Monday, August 8, 2011

Ilha de Mocambique

Traveling around northern Mozambique can largely be summed up by the words long and uncomfortable.  While most tourists tend towards southern Mozambique where the infrastructure is better, we did not read the Mozambique section of our guidebook until we had already committed to this route.  All’s well though and it’s nice to be off the beaten path.  Actually, it’s great once you’ve gotten to where you want to go, but the struggle is in getting there.

The four of us left Mulanje around 6 AM and crossed the border accompanied by hordes of bicycle taxis all vying for our business.  The first town in Mozambique, Milange, is 3 kilometers from the border and the only form of public transportation available is the bicycle taxis.  We knew we had a long day of travel ahead of us and didn’t want to waste time walking lest we miss a ride from Milange to Mocuba.  However, just as we made it through immigration and had our bags thoroughly searched by security, a truck driver came up to us to see if we wanted to ride with him.  Especially in this part of the country it seems like a way for many drivers to make extra cash under the table. He was going all the way to Nampula which was our intended goal for the day.   We agreed to a price and all piled in.

The four of us and our luggage were crammed in the bed area behind the two seats, the driver and his cousin were in the seats, then another guy was sitting on the floor between the seats.  We had just barely enough room for a few of us to stick our feet out and stretch our legs.  Then we picked up another guy and there was no room for our legs to stretch.  With Jo and Tallulah in med school, we were all acutely aware of the threat of Deep Vein Thrombosis from being crammed in a sitting position for so long.

As with most public transportation in Africa it seems any route anywhere requires an excessive amount of stops and delays, and this ride was no exception.  The driver stopped to say hello to people, talk with other truck drivers, get snacks, check the tire pressure, or the stops were simply inexplicable. Luckily that meant he was also willing to stop to find a bathroom. The road from Milange to Mocuba was only 200 km but it was a dirt track laden with potholes, and in a semi truck, this made for a very slow journey.  After six hours we arrived in Mocuba and had lunch at a small local café, then piled back in the truck for the remaining 400 kilometer journey.  Most of this road was paved, but as the hours passed we seemed more cramped than ever.  Luckily the driver remained sober throughout the entire journey but his two originally quiet companions began sharing a bottle of vodka or gin and became very raucous.  It made an already unpleasant ride seem even more so.  At 12:30 AM, 16.5 hours after climbing into the truck, we finally arrived in Nampula and stretched our cramped limbs.  The driver (whose name none of us remember) was very well-intentioned and accompanied us in the taxi to our hotel to ensure our safety.  

Unfortunately the price of the hotel had doubled since the printing of our guidebook and we got hosed for one of the worse rooms we’ve spend the night in.  The beds were clean but the street outside was noisy and the bathroom was less than desirable with the water only working occasionally.  All said, it was a long and tiring journey but very nice to get that far in one day, as the first leg of the journey is notoriously slow.

The next morning we got into a small bus for the four hour ride to Ilha de Mocambique.  The bus was nearly full and two of us got stuck standing with seven other people in a space designed for three people.  One thing I am trying to accept about Africa is that there is no such thing as personal space.  We swapped out who had to stand and were happy to finally arrive.  Even though travel days are utterly exhausting, it always seems worth it to get to where you want to go.

Ilha de Mocambique is a former Portuguese colony that is now widely abandoned. The locals are very poor and while there is some money coming in from tourism, there is obviously not enough to go around.  Many of the buildings are completely dilapidated and in such disrepair that they would be condemned in the States, but here people either live in them or children play in them. Some areas that used to be large buildings are now crammed with mud and stick shanties and small houses with few windows. It is safe to walk around both in the daytime and at night.  The town has a European look to it and Mozambique in general seems to have a very different vibe than previous countries we’ve visited.

We are not approached by local men and children to the degree that we were in Malawi, and it’s a refreshing change from the constant “buy this from me” or “give me money” routine that happened there.  I guess the fact that most locals don’t speak English helps quite a bit.  My Portuguese is limited to a few words in Spanish so it makes for an interesting conversation trying to order lunch or ask an internet café if they have Skype, however it’s a pleasant change.  A few people speak some Swahili so Anne’s been our trump card in times of need.  Usually only men or sometimes children have approached us to talk in other countries, but a few times already in Mozambique some women who speak English have readily started a conversation with us, so that’s been a nice cultural change.

The water is a beautiful blue and there is a constant breeze from the ocean, which is nice because for what seems like the first time on this trip, it is HOT.  Very hot, and at night it goes down to warm.  Last night I only slept with a sheet, no sleeping bag or comforter necessary.  And even then I was warm at times.  The only downside to this is the obvious increase in mosquitoes.  Since we are not taking any malaria meds we need to be very diligent about the bug spray, but I love the smell of DEET in the morning.

The population here is largely Muslim, the first time I have been exposed to this religion en masse, so it’s always good to broaden my cultural horizons.  We happen to be here during Ramadan as well where those adhering to the religious guidelines do not eat during daylight hours.  

The seafood is plentiful and tasty.  There is also a guy in the market who sells delicious rolls that we’ve been subsiding off of.  There is a constant sometimes strong breeze that helps to cool things off, which has actually turned quite blustery the last two days.  It blows my hair like crazy which made me realize that I can finally pull it back into a ponytail and it almost all stays up.  

Built in the 1500s, Fortaleza de Sao Sebastiao is the main attraction left by the Portuguese on the island.  Twice the Dutch came in ships and took over the island but could not penetrate the fort and thus moved on, eventually establishing their major port in Cape Town.  It’s interesting to think how much this one structure changed the course of history.  The fort is beautifully situated on the water and contains a church which is the oldest European structure in southern Africa.  

Fortaleza de Sao Sebastiao

Anne the Conqueror.

Oldest European structure in southern Africa.

Decorative window.

Pulpit in one of the museums (an old church).
This morning we went to a few museums while sadly Tallulah and Jo headed south to Maputo. It's been great traveling with you guys!  I forgot to put the photo of the four of us on the thumb drive, so next time.  Safe travels.

1 comment:

  1. "my Portuguese is limited to a few words in Spanish" cracking!! Looking forward to reading your next installment. oh and guess when we arrived in Maputo...