MSC Melody cruise ship and local small craft as seen from Portuguese Island, Mozambique

Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo Downtown Grid After a fun and exhausting day at nearby Portuguese Island, we spent the night anchored in the harbor. In the morning we docked in Maputo, the country's capital city. The day was overcast, a pleasant respite from the previous day's scorching heat. But there was plenty to do. MSC had organized a number of excursions that we could choose from: half-day and full-day guided tour jaunts (to markets, museums, shops, and restaurants), a trip to some secluded beach in 4X4s, lunch at a fancy prawn restaurant, and high tea at the 5-star Polana Hotel. We didn't relish the idea of jumping in and out of coaches, being herded from one tourist point to the next, so we decided to walk the city, grab lunch on our own, then catch the high tea in the afternoon.

Maputo BayThe big buzz from the passengers as we disembarked was that part of the soon-to-be-released Leonardo di Caprio movie Blood Diamond was shot in the city. We should keep a look-out! As we boarded buses to leave the docks, a Mozambican guide—speaking with an American accent—gave us a little history of the city before dropping us at the central train station (which was, indeed, in Blood Diamond, posing as a hotel). The city was called Lorenco Marques during the long Portuguese colonial period that lasted until 1975. And it fronted on "Delagoa Bay." It was a sleepy little colonial outpost for most of its existence though it gained a reputation amongst South African whites during apartheid as "Africa's Riviera." Since SA whites were banned from so many countries, they often chose to vacation in cheap neighboring countries while they still had colonial regimes. Once the Communist liberation fighters took over newly-named Mozambique, and newly-named Maputo, South Africans stayed away. But since 1994, their relations have improved and deepened. Mozambique now wants to pull in a larger tourist market than just S'Africans.

Mozambican tuk-tukAs Marge and I walk along the main streets of the city, we're amazed at how quiet it is. Two million people reportedly live in the greater Maputo area, but it doesn't sound like it. There are lots of cars, lots of people, and plenty of energy, but it's a quiet energy. Drivers don't lean on their horns and hawkers don't harass you as you pass by (as in many other countries). In fact, the locals were very polite to us shorts-wearing aliens. Maputo struck me immediately as a friendly city, a warm city. It's funny how we come to those conclusions so quickly, even with so little experience or evidence to justify it. But somehow the combination of sensations and the random pleasant experiences that we did have made an immediately impact on us. We knew that we were going to relax and enjoy this city.

Statue to World War dead in Maputo We walked around aimlessly for awhile, trying to reach the famed Mercado, the main Market. We meandered around for awhile and finally found it. It consisted of a large building with lots of stalls inside, plus a large extension of those stalls out back in the courtyard. They sold fresh fish, vegetables, and canned goods, plus hair extensions, bird cages, leather sandals, carvings, and more. But again, it was so quiet. It was outrageously pleasant. We didn't want to buy anything with our few meticals, but we did stay long enough to see an old Portuguese-looking veg seller shoo away some of our bumbling shipmates.

Though most of the streets look worn and a bit dirty, there was a charge of dynamism and change in the air. New buildings were being constructed, new multi-national brands were setting up offices, new shopping complexes were being promoted, colorful advertising was brightening up the more dour socialist building projects from the last couple of decades. The government, once their post-colonial civil war was over, took to capitalism in a big way. Their Soviet benefactors were no longer around, so they have opened up to the global market. Mozambique was so far down in the gutter during the '80s and '90s that there is no way to go but up. That's what they hope.

Marge and I stumbled down the big streets, eventually finding the promenade along the bay. A number of governmental ministries have their buildings there. It is a lovely stretch with palm trees and a gorgeous view of the water and little island across the way. A bunch of little yellow tuk-tuks cruised by with fellow passengers from the ship. They were all headed for the marina down at the end of the road for lunch. After a spell chilling on the breakwater wall, we did the same.

Maputo MercadoWe tucked into a delicious meal of Mozambican prawns. They were outstanding! Big, fresh, tender, and spicy. We lazed around there for a couple of hours because the food, the view, and the satisfaction kept us glued to our seats. There seemed to only be a handful of boats in the marina, but the club had a nice swimming pool, bar, and sun-bathing area. Local business elites also joined us wily cruisers, adding an air of class and sophistication to our casual style. From there, we took a taxi back to the ship to get changed for our high tea excursion.

Image: Maputo Marina

We looked forward to this trip to the Polana Hotel, supposedly world famous and all that. If they put on a high tea like at the truly world famous Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, then we were in for a treat. Alas, the Polana is not the Mount Nelson. And frankly, they didn't know what to do with the sudden arrival of 50 sugar-starved tea-freaks. At the hotel, we were greeted politely, but the staff had no idea what to do with us. No one seemed aware that we were arriving, so there was a hiccup getting us sorted out. We ended up only staying there for a short time too, which was lame. And the treats amounted to basic confectionaries you could get anywhere. Oh well! The outing was fun nonetheless. We ended up sitting next to an Afrikaner couple who had lived in the States for 10 years and had loved it. The man couldn't stop talking about muscle cars and American football. Then it was back to the ship for more food, more amusements, more food, and eventually, sleep.

Polana Hotel