Sunday, April 17, 2011

Speaking Spanish in Africa

I am currently in an internet cafe in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe but for simplicity's sake this entry will concern my trip from Cape Town up into Mozambique. Internet has been shoddy and scarce along the way so apologies to anyone who has been on pins and needles waiting for my next report.

My journey into Mozambique from Cape Town took about a week, with stopovers in Port Elizabeth and Durban, the latter being far preferable. I took the Baz Bus, a hop-on/hop-off bus that takes backpackers all over the country. I bought the express ticket, which was far cheaper, so I didn't do much hopping on and off. It's a good idea but for my purpose I probably should have just taken the regular long-distance bus. From Durban I traveled to Maputo (capital of Mozambique) via Swaziland, which was beautiful to ride through. I spent one day in Maputo doing some errands (exchanging money, buying groceries, getting a photocopy of my passport notarized, etc.) before taking the bus up to Inharrime to meet a college friend currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) there. I spent a few days with her in Inharrime and then tagged along with a big get-together of PCVs at a beach not too far away. After the weekend I said goodbye and hitched my way north via Vilankulos to Chimoio and from there I crossed into the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.
  • You have to love countries that sometimes don't even take their own currency. In South Africa there is a large amount of fake 200 Rand notes circulating so many shops won't take them. Too bad for me, since that's what the ATM often gives you. (I won't even start about Zim, I'll save that for the next entry.)
  • Just when I thought I've seen all the different variations of strange public transit, I was (almost literally) thrown into a chapa (minibus) in Moz that was definitely at capacity. Since there were no seats (not even an inch of seat for my more-than-inch-wide ass) I was instructed by the conductor to just stand, basically between this poor woman's legs on the second row. And obviously "standing" isn't much of an option for someone 5'10 so I crouched. This ended up paying off, though, because after 30 minutes of it I got to snag the front seat for the rest of the 3 hour journey.
  • In Moz they speak Portuguese, which I equate to "just about Spanish" so I just kept pretending they were speaking Spanish. I would just jabber away in Spanish and they'd just kind of look at me funny, but understood most of what I was saying. Problem is my reverse translation skills aren't that strong. This led to rather awkward conversations where I misled people into thinking I was Zimbabwean, or married, or volunteering in the area. Whoops.
  • The meticais, the Moz currency, seems to be fairly volatile. I traded at 32 Mtc = $1USD, but the PCVs told me it has been at 45 Mtc = $1USD when they had first arrived 18 months ago! The other funny thing is that I guess a few years ago inflation got so bad they just lopped off 3 zeros from the end of the numbers. You'll still find a few of the old Mtc in circulation - a coin that reads 5000 Mtc is actually worth only 5 Mtc. (Note: Zimbabwe also tried this trick but when you're lopping off 3 zeros from digits that have 32 zeros, it doesn't quite have the same effect. Again, more on this next entry).
  • Scooter, my Bowdoin friend, lives on a Catholic mission outside of Inharrime and teaches at the school there. The girls at the orphanage called me "Mana Munny" (Sister Munny), but also "Mana Bieber" and kept asking if I was his sister since I too was a musician. How these kids even know about Justin Bieber is beyond me...
  • I know Captain Safety was nervous when she heard I'd been hitchhiking my way through some of these African countries. But almost any PCV or long-term volunteer will tell you that hitching is almost always safer than riding in a chapa or open-backed truck (the only "public transit" available). In a hitch you might actually get inside the car and have a seatbelt. Plus, for a budget traveler like myself I often got a hitch for free (sometimes they'll charge you what you'd pay in a chapa, but still, you're often far more comfortable in a hitch than in a chapa). And company in a hitch is almost always more engaging than company in a chapa. Hitchhiking has actually been one of the highlights of my adventure here and has been the source of many engaging and interesting conversations (save for the guy who only spoke Portuguese for a 5 hour journey - that one was a little awkward).

Toenails in the sand

Two of the girls at Laura Vicuna Mission outside of Inharrime. Margarite,

Walking down the beach with the dogs of the owners. Don't worry, these were friendly dogs and they weren't chasing me

Sunset over Tsene Lagoa, a saltwater lake just inland from the Indian Ocean

1 comment:

  1. Zambia needs to lop some zeroes off the currency... hope you're having fun in Bulowayo (well, I can imagine Bulowayo isn't as cool as the stuff you've been doing around the area) and we will skype soon after you get back to the States!