Surviving the storm

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May 12th 2007
Published: August 8th 2007
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Vilankulo beachVilankulo beachVilankulo beach

This boat was washed ashore by the cyclone just outside our backpackers.
Mozambique has had a tough time of it lately, dear reader, in spite of the enormous strides made by her people towards a peaceful society since the conclusion of the civil war fifteen years ago. Leaving aside the serious floods in the year 2000; the last few months has seen a munitions factory on the outskirts of Maputo go up in flames and subsequently turn the city into a mini war zone, then a category five cyclone with 300 kilometre an hour winds ripped through the resort town of Vilankulo. These setbacks are hitting the local population hard, but the people of Mozambique are still smiling and laughing in spite of difficult times. The last journal left off in Tofo, and my travels in this fascinating country continue...

I headed back to Inhambane in a chapa crammed with locals, and from the former Portugese slave town headed across the bay in a ferry to Maxixe. From there travellers connect with another chapa for the four hour ride north to Vilankulo. I met three volunteers on the bus who are working with disadvantaged children in Maputo, and heading to the beach for a fortnight of well earned rest and recreation. I fell in with a great crew, and we checked into the excellent Baobab backpackers hostel on the beach after arriving in Vilankulo. The severe damage from the cyclone is plain to see in Vilankulo, and the tourist trade had dropped off dramatically in the six weeks since the terrible storm. Tourism plays a vital role in the economy of this tropical paradise, and in spite of some travellers saying not to visit, I'm glad I headed up to the beautiful beach while witnessing the town slowly get back on it's feet.

The cyclone and a subsequent storm knocked out the internet in town, and most places including the hostel are relying on a generator for power. Our hostel is one kilometre down the beach from the town centre, so walking at night wasn't an option as it was pitch black and potentially unsafe. The beach itself, however, is superb and even more picturesque than Tofo. It features beautiful white sand, and an abundance of tropical palms that managed to survive the fury of the cyclone. The roof and walls of the resort restaurant were completely destroyed in the storm, and only the foundations from the former structure remain intact.
The volunteers crewThe volunteers crewThe volunteers crew

My wonderful travel companions from Vilankulo.
Therefore the reception area doubled as the temporary bar, and the meal ordering point for the duration of our visit. There were still some guests in Vilankulo, including a very enterprising Frenchman who worked solidly for five days to get the only internet connection in town, the going price to check your mail the cost of a beer.

Vilankulo is a famous diving and snorkelling location, and features the spectacular islands of the Bazaruto archipelago barely two hours away travelling by motorised dhow. We spent the first few days relaxing on the beach and swimming, where one English volunteer shared an extraordinary tale with me. She lived with her host family on the outskirts of Maputo, and was heading home when the munitions warehouse went up in flames. She spent two hours with a group of locals face down in the dirt, unable to move as bullets and missiles whistled above their heads. One bomb actually destroyed her family's house, and she has been forced to move in with an alternate host family. The remaining munitions are now being moved, but the disaster in Maputo cost over a hundred lives.

During the third day we signed up with
Bazaruto IslandBazaruto IslandBazaruto Island

Stunning views from the top of the sand dunes.
Dolphin Dhows, for a snorkelling trip to two mile reef and Bazaruto island. The weather was perfect and we spent an excellent morning snorkelling on the reef, one girl was lucky enough to swim with a turtle which made me very jealous, and afterwards we went to the island to explore while the crew prepared a superb lunch. Bazaruto Island is one of the most beautiful places I've visited, and features azure waters and sand dunes to climb for superb views over the island and out to sea. Our cameras furiously clicked away, and you can't really go wrong with such spectacular views on offer. After lunch we had the option of a further snorkel on the island, and then headed back to Vilankulo to conclude an unforgettable day on the water.

On our final day we headed to the markets to shop for ingredients for the evening meal. This proved to be a real African experience, as the others have grown accustomed to the crazy scene as it unfolded. I just stood there mesmerised by the whole experience. The volunteers often shop for their families in Maputo, and have good Portugese skills, but even still shopping must be
Bazaruto IslandBazaruto IslandBazaruto Island

Standing on top of the sand dunes.
trying at times. I swear every stall we went to had a crowd of at least fifteen people surrounding us. Whether they were trying to attract us to another stall or not, they were fascinated to watch regardless. It was crazy and when we went to buy some fish they were thrust in our faces from all directions, and we were literally surrounded by flying fish. Somehow we purchased what we needed and managed to extricate ourselves from the scrum, so we could get back to the hostel to cook up our meal.

I had an excellent time in Vilankulo, and there's lots of tourist potential on the coast of Mozambique. The resort towns will probably be unrecognizable in the next ten to fifteen years due to world class diving and snorkelling attractions, so if you like unspoilt paradise that's easily accessible from South Africa perhaps now is the time to visit Southern Mozambique. The tourist attractions on offer will inevitably lead to a great deal more tourists, as the country cashes in to secure her future.

I parted company after saying farewell to the volunteers, and jumped on a chapa from town to connect with an express bus heading down the main highway from Beira. Ah connections, as I always say... sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but usually they do! It's always an adventure, and on this trip we spent half an hour on the side of the road as the chapa was overheating. But our driver and his assistant got things sorted, and fortunately with only fifteen minutes to spare. The last bus for the day arrived soon after I reached the highway, and for the first time on the trip I was in a luxury air conditioned bus for the nine hour journey south to Maputo.

Mozambique is a unique and intriguing travel destination, and it's been fun speaking some Spanish to communicate with the locals, as the language is similar to Portugese. Of course they know you are not speaking their language, but any tool for communication that adds value is a priceless gift for world travellers. In spite of the crushing poverty confronting travellers, the future looks bright for the people of this intriguing country. After all, there's nowhere else in Africa to experience a taste of Latino culture in the heart of the dark continent. As a matter of fact Mozambique has got me to thinking, basically all of you should be here now!

I will go anywhere, as long as it is forward." Dr Livingstone

As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now


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Additional photos below
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Dhow on the waterDhow on the water
Dhow on the water

Sailing in the beautiful Bazaruto archipelago.

12th May 2007

Munitions factory in flames
I remember the day our local candle factory burnt down. We all stood around singing "Happy Birthday". I am also a bit disappointed to see you standing on the dunes barefoot. Where are the sandals?
14th May 2007

Tom, coastal mozambique sounds like a great place to visit. keep enjoying, and keep posting for those of us stuck in offices in Sydney.

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