Saturday, 11 October 2014

Robbed by the Police in Maputo….

Two weeks never to forget…

The Kruger National Park is about the same size as Belgium, and we started in the north, working our way south over a week. The camps within the park are surrounded by a small fence that you could easily imagine a lion would clear in one leap, if it could be bothered, and a rhino or elephant would hardly notice if it happened to just walk on through, pulling the whole thing down behind it. The main gates were wide open between 6am and 6pm, not even a cattle grid to stop anything strolling in.
However, the animals seemed to have no desire to impose and always stayed well clear during the days. Very different at night, when you could see Hyenas at the fence, and hear the thunderous roars of lions, making us shudder with fear one night when a water buffalo was brought down about 100 yards from the tent. The party continued all night with the hyenas and jackals, followed by the vultures and baboons, until only enough left for the insects and bacteria. No waste out here. If you saw an animal it was because it had crossed the road or happened to be beside the road and you got lucky. There was plenty of space where animals could be completely free of humans if they so desired; I liked that. There was nothing to fear from the animals as long as you stayed in the car. Elephants or Rhinos with calves were a problem if you got too close. An angry elephant could demolish the car with you in it, so staying a safe distance was important.

"We are from the Kruger, not Swaziland"

In complete contrast we visited one of Swaziland's National Parks on the return home. It felt like a concentration camp for wildlife. We were the only people camping on the site, and we soon found why. The area was about the size of Hyde Park and zig zagged by so many dirt tracks that if a zebra fell over anywhere it would inevitably end up in the middle of a road. All the trees were dead! Not sure why. There was one elephant which looked emaciated but we were assured that there were dozens of other elephants because, "Look at the huge amount of droppings"! Yes, these were shipped in by lorry every day by the same guy who rewound the tapes of the lions roaring during the night. Had I been one of the zebras, and given the energy, I would have repeatedly thrown myself against the electric fence to end it all.

The only upside was the park had 23 Rhinos which were constantly looked after by an armed guard who herded them around like a bunch of fat 5 ton puppies. He seemed to love his job. They were valuable, and as with everything of value in Africa, always watched closely.

"So are we"

After the Kruger it was off to Mozambique, and at the boarder we met a lovely white South African family. I say 'white' because over here it is acceptable to refer to a person as black or white. You know in the UK now when you see a crime committed and the police ask you to describe the person, and you try to do it without mentioning the colour. You say, "He had black hair, dark eyes and very light coloured palms compared to the backs of his hands", and you try your best to describe a black person without mentioning that he's 'Black', which would have saved a thousand words! Well they don't have that hang up out here, and I often joke with Freedom, our friend from Zimbabwe, that I will be as black as him if I stay here long enough, and he sure as hell never wants to be as pale as me. 
I digress! Coincidentally, they had booked to stay at the same site as us hundreds of miles north near Xai Xai (Shy Shy) and were staying in the cabin across the way. We spent much time with them and they laid on a traditional braai (bbq) and Beverley and I in return put on the most amazing curry night which went down a treat.

The Indian Ocean beach was the most unspoilt I have ever been on, miles and miles of sand, cleaner than clean, warm waves and abundant sea-life. Very few people about, apart from the boys trying to sell 'fresh' oysters to the handful of tourists. I didn't see any sales so I'm sure they were the same 'fresh' one's all week. The children there seemed to have nothing, but
 they all seemed so happy, not having the 'want more' stress of the European or USA child, they were happy to have food and shelter.
"So am I"
 Anyway, Wickers and Hayla have invited us to spend Christmas with their extended family at their home about 5 hours from Johannesburg, which we're really looking forward to. After talking to them, I really understand South Africa now from a White South African point of view, where as living in England, we tend to only understand and sympathise with the black struggle.

Mozambique, what a glorious country, but wish my daughter Luci had been with us as they speak Portuguese. The women are stunning, and Beverley tells me the men are too, but I didn't see them. Many of the buildings remain from colonial times, some having been well maintained, but mainly left to ruin, a ghost from the past. The general elections were causing great excitement with singing and flag waving from lorries loaded with people going to and from rallies. They were keen to engage Beverley and she ran over, gratefully accepting a red hat and a flag, unsure who's side she had just pinned her colours to.
"and me"

So yes…'Robbed by the Police in Maputo'! We were pulled over many times by the armed police, it's routine over there, but we were in for a big surprise. The armed police are called the 'protection police', and they stopped us. They demanded 6,000 meticais (£180) because we were carrying some of our camping stuff on the back seats of our car. Beverley pointed out that they were 'protection police' and only traffic police could impose a fine. They then waved over 2 traffic policemen who demanded our passports and then told us we would not get them back until we paid the fine. We asked to see their ID and they refused, saying they would arrest us if we didn't comply. Realising I was being robbed and knowing that without my passport I couldn't return to South Africa, I gave them the contents of my pocket.
"We would like to move to the Kruger"
Now safely back here I can start the complaints process. We have the exact location of the spot from the tracker on our car, and there is a big push to clear up corruption right now, so even if we don't get our money back it will hopefully put the spotlight on that particular corrupt unit. 
After Maputo, Johannesburg seems so clean and organised, friendly and welcoming, very strange feeling indeed. I love being home.  

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