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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Africa Part Two: Mozambique

Dear Mom,

I'll pick up where I left off the last blog, when the group was still on safari in South Africa. First up: the story behind this shot.
I forgot to mention that in addition to the hippo cruise and the game drives, we split into two groups in the afternoons to visit the Zamimpilo Craft Market and the Endomeni Cat Rehab Programme, where they care for wild cats that have been injured or orphaned. We saw cervals, caraculs, African wildcats and cheetahs, with the "main attraction" the opportunity to pet a cheetah. The animals are obviously accustomed to visitors, but it was still kinda freaky, since I have inherited your aversion to cats. (The "safety briefing" included instructions about the importance of approaching the cheetah from behind, and of staying with the group. We'd heard a story about a leopard ripping the scalp from a tourist at the park after the guy made the mistake of lingering around the campfire after his companions went to bed.) 

Here's the market...we didn't get a shot of all the souvenirs for sale, as the produce was more colorful and interesting. (But...I did get a zebra ornament to add to your holiday collection.)
I could have skipped both of these activities and just rested a bit at the lodge, but as you know well, the advantage and disadvantage to group travel is "sticking with the plan." The downside to such activity-packed days was watching three sunsets in a row from the bus...with no "sundowner" cocktails! (#whitegirlwoes)
We left the tree house lodge on Monday morning...after a yummy breakfast spent watching clever monkeys trying to steal our food. We all enjoyed them immensely...other than the lady who stepped away before digging in and came back to an empty plate! 

We rode about three hours on the bus to reach the border between South Africa and Mozambique, where we overwhelmed the immigration officers with our 40-person queue for visas. We all got photographed and fingerprinted, and paid $83 for the visa (crisp, new bills only!), then we lined up at another window and got our passports stamped. This was my first chance to use my Portuguese, and the immigration officers were the first of many people to ask about the source of my Brazilian accent. 

From there, we loaded into a caravan of 4x4s and made our way through the thick sand about two hours to the White Pearl Resort. This was quite a production. The vehicles and drivers came from South Africa and stayed nearby for three nights. 

We passed through a few small communities as we drove along, and we had fun waving at the locals, as we were admittedly a bit of a spectacle (this was pretty much a one-lane road, so I don't think they see many multi-vehicle tourist convoys).

Finally...we arrived at our destination, White Pearl Resort, in an area called Ponta Mamoli.

Holy cow!! It was uma maravilha -- a sight to see. Here's the view from our room. I'll quote from the tour materials, which are schmaltzy but true:
"White Pearl Resorts, Ponta Mamoli, offers the ultimate in beach luxury in Africa. Experience elegant simplicity at this exclusive beach resort set in the dunes of the untouched shores of southern Mozambique. On a magnificent stretch of coastline, tucked behind Casuarinas trees, experience a place so beautiful and so pure, quite unlike any other in all Mozambique." 

The resort has 20 villas perched on the hillside, and all of the rooms had a private deck with lounge chairs and plunge pools. Many guests arrive by helicopter or small plane, since it's so remote, and I really can't believe we got to experience it for the price we paid for the trip, but it obviously helped that it's the low season and we rented the entire resort.

Most people headed straight to the bar for sundowners, but I watched the sunset from our bathtub with a local beer.


It was breezy at night but pleasant during the day, with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s. Jeanette and I did the ocean safari the first morning, and we both got to swim alone with a group of four dolphins. It was REALLY cool and now seems sort of surreal, as I didn't have an underwater camera. There were three adults and one adolescent circling around me for a good 10 minutes. We also snorkeled a bit. It turned into an "ocean barfari" for a couple of people, and we dropped them off on the beach between the dolphins and the snorkeling. Mozambique offers some of the world's best diving, so a couple of people took advantage of the resort's dive program. 

Incidentally, they launch the boat with a John Deere tractor and a big pole. I found this rather hilarious. I know John Deere is a global brand, but it just tickles me to see the trademark green and yellow in such an unexpected place, after growing up around Dad's tractors and combines.

Maybe if I'd been there a little longer, I could have put my driving skills to use?! I had to settle for a photo op.
Our phat rooms came with butlers, available via mobile phone to meet our every vacation need. 
We called our butler Jonas and requested breakfast on the terrace. Such a treat! 

On the second morning, I went for a jog, but Jeanette opted for breakfast again...with the table positioned for an even better view of the beach.
The tide was out in the morning, so I could jog on the beach for a long way without seeing anyone else. We woke up to a beautiful sunrise every day, so it was easy to get an early start.

I took a number of really peaceful long walks and just enjoyed the time to think on my own...after I got Jeanette to document the moment! 

I think Jeanette has more photos of the food on her phone...but everything I ate was outstanding. Each night they had a traditional dish in a iron pot; one night it was a crab stew. Another night I had a very tasty piece of grilled fish. My favorite dessert was a beautiful pavlova with fresh fruit. I had shrimp one day for a late lunch.
Several people took advantage of the horseback riding, and that was fun to watch.
June 25 is Mozambique's Independence Day, and a local dance troupe came to entertain us on the beach. I think most of the kids had parents who work at the resort. They were absolutely adorable and a delight to watch.  
A lot of people brought school supplies for local kids in their luggage, as the resort participates in Pack with a Purpose. I was chagrined not to contribute, but my bag was already bigger than I liked, given the Hawaii trip. The people who went to the school and gave away supplies really loved the experience, and the resort staff was astounded at the wonderful goodies people brought. Made me wish I'd planned ahead and done a little NYC show and tell for the kiddos! 

