Welcome back to the blog! If you haven’t already read Part One of ‘Mozambique: sun, sea and COVID-19’ then you can reach it by clicking this link. It holds some essential information about my first experiences in Mozambique and what I found daily like to be like in Guinjata, giving the context for this post…
When I left off, the UK had just announced total lockdown and for all British travellers to return home, according to the FCO. My best friend from uni had a pal working for the Foreign Office, and she basically said ‘I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but you should be making a move, and quickly whilst you still can’.
I was still sceptical at this point. Guinjata was idyllic: I could stay here, where everything was open, I could still dive, I had no worries apart from getting up in the morning, feeding and watering myself, and having a good time. OR, I could go back to England where there was a full lockdown, I would have no job, no aim in life and quite literally nothing to do. I wouldn’t be able to see my friends. I wouldn’t be motivated to do anything.
It may seem like a clear choice. But then I started to think about the practicalities. If I stayed and something DID happen to someone I cared about I would feel AWFUL. If I stayed I would literally be stuck; they were already cancelling 70% of flights out of the country at this point. If I stayed I may not have been in the best possible place if I did get sick, from coronavirus or anything else.
These things weighed above my head and my parents made it very clear to me that it was my decision, but they would feel much better knowing I was safe at home. That night, another British boy who was staying with us got a call from home, and that was it, his parents were getting him home no matter what, and they wanted me to go with him. The whole evening was extremely tense and frantic: we had Skyscanner up constantly, we were texting the dive centre owners, talking to our housemates, trying to keep in touch with our parents. Flights were getting cancelled left right and centre, we’d go to book a convenient one and, poof, it would be gone.
The next morning relatives in the UK managed to book us a flight, on an extremely strange route, that would get us home in three days time. Ideally, we would have gone through South Africa, to get a much more cheaper and direct flight from Johannesburg, but unfortunately SA closed their borders the night before, so that was it. To get on this flight we had finally found, we had to take an 8 hour taxi ride from where we were staying in Guinjata to the capital Maputo, we had to stay overnight in a hotel there, then we had an early morning flight from Maputo to a more northern city in Mozambique called Beira, there we had an 8 hour layover, then we would catch a flight from Beira to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, we would have a 6 hour layover there, and then we would finally fly home to the UK. Luckily, my parents agreed to pick us up from the airport that side and drive us to our respective homes.
This journey seemed like the most daunting thing I could possibly go, and I don’t think I would have agreed to it if I did not have a companion. The dive centre owner, Zelda (as mentioned in part one), managed to find us a lovely taxi driver, who she knew personally, who was make the 16 hour round trip for us. The trip was expensive, but the gentleman who drove us was super kind and friendly, and massively had our back when it came to border control and police. On the way down we were stopped, and our driver was very directly asked why he had two white people in the back and where were our passports. He sweet talked the gentleman, ended up laughing with him and flashed our passports just to be told that it was all fine. At this moment I was very grateful to have him driving us and not have to deal with it ourselves, with a very small grasp of the local language: Portugese. He even let us stop at KFC for lunch and dropped us straight at our hotel in the evening.
The evening in the hotel was bizarre. We opted for a VERY nice hotel, because we thought we probably needed it before the rest of our nightmare journey. We went down to the bar to have a few drinks and destress, and over some G&T’s I FaceTimed my parents to let them know what was going on. We then ordered room service (I don’t think I have ever done this before in my life so it was a REAL treat) and got an early night. By this point, I didn’t really care how much the hotel was, given I had only made it 3 weeks instead of 4 months, I’d saved money somewhere.
We woke up at 5am the next morning, and having asked the hotel to order us a taxi for 5:30am we were on our way to the airport. It was only about a 20 minutes drive away and we arrived with plenty of time for our flight. Maputo was a tiny airport, as I mentioned in part one, but we managed to grab a coffee and a snack and sit and wait for our flight to be called. My anxiety laid in the fact that flights were getting cancelled left, right and centre. I could hear the voice in my head over and over announcing, ‘the flight to Beira has been CANCELLED’. Luckily, this was only an awful daydream, and we soon boarded with no problems.
If we thought Maputo was a tiny airport, Beira was even smaller. Upon arrival we had our temperature taken and had to wash our hands using water poured out of a tankard. Most of the staff were wearing masks but some of the airline ladies were not. The whole attitude in the airport was one of tension. There were many different types of people waiting to check in for our flight, and I could tell that all of them were worried about not being able to get on it. We got chatting to a couple of people behind us, who both worked in Maputo but had been told by their company to get out now. The woman was trying to get back to America, but had to do this through England as there were absolutely no other flights running. There was another American family in front of us who also had to make the same route – no through journey booked from Heathrow, were just hoping to land in England and be able to book something. I all of a sudden felty very grateful for my situation.
In Beira airport, there was one teeny tiny cafe, two tourist tat shops and a walk through a door to get to the gate. We had 8 hours here. Luckily, before we’d left Guinjata I had downloaded the whole of ‘The Night Manager’ onto my iPad. So we sat, ate very average sandwiches and chips, and drank a few beers before heading through to our gate.
The flight from Beira to Addis Ababa was very busy, all people using Addis (as only one of the international airports in Africa that was still operating an even close to normal service). The main concern for us was that upon landing in Addis Ababa our ongoing flight would be cancelled, as this was still happening constantly to the people around us. Luckily, we were in the clear. We had six hours in Addis Ababa where I revelled in the opportunity to grab some duty free for my parents and grabbed some food at an airport restaurant.
Addis airport had a weird feel to it. There was less tension, but there were way more people taking precautions. People were walking round in full hazmat suits, I’d managed to find a disposable mask, and other people just didn’t care at all. The restaurants were rammed full of people and there were kids spitting and screaming everywhere, the whole ‘global pandemic’ thing still seemed surreal as I had barely experienced it.
And that was it, we were on the plane home to England and landed on the 27th of March in the morning. My mum came and picked us up from Heathrow where absolutely nothing happened to us. No one was wearing masks, everyone was standing about collecting their luggage, they tried to enforce social distancing in passport control queues etc, but their system was floored as you were socially distanced from the people in front of you, but not the people in the rows next to you.
Overall, I was glad to be home, it had been one of the most stressful three days of my life, and I had done my last dive in Mozambique without even realising it. I would love to go back to Mozambique one day, but there are currently no flight paths into the country feasibly from the UK. I had spent £1500 on getting home alone, blowing more than a third of my budget for 4 months travelling on merely 3 weeks, with no idea if/when I’d be able to go back or any idea if I could get my unused flights reimbursed.
Now, here’s the good news! I endured lockdown just like everyone else, but managed to score a job after being at home unemployed and earning no money for a month and a half. I saved and saved and saved, and slowly replenished my travelling fund. I had loved diving in Mozambique so much I decided I wanted to do my dive masters, and have now booked to go to Malta for 5 weeks in September (look out for incoming blog posts). I’m also studying for a TEFL and intend to use this to hopefully keep travelling the world. It’s not all bad is it!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed Mozambique: sun, sea and COVID-19. I’m sorry for the lack of pictures in this post. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a stressful time and I didn’t feel much like snapping away amidst all the panic.
Amy @thisgingertravels x