Friday, May 4, 2012


So, in the end, our trip totaled 1657 kilometers.  We traveled by chapa and bus from Chimoio to Buzi, by chapa and boleia from Buzi to Vilankulo, and then by boleiachapa, bus, chapa, and chapa from Vilankulo to our little yellow house in Zobue.   Was it worth it?  Absolutely.

Travel in Mozambique is difficult.  There's no denying it.  On this trip, in particular, we spent four hours waiting by the side of the road, three hours on the bed of a pick-up truck, thirty minutes waiting for our driver to buy a goat, and one terrifying minute swerving all over the road while our bus blew a tire.  

Why do we do it, then, if it's so difficult?  The truth is, there are several good reasons to travel in Mozambique.  First, it presents an opportunity to meet other travelers.  We met Ruth and Jacques, a truck driver and his niece en-route to Pemba, who taught us how to count to twenty in Afrikaans.  We also met Guni, a 25-year-old driver from Maputo, who drove us, two Mozambicans, a damaged car, three goats, and four chickens more than 500 kilometers from Inchope to Vilankulo.  Secondly, it gives us an opportunity to go to the beach.  Since arriving in Mozambique, Dan and I have never actually gone to the beach together.  Finally, and best of all, traveling is a good way to spend time with other volunteers. 

Mary flags down a boleia on the road outside of Chimoio

Adrienne and Dan wait on the side of the road

Adrienne, Dan, Mary, and I didn't actually make it out of Chimoio on our first attempt.  Sunday is a classically difficult day for hitchhiking, and, after a few failed attempts at finding a ride, we decided to get up early and catch the bus on Monday, instead.  That's when we discovered that getting to Buzi (Adrienne's site) is hard.  First, of course, there is the bus ride.  Imagine fifty people crammed into a bus the size of a washing machine, bouncing across potholes like a ping-pong ball.  Imagine, also, that the back door doesn't close and that the exhaust pipe is filtering fumes from the outside, in.  The woman in front of you keeps closing her window so you find yourself with your mouth clasped against the crack between panes.

"Don't worry," said Adrienne, wryly.  "This isn't even the worst part."

The bus dumped us off in the dusty town of Tica, where we crawled, exhausted and with aching lungs, into the back of a pickup truck.  There, we waited for THREE HOURS, as the back of the truck slowly filled with other road-weary passengers.

Adrienne shuffled her deck of cards patiently.  "Don't worry," she said.  "This still isn't the worst part."

Then, it began.  First, there was a little jolt as the engine on the truck began to sputter.  Then, we pulled away from the shade of the trees.  The sun was burning.  As the truck began to pick up speed, we realized that something was wrong.  The truck had no shock absorbers!  The road was not maintained!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY!?

It is ironic that Sofala, the flattest of the provinces in Mozambique, also has the bumpiest roads.  In fact, the highest point in the entire province is a pile of rubble on the berm of Highway 1.  The lowest point is at the bottom of a pothole outside of Tica.

You do whatever you can to survive the bumpy ride to Buzi.  Some passengers sit on bags or purses.  Others stand and hold on for dear life.  Some just sit on their bare bottom and stare blankly ahead, with milky fish eyes that appear dead to the world.  We were all, every single one of us, slipping in and out of consciousness.  My teeth were rattling incessantly.

Playing cards in the open-back chapa, waiting to depart.

Hiding from the sun on the open-back chapa

Hiding from the sun on the open-back chapa

After three hours of wincing, crouching, and bouncing, we finally made it to Buzi.  Adrienne led us through the town (sandy streets, palm trees, and shrimp vendors) to her house, which is located directly alongside a very active, very noisy, primary school.  We explored the house and took a few pictures, then discovered the broken window leading into the back bedroom.  We leaned in to inspect the window a little more closely, and then I took a picture.

"Was this broken before?"  We asked Adrienne.

"It most certainly was not," she said.

For someone who had her computer stolen just two months before, she was surprisingly calm about this most recent security threat.

"I'd better call Safety and Security," she said, and walked inside to get her telephone.

Luckily, the bars behind the broken window were still in place.  Nothing had been stolen.

Theft is all too common in Mozambique, though, and it seemed likely that the thieves would try to return.

"I think I need a site-mate," said Adrienne.  "I don't know if I am comfortable living alone any more."

Adrienne's house in Buzi.  Note the neighbors that live directly across from her.

Safety and security issues:  A common concern amongst volunteers

Despite the threat of the broken window, however, our visit became very pleasant.  From Adrienne's neighborhood rooftop bar, we could watch the bats take flight after sundown.  We watched as swarms of giant fruit bats streamed out of ceilings and awnings and treetops across town.  Just before dark, we saw a large hawk swoop down and -SMACK- collide with a bat, talons outstretched.  The bat, weakly flapping a single, undamaged wing, was carried away onto a distant rooftop.  The four of us stared, transfixed.

