Posted by: Tommy | January 4, 2011

Christmas in Maputo

Initially, we thought we’d splurge for a proper hotel, rather than staying in a hostel, for Christmas.  Since we have to carry anything that we buy, we weren’t going to be exchanging gifts this year – we were instead going to get a hotel room.  At the last minute, Anna decided it would be more fun to be around people at the hostel to celebrate the holidays than to stay in a nice hotel room.  We would spring for the private hostel room instead of the dorm, which is our normal choice.

We met a couple of people in the hostel bar the first night, then spent a quiet day hanging around the hostel, writing blog posts about safari and enjoying civilization again.  It was Christmas Eve and many things in Maputo were closed (like all of the laundry places – we didn’t smell that good), so we played cards and read in the garden area.  We’d been there for a couple of hours when we were approached by a guy, asking if he could join us.  Of course! 

His name was Jacob and he was a 22 yr. old Australian med student who had just finished a month in the Johannesburg trauma center (maybe the busiest emergency room in the world – quick aside – my favorite of his E.R. stories involved a carjacker who failed to steal the car, then was beaten senseless by the supposed victim using a carjack (tireiron).  He had severe injuries AND was arrested.)  Jacob was also hyper-competitive, so he fit right in with Anna and I playing cards.  We played for several hours, at the hostel, then at a chicken restaurant where we had dinner.  We came back to the hostel after dark and resumed the games, with more and more people asking if they could join in.

By the end of the night we had 9 people playing with 2 decks of cards, drinking local beer and having a great time.  Midnight came and went, we wished each other a Merry Christmas and made plans to hang out the following day.  We planned a Christmas trip to the beach – something that works better in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s summer now.

The next morning, we all met at the bar and divided up into the 2 available cars.  Jacob had a Gremlin-looking hatchback that he’d rented in South Africa.  It lacked power-steering and A/C and he was always making jokes about having to push it across the border eventually, since the company would not send a repairman to Mozambique.  Daniel and Katarina (2 Swedes working in Botswana but visiting Mozambique) had a spacious SUV with A/C and a CD player.  Anna and I opted to ride with them, while Alison, Kim and Jackie (Americans working in Swaziland, visiting Mozambique) rode with Jacob.  As we were leaving, we noticed a girl sitting alone in the bar.  We invited her to join us on the way to the beach and she accepted, so Joanne, the Canadian English teacher working in South Africa, was added to the party.

We had been warned that traffic around Maputo would be intense on Christmas, but nothing could have prepared us for the trip to the beach.  It was 30 km outside of the city (15 miles).  We left around 10am…and arrived at the ferry crossing at noon.  The “ferry” takes you about 50 yards across a river, and from there you drive another 10 minutes or so to the Indian Ocean and a beautiful beach.  Well, I should say, reportedly beautiful beach.  We never actually made it to the beach.

The “ferry” is really just a floating platform that can hold 6 small cars.  When we arrived at noon, we were told it would probably be about 20 minutes until we were on the ferry.  At 12:30, our car hadn’t moved.  At 1, we’d managed to move about 10 car lengths, only 20 to go!  At that point, we started discussing turning around and giving up on the beach.  We’d been in line for an hour, with no end in sight.  We (and several others) had scheduled Skype calls with our parents for that evening and were planning on heading back to Maputo by 4 at the latest.

Waiting for the ferry

Luckily, we were all having a good time.  The slow pace allowed us to get out, sample some of the goods for sale along the road and talk to the other cars waiting in line.  By 1:50, the line had moved enough that our 2 cars would be on the next ferry.  And then all hell broke loose.

A van roared past the long line of cars on the wrong side of the road, zipping to the front of the line and cutting in front of several hours worth of pissed-off beachgoers.  Luckily, the ferry people were on top of it and didn’t let that van board the ferry.  But they couldn’t get them to leave, either.  Eventually, the cops had to be called and the ferry forced to sit and wait.  And that’s where we were 40 minutes later, at 2:30.  Still sitting in the same spots we’d been in since 1:50, waiting on the cops and the van and the ferry people to sort out the mess.  We started to do some math – to this point we had spent 4 and a half hours going from the hostel to the ferry.  Even if we got on the ferry right then and made it straight to the beach in 10 minutes (no guarantee), if it took anywhere near 4.5 hours to get back we’d miss our 7pm appointment with my parents.

Daniel, Katarina and Joanne (everyone in our car) had the same concerns.  The other car wanted to keep waiting, so we split up.  As we were turning around, a South African guy behind us remarked, “No patience, huh?” as if we were amateurs for only waiting 2.5 hours in line.

We decided to try for a nice dinner instead.  The road away from the ferry was deserted, probably because the ferry hadn’t brought anyone over in an hour, so we made good time back to Maputo.  The restaurant we wanted to go to was Costa de Sol, a famous (relatively) seafood place right on the water.  Unfortunately, it was closed for Christmas so we continued along the beach, eventually arriving at a nice-looking, packed restaurant half a mile down.

We got a table, took one look at the menu and the plates of other diners and decided to split the seafood platter.  Anna and I split one, Daniel and Joanne split another.  For less than $50, they brought out a massive platter with a whole lobster, a dozen giant prawns, a crab, 6 pieces of calamari – all grilled perfectly.  They also advertised caprinha (a Brazilian drink that is one of Anna’s favorites) sold by the pitcher, so we bought one for the table.  Then Joanne bought one for the table.  Then we  wanted another, so we bought another one.  Everyone (except Daniel – driving) was feeling good and not-quite drunk after a marathon 3 hour dinner.  It was a feast fit for Christmas dinner.

