Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Wonderful Land of Moz

I made it back from Mozambique safely! I know I didn’t post it up here, but a couple of months ago a few friends approached me about planning a trip to Mozambique, and since their time frame worked well with my schedule I figured ‘why not?’ By the time we actually got down to leaving for the trip, two weeks ago, I was a bit of a stressed out mess, and the Moz trip was kind of my “light at the end of the tunnel.”

I tried to think of a way to write this post so that it comes off as entertaining and insightful, not too boring to read, but also letting you know details...what I came up with is that I just need to post a ton of pictures, so that is what I am going to do.

This was what our walk home in the evening looked like

The first leg of the trip consisted of the four of us meeting up in Gabs and then catching a bus down to Joburg. For informational purposes to my fellow volunteers or travelers, let me make quick note that there are a few ways to do this: Intercape leaves-6am, from Kudu gas station at Main Mall, arrives around noon/ 1 o’clock and costs about p230. TJs leaves at 8am, from the rank, arrives around 2pm, and costs p200 (no longer an option.) There is also a regular combi system that leaves from the rank whenever they fill up and costs p200. We took the Intercape because it seemed like the easiest option, and after a quick stopover in Pretoria, got to the Joburg bus station around 1pm.

Chad, Boo and Aimee, starting our
vacation off right!
From there we met up with a friend of a friend named Alex, who is pretty much living the do-gooder dream in South Africa while being self employed in the social and urban development scene. She gave us the run down on where we should check out, and what we should do and what we should avoid doing in order not to turn into a mugging statistic in some back alley somewhere. We left our packs at her place and after very little debate decided that the best way to enjoy ourselves before catching our night bus was to go to a place called “SAB World of Beer” which was just a couple of blocks over.

Chad and I enjoying a beer
People of the interwebs, this place was pretty much a Disney land attraction for adults, themed around beer, we hit the jackpot! We caught a tour just as it was leaving and the first room you walk into is modeled to look like the inside of an ancient Egyptian pyramid. After reading a little bit about the “first beers” we sat down to watch a 3D looking animated flick that told us how beer saved the world. I’m not even kidding with this last part, they literally said “sit down and find out how beer saved the world.” Something that I had always felt in my heart, but didn’t have proof of until now.

The whole tour was hilarious, it cost R65, and we got a commemorative glass (that came filled with beer), and two vouchers to get drafts at the end of the tour on a deck that has some pretty cool views of the city.
It was a great idea, and we had a really fun time. It truly felt like the first real step in our vacation and as we raised a glass over a bowl of peanuts, we toasted to what we knew was going to be a fabulous trip.

We caught the night bus from Joburg to Maputo at 10pm at night, big double decker, air conditioned, wonderfulness. We used Intercape again and I think it cost us about p310. Leave at 10pm, wake up at 8am in Maputo! Maputo is the capital of Mozambique, we were staying the night at Fatima's, and since we got in so early, we wanted to do a bit of exploring.

Aimee was pumped about the seafood
It is at this point I would like to issue a travel warning for people working their way through Moz: if you are in the capital, make sure you keep your passport locked safely somewhere, and that you carry around with you just a copy. If you get stopped by the cops and you show them the copy and they say it has to be notarized, or they will have to bring you in (unless of course you give them everything in your wallet), tell them to bring you in. The cops in Mozambique are corrupt, or at least this is what we heard at practically every turn, and though we didn’t run into any trouble, we talked to a few people who had.

fish market!
So we made our way to the fish market. Let me make it clear that one of the top objectives for everyone on this trip, was to eat as much seafood as humanly possible. Bots is landlocked, and unless you live up near the delta where there are river fish, getting any sort of seafood is impossible. Mozambique on the other hand has a long luxurious ocean coast line, which means it has nommy seafood coming out of its ears. We found the
fish market, and pretty much toppled over each other to look at everything and haggle prices (another thing you can do in Moz that you can’t do in Bots.) We ended up buying a half kilo of crab, half kilo squid, half kilo calms and half kilo of fish, which we turned around and brought to one of the restaurants to cook up for us. I highly suggest anyone traveling here do the same, they cook it up for you and charge by the kilo and if you are any good at all with negotiating prices, you will end up saving yourself a lot of money.

We sat under a canopy and enjoyed the hustle and bussle around us, as plate after delicious plate of aquatic amazingness was brought out to us. You would have thought that we hadn’t been fed in years based on how quickly we devoured everything.

