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Published: February 12th 2018
Miserably hot, infinitely interesting and beautiful. Mozambique, a land of contrasts. Loved it, let's go.
Wow, I did it, have to give myself credit for that. "Too busy to leave, not feeling in the best physical condition, not sure about where I'm going". There are so many reasons we can come up with to pull back when about to leave on a slightly scary, unknown trip. I have always managed to work through those, even though sometimes it is tough. I want to be able to say at the end of the race of life that I have lived, taken the adventures my heart craved, not been afraid to jump into places that are unknown. For the most part, I have succeeded.
Late fall 2017 I had my flight ticket and visa to Cameroon-West Africa. My trip ideas were exciting, I was getting pumped up. There has been a simmering conflict between the Francophone areas (basically, the bottom two thirds of the country) and the Anglophone area closer to the Nigeria border. I was aware of this conflict, it seemed mostly okay, my plan was to avoid political gatherings. As I prepared for my trip, the conflict intensified massively,
the Francophone government shot a number of rebels/activists from helicopters and some Anglophone priests were killed under very suspicious circumstances. One of my great loves when I travel is the ability to wander without firm plans, suddenly I felt that my opportunity for that would be severely limited. Shit, damn, that sucks.
After licking my wounds for a couple days. I started considering other options, as I was sure I still wanted to go to Africa. I took a long look at Malawi and decided that although enticing, it was a bit too touristy for me, wanted something that would challenge and inspire me a little more. Just across the border, Mozambique looked mysterious, fantastic, a good adventure. I started seriously considering the option, almost chickened out as the country was very hot in December-January (when I would travel), worries about flooding and very real danger of malaria, including a particularly virulent strain called cerebral malaria. The brutal civil war that had engulfed Mozambique had come to a close 12 years earlier but there had been flareups in the last couple years, particularly in some of the internal areas I fancied traveling to. In the end , it looked
like a great journey. I sent in for a rush order on my visa, got a ticket and on Dec 12th, 2017, hopped on a plane in Seattle excitedly.
Mozambique was a Portuguese colony for hundreds of years. As my Spanish is fairly decent, I didn't study vocabulary that much as i sometimes do. Ultimately, that was a blessing and a curse. Sharing Latin roots with Spanish, I recognized quite a few Portuguese words and was able to reach organically into my memory banks. Frustratingly, my vocab was pretty limited to functional things. In many countries in the world, it is easy to find English speakers. In Mozambique, especially in rural areas, I learned that isn't always the case.
So, I was off, guidebook and dreams in hand. As I had heard more tourists travel to the south of Mozambique, I decided to focus on the north and central regions. I slept pretty well on my Seattle to NYC flight, easy transition to gate for my next flight leg to Johannesburg South Africa. I love South African accents, met a sweet woman at the gate who had been back to Connecticut to see her sister, also a South
African man of East Indian descent who had lived in Columbus, Ohio for many years and was going back to his sister's wedding. We talked of the opportunity and turmoil in South Africa.
I felt like I packed too heavily, the malaria threat made me pack probably more long sleeved and legged things than I needed. Having lost and had luggage delayed more times than i can count, I have a backpack that is fully carry on ready, then balance it with a front pack. That means all my weight goes on my person. I'd say collectively I have 40 pounds in the beginning of a trip, for sure my body feels it when I haven't traveled in awhile. I would need to get used to it, toughen up, the open road isn't easy or meant to be that way. It feels good though, everything for the next month on my back, including food, clothes, water filter, first aid kit and a few surprises for people along the way. There is something empowering and simple about that for me, I live for it. I knew on some level that I wouldn't use all the clothes I had taken, I
don't think I realized how hot it would be. I resolved, with the malaria issue, to take my medicine and use my mosquito spray must more religiously than I had on past trips. When you read the blog comments about people who had contracted cerebral malaria in Mozambique, it is a true motivator.
Pulling away from the gate in NYC, I felt a bit sleepy but excited. The South African Airways plane wasn't that full, I realized that I had a whole row to myself. With a 14 hour flight on the way, what a huge gift. Had a nice chat with a sweet 60ish years old woman in the row next to me. She lives in Lesotho, is of Sri Lankan descent. Talked about having found a nice home in Lesotho, that previously in her life, she and her family had been displaced by major conflicts in Zanzibar, India and South Africa. She was sitting next to a Zimbabwean young woman who is a corporate attorney in NYC. She was headed back to see family, not sure what it was going to be like with the recent coup in her country. Although the people who took over have
ties to murderous activities in the past, the Zimbabwean people seem in agreement that ANY change from Mugabe is better than none.
Met a few other interesting characters on the flight, watched a movie, studied some rudimentary Portuguese and slept about 4 hours. Chatted with a funny, slightly drunk South African woman who lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Had a pretty bad headache and realized I had had no coffee, easy to forget when your time zone is thrown off. I had two big cups of so so coffee and felt noticeably better. Touched down finally in Johannesburg, long flight but so much progress toward my destination. The airport was nice and modern, had a tasty bite to eat and just stretched my legs for a couple hours. Got to the gate for my Pemba/North Mozambique flight, mostly South African business travelers (there are large natural gas operations in N Mozambique). There were also a few well-heeled holiday makers as there are some ultra luxury resorts on private islands off the North Mozambique coast.
And then, we were off, tracking back north on the map on our 3 hour flight to Pemba. Felt a bit silly about it
because I had made arrangements to take a domestic flight a couple days later that would pull me back 2 of those hours to the south. Oh well, original ticket couldn't be changed and all part of the adventure. I had definitely eaten too much on the plane, the food was pretty good. As I often do in one way or another, I whacked my head going into the smaller plane bathroom, open cut that started bleeding, not what you need as you are headed for the tropics. As my band aids were packed deep, I took a wad of toilet paper, held it to my head and covered it with a hat I had with me to help it in place. Time to toughen up, my wake up call perhaps. So, that's it, we hugged the coast and dropped into the town of Pemba on the Indian Ocean, looking quite dry, dusty and not so inspiring from the air.
I was a touch worried at immigration in the airport as I had kicked my trip forward without changing my visa dates. I thought they were going to nick me for more money to change it. They didn't even
notice. I zipped through the line with my bags on my back and emerged into the incredibly humid Pemba air of North Mozambique, sun shining on my face, strange sounds and smells all around me. I love this more than almost anything, the first day of a new trip, finally hitting the ground in a place you have only dreamed of. Fear, excitement, wonder, curiosity all wrapped up in the moment.
The touts and moto taxi guys outside weren't as aggressive as in larger cities, I like that a lot as much less shock to the system. In my travels, I have often chosen to fly into a smaller city in the beginning of my trip in part for that reason. I had booked a room in advance, a guy was actually waiting with my name on a sign, fun. Hopped in his beat up old car, greeted him with "Bom dia", good afternoon. He flashed the first of many huge friendly Mozambican smiles I would see on this journey. He shooed the other touts out of the way and we zipped out of the airport toward the sea. Pemba is surprisingly large, really booming with this natural gas
find, other mining nearby and access to those luxury islands I mentioned. There are almost no budget independent travelers here, very rare. We drove 5 miles or so, curled along a not so pretty part of the sea and he dropped me at my guesthouse.
The location wasn't the greatest, the sea not so pretty here, rather dry and dusty. The room was clean enough though with nice views. I changed some money, took a very nice shower, threw down my bags and walked out onto the street. I had been told that this part of Mozambique was pretty safe, but to watch myself in lonelier parts of the shore road later in the evening. It was 4 PM ish, still plenty of daylight. Felt great to get into my flip flops, I grabbed my day pack, water bottles and headed up toward town, hoping to find a pharmacy as I had forgotten my dental floss. Many smiles and good food smells along the way, longish 2 mile walk into town, lots of nice people, passed a few run down areas and lots of little roadside stalls. People were mellow in the hot afternoon sun.
Town was vibrant,
never found the dental floss but met lots of great people. Was a little disappointed with the dry dusty quality of this area, hopped on a moto headed back to the sea. The guy said "you have to see Wimbe Beach", he dropped me at a junction near the sea. I walked a couple blocks and just as the day was beginning to cool off, saw coconut trees and a lovely beach in front of me, quite different than anything else I had seen today. The breezes were picking up and lifted my tired spirits, called me closer to the sea. I smelled delicious seafood being cooked at a little hut restaurant. I flopped in a chair, looked out at the sea and ordered a dark beer called Laurentina Preta, the first of many i would have this trip. It arrived ice cold, I felt really happy.
I ordered a giant grilled fish for $4, a nice 25 year old artist who sells things on the beach came over and talked with me. He was more friendly than most people who normally sell things, actually seemed like he wanted to visit. I invited him to sit down, bought him
some chicken and a coke. His name was Gito, comes from the interior of the north and lives and works at the beach to make a little money. he has learned English pretty well as it is helpful. I liked the kid instantly. A few minutes later a big tall, muscular Mozambican guy plopped down next to us, well dressed. His name was Jose, turned out he has lived in Germany for many years, works for IBM and was home to his country for a month to visit. So, with the breeze blowing in from the sea, smiles all around, we sat and got to know each other, three guys who just happened to be plopped at the same place at the same time.
Jose told me he was 62 years old, it shocked me as he truly looked not much older than 45. Jose invited us to his friend Anna's just across the street, she has a little beach vllla, was working in Pemba on a 6 month contract and the company had provided it. By the way, the town of Pemba is very fond to Jose as this is where he was raised. Anna greeted us with
big hugs, smiles, more beers and my first delicious grilled calamari (lula) of many I would eat this trip. She pummeled me with food, wouldn't take no for an answer: giant prawns, salad, tasty bread and a rice dish similar to paella, not surprising with the Portuguese colonial history. Anna found out I would be traveling farther south in the country to Beira in a couple days and arriving late with no plans. I guess that town can be a little dangerous in the evening. On the spot, she called her cousin down there and made plans for him to meet me at the airport and have a place to stay. I was exhausted, Jose drove me back to my room. I collapsed in a heap with plans to meet him the next day. Great day, more later.
Up early with jet lag the next morning and to do a bit of laundry in my sink as my clothes from the first day were sweaty with the sticky heat. I could tell already that the weather was going to be intense this trip. Tasty buffet in my place, good night sleep but wanted to grab a simple room closer
to the beach. My new buddy Jose popped by my hotel, grabbed me in his little car (he is a big guy) and bounced me by the LAM Mozambique airline office in the middle of Pemba. Great timing, got printout of my airline ticket to Beira. Jose was eager to show me around, Pemba definitely was opening up in layers and growing on me. He drove me past the old town near port where neat art deco Portuguese buildings were still used. We went by a local shantytown brimming with activity, then took a really pretty drive down the coast: cliffs, baobabs, rocks that kids were diving from into the ocean.
Came home, took a nap in my new room. Great location right across from the beach, excellent price at about $8. Hot as hell though with no AC, faced away from the ocean and with a fan that barely worked. Oh well, time for me to suffer a little. I woke sweating all over, took a bucket shower and met Jose and my little buddy Gito at a prearranged spot on Wimbe beach. Jose was intent of showing us a beautiful spot he used to go to as
a kid across the bay. We hired a boat for a bit too much money, bounced across surprisingly large and pretty damn choppy Pemba Bay. Jose had brought a 12 pack of local beer and started throwing them back, he was clearly loving it and on holiday. Although jet lagged, I had a few cold ones and got into his happiness of the day. On the other side, we saw huge baobabs more reminiscent of ones I had seen in Madagascar, pretty beaches and rocky coastline. Explored around a bit, turned home nice ride back to Wimbe Beach. I took yet another 45 minute nap, met the lads back at our locals hole in the wall on the beach. More beers, grilled chicken, huge prawns and french fries. I was spent, off to bed, with both oh them promising me a very exciting day trip tomorrow to see a beautiful area called Mecufe. Things were already developing in such a great way.
13 Dec 2017. Finally writing a bit at the end of another action packed day. Mecufe today has been brilliant. Last night I got 6 hours sleep, hot and sweaty all night in my room, decent mosquito
net but a few got through, seems like they always do. I woke this morning, took yet another quick bucket shower, very tasty slightly overpriced $6 breakfast buffet at the Wimbe Beach Hotel. They had excellent wifi and AC, heaven after my night. Connected with my buddies on the beach again, they were all smiles and ready to roll. We headed out the main highway, life, markets, vibrancy everywhere. Turned off onto a smaller dirt road and headed out the 20km journey to the very end and Mecufe. Saw may mango and cashew trees, huge baobabs that i couldn't resist climbing. really pretty beaches and peaceful Muslim fishing village at the end of the road, gorgeous sand and stunning blue hues in the water.