Buzi, we discovered, is an ecological wonderland.  The town itself is located on the mouth of the Buzi River, which flows left or right, depending on the tide.  It is also home to a delightful little fish.  This little guy, the common mudskipper, can WALK ON LAND!

In addition to seeing bats, hawks, and amphibious fish, we also saw about thirty different types of mosquito. We even saw a Mozambican throw a rock on a snake!  (Not a rock at a snake.  A rock on a snake.)  It was a fascinating and auspicious start to our journey across Mozambique.

Sunset over Buzi (with fruit bats)

Adrienne and her 11th grade class (teaching the lyrics to "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan)

Adrienne and an 11th grade class

After leaving Buzi the same way that we entered (and earning a string of bruises across my thighs), we made our way back to Tica and then westward to Inchope.  From Inchope, we flagged down a boleia with a large truck heading directly to Vilankulo.  It was a slow ride, but it was pleasantly predictable.  If only our driver hadn't kept stopping to buy livestock.  We made it to Vilankulo just as the sun was setting.

For the next two nights, we stayed with fellow volunteer Drew Garland on the beach in Vilankulo.  His house, a three-bedroom condo with electricity and running water, is located directly behind a fancy seaside resort called Archipelago.  It is the most beautiful site I could have ever imagined and the four of us, Adrienne, Dan, Mary, and I, worked hard to convince ourselves that we weren't jealous.

"I bet he doesn't have fish that walk on land," I said.

"I bet he doesn't have a cloud forest," said Dan.

Drew got in contact with one of his friends, a woman who runs a horse-riding business from inside the resort, and got us on a trail ride along the beach and surrounding cliffs.  For 500 Meticais per person (less than $20), we rode for two hours on the sand in Vilankulo.  It was beautiful but, sadly, very painful.  My bottom, which, thanks to days of traveling, had previously been a delicate shade of blushing pink, quickly turned blue, then purple.



Sunrise in Vilankulo

Early morning in Vilankulo

Riding horses on the beach

Adrienne riding her horse on the beach

After two nights at Drew's house, we pitched our tent at Baobab Beach Backpackers to await the oncoming crowd of Peace Corps Volunteers.  This weekend, April 28-29, was a special weekend.  We had been hearing about this date since we first arrived in-country, and we had been given clean instructions:


This weekend was Beer Olympics.  

Baobab Beach Backpackers
Baobab Beach Backpackers

Camping at Baobab Beach Backpackers in our new bug tent.  Thanks Wendy!  

Beer Olympics, now in its fourth or fifth year as an annual Peace Corps tradition, is a full-scale drinking competition between the three regions of Mozambique:  North, Central, and South.  It involves rounds shots, beer pong, drinking relays, and lots (and lots) of chugging.  Volunteers from every province show up to participate, and Baobab Beach Backpackers becomes inundated with more than fifty Peace Corps Volunteers at their cheerful, sudsy best.

It's a lot of fun, but, unfortunately for Team Central, Dan and I are not exactly heavy drinkers.  Dan was sick and I was simply non-participatory.  Instead of drinking, we took a walk on the beach to collect fish.  It was a fascinating afternoon.  We returned just in time to cheer for our teammates as they made the winning shot in beer pong, cinching a first-ever win for Mozambique Team Central.

It was a huge event.  

It was almost as exciting as finding a dead lionfish on the beach.


Still, though, we got our faces painted and celebrated along with everyone else.  The night got quiet after the sun went down, and I enjoyed some quality time with the volunteers that I loved the most.  For the first time, I realized that it would be difficult to go back to site.

Mozambique is a giant, varied, and beautiful country.  I am grateful to be living here, amongst the fruit bats, mudskippers, stone-throwers, hitchkikers, and dead tropical fish.  If only I could take all of it-- all of the people, all of the fish-- back to site with me.  The ocean is breathtaking and, from Tete Province, it is so far away.

"But," Dan reminds me, "Zobue has a cloud forest.  And Zobue has Bwino."

The next morning, we left.  To return home, we traveled by truck, by bus, and by chapa.  We lost one wheel, met two Germans, and, from Chimoio alone, made three transfers.  After 18 hours on the road, we finally hefted our bags onto our front porch and went to look for Seni, our house-guard.

After retrieving our keys, what did we do?  We hugged our dog and gave Seni a teddy bear, of course.  It was a happy homecoming.  

The tide going out...

...Leaving a few beautiful tropical fish stranded on the sand

Tropical fish stranded on the beach

Tropical fish stranded on the beach

Tropical fish stranded on the beach (a lionfish!)
Another fish on the beach... a flounder!  Pictured from the bottom (left) and top (right)

My favorite dead fish-  a little puffer with horns! 

The boys of Team Central

Dan and me in Team Central warpaint
Showing off the results of Beer Olympics 2012.  

At the end of the day

The beach at Vilankulo

1 comment:

  1. Would you add your bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

    AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    Many thanks!

    PS: these are straw-coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum)