Thursday, September 17, 2009

The White Guys of Quilemene

Another week and another border crossing. After spending plenty enough time to become very familiar with the small city of Blantyre, Malawi we decided to move on to Mozambique. Feeling that the typical backpacker's route through the city of Tete was overused and not quite interesting enough we headed for the Milanje border hoping to find transport south. The ride there proved eventful.

We left Blantyre early in the morning and actually had an easy enough time finding a friendly driver heading for the border. Soon his minivan filled with 25+ people and we were firmly implanted between several people who have clearly had less access to a shower than we have over the past few months. There have been some interesting smells in Africa, but this ride certainly tops them. We also left figuring we could get water along the way as we have in every other location. However, after buying and immediately tossing a bottle that had clearly been tampered with (the top and the bottle didn't even match) we arrived at the border with no water.

Along the way we were treated to some of Malawi's most beautiful countryside. Massive tea plantations rolled through the foothills to Mount Milanje. A 10,000 foot peak that is supposedly guarded by spirits; although apparently paying for a guide to help you up the mountain takes care of that problem.

We crossed the border without issue. On the Mozambique side we were able to grab a ride in a pickup to the bus stand where a truck was leaving for the town of Mocuba. Mocuba was south so we hopped on. This van also did not have a capacity limit and we were crushed into a row with two other people (one of which was an old woman who was horrified to be sitting next to white people) and our massive packs. The temperature rose as the trip went on and still we had no water.

This part of the trip had little scenery and turned into one of our longest short trips so far. It took 4 hours to reach Mocuba on dusty, potholed, dirt roads. Once in Mocuba, relieved that our legs that had been cramping of most of the morning still worked, we were happy to give the local grocery store plenty of business.

One of the first things we noticed about Mozambique was the massive Portuguese influence. Portugal ruled Mozambique for over 400 years. Today, Portuguese is the official national language and Iberian culture pervades everything from architecture to cuisine (much to our liking).

From Mocuba we caught another bus, this one bigger but incredibly, even more packed with people, livestock and produce, to Quilemene. This ride was a bit shorter than the last and on paved roads, but an angry man yelling in our ears the entire time and the 5 or 6 people crushed into each row made it seem just a bit longer.

We arrived in Quilemene planning to catch a bus straight to the capital of Maputo. We inquired with the one guy at the bus station who spoke English and he told us it was a thirty, yes thirty, hour trip in similar conditions. Needless to say we decided to spend the night and reevaluate our options.

After a great meal at one of Quilemene's Portugese-style cafes we checked into the Pensao Quilemene, a hotel that will surely live on as one of the most infamous of our trip. Stained sheets and curious packaging under our beds made our sleeping bags absolutely necessary but the extreme heat made them useless. It would have been fine to sleep on them except for the swarm of mosquitoes that invade the room every night.

Although the hotel in Quilemene was a bit rough and transportation has been nearly as bad as Ethiopia (at least they open windows here) we have both loved our time in Mozambique so far. Quilemene is a smaller city located on a river 25km from the Indian Ocean. The unique mix of Portuguese and Soviet architecture is intriguing, the people are incredibly friendly and hospitable (although no one speaks English), the food is fantastic, and between our combined but incredibly limited knowledge of French and Spanish we have very quickly picked up a working knowledge of Portuguese. We are also the only foreigners in town and it appears that we are the first outsiders to arrive for some time. People here are more curious and ready to lend a hand than interested in our wallets.

We hope to head South to Maputo today or tomorrow, and hopefully in a rented car instead of a bus. While South Africa is just a few travel days away, it looks like we may end up spending a bit longer than expected in Mozambique.

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