A Pedacito Of Mozambique, Africa
The mysterious Southeast African nation of Mozambique is usually off the radar of most major travel books and blogs, but it has so much to offer with its extensive turquoise-colored coastline, white-sanded beaches, remote archipelagos in the south, ancient dhows billowing in the wind.
Vast tracks of the jungle, as well as open plains teeming with elephants, lions, and every species of African bird one, can think of. Just off the coast of its dune-rich beaches abounds one of the world’s largest populations of Whale Sharks.
Even with my infinite patience, tolerance for rugged bus travel, and open sense of adventure, I would only get to experience the cultural richness of its capital Maputo. This was my first assignment in Mozambique, and it centered on doing a feature article about the architecture and cultural revival taking place in the downtown area.
After taking a ten-hour bus from Johannesburg, South Africa, my first impressions upon entering the city are a synthesis between it being both Continental and Latin, spicy, warm, relaxed, and slightly enigmatic.
In a region dominated by bland and often dilapidated cities, Maputo is a refreshing dynamic of atmospheric character and historical elegance. As I walk down the wide avenue I immediately observe the Mediterranean-style buildings, waterside cafes, and the wide streets lined with jacaranda trees.
Expanding southwards and westwards from the port. As I look at each block, I observe Portuguese-styled buildings with elegant balconies intermixed with blandly designed Marxist-style apartment blocks.
My news agency booked my stay at the Hotel Avenida, an off-white, modern, high rise located in the heart of downtown. There I experienced a friendly staff with efficient service, luxurious rooms, a first-rate business center with super-fast Wi-Fi, and a first-class restaurant with all the top amenities.
Maputo is truly one of the friendliest cities in Africa, as almost everyone that you meet welcomes with you a warm smile and a shy hello. 15th-century Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was so enthralled by the indigenous people here that he named the area “Terra Da Boa Gente, or Land of the Good People”.
A few kilometers away from the hotel is the seaside Avenida Marginal, here life moves at a much slower pace. I watch the local fisherman slowly finish catching the day’s catch. Local vendors rest in the shade hoping to lure foreign customers while Radio Mozambique plays upbeat east African tunes.
Originally named Lourenco Marques by the Portuguese, from the 50s to the late 60’s it became a favored playground for both wealthy Portuguese and apartheid-era South Africans seeking fun in the sun.
After the Marxist revolution in 1975, President Samora Machel changed the name to Maputo, in recognition of an early chief who had resisted Portuguese colonization. Although a democratic government is now in power, its Marxist past is still evident everywhere.
Included are Avenida Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, and Ho Chi Minh. These are huge designs honoring the Marxist liberation movement Frelimo penetrates the city’s artistic and cultural expressions. Then there is Maputo’s landmark train station designed by an associate of Alexandre Gustav Eiffel.
And yet the city hides hidden surprises for those who are patient enough to explore them. The narrow streets of its old town, which lend themselves so delightfully to me getting lost, harbor Creole-style 19-century homes of wood, iron-covered balconies that transplant me directly to New Orleans or a Caribbean Island.
If there are two buildings or rather structures that embody the diverse contrast of this mysterious city, they would be the Chissano Gallery: A very modern building that houses the works of the renowned sculptor Alberto Chissano, as well as other prominent sculptors and painters.
And the Paca dos Herois Mocambicanos: a 95m-long mural commemorating the revolution of independence and holding the remains of great revolutionary heroes such as Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel. Maputo is both Modern and traditional, progressive but laid back, global yet provincial, and at her roots, she is a deeply sensual African Metropolis!
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