Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Final Weekends: Part III

After attending countless other going away party’s for friends that moved in and out of my life during the past year and half, it was finally time for me to celebrate my departure from Mozambique with one final Friday night blowout. My roommate Brenden and I cleared away a massive dance floor in our apartment and got a hold of an incredible stereo system, preparing for a long night of booty shaking like only Mozambicans know best. It was a massive turnout, with a good mix of my ex-pat and African friends showing up to wish me off while sharing one last Laurentina or Tipo Tinto. Unfortunately, news of a good party spread quickly and we soon found ourselves having to “forcibly escort” a few rowdy and intoxicated gate crashers out the door.

Despite a few bad apples in the bunch, I had a great time and got to see practically everyone in the city that meant the most to me. After we had danced ourselves out, drummed our last beat, sang our final song and drank every last drop in the house, I finally showed the last guest to the door as the morning sun was creeping up on the horizon. It was a great way for me to bring to a close the incredible social scene I was able to find here in Maputo.

I was quite tired as you can imagine on Saturday and ended up spending a quite night in with Nathalie drinking tea and watching the Last King of Scotland (Great movie by the way…Forest Whittaker performance is HUGE, quite literally!! Definitely deserved the Oscar). We then got up early on Sunday morning and joined my old roommate Cathy Rothrock for the worship service at the church of our former housekeeper Rebecca. Cathy’s sister and brother in law were in visiting from Edmonton and they all wanted to see what a Shangana church service was all about. Basically it is three solid hours in a sweaty reed hut, singing, praying and shouting for Jesus. The rest of the congregation was overjoyed that such a large contingent of “mulungos” had joined them in their part of town and they took great delight in showing off their church’s talents and helping us to follow along with the words in the shangana hymn book.

After the service, and after we had shaken about a thousand and one pairs of hands, we went back to Rebecca’s house for lunch. This was the first time that I had ever been inside Rebecca’s house and she took great pride in showing me all of her things, especially their large backyard with mango, lemon and cashew trees. Unfortunately, Rebecca’s husband Pedro was not able to join us because he was out working on a fishing boat with some friends. Pedro had received some excellent news previously in the week as he graduated from his driving school, opening up a whole new door of work opportunities for him. The family was incredibly thankful and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in each other’s company under the shade of the mango tree.

We then returned back to Maputo in time to play ultimate, a game that had recently become a Sunday late afternoon tradition for our group of friends. For those of you who don’t know what ultimate is check out this link here. It’s an amazing game and hands down the best co-ed sport around in my opinion. For most of my time here in Mozambique I bemoaned the fact that nobody in town played ultimate until I finally took matters into my own hands and started the first ultimate league in Maputo. Initially we had a pretty luke warm reception but once February rolled along we started to get a fairly regular turnout. What was also encouraging is that towards the end we started getting more Mozambican guys and girls showing up to try out this strange new sport.

Full of new found enthusiasm, we ultimate fans in Maputo began dreaming about putting together a Mozambican Ultimate National Team and taking on teams from Swaziland and South Africa. Who knows, maybe one day we will see a Mozambican entry to the world championships…or a campaign along the likes of “Ultimate contra HIV/SIDA.” The skies the limit in my view, and, while I hated to leave just as the momentum was building, I believe we’ve got some good folks that can continue the ultimate tradition.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Final Weekends: Part 2

One of the highlights of the road trip I took through the United States back in 2004 was spending time around the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Hiking down the escarpment, and spending some time in quiet meditation within the panoramic surroundings, brought me close to nature in a way that I had never quite experienced before. When I consider the vast period of history that has unfolded while this river has consistently flowed, diligently carving it’s path through the bedrock, it puts my own place in history and my time on this planet into serious perspective. For me, canyons, aside from the breathtaking vistas that they offer, provide a powerful testament to the perseverance and enduring spirit of nature.

When I arrived in Mozambique and realized that the world’s third largest canyon was on the Blyde River in the Kleine Drankensburg mountain range, only a half days drive from Maputo in the northeastern part of South Africa, I was determined to make a visit. However, my travel plans were often postponed for the sake of countless beach excursions in Mozambique (which I certainly do not regret!!). As the months passed by, with my departure date approaching quicker, the Blyde River Canyon continued to call out to me from the National Geographic map of Southern Africa hanging prominently on my wall. With one final weekend available for travel, and facing one more obligatory border run for my tourist visa, I finally put my plan into action.

Nathalie and I rented a car in Maputo and packed it up with all our camping gear and set off early on the Saturday morning, reaching the quant little town of Graskop at about 3 in the afternoon. This was after we had to endure the massive weekend line up at the South African-Mozambican border. I don’t know why some young Mozambican hasn’t caught on to the idea of selling cold drinks to the thirsty souls in line like they do throughout the rest of the country…they would make an absolute killing I am sure!! Anyway, the town of Graskop is this old South African pioneer town whose charm has long been exploited by the pricey tourist industry. Nathalie and I, however, were able to find a nice campsite overlooking the Graskop gorge and thoroughly enjoy the numerous waterfalls in the area without being inundated with a constant stream of other tourists.

