Caldeira And Ferreira Went To Beira
“Caldeira and Ferreira went to Beira”, is what we’d chant as small children. We were probably being brattish, but to our credit, the Ferreiras proudly joined in.
“What did you do for the holidays” was a question on all our lips when we returned to school. Teachers, friends and rival gangs (they were a thing) would ask. “Oh, we went to Beira.” was one of the stock answers. Beira. How I wished we could go to Beira.
My friends went there by ship or train or would drive up from Maputo. My shoulders would slump in disappointment. We only went as far as Maputo and once to San Martino. Jealousy oozed from every pore as a tear rolled down my berry brown cheeks. My glorious holidays were overshadowed by envy.
At night I’d lie in bed and conjure up all sorts of pictures of Beira. In my mind, the ultimate destination. If Maputo was fantastic, then Beira was unimaginable. At last, after fifty-four years, I was going to Beira. It might be past its heyday, everyone warned. I didn’t give a hoot.
Back onto the EN1, we went from Gorongosa National Park. Butch, with his inflamed leg, couldn’t chance me behind the wheel; he said it would take us weeks to get to the tar road. I was just too cautious. I couldn’t argue with that, but he promised I’d drive once we were back on the tar road.
The road seemed even worse this time. There were more broken-down vehicles. The potholes were more profound, and the dongas deeper. Someone said, “The dongas are so deep cellphones lose connectivity!”
At the filling station, where we stretched our legs and filled up with fuel, Butch announced, before marching off into the bushes, “I’m sorry Maricha, but that is the last time I do that route.
Too bad we’ll miss Caia!" he yelled over his shoulder. For once, we were in agreement. Everyone said a visit to Caia would be the highlight of our journey in Mozambique. It was off the cards for us.
At Inchope, I took over the steering wheel of the Honey Badger. Butch put his feet up on my ring cushion, set the navigational equipment, and contacted people in Beira to help us with information.
I did everything possible to make the journey as pleasant as possible. I was extra vigilant. I kept my eye on the speedometer, the road signs, the speed limits, potholes, sudden curves, speed bumps, speed traps, and traffic officers, but, with all that, my co-pilot couldn’t resist a quip now and again. Urgh. We were pulled off once, but the friendly cop had got the memo to be polite to foreign vehicles and didn’t even ask for my license. Disappointed, I stalled the truck. Not even that got his attention.
Our ETA would be at the height of mid-afternoon traffic. While I cautiously navigated cars, buses, heavy vehicles, goats, cattle, bikes, tuk-tuks, Indian motorbikes, and a gazillion pedestrians walking, pushing carts or shopping at the roadside stalls, Butch got hold of Nico and Madeleine.
Madeleine sent us a pin drop with directions to the private hospital; Nico would meet us there. We were to stay in their yard at work, a large site with security.
Nico’s assistant and righthand man, Hezron, was assigned to guide us and interpret for the duration of our stay in Beira. On stand-by to ferry us around was their tuk-tuk ready at our command. It was such a relief not to have to worry about directions in a foreign city.
Our main objective was to get Butch’s leg sorted, after which we’d decide on an itinerary.
By day two, Butch was back on his feet again, armed with a load of medications, a good book and a hotel reservation where he’d spend his days with his feet propped up while Hezron and I explored the city, ran errands and be on the lookout for our evening meal.
Our mode of transport was a Tuk-Tuk. Nippy in traffic, cool in humid weather and with our clued-up driver, we missed every pothole, puddle and pedestrian. I loved walking out of the hotel and into my awaiting Tuk-Tuk, which would slip into the stream effortlessly and off we’d go. The anonymity of driving in “local” transport made me feel inconspicuous. I got away with doing some extraordinary street photography.
Like many cities after independence, Beira underwent a tremendous change, and then a long, protracted, devastating civil war descended the city into near-total chaos within a few years. Famine, disease and poverty followed.
In 2000, the Mozambique flood devastated Beira and the surrounding region, leaving millions homeless and severely damaging the local economy.
In March 2019, the city was heavily damaged by Cyclone Idai, destroying up to 90% of the city. It struck the city on March 14, 2019, with winds of up to 177 km/h (106 mph) and caused flooding up to six meters deep across Mozambique.
As if that wasn’t enough, Just ahead of us in March 2023 was cyclone Freddy.
A coastal city, the Port of Beira, acts as a gateway for both the central interior portion of the country as well as land-locked Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi and is the second largest seaport for international cargo transportation throughout Mozambique after Maputo.
Our hotel was situated on the marginal next to the Port of Beira on one side and the local fishing harbour on the other. We could lie in bed and watch the enormous cargo tankers, tug boats, pilot boats, fishing vessels and Dhows ploughing the waters.
The gorgeous doctor attending Butch graduated from the Higher Institute of Health Sciences. The city has two more public university campuses: Zambeze University (with headquarters and rectory) and Licungo University. This new generation of Mozambicans has lived through poverty and knows the value of a good education. Hezron said, “Without education, a child will have to fish from his canoe to feed his family like our fathers did.”
