09 October 2012

A Dizzy Ride Through the Streets of Maputo

I had just arrived in Maputo CBD after a long City Express bus ride that had commenced in neighboring Nelspruit at 3:00am that same morning. Had I a crystal ball in my possession that could have foretold of the sleep deprivation, long hours crossing the border and the nine hours required to cover the 188km, I would have opted for another plan of action. Alas, I have no such crystal ball in my possession, and here I find myself climbing off the bus into the city's busy streets.

It is almost lunch time, and the already busy city traffic starts to speed up and to multiply. People are rushing off to make their final pre-lunch appointments. Smoking light delivery vehicles are snaking their way across the busy lanes of Eduardo Mondlane. Overladen people transporters commonly known as "chapas" are going about their start-stop business, interrupting traffic and paying little attention to established road rules and simple common courtesy. Amongst this colourful backdrop of cars and trucks and busses and motorcycles and pedestrians, are little yellow and green tut-tut taxis weaving their way through gaps in the traffic flux, as they hurriedly try to get to their destination.

Standing just outside the gates of the City Express terminal, I'm in two minds. I need to go to see my bank manager at my branch at the Praça dos Trabalhadores, AND I need to drop off my bags at my friend Rui's office. The thought of emerging from a bank (into a busy African street) with a bag full of dirty laundry, could be mistaken for something else by certain unsavory members of our street society! Now, the challenge at hand was caused by the bank and Rui's office being in opposite ends of the city. What vehicle was nimble enough and cheap enough to cover this distance BEFORE lunch time rush-hour and without costing me an arm and a leg? I hailed for a tut-tut.

I must admit that I had never been in something like this and curiosity had also played its hand in my decision. Almost immediately, a green and yellow tut-tut pulled up alongside the pavement. I gave the driver my intended route, he said Mzn 200.00 (R 57.14) for the lot, and we had a deal. The cheap vinyl side cover was unbuttoned, I stepped inside with my bags, the torn vinyl was re-buttoned (perhaps so that I wouldn't fall out or exit the taxi running without paying the bill?), the driver cranked to life the tiny two-stroke motor, clanked the gearbox into first gear, and we were off!

No great acceleration that would make into Top Gear, but once on the road and into the mix of traffic, its agility and composure would most certainly make Jeremy Clarkson raise an eyebrow. The driver was using all the gears at his disposal to ring the maximum speed out of the tut-tut. We were having no problems keeping up with the traffic. The little two stroke revved and vibrated happily away under my seat as we bounced around the potholed streets of the city. I leaned over and enquired if the three wheeled configuration caused him any problems with regards to stability. He said "não". Come to think about it, I cannot recall ever seeing an upturned tut-tut…EVER! I began to notice the great number of tut-tuts sharing the same piece of real estate, and soon I was having brief 15 second conversations with passengers of other tut-tuts that were temporarily parked alongside. People from all walks of life - tourists, businessmen, domestic workers coming back with the fresh bread for lunch, students with their books and satchels in hand - the list was endless.

All too soon, were had dropped off my bags and after cursing and muttering about traffic police corruption in Maputo, we were pulling up alongside the bank. He gave me his cell number should I need for him to pick me up again, and after a farewell nod, was off in a cloud of dust and bluish two-stroke oil. He was already in top gear as he quickly rounded the nearby corner…another passenger to collect.
(Posted by Paulo)


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