Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mozambique: Parte Dois

Benny and Mr. Deep. More about Benny later.
Mr. Deep and I visited Vilankulos Mozambique recently. In addition to the details of the trip that I shared in this post we had several other fun (and funny) adventures.

First, the currency situation. Mozambique uses the metical. The hotel was unable to exchange more than a little bit of money for us. But word quickly got out and soon various hotel staff were approaching "the white guy with dollars and rands who is looking for meticals" and were offering to exchange money for Mr. Deep. It seems many of the staff were excited to get their hands on some South African rands. The whole exchange process became pretty informal as Mr. Deep and various members of the staff negotiated exchange rates.

Next, the hotel. The Dona Ana has a pretty art deco style and unbeatable views of the ocean. The hotel staff were all very kind and helpful but many things were funny. Need a towel for the pool? Ask and then wait 15 minutes for someone to bring one. Need a fork to eat your breakfast? Just grab one off another table. Also, a funny thing about the hotel was the choice of music that was playing in the bar and by the pool throughout our stay on a repeating soundtrack. The song that stands out the most that we kept hearing over and over was "Tell Laura I love her."

I don't mind searching for a fork when I am enjoying this view.
The hotel wasn't the only establishment we visited which operated at a slow and less than efficient pace. We went to a really fun beach bar called the Casbah which couldn't have been more cool or in a more beautiful location. But, if you ever visit Vilankulos and go to the Casbah be aware that you should order your food about two hours before you get hungry. If you do this everything will be timed just right and you will get your food right when you are ready to eat and before you get too drunk. I also nominate The Casbah to be featured on a TV show that Mr. Deep and I used to like to watch back in the USA called Bar Rescue. Bar Rescue stars a bar business expert named John Taffer as he visits various bars and tries his best to whip them into shape in a short time. It's like the show with Gordon Ramsey only about bars. John Taffer should visit this place as the whole time we were sitting there having drinks and waiting patiently for our food, the owner (as best we can tell she was the owner) was also sitting there having drinks and chatting with her friend while the rest of her staff were working like crazy and the chef was seemingly cooking one meal at a time. 

The beach next to the Casbah.
Hopefully this post does not sound too bratty. We loved Mozambique and enjoyed its quirky and less than stellar attention to detail. We liked being off the beaten path in a place where tons of tourists aren't flocking. If we want to go somewhere where everything runs perfectly there are plenty of other places that we can visit. 

In our older age, Mr. Deep and I are getting a lot better about doing nothing for at least part of the time when we are on vacation. Our vacation M.O. used to be trying to cram as many activities, and usually physical activities at that, into our trips as possible all while laughing at and making disparaging comments about other holiday goers who were lying around all day by the pool and on the beach doing nothing. As illustration, we went on a trip to Tulum, Mexico a few years ago and were beyond proud of ourselves that we ventured outside of the all inclusive resort daily to do things like visit Chichen Itza, hike around other various ruins, rappel into caves to swim in cenotes and zip lining all while the rest of the guests at the resort did nothing but lie in the sun drinking, ordering food and maybe getting up periodically to visit the bathroom. When we drove out of the resort each day the guards were baffled asking us "where are you going" unable to imagine guests actually wanting to leave the resort. But that was then. Now we are a bit better and we do enjoy a half day or even a full day of sitting by the pool and doing nothing when we travel. And that's exactly what we did all day Sunday on our trip, until we had to venture out to eat. 
Gorgeous pool at the Dona Ana.
We visited the Bar Nyeleti to have a few beers and get some lunch. The food we were anxious to try is called matapa. Matapa is a Mozambican specialty. It is a seafood stew that contains ground cassava leaves, ground cashews and of course seafood. It is served with rice. Unbeknownst to us, we arrived at the bar just in time to grab seats and order our matapa before the place filled up with locals wanting to watch Mozambique vs. Ghana in the World Cup soccer qualifier. Unlike a sports bar in the U.S. where there are many TVs and various sports being broadcast and everyone is eating and drinking, this was a more serious event with everyone moving their chairs to face the TV and no one bothering with any distractions such as food or drink. Most of those who were drinking were drinking Coke from 2 liter bottles and even seemed to have brought their own cups to the bar.

