All you need is love, as holiday firms set their sights on Mozambique
Saturday 09 October 2010
John, Paul, George, Ringo and ... Lourenço Marques? Perhaps the greatest coup in the history of second features was the placement of a travel documentary on Mozambique as the supporting movie for A Hard Day's Night. Before that black-and-white classic, cinemagoers in 1964 were treated to a film full of colour, excitement and reasons why you should visit that corner of Africa – starting in its capital, then named Lourenço Marques after a Portuguese explorer.
In the Sixties, Mozambique might as well have been the Moon, given the expense of getting there; a flight to Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa cost the equivalent of six months' average wage. This winter, the capital (now known as Maputo) is accessible for £641 return, just six days' work at the median national wage. So: you could probably go there. But should you?
Study the various sources of advice on travelling to and within Mozambique, and you will either decide never to stray there – or feel galvanised into immediate action. Try this recommendation: "Walk across the border from Komatipoort to Ressano Garcia. It's only a few kilometres". That is from the website of international rail guru, Mark Smith – the Man in Seat 61. Across at Thomas Cook, table 3352 in the Overseas Timetable covers the journey from Beira to Quelimane, for which the typesetter has reached into the little-used drawer containing a pictogram of a lorry. "Occasional service by truck", is the only information available.
And on the Lonely Planet travel forum, the Thorn Tree, "Andrewm1962" recommends when travelling third class by train: "Try to get as close to the engine as possible. Seats in the front of the train fill up last. You don't want to be standing for the whole trip."
These give the impression that Mozambique is a hard-core destination, the sort of place that attracts people who describe themselves as "a traveller, not a tourist". The fact that a bitter civil war tore the country apart for 15 years reinforces the misconception, as do the multiple warnings about landmines in some rarely visited parts of the country. But the former Portuguese possession is perfectly ripe for exploration by travellers, or tourists, who want to be ahead of the pack.
Ten years from now Mozambique will be as recognised as a destination as anywhere in eastern and southern Africa. UK package-holiday companies already have the beautiful coastline in their sights. Sterling is sliding against the rand (down 10 per cent so far this year), and so Mozambique will be increasingly seen as a budget alternative, or add-on, to a trip to South Africa.
"Most visits to Mozambique are trouble-free," is the reasonably positive message from the Foreign Office, but if you do have problems then you might need to call in at the High Commission in Maputo. Correct; not an embassy, but a high commission, because Mozambique joined the Commonwealth 15 years ago, despite its colonial history.
The address of the British mission is a quaint throwback to the days of Soviet-fuelled conflict: 310 Vladimir Lenin Avenue, close to Friedrich Engels Avenue. Handily, this is very close to the airport – which is very close to opening a shiny new terminal, in time for the All-Africa Games that will be staged in the Mozambique capital next July.
And how did the civil war eventually end? Maybe it was all down to the Beatles, or at least their teacher of transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1992 he was invited to Maputo by President Chissano, who is quoted as saying: "The result has been political peace and balance in nature in my country." All you need, apparently, is love.
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