Getting around in Beira is not hard… If you have a car of course. If you don’t, you are limited to walking, cycling or getting into taxis. I walk, especially on Sunday mornings. I bought a bicycle to give me slightly more mobility, however, the indian made bicycle I bought, didn’t last the first minutes I had it as the steering wheel was not tightend, making it slightly dificult (more like impossible) to turn, thus loosing its purpose of helping me move around. Taxis… well, after living a year in Libya, I’m slightly hesitant to get into one.
However last weekend, good fortune (and sheer cheek) smiled on me as I asked a colleague who was spending the weekend in Maputo for their car. They acquiesed. I had a car for the weekend!! I could explore in Beira! Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday were late nights at work, which meant the only day I had to explore was Sunday.
My first stop was a actually not too far from where I live: A skeleton of a ship next to a light house. Seeing that mass of steel shatttered, broken and destroyed on the beach gave me the same feeling I get when I see dead animals on the road. For all the morbidity of my thoughts, I had a lot of fun just taking photos. It was a beautiful day for that as the blue sky constrasted beautifully with rusty orange browns of the wreck. After my photography fix, I could tick off objective number one for the day. Objective number two was to visit downtown Beira and take some photos.
Downtown Beira… It’s a hard one to describe… Keep in mind Beira is Mozambique’s second biggest city, however it does not always feel like it. For some historical context, Beira suffered as did most of Mozambique during the country’s civil war between RENAMO and FRELIMO. Beira was sort of a base for RENAMO and offered support to the governing FRELIMO movement. With end of the civil war it seems like Beira suffered a lack of investment due to its allegiances to RENAMO.
This lack of investment is clearly visible in downtown Beira. The city still retains most of its colonial layout wide avenues leading to squares. However, downtown feels abandoned and at times looks slightly deserted. New buildings or renovated buildings are few and far between. There are some buildings which, if restored could retain their initial beauty, such as the national thearte and cinema. The afternoon we were driving around, there were very few people around. It’s a pity as you can see traces of the beauty the city once had.
However, this does not mean the city does not have its charm. I honestly like the African organised chaos that exists in the city. A great example of this is an organised informal market across the city’s biggest Supermarket. My colleague and I decided to go there after seeing the city centre to see what the market we drive past everyday is like. It is slightly chaotic for an outsider, but I’m sure a local would know exactly where to go for what he needed.
One stall will sell locks, electrical plugs and some cables, while the the adjecent stall will sell shoes. This junxtaposition is found everywhere in the market as fish is sold right next to clothes and alcohol next to toys. I didn’t take out my camera so as not to draw more atention to myself (we were the only white folks in the market), but it was interesting to see where Beira’s less fortunate go to shop.
Our final stop for the day was a place which was one of my initial images of Beira during my online searches before moving here: Grande Hotel Beira. This luxury hotel was opened in Beira in 1952 and was dubbed the ´Pride of Africa´. Though this hotel turned out to be a white elephant from the start as it was never profitable. Ten years after it was opened, the hotel closed with merely the conference centre and swimming pool being used. During the civil war it was used as a refugee camp and now it is home to over 2000 squatters who live in substrandard conditions.
We took some photos of the (not so) Grande Hotel and watched the sun set on it, just like the sun set on its fortunes…
This ended my day tour of Beira. It was great to finally see some more of this city I’ve been living in for over three months now.