As the afternoon shadows began to stretch out longer, Nathalie and I picked up some classic “sundowner” supplies and headed out to the edge of the escarpment locally known as God’s Window. The view over the “lowveld” was spectacular as you could see all the way across Kruger Park and into the Gaza province of Mozambique!! We also found our own trail through the rainforests at the top of the mountain and arrived at our own secluded clearing where we could enjoy the panoramic view and watch the different thunder storms roll over the hills. Despite the numerous threats from these dark menacing clouds, Nathalie and I remained completely dry.

The following morning we awoke early and set off for the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which are situated at the opening of the canyon. These are fascinating rock formations that have formed over thousands of years from water swirling at the base of a series of waterfalls. Despite our preference for the unmarked trails, we signed up to take the Belvedere Trail down to the base of the canyon. It was a strenuous six hour hike and I quickly discovered that my physical condition paled in comparison to my fleet footed companion!! Nevertheless, we were both mesmerized by the scenery and overwhelmed by the sensation of standing within such a deep canyon. We were also able to treat ourselves to a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the Blyde River, allowing the strong current to carry us along the rocks and trees. We finished the day off with sundowners once again overlooking one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever experienced in my entire life. The Three Rondavels point gives you almost a 360 degree view of the canyon, allowing one’s senses to be flooded by the colours, the sounds and the spirit of God’s Country. It is at these moments where we can feel so incredibly humbled while at the same time feeling so immaculately exalted.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Final Weekends: Part 1

Staring down the barrel at a looming departure date obviously makes one want to spend their final weekends productively. Before I left Mozambique, there were definitely some places I wanted to visit in the area and travel time I wanted to spend with close friends. For over a year I had been trying to visit the island of Inhaca, which is about 50 Km away from Maputo, only to have every plan fall apart due to terrible weather. This time, however, I was determined to get over to this tantalizing island that beckons Maputoites on a clear sunny day to see whether the rumours I had heard about its idyllic beaches and splendid corals were indeed true.

I set off with Nathalie and our French Canadian friends Ian and Marie-Claude (aka, the Quebecois “happy couple”) on a private boat “Maritimos” which took us to the island in just over one hour. This is much better than the six hour trip on the local ferry but of course you pay about four times as much!! The other nice thing about taking a private boat is that we were able to stop over at the Portuguese Island, a tiny little spot just off the coast from Inhaca. Here we were able to relax for a couple of hours, take a bath in the ocean and marvel at all the colourful star fish that dotted the shoreline. I was in such a relaxed state at one point that I fell asleep on the beach (sans sunscreen!!) and woke up almost an hour later with a crazy sun burn. Stupid boy!!

We then got back on our boat and set off for the main island of Inhaca. The island is a funny one really because the main boat dock and the huge expensive Pestana Resort are located along an absolutely unappealing stretch of beach overrun with muddy sludge and seaweed. Certainly not a spot worthy of a postcard photo. The exorbitant prices for food and drinks quickly scared us away from that location so we ended up buying some supplies from the local market and hiring a local boat to take us to the Biological Research Station toward the southern tip of the Island. This is a place that is run entirely by Mozambicans through the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, offering nice affordable places to stay, opportunities to explore and study the Islands protected environment and a well stocked museum showcasing the Island’s marine life.

There were only two other students at the research center so we were essentially left alone to enjoy its isolated tranquility. We all had a serious appetite for some fresh fish and cold cervejas but there were no local fishermen to be found. We took a tip from one of the employees at the center and went hiking through the bush in search of the nearest village where we could find a fish market and an open baraka. After only getting lost a couple of times, and having to flag down some ladies returning from their farms to ask for directions, we arrived at the village and sat down with the baraka owners for some well needed cold drinks. In a strange connection to Canada, the rock stars Nickelback and Bryan Adams were written in large letters along the baraka walls!!

We then stopped off at the local fish seller to pick up some barracuda and lulas (squid) before returning back to the research center for a final swim and the perfect sundowners on the beach. Because we were on the west side of the island looking out over the Maputo Bay, it was my first and only time in Mozambique seeing the sun set over the ocean. That night we thoroughly enjoyed our seafood BBQ (except we SEVERELY overcooked the lulas!!) while each nursing our collective sunburns. The next day we took the long walk back along the beach to the boat dock, stopping off at the various coral reefs at low tide. I was amazed at the variety of corals and tropical fish we were able to see simply be snorkeling off the coast. We were also amazed at the number of women seated along the shore who were cracking open the sea urchins that they had caught in order to make a stew out of the gooey insides…a picture that I imagine has not changed in hundreds of years. Getting back in our boat, we said goodbye to Inhaca and welcomed back our Maputo home as its impressive skyline grew larger on the horizon.

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