It’s taken me two long months but I can finally say ‘Up Your’s’ with confidence to all those expats and naysayers who predicted oh-so-confidently, that, once I had arrived in Mozambique and seen for myself, I would rather rub piri-piri in my eyes than travel by chapa in Maputo.
For those of you wondering what on earth I’m talking about, a chapa (pronounced ‘shapa’) is a minibus, typically with a capacity of 12 people but usually filled with approaching double that number. They are as hot and smelly as the underground at rush hour in August, and they are driven everywhere at top speed with music blaring from the speakers, which the driver and the cobrador will sing loudly and tunelessly along to.
For the most part, expats and wealthy residents of Maputo tend not to use chapas. They have their own cars or can afford to take taxis, whilst everybody else travels hops on – or rather, crams themselves into the minibuses.
I warned against taking chapas by a remarkable number of people. They argued that:
- They are (extremely) dangerous. (This is an exaggeration of course, but accidents do occur from time to time, so it’s best to avoid sitting in the crumple zones, especially the back row!)
- You will be assaulted and robbed. (Again, a complete exaggeration and an excellent example of the social paranoia experienced by the elites here. You can avoid robberies by using common sense.)
- They are unreliable. (Perhaps, though I never personally been in a break down.)
- They are smelly. (Can’t really argue here. I recommend a window seat.)
- They are unhygienic. (Up on the walls on some of the larger buses in the cities are posters warning people about the dangers of tuberculosis. Again, try to get a window seat.)
- They are expensive. (Only joking! This is the only complaint I’ve never heard anyone make – a one way ticket costs £0.08.)
So a combination of snobbery and an exaggeration of the risks dissuades most people from taking chapas. Another fairly major reason is not knowing where on earth any of them are going! As The Bradt Guide, which has been a fairly reliable beginners guide to Maputo observes: “You will probably have no idea where any of them are going at first.”
However, through trial and error, and by taking quite a few chapas, I grew in confidence until I reached the stage where I would describe myself as a chapa pre-pro. Pre-pro because there are still some chapa frontiers which I haven’t yet crossed, such as travelling at night – but I get around happily enough during the day.
It then occurred to me that some other would-be chapa user might also benefit from my hindsight and so I decided to create the Chapa Guide for Dummies aka:
My Top Tips for Getting on the Boss Bus.
- Act Fast
Whether you are trying to cross the road in front of a chapa, hailing a chapa or boarding a chapa, speed is of the essence. Chapas wait for no guy or gal, and queues don’t happen. Once you have the driver or cobrador’s attention, you’re good to go. This means abandoning all pretense at polite behaviour.
You will find speed is not of the essence one you are inside the chapa and when you are trying to extricate yourself from the tangle of people squashed inside as in all likelihood you will not be able to move.
2. Know The Best Seats
Knowing which seat to sit in is crucial if you want to succeed in the Game of Chapas.
In order of preference from first til last:
Any window seat on the driver’s side– being squashed in tight is made more bearable by a refreshing breeze. You also have the option of travelling with half of your body outside the vehicle. Fun!
The front seat next to the driver – in theory this is really the best seat, although the fact I’ve seen people sharing it knocks it down a bit. The reason why I put it in at second is that this seat is given as a mark of respect: I have had cobrador’s who turf people out of the front seat so I can sit in it (it’s because I is white!).
I say this seat should be reserved for people who really need it – the pregnant, elderly and infirm. Therefore, second place. By all means, take it – if you can stand the guilt and the glares boring into the back of your head.
Any seat on the back-row / Any seat next to the window seat on the driver’s side – – Back-row is a safe zone where, unless you’re unlucky, you shouldn’t have to play much musical chairs to let other passengers off. Plus, more breeze. *NOTE that the back row is actually also a crumple zone, and therefore should be avoided on longer inter city journeys as road accidents are really common in Mozambique*
Worst REAL seat – The folding seat in the aisle. Unstable, uncomfortable and you will constantly be having to get in and out of the chapa in order to let people off. No wider than 40 cms and shared with two or more people. You are the first to be sat on.
Best pretend seat – the glove box between the two front seats. Precarious and uncomfortably close to the windscreen, you will be the first to taste the tarmac if the driver brakes too sharply.
