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AFRICA!  Mozambique
Relaxing on a coastal bay, walking through the village of Bilene, camping on Indian Ocean dunes near Inhambane, an impromptu visit to village school and the capital, Maputo.

June 12 continued ...

There was an immediate difference in visuals once we  crossed the border from South Africa into Mozambique. Living conditions were harsher here ... much harsher. Garbage was still being picked through for anything usable ... or better yet, saleable.

Free enterprise is alive in Mozambique as roadways are lined with people selling ... everything: food, clothing, furniture, building supplies, coffins, reused whatever and services ... everything and anything. It is a nation struggling to recover from twenty plus years of civil war and unrest.

We made our way to the coast, first on hard surface and then dirt. Arthur had explained that our accommodations tonight were new to G.A.P Adventures and he wasn’t too sure what might be ahead. Ahead was a path of deep rutted sand ... that’s where the bus got stuck.

"Everybody out!" With some digging and some pushing, we were able to get the bus on the move again ... well at least for a short distance. With more digging, pushing and good driving the nearly empty bus made it over the real soft spots and up a hill to the top of a sand dune overlooking Bilene Lagoon. We would be staying at Laguna Camp for two nights before we had to face coming back through this stretch again.


June 13

The main lodge of Laguna Camp sits on a high dune with a view that, like the creek beside it, flows down to the sandy beaches of the lagoon.


The cottages were quite large with kitchen, bedroom and bathroom areas. The high ceiling thatched roof was open to all rooms . Mosquito netting hung over the beds.


Today was a lazy day. We gave our laundry over to a staff member (a great way for them to make extra money) and did very little for the rest of the day other than to watch the locals use the sandy beach as a commuting route including the need to wade across the creek where it spread in its last effort to reach the sea. Fishermen prepared their nets and boats for this evening’s fishing. Throughout the day the creek was used not only for doing laundry but also for bathing.


In the late afternoon boats were used to move the nets into a wide half circle. At sunset young men and a young woman, with a baby strapped to her back, pulled in the nets by ropes from the shore. They pulled and pulled until the nets were almost parallel with the shore. Then they pulled up the net little by little picking off the few small fish they had caught and dropping them in a small plastic bucket. Plunk ... plunk, plunk. There were not many for so much work.


June 14

As the sun rose a lady was already doing her laundry in the creek. Sherrie went down to say hello (the lady did not speak English and Sherrie little Portuguese) but smiles filled in the gaps.


Before returning up the knoll for breakfast, Sherrie quietly slipped a chocolate bar onto a pile of wet clothes. An impromptu treat; what woman does not like chocolate?

It was time to go. The owner of Laguna Camp told us that he had his men fix the road overnight. It gave us hope until we got stuck again. The solution was to take a slightly different route and make the bus as light as possible. Joseph drove the bus while we walked, yelled encouragements and watched him manoeuvre over the difficult patches of sand, up and over a hill to firmer ground. Well done. Ladies with bundles upon their heads laughed at the whole ordeal.


In the small village of Bilene, people were going about their daily lives. We stopped at the market which lined the main street and while others looked at those stalls or bought goodies at the bakery, we took the opportunity to find a narrow laneway and wound ourselves back further in the village’s commercial core to see what was there.


A little charcoal stove was cooling after the morning rush.

A hairdressing shop waited for its next customer.

At the back in a wide space with vehicle access, there was a fish market.


Back on the main street, we again noticed the young girl of around 13 still sitting quietly by herself crocheting with string. "Just in case", Sherrie had kept back a few packets of the many beads that some kind person had donated at the beginning of the trip. She thought that this unknown person would approve, so it was here that a bag of beads was given to the little girl. Her face lit up in wonderment ... excited about such a wondrous gift yet not knowing what was expected of her in exchange. There was no way for Sherrie to tell her of the kindness of others except to admire the work she had done with the string, smile, take a picture and wave goodbye.


As our vehicle pulled away from the village scene, we wondered what consequences such a gift might have for her. Perhaps she would incorporate some of the beads with the string and sell it ... and then what might that lead to?


We were driving north towards the coastal area of Inhambane. Each time the bus stopped at an intersection, in towns small or large, people would approach the bus trying to sell something: nuts, belts, cold drinks, you name it.


Tonight we would again be sleeping on sand dunes ... this time in tents. Our minds filled with visions of digging out the bus but G.A.P had been here before. In a small village, three kilometres from our destination, we met the owner of Jeff's Palm Resort, Collin Jeffries, and his right hand lady, Rita. They directed us to transfer luggage, food and ourselves to two 4x4s. The exchange provided entertainment for the locals who came to watch.

The bus would never have made the drive along the soft sand road which dipped and peaked between plantations of coconut and cashews ... if fact, in some spots even the 4x4s were challenged ... this was dune buggy country.


Jeff’s Palm Resort offers three different accommodation styles ... we pulled up to the sheltered camping. Large thatched roofs shelter centre brick bathrooms, "L" shaped "kitchen" counters and sand floors. Arthur demonstrated how to set up the tents and we settled in for our two night stay.


For dinner, we walked over a dune to Rosa’s Portuguese Restaurant and Beach Bar. The beer cut the sand dust from our throats and the calamari was tender.

We fell asleep in our tents to the sounds of the Indian Ocean surf and warm breezes through the palm leaves.



June 15


Terry went to the beach just after sunrise and saw a group of people stretching from the sand well into the surf for a Sunday service. By the time Sherrie grabbed the camera they were back up on the beach.