Bought some tasty doughnuts fresh cooked from the locals, stopped at a place 2 km inland where sea salt was drying in the sun. Saw the way it is naturally harvested and hun out with those people. Jose wanted to go by some really exclusive place, an eco resort that goes for about $150 a night, a lot in Mozambique. We sweet talked our way in, really stunning beach. We had a couple beers and
lunch, pretty reasonably priced. They let us explore the place and the beaches. relaxed for a couple hours. I had brought my bags so my buddies could drop me at the airport, which they did after our most excellent day. They actually insisted on parking and walking me in, love these guys. Waved goodbye to them, big hugs all around. So great so far.
Checked in for domestic flight with plenty of time, had a milkshake, made people howl with laughter by dancing in a little market. Had a quick col beer and some grilled chicken, hopped on my plane and we were off. LAM domestic flights are very professionally run by the way, pilots primarily from South Africa. Easy transfer through Nampula, back in the air and about an hour later (at maybe 9PM) dropped into the city of Beira, second largest in Mozambique at 4 million people. Jose's girlfriend had told me that this town can be a little rough at night, had arranged for her cousin Alfredo to pick me up. A guy showed up who wasn't Alfredo but knew his name and the story. I trusted him, what else can you do? he actually turned
out to be really cool, brought me to a little hotel near the bus station as I hoped to get an early ride the next morning. I made it, pretty dang tired. Room marginally better with better fan. Hungry but no food in sight and the neighborhood looking a little rough. I chomped on my Trader Joe's beef jerky, nuts and filtered some water to drink. Moved the bed mattress near the fan and slept hard.
Up too early at 4:30AM out of my body still from jet lag, felt surprisingly good and ready to roll. Big day today. Packed my things and headed out to the quiet street at around 5AM, summer light already showing in the morning sky. Met a kind young man on the street, chatted and shared a few of my snacks with him. Another buddy of his came up on a moto, he kindly gave me a lift to the chapa (bus) station). Good timing, got dropped off and immediately found a minibus going to Inchope, paid $5 to reserve the coveted 2 front seats for me and my big backpack. Great development. Nice ride to Inchoate (about 3 hours), driver was super great,
chatty and only charged me $2.50. I guess not many travelers take there chapas in this area, the passengers (about 20 on my minibus) all wanted to hear my story and where I was going. They smile so big in this country, fairly physically affectionate too with lots of slaps on the back and hugs.
Feeling a little proud today. I'm hardcore in real Africa, riding on a local bus not sure exactly how to do it but figuring it out. It's brutally hot in the midday sun, even the locals agree. Eating snacks that are offered along the way, sucked down all the water i had and bought more along the way. I got dropped in Inchope in a by market area, have had reasonable success using my Spanish in place of Portuguese. Am picking up a few Portuguese words, not much English spoken here. Walked about 1km through Inchope past many smiling locals. Got the last seat on a northbound bus, paid more than I should for it ($4) for the short 1 hour ride I needed as the bus was going all the way to Caia and therefore my seat was worth more.
headed north out of Inchope, road quite potholed, very, very hot. Haven't felt this kind of heat in awhile, sucking the life out of me. I felt alive though, sweaty happy people pushed up next to me smiling broadly. I was headed to Gorongosa National Park. My bus dropped me in the middle of nowhere at a little dirt road that bisected the main highway. Dropped my things, sought shelter under a big tree, determined that I needed to get about 30km down this road. It was also 3PM or so now, getting too late to try to walk. It looked pretty bleak at this moment, figured it was best to stay next to the main highway. I sat for a good long time, cows and people wandered by, waved shyly.
Feeling depleted, I drank the last of my water, really really hot. Incredible fortune, at this moment the mechanical supervisor of the park pulled up to me, he had gone to town to buy a goat to cook for an end of the year celebration all the employees were having that night. The rainy season was coming, the park would soon close, that's why I had had to
travel quickly to get here. With a bleating goat next to me tied down in the back, we headed down the long park road toward the little guesthouse I would stay in. We stopped for radiator water and to drop off the goat. Finally got to my place, very welcoming people, super nice place. Monkeys running around, they showed me to my room, a number of others who had come to this safari place milling about. It was a bit surreal, getting to this place I had read about, only possible because I left on my trip to Mozambique earlier than i had planned.
Gorongosa Park was a world famous safari location in the 1930s until the Portuguese pulled out, brimming with lions, majestic antelope, elephants, hippos, lots of other wildlife. in the conflict and brutal civil war that followed, the animal population was nearly decimated, soldiers using the animals for food and killing elephants for ivory profits. With the war being over now and the huge amounts of landmines cleared, good people (assisted greatly by American philanthropists the Carr Foundation) are doing their best to resurrect the park. They have hired very capable staff, professional rangers from the
local community, have empowered them to deal very harshly wth poachers. Not too many tourists come, as the experience isn't as instantly satisfying as nearby Kruger Park in S Africa. Those here seem to be curious travelers, scientists, "eco" travelers who have been touched by this story and the promise of rebirth. That is what attracted me.
Unpacked my things, took my first real shower of the trip, headed right out on a safari drive with a woman from Paris, three women from Portugal and a man from the States. It was a touch rainy outside, we had all been told that we would see wildlife, not in huge numbers but more than you might think. Things started kind of slowly but then we started seeing large healthy populations of waterbuck, kudu, impala and a monitor lizard. They were a little far away to get great photos, the animals in this park can be shy for reasons i'll explain later. The rains had broken, it was a little cooler in the late afternoon/early evening, i reflected happily on the fact that i was on safari in Africa and i hitchhiked to get here.
And then, around the corner
at about 20 paces, two lions pretty close up, then a forest filled with elephants, 50 maybe. We were chased aggressively by the elephants. There are still a few much older ones who survived the civil war, saw their relatives killed and learned to hate humans. They have taught their children that, our guide Castro was excellent at getting us close enough to really enjoy them but hauling ass when the elephants threatened. This isn't as easy as you might think, elephants can close in on you, even seeming to work together, on 2 sides. There were elephants everywhere, my heart was really happy to see the population so healthy. We saw a couple mongoose, bush pig, porcupine, capped it off with a stunner sunset and cold beers that the driver had bought along. Just magic. I made plans to go out super early the next morning and if all went well, would do it the next evening too. Nice dinner and a whiskey.
Up 4AM because I had to this time. Joined a really fun group of Mozambican tourists this time, well-heeled from the capitol of Maputo. Smiling Castro greeted us with coffee in the early morning, also
tasty little pastries he had brought along. Saw loads more elephants, lots of impala, drove way out across a flat bumpy area to a river that hippos come to sometimes. Didn't see them but lots of birds and really pretty. When I was on game drives in the past in other countries, often there are at least a few other vehicles close by. To be out in this vast park all alone with the people in my truck was very special in itself. Life is coming back, I got to witness it. Easy mellow afternoon. rested, caught up on my jet lag recovery a little. One last drive out into the park at about 4PM with just me and the gentleman named Phil from the States, Really nice guy, talented photographer. We saw a huge herd of water buffalo, more elephants of course and 2 hippos in the distance. When we got back, I asked someone who worked there if it would be okay to take a swim in the guesthouse pool at night. He advised against it, said snakes come to drink the water. I asked the guy what kind, he calmly said "we see mamba last week". Crazy,
happy to stay in my room. Packed up, refreshed and ready for the road early the next day
At 5AM, I walked to the front gate of the guesthouse, luckily grabbed a ride with some forest rangers going about 2/3 of the way to the end of the road. They dropped me at the main entrance gate to the park, sat with the English speaking gate ranger until yet another ranger came along going to the main road. He just casually told me that the flies that were flying around were tsetse flies, my God. I have gotten so incredibly lucky with so few vehicles around. Most people come to this park with expensive transfers, it has been fun to just wing it. Nabbed a ride to the main gate, the employee was going toward Inchope so i dropped off, 9AM and ready for the next adventure headed north.
Two days later. 17th Dec, 2017. So much to tell. Most excellent adventure developing. I'm at the grave and shelter of a Portuguese missionary named P. Xavier Torboli. His gravestone says he died here in 1984 (clearly in the middle of the civil war) at the age of 47
offering his life for peace. I was walking for awhile this morning and I'm now roughly halfway from Mocuba to Lugela on a lonely dirt road not so lonely as a couple people just walked by and waved. I just ducked under this small shelter next to the grave as there are threatening rain clouds that are opening up.
It's been two days since I've written, let's go back. As you remember, I was dropped at the Gorongosa Park entrance on the main road. It was a nice morning, I decided to walk north for awhile, turning around and sticking out my thumb when a vehicle came along, not very often. After striking out for awhile and walking about a mile, a super nice 65 ish years old white guy with a hearty laugh picked me up, I think he was as shocked to see me as i was to see him. He said, in an accent I couldn't quite place, "Hop in!". As we rode the 20 minutes or so to the next town up the road, I learned that he worked for the National Park and was a coffee expert, brought here to cultivate coffee as a
venture for the park on the slopes of Mount Gorongosa.
Great guy, great story. He was raised in Zimbabwe (when he was born Rhodesia) to parents who had been there since the early 1800s. They were farmers, eventually establishing large coffee plantations in the Rhodesian highlands and becoming experts in the cultivation. Their coffee was delicious, a thriving operation. When Robert Mugabe took over power, he gave the white farmers 24 hours to get off the lands with what they could fit in one truck. The alternative was to face execution and violence. So, they left it all, he took his family to Bristol UK to be safe. With his coffee expertise, he has consulted with numerous governments and plantations over the years, going places and working for a period of time, but vowing to never own a plantation in Africa again after what he went through. What he does has proven to be lucrative for him and he really loves it.
He has helped with coffee projects in Zambia, Cameroon and now Mozambique. This is an ambitious project, the first of it's kind in Mozambique. He had been here a year and a half, having to have
relative peace with guerrillas who operate now too far from him. It was the end of the season and he (like the other guys earlier in the park) had been getting things together for a party he was going to have for his employees. Great guy with quite a story, I think he was amused with my hitchhiking, hadn't seen that before in Mozambique. He dropped me in Vila Gorongosa, had to run some errands. I told him I was going to walk north, he said that if i was still there in about 15 minutes, he would drive me on another 10km or so. I had only walked about half a mile, rested in the sun, he did indeed pick me up again and we both shared a good laugh. I almost asked if i could join the party but I was motivated to continue north this day. I bet he would have said yes, either way it was a most interesting visit.
He drove as far as he could, dropped me on the road in a fairly rural location. I walked, heavily laden down in the hot sun, about 2 miles. I put my thumb out as
each vehicle past, I got a ride in a semi truck cab with 4 big city boys making the long 4 day drive the length of the country. I didn't like their big city "you will give me money" energy so I got off after a couple miles. The big semi was also very slow on the increasingly bumpy road, i could tell it would take forever. So then, I was truly in the middle of nowhere, headed north on a severely rutted road not of Vila Gorongosa many miles south of Caia and the Zambezi River. A few years ago, there was a flare up in the resistance movement, centered in this area. There are still sporadic skirmishes. The government had a mandatory armed convoy guard through here, since then that has been lifted, not that long ago though. I had a feeling that they punished the rebels by not taking care of the roads in their area. The main highway was dirt, severely rutted, lots of puddles even though not even the proper rainy season yet.
So I walked, these moments I feel alive. I made eye contact with people, stuck out my thumb, about 20 vehicles
passed me. A minivan drove past me, stopped about a quarter mile beyond me, honked their horn, decided I didn't look like a freak and to give me a ride. They welcomed me into the vehicle, gave me the best seat, a LOVELY Muslim family making the long 2 day drive from where they live in Beira to see the wife's family in Nampula up north for one month and summer holiday. They had three kids, of Pakistani descent but had been born and raised in Mozambique. Just delightful, the family owns a fairly prosperous grocery store in Beira, the wife an expert cake designer. The kids were so unbelievably sweet, the eldest spoke English perfectly. They all engaged me in different ways, thrilled to hear about how I ended up all alone hitchhiking on this country road.
