Sunday, May 13, 2012

Straight Chillin': Mozambique Style

Getting in touch with my Portugese roots via Caiparinha

Andddddddddd yeah.

Impromptu dance party on the beach

They are fixing the window that fell out of the vehicle we rode to Tofo, smh

Full moon. Awoooo.

Looking chipper as we begin a long day of traveling

The last two weeks with one of my best friends visiting have been a blast. Not only did I get to see Swaziland through someone-fresh-off-the plane’s eyes, but I also got to see Mozambique, which is officially my favorite place I have seen in Africa (admittedly, I have not seen very much yet). While I was a little worried how someone coming from America to my homestead would react, Whitney was a natural. She was calm, cool and collected on the most dysfunctional of khumbis. I am not sure why I am so surprised though, Whitney is the person who got me interested in Peace Corps in the first place and will be a great volunteer one day. Regardless of all that, I loved having someone with me all the time, especially someone from my pre-Peace Corps life. A dark hut is a much less lonely place with a good friend and everything is more hilarious with two people who are always getting into something.
This trip was sort of my test as a travel agent and I did most of my booking from the back of my sitolo sitting on a coca-cola crate. Booking things in Swaziland is extremely difficult. Even if you can book something online, it will probably cost you a fortune more and sometimes your reservations not made in person will not be honored. No one asks for deposits or last names. So I just let it ride and hoped for the best, and everything worked out perfectly or better than we planned. Ironically, Swazi transport officials have been trying to move the eastbound section of the Manzini bus rank, the main transport hub of the country, for years. The day Whitney arrived, they finally succeeded and transport came to a grinding halt in protest. This could have been a huge problem but with a little help from friends with cars, we got past the problem area and to my neck of the woods. This was crucial because we could almost feel the ocean breeze and Mozambican sun on our skin; we were not about to let some protest keep us from that.
Whitney and I traveled with my good friend Ryan. It was a perfectly small group with laidback vibes ideal for traveling. To get to Tofo is no easy thing. From the tar road, I am only 5 miles from the border post but the bus to get there comes at 6:30 in the morning, which means getting ready in the dark. This usually works fine but candles and grogginess can be a bad combination and I lit myself on fire just a few days ago in this situation. Swaziland isn’t particularly known for its signage and the border post stumped us at first,“Uh, hi, I would like to go to Mozambique please?” We eventually figured it out and within 5 minutes over the border, Ryan goes, “We aren’t in Swaziland anymore, they have baguettes”. After being in South Africa and Swaziland, which are saturated with their former colonizers influence (the British and Dutch) Mozambique with its Portuguese aspects was a massively welcome change. I was talking to a Swazi friend about this last night and he eloquently said that the Portuguese did a better job of meshing Mozambican culture to theirs enabling it to permeate society, not something I have noticed in South Africa or Swaziland with regard to British or Dutch culture. From my brief encounter with Mozambique and many hours listening to Maputo radio, the music is made for dancing, the food is spicier and the colors/patterns of the emahiya, traditional wraps the women wear as skirts, are brighter. Everyone speaks beautiful Portuguese and made me regret not studying it as my language in college. As indicated by the baguette sighting, food, art and music seemed to be part of the culture in the way that they were good for the sake of being good, or beautiful for beauty’s sake, not utilitarian at all, but had Mediterranean written all over it.
The city skyline of Maputo has been taunting me for 8 months now, as it is only 60 miles away from my homestead. I finally got to see it in all its sprawling, filthy, chaotic but thoroughly authentic glory. For some reason, Swaziland has not urbanized in the way many developing countries have, so any city can take aback someone who is used to 4 square blocks and a KFC being dubbed as the commercial capital. We found public transport to Inhambane and it doesn’t appear that there are any free seats. Get in, they tell us, and they put down these awkward middle seats that were definitely not supposed to be there. Mine had a broken back and was on a 45-degree angle to the side depositing me into the lap of the guy next to me, who seemed fine with the arrangement. There was nowhere to put your legs because the middle was also where the large bags were being stored. Being overloaded, the minibus was leaning to one side so you could hear the metal scraping the road when we made left turns and it couldn't go above 50 mph.The ride there was as close to hell as you could get in 8 hours, extremely uncomfortable, everyone yelling about everything, I almost had to submit to drinking the bottle of gin the guy I was squished against kept offering. After getting ripped off by the guy who spoke English the best, we made it to Fatima’s Tofo. Andddddd heaven.
As bad as transport was, I forgot all about it when we woke up to the sound of the ocean a minute’s walk away. Fatima’s is the main place to stay in Tofo and also in Maputo. It was everything we ever wanted in a backpackers. I have seen a lot of beaches in my life and Tofo is one of my favorites. The sand is so fine it makes a squeaky sound when you walk on it. There are waves, unlike the Caribbean, and you can see through them as they form because the water is perfectly clear. And 75 degrees. Even better, there was no one on the beach. A few hawkers, a handful of people from the backpackers, but pretty much empty. Inhambane province is a refuge for whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world, and we went on a “water safari” to find them. They are vegetarians and are perfectly safe to swim with, although I did have a few flashbacks of Finding Nemo and “I’m having’ fish tonight!” and hoped my bloody knee I acquired on the boat entry would not change their minds. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whale sharks, but we saw a ton of dolphins we got to swim with. Definitely not like Sea World, they make a sighting and give you the motion to get in and you quietly slip into the water to swim with the animals. The graceful scuba divers dove backwards off the boat like Navy Seals. The three of us awkwardly negotiated the descent and plopped into the water. Our other activities included laying on the beach, eating seafood and changing everything we said in Amurrcan to its high English equivalent to amuse ourselves and annoy our new friends. Tofo is tiny, the “city” is basically a sand road with a few dive shops, restaurants/bars and a couple of backpackers with a big market at one end. It takes 15 minutes to walk the length of it. We had 5 glorious days there with cool people from all over which culminated at a “Full Moon Party” on the beach. It was an incredible trip and reminded me of Whitney and I's abroad days in the best way possible. Até mais, Mozambique!
We left at 4 AM on the last day and made it to Swaziland by 2 PM. Hard to believe such a different world is so close, even on the most capricious of public transport.
Random things I learned from this trip: I am an Anglophile. Artemis is the ancient Greek goddess of the moon, of the hunt and is the protector of women. A good friend is one who helps you up when you fall, a great friend is one who points at you laughing when you fall into a boat and scrape your knees up. I will miss you immensely Whit! 


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