In our tuk-tuk, we explored the city, delivered our laundry to be washed, had Butch’s prescription filled at the pharmacy, stocked up on bandages and ointments and I had an opportunity to photograph the many interesting historical sights dotted all around the vast city.
We did not explore the nightlife but, I'm sure, there must be a vibrant disco/dancing/party scene. The only remnant I saw was the Moulin Rouge nightclub near the port, a tired old lady of the night, her windmill blades flailing in the breeze. Her scarlet paintwork a peeling scab. Those were the days my friends, we thought they'd never end.
Like any big city, Beira’s skyline has changed. Tall, modern, concrete, glass and chrome buildings dwarf Portuguese-inspired colonial buildings, cathedrals, churches and government offices. Bill boards, traffic lights and strings of electrical cable do a jig in the sky.
Streets can be narrow or wide double-laned, tarred or gravel. On the pavements of most roads and streets, colourful, informal trading takes place. We could buy fresh vegetables, fruit, water, SIM cards, airtime, a new pair of flip-flops or a hat.
Shoppers weave in and out of stalls shopping, chatting or perusing. Pedestrians have the right of way in the street stopping or slowing traffic down. Local music is commonly played for the enjoyment of everyone, which adds to the cacophony of hooters, sirens, and whistles to be heard.
I loved every minute. The very air vibrates with exciting, energised life. Unlike many other modern societies, the cell phone device has not quietened anyone down. Butch and I would often wonder what people had to talk about. The chatter never stops.
Every day the same fisherman, housewife, stall owner or scholar would converse with his friend while walking to work. They’d continue all day while plying their trade. The conversation circle increased when other friends and colleagues joined. The conversation resumed at sunset when the day was done until well into the night when they went home, only to be picked up the very next morning. Amazing.
Friends laugh, families bond, colleagues discuss, and strangers get to talk. Everyone chats, listens and gets acknowledged. It’s terrific and something our sophisticated, educated, liberated, wealthy societies need to do.
Every city or suburb has a market. Fresh vegetable and fruit markets, Fish markets, and a general market these markets can’t be contained under one roof and, out of necessity, spill out onto the pavements. I was fascinated by the tonnes of clothes that could be purchased.
Previously loved (secondhand) clothes, the factory runs, seconds and unsold previous season’s clothes from Europe, the Far East and North America are bulked and shipped in containers to warehouses in Mozambique (we’ve come across this in Malawi and Tanzania too) where merchants buy these massive job lots of clothes to be sold for pennies on the streets.
Soccer apparel is widespread; teens sport every European and English football team’s familiar logo. Emirates is another famous logo. Trendy brands, prominent ticks, vintage labels, Che Guevara and other iconic revolutionaries are plentiful. I have seen “I hate babies” emblazoned on a mother’s bosom and “Smoking kills” on a guy puffing a joint, and my personal favourite, “You inspire my inner serial killer!” on a toddler.
Football is played everywhere and that Sunday a very importand match would take place. Hezron was eager to buy his ticket for the game that afternoon. Beira beat Maputo we were told.
Mozambicans are proud of their country and fellow citizens, and showing strangers and tourists around is an excellent opportunity to educate and show off their cities and accomplishments as a nation. The national flag and the president’s portrait are proudly displayed everywhere and never is a negative word uttered, even when a political viewpoint is not agreed with. Hezron and I agreed, as long as the person in charge does his job and isn't there for his own personal gain so be it. But, if he's corrupt he must be booted.
With Hezron, I was able to learn and see many exciting landmarks. The Macuti lighthouse with the shipwreck was fascinating. Finding a wreck twenty meters from the lighthouse was amusing. We were stopped and questioned by two guards who reprimanded us for “observing” the lighthouse from the rear, which is illegal, sighting security reasons, but from the shore (the better view), perfectly fine. A small token of our appreciation would’ve sufficed, but Hezon talked them out of that!
The central train station, another landmark, was an excellent example of sixties architecture and Portuguese mosaic tiling. The great hall doubles up as a popular functions venue now. Trains do still run and I'm pleased to report there were passengers awaiting trains.
We rattled and chugged our way through tree-lined avenues screening large pre-war mansions and along the marginal with its hotels, apartments and villas. At the roundabout, he told me about Samora Machel and at the Medical school how students demanded Portuguese textbooks instead of English. He showed me his University and expressed his pride in his wife, who’s just completed her diploma.
The eye-opener was the luxurious and glamorous Grande Hotel Beira, frequented by “Rhodesians”. It was opened in 1954 and operated until 1974, when it was closed. The building was used as a military base during the Mozambican civil war. It is currently happily occupied by over 3,500 squatters. The irony is not lost on me.