So we drove, and drove and drove. The road was absolutely brutal with potholes. From Vila Gorongosa to Caia and the Zambezi River should have been 2 hours, it was 7. The husband said he had done the same drive 8 years earlier and the road was great. He was shocked how bad it was, we looked at each other in
amazement, our back and bodies aching. Good fun though, all we could do was laugh. We had petrol, food and bathroom stops together, they insisted on sharing homemade samosas, sodas, cookies, literally everything they had. I was a completely honored guest and they treated me as such. We finally, mercifully, reached the mighty Zambezi River and crossed the massive bridge, to in a number of years ago and very impressive.
On the other side, the road got significantly better but was quickly getting dark. I bought some food for them when we stopped in a store, the man was actually somewhat upset at me for doing that but he got over it. Originally, they had planned to drive all the way to Nampula this day, had no idea the road would be so bad. Then it started rainy in torrents, our windshield wipers weren't the greatest. We strategized that we would turn left at the Quelimane Junction and try our best to to reach the fairly sizable town of Mocuba, would search for a room for the night.
Finally, after 12 intense hours together, at 10PM, we pulled into this town and both found since $15 rooms at
the faded character art deco Portuguese Cruzeiro Hotel. I said goodbye to my new dear friends, we would say goodbye in the morning. I showered up, through my things down, set my mosquito net in place. So tired, so sore, but it was Saturday night and I needed to have a look around this new place. Cold water showers can do wonders, at the very least i would go down to the vibrant street and have a cold beer. I had earned it. I sat down with some local dude, they insisted on buying me a couple beers, one of them was rather obnoxiously drunk, the other ones shooed him away and we have a nice visit, telling my crazy story from the day. They told me about a cool outdoor bar a few blocks away, they were going there to play billiards and listen to music. I would go, of course. I felt re-energized by their enthusiasm.
The night had gotten a bit cooler, we walked down the bustling avenue, people laughing, cooking food outside, friendly people in this town. My new friends told me that this town was pretty safe, just not to get caught alone late
at night on smaller streets. We went to place I had read about in my book and it was fantastic. "La Piscina", a huge old aquatics center, pool from Portuguese Art Deco colonial times (think 1940s-50s). The pool had been drained years ago but they made the outside huge area into a bar/pub/billiards/nightclub. Live music wafting through the air, drinks flowing, food being cooked, lots of smiles, all ages of people. I shot a couple games of pool and didn't embarrass myself really enjoyed the evening, home to sleep hard.
Up early 6AM to say goodbye to my Muslim friends, they were motivated to continue their journey. Great to see them one more time. I got motivated to hot the road, I was headed toward a mystical mountain called Mount Mabu, explored by a British scientist a few years ago, found veritable Eden that had survived the war. Primary forest, new species, I hoped I could go. With no set plans, I packed up, headed outside. Hopped on a moto and got my leg burned pretty badly, too the point where the skin was oozing. I screamed, quickly got off, realized there was no helmet either. I walked through
town, in real pain. Stopped, washed my leg and put a bandage over it. Strolled through the faded art deco architecture, over the bridge and headed in a western direction. I got one ride in the back of a truck that lasted about 5 miles, walked country roads until I got to the gave of the missionary I described earlier. The skies opened up, I got a bit drenched, i took shelter until it passed, had some meat jerky and dried fruit, had stocked water pretty well so was okay there.
I took off walking, soon got an excellent ride with a professional water system engineer from Nampula working in Lugela, which was where I wanted to go to attempt to launch to the mountain. The truck hurtled down the surprisingly good road, one of the best i had been on in days. Weird, as we were so rural. The guys in the truck said that no tourists come to this village but that they knew of one room that functioned as a place for visitors to stay. They took me there, right off the main square. I knocked on the door, got the surprisingly decent bed for about
$8. Tile floors, the guys who lived/worked there brought me fresh pineapple and unlimited buckets of fresh water from a well for my shower (and for filtering to drink). I liked this place. It was in the foothills near the mountains, rural but still had some vibrancy. Everyone stopped and stared at me, surprised but very happy to say hello.
It seemed that there weren't many mosquitoes in this area, welcome relief after being hounded in the lowlands for the last few days. I stepped out to the village market to find some food, fantastic, just fantastic. Great fruit and food everywhere, the nicest people hugging me and patting me on the back. After 2 hours in this magical place, i was ready to call it one of my greatest travel finds of all time. Funny, because my goal had been to go to Mount Mabu and this place was just transit, There was something special here, I could feel it.
I walked across the village soccer field, met a guy who introduced himself with his professional title, he was proud of that. He worked with the local government, had a nice white dress shirt on. He offered
to walk with me the next morning and try to help me find the district commissioner, the guy who might be able to give me permission to go to Mount Mabu. We walked on, chatted for awhile. I said goodbye and headed over toward the local market. I met another nice man, asked him where I could get some food to eat. He funnily said "we don't have any nice restaurants", I laughed out loud and told him any food would do. He took me down little back alleys, into a mud hut with 2 plastic chairs. A friendly guy (the owner) came out of the kitchen. He told me that he is from the coast, couldn't make a good business there so decided to come here and fill a local need. "It's peaceful and safe", he said.
I told him I was in his hands. He first brought me some yummy local tea with cow's milk, then fresh eggs with onions, followed by 5 mangoes. I really nailed ago season, they are everywhere. My bill was $1.50. He invited me back later, planned to cook goat and fish. I bought a huge local pineapple and 2 coconuts, total
50 cents. Was walking out in the village happily after eating, met a nice Nigerian guy who spoke English well. He told me that he could help me with money exchange or just about anything. Walked back to my room, owner of my place saw my fruit, snatched it from me and offered to cut it up. I told him "only if you share it with me". He showed me where to get more water in the night if i needed it. The people in this village are sweet, innocent, incredibly helpful. Haven't felt one bad vibe yet. I ducked into my room for a rest, the rain came hard and often seems to in the highlands in the afternoon. Overall though, even though we are moving into rainy season, I've had very nice weather, albeit hot.
18 December, the next day. Sometimes in life and in travel, you try and fail, I gave it my all though. Great sleep last night, only a couple mosquitoes to fight off. Breakfast at the market: fried eggs, tasty local bread, chili sauce, mangoes and mountain tea....healthy eating. Back to my room, quick shower. No sign of the guy who offered to
walk with me so my pensao (guesthouse) owner agreed to walk with me to the government offices. He wasn't quite sure where I was supposed to go, even though a small town, there were a few offices as this is a regional center. Found the local district commissioner, i was making good progress toward him granting me special permission to go to the mountain. He called in the head police commandante, a hard edged woman originally from the capitol of Maputo. She shut down my request, and it wasn't about getting a bribe or money. She said that i should have gotten permission in Maputo, if she let me go to the special area without it, and something happened to me, she would be in big trouble. I was disappointed, but saw her point. Too many layers of decision making, too bad.
The area is clearly pristine, a little dangerous and protected. Perhaps some day it will open up, just no demand right now. In retrospect, I might have tried to go to the mountain without permission, pretending that I didn't know I needed it. Oh well. For now, I feel pretty blessed to have had this adventure, discovered
this lovely village of Lugela, great people and scenery. My innkeeper invited me to dinner, guess we are having fish and spaghetti. It was entering the hottest part of the day. I took another bucket shower and crashed out for a sweaty nap, in and out of dream state. I woke up, walk back paths way back in village, across a little river. People and kids were super surprised but many were very willing to be photographed. Bought bananas from a guy I had seen by the street with deformed legs. I had seen him a couple times, had the sweetest smile. He reached out and hugged me when I saw him. Later, i couldn't stop thinking about his smile and good attitude, took him a couple of my t-shirts.
My guys called me in for dinner to eat with 3 of his buddies, what a spread! Beers flowing, tasty pasta with a cream sauce, garlic and onions. Fish mangoes and pineapples too. Good eating. Feeling great, walked in to village one more time, ended up dancing for about an hour with locals and ducked into a tent an watched a bad action movie (Ivan Drago) on the one
village tv with about 50 other villagers. Drinking, another movies, more drinking, lots more dancing. Life in this village, these people are fun. Home, to sleep hard. Tomorrow I'm rolling on.
Packed early the next morning, went out onto the street. Hopped on a heavily laden chapa, we broke down about 2/3 of the way to Mocuba. Everyone piled out, didn't look like this problem would be fixed quickly, hitched a ride on a passing moto, waved good bye to my fellow passengers, made my way into Mocuba. Walked across the big bridge, found a delicious coffee (the best of my trip) at a little bakery. The Muslim Mozambican owner spoke English very well and had lived in Houston Texas for 3 years. Went to another Muslim owned place and had some very tasty food, amazingly he was related to the family I got the long ride with a few days earlier.
Got a comfortable room at Venus Guesthouse, amazingly it has AC. Its always a tough decision to get a room with AC as you know the next day you will be somewhere without it and it will seem hotter than if you never had the AC.
Oh well, enjoy civilization. Had a cold coke, found internet. Relaxed in my room, watched Bundesliga soccer for a few hours. Napped again in the hottest part of the day, wandered out again in the late afternoon as things started to cool a bit. Certainly feels like the big city to me, after being in a little village. The food choices were fun, had yogurt, ice cream, all kinds of street food. I felt pretty healthy, walked all over town to many places I hadn't been before. Crashed early and hard.
Woke up early 5AM the next morning, walked down by the big river and saw people bathing, washing dishes, going about life. Decided to stay around for another day in Mocuba, was having a nice time here. Found a real espresso and really good flaky meat pie. Just wandered aimlessly with my camera all day, lots of faded art deco colonial buildings to photograph, street life presenting itself in many layers. Ate, drank cold beers, rested, watched Tour de France on TV in the hot part of the day. Went to a tasty food place on the main drag for a late lunch, met a nice young man
from Western Washington who works to help establish airstrips in rural areas. Walked miles all over town and met the nicest people. Great day, cozy sleep in bed. I felt revitalized and ready for the next part of my adventure.
Woke early the next day with the early sun on my face. Tossed my heavy pack on, not too hot outside yet. Walked north toward the other big bridge in town, waving at a few people I recognized after being here a few days. Hopped moto across the bridge, got to a trust chaps station with vehicles headed north. All the hawkers tried hard to get me onto a minibus with no people on it, I had learned that lesson in other countries that I would have to wait forever for the bus to fill up. I walked north along the road, the bus people yelling at me like i was crazy to leave the depot. Walked about 1/2 a mile, turning to put my thumb out with each vehicle. I love this, back in my element. Caught a lift in the back of a flatbed truck with about 10 people in it. I didn't understand the driver exactly
but it sounds like it was headed in the general direction of Gurue in the highlands. Really nice drive, we had to bypass a couple bridge washouts, looked like there had been some rain in these parts. We took the left junction toward Gurue, started to see cashew trees everywhere. Through village of Ambrose, huge vibrant cashew market, I got some that had been roasted over a fire, came to find out that Mozambique is the second leading grower (behind India) of cashews in the world.
Sometimes, you have to just say "yes" to a town you hadn't planned on stopping in that catches your eye. Climbing up into the hills a bit, maybe 50 km shy of Gurue, we came to a medium sized town called Errego, ringed by stupendously gorgeous rock outcroppings called inselbergs. Cashew nut sellers everywhere, pineapples and mangoes all over the place. Stunning location, took my breath away. I told my diver to let me out, he asked me if i was serious. He slapped my back and laughed with me as i hopped off. I told him "just too beautiful, I have to see it". Walked over to what looked like the only
guesthouse in town, found a nice room with mountain view for about $14. Felt so happy to have made this decision on the fly. Went into the little cafe at the guesthouse, had a raging headache and was starting to think i had contracted deadly cerebral malaria. The cafe had no coffee, i needed a cup. Duh, I remembered I was in tea country. A couple of cups later my malaria (I mean lack of caffeine headache) was cured.
Met some locals celebrating, teachers who had just finished their teaching year and were about to head on summer break for 6 weeks. They were indeed celebrating, they wildly waved me over to their table, bought me beer after beer, delicious local pop with xima (ugali maize like) with very good fresh tomato garlicky sauce. Left my new buddies who looked like they were going to drink all night, walked down to the end of town to get a look at the granite outcropping that had caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks when I passed through this town. Quite hot outside, found a small dreaded mountain at the end of town, walked up it all alone to
get a look at the gorgeous mountain and local countryside. Should have taken more water, mesmerized by the mountain. Got up to the vista, striking views and some pants that looked very Dr Seuss like.
