My friends Genimaree, Jo, and Ron travelled to Mozambique with me where we spent a few days in the capital, Maputo. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP of US$605 per capita, as compared to Australia’s US$54,717. Everywhere in the city we were confronted by crumbling infrastructure, with a great many potholes in the roads and with the once luxurious buildings from the Portuguese colonial era looking like badly faded photographs of their former glory.
After a few days we were all yearning to see a place that was modern and well-maintained. Genimaree, the only one of us who had bothered to take a travel guide on our trip, told us excitedly one morning that there was a four star hotel in Catembe, on the other side of the bay, that we could go to for the day. It all sounded very pleasant and civilised and we were hooked.
We walked down to the wharf, where the guide book had said we could catch a water taxi to Catembe. When we arrived there we queued for a long time in the blazing sun for our turn to buy our tickets at a small, ramshackle ticket office that was well past its prime. Ours were the only European faces in the queue. The cost of a return ticket was only 60c per person. The old saying that you get what you pay for did cross my mind at the time.
The water taxi, named Mapapai II, was small and overloaded and we were more than a little relieved when we made it safely across the bay to Catembe.
Upon arrival at Catembe we could see no sign of a taxi or any form of public transport. The prospect of a 4 km walk to the hotel along the dusty road in the searing tropical heat did not appeal to us.
Much to our relief a Mozambican man approached us and offered to take us to the hotel in his “small car” for a fee. We accepted his offer and he walked us to his car, which turned out to be an old ute. Beggars can’t be choosers, we thought, so we all hopped happily onto the back of the ute, where we sat on some old tyres. But the engine would not start.
The driver called over some boys who were lounging about and asked them to push-start the ute. Twice they pushed the vehicle and twice the engine refused to start. They all started wandering off. The driver jumped out and enticed them to have another go. This time the ute took off with a spluttering engine. Some of the boys jumped onto the back with us, beaming with happiness at the opportunity to go along for the ride.
Photo courtesy of Ron Exiner
The hotel was nice and had a pool, but to our dismay we found that it was closed for renovations. We talked to the fellow in charge of the renovation work and asked him if we could use the pool, having travelled all the way to the hotel in the heat. Not only did he offer us use of the pool for as long as we wished, but he also arranged for one of his assistants to cook lunch for us at a very reasonable price. The fish dish was to die for.
We lounged around the pool until the late afternoon, when the fellow with the ute returned at the agreed time to pick us up and drive us back to the wharf. The young boys were also on the back with us again.
During the afternoon the sea had become quite rough and we boarded the water taxi with trepidation.
Ignoring a sign that stipulated a maximum of 14 passengers in rough weather, the pilot piled 32 people on to the boat. As soon as all the passengers were on board, the boat started to list to the port side. The pilot barked out urgent orders to rearrange some of the passengers so that the boat would remain upright.
Somewhat to our surprise the water taxi made it safely back across the bay to Maputo. As we stepped off onto the quay Ron said to me quietly, so that Genimaree or Jo would not hear, “Hey, Tim, I take you any bet that water taxi’s predecessor, the Mapapai 1, is lying somewhere on the bottom of the drink out there.”