Having a 2 liter Coke and intently watching the match.
After eating our matapa (I loved it, Mr. Deep didn't) and watching some of the game, we ventured out into the street to walk around and see what else was going on in town. I should mention that it was Easter. We came upon a guy named Benny who was standing in the road when we walked by. He asked us if we knew how to play any musical instruments. We said no even though technically I know how to play the French horn. I decided not to share this tidbit because a) it's entirely not cool and b) I felt pretty confident that he wasn't standing out on a dirt road hoping a French horn player would stroll by. And I was right. When we followed him into a house party, there was a band there but no French horn. Yes, we followed him into a house party because sometimes you realize you are in a situation that could turn bad or even dangerous but more likely will be interesting and fun and we decided (by glancing at each other in agreement) that this would likely (and hopefully) be interesting and fun. Even though Benny was disappointed that neither of us played guitar, drums or could sing, that didn't stop him from asking Mr.Deep to join his band. So Mr. Deep air-played the keyboard for a while and that seemed to make Benny happy. 
Note the man in the white hat.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


We interrupt the retelling of our Mozambique adventures to provide an update on the cloned license plate situation and the ridiculous series of events that transpired as Mr. Deep tried with unwavering drive (bad pun) and determination to resolve the situation.

The last I wrote about this issue (in this post) we attempted to get new license plates. But after driving around the Joburg CBD in the rain for half a morning we were unable to find the Dept of Transport office and eventually we called off the search due to massive frustration.

Mr. Deep is tenacious though (tenacious deep) and he couldn't stand watching some other driver continue to rack up charges on our e-toll account and so he had to act. He worked for several weeks to tackle and eventually solve this problem.

Here are the events as they happened as told to me by Mr. Deep.

23 March 2016

Summary of my day not including the work (at my job) that I needed to do. Called at least six different phone numbers for Dept of Transport/Licensing to try to find out where their office was located so that I could go down there to get new license plates.
  • Two of the numbers were no longer in service.
  • Two of the numbers just rang and rang and no one answered. 
  • One number someone answered but then gave me a different number to call. 
  • One number someone answered, transferred me to another person who listened to my story, put me on hold, picked up again, and then hung up on me. I called that number back and got hung up on again. 
Finally I called my insurance company for advice. The person I spoke with suggested I get new plates, which of course I already knew. The question I needed answered was what is the location of the place where a person can obtain new plates? I asked this question and was given a different Dept of Transport location. I thanked them but also asked them to make a note in my file that in the likely event I get hauled off to jail for hit and run vehicular manslaughter to please note that someone else has cloned my plates. The service rep laughed and said they would note the duplicate plate situation. I called the number the insurance company gave to me but that number was not in service. 

I drove back to the traffic registry office where we started in Sandton and asked to see a supervisor. The supervisor looked up the plate number and said it was not issued to anyone else and agreed it was probably cloned. Note that I don't really care if the plate was cloned or was accidentally assigned to someone else, my problem is still the same. The supervisor gave me the phone number and an information form so I could find the elusive Dept of Transport office where one can go to get new plates. The supervisor suggested we get personalized license plates and said that would solve the problem. After I left, I tried to call the number she provided for the Dept of Transport but it was not in service. #^@#%#$^@&@!!!!!

Slightly annoyed at this point (in other words raging pissed off) I gave up on the idea of calling and instead decided to drive down to the Joburg CBD and find the Dept of Transport office once and for all. My plan was to park and try to find it on foot.  After driving several laps around the target area I finally found a parking place. Yes I had to 'pay the lady.' (editor's note, the lady is like a human meter and you have to pay her in order to park.) I then walked several blocks in search of the Dept of Transport which you will remember was supposedly located in the "ABSA building.

I asked a parking guard where the ABSA building was located and he pointed to the same building we had seen previously - the run down, about-to-be-condemned shell of a building that looks like it is probably a home for crack addicts. It was then that I noticed an ABSA ATM on one corner of the building. Ah...the ABSA building is called the ABSA building because it contains an ABSA ATM machine. Silly me had been looking for a giant ABSA sign on the building itself. I walked inside.  It was very dark as I slowly walked down a long and desolate hallway. Finally I spotted a security desk. I asked the security guard if this was indeed the Dept of Transport.

"What do you need?" she asked. I told her I needed new license plates. "Our system is down today" she said. 

But all was not lost. The woman wrote down her direct phone number and gave me her name. She told me to call back tomorrow or whenever I could muster up the courage, energy and strength to try again to solve this problem. At least with a phone number I could make sure the system was back up before returning. I politely said thanks and left. So let's call this one the "successful failure" as I did find the right place and seems that eventually I can solve this problem. 

11 April 2016

This shit never ends. I went back downtown to the ABSA building. I called ahead (yes that phone number was valid) and this time the system was up and running. But of course when I arrived I was told I had the wrong form. I filled out the correct form to get new, personalized license plates and then had to pay a whopping fee of R2700 (about $185!) Finally, I received my new personalized plate number. Woo hoo! But I was not quite done. The lady told me I had to go back to the original traffic registry office in Sandton to get my new updated registration disk (the one that sticks on the dashboard.) She said the new disk was going to cost me another R180. I asked her where I could get the new license plates and she said I had to visit one of those stores that makes license plates. Like, you know, the type of store where the cloner went to have replicas of our original plates made. I went back to the traffic registry office in Sandton (about a 20 minute drive) and waited in a long line. Finally, I made it up to the counter. 