Christmas feast

We got back and walked to the internet cafe, just in time for a call with my family.  The internet cafe only had computers that you could use, no wifi, so we logged into Skype from their machines.  They had headphones with microphones, but we couldn’t do a dual-connection – so Anna got to watch me talk to my mom, Tim and all three sisters, plus 2 significant others.  I heard about their gifts and the card game I had missed the night before.  The allotted half hour was up too quickly and then it was time for Anna to talk to her family.

We traded seats, handing over the headphones so I could watch and she could talk to her family.  As soon as we connected with them, she knew something was wrong.  Her parents were planning to spend Christmas in Amarillo with her grandparents, but the background when they answered the Skype was the living room in Dallas.  I didn’t pick up on that, but I saw Anna’s face when Jerry started talking.  She went white and kept saying “What?”.  On Christmas Eve, her cousin, Jeff, had been killed in a 1-car accident on the way to Christmas with his girlfriends’ family.

She didn’t ask many questions; she was in shock and didn’t know how to respond.  She told me, sobbing, then turned back to the computer.  Sally wasn’t there – she was with her sister (Jeff’s mom and frequent blog commenter, Aunt Sandy).  Some other family was, and Anna talked to them, but somewhat robotically.  After 30 minutes, our prepaid internet time was up and we said goodbye.

This was our biggest fear before we left.  We had discussed the possibilities of there being a funeral to attend that we would miss while away – but we had never considered it would be someone so young.

Anna wasn’t really the same the rest of the day.  She was worried about Sandy, worried about her mom and wishing she was home.  Christmas had made her wish to be home already and this definitely increased that desire.  She went so far as pricing flights and looking at ways to get home in time for the funeral.  Christmas had everything sold out, and even if it wasn’t, getting back to Johannesburg, then to Dallas is at least a 3 day process.  We decided to delay our plans to travel further into Mozambique for a day, giving us time in Maputo to check email and Skype and be with family as much as possible.

It was really an amazing thing, a minor Christmas miracle, that we had met so many nice people in Maputo.  Thinking back, it’s really the first hostel we’ve stayed in that we made friends.  And friends were exactly what we needed during that difficult time.  Katarina had gone with us to the internet cafe, so she knew what was going on and spread the word to the other people we’d gone to the beach with.  Everyone was great, giving Anna space but being there to distract her when she felt like engaging.

We went back to the same restaurant for dinner on the 26th, this time with a larger group.  When the group that had stayed at the beach heard about our fabulous spread, they insisted on returning with us the next day to try it out.  It was during this dinner that we met Alison’s friend, Laura – and we spent the rest of our time in Mozambique with the two of them.



  1. Anna and Tommy,

    May peace be with you and your families during this difficult time, God bless you all.

  2. As ususual, I am reading your blog! Just so you know, you were here in spirit, and we knew that. Jeff lived his life according to his nickname, “High Definition” and would want you to do the same thing. I am so glad you are on your big adventure, we miss you but glad you had some supportive friends with you. Drink a caprinha in Jeff’s honor, and know we love you both back home. Please wear your seat belts.

  3. So sorry to hear about Anna’s cousin Jeff. My sympathies to you and your family.

  4. Saying a prayer for you guys. Sorry about your loss.

  5. Tommy & Anna (and Aunt Sandy),
    I’m so sorry for the loss in your family. My prayers are with you. I’m sure Jeff loved following the journey you are both on and knew how much you loved him and your entire family.

  6. Anna,I am so very,very sorry. my love, Kita

  7. Anna and Tommy, I know this is hard to take and even harder to understand, but I know you have faith that will help you get through your grief and distance. My prayers are with you all. Doris

  8. Dear Anna & Tommy,
    We’re so very sorry for your loss. There is nothing we can say that will ease the hurt that you feel. Our condolences to your Aunt Sandy as well. There’s nothing natural about losing someone so young and our hearts hurt for you all. God bless you all and keep you safe and hold you close.
    Shawn & Kathy Spence

  9. Anna, so sorry to hear about the passing of your cousin-and at Christmas which makes it doubly hard. Am glad you were with others who could offer comfort. Holding you in prayer for safe travel.

  10. Anna — I, too, am saddened by this news of Jeff. My heart goes out to you, your mom and Aunt Sandy and the rest of the family. I am however thankful that God placed friends in your path during this difficult time. Know that Tim and I are praying for your family’s peace.

    Sending lots of Texas love your way —


  11. Thank you for your kind words and prayers. I really appreciate them.

  12. I glad it has taken me until now to read this post and catch up. It is so great that you were surrounded by friends and had a very nice Christmas until then. We are all so happy for you in your adventure and no one ever expected you to do anything rather than go on. All during the funeral preparations I felt God’s presence and guiding hand. Sandy was surrounded by great friends and her family. The funeral was very appropriate — Sandy’s minister from the Cowboy Church, Brother Gary, did a great job in honoring Jeff but reminding all of us the hope we have in our salvation. Keep praying for all of us and yourselves. I missed you at this Christmas, especially because of the events but am so happy for all your lovely adventures. Love, Mom

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