Walked back down through the vibrant town, not another Westerner around, in fact I've seen only 1 or 2 briefly in the last week. I felt like this while part of the country was all my own, a magical travel discovery. Lots of smiles, back to my place and relaxed for awhile. The woman who runs this place had recommended that I get a room on lower level. My Portuguese language barrier is always present so I often miss context. I insisted on a room with a view, she warned me but finally relented. Later that evening, after more yummy roasted pork and local vegetables, I understood why she didn't want me in this room. It was right across from the restaurant, which grew louder and louder and functioned as a disco later in the night. I was in my bed all settled in, all I could do was smile. Somehow I was so tired that I went right to sleep and wasn't bothered
My guide book before I came to Mozambique said "Stay north in the country. Safer, more beautiful, way more authentic, slow moving rhythms". I am so glad I did, wasn't easy to get here but unbelievably beautiful. My bones and back were feeling tired, lots of walking and cramped rides this week. I think the sun was taking a toll on me, not used to this intense weather. I had burned my leg on the moto about 4 days earlier in Mocuba, it was oozy and not healing. I wanted to cover it so the flies didn't get on it but then it couldn't breathe and heal. Just when it started to heal a bit after sleeping for night, it was hard to keep it that way while showering and doing normal things in the day.
Next morning, I was up at 4:30AM as I had gone to sleep 7PM last night. Good people, great food, strenuous climb, hot sun, beers had all done me in. I was going to have dinner in the restaurant but was really weary and could hear my teacher buddies from much earlier in the day still having beers, laughing and
dancing in there. I knew that if I committed to that, it would be a long evening. I settled on my beef jerky, trail mix and water in my room. Oh, I wanted to mention. As I'm not too far from the coast, fish has been available, though I've been choosing local chicken, beef and pork, which won't be available as I move to the coastal primarily Muslim areas. I'll have plenty of seafood options later in the trip.
This little village was completely worth the stopover. More art deco architecture, in a more advanced state of decay. It is clear that the Portuguese were here for a long time. Even in the morning, gets hot quickly. I guess I just didn't think how much smack in the middle of summer I was coming. It has been a challenge, for sure. I walked out of Errego, again avoiding the queue at the chapa station. I caught a lift with a guy going about halfway to Gurue, really pretty countryside, interesting granite peaks, little rivers, red dirt, mud huts. Hopped in another flatbed truck, really pretty landscape as we climbed higher toward Gurue. Tea plantations everywhere as we came into
town, we were stopped by a policeman who for the first time on my trip, seemed like he might like to shake me down for a bribe. He was isolating me and starting to suggest I needed to pay him because my arms were sticking over side of truck. I just walked over to my fellow passengers, was very friendly with them and him and he cooled off, not wanting to confront me publicly.
Came into Gurue town, surprisingly buzzing with activity. The surrounding tea plantations and a variety of agriculture makes this area more prosperous, you could feel it and see a few more foreigners working here. met a white guy from Zimbabwe who runs a local cafe and parts shop that caters to surrounding plantations. I settled in my room, nice lunch. The Zimbabwean guy, who seemed to know everyone in town, arranged for a guy who had a moto to take me up to famous waterfall nearby. We rolled to the edge of town, out very bumpy roads, through endless tea plantations with colonial buildings still very active and productive. Up through large bamboo forests , I often got off the moto with potholes on the
very steep parts of the road. My wound, which had started to heal, was laid open again when it started to rain torrents. We got up to the falls. just beautiful. Drove to the top, enjoyed it for awhile, raining really hard now. i was drenched, we ducked under a little cave until the rain subsided a bit. The sun broke for the beautiful ride down through the tea plantations, just magical.
Back into town, the Zimbabwean guy had a big party planned at his cafe for a bunch of guys from India who are the supervisors of tea and other plantations near here. I walked with him around town to get supplies, lots of booze from the liquor store as these guys planned to really celebrate later. This town was interesting but felt a little funny. I could definitely see a few people looking at me cockeyed on the street, my Zimbabwe buddy told me that there had been a few robberies and assaults. It sounds like some bad guys come up from the capitol Maputo because they know there is more money in this town. Really really beautiful but I chose to stay in my place, take
quiet dinner and beer, sleep before the raucous party started. I would head off the next day and slowly head toward the coast. What a trip this had been so far, seeing the country from the inside out. Countryside, people, food, smiles, really getting into the vibe.
The party was good that night, I had a few too many. Quite a few of the foreigners working in this area wandered over to the gathering, booze was flowing freely. A lot of the guys here are from India, they have specialities in managing tea and agriculture plantations and are here for that reason. The tea plantations in Gurue have held on since Portuguese colonial times. Now that the civil war has subsided, the agricultural sector is starting to take off, foreign companies coming in to take advantage of the rich soil and favorable climate of the Mozambique Highlands. Cashews and tea are the obvious and sexy crops, many other things like lentils are taking off like crazy in the background. I have mixed feelings about foreign companies coming in and hope the Mozambique government will look after the locals. Agricultural expertise and job opportunities are most welcome but far too
often I've seen those foreign companies bribe government officials, do land grabs by forcing people off their land or conning them into accepting a pittance of what it actually is worth. For now, what I saw looks sustainable. I can only hope. I broke away from the gathering, wandered out in the quiet town in the cool night air. I felt that feeling, tomorrow was time to hot the road for more adventure.
A day later, what a journey I just had, amazing, memorable travel day. I woke up well slept, packed and wandered out 6AM early into sleepy Gurue town. I love this time of day, seeing a town before it really was up, little sounds of morning, chickens crowing, people sweeping outside the homes, soft hellos as I walk by. After walking a bit and feeling the morning sun so nice on my face. I waved down a local guy, hopped on the back of his moto, he took me about 5km to the nondescript junction to Alto Molocue. I had a number of locals tell me that this road was long, inefficient and that I would have difficulty getting rides. I had time, wanted to walk,
so dropped off the moto and walked down the road, heading essentially due east.
It was a beautiful morning, fresh country air, red dirt roads and the glorious Mt Majuli Massif to my left. I walked past tiny settlements, pretty churches and lots of smiling locals who I'm pretty sure had never seen a crazy backpacker walk down this road. The ground seemed fertile, I saw lots of veggies and above all, manioc growing. Manioc, so common in the world, so sustaining and important in local communities. I was eventually joined by 4 local guys who looked to be heading my direction, they just edged up close to me and walked next to me. I'm pretty sure they walked way out of their way to stay with me, I waled about 6 miles that day and I bet they were with me 4 miles of the way.
I had forgotten food as i was excited to leave, my energy bars and dried meat had been depleted or given away in the last few days. As I walked down the road, fresh mangoes were everywhere. The guys and I (they spoke no English) were communicating in rudimentary Portuguese. I
asked them if I could have a mango, as even though they were everywhere, I was sure they belonged to people. They smiled huge and said yes, for the next few hours pummeled me with mangoes they picked. I bet I ate 10 of them, juicy and delicious, refreshing. There seemed to be a stronger connection after that with the guys, they became more good natured, They had found a way to connect with me, even though they were very poor, giving something they could give. I was actually very grateful, really needed the sustenance. Orange mango covered my face, we ripped them open and ate them on the spot. I got into it, climbing a tree to get some and learning from them how to throw mangoes from the ground to knock others down. The local people who owned the trees we passed laughed hysterically at my not very successful efforts. You know, the kinds of memories that come out of nowhere, are some of my very best travel memories. I had bought some reading glasses alone, about 10 pairs that I had bought for $1 at a dollar store back home. This seemed like a good day to
give them away. I passed a few groups of older country people who were very grateful to get them.
The day was getting hot, the guys walked on their own way and I was still walking, alone again. The hills got a little more rolling, I had shared my water with the guys and was now dangerously low. Hadn't passed any settlement in awhile. Finally, a passenger taking flatbed truck passed by, i waved them down and grabbed a spot in the cattle car in the back. It was a brutal bone jarring ride, in certain ways I wished I were still walking but I really needed to make some progress. I was in the flatbed truck for three hours, finally got to a junction and changed into a minivan blasting Mozambican rap music. I found water but also bought 2 ice cold cokes. I'm not a soft drink drinker but I have to tell you that those Cokes tasted amazing. Sucked down some water, i had gotten a couple bit ones. I had gotten the coveted front seat next to the driver. Even though this ride was brutally bumpy as well, it was an improvement over the flatbed.
I had pushed myself a little too hard with two different flatbed rides and lots of walking and would pay for it with back pain later in the journey.
We finally rolled into Alto Molocue about 3PM, a large bustling town on the main trunk road of Mozambique. Although I probably should have searched for a comfortable car, my traveler spirit was in high gear, I hopped immediately into a shared bus (chapa) laden with people headed north like me. To be thrown from mellow country roads into a vibrant junction town was a bit jarring, definitely a few shady looking characters hanging around the bus station. No worries, i was on my way. We pulled slowly out of the station, the people in my chapa packed all around me, my Western shoulders crowding other around me. We made way too many stops, super hot on the road. The inselberg rock formations on the drive north were strikingly beautiful, I saw so many places I might have wanted to jump out but i was tired and craving the ocean soon. After a tough 5 hour ride, we finally rolled into the major city of Nampula, biggest in Northern Mozambique.
It was 8PM, the chapa dropped me at a slightly dicey part of town but at least there were people about.
Being prepared, packed up, strapped in and confident is so important at times like that. i was accosted by a few people, I looked at them firmly and told them to back down. I had an older gentleman suggest that i grab a taxi ride to the main town, he took me to a trusted friend who zipped me the 3 km into the center. I got off, looked around at a couple small guesthouses I had read about in my guestbook. Walked into one place, really nice and comfortable, decided to splurge for a couple nights at $35/night. Very clean room, tile floors, air conditioning and view over town. The place was called Batik, right in the center, great air conditioning and cable TV, super restaurant downstairs run by a Portuguese guy. My back hurt, I was dirty, tired hungry and in need of some comfort. I showered up, somehow found the energy to drag myself downstairs to the restaurant. It was the weekend, in minutes I was invited over to a table. City people, drinking flowing,
live music, big birthday celebration, prosperous town. The music was loud, dancing in effect, Latin ancestry and roots very evident in the boisterousness.
This country, with its colonial past and brutal civil war, has been to hell and back. It is emerging though, with a human spirit no one can kill. The people are rising up, demanding more accountability from there government, even though corruption is rampant. You can see the rebirth happening in a place like Nampula, this city of 600,000 people. Little businesses are popping up, the safer situation makes people want to get out more, restaurants and cafes are lively. What a day it had been, I was done and collapsed in bed. The next morning I had a tasty breakfast, walked out into Nampula city. It wasn't a very interesting place, though I did find some interesting art deco Portuguese architecture, most notably the Sporting Clube of Nampula. The main church in town was really cool, policemen nearby were pretty clear that they din't want the police station in my photos of the church. I went to funny little casino, a tired history museum, including an exhibit of a Mozambican man who was partially responsible
for creating the nuclear bomb. I'm not sure I would feature this in a museum. My main joy here was just the comfort of it, having meat pies, good Portuguese food and coffee. A comfortable room and rest was way more needed than I even realized.
Another nice meal downstairs in the evening, I stuck to chicken as I knew I would be quickly to seafood heaven on the coast. Joined some locals guys for beers and appetizers. Had a restful evening, watched Portuguese professional soccer and just took it easy. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, Nampula has a significant Muslim population about evenly mixed with Christians. You could definitely feel the Christmas spirit in the air. I crashed hard, woke up early the next morning. I had splurged the day before, luxuriously had my clothes washed and dried by the guesthouse, after having bucket washed all of the trip until then. Lucky for me, my laundry was ready early, I walked outside and splurged one more time, got a car instead of a chapa bus. It was Christmas Day, fortunately found a Muslim driver willing to work, though many of them seemed to be taking the day off
as well. Paying a bit more than I might have imagined due to the holiday, I settled in to enjoy the ride out to the coast. On the way out, the amazing rock features (inselbergs) continued, more easily enjoyed from a car. The other luxury was being able to have him stop for photos, bathroom, snacks. In the end, it was really worth the splurge.
