Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mozambique and its Indian Ocean Neighbors

I love the name Mo-zam-bique: it holds out promise of mystery and intrigue and I've always imagined it to be extremely exotic.  It's not quite as exotic as I had expected but it has no doubt seen its share of intrigue over the years as a Portuguese colony, a neighbor of previously apartheid South Africa, a member of the socialist camp,  and through it's pivotal location on the Indian Ocean near the tip of Africa.  For explorers, traders and fleet captains, it was probably the first place they dropped anchor after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. It is also one of the closest African countries to such islands as Madagascar, Mauritius, the Comoros and the Seychelles. I visited all of these island nations on business in the mid-1980s when posted to Nairobi but this is my first time in Mozambique. 

In the 1980s Mozambique was deeply entrenched in communism and had close ties to the USSR, Cuba and other countries on the far left. The US had a presence here but little influence. However people I know who were posted in Maputo at that time, liked it anyway because of the balmy weather, good beaches, great boating, the nearness of  the South African border for shopping, and some of the world's best seafood.  The country is especially famous for its large prawns: last evening I enjoyed some of the best prawns and lobster I have ever eaten. Mozambique doesn't have the mineral resources of South Africa or Angola, but it now has a stable government in a market economy and is becoming a hot tourist destination, especially for South Africans and Portuguese.  I'm currently enjoying a very short Sunday vacation around my hotel -- the very comfortable Polana Serena  -- which fortunately has a good rate for US embassy visitors.  Most of the hotels I stay in are ok, but not nearly as nice as this one. I really do wish Gertrud were with me on this trip! (

The country's capital is Maputo, a pleasant city of 1 Million, which was called Lourenço Marques in colonial days.  I knew that name when I first became interested in Africa but had no idea where it came from until today when I googled it. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Marques was a Portuguese Explorer who explored the Maputo Channel in 1544. 

Here are a few links on Mozambique's history, geography, etc.  The last one contains many images from around the country.

And now a few comments on Mozambique's Indian Ocean neighbors:  

The Seychelles include some of the world's most beautiful islands.   I combined business with pleasure and took the family with me to Mahe and Praslin in 1986 and I have also been on La Digue.  In those days. the US still had an embassy in the Seychellois capital of Victoria and our family and another embassy family from Nairobi were invited to stay in the home of a colleague who was in the US on leave.  We had a marvelous time on Mahe but especially on Praslin where we could walk hundreds of meters out into the crystal clear ocean and where the beautiful Valle de Mai National Park is famous for it unique tropical vegetation and especially its coconuts. There are interesting legends about these coco de mer which you can read about below:

In those days, the principal US Government interest in the Seychelles was a NASA tracking station. With improvements in technology, the tracking station was later shut down and the embassy closed not long thereafter.  At that time there were only 4 Western embassies and the Soviet embassy in the Seychelles.  The Western ambassadors met regularly at the yacht club for lunch to compare stories, probably about the Russians.  During one of my visits, the Ambassador told me that the James Bond movie "Dr. No" had been released on the island, but that it closed a day later.  Apparently the Russian villain in the movie bore a strong resemblance to the Russian Ambassador and he forced the Government to shut it down.

I also took the family on a business trip to Mauritius and Madagascar.  Mauritius is an ethnically diverse island with large Hindu, African and European communities.  The timing for this trip was unfortunate as the island was hit by a severe tropical storm resulting in massive flooding.  We were advised to leave the embassy apartment we were staying in a day before our departure because it was on the opposite side of the island from the airport.  Our driver negotiated heavily flooded roads and we were able to find a hotel near the airport and to depart on schedule.  
Madagascar is definitely worth a trip for those who love exotic flora and fauna.  I've been to Antananarivo, the capital several times but have never made it to the coast or to the jungle where the lemurs and other fabulous animals are.  It's something that is still on my bucket list.

 For those of you who are familiar with Utah and the Mormons: the name Comoros may remind you of the Hill Comorah which is where Joseph Smith is said to have received the Book of Mormon plates from the Angel Moroni.  Well guess what the capital of the Comoros is?  Check out the following link to find out. 

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