I explained that I was here for my disk and that other office had sent me here.The woman pulled out a blank form for me to fill out which I instantly recognized as the one I already had with me (thank you Ops!!) I confidently said "oh I have that right here!" Then the other requirements were fired at me as if from a Gatling gun:  Copy of passport: check.  Copy of traffic register: check.  Old registration: check.  Proof of address: check (Thank you again Ops!!) What else? Nothing, here is your "check in form," please wait in the queue. Wait..what? Another #^@*@^#!! line?  Yes. This was only the "receiving" line or the line that verifies you have everything you need.  So after ascertaining where the beginning of the next line was I sat down and waited for my turn.  I then had to pay another R588 plus the R180 (even though I was told it was only going to cost R180.) Honestly I would have cut off a finger and handed it to this woman to get the hell out of here with the disk once and for all.  Once I paid, I was given the new registration disk. But, when I checked the disk it had the old license plate number printed on it. Shocking I know.  So I had to wait around for them to fix their error. Good thing I checked! Finally I got the corrected disk, drove around the corner and found the license plate place and got the new plates (this was by far the easiest step in the process which says a lot about the situation and how we got here in the first place.)  The whole project only took about ten hours and cost a total of R3486 (about $289.)

Thanks to Mr. Deep's extraordinary efforts I now have personalized license plates. Tastes in clothes, food, music and many other things change over the course of a lifetime as you mature, but one thing that hasn't changed is my dislike for personalized (or as they are called in the U.S., vanity) license plates. I think they are dumb, narcissistic and a complete waste of money. When I see someone driving with personalized plates, I immediately form a non flattering opinion of the person. I know that's judgmental. So now the joke is on me as I am the one driving around with personalized plates and I am likely being judged by others as some type of wealthy self-involved woman who has nothing better to do with her time or money then get personalized plates. And please don't misunderstand. I am grateful to Mr. Deep for solving this problem. Really, I am.

My personalized plates read "SCHMOOL GP." I laughed out loud when I saw them because even though I knew Mr. Deep was working to get me personalized plates, I didn't realize they would be actually personalized in such a personal way. I thought he'd just choose a random letter and number combination. But no. Schmool is a pet name that Mr. Deep has been calling me for years. I won't burden you with the story of how Schmool got her name. It's a cute name, but it's kind of private. I mean it used to be.

Right down to the end, this project was a complete pain. Even removing the old plates and installing the new ones was practically impossible because the old ones were bolted on like they were a critical piece of the space shuttle. 

Here I am posing with my new plates in the "schmool-mobile."  I think these plates are unlikely to be cloned.

GP stands for Gauteng Province by the way.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mozambique: Parte Um

Over the Easter holiday weekend, Mr. Deep and I took a trip to Mozambique. This was our first time to visit to an African country outside of South Africa. Technically Mr. Deep has been to Mozambique before IF you count the time he snuck under the fence and crossed the border into Mozambique when we were at Kruger Park.  As that type of behavior is frowned upon, we will count the Easter trip as Mr. Deep's first visit to Mozambique.

Vilankulo is a small town with a very small airport
In a previous post I described how after the trip was paid for in full, I learned that Americans need a visa to visit Mozambique. As Americans we are not used to needing a visa to go on vacation, so Mr. Deep and I were a little taken aback and we had to scramble to get the visas in time. We visited the Mozambican consulate with all our visa paperwork in hand only to learn that Mr. Deep did not have enough blank pages in his passport to get his visa. The consulate website said three pages were needed but at the consulate we were told it was actually six (three front and back.) Mr. Deep then had to make a few visits to the American embassy to get a new passport. While all of this excitement creates endless amounts of blog post material I do feel that the inability to easily complete tasks is becoming more and more frustrating over time. 

Therefore I am going to declare that the number one thing you need to know if you are moving to South Africa (in my opinion) has nothing to do with safety and security as you would think from reading about the country. Instead, I think the first thing that anyone moving here needs to understand and accept is that you will rarely, if ever, be able to fully complete a task on the first attempt. Even though the Mozambique visa debacle technically has nothing to do with South Africa, the whole thing took place on South African soil so I am lumping the experience into my nothing is easy in South Africa rant. Things like renewing your car registration or getting someone to come to your house to fix something and other seemingly simple tasks usually require multiple attempts before you achieve success. It's always something. The system is down that day, you have the wrong form, they can't process whatever it is you are trying to do at that location, the electrician just doesn't show up and doesn't bother to call and on and on. If your hobby is completing tasks in a quick and efficient manner than you are likely to be repeatedly frustrated.

