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last post Friday, October 1, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 40
Week 13: We are sad leaving Tofo and have our first challenging week.
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Week 13: We are sad leaving Tofo and have our first challenging week.

It's always amazing to feel sad when leaving - we really enjoyed Tofo, the beauty, the beaches, the whale sharks and John's Place. I had spent many hours chatting with John about growing up in Maputo, the war for liberation of the country, the communist government, owning property on the beaches, the current government and the list goes on. John is an incredibly interesting man and like most people here, so tough and resilient. When we were ready to go, he gave each of us a little gift and we were really moved.

On the day we left, John had business in Inhambane and he offered us a ride to catch the boat in Inhambane over to the main highway. We were on our way to Mampula via Inchope. It was a long trip we thought could take 2 - 4 days. We took the ferry from Inhambane to Maxixe (masheesh) where the main highway was. We could catch a bus coming from Maputo and going through Inchope on its way to Beira. When we walked across the highway in Maxixe we asked directions to the buses and then asked around for information about bus departures. A guy operating a food concession by the buses was most helpful and a man who worked for the cell company told us buses left from the hotel on the highway too. After making a number of trips back and forth, and seeing people waiting at the hotel for the bus, did we chose to take that option. The bus did arrive. A newer double decker euro-style cruiser and we were off. For most of the trip we had a front window seat from the upper deck. The 10 hour trip seemed long and the American soft pop music on its 3rd run was tedious. The people on the bus were "well off", black Mozambicans, well dressed and the ambience was much like business class. We passed by the road leading to the wonderful beach town of Vilankulo where so many of the people we met had come from or were going to.

The highway was sometimes quite smooth and at other times we drove up the side of the highway which was under construction. Another bus ahead of us got stuck in the soft sand and took 30 minutes for us to proceed. Then an hour later we started going slower and slower and then pulled off onto the shoulder. We had broken down. Thankfully it was only a fan belt and we were back on the road in about 40 minutes.

We arrived in Inchope about 8pm in the darkness and were let off at the highway junction in the town. The sides of the highway were filled with large trailer trucks. When we walked into a small restaurant to ask where we could find a room we had already clued in. There were lots of little rooms available, cheap (about MT 200 or about $6.50) with no running water. The prostitutes seemed to never give us a second glance. The toilet room was more like northern Africa, a real bowl toilet that you could not sit on, with a bucket of water beside it to flush. The shower used the same water bucket.

I was impressed that Louis bought a bottle of drinking water and went to the toilet room to shower. Our room was bug free and we slept in our own sheets and actually did quite well. We were up at 5:30 and on our way hiking up the highway, asking where the buses stopped. A guy walked with us around the junction to the already waiting "Mampula Express". My heart missed a beat. It was certainly a bus which carried on the feeling from the night before. The windows were dirty and paint had been removed from most of them. And it must have been 30 years old.

Suddenly one window slid open and a blondish German woman waved at us. I was delighted. We had met the two women at the Base Backpackers in Maputo. At least Louis might be more willing or able to handle our transportation for the day.

It was like riding an old, broken school bus. The seats had worn out and a big metal bar pushed against our lower backs. We were lucky that everyone was able to have a seat. It was the fastest, scariest bus ride I have had in many decades of travel on any continent. We swerved around pot holes and bumps like a rally car in the Dakar race. Often I thought we could tip over. How that old bus held together over incredible bangs and bumps, I don't know. We did find that our computer was not so lucky.

When we got to Nampula the four of us decided to find a "recommended" hotel from the Lonely Planet guide. We took a taxi to the Brazilian Hotel. The woman at the desk was sleeping and greeted us with indifference. After trying to make ourselves understood, she had a man show us 3 rooms. One had a shower that barely trickled and in the other two nothing worked. We tried to negotiate, but she was not interested. We put on our packs and walked up the busy, dark main street, finding most hotels full. We finally found a hotel, the Monte Carlo and checked in. We stayed 2 nights as the travel had taken its toll and we needed to rest. Nampula is Mozambique's third largest city. It really has no interest for a tourist except that it is a place to overnight, to get transportation going north and south along the coast or to catch the train going west.

The 2nd morning we got a taxi to take us to the "bus" and after we were "filled up" we were off to Mozambique Island. When we took the road from the main highway in the direction of Mozambique Island, one could see that the people were very poor. The spotless, colorful clothing of other places had been replaced by often dirty clothes, tattered and with holes in them. There were signs put up by the NGOs, describing there "charitable" work with the local area.

We got to the one lane bridge which led from the mainland out to the island. Only chapas (or vans) could cross the narrow bridge so we had to unload and reload into the back of a truck. The ride over the bridge was impressive and we gasped in enthusiasm looking at the typical blue-green water and the long tidal flat. The bridge is probably over a mile long. After about 15 minutes and what amounted to a mini tour of the island , with a boy running ahead to give the driver directions, we had arrived at Casa Luis. It was initially hard to get an impression of Mozambique Island. First looks and you felt you saw some of the most impressive beaches and scenery in the world. Then there was Makuti town where the locals lived, looking somewhat like the "townships" in South Africa, but with a more African look. Then there was "Stone Town", the UNESCO Heritage site, all the incredible buildings from the early 16th century, many in almost ruinous condition but still showing the excitement and architecture of a recently bygone era.

Casa Luis was a great choice for a place to stay. Luis was a very outgoing man. His Mozambican heritage it seemed, started as an Indian from some island not too far away. He easily befriended us and loved to chat with the people staying at the backpackers. We were a mixed group, but many like Pedro from Brazil were long term "volunteers" working on projects in Africa. He had been spending the last year working with teachers, HIV/AIDS testing and education. We spent many hours talking to him and walking around the island with him. Another person from the UK had cycled all the way from Uganda, and other, an American who was living in Colombia, was working on a reconstruction project on the island.

It was the first experience Louis had with the regular Muslim calls to prayer, day and night from the nearby mosque. Every morning before sunrise we were woken by the loudspeakers from minaret. The island in its earlier days from the 16th century had been very important to the Arab traders. It then was an important town and defensive fort for the Portuguese. It was also a center for the slave trade. It now has a large local population, most of it probably under the age of 30. (life span is only 41 years old here) Many are part of the important fishing trade around the island. Walking around on the island was a treat day or night. You felt safe and the locals were so, so friendly. The kids follow you around and they thrill at seeing their pictures on your camera screen. They play with you, dance for you and just plain make your stay feel so like so much fun. There are many interesting bars and restaurants. And thankfully Café Flor where I spent two days working to get the SGN edition online. Web access in Mozambique works but is very slow and building a website is a long and tedious adventure.

We had met 2 guys and 2 girls who where medical students from Holland. They had been doing an internship in Tanzania and now wanting to do some traveling. We had a great time with them traveling by dhow (sailboat) to a nearby beach and walking around the island on a guided tour by a boy called Daniel that we had hired. They were fun and two of them won the dance contest a local bar on Saturday night. Our last night on the island, Louis and I moved into Ruby's Backpackers to be with our friends and to enjoy Ruby's. Unlike Luis's where we had buckets of water for the toilet and to shower and charcoal to cook, Ruby's was a trendy, modern and beautiful place. The rooftop terrace and bar was a real treat at night. Along with being really clean with hot showers and toilets with "mood lighting", they provided a full kitchen. It was probably one of the nicest backpackers I have experienced anywhere.

We worked out our plans to go to Nampula with our new friend Jack and got ready to leave the next morning.

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The old fort on Mozambique Island
Louis cooking at Casa Luis
Mozambique Island fish market
Our dhow across the bay
Our guide Daniel
Pedro from Brasil
Makuti town

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