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Three NEW Guide Books Reviewed

Bradt_Guide_2011_cover  Guide_to_Maputo_and_coast  GTG_Moz_cover

Bradt:  Mozambique

by Philip Briggs.  5th Edition 2011.

Penguin:  MAPUTO & Southern Mozambique

by Bridget Hilton-Barber.  1st Edition 2011.

New Holland:  Globetrotter Guide to Mozambique

by Mike Slater.  5th Edition 2011.

Review of Bradt:  Mozambique by Philip Briggs

www.bradtguides.com  Cover Price: R166 (South Africa), £15.99, US$24.99.

The ‘acid-test’ of whether a guide to anywhere is worth its mass in ‘Makuchoho’ (crushed maize and coconut milk), is whether it adequately addresses the following FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions):

1)       Visas:  Who, where and how much?   On page 42 Briggs covers this rather superficially;  Strictly speaking, while most borders and airports CAN issue 30- day tourist visas on arrival, if there is a Mozambican Embassy and/or Consulate in your country, you should be in possession of a visa BEFORE departing for Mozambique.   Specifics regarding which borders DON’T issue visas on arrival would be nice, and the charge of $50 he quotes, increased to $100 a few years ago.

2)      Which is the best map of Mozambique?  Any ‘REAL’ traveller will tell you that a good map is far more useful than a good guide book.  On page 53 Briggs does mention ‘MAPS’ and recommends the German ‘Reise Know How Mosambik & Malawi’ which I do have and I like.  However, especially since I have just finished updating it, I do recommend the Globetrotter Travel Map of Mozambique, which coincidentally you get free and for gratis when purchasing The Globetrotter Guide to Mozambique (see review below).

3)      Can I use my Credit / Debit Card?  On page 54 Briggs deals with this very well, commenting on how common ATM’s have become and noting that while all ATM’s and banks accept VISA, most recognise MASTERCARD, none at all work with AMERICAN EXPRESS.  Useful to know too is that Travellers’ Cheques attract an exorbitant commission and are anyway rarely accepted.

4)      What could just be the best advice for anyone visiting Mozambique?  Understandably, Briggs does not even try to tackle this but for those of you who can’t wait the answer is:   Most Mozambicans are quite a lot shorter than folk from the ‘Developed World’ so when shopping in the markets and bazaars watch out for the corrugated iron sheeting on a rickety pole frame that is used to keep the rain off the stalls.  It has jagged razor-sharp edges that no-one shorter will notice until you are scalped or have an eye dissected.  This really is a deadly danger.

Philip Briggs must have written about thirty-seven guides to various African Countries, and the fact that I have known him since school days, will naturally be of huge interest to those of you wondering whether this excellent, glowing review is subjective, or not.  Bradt (and Philip's) first 'proper' Guide to Mozambique was published in 1996, and he told me then that "Mozambique is not my favourite African country".   This was partly due to Mozambique then (1996) having, as he puts it: "buses that were abysmal even by the unexacting standards of mid - 1990's Africa."

Briggs' (and his publisher, Hilary Bradt) travel background is as backpackers. So is mine. For this reason all Bradt Guides are packed with information essential to the independent traveller making use of public transport or hitching around the country, and living very much as a local traveller would.

However, travel writers are typically not hermits likely to eschew opportunities to put their feet up at a breezy beach lodge or to check in at a 5-star city hotel and so you will find plenty of these more 'upmarket' travel options between the pages relating too.  

During June and July of 2011 I spent a month in the Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces supporting Nick North who was running the length of the country for charity (he made it to Ponta do Ouro in September).  Philip kindly gave me one of his books to test-drive and I found it difficult to fault.  Mozambique is currently one of the world's fastest developing countries (don't believe me?  Then look up Vale coal and Andarko gas, for starters), and so the infrastructure is improving apace, and new pensoes, lodges and hotels are opening up literally every few months, making it impossible to keep track of all new developments.   Briggs has made a mighty fine attempt to do so, though.

It's a fairly big book (376 pages), not suitable to stuff into your pocket but certainly hefty enough with which to smack the pesky tsetse flies of Reserva do Niassa .  

Turn to the first page and there it is:  "Mozambique Essentials" under which you will see "THE BASICS" (Currency rate, time zone etc), "GETTING STARTED IN PORTUGUESE" (Vamos para praia) and "KEY TO SYMBOLS" (refers to the generally excellent maps).  So slouch into your local bookstore, read the first page, memorise it, tear out the next two pages  on which there is a general map of the country, stuff them down your shirt, and off you go to Tandanhangui, or somewhere else in Moz.

Or even better, buy this book and then you will be able to enjoy the next few pages where you will be advised "Don't miss...  World-class diving and snorkelling, Maputo, Beira's Art Deco architecture, Deserted beaches and Sailing on a handmade dhow..."  Very useful if you hate to miss anything you should not have.

And then, that (often) most illuminating of pages: "Acknowledgements".   Here Philip excels by noting: "Thanks also, and in particular order, to the following for their assistance with planning or on the ground: Mike 'Mozman' Slater, Kerry Butler of Mozaik Travel, Arianna Fogelman, Marjaana Kohtamaki, Roger Diski, Derek Schuurman, Natalie Bockel, Brenda Dickenson..."  (Too many more to mention here).  Listed too are some very informed and influential people, with relation to Mozambique, and that usually augurs well regarding the veracity and utility of the info and advice that follows.

Next there are the "Contents" pages neatly and intuitively arranged so it should be quite easy to get to what you are looking for.  Still not sure whether Mozambique should be pushed a few notches up your 'Bucket-list'?   Just read Briggs' "Introduction" which gives a quick overview of what sort of country Mozambique was, is and is going to become.

Chapter 3 is titled "Practical Information" and begins with some sage advice under the heading of "When to Visit".   Here the most urgent piece of advice is:  "...it is emphatically worth avoiding the south coast of Mozambique during South African school holidays, when campsites as far north as Vilankulo tend to be very crowded and hotels are often fully booked... Few South Africans or Zimbabweans currently venture north of the Beira Corridor (the road and railway line linking Beira to the Zimbabwean border town of Mutare), so school holidays have no notable affect on tourist patterns in northern Mozambique."

Under "Accommodation", Briggs notes that "...accommodation at the budget end of the scale is overpriced for what you get by almost any standards, but smarter rooms can be better value."  Sentiments I certainly can only but echo.

There are nice chapters relating to "Responsible Tourism" and "Travelling Positively" (by Janice Booth),filled with information and advice that some obnoxious 'Sul-Africanos' and over-opinionated foreigners would do well to peruse and implement before, during and after visiting Mozambique.  

The 12-page 'Health' section is also a crucial and well-researched no-nonsense read covering maladies and topics such as malaria, diarrhoea, bilharzia, skin infections and avoiding insect bites. 

The Bradt Guide to Mozambique does a good job of covering all areas of the country, with an emphasis on the cities and special spots Inhambane Town and surrounds, Parque Nacional da Gorongosa, Ilha de Mocambique and Ibo.  Philip and his photographer wife, Ariadne, appear to have personally visited almost all places mentioned in the guide, and the advice must be measured against the fact that Briggs has spent over two decades travelling independently in Africa, including many months in Mozambique.  It is great to see that the eating and sleeping options in each town or place cover from bedbugs and backpacks to business and boutique.

Mozambique is split into 3 areas:  Southern (Maputo to Vilankulo), Central (Beira. Tete, Gorongosa) and Northern (Quelimane to Pemba and the Quirimbas and Niassa).   Each chapter begins with a geographical and historical overview after which the 'Getting There and Away' let's us know how to arrive by air, car and public transport, so all potential visitors are catered to.

For the active traveller there are excellent sections on trekking in the Highlands around Gurue, as well as which dive and sport fishing operators have the best reputation at each beach resort.

Nightlife is particularly well researched and Maputo City, in particular, will keep clubbers very happy for a week or two.

So this is not yet another "cut-and-paste" concoction from the internet, slapped together by yet another drive-by / instant expert 'Travel-writer' and for those travellers interested in stepping out of the illusory comfort of hotel chains and package tours, I can highly recommend this book. 

However, for self-drive 'overlanders' with a trusty 4x4 and a GPS receiver bursting with the latest T4A maps, this guide to Mozambique is not ideal, nor does it purport to be.   The coastline south of the Rio Save is now sprinkled with beach lodges, most of which are really only accessible by 4x4 (unless you don't mind burning out a clutch plate, or two), and Briggs has visited only a few of these. 

My own experience of the average 4x4 tourist in Mozambique is that they generally visit the same beach spot every year, religiously avoiding mingling with the locals, or exploring the towns, as far as possible, making it highly unlikely that they would consider reading or using a guide-book of any sort, anyway.

Even if you are unlikely to be visiting Mozambique in the next decade or so, this book is a warm, humorous and informative read, so yes you CAN buy it for that forlorn friend who has sold all her (his) worldly possessions and retreated to an Ashram in central Asia. 

If you will be visiting Mozambique, one day, whether by bicycle, bus or Boeing, then get one and read it before you leave.   My bet is you will extend your stay for a few months and perhaps curtail that exclusive beach lodge holiday and head for Inhambane, Gorongosa, Ilha de Mocambique or Ibo. 

 

Review of Penguin:  Travel Guide to Maputo and Southern Mozambique by Bridget Hilton-Barber. 

http://www.penguinbooks.co.za/news/610/   Cover Price: R150 (South Africa), other currencies no info as not on Amazon, yet.

Don’t tell anyone except several hundred of your closest friends, but I have long concealed a strong suspicion that anyone who loves life, will also love Mozambique.    Bridget Hilton-Barber certainly clips comfortably into this category.  After reading her recently published guide just one word stuck in my mind: Fun!

So just who is this Guide to Maputo and southern Mozambique for?

Overlanders?  Well, considering that nowhere is there any mention of high-lift jacks or low-range transfer boxes, the 4x4 owning community may not find what they are looking for here.  Granted there are a few pages in a chapter dedicated to the “Bush to Beach Route” which takes motorists into Mozambique via the relatively newly opened Giriyondo border post.

The more remote and demanding (from an ‘off-road’ perspective) Pafuri to Vilanculos  option is covered in just a paragraph, and Bridget makes no pretention of even attempting to please the Adventure-Motoring fraternity.

Families on Holiday?  Yes, some child-friendly hotels and restaurants are mentioned but make sure you can arrange baby-sitters as you will not want to miss out on the Maputo nightlife!

Independent Travellers and Backpackers? Start at Fatimas and make a few instant friends from France and Brazil, and pub and club crawl your way around town for a week, or two.

The Young and the Reckless?  No finer place than Rua da Bagamoio - Maputo's "Street of Sin". 

Single and Searching? Certainly but beware, you may just fall in love with a honey-skinned bat-faced beauty with ancestors originating in Goa, China, Persia, Egypt and Brakpan.  What a combination!

Been Almost Everywhere?  Believe you me, if you have not seen the sun set over Maputo Bay from the terrace of the Catembe Gallery hotel, or seen it rise from a 'barraca' overlooking the praia (beach) on the Costa do Sol Marginal (Promenade), you ain't even begun to go!

Eccentric Millionairs evading the Law?  Not sure but I have seen Lord Lucan serving drinks at Jay's Lodge while Julius Malema stood in awe under a street lamp on the corners of Avenidas Ho Chi Min and Karl Marx

Under “Acknowledgements”  Bridget lists an eclectic, well-read and influential coterie of fellow writers including Justin Fox, Richard Nwamba,  Artur Ferreira, Carol Lazar and Paul Ash.  She herself is certainly no slouch in the writing department, having already written 7 books and been the Travel Editor for 702 Radio and Fair Lady Magazine.

Now I certainly have had a lot of fun in Mozambique but the country certainly isn’t all wine and roses - more like fines and bozos sometimes - but yes I can only agree when Bridget when, in the jaunty and succinct “Mozambique The Low-Down”  chapter, she introduces Mozambicans thus: “Yet Mozambicans show extraordinary tenacity in the face of adversity and the national psyche is upbeat and hopeful.”

Also in the “Mozambique The Low-Down”  chapter there are brief but brilliant introductions to Geography, Climate, People & Politics, Economy, Doing business in Maputo, Cellphone coverage and Internet, What about Crime? and Useful online links (but why no www.mozguide.com hmm?).

The ‘Getting There & Around’ chapter is comprehensive, pretty accurate (visas for non-SADC passport holders are now R750, not R150.) ‘How to Survive the Border Crossing’  should be compulsory reading for anyone contemplating driving to Maputo or southern Mozambique over the Christmas or Easter South African school holiday periods.

Under ‘The Law of the Land’  Bridget pointedly observes: “Some South Africans fail to appreciate that Mozambique is a different country, not merely a province of Mpumalanga.  What is considered acceptable practice in South Africa is often not acceptable in Mozambique.  Speeding, driving under the influence, driving without a license and the quite arcane rules on left turns, U-turns, parking, possession of the red triangles, Day-Glo vests and towing stickers are taken much more seriously in Mozambique.” 

So manne (Afrikaans for ‘guys'), you have been warned!

I think I understand why Mozambicans are the way they are (friendly yet philosophical), but have never quite managed to articulate my thoughts properly.  So I really enjoyed the ‘Mozambican History 101’ chapter which Bridget introduces by saying: ‘The history of Mozambique... provokes in me great philosophical thoughts and the strong urge to drink cheap Tipo Tinto rum and weep to the strains of fado’.

At 77 pages the Maputo chapter is by far the longest and is divided into:  Where to Stay, Food & Drink, Out & About, Arts & Culture, Where to Party and Gay & Lesbian Maputo ‘Today Maputo is southern Africa’s hippest city.’  is how Bridget introduces Maputo. Whether you visit this booming port city and agree with her, or not, depends largely on your own expectations and attitude. 

Be warned in advance though: Maputo is an expensive city, so oil that credit card’ (page 37).  In my own experience, for example, a decent plate of prawns at a good restaurant in Maputo starts at around R150, which is a lot more than I pay for the same in Jo’burg.

If you are expecting a southern-European-sort-of-city, perhaps something like Oporto in Portugal, you will balk at the dirty shanty towns and thronging deprived masses  that encroach onto the main road from the airport, or from the South African border, to the city centre.   Don’t turn back ‘The magic of Maputo is infectious.’ as Carol Lazar is quoted on page 36. 

Since I first started visiting Maputo in 1992, literally dozens of hotels, pousadas, residencials, pensões and guest-houses have been resurrected from the rubble and neglect of Mozambique’s Socialist era and civil war, and most are reviewed in this guide. There are many new ones too such as the Radisson Blu, Southern Sun,  Avenida, VIP Maputo, Girassol Indy Village and Mozaika that have rated a mention.

But it is in the eating and jolling (partying) field that this guide and its exuberant author really excel.   The ‘FOOD & DRINK’ chapter kicks off with a list of ‘A Maputo food critic’s top five spots.’  There are whole sections dedicated to “Prawns & seafood, Peri-Peri (piri-piri) chicken, Family-friendly spots, Fine dining and Bakeries, coffee shops and delicatessens.