The ride to the coast was on really nice road but the skies opened up with heavy, heavy rain, so intense we had to stop a few times as the torrent was too much for our windshield wipers. We carrled down to the sea, not many cars on the road as it was Christmas Day. And then, in front of me, I saw the Indian Ocean shimmering, the clouds broke just at that moment. Magical memory, a one land bridge in front of us headed out three miles. I was dropped at the beginning of the bridge, hopped a ride on a moto out over the causeway. In the distance, Ilha Mozambique (Mozambique Island) came into view. Much history on this island, I'll get into that later. I had my eyes on the south
part of this 3 mile long island, a place called Macuti Town, where many of the locals lived. I got a lead from anther traveler about a place called Casa de Gabriel, a 1700s Portuguese house restored by an Italian architect. It was right next to the main mosque on the island, from previous trips i knew this could make for some early wakeup calls. The surrounding area was dripping with character, I couldn't resist.
I had the moto drop me at this little door on a hidden street, knocked on it and it was indeed the place. Got a room for $25, a very good deal for the island. It actually turned out to be a triple room and i had loads of space. No AC but cool concrete floors, big wood beams, mosquito net and powerful ceiling fans. I was home for a few days. This place was beautiful, foliage and flowers on the grounds, relaxing chill out spaces all about. Birds were flitting about, the sun was shining and I needed coffee! It was late morning, I dropped my bags, walked around the corner and met a group of travelers sitting around, having just finished their
breakfast. From moment one, they were great, big smiles, shared their coffee and fresh bread with me, the woman who worked there was nice enough to bring me some eggs. You have to remember that I had been traveling for 10 days or so in areas of the country without really any travelers, fun to have the interaction. I learned they were all traveling together, mostly French and Dutch people who work in Maputo the capitol. They were on break from their jobs at the French Embassy and NGOs where they worked, had come here for relaxation, beach and adventure. They had been here a couple days, showed me the amazing water tank that was turned into a pool at our place. They taught me a lot about the island, tours nearby and possibilities of things to do. So much you can learn from fellow travelers. I really loved these guys, felt like instant friends.
After getting settled, as it was still fairly early in the day, we decided we wanted to go have a look at the massive Portuguese fort on the north side the island. It was warm but a little breezy, we walked as a group
through the great historic architecture of the island, homes and large old government buildings. There has been a movement toward restoration, about half of the old buildings are looking beautiful, others are in disrepair. A number of Westerners, primarily Italians and Portuguese, have come here and settled and restored structures. They have made them into inns, cafes and shops, it is a magical place for sure. I guess cruise boats come in to this island, fortunately one wasn't scheduled in for a few days so the vibe was relaxed, locals milling about. We got up toward the old fort, paid, went in. It was massive, hardly anyone there.
The wall were huge, thick, very well built structure. The famous explorer Vasco de Gama himself walked here, the church out by the water is the oldest standing Western structure in Sub Saharan Africa. The introduction sign at the front made clear that the strength of this structure was the only thing that saved the Portuguese from being overrun by Omanis, Dutch and other invaders keen to have a foothold in Mozambique. Actually, much of the coast and all the rest of Mozambique Island was occupied but the fort couldn't be
breached, so the Portuguese survived. It helped (perhaps planned not by accident) that the only water well on the island was in the fort. Locals were somewhat sympathetic to the Portuguese, brought them food by ocean in the night to supplement the ample storage they had inside the walls. Ultimately, in part because the invaders didn't have water, they withdrew and the Portuguese were saved. Impressive facility, huge, strong. Lots of space for sleeping, big grassy area in the middle that would have been for exercising and drills.
We walked around, I said no to the offer of a guide, feel like I'm so much better able to immerse in a place and really feel it if I'm by myself. Invariably, I end up eavesdropping a little on a passing guide, but i keep mostly to myself. There were so few people inside, I just wandered, enjoyed it, visited a little with the people I had come with. I lay down for 10 minutes in the grass near the old church, tracking a beautiful butterfly until it centered perfectly for a photo. Immense sense of history, wandered out, reconnected with my friends, one who wasn't feeling very well, combo
of tummy stuff and some heat stroke, I think. Had a beer and some nibbles at a little mellow place outside the fort, funny table of drunk Mozambicans at the table next to us. Although well dressed, one guy kept drunkenly saying to me "buy me a beer". I retorted "buy me a beer", and he did. Laughs all around.
Walked back to our place, had a cool off swim in the pool, this place felt like a paradise after being on the road for awhile. Great afternoon, we all as a fun group headed out for the evening, as it was Christmas Day. I know I've said this before but how cool it is to be on the other side of the world with travelers who meet on the road. They had been here a day already, told me there was a nice beach a short walk across the island from our place. We strolled out through Macuti town, the south part of the island, where the locals tend to live. The old architecture was a bit more run down but had loads of charm. Huge banyan trees covered the streets on the way to the beach. It
was still quite hot but cooling a little, people were out milling about with smiles in abundance. Found a little restaurant, very mellow vibe, right on the beach.
What a great night! We got a table right out in the sand, mostly locals on the beach, frolicking in the surf, playing beach soccer as the hot day cooled and the setting sun pitched color back across us. Really nice vibe, local guy playing a guitar frenetically and rather hyperactive dancing going on. Delicious "lula", grilled calamari for dinner. We all went home, had a nighttime swim, played a fun game called Spot it that i had brought. Met a wonderful Italian 60ish year old woman who was staying in our place. A doctor, based up north, had done Doctors without Borders type work much of her career, alternating with proper clinic work in Italy. She is one of these people who is driven to help (has worked in South Sudan, other places), assists with overseeing clinics in the NE of Mozambique, based in Pemba. We had a really nice visit, I invited her to join all of us the next day, we all planned to head out in a
boat to nearby islands for some adventure and time on the sea. She said yes.
I slept hard after this great day, woke at 4AM to the evocative call to prayer from the mosque next door. Dreamy, half sleepy state, got up, went up to the porch overlooking the mosque in the moonlight. Breathe, lifted my arms, what a great trip so far. Did some journaling, eventually the others woke up, we had talked the helper at our place into making us early morning coffee. Portuguese bread, lots of fresh fruit, honey for the bread. She packed us sandwiches, chips and water for our day ahead. We all headed out about 7:30AM, with the exception of the Dutch people as Maya (one woman) was sick and my new buddy Gijs had stayed with her. We walked up north on the island, rather quiet this time of day. Met up with our boatman, slid into the water and cruised in calm water past the old fort. Beautiful day, not quite as hot this time of day.
The plan was to go to two islands, water was choppy. After an hour or so, we made it out to the farthest
one away. The waves were crashing pretty hard, tide really high and there didn't really seen to be an easy way to get to shore. We were a little peeved at our captain for not timing the tides a little better, he had us jump into the water and swim a bit to shore. The Italian doctor was smart enough to stay in the boat. We got cut up a fair amount on coral trying to pull ourselves out of the water. I thought about it a little too much and got scraped a little more then the others, having flip flops helped when we got to shore. Walked across sharp coral, was getting really hot outside. We did not have enough water, no way to get more from the boat. We just resolved to share and ration. Long walk through underbrush, across the coral, waves crashing down below. We slipped into this one cove, were able to cool off under this cool rock arch where the water was a little bit more mellow. Walked on, made it over to a lagoon. We swam and snorkeled around for about an hour, found some natural mud and spread it over our
Refreshed from the cool swim but really needing water, we navigated the sharp corals, got back into the water, swam to the boat. Met by the smiling doctor, our captain and very welcome bottles of water. We sped across the water, which had calmed a bit. Could see the second island in the distance, much more beach and beautiful with a prominent lighthouse on one side. We beached the boat on sand, walked up on the gentle shore, the hottest part of the day right now. We cooled off in the water, hydrated, lay in the filtered sun and relaxed under trees. While we were laying there, our boat helper and some local guys prepared tasty food over a fire, all included in the $30/day we had each paid for this all day trip. Grilled fish, calamari, potatoes, even beer, some veggies too. Amazing, on a beach with good people. After lunch, we walked out cactus covered trails to an old 1500s lighthouse and climbed it. Vasco de Gama was said to have done the same thing. Very sturdily built, still functioned. Chatted with Marina (the doctor) on the way back. I had planned to spend another day
on Mozambique Island but learned she was driving back to Pemba the next day. I had seen, felt Mozambique Island, would have time to wander this afternoon and evening. I would leave the next morning with Marina and drive back to Pemba, she just told me that she would have to stop at a couple community medical clinics on the way back. I thought it would be great fun and agreed.
Had a bad sunburn, stayed in instead of going to dinner, the sun had kicked my ass. I think I was also feeling the pain from being on the road for awhile, finally at a cozy place, my body had allowed itself to hurt and be a little sick. Later in the evening, about 8PM, I got the energy to wander the south end of the island, got some photos, met great kids. Knew I would be saying goodbye to this place tomorrow, tough place to leave but more great discoveries to come. Slept a little fitfully with the sunburn, woke and had coffee and breakfast with Marina. We hit the road, big goodbyes to our new European friends, they invited me to come stay with them in
the capitol city pf Maputo, feel the vibe there. I didn't have any plans to do that but was running ahead of schedule on my trip so the option was certainly there. I don't mean to suggest that I was conforming to a schedule, just that I was moving along pretty well. Great time here.
We rolled across the magical bridge back to the mainland, had been a very special time warp out here, a very peaceful place. I learned that even during the brutal civil war, this island was a haven of peace that people could enjoy. We got petrol at the main junction, then turned and headed north in Marina's 4 by 4, long road and 340 km in front of us to get to Pemba. A long, interesting day, beautiful drive past stunning inselberg rocks, talked her into stopping for a few photos. Learned a lot about her work this day, her English was very limited. We spoke some in that, some in Spanish. She picked my brain about a real estate investment she has back in Italy, I got to see her work as we stopped at a clinic way out a side road and
talked with a local doctor. She explained to me that their talk was more about electricity and payroll, rather than medical things. These country side doctors do amazing work, often saving lives during childbirth and other illnesses with very limited resources. We hit the road again, her heart a little heavy at what she had just seen. "We do what we can", she said, explaining that this place was like a vacation after working for years in intense conditions in South Sudan.
We turned onto the main road, stopped at a junction village a couple hours shy of Pemba. Had some very good samosas and a cold beer, interesting the the Indian influence is seen in the cuisine in these coastal places. The people were very friendly in these little villages, mostly Muslim. The day was hot, as usual, my back was really hurting. I made the decision to wimp out and catch a little flight up to Ibo island the next day rather than have yet another 10 hour journey. Stopped by the airport and almost got on a flight immediately, last seat had just been sold. Got a seat for the next day, from a little office
in the back of airport. No ticket, just a little receipt and promise that they would have space for me.
Amazingly Marina invited me to stay in the room for visiting doctors in her home by the water. Really pleasant, about a mile north of Wimbe Beach. Tile floors, looking out to the sea. Got to see her office by Wimbe Beach before we went home, met some of her lovely colleagues. Got settled at home, she said that her week away from her intense work had really revitalized her. After a great cold shower, she suggested we go out to Italian food. I laughed and said "it's probably not very good". She told me that it was an Italian guy who settled here years ago and that the food and wine were quite good. The restaurant has been doing surprisingly well, especially with all the natural gas executives and workers based around Pemba now. The restaurant was out by the water, on a bluff, pretty mellow when we got there. The older owner came over and visited in Italian, wanted to hear all about my journey. It was amazing that I was back in Pemba where I had
started my trip weeks before. So much had happened. Had delicious carpaccio, pizza and seafood pasta, two bottles of wine. The owner joined us, the breeze got cooler off the water. Home to sleep under the mosquito net, geckos chirping and scurrying by on the wall. Marina hates hit conditioning but was nice enough to let me use it in my room. I blasted the cool and enjoyed every minute, sleeping 7 hours well until the call to prayer sounded the next morning.
