March 3, 2010 – A wave of hot air suddenly hit me the minute I stepped outside the Maputo International Airport. My shirt stuck to my body as it struggled to adjust to the sudden change in temperatures, which at the time was 33°.
The 30-minute drive to the hotel was not any more comfortable but I thanked my lucky stars that I had decided to wear light clothes. I was also glad that there was no Nairobi-like traffic because the van had no air-conditioning. Gawking at people walking along the street without giving to much thought to heat was kind of interesting for me too.
But finally, we arrived to the relatively new Afrin Prestige and its air-conditioned 10° was very welcome. Later I came to learn that many buildings in the capital which was until 1976 known as Lourenzo Marques, are fitted with air cons to cool people from the humid weather which can go up to as high as 40° at times.
The minute I checked into Room 510, I really began to wish I could stay longer in the Indian Ocean port city for longer than three days. The spacious room had furniture that complemented each other completely.
On the left was a kitchenette with a cooker and a microwave and under it were glasses and cutlery, a small fridge plus dustbin. Next to it was a raised table and two raised seats similar to the local ‘sina taabu’ found in many watering holes in Nairobi.
The bathroom was to the right. Lotions, conditioners, shampoo, soap, nail files and even shaving cream were arranged in an attractive traditional basket. Tucked neatly to one side was a small blow drier, hung near the socket provided for shavers.
I couldn’t help but marvel at how the hotel designers had thought of everything… To top it all, the hotel had provided a weighing scale which I guessed would aid the visitors keep tabs on their weight and any gains made on it!
A big cosy sofa sat at the foot of the king size bed, facing a 21-inch flat screen TV.
As I opened the glass door to the balcony, a gush of hot air hit my face. But this time around it was more pleasant. The blue waters of the Indian Ocean on the right side of the streets below took my breath away. I could feel the breeze and a sudden urge to walk barefooted on the beach. I had to make sure I did that before I left, I told myself.
I unpacked and later started flipping through TV channels which unfortunately for me had many programs broadcast in Portuguese. My limited Spanish only allowed me to grasp a few Portuguese words, until I stumbled into M-Net on satellite TV.
Later, I joined some of the seminar’s participants and together we went to the Maputo Shopping Complex located about 50 metres away from the hotel. The place was swarming with Mozambicans – many of them coloured – who were either going to the supermarkets, restaurants or bars that were all housed in the five-storey building. A forex bureau was on the ground floor and since we needed a few items from the supermarkets, we had to get a few Meticais. One dollar was exchanging at 31 Meticais.
As we went round the shop, a song with mischievous lyrics that was playing from the retail chain’s speaker caught my attention. I marvelled at how most of the shoppers went about their business unperturbed by it and I guessed it was probably because they don’t speak English and didn’t mind it.
The following day we decided to hit the streets after the seminar and took the route along the beach. It was fenced off, but the fun-loving Maputo residents were basking in the breeze. Private cars lined up the pavement overlooking the ocean, with the occupants sipping on liquor and blasting music from their car speakers.
The line stretched nearly one kilometre to the end of the street, which was completed by a restaurant – Maputo Waterfront Restaurant – right at the waterfront and serving a variety of seafood and meat dishes.
It was a Monday evening. There was an African Cup of Nations match showing on telly and though I would have loved to watch it, I was content to just sit back and observe the Maputoans. Maybe, I could pick out a behavioural trait that was peculiar just to them, I thought. But soon this self-imposed duty was forgotten as I sat back to savour my yummy chicken marinated in lemon and garlic. My friends settled for various kinds of seafood, but that’s something I decided not to indulge in.
At about 9pm, having indulged our taste buds, we decided to walk back to the hotel, now nearly two kilometres away and I was glad to note that it seemed safe to walk about.
Tuesday night was going to be my last night in the city and the obvious thing remaining was to check out the Maputo night life. The club, which was on what seemed like the city’s red light district was not all that and I found myself disappointed. From the drab music to the boring dancers, I knew I was not going to enjoy this. So after an hour or so, we went back to the hotel and tucked in.
The next day, I had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport so I decided to spend them walking the streets of Maputo in the company of a young man who offered to act as our guide. He was very instrumental in easing communication between ourselves and traders in the shops.
I felt sad that I didn’t get the chance to walk on the beach which I was told was breath-taking but as I went to the airport, I promised myself to go back someday and enjoy Maputo’s sun and sand. On the whole, I enjoyed my stay and hope to go back and see the other side of the city.