JOHANNESBURG 9:13 p.m.
The beer is local: Castle Lager. It'll help take the sting off another brutal day. That began just past midnight when I was rudely awoken by an earthquake.
Truth be told, I could hardly believe it was an earthquake. First, there hadn't been one in Mozambique in over a hundred years. Second, after I woke Heather up to prepare her for desperate flight from our hotel room, there were no aftershocks. Except for the rumble in my belly from yet another mediocre meal that we were forced to take a few hours earlier at the Hotel Polana (I'm reporting to you from the Hyatt in Johannesburg -- score one point for the corporate chains). So I decided that I must have been dreaming, and that the earthquake was just a subconscious metaphor for my Delhi Belly.
Until I found out that distant Mozambique was suddenly big international news when I stumbled out of bed this morning. So I was probably still disoriented when, for the second time since we arrived in the country, I was shaken down by an underpaid, greedy cop who kept an eagle-eye out for our foreign plates as we struggled to find parking in front of the U.S. Embassy in Maputo. A threat to take me down to the station, not even one attempt to look at my license, and one hundred thousand Metacais later (about $4), I was home free. Luckily, not as expensive as my other brush with tourism corruption in Wyoming during our IA expedition last year.
And despite the awful police force, we got along famously with the well-disciplined, friendly customs officials who toured us around their borders posts and the port. Thanks to this local contact, my best meals in Mozambique were far away from the lofty confines of a five-star hotel. Hole in the wall restaurants (essentially African truck stops) offered simple, well-cooked food for less than three dollars. Even better, the vegetables were local -- a rarity in this part of the continent where everything seems to radiate out of South Africa.
Still, once we crossed the border today, I made a beeline for the burger chain, Wimpy's. The dirt and chaos of Maputo had me craving cleanliness, order and predictability. And I had try a Wimpy burger. For the first time ever in a fast food chain, what I ordered (double cheese burger, fries, chocolate shake -- I was FAMISHED), actually resembled their airbrushed simulations in the glossy menu photos. The food was good, so was the service. Don't get me wrong though: given a choice between the Port of Maputo's truck stop and a well-established South African chain, I'm chowing down on beef and rice with the truckers.
My beer is nearly done. The trip is almost over. We had Peter Gabriel's "Secret World" on the iPod to soothe my nerves as I sped into dark and sometimes dangerous, Johannesburg tonight (a perfect First World comfort here in the "Third" World). Off to bed, off to a day trip to Durban tomorrow, and then back to North America next week.