Big 5 to Maputo

Our second day in Hazyview was teeming with potential. After breakfast we befriended the owners of the hotel, who by no small coincidence happened to be motorcycle enthusiasts. The gentleman gave us some good suggestions about where to see the animals in the Kruger Park and where to possibly find camping. He even phoned some folks who worked at the gates and told us to stop by to see if they could find a campsite. The park is the size of Israel to give you some scale, and we were near the southern chunk. We had gone in the Paul Kruger gate on day one and came out the Malalene as the sun was going down. This time we went in the Phoabene gate, but no amount of wishing could help us; there wasn’t a single site, lodge, or cottage available within a 5 hour range. We pressed on eastward in case any cancellations arose, but even in the off-season our chances were slim.

Onward we drove, loosening up and and beginning to enjoy the sights. The sun was out on this beautiful day and soon, so too were the animals. This trek proved even more fruitful than the day before. In just a few hours time we saw kudu, hippos, rhinos, elephants, lions, a leopard, a solitary bull water buffalo,  hyena, crocs, impala innumerable, and many giraffes.

What. A. Day. We found the Lower Sabie campgrounds and though it was full, we had a late lunch and departed on gravel roads into the sunset and Numbi gate. We returned to Hazyview and spent our third and final night at the hotel.

The following day we were graced with even more good advice about the border into Mozambique. We departed just before noon after we had dropped off the rental car and headed to Komatipoort. Construction, like many places along our journey up until this point slowed us down. Just before the border town we stopped to buy motorcycle insurance and some Mozambiquan medicais.

Crossing the border was an odd affair. The South African side was rather simple and orderly, but once we crossed into Mozambique their immigration was a free-for-all. The moment we stopped the bike we were flooded by a small mob of despesantes. The literal term would be dispatchers; they are individuals who, for a series of fees, will cut to the front of the line, bribe an immigration officer and essentially facilitate your entrance into the country. I felt rather uncomfortable handing over cash and my passport to a group of strangers donning less than professional clothing, but a police officer walked by and kicked out the shadiest of folk, which was enough to convince my dad. He had encountered similar situations and decided to go with the biggest guy there. My father’s bold decision ended up paying off, saving us over an hour of wait and we didn’t need to get our hands dirty.

Most say that the line between countries is superficial, and in many senses that is true, but not so in this case. Mozambique did have a nationally funded road project, yielding good roads into Maputo, but that was where the similarities ended. The lands are not dissected into plots of owned land; there is just a rolling African bushland devoid of animal fences. On this side of the border businesses were non-existent aside from the occasional spray-painted script on metal or concrete panels. People sauntered around without any real push to be anywhere and worst of all there was trash everywhere. Strewn across the roadside, caught on bushes, heaped in piles and even some floating with the wind. Last but not least the language is different so signs were now in Portuguese. This was one aspect I had been looking forward to for a while, since I haven’t had a chance to brush up on my Portuguese since I lived in Brazil well over a decade ago.

Hours later we made it to Maputo, the country’s capital, and the sun had almost completely set. The owner of the Numbi Hotel had made reservations for us, but without a phone or internet data we were out of ways to find out in which hotel that reservation had been made. My father bummed off a ritzy hotel’s wifi while I stood outside by the bike, being verbally molested by every passerby trying to sell something. One guy wanted to hawk a Samsung phone and there was a young boy who just kind of stood there, not begging or selling. Soon my father returned and after a barrage of no’s we departed for the hotel. Parking was limited so we had to park the motorcycle right in front of the hotel. In SA and Mozambique there are usually parking guards or security who work for a salary and of course tips. My dad was not too fond of leaving the bike out on the sidewalk where all could come by, but we didn’t have any other choice. We took everything we could into the hotel and sorted out the reservation.

That evening we left the hotel in search of a restaurant. Mozambique is famous for their peri-peri Portuguese chicken so we meandered about until we found a nice amphitheater/courtyard with a few outdoor restaurants. There we dined on some good grub and enjoyed conversation while people watching and occasionally glancing at the motorcycle racing on TV. Utilizing our Portuguese was fun, and we were surprised to hear how similar the dialect was to Brazilian Portuguese.

We tried to get internet to update the blog but it wasn’t working so we relaxed and went to bed. Our biggest mistake, as it turns out, was not asking how much the hotel was per night–we just assumed our friends at the Numbi hotel had taken our budget into consideration when we said mid-range accommodation. It was outrageously expensive as we came to learn and with ill news about my father’s dissertation, we were forced to turn our eyes back earlier than anticipated. The good news was that our route would not repeat itself; we were bound for Swaziland, which I will flesh out in the next entry.

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