Sunsets from our hotel, the Lunamar Hotel, situated on the beachfront, were magnificent. We’d perch ourselves on the sea wall and take it all in. Weekends are a popular time for vendors to set up their kebab barbecues, sugar cane and fruit presses. Customers could purchase cool drinks and ice creams (or a dram of hooch) from the boot of a car. Peanut and cashew nut vendors did a brisk trade, and potato fries were a hit.
The chap selling Pineapple, ginger and cane juice had customers queuing. We didn’t mind the wait. While we watched him swing the arm of the antiquated press, we conversed with a young couple who must’ve thought we were pretty peculiar. Gin and Tonic would be the usual tipple, they thought. No, we said we’d heard on the grapevine we were in the right place. They agreed. We loved sipping our drinks while watching a large cargo carrier silently slipping into the harbour.
At night the city comes alive. With Hezron’s recommendations, we dined at some exquisite restaurants. Our first meal was lunch at the Sena Hotel, where we shared delicious crispy Samoosas, and I enjoyed glassy, perfectly prepared fresh, Curried Prawns.
According to Trip Advisor, we couldn’t go wrong with a meal at Restaurant Solange. True, we did have a super meal there. A modern, blue-light party venue with a sunken bar and, I’m sure, a dance floor. The live music was upbeat and eclectic and soon had us tapping our feet as the party of teenage girls, their friends, and parents celebrated their confirmation and took to the dance floor. Outside, tuk-tuks stopped discharging diners well after we flagged down our ride.
The diningroom at our hotel served excellent grilled prawns, which we enjoyed on our first night. Our breakfasts with other guests was sans intérêt—a mediocre take on a buffet breakfast. There we met up with the Beira Football team under lockdown until after their game on Sunday evening. Only then could they celebrate it transpired! On a few trips to foreign lands we've been amused by the translations on menus. Google translate doesn't always get it quite right. We found this one particularly peculiar.
The highlight of our stay was a dining experience par excellence. Hezron made a reservation for us at his cousin’s restaurant, where his uncle was the chef. Restaurante do Chefe Anselmo – Cabana Frankut.
There is no menu, and guests are invited to trust chef, who sources fresh produce from fishmongers daily. This is a fishy experience! We settled, ordered our drinks and waited for our first course. Hezron didn’t let the cat out of the bag and excitedly waited with us. Ours was a six course extravaganza. Large mangrove crabs, followed by steamed clams, crayfish, grilled line fish, tiger prawns, grilled calamari and dessert.
Each dish was perfectly executed. Here the main ingredient is the hero of the dish, and do they shine. Seasonings, sauces and garnishes are used sparingly so that nothing detracts from the seafood, the heroes of each course.
This meal certainly ranks as one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed on this trip and is probably the best for seafood.
We met the owner, a charming man and his father, chefe Anselmo, a big jolly fellow who told us a little about his visit to Cape Town, where he participated in a culinary experience.
We wandered down the road from the yard where our Honey Badger was camping out for our last supper and enjoyed a leisurely local meal at the neighbourhood restaurant.
While I was swanning around Beira with Hezron, Butch recuperated. His leg improved. The antibiotics, ointments and saline baths did the trick. His swelling reduced as the infection and gash healed.
Nico, Madelein, your assistants, and staff, thank you. Your local knowledge, good suggestions, kindness and generosity, saved our bacon and made our stay in Beira one for the books and will be remembered. You opened your arms and hearts to us without prejudice. You are the salt of the earth. We hope your fishing excursions deliver bountiful fish baskets whenever you go on the high seas. May your business flourish and go from strength to strength as you all contribute to the economic growth of Beira.
Hezron, not only were you our guide but a true friend who didn’t hesitate to help us at the expense of your family and work obligations. Your knowledge of and love for Beira is inspirational. We wish you every success with your career, and may the years ahead be a continuation of the wheels your ambition has set in motion. Thank you for being kind, patient and such good fun. You rank high on our list of notable people we’ve met on our trip.
Beira has tree-lined boulevards, an eclectic collection of architecture, iconic buildings, wall art, sculptures, mosaics, music, murals, mystery and modernity wrapped around an estuary and rivers while protected by the ocean. It’s fascinating to the casual visitor, intriguing to the curious and home to the Sena people of Sofala.
There are three photographs that make me smile. The first represents the past and the other the future. It might have been shock that made me burst out laughing when I first clapped eyes on the Grande Beira Hotel. The grotesqueness. My first thought was that it surely must be a symbolic "middle finger" to privilege, the colonial establishment and class if ever there was one. The second photo represents the future. Five young boys who've turned their backs on the past and are now enjoying their freedom and civil liberties.
Lastly, to the Ferreiras, Caldeiras and every Tom, Dick and Harriet who spent holidays in Beira all those years ago, you were right to rave. I loved my time in Beira too.
It was time to saddle up and take the long road (a journey similar to Cape Town via Johannesburg) through southern Malawi to Ilha de Mozambique.