Bags hanging in the market
We decided this just wasn’t going to be enough so before leaving we stopped into the market again and bought things to make a giant salad, as well as a kilo of prawns and calamari to cook up in the hostels kitchen. Caught a cab back to the hostel, dropped everything in the fridge and then went out again to check out the craft market. The craft market was cool, and had I not been living in Bots for the past year and a half, I might have been a bit more impressed, but ultimately it was stall after stall of the same things, and prices that were inflated to a ridiculous degree. A few of us found some good deals, but I think this was mostly due to the fact that it is low tourist season (December and January are high season) at the moment, and so everyone is itching for money.

Our awesome curry prawn calamari!
We walk back to the hostel and on the way pick up some curry and rice. Maputo is a lovely city to stroll through and it seems like every street is just lined with people wanting to sell you fresh produce, so we were all leaving a drool trail along the road. We just don’t have those kinds of vegetables in Botswana.We cooked an amazing meal of coconut, curry prawns and calamari, with a huge house salad, while each tossing back a few more beers. I think the people around us were a bit surprised to see such a major undertaking going on, but PCVs tend to know how to work together and the effort put into the food made itself clear while dancing across our taste buds and into our bellies.

Peace Corps will teach you to sleep
Next morning, wake up at the crack of butt to catch a combi to Tofo, our main destination. Fatima’s had a bus that went directly from their place in Maputo to their hostel in Tofu, but we thought we could save a little money by going to the rank. We were wrong, if you are doing this trip, just take the bus from the hostel. After 7hrs on the bus, we pulled into Tofo, made our way to the first beach access and ran directly into the ocean while fully clothed. I grew up in Michigan, the Great Lakes State; and never in my life have I been more than a 20min drive from a major body of water that I could swim in. Being in Botswana is like sucking all the soul water from my body and the only way to put it back is by running into bodies of water whenever humanly possible.

The water was AMAZING! This was my first time in the Indian Ocean, and there wasn’t even a slight shock when we went in, it was just warm, and salty and welcoming. We splashed around for a bit, put our packs back on and started huffing it down the beach towards our lodge.

the view from a much more expensive lodge that we did not stay in

$5 fancy drinks at above lodge
We made it to Bamboozi, and found out that we were pretty much the only ones there, aside from our new travel buddy that we had met back in Maputo. We booked ourselves into the dorm, freshened up a bit (they had hot showers!!! ...Well, they had hot showers before 10am in the morning, and after 4:30pm at night because those were the only times that the lodge had electricity.) Then we took the restaurant recommendation of a friend and wandered around until we found a little place called Tofo Tofo.

Tofo craft market
We ended up eating here 4 times over the course of the week. It is kind of the place to go, and it attracts a fun mix of tourists, divers and locals, and the prices are completely reasonable. The first night we did a family style dinner and ordered a MT700 seafood platter (for those keeping track that translates to about $20), clams, and clamari. The seafood platter we got pretty much every time we went because it came with lobster, fish, crab cakes, fried calamari heads, garlic calamari rings, prawns, and crayfish with a side of rice and chips. Every night you get a little something different, but every night it is amazing. To save us some time on food descriptions, because this post is now approaching the 2000 word mark here is what we ordered at one time or another at Tofo Tofo: seafood pasta, tuna fillet, tuna salad, curried fish, prawns, clams, and everything that was mentioned above. I don’t think I spent more than $25 USD on any meal we had there, and the average was really closer to $10.

Being silly
That night we met up with a bunch of Peace Corps Mozambique Volunteers who happened to be congregating in Tofo to throw a COS party for a group of theirs that was heading out. It was really fun meeting volunteers from another country, though I have to say that hearing about some of their sites, especially ones that were on or close to beach, made all of us a little green with envy.

y'all have no idea how badly
I flipped when I saw this at the
gas station!
The week continued on with the epicness with which is started. We sat on the beach, visited the craft market in Tofo, ate a ton of seafood, took walks along the shoreline, drank beers with the locals, swam in the ocean and generally let out a huge, collective sigh of relief that, not only were we not in Botswana any more, but that we picked a place that looked like it was the theme for every tropical postcard you have ever seen. I’m going to give you a rundown of what I believe were the three major highlights of the trip, going from least to most mind blowing.

