I met up with Pedro at Dubai airport, and we took the next flight together to Johannesburg where we picked up the hire car. I’ve known Pedro for ten years. He was our neighbour when we lived in Angola.
For our first night in this trip, we drove to meet another old friend from those days, Truter, who is now farming back in his home country, South Africa. We had a braai at Truter’s place, and a few beers, of course. We talked about the many similar nights we’d had at Truter’s farm in Angola, and we also talked about the many difficulties we all had there.
We swapped stories about the incredible bureaucracy in the country, the blatant daily corruption, our constant visa worries, the terrible car and nerve destroying roads, and the general everyday annoyances.
We talked of the people who would throw themselves at your moving car to then extort money from you, of the electricity company that would remove the cable connection to the grid then ask for gasosa (a soft drink, the colloquial term for a bribe) to reconnect you, of the traffic department who claimed to have run out of cardboard to print our driving licences and only needed some money for more (they didn’t expect Leonie to return with sheets of cardboard).
We laughed that night at Truter’s as we recalled these stories, but the memories of the near-constant anxiety and stress it all caused weren’t far away.
And yet, Pedro and I were on our way to another former Portuguese colony. Would it be the same in Mozambique? Would we have all the same hassles?
Before getting there, we had a couple of days in Kruger Park, and enjoyed searching for and finding the wildlife (didn’t see lions though). It was great fun, but on the Sunday morning when we were leaving to cross into Mozambique, we were both a little quieter, a little subdued, and yes, even a little nervous. Border crossings in Angola were always particularly tricky.
The South African side was no problem. It was all very organised, and we were through in minutes.
Then we crossed to the Mozambican side, and it was immediately very different. Confusão as they say in Portuguese.
Groups of young guys in high-viz jackets with ID dangling from their necks waved us down. They wanted to help us through the immigration process. For a price. Others tried to sell us fire extinguishers and reflective triangles for the car, assuring us we’d need them if the cops stopped us (we already had everything we needed from the car hire firm). Still more were haggling to change money, swearing we’d need Mozambican meticais to pay the road tolls on the way to Maputo.
We knew we would have to organise temporary insurance (a requirement to take the car into the country), and there were plenty of people willing to help us with that and take us to the best and cheapest portakabin to sort it out. That took about 20 minutes, but was a fairly straightforward process.
Next was car clearance. We went to the counter, expecting all kinds of questions and contrived problems with our papers. There were none.
Next, passport control. That took less than a minute each without a single word exchanged with the immigration officer.
We returned to our car and there she was. The customs officer wanting to take a look inside. We knew it couldn’t be so easy.
I opened the back of the car, and she prodded our bags.
‘What’s inside?’ she asked.
‘Clothes,’ I told her.
‘OK,’ she said, ‘you can go.’
And that was it. We were through and on our way to Maputo. No problem.
And we didn’t even need meticais for the toll road. We could pay in South African rand or US dollars.
Traffic was busy as we approached the city, but nothing compared to the chaos in Luanda. We found our hotel easily and dropped our gear there. It was a nice place and we were impressed so far with Mozambique. We decided to take a drive around that Sunday afternoon to check the place out and find a bar to watch the rugby later that night.
We found the pub easily, just a short drive away, then headed towards the beach area.
And then it came: flashing lights from a police car behind us.
Pedro pulled over, and a couple of cops came to us. We had committed a very grave offence, one of them told us: driving with our arms out the window. Why is that an offence? Pedro asked. You can get your arm cut off. It is very serious, the cop said, and we’d have to pay a very large fine.
After a fair bit of to and fro, Pedro offered him something. Not a lot. And it wasn’t enough, the cop said. There were four of them, he explained. Pedro offered a little more. It still wasn’t enough. It was Sunday, said the cop (a good day to get drunk). Pedro didn’t move. That was his final offer and the cop would have to take it. And, reluctantly, he accepted.
We drove away, thoroughly pissed off, calling these bent cops all the names we could imagine, and then some more. We were again convinced it would be the same story as in Angola. We took our drive along the coast, but couldn’t enjoy it. We arrived a good hour before the kick off at the rugby bar.
But that was our only setback in the whole stay, and we got to enjoy the friendliness, the good service and the significant lack of bureaucracy we’d been expecting. We got to like Mozambique. Or at least Maputo. And the crossing back through the border five days later was quick and easy.
After all those nasty expectations, we were convinced that Mozambique was somewhere we could happily return to. Our experience of Angola had almost spoiled it for us, but now, maybe, we will have different expectations the next time we visit the country, or somewhere similar.
And, at least we learned one important lesson in Angola: how to deal with corrupt cops.