We flew the domestic Mozambican airline to Inhambane [African airline note: there was a meal service on this 45 minute flight but, shockingly, no alcohol was served!] and cabbies descended before we even got off the tarmac. Actually though. We were still on the tarmac. They were mostly charging 600 mets (~$18), which seemed absurd mostly because Cory claimed to have read at some point that it should cost 100 mets to get from Inhambane to Tofo Beach. But they really were not budging on the price and we were pretty stuck. We stood staring at the flock of taxi drivers as we waited our turn to climb into the underbelly of the plane to grab our bags (only a slight exaggeration), until I finally spotted a potential savior: a white guy, with dreads, reading a Dan Brown novel. The challenge so far in Mozambique was that most white people spoke Portuguese, but I just knew that this guy HAD to be American. As much as we try…we stand out anywhere.
So I approached: “Hey [I was so confident, I didn’t even start with the classic ‘Excuse’]…how do we get to Tofo?” (I tried with all my might to act cool, chill.)
“Are you willing to hitchhike or take a chapa [local bus]?”
“You, sir, are on my level.”*
He described to me the way, explaining where we should stop at an ATM (GOOD TO LEARN FROM HIM THAT THERE’S NO ATM IN TOFO), where we should start hitching or looking for a chapa, and how much we should pay (20 mets). Admittedly, my full understanding of these directions is up for debate. There was a left turn, and an ATM, and 30 km. I was convinced we were supposed to walk to the ATM before we started hitchhiking. I was also convinced it was a 20-30 minute walk.
On the shorter end of that range, we started getting short tempered. Several chapas had passed us, but we waved them all on, convinced that we’d soon make it to the ATM and then we’d flag one down. It was also hot. An unrelenting African heat. Eventually, one chapa headed THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION slowed and tried to communicate with us. “ATM” didn’t really translate but “bank” did. It was unclear if there was still an ATM in the direction we were headed, but it was very clear that there was NO BANK and that if we had to go to a bank, we had to get into the chapa and go with them. For 20 mets. It was also made clear that Tofo was TOO FAR and it was not an option for us to continue walking there.
We gave up. I questioned everything about my sense of direction as we zoomed past all the same fields and schools we had just walked past, past the airport, and then into a bustling town – Inhambane. We were let off at the bank and it was made clear that they’d take us to Tofo for 600 mets. NO! WE WERE TRYING SO HARD TO GET AWAY FROM THAT PRICE GAUGING!
Definitely had a bit of an “oh shit” realization when the bank teller didn’t know any English. Like…maybe I should’ve looked up a few Portuguese phrases before this trip. But whatevs, he referenced a “Super Market” and made hand gestures for turning left when I made it clear I was trying to get to where all the chapas were. I walked out of the bank, to where Cory was guarding our backpacks (which weren’t allowed inside), and acted way more confident than I was.
Thankfully, the town wasn’t too large, and the chapas were only two blocks away from the bank. Even so, we stopped three times to ask for directions to ensure that we continued to be pointed the right way. (The first stop, I bought much-neeeded sunglasses. The second stop, the teenage boys made a great joke using all the English they knew: pointing at Cory they yelled “You! You! You! There! There! There” implying that he should go away. We started to scurry, but then they pointed at me and yelled “You! You! You! Here! Here! Here” implying that I should come hang with them. I was tempted. The third stop, I bought an orange. Maybe I would’ve saved money just paying the 600 mets for a taxi…)
Briefly, the chapa ride was one of those moments that made me fall back in love with Africa. There’s just something wonderful about sitting there comfortably and thinking “this is okay”…and then suddenly realizing that two more people need to fit into your row and thinking “okay this is a little uncomfortable…but we must be all set to go now” and then literally the number of people on the bus doubles. I don’t know how they do it, but it happens. I’m not one for taking pictures in this type of situation, but I found a few bloggers/artists who have attempted to visually capture what I will say you must experience to actually understand:
|Thank you, random blogger, Camille, for your artistic representation, and for teaching me something about Swaziland along the way! Although, while I think you've done a great job capturing the babies and livestock that can be found on a chapa, this artistic rendition leaves out the 10 people standing in (and out of) the doorway, which is partially captured in the image below.|
|Thank you, random blogger, OutOfOfficeTilAugust2012, for your willingness to take pictures I was unwilling to take|
Anyways…eventually the chapa heads out. We go straight past where we had previously walked. Finally, we see the ATM…we appreciate that that was probably too far to walk there (I guess I didn’t fully get that part of the directions??) and finally start to see some signs for Tofo. When we see a sign for our hotel (NOT a hostel!), we jump out and pay our 40 mets each (20 mets for each of our bags…because they probably did take up the space that people could’ve used…). But we weren’t there yet. It was probably another 20 minute walk to the hotel from where we got off the chapa (we maybe later learned that we could’ve gotten off way later…)** until we finally, finally…at 3pm on Tuesday when I left at 8pm on Friday…reached our final destination. For that part of our trip.
“Ahh…Mr. Cory!” the receptionist exclaimed when we walked in, “where have you been? We sent a driver to pick you up at the airport!”***
*I believe I’ve already written a blog about how comfortable I got with hitchhiking in Rwanda, but I think the most concise way of explaining this is to just say that my MOTHER picked up hitchhikers when she was visiting me in Rwanda. Granted, I don’t think she was happy about it. But it’s the way things are. TIA.
**Entertaining bit from our walk: at one point, we heard a baby crying. I observed to Cory that I’ve never heard an African baby crying before, so this was a very new experience for me. But then we got up to the source of the sound…and it was a little white baby. Made a lot more sense. (Later learned that it was the baby of our hotel receptionist and scuba instructor.)
***Later in the week we learned that the airport pick-up/drop-off actually costs 600 mets (WHAT ARE THESE ABSURD PRICES?), so we still preferred the chapa ride. We even took the chapa back to the airport!