Besides the race against time to get the visas, the other topic of pre-travel discussion was whether or not Mr. Deep and I should take malaria pills. While there is no malaria in the part of South Africa where we live, you can get malaria when visiting other parts of the country and continent. We already had the pills as we filled a prescription prior to visiting Kruger, but then decided not to take them.  Of course neither of us wanted to risk getting malaria but we have also heard bad things about the side effects. Ultimately, we decided to take the pills this time. The ones we had require you to take one pill per day with food for 11 days.  At first we didn't notice any side effects. In hindsight I think that was because we were eating huge breakfasts every morning at the hotel in Mozambique and therefore taking the pills with lots of food. But then, after we returned home and started having just green smoothies for breakfast, we both started to feel sick and nauseous. It took us a few days to realize that it was likely the pills making us feel bad and so we suffered through the remaining days and started to feel better shortly after we finished taking them.  

But I digress. We got the visas and flew to Vilankulo. When we landed at the airport we immediately saw that we could have obtained the visas at the airport upon arrival. We had received mixed information about this as several people had told us we could get the visas upon arrival. But, we also read information that said although you used to be able to get visas upon arrival that now you cannot. I would estimate that three quarters of the people on our plane were getting their visas created at the airport. And the line to create new visas was moving at a rate about three times faster then the line for those of us who already had visas which made no sense because the new visas required quite a bit more work including processing applications and taking photos. The person working the line for those of us who already had visas - whose job it was to look at the visa, type some information into a computer and then stamp the visa - was incredibly slow. He was seated behind a high counter which I couldn't see over the top of so I couldn't tell if he was even working on a computer or if he was just reading a book or texting with a friend or something. 

Finally the visas were stamped and we headed to our hotel called the Dona Ana.  The Dona Ana is located right on the beach and has amazing views of the Indian Ocean. As shown in the map below, Mozambique is a long skinny country with 1430 miles (2300km) of coastline. We chose to visit Vilankulo at the recommendation of a friend who used to live in Mozambique. I don't really enjoy doing research about trips so I am happy to take a recommendation from a person who knows and just go with it.

Vilankulo is a small fishing town named for an African tribal chief, Vilankulo. Since the Portuguese apparently don't use the letter k in their language, the name of the town can also be spelled Vilanculo. Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique but everyone spoke enough English and we did not have any trouble communicating. 
These guys are all fishing on the beach by the hotel. They are line fishing without rods or reels which is why their arms are all bent.
This is a wooden dhow boat. When the tide went out the boats would remain on the sand waiting for the tide to come in again.

Pretty landscaping at the Dona Ana Hotel
In front of the hotel
Another picture of the hotel

Lots of boats and fishermen

Saturday we took a snorkeling trip out to Maguraque, one of the six islands comprising the Bazuruto Archipelago. The archipelago is located just a few miles from Vilankulo. We rode in a wooden Arabian style boat called a dhow out to the island. It was raining slightly when we boarded the boat but soon it cleared up and became a gorgeous sunny day. 

The dhow and a cloudy sky
On the dhow.
Mr. Deep's beer on the dhow. When in Mozambique the beer of choice is called 2M.
The boat crew included the skipper and a chef. The chef began working right away preparing our lunch even though we were not going to eat for several hours. In the middle of the boat was a huge charcoal braai (braai is a grill in South African lingo) where he cooked everything.

The chef cleaning fresh calamari
In addition to calamari, we also had barracuda for lunch.

The braai
Depending on what aspects of snorkeling you enjoy, the snorkeling could be described as either really great or really poor. If you are looking to view brightly colored fish and pretty coral then the snorkeling was pretty bad because it had rained that morning and the water was still cloudy. BUT, if you like snorkeling in very warm water with a current so strong you don't have to do a thing except plop yourself in the water and be carried along the reef without expending a bit of energy then the snorkeling was great. Since I am not a very strong swimmer I did love just lying there in the hot sun and warm Indian Ocean just floating along easily even if we didn't see much of anything. 

After the snorkel, our guide talk us for a walk around the island of Magaruque. The island is only 2.4 km long and up to 1 km wide. It is largely uninhabited although it contains a guest lodge of some kind. 
Mr. Deep and our fellow trip goers walking along the beach on Maguraque

Lots of camera shy crabs on the island. This guy was was trying hard not to have his photo taken but we managed to get a shot of him right before he exited the frame.

After the snorkeling and the walk it was time to eat before we headed back to the mainland.

Lunch was calamari stew, grilled barracuda, rice, bread, bananas and salad. YUM!
We had several other adventures in Mozambique and there is more to come in my next blog post to be titled Mozambique Parte Dois (that's Portuguese for part two.)

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.