However, you are next to to the driver and will be serenaded all the way home. Plus you will be six inches taller than everyone else which normally gives people a bit of an ego boost even if they know deep down it’s just cos they’re sat on a box.
Next best pretend seat – the plastic base behind the passenger’s and driver’s seats. It’s a slippery slope you keep sliding off. You’ve given yourself a nose bleed because your knees are so far up in your face you’re blind and the driver hit a pot hole. You keep nearly getting into an intimate facial situation with the person in front of you. And the cobrador’s looking down your top. At least your ass is on something resembling a seat and not…..
On someone’s lap. If the chapa was Titanic, this seat would be Rose, pushing the good seats off the raft of esteem just so she can lie in some cold water and complain for a few hours.
No one wants to sit on someone else. But to be fair, I’d rather sit on someone else than be sat on.
Finally, the accolade for the worst seat on the chapa goes to….
The door frame, window frame and indeed the sky, which is where many people who haven’t been able to fit properly into the chapa end up travelling. By design or by mistake, the result is an undignified and premature death.
3. Know where you’re going.
Battalions of these chapas zip from one end of the city to the other and cover an impressively long distances. It is difficult to know where they are going and there are no route maps so you’re kind of stuffed unless you know someone who can tell you exactly where the chapa stops. There is a lot of guess work involved.
However, you should know this:
Museu (Museu de Geologia) is the main chapa terminus in the East of the city. It’s smack-bang in the posh part of town and has connections to many exciting destinations:
To go North, up through Sommerschield to Coop until Praca de OMM – take a chapa to Praca das Combatantes or Laulane.
To go West take chapas from Avenida Eduardo Mondlane. Get off at Ronil if you want to go down to the Baixa in the South. Look for Costa Do Sol, this will take you down and around to Maputo shopping and then up to Costa Do Sol.
Ask a local. And remain vigilant at the window watching for the route you’re taking.
4. Don’t be a Moron.
Anti-Chapa Chaps will try and tell you all about how you will be assaulted if you take a chapa. This is quite frankly, utter bollocks, and unforgivable social prejudice.
A certain individual I know here said they took a chapa once and it was a terrible experience because her bag was open on her lap and someone reached in and stole her ipad.
Yep. No word of a lie.
Obviously you are not going to be this moronic. Keep your handbag/satchel/rucksack/napsack/spotted handkerchief-on-the-end-of-stick firmly shut and you should have no problems.
5. There are no bus stops.
You must develop the sixth-sense of the minibus stop. Or just use your eyes and common sense. Where there are people waiting and chapas stopping, it’s probs safe to assume you’ve got yourself a stop.
When you wish to exit the chapa you must shout paragem. Forcefully, and multiple times, normally a little way before your stop.
5. Know who you’re dealing with.
You don’t speak to the CONDUTOR (driver). Unless he speaks to you. He is too busy swerving at break-neck speed round other traffic, vegetable carts, cyclists, small children and livestock.
You do speak to the COBRADOR (conductor): he is the man you pay.
N.B. Never ever comment on the large pink false nail studded with diamantes the cobrador is wearing on his hand. Never ever.
May be offered any time, but normally just before the stop, when you say ‘Paragem’, is best so as to avoid sticky situations when the cobrador claims you haven’t paid.
However, the cobrador will occasionally ask for everyone’s fare at once. It really depends on the guy.
Each journey is 7 meticais or £0.08….. Yeah, Transport for London: EAT YOUR HEART OUT.
Change always be given. I’ve seen people pay with 200 mz notes and receive change, but I wouldn’t risk anything bigger and it’s probably wise to ask before.
7. You may get some hassle if you are A.) A girl. B.) White
I have never had anything but pleasant exchanges with other passengers. But, brace yourselves for some unwanted attention from the cobrador.
What starts with “Eu Gosto de Ti.” (I like you) – normally delivered with a leer, will evolve into endless pestering to get your number or indeed, to get you to come over and hang out at his place.
Firmly and repeatedly saying ‘No’ is the best policy.
8. Enjoy people watching and being the only foreigner on the bus
In two months, I have only seen one other white person on a chapa and she was a tiny, wizened old lady. Kudos to her.