I've had some real adventures far from home, but I think traveling alone for a week in Mozambique may go down as my boldest trip ever!
Those who are just now joining us on this ride can check out this post to understand my rationale for wanting to go to Mozambique. (Postscript to that post from the spring...I ended up cutting out the European part of my planned summer sabbatical in order to accept a promotion at work.)
It's funny, on my flight to Africa, I saw a quote in a magazine that summed up perfectly the mix of fear and fascination that I was feeling about the solo portion of my journey. I can't find it now, but these are along the same lines.
It's funny, though, I tell people all the time about you and Miss Frances going to Valencia in the 60s, and that seems so much more daring to me, in this day of wifi and Facebook. We had wifi issues at the places where I stayed with the group, but I had pretty good access the whole week I was alone, so I never felt completely adrift.
Anyway, on Friday morning, we wrapped up the group tour in Maputo, and I said farewell to my fellow travelers. Many of them were heading to Cape Town or doing extra days on safari in Kruger, but I was the only one who'd chosen to explore more of Mozambique. (And obviously it's not something I would have done alone if I didn't speak Portuguese. But...now that I've been...I'm already plotting my return!)
Funny enough...as I left the group tour at the craft market, one of the guides told me something in Portuguese that I loved so much, I wrote it down in my trusty notebook:
Se Deus quisse que nos ficassemos no mesmo sitio ele davanos raizes en vez de pernas.
If God wanted us to stay in the same place, he would have given us roots instead of legs.
I googled it, but somehow no one has made one of those clever images of that one yet! Maybe I'll figure out how to put it on top of one of my feet pics.
Since our quick trip ("Ferrari safari" was a new term we learned in the bush) through the Natural History Museum was so truncated, I decided to return, as it was located directly across the street from our hotel. In the gift shop, I found a few additions to Mr. Mark's Coca-Cola collection (to go with the tuck tuck LAS got him in Thailand), but I decided these would have to be virtual...
I then got a lengthy explanation, which, if I understood it correctly, was that there was a massive elephant slaughter (in the 30s, I think) to clear an area for agricultural development. Noticing that some of the elephants were pregnant, one of the coordinators of the project suggested they save the fetuses for scientific research. I was taken back to the days of dissecting frogs in Mrs. Van's lab, as you can even smell the formaldehyde! It's only the first four or five that are real; the others are models. And, this should remain the world's only collection of elephant fetuses, as hopefully there will never be such a massive slaughter again.
The things you learn when you travel!
I was also excited to see a stuffed wild dog, as Jonathan the safari guide had said these are his very favorite animals.
(I did see for myself an old, fat man smoking and painting, but thankfully he was not shirtless.)
Then I walked back to the hotel, after a thwarted attempt to stand in line at an ATM. (I walked up as a gal was walking out, and a guy said to me -- in English -- "Um, actually, there's a line here." I stood for about five minutes but then thought surely I could find another option, as I had some cash I could exchange at the hotel.) I think this area used to be one of the nicest parts of the city, and it wasn't too bad, but I was ready for my next stop, the Polana Hotel.
Here are a few photos from the hotel website.
And, a few from my camera, of my view of the bay and the spa:
I was extremely annoyed with myself when I realized the spa seemed quite fabulous, but I'd neglected to build in time to enjoy! Little Miss Planner was not on her A game at all. Big fail! My pedicure was looking extremely gnarly, and a massage to wrap up the week would have been pure bliss. (I immediately began plotting my return to Maputo...)
After a week of cohabitation, I enjoyed a quiet "lupper" by myself, a swim in the tub, a chilled glass of sparkling wine, and a delicious night of rest in my own big and charming bed! (The bathroom at this joint was definitely worthy of five stars itself.)
I'd also like to take a moment to point out for the "everything is better in America" naysayers that there is definitely one thing that's better outside the U.S.: hotel breakfasts! I had a fantastic, complementary breakfast included at every single spot on my trip. And while the Polana's may have been the best of them all, every single hotel where I spent the night offered a gouge-worthy spread.
Rested and refreshed, I headed to the Maputo airport to fly to my next stop. I was bound for the beach town of Tofo in the province of Inhambane, known as the "terra da boa gente" ("land of good people"). Our Maputo guide told us the residents of Inhambane are so honest, they'll go to great lengths to track you down and return anything you lose. Not a bad place to begin my solo journey, I thought...
That is, until I was a little too friendly and honest with the cabbie as he drove me to my hotel. Am I single? Yes! Traveling solo? Yes! I should have cooked up some tale about a boyfriend who worked for an NGO and would be meeting me as soon as he wrapped up the land mine conference in Maputo (all good lies should have just enough truth to be believable, and there was indeed such a conference taking place). Alas, Chatty Sue instead gave up just enough info for the cabbie to suggest we spend some time together getting to know each other during my visit. I'm not really sure if his refusal of my attempts to change the subject away from dating and back to the landscape qualified as creepy or just annoying, but I exited the cab at my hotel without giving him my phone number...or a tip, for that matter!