A word about Marina and NGO people. These people are a special breed deserving of much respect. She is from a little village near Milano. When she was young, her parents had a close friend who was a successful contractor, built homes and commercial structures in Africa, specifically Kenya. Anyway, he was taking his wife and kids there for one year to supervise a hospital construction project. Young Marina, 18 years years old, went as the babysitter/nanny for the family. They stayed in Nairobi and Mombassa by the sea. She spent time in the hospital and around the local people. That time changed her forever, she committed to coming back some day to Africa and being
of help. She became a doctor and then started a life on the road, working in conflict zones in Afghanistan, South Sudan and now "retirement" service in Mozambique. She told me that she tends to work for a year in Italy, gets sick of people complaining about first world problems, then is drawn to return to her travel work in needed areas. "An addiction", she says. She is clear that she will spend the latter part of her life in Italy, head back, live a simple life drinking wine and growing veggies. For now, she says, "I have energy and passion to help". She was so kind to let me stay, little decorations and remnants of Italy at her place. Map of Italy, little coffee maker. Her heart, her past, blended with her current life on the road.
Nice morning, woke up early, wandered outside before Marina woke up, birds chirping, walked down to the sea, mellow in the early morning. Had coffee, fruit with Marina, she dropped me off at a little hotel by Wimbe beach to use wifi. My little flight to Ibo Island wasn't for a few hours so I had some down time. Stretched out
my back, walked along the sea and saw the fishermen working hard in the morning sun. I had grown so comfortable in this country, always so different than when you first arrive some place. Said goodbye to my friend Marina, a few hours to kill before my hopper flight. Chilled out on Wimbe Beach, love the vibe there. Sat at Nautilus and used their wifi, funny collection of people. Gas executives, NGO people splurging, a few expats, government officials. Really fancy place, Western food options, infinity pool. Real wealth dichotomy with poor fishermen toiling on the beach.
Got a moto to airport, flight due to leave at 12:45P. Checked in at the little airport office, waited for plane with bank employee and her daughter, they were taking bags of cash to the only ATM machine on Ibo Island. She wouldn't admit she had cash but i could tell. It was raining terribly hard, we waited out in a small airport plane hangar with the pilots, a couple chill young South African guys. We just couldn't leave, too much rain. Finally let up a little, we fueled up and then the skies opened up again. Just when I though I
was going to get out on a flight, I was told that plans had changed, the pilots had to shuttle some "famous people" out to a private island and would then come back for me and other passengers who were due to show up shortly from Johannesburg.
So I settled in, the bank employee had decided not to travel. My plane was a couple hours away so I settled in, got some grilled chicken and a cold beer, sprawled on the airport lounge floor, had a nice talk with a Joburg based French family on holiday and a hilarious Aussie mining engineer named Lauren who had been working in interior Mozambique for a couple months. Learned about that strange subculture, people who travel the globe and work on mining projects, then have lots of time off. Sounds interesting, though they are often isolated at work mining sites and don't get to travel much at all in the countries they are in.
Just as I had gotten comfortable, the airline woman rushed over and said I would go after all. I looked a little grubby sweaty, grabbed my box of chicken, beer and ran out over the tarmac toward
the plane. The other passengers on the plane (4 of them) looked at me dismissively and with horror. They were dressed impeccably, heading out to a $10,000 a night private island resort. I laughed inside, decided to mess with them. I chatted with the pilots about my crazy backpacking journey. I could tell the passengers were trying to ignore me but also curious about me. They were Russians, very wealthy ones, seemingly an oligarch and their kids. We flew way past Ibo Island (where I was going) and about 30 minutes farther to the exclusive North Quirimbas Island. When the plane landed, i got off to stretch and shoot the breeze with the pilots. The mother Russian woman stormed off the plane, marched over to me, got in my face and demanded to see my ticket. Apparently she thought they had booked a private flight and perceived me as a dirty backpacker renegade, though I didn't look so bad 😊.
I decided to have more fun, got back in her face, asked to see her ticket, She couldn't believe I did that, got furious and said "you are on my plane", almost screaming. I flipped my hand at her
and said "you are on my plane, i was at the airport first". I'm not sure anyone had spoken to her this way. I said "I'm done with this chat", walked back on the plane without another glance at her. The mother continued to threaten me on the outside, later found out that she tried to get the airlines to open an investigation how I got on "her" flight. She said I smelled of bad food and was drunk, even though I had only had half a beer. The pilots got back on the plane, we took off and had a good laugh. They said at the same time, "what an asshole!". I was laughing hysterically, moments like this make travel completely unforgettable. A bad day? No, far from it. We curled in over magical Ibo Island, landed on a small dirt strip on the south side of island.
Another group of passengers was there to meet the plane, from a place called Ibo Island Lodge. The lodge's Jeep had dropped them off, was kind enough to let me hop in and catch a ride back to Ibo Village, about 2 miles away. Dropped me at Miti Mwiri, greeted
by the German owner Jorg with a huge smile and warm hug. We had communicated before I got there and it was like meeting an old friend. Two slightly older backpackers who's dreams ended up at this moment in the same place and time. He popped me a cold beer, I gave him a Seattle Jimi Hendrix shirt. I told him the Russian aristocrat airplane story and we both had a good laugh. I liked the vibe of Miti Mwiri instantly, nice people around chilling at the outside bar, trees casting shade across the grounds, much needed on a these hot summer days. Jorg had bicycled through Africa years ago and ended up here.
We had chatted by email before I got here. Jorge told me that he would have an affordable room for me but couldn't promise it every night. These first couple nights were looking good though. So much history on Ibo Island, Arab and African traditions. I was excited to be here, ever though it was still stifling hot. Now and then breezes would come for a bit of relief. Just kind of chilled this night, had some beers with Jorg, learned more about the history
of this island. Remote, though it was a center of trade years ago. The economy now is fishing, silver making and a slowly developing tourism. It is a long way from many places in Mozambique and it takes effort to got here. I sensed right away that it had been a great decision to come. I settled in my room, washed some laundry. No AC but great fans. Jorg had taken the remnants of an old building (like many of the ones crumbling here), built a beautiful structure, gracious and welcoming. It seems like he tried to remain true to the architectural feeling here, added a pool, verandas with views over the sea. The food was tasty, the beers cold, very good place. I slept, hard.
The next morning I woke early 5am ish, wandered out as it wasn't quite as stifling. Caught a great sunrise across the street from my place, pretty beautiful light casting over the old boats and crumbling structures of old town Ibo. It was clear that this had been prosperous in it's day. Slowly, my visionary locals and expats, places were being revitalized. I had heard that there wa s wonderful mayor here who
had created a really peaceful town feel, lacking crime and violence, looking toward the future. I walked 3 miles, peacefully, all the way down the beach and mud flats, through the slowly waking village and all the way around to the old fort on the north end. It was deserted at this time of day, passed a few smiling locals. walked back through the real village where the locals lived, past some slightly run down botanical gardens. A massive baobab tree caught my eye, had heard there was some great locals food close by. The tree seemed like it might be a gathering place too, i would come back and explore. Back to good coffee and hearty breakfast. Miti Mwiri means "two trees", Jorg was always waiting with a smile.
Had a quick shower at my place, then headed out on a food adventure, had read about an old local woman named Mariamo who cooked traditional dishes. With my limited Portuguese, I asked around, made my way down little alleys, way back on hidden streets. A local kid told me that Mariamo had died the year before but that a number of people, including some people who used to
work with her, had carried on the food traditions. The information I was getting was confusing, the language barrier was real, even though I was starting to pick up more words. I lucked out, met a kid who knew someone, introduced me to young woman named Fatima who apparently could cook very well. She was getting her young kids up and ready for the day, she told me to come back in an hour and she would cook for me alone. Amazing, I went out and wandered awhile, came back and she was ready.
She tried to sit me in a pleasant hut with a fan and tell me to wait when she was cooking. I think I surprised her when I told her I wanted to sit with her, help with her prep work and watch her process. She got into it, handing me things to wash and peel. he little kids were hanging around, laughing at almost everything i did, clearly i wasn't as dexterous as their mom on the kitchen. We attracted a crowd of about 8 or 9 village kids, I pulled out a little bouncy ball and a few of the kids ran off
to play with it. This young woman Fatima worked for probably 45 minutes on my meal, using fish, coconut milk, fresh coconut, curry, dried mango, garlic, chili, onion, chicken stock, rice. You could just see the influences of world wide trade and cultural meshing in the food here. They finally served me, I insisted that she eat with me. She served some fried potatoes with the fish curry. Huge portion, ate till I was stuffed. Total, about $2.50. I gave her a hug and stumbled away, feeling like I had just had an incredible culinary experience. Truly delicious, lots of history. I would come back again this trip.
Stopped past the huge baobab tree, casting much needed shade over the village as the heat started getting intense. It really seemed to be a center of life in the village, food being sold under it, kids playing up in the tree. Lots of the young women in the village have a white plant mask over their face, clearly to protect from the sun. It seems to be viewed as a beauty symbol too. The women were dressed in brightly colored fabrics. All the people here are Muslim but it seems
to be very relaxed, women even wearing shorts at times. Jorg had told me that the Muslim faith was the most flexible he had ever seen here. "If they want to drink or dance or have sex, they do it", he said. The lack of head coverings on all except the oldest women attested to the open minded nature of this place but also the practical reality of it being very hot.
Back to the room, relaxed and napped in the harsh mid day heat, Had a nap, a swim, just chilled out for awhile. Jorge invited me to have lunch with the family later. We started having beers and I had a few too many over the course of the day, travelers wandered in throughout the day. A few of them were from abroad but quite a few were Westerners working in Mozambique (like I had experienced before) for NGOs or Peace Corps people on break. I introduced Jorg and his family (his partner is a lovely local woman) to the game Spot It, everybody LOVED it, I left the game when I left the island. We were going to go out to lunch but it rained really
hard so we never made it out. Relaxed, worked on music playlists for his New years party, which he seemed very excited about. Met a young American Peace Corps couple who had fallen in love in this country at orientation. Even this place was expensive compared to the pittance they were making in the peace corps, they had come here to treat themselves. They were adorable, are stationed many hours from each other and don't see each other often. I met a number of Jorg's friends, including a cool Portuguese dude who lives in Pemba. The beers kept flowing, vibe was great. Finally piled into bed after a long day in the sun.
I woke early the next morning, realized that I had forgotten to search for a tour I wanted to take to explore the sea out from the island. This place has a way of sucking a person into inactivity. I walked out to see what I could find, even though it was last minute. I walked by Cinco Portas but their tour was full, walked over to the really nice Ibo island Lodge, watched hundreds of little birds flitting in and out of their nests in
gracious banyan trees on the property. This was a fancier place, the nicest on the island. I wandered by the back of the lodge and ran into the South African manager who had given me a ride when I first got to Ibo. Warm welcome, he invited me to join him on the lodges breakfast trip to a sandbank an hour away. I was looking a little grubby, he looked at me (without saying anything) and with his eyes suggested I pull myself together a but for his rather well heeled guests.
Ran back to my room, quick shower, changed, gave my key to Jorg as i guess they needed to move my stuff to another room. On my way back to my room, met the mayor, saw two kids fighting and a mentally disturbed woman running around naked. Got down to port just in time to hop on a little boat and head out to the Ibo Island dhow sailboat. All the others were on the boat, i rolled out just in time to make it. All the others on boat were customers at the lodge, i was greeted with a combination of curiosity and surprise. The local
captain and first mate pulled anchor and we headed off in smooth seas. On my boat were two Greek people, two E. Coast Israeli Americans and their Israeli dad, a Portuguese guy.
Beautiful ride out from Ibo, cool to see the town from the water. The Israeli American Dad was a charming character with great stories, one of the sons helps him now with the family business, a distribution and diversified company. The other son had traveled solo for almost a year solo in Papua New Guinea. We got to the sandbank, overcast but beautiful. tasty eggs and sausages, swim in beautiful water. the staff had set up an tent for us and actually served us with linen napkins and plates. I felt pretty fancy, so funny how a day could work out. The Israeli Dad was interested in my little Mozambique walkabout, said he would come by Miti Mwiri for beers later. He said Ibo island Lodge was nice but he wanted a little more connected feeling.
Back to port, walked back by my favorite baobab tree and had a bowl of feijao (beans and onions) that local woman was selling. Climbed way up in the tree
and sat with some local boys. Lots of people around the tree now and 5 or 6 women with the plant white mask on. Just wandered with no purpose in the village, visited with a local artist and historian, starting to recognize people I have seen a few times. This island isn't large, you run into people. Right back to my local restaurant, couldn't stay away from the place. All alone with Fatima again, she made me a massive dish of crab coconut curry for $3, truly exceptional. I got the feeling that this was the amount of food she would normally make for 4 people and wasn't physically able to cook less than that. I ate myself into a bit of a food coma, gave her a big hug, stumbled out back to my place. I had to laugh at myself, I had been here days and rarely left the village. Same thing this day, people were starting to come into the village from all over (including tourists) for New years celebrations. I met a number of newly arrived Maputo based Portuguese people. We got a group together (over many beers) and organized a boat tour to two island
and hopefully to see dolphins tomorrow. Finally to sleep again in my new room, great people all around.
