DSC_0097 The Mozambique flag is one of the world’s unique ones – star, an AK-47, a hoe, and a Bible

Well, we’re definitely “having an experience” here in Quelimane, which is well off the beaten path for cruising boats.  We used the internet connection at our anchorage to Google “Quelimane crime”.  Using the Google translator to translate turn the Portuguese pages into English, we learned that the locals have been suffering from a rash of machete crimes and that the police are of little assistance (we later learned that they only work until 4 or 5pm, after which, they’re not available).  We decided to keep a night watch to avoid any theft or incidents, and the night passed without any problems.  About 5am the next morning, a ship moored by the small container port steamed by and yelled at us to move.  We were planning to head toward a floating fishing boat dock anyway, but not quite so early.  Oh well.  It turned out the ship was dredging a turning basin for container port ships and we were in the way.  When we tied up at the dock, we were met by a couple of South Africans, Gavin and Garth, who gave us a hand getting tied up and filled us in on the local situation, which is quite different than anything we’ve seen before.  The dock is a more secure place for us to spend the nights, but we don’t get an internet signal anymore and the dredging vessel flies by at full throttle sending a large wake our way that rocks the boat around quite a bit, giving the fenders a little more than they can handle at times.

DSC_0198 S/V Pura Vida and the South African M/V Highrise at the nice but seldom-used fishing dock

Luckily for us, Garth speaks a good bit of Portuguese and was also familiar with the local formalities.  Gavin and Garth are here aboard a motor boat that had been purchased in South Africa for the family business in Tanzania.  In addition to being good blokes, they’ve been fun company and extremely helpful.  Unfortunately, they had numerous engine problems and have been stuck here for quite a while.  The local port captain has been suspended (apparently for requiring employees to stop stealing money, come in to work on time, etc.), but the representative from the port authority showed up in the morning not too long after we finished tieing up.  As he was boarding the boat, Gavin motioned silently but vigorously from the other side dock not to hand over any money.  Silvestre didn’t seem to know what papers I should give him (I gave him the typical set of papers) or what exactly to tell me, though I think it was due more to language difficulty than to incompetence or figuring out how to ask for a bribe.  When he came back, he asked Garth to come over and translate and things went quite smoothly.  Apparently we needed a cruising permit, which costs about $64, but we needed to go to the port office to pay.  It seemed a bit high to me, but it was less than Garth had paid in Maputo and he did show us an official receipt from another boat for that amount.

We needed local currency, so off we went to a money changing office and then to immigration.  Immigration is really important here because of large fines that they can impose, but it’s also a bit confusing. The crew from large ships are often given renewable 30-day embarkation cards instead of regular visas.  Yachts sometimes get one and sometimes the other, with the embarkation cards apparently being a source of problems (fines, bribes, etc.) on some occasions and no problem on others. Our first trip to the various offices found nobody home except customs, but one of the customs officers made a phone call and told us that customs and immigration would visit us at the dock in 40 minutes.  They did show up in a reasonable amount of time and immigration stamped our passports for free (Garth had to pay about $14 each).  Customs officials usually have a clear list of questions for yachts (quantity of guns, alcohol, tobacco, medicines and drugs, etc.).  Sometimes radios and tenders/outboards are on the list.  Here we were just asked what was on the boat.  We responded with clothes, food, 2 computers, a radio, 2 bicycles, etc. not wanted to get too involved or mention things that could be a problem.  The officer duly filled out our customs form indicating the presence of one Dell, one Acer, and 2 bicycles.  Apparently yachts aren’t all that common here. 

DSC_0181 Quelimane waterfront, including neglected Portuguese colonial cathedral

DSC_0188 Downtown Quelimane

Silvestre, the port guy finally showed up while we were having lunch with Gavin and Garth at a local restaurant across from the dock.  He had a receipt book to fill out for us as well as our clearance papers.  I was happy to see the clearance papers because getting them can often involve a bribe and we need to leave in a few days anyway.  Unfortunately, we needed to go to his office to pay and to have the new boss sign the papers.  We’d already been waiting a good while for lunch, but Garth told us that the wait for the food would be close to 2 hours, so he and I followed Silvestre and a friend back to the office.  On the way I chatted with Silvestre and found my Spanish worked reasonably well with him.  We were able to talk for a while with both of us understanding most of what we were trying to say. The boss wasn’t back at the office, and after waiting while Silvestre tried to locate him, we were told that he wouldn’t be available today, but that we could pay and Silvestre would bring the papers to the boat tomorrow.  My instinct was to get the papers before paying but Garth has a bit more local experience, and his thoughts were that the price was good and I should pay before more charges were identified, so I handed over the cash and off we walked back to the restaurant.  Of course the food still wasn’t there, but it came before too long and we ended up with nice lunches and couple rounds of beers for four people coming to about $22.  The whole time we were at the restaurant, teenage guys kept walking up to us and trying to sell us stuff.  The goods ranged from sunglasses displayed using a large piece of cardboard to a TV universal remote, clothes hangers, pants, a carved wood mortar and pestle, and various other random items.  My favorite was school textbooks.  There is a textbook intended to teach Portuguese-speaking children English that is useful as an English-Portuguese dictionary and textbook.  On the streets, the brand new textbooks, which are likely donated internationally and intended to be used in the schools, are sold to English-speaking visitors.  I paid about $4 for ours (apparently 3x the local rate) thinking it might be useful when we stop in Brazil.

The stories of life here and the obvious realities that you see on the streets and in the countryside are so different than anything that occurs in the US that it would be hard to begin to understand without having seen the things we have along the way and doing a bit of reading about Africa.  There’s plenty of theft – Goth’s boat had 500 liters of diesel, laptops, chartplotter, sat phone, etc. stolen when a local “friend” they’d known for a while took them out eating and drinking while others came and stole stuff. The police were no help.  An angry, threatening tirade succeeded in getting the sat phone returned the next day, but so much for the rest of the stuff.  There’s no shortage of examples of industrial equipment, infrastructure, and buildings that have wasted away to due lack of capital and expertise.  A fully functioning old Russian fishing trawler was being used as a ferry when it developed a serious engine problem. Unable to buy or manufacture spares and unable to afford to replace the engine, the boat is now a rusting, unrecoverable chunk of steel sitting on the shore along the river.  Even with a large population here (200,000 to 400,000 depending on the source), the waterfront downtown area feels like a town of fewer than 50,000.  There’s only a small developed area on the waterfront and numerous large, uninhabited buildings are in a dilapidated state due to lack of care.  The port authority has a large, well-fitted out machine shop full of equipment that’s never used.  Long semi trailers loaded with big bags of rice are unloaded at the port by men carrying one heavy bag at a time.  The river acts as the “sewage treatment plant” (the tide is the treatment/flush), the incinerator for the local hospital’s biohazard items, and a source of fish and shrimp. The river rats in the mangrove-lined banks at the city’s edge are the size of small dogs (more than 16” long).  There are plenty of stories about government income and development aid that has either been diverted (stolen) by the government officials in charge or used on complex western-style equipment that is unusable in fairly short order due to lack of spare parts or ability to carry out proper maintenance.  The computers at the port office are fairly new Dells that sit unpowered while paperwork is still carried out by hand with carbon copies, stamps, notebooks, and filing cabinets.  The paved downtown streets are in bad need of repair and many aren’t paved at all.  Everybody eventually gets caught up in the “might makes right” struggles in one way or another, making day-to-day life for everyone a struggle to obtain or hold on to resources.  Privileged people, both black and white worry about theft, banditry, robbery, etc. and poor people worry about a source of income or living without one.  Having a population where 50% of the people earn less than 50 dollars a month means that many people don’t have a regular paycheck-earning job like most Americans do.  Here, people outside or at the fringes of the monetized economy are living side-by-side and even among those with a job, car, and nice clothes. Like other African countries, Mozambique borders were determined fairly arbitrarily by Europeans in Europe during the 19th century when there was a lack of knowledge about even the internal geography of Africa, let alone a concern for tribal differences and territories.  Mozambique’s numerous tribes fight among each other for control of the government (and its resources, tax income, foreign aid, etc.). Since 1994 they’ve had a “democracy”, but the government essentially only sets up polling stations in the cities, where their supporters live, leaving the rural populations disenfranchised.  Some of the locals here are friendly, but in general it’s been the least friendly place we’ve visited.  That said, this is supposed to be one of the more quaint, “European”, and interesting places in Mozambique, so we’re hoping to get out a bit more and poke around.  Our Africa info to date has been limited to our own very limited observations and white English-speaking locals and authors, so we’re also anxious to get to South Africa where our language barrier with the locals isn’t such an issue.

Even though we were both up by 5am, all we accomplished was a partial check-in and a good lunch out.  By the time we finished lunch it was nearly 4pm and after staying up most of the previous night, Lauren and I were ready for a nap.  We crashed, intending to get up in a few hours, but when I woke up at midnight I realized that sunrise was less than 5 hours away and we just slept on through the night.