did it (despite the constant applications of factor 50).

30 seconds in the life of six travelers and expats in Mozambique:


On the third day we headed into one of the main populated areas to grab a bite to eat in a black metal shack in the middle of the day where we quickly became far hotter than the food (which was pretty hard to compete with, having been doused in firey piri-piri sauce!). The fan which was brought to the table when it became clear that we were probably going to pass out from the heat failed to turn, but we were told for 10 minutes to have patience (and possibly faith) and that in its own good time it would start working. Indeed such patience was met with the help of a guy sitting at a table next to ours, who, on seeing our plight, came over, removed the safety cage from the fan and cranked it up by hand - a beer was duly sent his way to the applause of all at his table.

A game of petanque outside a French bar saw in the dusk as we spoke Spanish with others talking in Portuguese, with reasonable success.
It has been a while since I was in Portugal but I find the Mozambiquan Portuguese much easier to understand than that of our Iberian neighbours. The slow lilt of it is rather similar to Gallego and once you understand the basic mappings, it's pretty simple to understand for a Spanish speaker from Galicia.
Anyway, having spent a few days chilling on the coast we made our way back down to Maputo, to stay with our friends (from South Africa and Galicia) who have been living in the city now for a few months and who were the primary cause of this trip.
Some sights on the way back:
The seven hour trip down passed with far less terror than the trip up that we had made through the night and we arrived tired by happy in a buzzing Maputo. The promise of a great apartment, and, especially noteworthy, a fully functioning elevator, was only half fulfilled as we trudged up 11 flights of stairs with our fully laden backpacks, only to collapse at the top and quickly make our way down again to get some food in one of the most famous restaurants in the area (Piri-Piri's). The piri-piri chicken was spectacularly hot (perfect for me), though I was rather ashamed when the dessert arrived and I simply wasn't able to manage the whole slice of chocolate cake, which must have weighed in at well over half a kilo: my first culinary defeat since at the age of 12 or so, a giant sea snail had shocked me into submission.

The next day we did the tour of the city, the atmosphere of which is still very much influenced by the colonial buildings from the Portuguese era. We visited the train station, designed by Eiffel, and also his ingeniously useless metal building, which may be perfect for a more temperate clime, but in the heart of Africa is truly a folly of unrivaled proportions.

In Mozambique it's quite common to ask someone waiting by the side of the road to look after your car as you go into a restaurant or a shop, and to give them a few Meticals afterward. Normally you get a few offers of such a service wherever you stop.

As we stopped in front of the old parliament building, nobody was around to provide such a service at the time, so we dropped the car off and headed to look at the old fort and a few other local points of interest.

On arrival back at the car however, a man almost too drunk to stand up came up to us and demanded that we pay him for his vigilance as we had made our tour. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that he didn't have a leg to stand on in terms of his claims as our car was no longer in possession of its wing-mirrors. They were presumably already sitting in a market stand somewhere nearby, or allowing some guy to have his morning shave.

Given that we didn't have more than 24 hours in Maputo, going to the police was not going to be an option (the bureaucracy in Mozambique is some of the fiercest in the world, and the queues are those that any Englishman would be proud of). We drove around extremely carefully, aware that the police are legend at catching you for the slightest infringement, but made it back to the flat without encountering any cops on patrol.

In the evening we headed to a local bar and a Thai restaurant, to have our last meal out in Mozambique.

The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn, breakfasted on local fruit and bread and took off back towards the border that had given us so many problems on our way into Mozambique.

The other way round (Mozambique to SA) turns out to be much much easier and we were in and out within half an hour, heading back on the much more comfortable roads of South Africa on our way to Johannesburg.

We arrived safely in Johannesburg and attempted to go to the Apartheid museum, curiously placed on the grounds, so it appears, of a theme park. Unfortunately the museum had just closed so we went straight to the parents of Ben, with whom we had been traveling and staying in Mozambique, for a spectacular dinner and several hours of fascinating conversation, before hitting a couple of bars nearby, returning before it got too late, and rising early again the next day for our flights, leaving time to explain to the car hire company what had happened to the wing mirrors!

It seems that had we not pointed it out, the car hire company probably would not have noticed the lack of mirrors, but having confessed and explained our lack of police statement there wasn't much they could do. As they looked up how much it would cost us, we were somewhat taken aback when they quoted us a little over 500 euros for the pair! Pleading with them (though knowing that the insurance for the car didn't cover glass, wheels, undercarriage, or any incident in which another car was not the primary cause), they suggested that we explain to the police in the department at the airport. We went along and stated our case only to be laughed at, quoting, unsurprisingly, that whatever crimes take place in Mozambique have nothing to do with them.

Cutting a long story short, the car hire company very helpfully got the police to write an affidavit which was apparently enough documentation to drop the cost to us to less than 200 euros and we department a little poorer but happy given what the possibilities could have been!

The flights from Johannesburg back through Dubai were uneventful but painful given the lack of emergency exit seats and I passed most of the night stood up at the back of the plane.

On landing in London we headed to Bethnel Green where we spent an enjoyable few hours wondering this area, which I'd never explored before, met up with a few friends for lunch and dinner and crashed out before a 4.30am start to catch the bus back to Stansted on our way to Spain.

I've never had a holiday on which I've risen before 7am for so many days (I think that we only slept in past 7 on two occasions on the whole trip) and on returning to Santiago I was refreshed in mind, but not in body! Since then I've kept up with the swim routine I'd promised myself in Mozambique and have been swimming 3 km every week since then. I'll see if I can continue while in Cape Town.

I'm not sure there will be much of a chance to blog for a while, but this depends largely on the internet situation in the guest house I'll be staying in for the next two weeks.

I'll let you know....

1 comment:

kayossity said...

Bravo!!!!! I think is the only appropriate comment on this trip!
Hope the next one is slightly less 'exciting' but just as stimulating.