Posted by: Naima | April 20, 2009

Same As It Ever Was

It’s been a while, so this one is hefty. After ten days of highways, dirt roads, hostels, bribery, cities, mountains, craft markets, country borders, and mix CDs, I’ve returned to Cape Town – and it feels like home. Two friends and I wandered, somewhat aimlessly, around Southern Africa behind a large automobile.

We drove from Cape Town to Lesotho, a tiny country that is completely independent of South Africa and never was inflicted by the nastiness of Apartheid even though South Africa surrounds the country on all sides. Lesotho is beautifully mountainous. As we searched for a backpackers to sleep, we drove through the University area that was flooded with bars and spirits. After receiving inebriated directions, we ended up at the Trading Post, a hostel comprised of small huts scattered between vibrant plant life and views of Lesotho’s large mountains. We spent the rest of the day driving through the country: layers of corn stalks, mountains, valleys, and homes decorated our drive. Between “Madiba’s Carwash” and large billboards laid small brick and boxcar homes alongside tin shelters for phone booths and convenience stores. Cows and sheep weaved in and out of the road making way between vendors selling food and other goods. After bribing our way out of Lesotho, a cost we had not factored into our budgets, we headed towards the Kingdom of Swaziland.

When we got to Swaziland, whose border is much more structured, we settled in at a new hostel called Sunset Backpackers. We spent most of our time in Swaziland at the craft markets. About half a mile of wooden shacks filled with handmade clothing, bags, ashtrays, paintings, jewelry, tablecloths, etc stretched along the road in Swaziland’s valley. Back at the hostel, we met some Peace Corp volunteers who were stationed in Swaziland. They spoke of candle-lit homes without electricity and their relationships with their families and the country. As we told them of our plans to enter Mozambique, one of them warned us of hostile treatment at the border. More specifically, this man had been slapped with his own passport and then forced to produce a bribe to retrieve the re-imagined weapon.

On the road to the Mozambican border, roads were laced with cows, telephones, children, and red dirt roads leading to rural homes. A sign saying, “Cyclists & Pedestrians Beware of Lions and Elephants” understandably jumped out at us as we drove along the paved road. The next exit was the Hlane Royal National Park; we decided to check out the park to get directions to the border and maybe even see some animals. Before entering the park, a large ostrich lingered around the front gate. After deciding to pay the R25 to drive through the park, we struggled to maneuver our VW Polo through dirt road divots and mud. Inside the park we saw lots of Kudu and deer-like animals that would scatter and would only leave the mind to imagine what was going on behind the soundtrack of loud growling.

After the National Park, we gathered the directions we had obtained. They were very difficult: go straight, then continue on, pass exits, continue straight, continue on until you see the border, don’t turn, etc… While we continued on and on, it was nice to see how the mountains and sky blended together like paints and grassy hills produced vibrant greens. Somehow, we were able to follow the very specific directions we had acquired and made it to the border. Despite the fear of being smacked around with our identification and needing to bribe our way into the country, the Swaziland-Mozambique border provided a seamless transition into a new country. The only bribe we had to surrender was 1 mix CD. At first I thought it was a joke when the man came to the car, saw the CDs in my lap, and politely demanded one. It wasn’t. Within the car, it was agreed that sharing music in a new country was ultimately pretty dope, so it wasn’t too much of a loss.

We spent our first couple of nights in Maputo, the urban center of Mozambique. Barely over a decade since Mozambique’s civil war, Maputo lacks some of the things that I definitely take for granted. Perhaps the most obvious, at least to my nose anyway, was the lack of trashcans and the array of smells that accumulated as a result. But beyond Maputo’s distinct stench, I found being in the city really interesting. The culture of its colonizers (Portuguese) is still very prevalent through food, language, music, and even sports. It felt like such a contrast from Cape Town. In retrospect, it isn’t that different in that respect. South Africa’s colonial influence just seems more familiar to a city kid from the United States. For the first time, I was linguistically disabled. I had no idea how to express where I wanted to go or what I wanted to eat or buy to a Portuguese-speaking population. I sat in a convenience store for 10 minutes trying to act out body wash – nay, cheap body wash. After a couple of days in Maputo, we headed north to the small beach town of Tofo.

After sitting in a car for much of our trip, traveling through mostly landlocked areas, any beach was welcomed. Thankfully, Tofo’s beach was so incredibly beautiful and its warm water proved to be very inviting. The night we arrived, a full moon party was being held on the beach, which was also at the foot of our hostel. After dancing up a storm inside, we frolicked on the beach and jumped waves in the water. Pure bliss. The next day was spent exploring the town, its water and sand dunes. After watching the next morning’s sunrise over the water, we hopped back in the car and headed back to Cape Town, University, and our flats. Readjusting to real life hasn’t been too bad, but I’m itching to learn Portuguese or better charades tactics and head back to Mozambique. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be home, if not just for a moment. And it’s the same as it ever was.

My trip in a long winded, literary, nutshell.

Peace and then some,

Naima

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