Adventure Into Nelspruit, South Africa
Christmas was getting close and it was time for a break in scenery. Like any ex-pat’s life, Maputo has it’s rollercoaster ups and downs, and the chance for a change in scenery is always appreciated. Maputo has its good points, but shopping is not one of them. It was time to visit Nelspruit, South Africa (map). Cheaper and a lot closer to Mozambique than Jo’burg.
This would be my first time both across the border, and to this ‘thriving metropolis’. For anyone who has visited the capital of South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, you will realize just how deep the sarcasm runs in my blood. But, as was just pointed out to me, travelling is all relative to where you have come from, and coming from Maputo means any ‘mall’ would be a refreshing welcome from the polar consumer experience you will find in Mozambique.
Now boys, don’t roll your eyes, poise your finger on your mouse, and conjure up visions of Thelma & Louise with credit cards strapped under their belt; this was more than just a girlie mad dash through the fluorescent lights and cheesy music of 3 dozen stores – this was a ‘cultural experience.’ It’s not just the trip, as all of us seasoned travellers know; it is the journey.
Wanting to make the most of our pilgrimage, we were zooming out of Maputo by 5:30am Saturday morning – to miss the descending heat and to give us enough time for the border. We rattled through the Mozambican countryside highways and found that the fabled new highway was in fact a reality; intermittently.
I have been here long enough to know that I wouldn’t be getting to see much in the way of wildlife on this trip, unless you count bugs smattered on the windscreen, a token snake or lizard, and a few birds – all animals that weren’t disastrously affected by the civil war’s land mines or desperately hungry natives. I have heard that roasted piri-piri gecko can be rather tasty though.
We came upon the border, as the heat was reaching maximum sweat-factor. I followed Daphne with all of the needed documents, glad that I was with a native Portuguese-speaker. It was a series of stamping passports (Finally! A place that hasn’t adopted the minimalist passport stamp policy as in Europe), being given papers and giving them back to someone else, usually some nondescript guard leaning up against the fence with or without his large gun in view.
And off we go into South Africa – real highways with lines on the tarmac and signs! Chaos seems far behind as we head towards our destination. We are at the hotel by breakfast time and we actually get to check into our room! So clean, so nice, you can even drink the water out of the taps! You’d think I had been out of my element longer than a measly seven weeks! I even got to call Canada using Canada Direct, unheard of in Mozambique, which refreshed my memory on calls that don’t sound like you are at the end of a long, puddled wind tunnel!
I could say that we had a leisurely stroll through the mall, enjoying the lilt of Afrikaans and popular denim shirt/rugby shorts/hiking boots ensemble that the men seem to love so well. But…maybe the Thelma & Louise thing was more accurate. We conquered that mall. This was not the weekend shopping trip to pick up this and that; this was the supply run in full gear. Not that we had huge intentions, but everything was just so exciting, so shiny (maybe it was the Christmas ornaments that blinded us into this fever?) and fuelled by Seattle-standard lattes. Who knew when we would be near this opportunity again? Store clerks waved to us as we passed their store for the fourth or fifth time, and finally headed for some nourishment around 4:00. Next stop – the movies!
I have to admit at this point in time that before leaving for Africa, I was utterly frustrated with malls and avoided them at all costs. They just made me feel poor and I was tired of the endless trips to pick up “one more bottle of insect repellent, etc.” But two months later, here I am – the epitome of consumerism. It was one point in time, and I’m hoping the only one at that, where I gleefully anticipated a visit to a shopping mall.
I do not need any scorn from all you who are sweating away on Kilimanjaro or trekking through the Amazon – we all have our dark sides. I’m sure that if you found a Starbucks at the Everest base camp (yes, I shudder at the thought too), a tiny little part of you inside would be itching for a steaming coffee.
And so that pretty much summed up our adventure into Nelspruit, South Africa. We completed our ‘Christmas’ shopping, saw two almost-new films, had our picture taken with Santa (under that white beard he must have been all of 24 years old!), and had a fantastic time with a new-found friend – isn’t that what part of travelling is all about? So I guess, then it’s not just the journey, it’s whom you spend it with.
About the Author
And just what am I doing in Maputo in the first place? I am a Vancouver native, here on an internship through the Commonwealth Museums Association and the Canadian Government working at the National Art Museum of Mozambique. Questions, comments, or a tour of the Art Museum? Email me!