A jewel for the tourist

FAR and away the most exciting city in Mozambique is the stunning and often intoxicatingly beautiful Maputo.

Awash with sunlight-intensified natural colours, the city is further prettified by the warmth of its people.

When I was in Mozambique, known as one of the poorest countries in the world, I felt like a king as I drove the streets of Maputo.

I had planned to camp and visit villages near Maputo but I was also lured to and fascinated by the informal markets of the capital as I drove towards the east.

I did not know my way so I followed trucks and taxis that carried migrant workers from South Africa.

I tracked taxis through Maxixe, Vilanculos, Pambara, Xaixai and Mushungwe before reaching Machaze, where they stopped to off-load goods.

Though I was apprehensive, the whole journey was educational and entertaining. Talk of being adventurous.

Machaze was particularly interesting to me because when I reached the place, the dialect changed altogether. The whole time everyone was speaking Sitsonga but when I got to the place, everyone switched to Portuguese and a local language called Sindawu, which sounded like Shona. This switch in languages left me sweaty.

Thirsty and tired, I stopped at a small cafe for something to cool my throat. I was shocked when the shopkeeper and the people in the shop burst into loud laughter when I ordered my drink in English. I was forced to use hands to communicate because nobody understood a single word.

I took out a R100 note for a 340ml of Coca-Cola and I got about R40 change. Things got a bit tense as I noticed them exchanging suspicious glances. I realised that I was in for some scary times.

When I enquired about the town from a taxi driver, a doggy chap jumped towards me and demanded to know where I was from. When I told them I was from South Africa, he shouted "xenophobia". By that time my whole body was dripping with sweat.

Another man asked what my name was and what I was doing there. When I told them my name, one man, Samon Sandani Nyamunda, who said he had a home in Sgandav (Winterveldt) outside Tshwane, remembered the name through the Sowetan byline and invited me to his home.

Sceptical and afraid I followed him to his house. To my surprise I was given royal treatment.

The following day Nyamunda took me through the dingy streets of his town. Everyone in the streets was on a bicycle.

Bicycles are used for various domestic chores such as fetching water from the stream, carrying things to the market and as general transportation. Some use them as public transport.

Nyamunda had advised me to park my Toyota Hillux and use his bicycle to save fuel.

As I rode through Dofondo, Machanyi, Checheni and Mutanda I was surprised at how peaceful the people are despite the high levels of poverty.

Crime is unheard of .

People sleep in the open and take walks at any time of the night freely.

After a cruise around the place it was time to return home. As I drove back home, I was overcome by guilt, thinking about Mozambicans and other Africans who were victims of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.