The next day, Dec 31st, so much great stuff on this trip. 6AM Jorg was up, helping us with life jackets, beer, sandwiches for the day. The young Americans, three Portuguese and me heading out on the sea. Jorge piled us in his Land Rover. We got out on our dhow boat, great captains again. Pretty mellow ride out past the old fort, we went way to the north part of the island to see (and hopefully swim) with dolphins. The water was too calm though, for some reason the dolphins don't like that. We had a long ride across to Matembo Island, the day again was getting stiflingly hot. Put anchor down, took our beer and food on shore. Kind of a weird day, confusion about where we were allowed on the beach as there was a resort there. We sought relief from the heat wherever we could, spent a fair amount of time in the water (with shade from our boat and next to an old shelter we found. Not sure we picked the best boat guy, we had
fun with each other, though.
Chugged back to Ibo late in the day, exhausted, not good as it was New years eve. Had a really nice visit with the Portuguese on our boat, I think i'll try to connect with them if i go to Maputo. Whoa, realized I'm starting to think about a trip to the city to see my French friends. Jorg told me that as much as he had tried, there was no room for me this night, he told me I could sleep on a cushion in the dining room or in a hammock. he also told me that the next couple days were going to be jam packed. I started thinking about options and amazingly, the Peace Corps Americans insisted that I use the extra bed in their room. So generous of them as this was a big splurge and special trip for them. I took them up on the offer and insisted they take some money for the room, had to almost fight them to get them to take it.
Showered yet again, so hot. Wandered out to the village to find a second hand shirt for New Years festivities. Wandered again
down little lanes, heard drumming and noises in the distance. Amazingly, a local ragtag parade came by, everybody joining in, singing, drumming, dancing. The people grabbed me and dragged me into the parade, so much fun. Hot, sweaty, noisy, they handed me drum to pound on, we walked all through the village, people joining in along the way and EVERYONE laughing at the only white guy in the group. We got to a clearing area, set under mango trees that provided a little bit of shade. There seemed to be other parades that came, we all joined in this place. This was a really big deal for locals. 4 young men were drumming vigorously, young women were sitting, swaying on the ground, rising up on their haunches when affected by the music.
There seemed to be some religious fervor in the group, lots of smiles. People passed out candy all around, many of the women had the plant masks on their faces. Some of the elder women whisked around, telling stories and admonishing the younger people to participate in the dancing and collective expression of joy. I danced at the outskirts of the big mob, amazing African/Arab culture in
full view. It was surreal, the intense heat added to that element. Lots of kids snuggled up close to me, they seemed to want to touch me. A group of elder women grabbed me and made me dance with them, they started gyrating and made the audience howl with laughter. All eyes were on me, I did little frenetic Irish jig and brought down the house.
Amazing experience, I stumbled back to Miti Mwiri, preparations for New Years was in full effect. Lots of new travelers were arriving and stopping by, including the Israeli people I met on the boat the other day, my Portuguese boat mates and loads of new arrivals (most Portuguese living in Maputo). Joined the group for the huge buffet: chicken, crab, pastas, desserts, goat, fish, great fresh salads and lots of cold beer. I ate to bursting, was really starting to burn out. Hung out in the evening after dinner, Jorg didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave to go to the party. I walked down with my Portuguese friends, the day starting to cool just a little. The "party" was a fun mob of probably 500 locals and a few travelers,
on the beach next to the pier. They had a DJ up on a large tower, the sand was uncovered nicely, boats anchored just off shore, traditional and a few speedboats. Loud music, everybody grooving. Seemed like the whole town was there. We danced, got sweaty again really fast. They told me this would go all night. It was only 10PM and I was spent.
Back to Miti Mwiri. Really bad planning on my part, I had absolutely nothing left for energy, just as party was really starting to pick up at our place. I popped into the room, my young American friends chilling out under mosquito nets with the fan on them. It looked amazing. I did the same, thought I would rest for a few minutes and then get up. You know how that goes, I never got up, slept hard until 7AM the next morning, the loud festivities obscured by my fan and exhaustion. When I woke up, the owner Jorg was just getting back from being out all night drinking and enjoying himself. Many of the other employees had done the same, not many services this morning. Jorg gave me a big drunken bear hug,
waved his hand and said to help myself to anything. I holed up in the room for a little while to avoid the early morning drunken people, they finally collapsed in hammocks and were laying about like zombies.
It decided not to wait, grabbed a small room at Cinco Portas and moved my things over. Big thanks to the American Peace Corps kids. Recuperated all day, just chilled about at my new place, relaxed in the pool. Did laundry, met some great people from Philly and England. The English people were free divers with massive fins, loved their photos and stories of diving with dolphins here. So many people with different dreams, love it. Had a great night's sleep, headed all the way back to Pemba the next day. I had decided to go for it and head to see my friends in Maputo and farther south. Then, just like that, I was sitting at my little beachfront shack Dolphin on Wimbe Beach, I knew it so well now. Big prawns, fish, cold beer and fried potatoes.
Very interesting assortment of people, quite busy, Mozambique people must be on holiday as this place was busy. Met a number
of cool travelers, we tend to gravitate toward each other in a spot like this. A lot of business men about, lots of kids frolicking in the surf, fishermen as usual working very hard. Met a Spanish traveler based in Rio, the only person I had met on my journey who took a similar route to me. She slogged across the interior on buses and trucks, we shared laughs and stories of pain from the road. As we were visiting, my long lost buddy Gito popped out of nowhere. Great to see him, he told me of missing me in Mocuba, disaster with running out of money. The rooming place he stayed at kept his clothes as collateral for the room price he owed. He had his phone and a number of things in there and was pretty devastated. It was crazy as we had just missed each other by a day, misunderstanding. I gave him money to go back on the bus and get his things. Lots of hugs and tears. We spent the evening together, delicious piri piri chicken and cold sodas. I told him i'd see him when I returned.
A week left to go in
this amazing country and I had a whole new adventure. Totally impractical what i was doing, catching a flight south. Got back to my room at Wimbe Sun, had splurged for a decent one, hand washed clothes and let then dry in YES, the AC. Great sleep, up for breaky the next morning before my flight. Nice chat with UK, S. African and Canadian people I had met in Ibo island. Quick moto ride to airport, the day starting to heat up as always. Saw more Brazilian friends from Ibo at the airport waiting for their flight to head home. In fact, the Brazilian people were on my flight and nice enough to share their taxi with me when we got to Maputo. They had been in country for 5 weeks and leaving tomorrow to go home.
Originally, I had a ticket to go on to Tofo but just baled out in Maputo to have a more in depth experience. I had an amazing offer to stay with Loic and Thais (the french people I had met on Mozambique island) and immerse a bit in Maputo. I had heard many stories about the big city: Unpredictable, unkind, dangerous. I got out of our taxi at a little park right across the street from where my friends lived, the air felt cooler than farther north, welcome relief. Actually kind of liked this place, mature trees, lots of cute little cafes and shops about. It felt, i daresay, almost European. Where I was was pretty peaceful part of town, the guard at my friends' building let me up. I walked up 3 flights of stairs, rang the bell. Wow, my friends answered with big smiles and hugs, felt like family right away. Their flat is in a character filled 1950s building, roomy 2 bedroom. Looks out over the park, very central and good location. They got me settled, had to head off to boxing class, gave me extra keys. We would meet up later, i walked all the way to the waterfront and saw the Catembe ferry, scoped out a journey i wanted to take. Sweet sunset over the Indian Ocean, breezy and actually rather cool. First time I've said that all trip. Got some lychees and cake on the way back for Thais and Loic, I think the plan is to meet friends out for Portuguese food later, lots of meat, some of the other people I met on Mozambique Island.
Dinner out at the Brazilian meat place, loads of meat of all kinds and beers. A number of the other French friends I met on Mozambique Island came out, great to see them. The air continued to be a little cooler, a very welcome relief. We just chilled for a few hours, I had the change to chat with Frenchman Simon some more about Khartoum, he is friends with these guys, living in Khartoum Sudan for one year, down here in Mozambique on holiday. The more I hear about Sudan, the more interested i am. Sounds like January/February is the best time to go. Things seem to be opening up just a bit for travelers, though hardly any go. The pyramids, the Nile, the markets, the people. Kassala near Ethiopia, diving in the Red Sea. Sounds incredible.
It was now Jan 4th. Wow, took a breath, so much had happened this trip. Feeling very welcomed at my friends' house and ready to go see Maputo. My good flip flops had blown out, got some other sandals this morning, a little overpriced at an Indian owned store. Up early with the morning, out before Thais and Loic woke up. The streets of the big city were buzzing, well dressed people headed to work. There was a genteel feel to many parts of this city, although some parts run down. Mature trees, cafes, people lounging around and visiting. I daresay it felt European, the streets sloping down to the Mozambique Sea glimmering in the distance. Found some delicious 10 cent mini fish samosas at a little stand, had about 5 of them. Around the corner, found a great little pasteleria and got a proper capucchino for $1. Headed toward a well known old mosque, Mesquita Baixa. Met all kinds of smiling people on the street, felt totally safe during the day, though a bit mire dicey on a few streets down by the port. I am reminded always, most people are good and there is safety in numbers.
Walked up to the mosque, really cool, built 1880, lots of history. There are Muslims in Maputo but not nearly as many as farther north in the country, The Portuguese influence, and it's Christianity, is felt powerfully in the capitol. So, I met a gregarious coffee shop owner who had a prosperous shop actually connected to the mosque. he spoke English very well, took a liking to me and gave me a big welcome pat on the back. He brought me over a pastry for free, arranged for a friend to give me a really cool private tour of the mosque. He is from Ilha Mozambique originally, says he misses his home but hard to make a living there.
Went hard the rest of the day, 10.2 miles on my phone by the end of the day. From the mosque, I carried over to the famous Gustav Eiffel built classic train station, saw a really good train and history museum attached. Walked over to an excellent currency museum in the historic district down by the port. So cool to get more historic context of this country, having seen it from the inside out on little dirt roads and now making our way to the capitol. Walked and walked down the waterfront, had tasty lunch served out of the trunk of a car at the park. The beaming local woman wasn't accustomed to foreigners eating out of her trunk, made me try all kinds of things, delicious rice and beans.
What a day, carried on to the Natural History Museum, graphic displays of animals being killed, a cool coelacanth fish on display and a unique exhibit about a Mozambican man who became the first black samurai in Japan, had gone there as a slave in the 1700s, become a trusted member of a lord, showed immense strength and eventually became a real samurai. Went to cool modern church, a vibrant arts and crafts markets, then a classic hotel called to Polana overlooking the Mozambique Channel. This place was built early 1900s and had really cool features, has a tasty cold beer in the old fashioned bar. After all of this, came back to the waterfront, hopped the fantastic Catembe Ferry and took it across to the little port. The Chinese are building a huge bridge that is going to marginalize this ferry culture, feel like i saw something that will be fading. Walked around the active little port of Catembe, had great grilled calamari, walked lonely beaches down a mile or so and then back. Back on the boat, great view of the city coming back, wind whipping across the bay. What a day, so glad I came to Maputo.
Wandered up happily and saw my friends back at the flat, had a much needed shower. They were blown away by the amount of things i had done, said I had done more in one day than they had done in 6 months 😊. We went out to really cool jam music session at a little place just below their apartment. Mozambicans, Europeans, Brazilians, drums, guitars, vocalists. Reggae, international, soulful, cool vibe. I went home a little early, was really tired. Crashed hard, great day. Up the next morning early again. Changed some money, was still pretty tired and rather sore. So, my day off taking it "easy" meant that i only walked about 5 miles 😊. Saw a surprisingly good Modern art museum, an underwhelming maritime museum. Had some unexpectedly tasty Indian food for lunch, wandered down by the waterfront, looking at cool faded architecture. Walked onto one particularly interesting building, turned out to be a "hourly" hotel, people quickly coming out to offer their services. I told them I was just there to take photos, scurried out as quickly as I could, funny. Looks like I'm going to need to leave Loic and Thais place after tonight, spent some time looking for air bnb possibilities for the next night and found a few good ones.
