Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mozambique 2.0

In the United States, on average, workers get 12 vacation days a year. In the Peace Corps we accumulate 2 a month, totaling 48 vacation days in two years.  While it may seem arbitrary to give volunteers vacation days, we (usually) work very hard and deserve every day of the 48. Ryan and I have visited only 2 other African countries while we have been here, mostly due to lack of funds, but also because the majority of our time was spent back at home visiting friends and family for my brothers wedding. Although we have only visited 2 other countries, I believe we have found the Mecca in Mozambique.

Mozambique is every part beautiful as it is ugly, calm as it is chaotic, full of color as it contrasts dark; I appreciated the obvious contradictions as compared to false illusions, or so I thought a few hours across the border. Maputo is challenging – residents speak Portuguese and very few speak English. Unlike Swaziland, where the start of a conversation in SiSwati goes along way, and then eventually most people revert to English, the people of Mozambique only speak Portuguese.  While sometimes this works in your favor (the police have a hard time fining you if you don’t understand each other) the majority of the time you just feel lost and confused.  Ryan and I quickly procured a few key phrases, and when we were really stuck reverted to SiZulu, which some people understood. We were fortunate to travel with other volunteers with a car, which we thought at the time would work in our favor. Even though we ended up spending a small fortune in fines and bribes, it was still nice to be with friends in the confinement of air conditioning and good music.

On May 22nd we were off and on our way to Tofo, a beautiful beach up north on the peninsula of Mozambique. (Well, we were off after the border post held us for 2 hours dealing with car issues.) After another 2 hour detour of getting lost down the wrong road, seeing a very unfortunate car accident and stopping at numerous police check points, we realized we wouldn’t be able to relax until we were out of the car. After 12 hours in the car, we finally made it safe and sound to Paradise Dunes Lodge in Tofo. It was paradise.  We each had our own private rooms, a huge kitchen, a deck overlooking the beach, and because it wasn’t tourist season, we were one of only a couple of groups on the beach. Everyday started with a run on the beach, and every night ended with a late night beach swim watching the red moon rise. Although we tried to snorkel with whale sharks, they were nowhere to be found, however we did see jellyfish, octopus and dolphins.

There was only one casualty, when Ryan got bit by a crab. 

We went on a lot of adventures, my favorite being the all-day island tour where we went out on a rustic boat with a local guide and toured the island off of Tofo called Survivor Island, named after being untouched after the Mozambiquan civil war.  We met the chief, played with the kids and ate great seafood with the village elders. The island has no electricity, they boat fresh water in from the nearest town of Inhambane, and they prize pigs. It felt very isolated and very African. 

While being in Tofo was paradise, again we had to venture out onto the road through Maputo to get back to Swaziland, and that proved to be hell. We got stopped by too many police to count, got fined an enormous amount once, and ended with a cop car side swiping our rental and then, naturally, making us pay for the (slight) damage on their truck. In the meantime, the rest of our group was also being hassled by police. I think it is safe to conclude that I did not enjoy the police force in Mozambique. By the time we crossed the border all 5 of us traveling in the car heaved a huge sigh of relief, and spent the night praising Swaziland for her honesty and kindness, which is truly a trait special to Swaziland. Ryan and I concluded that, for the first time in our African experience, we decided that public transport trumped private.

While Mozambique is a little more raw than Swaziland, it is my favorite African country that I have visited, and the most likely for me to come back and work in again. It is challenging and beautiful and I am so glad that we were neighbors.

Unfortunately, our camera finally bit the dust, but luckily our fellow travelers took some good photos.

Kelly, Ryan, Addy, Ashton and Peter

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