Sunday Morning ~ Easter on Mozambique Island
Bruno and his wife Judith are our proprietors at the Jardim dos Aloes, a bed and breakfast in Stonetown on the tiny Ilha Moçambique off the mainland of Mozambique. We eat breakfast together along with the other guests, outside under a huge, what I think is fig, tree. It’s shady and cool. Yesterday we were talking about how difficult the process of getting a visa to this country is. Bruno, who is from Italy but has lived here for forty years, said, “Yes, the good thing about having visitors here is, if you travel to northern Mozambique, you REALLY want to come here. We don’t get any whiners.”
Getting a visa took the better part of one day and the small part of a second. It’s possible to get a visa at the border, but we’d heard that could take hours and there isn’t a place to stay near there so it’d hard to make it all the way to Macuba before dark. We decided not to chance it, even though it was said to be cheaper at the border. I thought it couldn’t be that much cheaper, so decided to bite the bullet and go to the Mozambique consulate to obtain one. We were leaving after noontime and that meant getting to the border around three, and if we got held up it might be dangerous getting the 180 kilometers to Macuba where there was accomodation. To get a visa you must have in your possession, a bank statement, a reservation for three nights lodging, a passport, and money. I went on Tuesday morning, telling my colleagues I’d be about an hour before being back on campus. Ha ha ha. Very funny. One said, “Oh, you think you are back in the states!” I’d heard they were rude at the consulate, but really didn’t understand the scope of the inconvenience. I had all my papers in order, my checkbook, and a book to read. I was prepared. I arrived when it opened at 8 and waited to be let in the locked door, a minor hurdle, was first in line and ready for surly attitudes with a smile. After all! I was going on vacation! I handed over all the required papers and was told to have a seat. I wondered why, since there was no one else there, but did as I was told. Another woman came in and handed in all her documents, clearly had done this before as she had them all in a tidy bag ready to relinquish. She then took a seat beside me. I read, she sent messages on her phone, for a long time. At nine, my companion went to the window and asked how much longer it would be since she had an appointment at 9:30. They told her to take her seat. She came back and said, “They aren’t doing anything! They are just sitting there!” About fifteen minutes later they called me and I jumped up, ready to pay my money, take my visa and leave, but no. They handed me a deposit slip. I then had to go to one specific bank, about three miles away, deposit the money and bring the slip back, then proceed with the visa application. I thought, you are kidding! But these people are not to be argued with. I looked at the other woman, she nodded, yup, that’s what you have to do, then told me, “Don’t worry. It’s worth it.” I went t the bank. I waited in line. I handed them my check and the deposit slip, to be told that it is not the correct deposit slip for a check. It was a deposit slip only for cash. I got out of the line, found the correct deposit slip, filled it out in duplicate, waited in another line, and when I got to the window, easily made the deposit and got my receipt. Then I went back to the consulate, waited again at the locked door to be let in and relieved I was through the ordeal of banking (an unpleasant experience in Malawi) handed over my deposit slip. The woman looked at it in horror. “Where is the one I gave you? I gave you a slip for cash. This is a check deposit slip.” she said as if I had taken her money and spent it. I told her I didn’t have that much cash so had to write a check. She said, “We only allow cash.” My patience had run out at that point and I asked her what’s the difference? The money will go into this account. She just handed me the slip back and said, “Only cash.” I said, “What am I supposed to do? They already have my check and it’s not my bank. Can’t you just call my bank to confirm the money is in there?” No, apparently she couldn’t. So I went three miles back to the bank, found a guy controlling the crowd who worked there, told him my story and asked if he could somehow get the check back. I was trying not to wait in the line again and he was very nice and said he’d be right back. He had to talk to the manager. Quickly, and by that I mean about fifteen minutes later, he came back and said, we can give it back but we need the slip we gave you, which I had just left at the consulate in case I couldn’t get my check back. Ugh. I walked another mile to my bank, got cash, went back to the other bank, deposited the cash in the consulate’s account, got the slip, went back to the consulate, gave it to the woman (who was all smiles that I had done it correctly), gave me my other slip back, went back to the bank, found the nice man who helped me, and gave him the slip. A mere five minutes later he came back with my check, I gushed thanks, and off I went, soaking with sweat to work. I STILL had to go back to the consulate the next day to collect the visa, because apparently, even though they can do it immediately at the border, they take two days to do it in the air conditioned plush office with several staff sitting and talking to each other. Other than that it was a breeze.