6 Jan, 2018. Fun meal out last night with the French friends and others, went to an area where people have beers on the street in a kind of bohemian vibe location. there is a surprisingly vibrant expat and volunteer/NGO presence here. I headed home before my friends again, slept hard. Woke early, felt like this had been amazing but I had had enough of the big city. left my friends a note, headed to the airport, got lucky and got a flight back to Pemba, where my international flight would leave in a few days from. So glad I went to maputo, really enjoyed the vibe. Decided that I would just chill my last few days at Wimbe Beach in Pemba, a place I had grown to love. Hopped on the plane, headed the two hours north to Pemba. Met a great sound woman named Chelsea on my plane, she had been in Maputo with friends on holiday and was headed back to her Peace Corps position in Mueda, in the very far north east of Mozambique. We spoke of her love of insects, terrorist attacks in the far north and the challenges and joys of living in a smaller village area. She gave me some great ideas about little beaches near Pemba, out toward Mecufe.
I had toyed around with heading up to Mueda with Chelsea but ultimately decided it was too much with just a few days left. I was a little tired and sore, chilling on the beach and eating seafood sounded just perfect, maybe some good journaling time. Hopped out of the plane and walked across the street, caught a moto down to the Mucufe Junction, so familiar with this town now. Stood around the busy market, American woman married to a Mozambican man picked me up in a 4 wheel pickup. Chelsea had given me a lead on a reality cool place called Nzuwa Lodge she liked to stay, turned out this woman I met at the market was the owner of it, crazy. Hopped in, she took me down little roads. Great ride and chat, heard her story about coming here. These people who have these dreams on the other side of the world, so interesting. She also told me about the tough side, that all isn't perfect, that she is ready to sell and move back to Europe or the States.
Got to her place, stunning understated lodge and pristine beaches. Had a cold beer, walked alone miles of deserted beaches,met some interesting characters. Decided that it was pretty isolated out here, would probably do best to go back to Pemba. The owner just happened to be going into Pemba, she totally understood my decision and gave me a ride into town. he r license had expired, we took back roads to avoid being stopped by the police. She said she would just have to pay them off if that happened and didn't want to. She dropped me about a south of Wimbe on the beach road, I hitchhiked a ride back into town. Got a little room, immediately ran into a few friends I had met in Ibo island, had grilled piri piri chicken and seafood. It felt just a touch cooler on the beach than it had a week ago. Cool beer, new and old friends, settled in for the evening. Looks like I'll have a few days around this town. As the sun sets on another journey, sitting there with a cold beer, I started to get another idea that i Might have one more trick up my sleeve. A crazy idea started to brew.
Wow, did that really happen? I woke up early, got a crazy idea to see if I could fly back 2 days early to Dubai, couple it with a long layover I had in Dubai and make something unique happen. I'd have to attack it in pieces and be okay with whatever worked out. I went really early to Pemba airport, somehow they had a couple extra seats on the flight to Johannesburg and slipped me on at the last minute. Amazing, i was on my way somewhere, waving goodbye from the air to my dear Pemba and Mozambique. Nice chats with South African tourists on the way over, learned more about water crisis in Cape Town and got info about being safe in Joburg if I could get a connection on. I was told to be careful, have a guide but that it could be done. The worst that could happen here was that I would have a great adventure in S Africa for a couple days. I wanted more though, had a developing idea.
I got to Joburg, met a great young airport employee who took on my cause, excited to help me on this adventure. he rushed me through back doors at the airport, paid a special fee (only $50) and somehow got a seat on the flight in a couple hours to Dubai. I got on the plane, amazed at my good fortune. It really helps at moments like this to have just a carry on back, can react on the fly. Long flight to Dubai, I think it was 8 1/2 hours. I had checked out a couple flights in S Africa airport and actually booked one. Craziness, I would fly to Muscat, Oman a couple hours after I got to Dubai. It looked like I would be able to carve out 2 1/2 days, very excited.
Unfortunately, i missed the first flight, it did give me time to charge my phone, change a little money and prep myself for this. I went over to that part of the airport to catch my FlyDubai flight, very utilitarian part of the airport, older, not so pretty. People were jostling to get in line, seemed to be quite a few Bangladeshis who work in Oman. There were also some Dubai businessmen and vacationers catching the quick one hour hopper. I had no idea what I would do when I got there, was feeling a little disoriented, the people on my flight didn't seem to know much about where I was going. I had read a bit about a couple options when I was in Dubai. We dropped into Muscat airport, the Gulf blue waters shimmering on my left. Muscat from the air looked understated, welcoming, low rise buildings with a pretty promenade and seafront. I had learned that the Sultan Qaboos was much beloved here, and that it was a place that women had the most rights of almost anywhere in the Middle East. I walked off the plane, no idea what i was doing.
Just outside the airport door, taxi guys swarmed me, offering $30 rides into the city. I had heard about a really cool traditional city called Nizwa and knew that if i had any chance to get there with the time I had, I'd have to go right away. I didn't like the vibe of the taxi guys, went back inside and asked for information. A nice older man told me exactly what to do, walk outside of the airport, get a $2 cab to this junction a couple miles away, then look for a shared taxi the 2 hours to Nizwa, would be about $4 additional. No this sounded fantastic, it was about 4PM so I had to jump on it. It worked, I found a driver and 3 other guys looking to share, we hopped in and sped off. Instantly, I could tell the topography was way more interesting than Dubai, mountains in the distance. My driver was funny, cracking jokes in his limited English. Crazy, here with 4 Omani guys speeding down the highway at 80MPH, starting to get darker outside. The driver good naturedly tried to get me to pay a little more, i told him "a deal is a deal", he smiled.
Great ride, great company and laughs, we stopped once for roadside snacks and tea, rolled into bustling Nizwa about 6:30PM, a little cooler as we were headed up to the mountains. There guys dropped me at a busy intersection, had no idea where i was. A taxi driver passed by, offered me a ride for $5. I thought he was trying to scam me so I kept walking in the direction of the historic fort, also heard I could possibly find some rooms there. After walking about 2 miles, i realized howe stubborn I had been and that the taxi wasn't such a bad deal. Fortunately, another one came by, dropped me off by the main souq (market) and the historic castle. Really great evening vibe with people milling about, a few Westerners on tour groups but mostly locals. Lots of interesting shops and places to eat. Wandered down a little alley, found a little neighborhood full of Bangladeshi guys (they are the worker bees here). They were out in the streets, much louder than Omanis, laughing, playing this hockey checker game and betting on it, lots of sheesh a being smoked and tea being drunk. It was evening, they were off work and celebrating.
They crowded around me, invited me into the Bangladeshi little cafes closeby, giving me a semi taste of that rock star status I had in Bangladesh. I don't think any travelers come down this little alley, or very few. I got a huge plate of tasty Bengali food. 5 guys came over and sat with me, bringing me way more food than I had ordered, Finally had to rip myself out of there, huge meal for about $2. Started searching for a room, rather pricy but I was on no place to argue. This was a much more developed country than where I had been. My room was very comfortable, has great wifi. I threw my things down, grabbed a much needed shower and headed back to the market to try to make some connections for the next day. I had an idea to head way out to mountains and villages but had only one day to do it. The market was getting pretty quiet, this local guy invited me into his shop, was hanging out after a long day with his buddies having tea and delicious dates dipped in tahini. Interesting and tasty, learned that dates were all over this country and delicious. I think there are about 20 varieties.
Left these guys, wandered into a pretty deserted market. Feeling fatigued, decoded to head back to my room. Just as i was about to leave the market, met a guy who chatted me up. Turned out he had a car, was pretty blown away by my story of coming right here from Muscat. He was free the next day and offered amazingly to take me way up in the mountains and nature and villages at no charge. I wasn't going to let that happen, insisted that he at least let me pay for petrol. Amazing development, he gave me lift back in my room and we made plans to meet early the next morning. Hell of a day it had been, got to my room and slipped into a hard slumber.
Up early at 6:30, my buddy Mohammed showed in the lobby at 7AM, huge smile on his face. Such a sweet guy, we sped away from the hotel, he toured me all over the little lanes of the town, took me first to a really sweet riverside (more like a stream) park, spoke reverently about the Sultan and how he had over the years created many parks like this for the people. He taught me a lot about date palms and how irrigation had been used creatively in this area. This area was a bit of a breadbasket for Oman, a few streams around though rather dry this time of year. From there, we headed out to the Wadi area, beautiful cliffs all around. We had a nice early morning mellow hike up some rocks, pretty splendid landscape in the distance. We met a herder dad and his young son who had graphically just slaughtered a goat. Mohammed showed me this manhole, pulled the cover off of it and told me to climb down with him. Really crazy, what the hell was I doing? He took me way down under ground about 100 feet, we came out next to an underground river, really cool. I trusted this guy and was going to have a great day.
This day just went on and on and on. We stopped for food and tea, saw lots of camels walking around, went to a really fantastic cave complex called Al Hoota with a great tourist setup, tram up to the cave and walk through the deep cool cave chambers, loads of stalactites, stalagmites and underground rivers. I met, for the first time, a few Westerners. They were about a week into their trip and again were shocked when I told them I arrived in Oman yesterday. Back to meet Mohammed (he had sent me in alone). We stopped by a very old village called Misfat al Abrayin. It was a little oasis, preserved architecture hundreds of years old, for sure some tourists here, again mostly domestic. We drove up and up and up. Then we parked and hiked up to the very top, the highest point in Oman. Very cool temps up there (I guess it snows sometimes), called Jebel Shams, amazing windswept place at 10,000 feet altitude. The locals looked different up there, Jebel Shams looks down over what is viewed as Oman's "Grand Canyon", really really amazing.
It was getting later in the afternoon, we headed back down little roads in his older car, stopped along the Wadi canyons a number of times on the drive down, found some crumbled old towns, some evidence that the Romans had been here in history. Beautiful sunset, got me back to town and I found a room a little closer to the action of the main junction back in Nizwa. What an amazing day. I got settled, hopped a ride back to the old fort area, walked around and had more Bangladeshi food. Back to my room, visited with a few Westerners, really wished i could have a beer but not going to happen in Oman. Again, an excellent sleep.
The next morning, I ate some delicious local food on the street, had three more cups of sugar filled tea and hopped back over to the shared taxi stand where I had first been dripped off. It seemed oddly so long ago even though it had only been 1 1/2 days. I got a ride with some locals all the way back toward Muscat, chose to get off and take a bus to Seeb, a town about 10 miles due west of Muscat, had heard that the market there was more authentic. Got off the bus walked down to the waterfront market area, very sleepy at 10AM, not much going on. Found an Egyptian guy, ordered a huge plate of sea prawns and some tea. Walked along the waterfront, was getting pretty hot outside. Just kept going all along the sea, probably walked 6 miles. Lots of families out playing in the sea, throwing fries, having picnics. Talked with lots of friendly people, shared food, sat by the water and wrote in my journal.
This was a prosperous area, lots of nice housing complexes near the sea. The promenade went all the way down toward Muscat. My flight wasn't until 2AM. I wandered, wandered and wandered some more, eventually much later in the day (after hitchhiking, buses, taxis) making it to the real fancy seafront, called the Corniche. I guess I had time this day to go into Muscat and look at museums, things like that. I didn't though, i just stayed by the sea.The Corniche was fancy right in town, sweet cars, even Ferraris, rolling by. Lots of rich kids, had almost a Cali vibe to it, people playing on the sand, eating at little cafes. The women seemed very free, although they did wear stylish headscarves. I got some tasty food and proper coffee, had some interesting talks with locals, including women who engaged me, not common in the Middle East.
I hesitate to say this at the end of such and incredible trip but my last couple hours were spent in a Starbucks, as it was the only place open late. There was a Lamborghini parked on front, i told the baristas I was front Seattle, the home of Starbucks. And then, just like that, it was time to go, hopped a cab back to Muscat Airport. As I left the Corniche with its beauty and twinkling lights, I smiled at this mini adventure that I had created. I actually got a real taste of Oman. Walked with happiness into the Muscat airport, which will soon be retired as they are building a gleaming new one. I caught a nap at the airport, had a burger and hopped my flight back to Dubai and back to Seattle. Great, great trip, now I can start planning the next one 😊.
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