Me checking out a mussel
#3: After meeting up with one of the local guys who hangs out at Bamboozi, he offered to let us come over to house, and watch/ help him prepare a traditional meal. He offered us a wildly fair price, and so on Wednesday morning we trucked over to Bernardo’s house and helped him make some food. Traditional food in Moz is slightly different than Bots. Instead of bean leaf morogo, they have something called mathapa, which is another green leafy substance that can be mashed up and cooked inside a pot. It isn’t as bitter as morogo, and all of us agreed that we were big fans of the stuff. During this whole process we learned how to dehusk a coconut, crack it open, gut the flesh, and make coconut milk which was pretty cool. We also picked up a few words of Ntonga, which is the native village language of the area (though everyone speaks Portuguese as well.)
traditional meal

The meal was awesome, we had mathapa, rice, crab, mussels, salad, bread and beer. Bernardo’s family was a pleasure to be around, and watching Bernardo work was also pretty wonderful. We ate in a frond woven, open air, outdoor hut, and left feeling completely full, and a few belt notches larger.

#2: The second night we were in Tofo we were all hanging out on the porch at Bamboozi that overlooks the beach. We were drinking some of the local Tipo Tinto Rum (you get 500ml for MT60, or $2, and I’m pretty sure it kills at least a few brain cells.) At some point in the night someone mentioned that there must be a car on the beach, because you could look down and see what appeared to be tire tracks. We didn’t pay much mind until we were starting to wrap things up. It was then that we realized that the thing leaving the tracks was not at all a car, and was in fact, still on the beach. We all raced down from the porch and found to our delight a GIGIANTIC LEATHERBACK SEA TURTLE!

I cannot stress to you, how mind blowingly cool this was. She was about the size of a go kart, and when we got down there it appeared she had come up to lay her eggs. She was easily a ton or two, and yet was able to repeal herself through the sand using her flippers. Even the local guys we were with were freaking out, since none of them had seen a turtle that size ever either. We took a few pictures, watched her for a bit, and at some point she turned around and started heading back to the sea without ever having laid any of her eggs. We were all buzzing with what had to be a rare wildlife encounter high.

The next day, we were at the Liquid Adventures dive shop inquiring about some fun activities and we mentioned the turtle. Nadia (the manager at the dive shop) thought it was cool, and said that we had probably seen a lager head turtle, and that they were somewhat common around these parts, but that seeing one on the beach was a special treat. Aimee whipped out her camera to show her a picture and Nadia’s jaw pretty much dropped to the ground. “HOLY F&%$, THAT’S A LEATHERBACK!” was her response, and immediately told us to get in touch with the Marine Mega Fauna people, who have an office in Tofo.

The Mega Fauna people were just as blown away, and came up the next day to see the tracks that were still left on the beach. At this point we were all kind of feeling a bit bad that we might have scared this momma turtle off from laying her eggs, but it turns out she wasn’t nearly as far up the beach as she would have needed to be, and that since the beach is still relatively public, it is probably a good thing she didn’t build a nest there. They got copies of all of our pictures, and thanked us a ton for letting them know about the sighting. They haven’t seen a leatherback anywhere in two breeding seasons, and two of the people we have talked to have never seen a leatherback at all. This was mainly due to the fact that locals poach both the eggs and the turtles themselves, and the population has slowly been dwindling. As a quick plug, if you are interested in volunteering with the Marine Megafauna people in Tofo, or just going to one of their tri-weekly marine lectures while you are visiting, check out their website:


After that you must be wondering what #1 is going to be, I mean, how the heck do you beat seeing a turtle on the endangered species list, up close and personal?

You get up close and personal with something bigger J

#1, on Claire’s Mind Blowing Stuff We Did on Vacation is...I swam with TWO, HUGE, Whale Sharks.

Peter's camera was broken but this is what it looked like
(plus a hyperventilating, flailing ginger chick) 
Tofo is an amazing place not only because of its picturesque beaches, amazing food, friendly locals, and chilled out vibe. It also happened to be a place where you can watch humpback whales migrate as well as swim with whale sharks. We were going to pass this once in a life time opportunity up, so we signed up for an ocean safari and hoped for the best. Safaris of any kind, in any country, are a tricky business. You are relying on animal behavior to create an attraction, and animal behavior is relatively unpredictable; so we knew going into this, that there was a chance that we wouldn’t seen any, in fact the outing the day before our trip had come back with just that...diddly.