Thursday morning we packed up and headed to Maputo, again on the 4x4s. Big snaps to our tour leader Carol for not making is leave until 10 a.m. We'd had enough of the early wake ups on safari.   

This drive Maputo was QUITE an adventure, as it took about five hours. The guides had warned us there would be no potty breaks, other than natural ones "in the bush." We drove on a mix of sand and dirt roads, plus some paved stretches, but those were so full of wicked potholes (one guy nicknamed them Mozambican Speed Bumps), the dirt was preferable. 
The drive was actually fairly entertaining, as everything we passed seemed sort of novel and interesting. For example...
I am fairly certain the farmer went home that night and (after he'd removed his earbuds) told his wife he'd encountered a bunch of white folks who'd never seen cows before... 

The drivers managed to find a spot for the ladies to queue up for a potty break, and the locals were very gracious. I led a charge to support the little community store, where we cleaned out their supply of Cokes and cookies. (After I bought my snack, the entrepreneurial dude said, "Miss...don't any of your friends want to buy something?!" I said, "We'll...let me ask them, but we've got to make it to Maputo without stopping again, or these drivers will kill us!") 

The roads obviously improved as we got closer to the capital, and it was fun when we got our first glimpse of the skyline across the bay. 
We took the commuter ferry across the bay and hit the city right at rush hour, so it was a bit hectic. And it took FOREVER to unload, which was annoying for our drivers, who still had to caravan back to South Africa.

By the time we got to the hotel, we were all pretty filthy with road dust. I literally had to wipe off my bags with a rag. We had a forgettable dinner then did a quick tour of Maputo the next morning. Our hotel was the Cardoso, which looks out over the city.
We stopped at the city train station, which our tour guide very proudly told us, "was ranked the seventh-most beautiful train station in the world by Vogue Magazine!" If you, like me, wonder who else is on the list, here you go. (It's actually from Travel and Leisure, and Maputo clocks in at #4, but both magazines are published by Conde Nast, so surely this is what he meant.)

The station is looking a little rough as it undergoes renovations, and there aren't many trains these days. Apparently the location appears in the movie Blood Diamonds.

 From there, we checked out the old city fort.

I was trying hard to get a grasp of the history, but it was a bit like drinking from a fire hose. However, the most interesting part to me was learning a bit about Samora Machel, Mozambique's first president after independence from Portugal. Here's the statue of him in Independence Square (which is actually more of a traffic circle in front of city hall and the city cathedral).

He seemed to be a bit like Mozambique's Mandela...and I think that's a fair analogy (a freedom fighter who became the first black president in an African nation after white minority rule), but it's a bit more complicated. His fourth wife, Graca, is Mandela's widow.

The guide actually didn't explain this very clearly -- I think he thought we knew a lot more about the Machels than we did -- this would perhaps be analogous to going to the U.S. and not knowing who the Clintons are. He was referring to them quickly and offhandedly, and I suspected no one else in the group was following it either, but I figured most people were (a) exhausted (b) less interested than moi, so I asked a bunch of follow-up questions.

Given your interest in First Ladies, I bet you would have been fascinated by Graca, and I wish we could read a biography of her together... She must be the only woman who ever served as First Lady of two countries.

Anyway, the crash course (more from my reading than the guide) is that Mozambique was a Portuguese colony from about 1500 until the mid-70s, when an anti-colonial regime came to power (via a "leftist military coup") in Lisbon and basically handed Mozambique over to the freedom fighters, a military group called Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique). Under the new, Marxist regime, the Portuguese ruling class was either forced out with nothing or quickly fled to South Africa, basically creating a brain drain and leaving the country in the hands of radical soldiers who nationalized everything and had no government experience. (Obviously one could go on at length about the issues of colonialism, but I'm trying to keep this short, and it's hard to make much of an argument that the country really fared well in the early years after independence.)

Mozambique subsequently entered into civil war until the early 90s. However, whether it was a true "civil war" depends on whom you ask. Many sources say it wasn't truly a civil conflict, as the opposition (Renamo) was mostly backed by Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and South Africa, who didn't want communism in their neighborhood. Machel died in a mysterious plane crash, which many people speculate was not an accident (at least the CIA isn't blamed for this one!), and his successor was much more moderate.

Okay, I feel like at this point even you'd be saying "tell me less," so let me shift back to something you would enjoy more. Here's the Museum of Natural History, with a school group out front, and here's a shot of me with my "small world" connection from my group tour.

While sitting outside and chatting by the pool at our hotel in Maputo, I realized this cool gal Leigh was Anne Jolley Thomas's sorority sister at Huntington! We had a great time playing the name game...and it also turned out she's from Dothan, and her mom remembers me translating Portuguese at church. The tour group (Adventures for Singles) is based in Atlanta, so it wasn't too surprising to have some small-world Southern connections...but I actually had two, as one woman in the group has gone on Dunwoody UMC's mission trips to Rio, so she and I had several mutual friends and found a lot to talk about as well.

Okay, I think that's all for this chapter. Next time: my week flying solo in Mozambique! I'll cut to the chase and tell you I'm already home sweet home, so no one needs to sweat the ending of this saga. But it was QUITE an adventure!




Tami Jones said...


You make me miss our trip so much. I wish we could have had more time, especially at White Pearl. And once again, thanks for making me laugh with your joke about "just like being 21 again". It certainly brightened my birthday barfari!


Gayle Trunfio said...

Hi Lynsley,

Your blog is great and brings back lots of fun memories. I cannot thank you enough for capturing pictures of me horseback riding on the beach.

Thanks again and HAPPY TRAVELING!!