Later in the morning we headed out to the coral reef with John, Jack, Jess and Andrea for some snorkelling. The coral and fish were colourful and plentiful including the clown fish, like the one in the movie ‘Finding Nemo’. It wasn’t necessary to swim a lot ... instead we held our arms across our chests and let the waves and tide move us over the scene below. Time floated by so quickly.

The rest of the day was lazy. A few minutes were spent on the internet (internet has not been easy to come by, so we were a little surprised when Rita told us these dunes had internet), an afternoon nap, watching crows do what crows do and an evening stroll along the beach.

June 16

It rained just a bit in the morning as we packed up the tents and loaded our backpacks back into the 4x4s. By the time we were back in the little village the dark clouds had moved on and blue skies lit up the hard red dirt road.

It was going to be a long day of driving nearly 500 km to the capital of Mozambique, Maputo.

Watching life happen along the way gave us a chance to appreciate the luxuries we so often take for granted and appreciate the opportunity we have to travel.


Arthur pointed out how many of the buildings were of their original construction colour ... drab gray for the most part. Paint costs money and that money is better spent elsewhere. In villages and towns those buildings that are painted are usually painted in one of three colours ... blue, yellow or red ... because the blue paint (plus words and logos) is paid for by Vodacom [cell phone company], the yellow by MCEL (another cell phone company) and red by Coca Cola.


For lunch we stopped along the highway and enjoyed Arthur’s specialty ... tuna salad sandwiches. We heard children singing and then reciting in unison, the sounds coming from a grey building across the street.


Sherrie and Joseph packed up the leftover food, some pencils, pens and toothbrushes and headed over. Two rooms were filled with students sharing one teacher between them. The teacher directed us to another building and Joseph spoke to what we assume was the headmistress. They gratefully took our gifts and told us they would see they went to the most needy of the children. It wasn’t much but might brighten someone’s day a little.

We were given permission to visit the classes on our way out. The room in which the teacher stood was orderly as we introduced ourselves ... since this was not a tourist town it was probably the first time these children had ever met someone from a western country. When we dipped into the second room the students were much more animated ... until the teacher came in to settle them down. Having been the cause of the chaos, we said goodbye and returned to the bus.


Driving time was periodically interrupted by inspection points along the main roads. Vehicles are waved down by a uniformed man and the stickers on windshields are inspected.


As we approached Maputo the number of roadside entrepreneurs increased. Free enterprise is alive ... any item you may wish to buy can be found on the street or in the open field market places ... peanuts, mattresses, clothing, hardware, hair dressing, cell phone recharging ... it’s all there ... each seller trying to eke out a meagre living.


The Costa del Sol Hotel on the Indian Ocean coastline had it’s peak in the 1920s ... today it seems tired and waiting for someone with money to rescue it or rebuild.

We took a sunset stroll along the beach and returned to the hotel to enjoy a seafood dinner in the hotel’s famed restaurant. The prices were relatively expensive and the food disappointing (last night’s dinner at Jeff’s Palm Resort puts this one to shame). Good news ... this is simply an overnight stay and we will be on our way again in the morning.


June 17

Breakfast in the hotel was considerably less impressive than last night’s dinner.

Our first stop was Maputo’s Tunduru Botanical Gardens and the statue of Samora Machel.

Samora Machel began life as the son of a farmer. During his youth he witnessed racial discrimination and felt it first hand when his family’s farm was confiscated and given to Portuguese immigrants. Education beyond grade four was too expensive. He worked and paid for night school courses becoming a nurse’s aide and eventually working in a Maputo hospital. It was here he became politically active ... a course which would eventually have him leading his country to independence and becoming the first president of the People’s Republic of Mozambique on 25 June, 1975. The bronze statue was erected after his death in 1986 when his presidential aircraft crashed in the mountains where the borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa converge.


Like so much of Mozambique, Maputo is struggling to recover from years of war. In 1975, after losing the colonial war, the ethnic Portuguese left virtually overnight after destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. With few skilled professionals the newly-independent country’s economy plummeted and by the early 1980 the country was bankrupt. Hardships led to unrest which in turn led to civil war. Peace and stability have slowly returned over the past several years. Some of Mozambique’s buildings still reflect the colonial era. Others are empty shells; the remnants of war. Yet others, new and modern, show a city moving forward.

Arthur pointed to Casa de Ferro (the Iron House), "It was built for the Portuguese Governor. It was built of iron so it was extremely hot; too hot for the Governor, so he moved out and it was turned into an orphanage. Today it is the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. An interesting note about this building, it was designed by Gustav Eiffel who also designed the Eiffel Tower."

We walked to the top of Avenue Samora Machel to city hall, over to the Cathedral of Maputo and through a side entrance into the Tunduru Botanical Gardens.


Understandably the gardens are in disrepair and it is expected that it will be years more before money will be available to refurbish the paths which are feeling the wear of misuse from above and the upheaval of roots from below; along with the plants which are having their own battles for independence. We did see two park’s women cleaning up litter and debris.

Three blocks away we joined the morning bustle at Mercado Municipal Market. It’s housed in a large old building bursting with fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, souvenirs, wooden boxes, household goods, cosmetics, tribal drugs, hair pieces and, as everyone warns, ... pickpockets.


All prices are negotiable. To find a price lower than "we have a special price for you today" ... just walk away, if they let you walk you’ve found their bottom price ... they won’t loose money. If you have South African rand or US dollars you can bargain harder. For those not wanting to shop, just walking and watching is an experience worth the time spent.


At the Mozambique - Swaziland border crossing, we zipped through customs without difficulty. However, after giving our driver, Joseph, and the vehicle the go-ahead the fellow who lifts and lowers the gate’s bar sent him back to go through some more paperwork hoops before raising the bar.



continue to Swaziland ...

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