Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Walking in the Sand

This past weekend presented yet another opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of Maputo and head out with some friends for a camping trip. This time the destination was Bilene Beach, about two hours north of Maputo. The crew all headed up after work on Friday but I stuck around for a birthday party, of which at one point we had 10 different nationalities represented at the dinner table!! In a classic picture of ex-pat life in Africa, each one of us was somehow working in development for a different NGO. It certainly exposes you to how other cultures approach the issue of development and their role as foreigners here in Africa. There certainly was no shortage of interesting people around the table that’s for sure.

The next morning I got up bright and early and hopped on a northbound chapa, determined to get to the beach before noon. My journey was stalled at the dusty town of Macia where I had to catch a second chapa to take me the remaining 35 km to Bilene. Unfortunately, not a lot of tourists were lining up for rides and the chapa drivers wanted to wait until they had a full load. It was looking like I was going to wait at least three hours. One of the motoristas, who thought I was South African, offered to personally drive me the 35 km for a cool 130 Rand ($22 Cdn). I told him he was crazy and tried my luck at thumbing my way to Bilene. Sure enough, within two minutes I was picked up by a wealthy Portuguese landowner in a huge air conditioned ¾ ton truck. He loved the fact that I was Canadian and rambled on about all of the friends he had in my country. Despite informing my driver that my Portuguese was still in its infancy, he went on at a frantic pace about the glory years of Mozambique (pre-1975 of course) and the triumphs of the Portuguese Empire.

The town of Bilene is situated beside a large salt water lagoon that pours into the Indian Ocean about 5km away. The lagoon is very shallow and you can almost walk halfway across (very strange). To get to the ocean you have to take one of the small ferries run by the locals, who notoriously gauge unsuspecting tourists. I figured that I was in for a real hit to the wallet when I spotted a tiny ferry being boarded by a middle aged Mozambican couple. I quickly hopped on board and was taken across the lagoon by a team of brothers who were no more than 15 and 9 respectively. The 15 year old, Amilcar, was in charge of the money, petrol and recruiting customers while his younger brother, Pedro, drove the boat. I was pretty impressed by these boys and the lucrative transport business they were running. Here is little Pedro at the helm of the boat.

When I got to the other side I sent a text message to my friends but then quickly, and without my knowledge, lost network connection. I was so enthralled by my surroundings that I decided to explore the huge sand dunes, drift wood deposits, crashing waves and fascinating water birds before trying to locate my group. I walked off in the direction where I “thought” they would be based on our earlier conversation. Little did I know that I was walking in the direct opposite direction from where they were located. Here is a picture that I took of the massive sand bar where they were camped just minutes before I headed the other way. I walked for about an hour while the sun got hotter and I got more fatigued and confused over the fact that I still had not found any sign of human life on this spectacularly deserted piece of coast line.

By the time that I had finally got a hold of my crew, and realized how much of a predicament I was in, I decided to just continue hiking through the dunes and eventually find my way back to Bilene on my own. The dunes were fantastic and provided me with some much appreciated time in solitude. I got stuck a few times along the way, and took some extended breaks in the rejuvenating patches of shade, but finally I found a foot path that led me to a tall dune over looking the lagoon and a small traditional fishing village. I must have been quite a sight for the locals who certainly don’t see many brancos walking through their village, especially with full camping gear in tow. I had many young children stare at me with some of the widest eyes I have ever seen and call out “malungu malungu.” I did have two local boys energetically approach me and offer, in remarkably proficient English, to escort me to their brother’s ferry boat which would take me across to the “tourist area.” I followed them past straw huts, chicken coops and laughing families to the shores of the lagoon where I got on a boat with about 20 other shangan women. They were also fascinated by my presence and we laughed all the way across despite the fact that I could not understand a single word that they were saying. African women produce the most amazing laughter I have ever heard.

As much as I enjoyed wandering around the wilderness that afternoon I was extremely happy to see my friends on the other side and get settled into camping mode. After a wonderful meal we all relaxed by the lagoon, sipping wine and swapping stories. The next morning was pretty much more of the same as we hung out on the beach and explored more of the surrounding area. An abandoned beach resort caught my attention as it had clearly been reduced to ruins after independence. I thought he run down villas, engulfed in years of neglect, made for an intriguing picture. I was also able to use the lazy afternoon to finish my latest book, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I loved this book so much that it made it onto my favourite books list before I had even completed it. A fascinating read that I would highly recommend to anyone.


Anonymous Mom said...

AHHHH! Finally something you inherited from me Jared - that uncanny sense of direction.

7:52 p.m.  
Anonymous Eliza said...

Thanks! I enjoyed reading this. Sending you best wishes!

8:15 p.m.  
Blogger Big Roddy said...

That's awesome Jared! It reminds me of the time you lost the work van in the parking lot in front of the store. Classic!

9:47 p.m.  
Anonymous Mom said...

Previously, you mentioned that one should be cautious of deserted beaches due to possible land mines. Are you still heeding that warning?

10:32 a.m.  
Anonymous Neville said...

Hey Man I was thinking, that when you get some time, you should set up a poorchoices tour of Africa. I think they're ready for us. ha ha.

Stay hard

2:11 p.m.  
Anonymous Neville said...

Hey Man I was thinking, that when you get some time, you should set up a poorchoices tour of Africa. I think they're ready for us. ha ha.

Stay hard

2:11 p.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

I guess the real question is Neville...are you guys ready for Africa?

12:54 a.m.  

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