Under the “Out & About” section I was glad to find a paragraph entitled “Pancho Guedes Walk”  but would have liked more detail regarding this brilliant architect’s structures, particularly how to find the quirky and iconic O Leão que Ri (Smiling lion) and Padaria Sabal  (Sabal bakery), without having to sign up for a guided tour.

The “Arts and Culture” section is excellent:  “From high art and film to capoeira dancing and photography, Maputo’s culture is about diversity and spice.” (pg75).

OK, now we get to the real reason why you should spend (lose) a few nights in Maputo: “Where to Party” (pg 92).     Best bits of advice here are:  Clubs really only get going around midnight, carry your passport (it is law!) and take a taxi.  

"Maputo's Top Five Sunddowner Spots", (pg 91) "Clubs, pubs and jol spots", (pg 92), "Gay and Lesbian Maputo" (pg 97), it's all here.   Well, not quite all.   My own favourite little bar and restaurant in the Feira Popular, the friendly, unpretentious O Coquiro which is owned by a family from Quelimane and specializes in food from that part of Mozambique.  Try the Galinha Zambéziana and you WILL know why...

And now,  if you still have the energy and cash after doing Mapoot, turn your wheels north-or-southwards and Tchova (push) on up, or down (if you have a 4x4) the Estrada Nacional to (THE SOUTH) "Maputaland and the Three Pontas" or (TO THE NORTH) Macaneta, Bilene, Inhambane and places yonder.  If it's Mozambique then it's got to be beaches so turn to page 106 and take your pick.   Diving, fishing, birding, whale watching, Manta swimming and more are covered, there is even a mention (brief if it be true) of the remote and completely facility-less Banhine and Zinave National Parks.

Ms Hilton-Barber focusses on the more accessible places (read reachable without a 4x4, with the Three Pontas and Maputo Reserve being exceptions) and clearly has not actually been to Pomene or she would have given it a few pages rather than the 'one-worder' on pg 106. 

So while this guide will get you all the way north to Vilanculos, and put you up at the more mainstream (and often, expensive) lodges and hotels, it really does not do justice to the '& southern Mozambique' part of its title, particularly if you are lucky (and responsible, I hope) enough to own a 4x4, but then again, as I have mentioned previously, it is not aimed at you guys anyway.

Also no mention of that truly priceless information without which your road trip north from the Capital could (and probably will) become a real ordeal.  Namely the location of clean toilets and good coffee.  So for your next edition please note the Petromoc on the LHS of the main road a few k's NORTH from the Maputo -  Xai-Xai cruxamento (junction), as well as the two new Petromoc's on both sides of the road just north of Xai-Xai.  Clean loos, good shops and freshly ground coffee and pastries.  

And please stop by at Quinta S.Antonio which is an absolute oasis of accommodation, food and hospitality at Lindela where Adelaine will stuff your face with the best vetkoek this side of Groot Marico and regail you with tales to fill yet another book, unless I get there first.

Oh and before I go, there is now an ATM in Ponta do Ouro, on pg 132 you mention Casa Lisa (48km north of Maputo), but why is Blue Anchor Inn excluded?  Paul and Liz Hallows, owners of the 'Anchor' have been making a go of Moz since the 80's and folk travel all the way from Vietnam and Thailand to sample the Prawn curry (no jokes!).   Also, on pg 133, the town you call Manicha must really be Manhiça?  Then in Tofo (Tofinho to be more accurate) I really think you have missed a real, quirky gem called Turtle Cove.

Add to the 'must be checked out' list for your next trip north of Maputo:  Dunes de Dovela, enough said.

Mike Slater Jo'burg December 2011.

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New Holland:  Globetrotter Guide to Mozambique by Mike Slater

Only available end of February 2012 but watch this space as I will soon put up a full review...?

BREAKING NEWS!  Have just got word from Globetrotter that the responsibility for GTG Moz is moving from London to Cape Town, so now the new edition will only adorn the shelves of your favourite bookshop or website in June 2012.  Apologies.

Mike.

 

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