I later learned quite a number of white women come to Tofo seeking a "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" sort of vacation, enjoying ALL the, er, "natural wonders" of the African continent, so Lord knows what sort of tourism that cabbie thought I planned on engaging in!
But back to the story. The journey from Maputo to Tofo was otherwise uneventful, if a bit entertaining when I arrived at the not-recently-renovated Inhambane airport, which would give a TSA officer a panic attack.
(Two different airport security guards in Mozambique suggested I hide my water in my backpack but let me through with it anyway...snaps to the third world for not sweating the small stuff.)
My favorite part of the Inhambane airport was collecting my luggage from "baggage claim."
I got a room with an ocean view and loved the open shower, where I could enjoy the beach vista as I lathered up my hair with their absolutely scrumptious shampoo.
Tofo reminded me quite a bit of Buzios, the beach town where we'd go to relax after our volunteer trips in Rio. Brigitte Bardot put Buzios on the map when it was just a fishing village, and as I watched the fishermen head out to sea in the early morning, I wondered if the same thing might eventually happen for Tofo...
However, Tofo has actually been on the tourist map for quite some time, as the hotel was built in 1969, and the hotel was the site of the approval of the text of Mozambique's constitution! It's well known as a destination for surfers and divers, and even South African families, but tourism was definitely down, despite the fact South African schools were on holiday. Some of that is apparently due to recent fighting much farther north, but the gal I spoke with felt like tourism has sort of stalled in recent years, in part because infrastructure hasn't really improved or kept up. (Case in point: the airport. Vilanculos, my next stop, has a brand-new, first-class airport.)
There's also the headache of constant solicitation to buy things, which is one thing when you venture into the market...
Or when it's a cute kid selling bracelets on the beach...
Anyway, I did get in some nice beach walks and jogs (which the hotel staff assured me was fine to do on my own...as long as I went north, not south to Tofinho).
We saw one breach that was pretty close to this (thanks, Wikipedia!):
But it was mostly just watching tales like this one.
It was quite interesting, and I learned a lot! The speaker was a Dutch guy working on his Ph.D., under the tutelage of a marine biologist whose work in Tofo led to the realization there are two species of manta ray (and they think they've found a third one).
On my way back to the airport on Tuesday morning, I got the taxi drivers to give me a little whirl through the town of Inhambane. It was enough to satisfy my curiosity about that spot, though I do think it would have been fun to ride a dhow across the bay to Maxixe.
Realizing I'd not taken many photos of the countryside, I snapped a few along the way.
As previously noted, the airport in "Vil" was quite fancy. This coastal town is the gateway to the renowned Bazaruto Archipelago, home of some of the world's best diving. Again...I was kicking myself for not getting dive certified. Next trip!
I stayed at a charming B&B called Casa Rex, run by a group of expats from Zimbabwe. My room was just perfect, with a view of the water and the swimming pools in the garden below.
The next morning, after breakfast I made a new friend! I decided to do a boat trip for sand dune climbing and snorkeling on Two Mile Reef, along with another gal who was staying at Casa Rex.
We were on the boat with a family from South Africa. Our first stop was Bazaruto Island, the largest in the archipelago, known for its massive sand dunes.
We landed on another small island for more strolling and swimming, and a tasty lunch of grilled fish, fish stew, and chicken.
Also on the boat with us was a British expat named Jude, whose brother Richie was visiting from the UK with his girlfriend, and Jude's adorable son. We all really enjoyed each other, and the weather was much sunnier and warmer than the prior day. Jude said it was quite a treat from being there in the summer, when the beach is crowded with boats and shade is at a premium. We practically had the island to ourselves; I think there were two other boats.
The crew cooked us a tasty lunch of grilled baracuda, and we just spent the whole day snorkeling, swimming and strolling. Before we set sail, I suggested we stock up on beer, as the Coke I had with my lunch the prior day left something to be desired...
check them out here, but be sure to invite me along! (Side note...on the prior day's boat trip, I did get a glimpse of the source of my original "I must visit Mozambique" itch, Benguerra Lodge, now known as &Beyond Benguerra Island, and I remain determined to make my way there eventually, once I find the right companion...)
And...that was it! I shared dinner with Jim at Casa Rex that evening and walked into town with Andrea the next morning to buy a 2M t-shirt and a sarong. I flew from Vilankulo to Johannesburg, and then to Atlanta and on to New York. I saw this on Facebook as I waited at baggage claim.
It was a lovely summer day, warm but not too hot, so I strolled over to Bryant Park for a sandwich at 'Wichcraft. Sure sign of slight homesickness that I walked through the mob of tourists in Times Square!
Isn't that why we travel anyway?