We have a neighbor across the street here at Casa Cali, a well-to-do, middle-aged Austrian man - certainly an exception amongst the majority of our long-haired, peace-and-love-and-recycle fellow residents - who introduced himself the first week we moved in by saying, "So you're the ones who used to live in Maputo!" It was a bit of a shock, since I have to give most people a gentle clue about our previous home by saying something along the lines of, "We used to live in Mozambique, in Southern Africa, on the coast just across from Madagascar."
Our Austrian neighbor, however, not only knew where Maputo was, he'd just been there the previous week! Apparently he is an avid birdwatcher and had taken a trip to South Africa to look at rare birds. He'd read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that Maputo is considered to be one of, if not the most beautiful African capitals, its streets lined with sidewalk cafes and acacia trees, its nights full of music and culture. Enticed by that description, he and a fellow birdwatcher drove up from the St. Lucia Wetlands to get a taste of the Mediterranean-Latin influenced city.
"Maputo is really a shithole, isn't it?" he said, sparing no judgment. "We expected something nice, but the whole city is run down, there are potholes in all the roads, there's nothing interesting for tourists to see, and we couldn't even find any good food. What a waste of a day."
I valiantly defended Maputo, saying that despite its tired infrastructure and the fact that you have to dig to find some of its most brilliant treasures, it really is a great city and that we enjoyed a very high quality of life there. Let's be honest: Rico and I - and the majority of expats and wealthy Mozambicans - lived like kings in Maputo.
It became obvious that we weren't going to convince the Austrian that Maputo was worth anyone's time, so I let the conversation die. It got me thinking, though, about exactly what makes people like a particular city or not, what things we value in our experiences, and the giant role that high expectations (or low ones, for that matter) have in finding satisfaction in the new things we do and places we visit.
Maputo, in particular, is a hit-or-miss kind of a place. I don't know that many people who feel lukewarm about the city. It seems you either love it, or are counting the minutes until you go somewhere else easier, more civilized, more convenient, more kept-up. I know plenty of people on both sides of that fence, for sure. And although Rico and I were ready to move on to the next chapter after 5.5 and 4.5 years in Mozambique, respectively, it wasn't out of dissatisfaction with the city or with our lives there. More than anything, we were burned out in our jobs and both felt the need to follow our hearts professionally speaking. For me, that meant going to art school and becoming a jeweler; for Rico, it meant a return to his roots in investment banking and finance.
But back to Maputo. I've had countless people ask me over the years if it's worth it to visit. My answer is highly dependent on the person. For example, I'd never recommend to Rico's dad that he spend time in Mozambique's capital - he's much more of a Medjumbe, Cape Town or even exclusive Kruger lodge kind of a guy. My friend H. from high school had memories of fun-filled trips visiting me in Rio in her mind and ended up sorely disappointed by Maputo, and by Mozambique in general. My mom, on the other hand, heard from the minute we set foot in Maputo how much I thought she'd enjoy a visit. She ended up coming twice, and loved both trips.
What makes someone love Maputo or not? Would you recommend it as a destination for friends or family on vacation? Would you recommend it as a place to live? I suppose these questions are at the heart of why many of you read my blog in the first place, but I thought I'd open it up to commenters to add to my thoughts.