You can't see him, but there is a whale
shark under us
We geared up at the Liquid, and walked down to the beach to board our boat. This thing was pretty much an oversized life raft, with an on board motor, which I thought was cool because it seemed more authentic than some sort of tug boat deal. There is not a single dock in Tofo, which is awesome. They took us out of the bay and around the corner, and we all just kind of sat out there and enjoyed the ride. Then our guide, Peter, starts exclaiming “Whale shark! Whale shark! Put on your masks!” The captain drives us a few meters in front of the thing and we are told to fall in backwards and “LOOK DOWN!” It was all crazy hectic, but I managed to get myself in the water, adjust my snorkel, and look down.

This was the part when I almost crapped myself. A huge, 6meter whale shark is swimming directly at us, and
In my mind though, I like to think I looked like this 
in the briefing it had been made clear that these things are big, so they aren’t going to move for you, you have to move for it. We all scramble to get out of the way, and I attempted to talk myself down from hyper ventilating. Peter said we could swim along with them as long as we could, or until it dives back down deep. This first foray into the water I have to say that I was a little freaked so I probably surfaced too soon, but as soon as I did I see Peter pointing at another spot in the water not too far from me and yelling that he sees another one.

I can’t remember if they collected and dropped us again or if I just swam over, all I know is that when I looked down again, the first guy had circled around, and the new whale shark friend was hanging out. At this point I have two 6-7meter whale sharks in my line of sight. It is overwhelming, you both want to cry and giggle, and even though you know logically that these giants of the deep aren’t going to eat you, it is still shaped like a shark, and it is hard to override your biological reaction of “holy ball sac, this thing is going to eat me and I need to get out of the water right now.” After the third dive in though, you get used to it, and by the last go around I swam next to one for somewhere between 15-20mins.

Cultural Center in Inhabane (we took
a day trip there.)
They are amazing creatures, big and majestic, and powerful. Their mouths could easily swallow a human, and yet all they want are plankton...a butt load of plankton. We lucked out, even after climbing into the boat a final time, we saw another two on our way back to shore. It is the most Peter had seen pretty much all season in one outing, and because we went out in the afternoon, we didn’t even have to share the water with another tour boat. I was on an animal high for the rest of the day, and most of the day afterwards, and am currently smiling just remembering it all.

Cool old theater in Inhabane
Lastly, a few days in we took a side trip to Inhabane, which is just a 40 min (very crowded) combi ride away from Tofo. It was a cool little spot, and we picked up some cash at the ATM while strolling around. Aimee and Boo and I went on an epic hunt for ice cream (which we found) and it was nice hanging out on the pier and walking through the market. We also found super cheap mathapa, a really cool looking theater, and a beautiful cultural center. If you happen to be in the area we were also told it would be worth the ferry ride to go to Mashishi, which apparently is the place that all the vendors get their craft goods. We were just in for the day so we opted out, but the boat ride would have been pretty fun. Heads up: the whole town follows siesta so don't try and go shopping between 2-5pm!

cramming into the combi
It was an amazing trip, and one that I didn’t even really know I needed that badly. I am now back in Rams safe and sound, and feeling like I can tackle the next 7 months with renewed vigor. Ultimately I have a wonderful array of stepping stones that are going to lead up to the end of my service here, and Moz was just the first one. I’m coming home for Christmas next month, my parents and my Mom’s friend Kristin are coming out to visit in February, our group has our COS conference in March, and then I am going to Indonesia and Thailand for a month after service. This trip for me is marking not so much the beginning of the end, but more the beginning of the downhill. I have about 4 projects I would like to see fully accomplished before I close out, and after that I am no longer going to be trying to accomplish much more here.

Looking for humpbacks
A few notes with that: I have officially decided not to seek an extension on my service here. I have a family and someone special to get home to, and I think my time in Botswana has been enough for me. I know I have been on and off about this over the past few months, but I decided a few weeks ago that it is time for the next chapter, and I’m both petrified and looking forward to it.

For those of you that actually made it to the end of this post, thank you for reading! Hope all is well, wherever you may be.

Hugs and smooches,

p.s. for info purposes: we took intercape back to Joburg, and then took the last combi from Joburg to Gabs. I do NOT recommend staying in the neighborhood that the Joburg bus rank is located in for any longer than you have to, and unless it is early in the day, you are risking it with the combi because if it doesn't fill up, it won't leave and the Bots border closes as 12pm (it takes about 5hrs to get there from the rank.)

you have no idea how many times we
had to try this to get it right

1 comment:

  1. This is such a wonderful post! I got to see a sea turtle up on the beach laying eggs in Florida once, it was probably about the same size as your leatherback, but not quite so much local excitement about it! You are lookin so happy in your pictures, that makes ME happy! <3 We can't wait to see you in December!