I’m not the biggest fan of chef and author Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s television series No Reservations. The show takes Bourdain to cities and countries around the world where native hosts treat him to local culture and cuisine. I find him crass, arrogant and sometimes downright obnoxious (which yes, I know is his style and undoubtedly the qualities that appeal to his many fans). However, I do admire him for the destinations he visits on his show. After seven seasons on air (the eighth just premiered last month), he’s visited most of the mainstream spots-Italy, France, New York City-so it’s nice when he travels to less visited locales and thus helps in bringing attention and promoting those places that are most likely not on the radar for a lot of people.
The seventh season of No Reservations kicked off in Haiti with Bourdain visiting little more than a year after the devastating 2010 earthquake. For season eight’s premiere, the destination was equally exotic and more unfamiliar to many people-the southeastern African nation of Mozambique. When I saw it was airing, I immediately set to record it because even though I am not traveling to Mozambique anytime soon, I am visiting Portugal in September. Portugal was the former colonial ruler of Mozambique and from what I’ve read from my research, African Portugal is definitely present in the capital city of Lisbon with native restaurants, music clubs, and shops.
Mozambique has not had an easy time of things, ever since 1475 when the country became a colony of Portugal. It was subject to colonial rule for more than 500 years, its people unwilling participants in the Atlantic Slave Trade, and in more modern times, it endured a brutal civil war that lasted for 16 years. Even free of colonial ruler and in peace, Mozambique is by all accounts a developing nation with many of its people living a constant struggle every day just to survive.
The episode began with a visit to the Makua people who comprise the largest ethnic group in northern Mozambique. It seemed like a scene for a Peace Corps infomercial-a Caucasian person eating a traditional meal amongst the native villagers and yet, instead of an idealist Peace Corps volunteer, there was brash Brooklyn bred Bourdain. Although when Bourdain talks I feel one can hear the sarcasm oozing from his voice, I appreciate the rare moments of humbleness from him. You could tell he wished there was something he could do for the people who went to great length to prepare a special meal in his (and the cameras’) honor, “scraping out a living under the scorching sun.”
He also visits the Grande Hotel in Beira, once billed as the “pride of Africa” and considered the largest and most luxurious hotel on the continent; today it is home to 3,000 squatters. Built in the early 1950s, it operated as a hotel until 1963 although it was never as profitable as its owners had aspired nor ever hosted the wealthy clientele it had hoped to attract. During the civil war which raged from 1977 until 1992, the hotel served as a refugee camp. Anything in the hotel of any value has long since been looted and stripped-the hotel’s parquet floors were used as fuel. Today, the building has no running water or electricity and the hotel “guests” live in substandard conditions; they remain there for they have nowhere else to go. Bourdain did not delve too deeply here because, as he said when walking away from it, “There’s not a single toilet in that entire structure or electric power and 2,700 people live in it. That’s enough, call it a day. Nothing more to say.”
The hotel’s swimming pool during its glory days:
The hotel and former swimming pool today:
Obviously watching this particular episode will most likely not make people want to go out and purchase a plane ticket to the capital city of Maputo-Bourdain shows a country and people with deep scars linked to its incredibly painful and bloody past-and yet he also shows a country that has not given up, a country that wants to survive and show itself off to the global traveling community so that perhaps one day tourism could be an entirely successful industry. And as Bourdain also said, “the food here is the best I’ve had in Africa.”