But that woman was right, it was so worth it. The border crossing on Thursday was relatively smooth, but still took an hour. We have to pay for the car, get special insurance, fill out forms that have been copied so many times they are unreadable. It didn’t appear anyone read them anyway, so I needn’t have worried about doing them correctly. For some reason the building made me think of Cuba. It could have been the berets on the policemen with the machine guns in their hands. I must have seen pictures of that or something. After we’d done all we thought we had to, we got in the car to see if someone would open the gate to let us pass. Only thirty five minutes! Hah! Who said it takes an hour? But no one came to open the gate. Then, at my window, was a slight man in a white coat wanting to talk to us. I greeted him in English. I know no Portuguese and don’t even know what the local language is. Very few people speak English we’ve found. He was asking something about yellow fever and I though he was asking if we’d been to a yellow fever country so I said, “No. No yellow fever.” Uh oh. This was a problem. George, in the meantime and pulled out his yellow fever card and the guy brightened up. Oh! He wanted the card! I have that. He motioned to us to get out of the car to follow him to a one-room cement building with no window where he had a desk with a huge log book. He recorded us in there then said to come near so he could take our temperature! George had been sick all week, but was feeling much better, thank God, but I was hoping he wouldn’t start coughing. I was afraid they wouldn’t let anyone sick in. But our temperatures were normal. Ok! Finally! We can get on our way! Nope. Next is the police room, another cement one-room place, next door. But they had a hanging purple curtain diving the room, maybe for interrogation or something. Not sure. More recording in log books, close passport scrutiny, a few questions about what we do in Blantyre. The whole while George was trying to speak Spanish and make jolly. While that did make them smile, I thought it was holding up the process. They are not good at multitasking. We passed that test and asked, “Any more? Are we ok to go?” They nodded. We got back in the car and edged toward the gate. Another guy came to the window with another log book in his hand. “Passport”, he said, not unkindly. At this point I was sick of putting it away and taking it out again. I thought I should just leave it out but worry I’ll forget where it is. He wrote down a bunch of our information in another log book, handed the passports back, and opened the gate. We were free. It took an hour. Everyone was right. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get the visa there, though it is $30 cheaper.
But it was so worth it! The road was smooth, no traffic, scenery spectacular, and our car has air-conditioning. It is really hot and it made the drive so much nicer. We got to Macuba after dark however and finding a place to stay was tricky. After asking a few people in George’s Spanish, we managed to get a clean room that seemed safe and slept pretty well. We didn’t bother with supper. Turns out we didn’t bother with breakfast on Friday either. No place to eat, so we just got in the car and drove. It was Good Friday and we were supposed to be fasting anyway. Which we pretty much did, until we got to the Island, or Ilha as they say here. None of the police understood us when they asked where we were going and we said, “Mozambique Island”. George had to say ‘Ilha’ and then they’d nod and let us go. We crossed the three and a half kilometer one-lane bridge, maneuvered through through the tiny streets and could not find our accommodation. We stopped to ask at a few places and a young man heard George asking directions, said he knew of it and offered to get in the car. I was a little leery of that, but it seemed like we had no choice. Turns out, we would never have found this place without him. It was not accessible by car so he instructed us to leave the car in a central square and follow him down two alleys (it was daylight, so this wasn’t as frightening as it might have been), where he safely delivered us to the door of this delightful haven. Behind the stone wall is a world of it’s own, exotic and welcoming, with smiling gregarious hosts and a glass of fresh pear juice to sip while Bruno explained all the places to visit and eat.
Yesterday we spent the morning in the museum, walked the fort in brutal heat, walked the length of the island and back, then sipped fresh lemonade while we watched the sunset. We are gorging on fresh fabulous seafood and making a plan for the rest of the week. I got up early today to go to mass, but the church is closed up tight. Bruno told me at breakfast he’d call the priest and ask when mass is, but then thought better of it as he might then be expected to go to mass. I decided I’d get the travelers dispensation and sat down to breakfast of poached pears, quiche with homemade ricotta, Portuguese ham, homemade easter bread and strong tea, all communal at the heavy table on Portuguese china, under the tree. Life is good.
Love to all,