Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Mozambique is a country of contrasts. It's also the only African country I've ever spent much time in. We begged to see "the real Mozambique", so my sister Cheryl booked us first on a tourist bus from Maputo, the capital, to a little fishing village in the Bazaruto Archipelago called Vilanculos. We rose at 2:30 am in time to pick up our bus tickets and get us on bus for 4am. We spent 11 hours eating our small breakfasts and chatting with the other NGO volunteers who were also on the bus. The contant ring of cell phones reminded us that we were amongst many of Moz's movers and shakers.

In Vilanculos, we met up with Cheryl and became a 4-some. Interestingly, no one ever immediately thought we were sisters, despite our common looks. It didn't help that 2 of the 4 of us spoke fluent portuguese, the local language. Cheryl has been living in Moz for 3 1/2 years with her family, while Kathy has spent lots of time travelling throughout and studying in Brazil, where she uses portuguese extensively. Our primary reason to be in Vilanculos was to soak up the beach vibe. While not exactly touristy, Vilanculos is located right on a beautiful while sand beach and has sufficient amenities to keep adventurous tourists happy.

We indulged in a full day snorkeling trip by dhow (old-fashioned sailboat) to Bazaruto National Park, just off the coast. The snorkelling provided plenty of fish viewing in the corals just off the shore, and was sufficient for our snorkelling abilities. Lots of yellow, blue, white, and striped fish of all sizes, not to mention eels and corals of all colours. The 3 local guys cooked a hearty fish bar-b-q for us and seemed to enjoy the reveral of usual roles. Of course, they were shocked that we were travelling alone as women, and did ask us where our husbands and children were, and even offered to find/be new husbands if we were looking for any!

After a couple of days relaxing and eating great seafood, we woke up early again to meet the 3:30 am bus to Beira. This time we took the local bus, and it proved highly entertaining. There weren't enough seats for everybody, so the tourists got the real seats, while the locals piled into the aisles. There were bags stuffed under all the seats full of produce and goods, so no one had any leg room. After about an hour of driving, we had to stop for another hour while we waited for the bus driver's brother to bring him his wallet. (It seems he needed the money to ensure he could bribe his way through any potential roadblockages, or this is what the locals told us.) At one point, a person with a live rooster sat down next to me for a while. The rooster was quiet and mostly just sat in the basket. While most of Moz played little music, we did get to listen to some local pop music on the bus at top volume, so loud all you could hear really was the beat pounding away. We endured, just barely, and were exceedingly grateful to see my brother-in-law Steve pick us up and deliver us safely to their lovely compounded house in Beira.

While working for MCC, a Mennonite NGO, my sister's family nonetheless has a full time cook/cleaner and night guard. Each day they have their clothing laundered and ironed (including their underwear, to kill pinworms) and have a hot lunch prepared for their family. Everyone comes home for lunch each day. In fact, the kids attend school from 7:30am-12:30pm. Other kids attend in the afternoon, with different teachers, so more kids can share the same building.

We slept one night with my sister's family before heading out. This time we had our own large SUV which Cheryl drove with ease, despite the MANY potholes. Moz has only a few roads throughout the country, but even those are mostly reduced to one lane with lots of on-going construction and branches on the road to designate this. I've never really liked SUV's and find them generally silly in Canada, but they certainly were necessary in Moz! We drove about 6 hours to the Zimbabwe border, from the dry, sandy beach to the lush, green mountains. We arrived at Quinta de Fronteria, an old Portuguese estate that had fallen into ruin since independence in 1976, and was only recently being renovated and turned into vacation lodges for weathy Zimbabweins. We rented one cabana (for my "princess sisters" - Kathy and Lois) with a bed and indoor bathroom, and my outdoor sister, Cheryl, and I slept in a tent. We also had an outdoor kitchen at our disposal, which was a fire pit, complete with a firestarter. Our firestarter got up at 5 am each morning, cut wood for us, made a cooking fire, and put the kettle on for coffee. The first morning Kathy even woke up listening to them work and then delivered us coffee in bed (i.e. tent). Who says this isn't luxury living!

The rest of the weekend, we cooked our own food that we had brought, and spent lots of time relaxing together. One day we trekked down to the village through gorgeous, lush fields of large, dense palm trees and watched the villagers working in the fields using rudimentary hoes and shovels. There was not a tractor or horse to be seen anywhere throughout Moz, and people really worked hard in their fields. It poured rain on us, and we were fortunate not to slip in the red, shiny mud. The last morning we visited the old plantation house, which was really just a shell in ruins. The previous owner's son bought the old grounds several years ago, but it appears that more progress is being made on the landscaping and flowers around the property than the buildings themselves. It will be interesting to see how the property looks when it's all restored, but I wouldn't expect it to me for another 10-20 years, judging from the progress so far.

For our final weekend in Moz, we chose to spend it with my sister's family at their favourite vacation spot - a rustic vacation home on the beach about an hour outside of Beira. The house we had reserved had burned down a week earlier and they hadn't notified us, but since Cheryl knew the owner from her kids' school, he agreed to give us a larger, more modern house instead. This one was more like an Ontario cottage, and roomy enough for us, except for the kids sleeping outside in a tent. We lay in our beds listening to the waves lapping the shore, just steps away.

We talked, we ate, and we enjoyed the beautiful nature around us. Each morning we bobbed in the waves and laughed at the antics of the silly crabs scarmbing around the beach. I taught my 8 year old niece Katie how to make friendship bracelets, and I watched my 10 year old nephew Peter fly his remote control helecopter (a gift from me) around the cottage. Each night we wandered up the beach to the resort restauant and feasted on local seafood specialties. I enjoyed a curried crab dish (tasty, but hard work to get the meat out) and grilled octopus. As everywhere in Moz, it was early to bed and early to rise, with the sun and the moon.

Sadly we packed up one last time, made one final stop at the market for Lois to complete her souvenir shopping, and headed to the Beira airport. We had a long uneventful flight back to Toronto, stretched out over close to 2 days. We did make a put stop in Jo-burg once more for a few hours to meet friends of Cheryl's who picked us up, served dinner to us at their house, and delivered us back to the airport. It was a pleasant delay and chance to stretch our legs. By now, all of were thinking of home and ready to be in our own beds again.

Travelling as a 4-some with sisters who I really had never ever spent so much time with was easier than I thought it would be. Everyone had thought we were crazy to commit so much time together with family, but we enjoyed telling childhood stories from various perspectives and catching each other up on our real lives in the last 2 decades since we'd each left home. We have an astounding commonality amongst us all, yet very different personalities. In many ways I am most like my older sister Kathy in personality than I'd realized, who chose to be a professor, travel lots for work, and skip the mother thing. But then again, I like the human interactions of managing staff and family life like my sister Lois, and have a frugal, adventurous commonality with my sister Cheryl. They seem like mirrors to me, showing me parts of myself, and gently showing me the origins of that part of myself that I can't see so clearly on my own. I guess you could say it was a good sign that early on we started talking about our next trip. Clearly influenced by the Mama Mia movie we watched on the plane ride over, we want to try to get to Greece for our next sister trip in a couple of years. Again no husbands or children. It's a country we'd all love to see, but none of us have ever been there. Says a lot for a travelling crowd like us!