Well, as latter-day Thelma and Louises, without the over-the cliff-ending, we drove there. The road was perfect, we went through very helpful customs at the border and arrived in Maputo, from Johannesburg via Lebombo/Ressano Garcia, 280 miles (450 kms), in exactly five unhassled hours.
Our only problem was (stupidly) not having a Maputo map as there weren’t any to buy en route so when we got to Maputo we simply drove till we hit the sea at the fish market and asked the way to our hotel. Locals almost queued up to help with directions, including a young security guard with an AK47. The charm of Maputans was the first thing that struck us.
Maputo, formerly Lourenco Marques, is a vibrant but small capital of about 1.8mil people. Streets are lined with acacias and bougainvillea, and have wonderful names like Kenneth Kaunda, Ho Chi Min, Robert Mugabe, Karl Marx, Julius Nyerere, Mao tse Tung and Alberto Luthuli. (Kenneth Kaunda Avenue has some of the best modernist houses I’ve yet seen.) Architecture is a mix of Portuguese colonial, 1930s, rundown apartment blocks and Victorian bank-type buildings. There are lots of cafes and the food is good and cheap.
It is easy to sightsee in a day or two – the elegant 1913-16 railway station with its coffee bar, (debatably) built by Monsieur Eiffel, the extraordinary 1930s Catholic cathedral, the fort, the National Art Gallery, the Natural History Museum, near the Hotel Cardoso, the arts and crafts market and the Casa do Ferro (Iron House). And, of course, the Polana Hotel (designed by Herbert Baker) and the obligatory cocktail on the verandah, served by the poshest of waiters.
Perhaps the best way to see Maputo is from Catembe, a promontory across the bay reachable on a wonderfully over-crowded ferry packed with people, cars, chickens, whatever. Last ferry home is 23.15!
When we arrived at Catembe we were told the taxi wasn’t working that day so they stopped a truck for us.
We wanted to go to Catembe Gallery Hotel (previously known as the Pousada Marisol) a 1950s building with a restaurant with giant prawns and various interesting additions like the Samora Machel History Museum, massages, a gallery of young artists’ work, petanque, a pool and a beach. We didn’t know the hotel is a 600 meters walk down the beach from the ferry, hence the request for a cab.
The truck arrived and we piled into the front with the driver, his dog, his son, various cargoes and so on. “Lovely ladies sit in front,” he said in English. We lurched down a battered semblance of a road, Radio LM blaring. We had to laugh. We hadn’t had such a good adventure for ages! At the hotel a choice of ice cold 2M local beer or vinho verde was awaiting us, plus giant grilled prawns and a view of Maputo to die for.
And we never even heard or saw a mosquito!
Visa are needed for non South Africans. Cost £60 and can be got from The High Commission, 21 Fitzroy Square, London W1 6EL tel 020 7383 3800.