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Living Free in Mozambique

Mozambique is the home of Madiba’s wife Graca Machel – former wife of Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel. Mandela spends every second weekend at Graca’s house near Maputo. On a recent visit, Arthur Christopher saw the appeal.

Of all the travel books and stories written on Mozambique, none make it sound quite as appealing as Bob Dylan in his 1976 song based on a visit which he took, either in reality or in his mind, to the idyllic country.

“I like to spend some time in Mozambique/The sunny sky is aqua blue/And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek/It’s very nice to stay a week or two”, he crooned, adding, accurately, that there are “Lots of pretty girls in Mozambique” who can ‘say hello with just a glance’.

Dylan’s song opened up the then war-torn country to unprecedented international tourist attention. However, with land mines and civil war preventing the more fickle of visitors during the time of Dylan’s song, tourism only began to kick off in Mozambique following the end of open violence 1992. Mozambique is now a fully-fledged multi-party democracy reaping the rewards of post-conflict restoration and a president, in Joachim Chissano, who went against the African grain and stepped down after his allotted term in power.

Walking through the streets of Maputo in the early hours of the morning it is remarkable to note how natural and welcoming the environment has become in such a short space of time. The extraordinary natural beauty of the country, coupled with the friendliness of the people, is juxtaposed by demolished streets and bullet-holed buildings – providing a stark reminder of the countries recent history.

The coastline, stretching from the southern point of Ponto do Ouro to the Northern border with Tanzania, is breathtaking in its beauty. The Bazaruto Archipelago is one of Africa’s most unspoilt and exquisite reefs, offering a paradise for divers and island hoppers alike. The recently developed Quirimbas Archipelago in the north of the country is just as spectacular and, appealingly, is less crowded. There are as many highlights as there are miles of coastline and visitors from all age and financial ranges are catered for on the beaches of Mozambique.

While Portugal does not win any awards for the way it treated its colonies, the best part of that country’s legacy is in its culinary and architectural influence on Mozambican culture. Stop off at a unique road-side café in Maputo for a prego roll, always served with blazing hot local ‘piri piri’, or tuck into a plate of prawns the size of hamsters, all for a fraction of South African prices. I bravely ordered a local prawn dish without checking on the translation and was richly rewarded: 10 sizzling giant prawns in a delicate curry sauce, served with a side of fresh steaming bread. Sitting in the balmy tropical evening, washing it down with an ice cold “Dos M” beer goes down as a lifetime highlight.

Permeating Mozambique’s natural beauty is the wonderful quality of restoration – the feeling created by a people collectively rebuilding a nation they love, and welcoming all to share in it. Before the civil war Maputo’s nightlife was famous for its vibrancy and some of this energy has certainly returned. I spent my last night sinking Dos M’s at the beach side bar in the heart of Maputo, eventually spilling over onto the beach where the roar of local music coming from minibuses parked nearby lit up the evening. An old man sang out at the sea from the pier while a church group solemnly sat on plastic chairs at the waters edge listening to a Friday night sermon.

I bought some more beers from a street-side vendor, over-tipping him out of sheer joy for the moment. I plunged into the sea, rolling onto my back and staring at the starry sky. Soaking wet, exhilarated, I jumped into a cab and drove home, stopping for an espresso at a roadside café where the waitresses’ smile filled every corner of my soul, giving me a sense of what travel, life, and Mozambique is all about.

And if you won’t take my word for it, take Bob’s: “Lying next to her by the ocean/Reaching out and touching her hand/Whispering your secret emotion/ Magic in a magical land."