The World Around Us

Scorching sun in Vilankulo

Country: Mozambique by Lisette


On the first day of the new year of 2013, let me wish our readers and friends a Healthy and Happy 2013! We celebrated the coming of the New Year quietly with Tim (read his blogs about Mozambique here, they are very telling about life outside Maputo!) and some yummy homemade nachos with good stories.

But let me go back a few weeks and share a little what I have been up to. December has been quite an interesting month, with some reminiscing about Maputo, being robbed (which I will speak of in another blog post), going twice to prison (again, I will write a separate post about this experience) and taking a short Christmas holiday.

We were eager to get out of the city for quite a while, but work kept us here and visa restraints eliminated traveling options outside Mozambique. After spending an afternoon exploring options in South Mozambique with my dearly beloved Lonely Planet and accompanying partner Internet, I found several interesting options to make a 2-week holiday.

Or so I thought. Quickly enough, I discovered that Africa has the summer as its high season and that prices, like anywhere else in the world, are soaring high during this season. We decided to wait and see flora and fauna a couple of months later when we can actually afford spending quality time in the parks and focused on finding a nice place at the beach.

Vilankulos swiftly sprang to my mind. Pristine beaches, diving and snorkelling options, islands to discover, and dhow safaris; who can say no to that? Knowing that the place is inundated with South Africans, but less than at places closer to the South African border, also influenced our decision to check out this place. Busy is great, but when a place is overrun it is not my favourite place to be.

A ten-hour air-conditioned bus ride brought us at the highway exit for Vilankulos. Here, we were able to sit in an open-air chapa (read: in the back of a pick-up truck) before being dropped off in town. We booked a small hut at rustic and peaceful Baobab Beach, which is situated right at the beach. First priority was to dump our bags and get some food in our bellies.

Second priority was to check out which organizations to use to go to one or two islands for some sailing and snorkelling. After ‘interviewing’ a couple of people, we settled for Moz Dhow (situated at Bairro 25 Setembro, next to Complexo Âncora). While waiting for our lunch we explored a shipwreck.

The next day, Christmas, we found ourselves at the dock looking at a smallish, weathered traditional wooden dhow while we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes at 7am. We climbed aboard and sailed for the next two hours to Bazaruto Island, enjoying the breeze, watching the playful dolphins and sipping a cuppa coffee. Slightly surprised I eyed the old-style wooden fire in this wooden dhow… but I should not have feared, the crew were experts. When we arrived at the largest island of the Bazaruto Archipelago, we were hot and ready for a swim and some snorkelling. The archipelago is now protected as a national park, which is a major achievement in marine conservation. The beach lay there deserted, waiting for us to explore it afterwards.

Marlowe had more luck with snorkelling as my mask was a little too large and kept filling up with water (I already had the smallest available). It was an outstanding experience with so many fish and a beautiful coral reef. It is also the place to be to find turtles, local birds and dugongs. Unfortunately, most animals are shy and we didn’t see them.

As we peddled in the water, the crew made us a superb lunch. Around noon some boats came, polluting “our” beach with tourists, while we enjoyed the only shelter and munched on barbecue chicken (because Marlowe has a severe allergy, fish is out of the question). Naturally, we felt the need to climb the sand dune and find out what was hidden behind it.

Ouch! We went ahead without shoes, an extremely dumb idea as the sun was scorching hot and the sand was too. We nearly burned our feet. Marlowe, not wanting to give up, ran up the hill without his shoes on. Immediately after I took this picture, I heard him scream and he came running down. It was too hot! The second try was successful and it was the only time I envied Marlowe’s sneakers, as my flip-flops did not provide enough protection from the boiling sand.

We made it to the top with a splendid view of the ocean and better yet, of Bazaruto itself with green fields that apparently hides a few Nile crocodiles (proof that the islands were connected about 10,000 years ago to the mainland). As we made our way down I practically ran into the water to cool down my feet.

We spent some more time in the water and walking on one of the sandbanks. I enjoyed watching a bird quietly and undisturbed checking out the water and was unpleasantly surprised when a wasp stung me. Marlowe found a couple of interesting shells, which prompted him to write this blog post.

Boxing day was spent bumming at the beach on the mainland, cooling off in the water, reading in a hammock and eating good meals. A day later it all came to an end with a memorable exit. I suddenly received a text with the message the bus was in Inhassoro. Staff at Baobab helped me figuring out what this meant, “go immediately to the bus stop, the bus will be there in 30 minutes! Why are you still even here?” with me muttering unintelligible that the bus was one hour early. “Go, go”, Rebekka kept urging me while I flew out of the office to collect Marlowe and our bags.

She tried to help us getting a taxi but in the end we had to approach neighbours and asked them to give us a lift to town where we were planning on getting a taxi to the bus stop (another 20 kilometers away) on the N1. We were lucky because they pitied us and found a taxi driver that wasn’t charging us an arm and a leg (though still a lot) while driving mightily fast on the road in order to arrive at the bus stop at the same time as the bus.

Now it was time for another another hurdle… Because we were still a little jumpy after being robbed, we did not bring our credit cards. Little did we know that when boarding the bus we had to present the credit card as proof of payment. (A tip for travelers bussing around Mozambique with Intercape – enjoy the quality bus ride and make sure you have checked out all the little details when you book!) Without the credit card, we had to pay the tickets in cash and get reimbursed afterwards. But because we did not end up getting the open-air chapa as planned but an expensive taxi, we were 30 meticais short!

The bus driver would not let us get on, even though Marlowe called the Intercape Customer Service who said it would be okay (after a lot of explaining). Here was Marlowe speaking in broken Portuguese to the driver in Mozambique, who in turn was unable to speak to Customer Service Agent who only spoke English in South Africa. Eventually, he grew tired and he let us on the bus. With no money to pay for food or more than a small bottle of water, this was a long ten-hour trip home!