Monday, 8 November 2010

Mozambique, Yoga and the Cops

by Natalie Dixon
November 5th, 2010

Don’t make things complicative,”says thinny. And there’s the thing.

Things are already complicated as we find ourselves on a side street in Maputo negotiating with the thin cop and his fat cop friend who want a bribe.

We’d been told by our Swedish friends who live and work in Maputo that the cops will definitely stop us and in the words of Swedish Anna they will, “take ze money from yoo”.

Thinny had my licence and he refused to let me pay the fine at the police station and so there we were, arguing on the side of the road about our misdemeanor.

Admittedly we drove down a one way. In the wrong direction. But it was only 50 metres. By this stage we were already drawing a crowd. Taxis were stopping to watch us, pedestrians were pointing.

Why not get a taste of Mozambique here

Eventually after a two–hour Maputo baptism of fire, exasperated thinny gave my driver’s licence back and we could escape to the most expensive scone and Earl Grey tea of our lives at the Polana Hotel.

By this stage we’d been in Mozambique for three weeks so we could no longer claim to be surprised at the cost of food or how notoriously corrupt the cops were. I’ve recently verified that a good evening meal in an upmarket restaurant in Buenos Aires costs less than a burger and chips in some restaurants in Mozambique.

Maputo was the final stop on our trip – we’d been on a yoga retreat in Tofo, whichis a busy little tourist town about 500kms north of the capital.

Let’s just say upfront that the heat in Mozambique in December is indescribable.

Which is great for yoga, but crap for anything else – like, sleeping. We nicknamed our bungalow in Tofo “the furnace”. Do yoga in that heat for three hours a day and you feel like a life-size lotus within minutes. You can bend and twist into any pose – rock star yogini stuff.

And there’s the other thing.

Websites and tour operators tell you that driving a regular car north of Maputo is doable. What they really mean is, if you have nerves of steel it’s doable.

And if you don’t mind navigating post-apocalyptic-like pot holes it’s doable. If you don’t have a care in the world for getting on your hands and knees and digging your tyres out of the sand then it’s doable.

The drive to Tofo is only the opening chapter to the extreme nature of Mozambique.

It’s extremely hot and extremely beautiful. It’s extremely neglected and extremely charming. People are extremely gentle and extremely poor (according to the Department for International Development nearly half of the population of sub Saharan Africa live on less than $1 a day).

Street vendors in towns like Inharrime and Xai Xai sell anything. From oversized mangoes to avocadoes, wicked peri-peri sauce, cashew nuts and pineapples.

In fact, markets in these towns on the EN1 cater for any eventuality.

I saw washing machines, salad spinners, blankets (why?) and chests of drawers. Imagine you’d driven up from Joburg with the family for a holiday near Xai Xai and forgotten, say, the dog kennel. No problem.

Tofo beaches (and sunsets) are exquisite, gentle, melting.

Fishermen diligently wade through the waves with bright green nets making their last catch for the day. Locals at the market prepare chicken satays and fresh prego rolls for sale.

Ramshackle boathouses and outbuildings cobble together a front row of beach accommodation taken up by locals, Portuguese tourists, a truck load of Scandinavians and a fair share of South Africans.

Ever since the BBC covered Tofo the price of a beer has shot up, but a good peri-peri chicken and rice with a cold Laurentina at Hotel Tofo is the most idyllic lunch.

Kick back, or take a swim afterwards – the sea is that close.

Casa de Comer serves up hearty Mozambiquan-style breakfasts served with incredibly delicious local pão (bread). Head on over to the market for fresh prawns or clams and you can cook at home.

If anything, you’ll suffer from option paralysis on the food front.

When it comes to bread, it’s worth mentioning that Tofo’s Bread Shack is owned by a softly spoken Zimbabwean pastry chef called Succeed. He supplies most of the tourists, locals and the resorts in the area with bread, donuts and even a chicken bunny chow if you’re that brave.

He trained in Zim, then worked in Beijing and came back for a stint in Botswana that didn’t end well before landing in this tiny shack baking the best loaves in Tofo.

But, getting back to thinny and fatty in Maputo.

They weren’t going to ruin a perfectly good 48-hour stopover in Maputo. So once we’d figured out that taxis and walking were the best ways to get around, we saw the city.

Pancho Guedes is the most famous local modernist architect to come out of Moz and his buildings are the highlight of Maputo. They rise out of the dilapidated and sometimes-abandoned and decrepit city structures (some buildings have been condemned).

A local architect gave an insider’s run of the city. From the renowned fabric store, Casa Elephant (opposite the central market), to a drive by of the train station designed by Eiffel and on to the National Museum of Art, which is definitely worth a visit. Later on we headed off to Club Naval - a pool club and restaurant where locals frolic in the pool and sip long, cool, drinks).

The day wasn’t without its tribulations – potholes in Maputo aren’t the same as your garden-variety pothole in Joburg or Cape Town. Hitting one is devastating. Your shock absorbers will never be the same again.

So one tyre change later and we were at a Serra Da Estrela Restaurante enjoying a traditional Portuguese five-course meal. Think tasty bacalhau (cod) fish cakes, fresh sardines, chouriço sausage, and stews finished off with a perfectly placed fado singer. Fado never ends well. It’s like a car crash of a song unfolding in front of your eyes.

It’s sad and pining, but in a truly beautiful way.

At midnight we headed out to Rua de Arte where locals and embassy types were tripping out of bars and into the street to the sounds of a local marimba band. No roof, just the night sky, heady conversations and five million stars guarding the city.

Details of yoga retreats are available at or

Total 10-day yoga retreat cost (including accommodation, yoga instruction, dinner and breakfast) was R4 700.

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