It is difficult to find affordable accommodation in Mozambique – dorm beds in the city of Nampula, for example, cost upwards of $30 CAD. Dirty, cockroach infested rooms start at $60.
Friends RT and GJ, who traveled to Ihla de Moçambique in March, recommended that I contact a person by the name of Harry Potter, who works in the tourist industry on the island, and ask him to find me lodging with a local family. “When you get to the island, just ask around for Harry Potter”, they said. “Everyone knows who he is”.
It’s true. Everyone does know Harry Potter. When I stepped off the bus from Nampula, the first person I asked was able to lead me right to Harry Potter’s house. Unfortunately, Harry Potter wasn’t home and didn’t answer his phone. Rather than wait around all day, I checked into the island’s only backpacker hostel.
I spent the afternoon wandering around the island, mesmerized by the fading colours. When I got back to the hostel in the early evening I discovered that all of my belongings had been removed from my room without my consent and placed in the common area. The staff told me, rather rudely, that I had been given the room by mistake and that it had been reserved by someone else. I protested. The owner was called and rather than apologize for the mistake he insinuated that I had misled the staff by telling them that I had a reservation.
It was dark and I had no place to stay.
I called Harry Potter. This time he answered.
I had expected someone with glasses, perhaps bearing a certain resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe. Not so. This Harry Potter was a 20-year-old Mozambican, with dreadlocks and board shorts. Somewhere along the line he had adopted an exaggerated English accent. “Sure”, he said, with affected British cheerfulness. “I can take you to the house where RT and GJ stayed. It’s 300 Mtc a night”. I was skeptical. 300 Mtc is about $11. This is far cheaper than any other accommodation on the island, even the dorm rooms.
On the way to the guesthouse, Harry Potter stopped several times to try to sell jewelry and other knick knacks to tourists on the street. Someone stopped him and asked him to repay the 200 Mtc they had loaned him the previous night at the bar. My skepticism grew.
Harry Potter asked me whether I thought he was from England. “I’ve worked hard on my accent”, he explained. “Most people think I went to school in the UK”.
Eventually, we stopped in front of a bright pink house on the ocean. Outside, the paint was peeling but inside the house had been restored beautifully. My room had a balcony which looked out onto the busy street below. The dining room table overlooked the Indian Ocean. The family – a single mother and her two daughters – was friendly and welcoming. I couldn’t believe the room was only 300 Mtc and confirmed the price several times. “Including breakfast”, they said.
I spent the next few days reading, writing, wandering the streets, and watching the dhows pass outside my window.
On the third morning, I walked onto the balcony for breakfast and found another foreigner there. He looked surprised to see me.
“Are you staying here?” he asked.
“Yep. Are you?”
“Well, no. I’m the owner”. P introduced himself and explained that he is from the United States but living in Maputo. He and his wife are in the process of restoring the entire block to turn it into a luxury hotel. The family stays there rent-free in exchange for taking care of the building. P was on the island to meet the architect to discuss the ongoing renovations.
“But…how did you even find this place?” P asked. He looked baffled.
“Umm, have you heard of Harry Potter?”
“Only from the books.” P grinned. He had a good sense of humour. “I don’t know half of what goes on in my absence, I guess, but I’m happy for the family to rent out the rooms if it helps them out”.
So, in the end, I have Harry Potter to thank for my stay in a luxury resort. That is a sentence I never thought I would write.