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Marvellous Mozambique

Bom dia! (good morning!),” smiles Anastancia Guibunda as she greets her guests at the entrance of the coffeehouse. She’s the duty manager at Holiday Inn Maputo in Mozambique.  

Portuguese is the official language in this former colony of Portugal, but it is not impossible to find people, especially in the hotel industry, who speak good English.  

Even if you have not heard of Mozambique, you would have come across the name of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who was believed to have “discovered” Mozambique, or Dr David Livingstone, the first British consul in this part of Africa.  

 

Casa do Ferro a.k.a. Iron House.
Although its neighbouring countries, like South Africa on the west and Madagascar (and the little island off Mauritius) in the east, are better known to Malaysians, Mozambique, which is still largely unexplored, is not without its charms. It boasts unspoilt natural beauty. 

In recent years, China has become one of its major investors and you are likely to notice Chinese guests at breakfast. There are, in fact, some 30,000 Chinese, formerly from mainland China, who call Mozambique home.  

Isobel Law is one of these Mozambican Chinese. She speaks Cantonese but mainly converses in Portuguese and the local Shagaan dialect with her fellow countrymen.  

Much of Mozambique is still relatively undeveloped, and one key attraction is its pristine sandy beaches that stretch along the Indian Ocean. The wife of a British diplomat calls it the “dream holiday”.  

It is hard to believe that the country was once devastated by brutal civil wars between 1977 and 1992.  

What to do while in Maputo 

Try and catch a spectacular Mozambican sunrise if you ever end up here, but that of course requires that you leave the comfort of your bed as early as 6am.  

The best time of the year to visit is from April to November, during the winter season, before it starts to get too hot and humid at the end of the year. You can stroll the beaches then, even during noontime, since there is always a cool breeze blowing.  

By 6pm, it gets dark and the tides are usually high and it is dangerous to walk alone on the beach. It might be a good idea to visit downtown Maputo, formerly known as Laurenco Marques, for a meal of chicken peri-peri.  

Express is one of the favourite restaurants in town, and the expatriates love to hang out here till late at night. The place is known for its “express” service, which is pretty fast by local standards because service at most Mozambican restaurants is, according to Globetrotter’s Travel Guide to Mozambique: “painfully slow, almost comically so”.  

“Your well-meaning waiter may consider two hours a reasonable preparation time for your meal, and would feel mortally insulted by complaints about the delay, or the cold food.” 

 

The Bazar Artesanaton — STEPHEN NG
Things are much improved these days, though, with most of the urban restaurants.  

If you walk alone in Maputo, try not to carry expensive items because petty crime is rampant and the peddlers are always trying to sell you something. It may be best to visit Maputo in the daytime if you are a lone traveller. 

A visit to the Central Market, known to the locals as Bazar da Baiza, can be quite an experience. We seemed to attract stares from curious onlookers, who probably thought we were Japanese. At an old colonial building, built in 1901, we bought two packets of cashew nuts at 100 meticals (about RM13) per kg and some fresh vegetables, besides picking up local handicraft. 

A few streets away from the bazaar is the huge, white Catholic cathedral, Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, whose white spire, with tower clocks on all sides, is one of the most prominent landmarks in town.  

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the world-renowned Eiffel Tower in Paris, has one of his architectural designs here in Mozambique, known as Casa do Ferro in Portuguese.  

The grey mini-mansion was originally designed and built in Europe, but was shipped to Mozambique in 1892 by the Portuguese who wanted to appease their governor who had been complaining about his accommodation. The building proved to be a veritable oven in the tropics. 

It came to be known as Iron House and has since become a national heritage.  

The Museum of Natural History, which houses stuffed animals, is built in neo-Gothic style. It reminded us of Count Dracula’s residence from the outside. This museum has one of the only known collections of elephant foetuses.  

A visit to the Gorongosa National Park in the nearby province of Manica is a must. It is considered one of the prime game parks in southern Africa. Driving around Maputo is like taking a leisurely drive in Kuala Lumpur in the early 60s. It doesn’t take long to notice that roads here are named after communist leaders like Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, and Mao Tse Tung. 

Mozambique was once under the influence of Marxist-Leninist ideology, until the collapse of the Soviet Union over a decade ago. Since then, Mozambique’s reconstruction in the capitalist mould has progressed rapidly.

 




  


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