So after a 2 am wake up in Maseru, Lesotho, we packed up the car and hit the road for our 12 hour drive to Mozambique. The reason we had to leave so early is because we were staying on Macaneta Island about 30 km outside of the capital city Maputo and we had to catch a ferry to get there. We were told that the last ferry left to the island at 7:00, so we wanted to ensure that we had plenty of time to make it because nothing ever goes as planned in Africa!
At this point my roommate and I were joined by another intern who works at GRS’s site in Alexandra (a township outside of Johannesburg). The drive was pretty uneventful, but we were anticipating a few struggles once we got to the border of Mozambique because we heard it could be crowded, confusing and take a long time. Before we got to the border we decided we should change our money from Rand to Metical. We saw a sign for a bank, so we drove for a few kilometers but couldn’t exactly find it. So we went into a convenience store and asked where we could change our money. He pointed across the street to a large woman sitting under a tree with a large suitcase like bag. So we were like, ok, let’s see how this works. Thankfully, it was totally legit, the lady was very friendly and she gave us the exact exchange rate that we had looked up before we had left. 3.3 meticais for every rand. I can confidently say that that is my first time doing banking with a stranger under a tree.
Shortly after we got our money, we arrived at the border and thankfully, it wasn’t as painful as we had anticipated. I think we were at the border for about an hour and the employees there weren’t very helpful or friendly, but we managed to get our visas without too much of a hassle. Also, as we were standing in line, we met an American doctor who practices in Maputo and knows a former employee of GRS that was just visiting us in Cape Town a few weeks before, through ultimate frisbee tournaments….small world!
The drive through the city of Maputo was a little hectic. Lots of traffic with vendors on the side of the road selling items for kilometers and kilometers. We still had about 2 hours until the last ferry was scheduled to leave so I wasn’t too worried. We weren’t 100% clear on the directions to get to the ferry, but luckily we found a sign and made our way to the line to the ferry. However, when we pulled up, it wasn’t exactly the ferry experience I was expecting. I guess I had forgotten that I was in Mozambique, but the ferry didn’t exactly look safe, but they were piling cars and people on it, so I knew we’d be fine.
At this point my roommate and our new travel companion decided to ask around to find out how long the ferry would take and where we could get some food. They ended up talking with a young guy named Matt “Rise and Shine” who ended up becoming a lifesaver throughout the rest of our trip. He helped us to get food and let us use his cell phone to call the owners of the camp site we were staying at to let them know we had arrived to the ferry. At this point it was getting dark and after 7, but Matt let us know that the ferry never leaves any cars behind, so we had nothing to worry about.
After about a 45 minute wait, it was our turn to load onto the ferry. It was somewhat of an incline, plus a small space, but I was able to navigate our car (with a manual transmission) onto the ferry in the dark. After a short, 5 minute ferry ride to the other side, we reached the island. Our car didn’t have 4×4 drive, so the owners of the camp site met us at a petrol station near the ferry, where we securely parked our car. They drove us the rest of the way to the resort/camp site because it was nothing but sand roads and our car would have most certainly gotten stuck.
Since we arrived late and it was dark, the owner graciously let us stay in the lodge, instead of having to set up our tents in the dark. The lodge had several beds, a nice shower, and kitchen. I couldn’t have been happier. After eating a little bit of food and taking a nice shower, we all headed to bed and fell asleep quickly. In the morning we woke up, found the camp site and set up our tents.
The rest of our time on the island was VERY relaxing. Our routine included walking to the beach, laying by the pool, reading and setting bonfires on the beach. It got pretty hot even early in the morning so it was impossible to stay on the beach for the entire day with no shade. The beach was nice, secluded and very peaceful. Matt “Rise and Shine” visited us 90% of the time we were there and shared so much about the Mozambique culture. He even helped the guys catch fresh fish with some local fishermen and cooked us breakfast 2 mornings.
On Thursday morning we packed up our campsite, hopped back on to the ferry and back to Maputo. We had a flight out the next day from Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana, so we decided to spend the night in Maputo in order to avoid any delays with the ferry and to get a good nights rest. We drove back into the city and had reservations at the Southern Sun Hotel. It was definitely an upgrade from camping for 4 days! We had a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, then lounged by the pool for the rest of the evening with drinks in hand.
After a few hours of sleep, we had another middle of the night wake up call as we had to get to Johannesburg (about a 7 hour drive) for our flight to Botswana. I had heard a few horror stories about driving at night in Mozambique, but we really had no choice, so we packed up the car and hit the road.
About 1 km in to our journey police pull us over. It was pretty obvious that they targeted us when they saw 2 white people in the car. At first they assumed I was a local and started talking to me in Portuguese and then were confused when I said I only spoke English. They said we made an illegal turn and would take us to jail if we didn’t pay them. Thankfully, everyone stayed calm and we explained we didn’t have any money. They pointed to an atm and told us to take out cash and we all basically laughed at them and said no. So they kept threatening to take us to the police stay and we all said, “Ok, let’s go and we’ll explain to them” to obviously call them on their bluff. This went back and forth for several minutes before finally my roommate said that he did have 100 meticais, which is the equivalent of about $3. So they took it and then eventually left us alone.
At this point, I’m realizing that although we were only stopped for about 15 minutes, I didn’t want to take any chances with missing our flight, so we needed to be extra careful. However, we get about 5 km down the road and more police pull us over. We go back and forth with them again, telling them we don’t have any money and they eventually let us go.
Big sigh of relief on our parts…but then it happens again. Yep, we get another 5 km and this time there is a road block. They let some cars go through, but once they see our car with 2 white people in it, we immediately get told to stop. This was probably the most frustrating, challenging, funny and scary time we got pulled over. There was a major language barrier this time, handcuffs and automatic weapons involved and lots of confusion. The police seemed very confused when we said we were all friends and were questioning why we weren’t married. Then, there was some talk that the guys were film stars. It was all very, very bizarre. Again, they tried to scare us with threats of going to jail, handcuffs and the gun if we didn’t give them money. We told them we didn’t have anything because we had already been stopped 2 times and had given our money away. This went on for awhile and then it’s like all of a sudden they realized they weren’t going to get any money out of us, so they became friendly, smiled, wished us a good night and sent us on our way. So bizarre.
We made it to a toll about 5 km away without getting stopped, then another 25 km to the South African border. I was never so happy to see a border in my life! I knew we were still probably ok on time and making our flight, but I was starting to get slightly nervous. Luckily, since it was the middle of the night, the border was super easy to cross and then with little traffic, we made it to Johannesburg to drop off the rental car and check in to our flight with time to spare!
Next up: Botswana!