Friendly folk, delicious seafood and lots to see

THE most important thing whenever I plan to travel or go on holiday is to get to know the history and lifestyle of the people and country that I intend visiting.

My dream has always been to travel to as many African countries as possible, so when the opportunity came along to go to Maputo in Mozambique I jumped at it.

While preparing for my trip I wondered about the kind of people the Mozambicans are, their lifestyle and their weather.

A friend who has relatives in Maputo sort of eased my curiosity a bit and told me not to worry because it was a wonderful country with wonderful people.

After driving for six hours from Durban we entered the busy Julius Nyerere Avenue, which is the main road into Mozambique's capital .

Maputo has wide avenues lined with beautiful flowering trees, street hawkers selling flowers, art works and fruits.

Restaurants, mostly seafood restaurants, dominate this part of the city.

I spotted the famous Costa do Sol, an institution for seafood dining, and the Zambi Restaurant.

When my partner informed me that the Costa do Sol is one of the oldest restaurants in Maputo I was impressed.

We stayed at the Polana Serena hotel for three days. The hotel is a majestic building with a history that goes back to 1922.

The refurbished Polana Serena offers guests the elegance and splendour of colonial times. It is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and boasts outstanding service.

I was really impressed with the standard of the service at the hotel.

The staff were very excited that we were from South Africa and told us about the time President Jacob Zuma spent at the hotel more than six months ago.

They were overwhelmed by his "down to earth" personality and some of the staff said Zuma spoke to them and shook their hands.

Our room, which overlooked the calm Maputo Bay, was fit for royalty .

The chef must surely be the best cook ever. I am not a fish fan but the seafood platters he prepared were divine and I found myself digging into sea creatures that I never thought I could eat.

The weather was wonderful and very similar to Durban. We spent our first afternoon in Maputo on the beach. There are beautiful white beaches and the people make the best of their weekends. We saw them swimming and relaxing on the beach and fishing, while the kids built sand castles or flew kites.

The next morning we enjoyed an early morning city tour to Maputo's railway station. The beautiful green and white building was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1910.

We also visited the Roman Catholic cathedral, the City Hall and the French-Mozambican cultural centre, an old colonial building, that have all been tastefully restored and are some of the city's heritage sites.

A centre point of the city is the Praca de Independencia, which has a statue of Samora Machel, the country's first president. It now hosts art exhibitions.

And then there is the Art Museum that exhibits the best of Mozambican paintings and sculptures and the Money Museum where you can see coins and bank notes from past eras.

After a very informative and educational city tour, off we went to the harbour that is located near the city centre.

There were fishing boats all over the place and the fishermen were off-loading fish every few minutes while locals in vehicles came with big buckets to buy the fresh fish.

Fish is the staple food of the country and most people, we were told, were buying from the fishermen to sell for a profit to people inside and outside the city.

The next day we visited the Maputo fish market, where both men and women sell delicious fresh fish and chips. They clean and cook the meal while you wait.

The market is a meeting place people go to after church on Sundays to relax and enjoy scrumptious fish dishes.

We decided to spend our last day in Maputo indoors and take full advantage of the hotel gym, have a hairdo and spend the afternoon lazily in the bar chatting to the friendly hotel staff and other guests.

The six hours drive back to Durban seemed very short, just like our stay in this fascinating part of the African continent.

As we drove back home we took with us good memories that I will treasure for ever.

As we laughed and chatted all the way home and recalled our wonderful stay, we made a promise to ourselves that very soon we would return - this time hopefully with our kids.

lThe writer was a guest of The Polana Serena hotel in Maputo