Lounging away a final day

Vilanculos, Mozambique

My final day on the African continent certainly wasn’t my most exciting although it might very well have been the most relaxing.

After breakfast, I grabbed my iPod and book and lounged at the pool for a couple of hours. There wasn’t anyone else there; occasionally, the big bearded owner of Pescador would yell over to me in a heavily accented voice: “Are you good?” Thumbs up.

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Down the sand road was another small hotel, Casa Rex, that I’d debated staying at. If given the choice again, I’d probably have picked it; the views were even better from the pool and the crab salad for lunch was solid.

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Back at the guesthouse, it was time for me to pack for the final time. Reflecting on the trip, it’s safe to say that this month in Africa has far exceeded my expectations — it’s also been full of surprises. What we hear about this continent from the western media doesn’t tell the whole story. It isn’t just disease, war and starvation. Africa is a remarkable place with remarkable people. And I’m already looking forward to my return.

My 32-hour, 10,000 mile journey back to Carolina, via Johannesburg, Dakar and New York, departs tomorrow at 2 p.m.

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There are other tourists in Mozambique!

Magaruque Island, Mozambique

After 48 hours of not coming across a single other tourist in the Bazaruto, you could imagine my surprise upon seeing several other dhows moored at the island of Magaruque this morning. Others knew of this tropical paradise? Gasp!

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This was the most popular day-trip destination, Dumas, my guide explained, as Magaruque is the island closest to Vilanculos. Magaruque was small but gave everyone visiting plenty of room to swim, snorkel and walk its quiet shores.

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Much of my time though was spent snoozing away in the sun while my crew did the same.

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Manuel cooked up a wicked good lunch, a calamari pasta and crab salad. It was a fitting final meal on the boat.

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A little after 2 p.m., we set sail for the return to Vilanculos, arriving about 90 minutes later. We unloaded the boat and said goodbye. Back at the office, SailAway’s owner, David, asked me how the trip was. “Amazing,” I said. “The crew treated me like I was the only one there.” He laughed.

Back at Pescador Guesthouse, a big surprise — another guest had arrived, a solo traveler from London. At dinner, we shared a glance. Like we had both managed to stumble upon a tropical paradise that few had yet to discover.

Solitude in the archipelago

Benguera Island, Mozambique

Talking with the crew last night helped give me a better understanding of Mozambique and its past. The country was completely ravaged by a civil war that ended only 15 years ago; those who were raised during this time — like my captain, Manuel — were not able to go to school and, as a result, now speak only fleeting English. Perhaps the war’s only saving grace (if it could be called one) is that the fishing industry came to a standstill, resulting today in some of the world’s best marine wildlife. It is hoped that this will attract tourists like me and drive Mozambique forward.

It’s interesting and a bit unexpected to be in an African country where not everyone speaks English. Mozambique is one of the few in Southern Africa that wasn’t a British colony; instead, it was under the rule of Portugal. The language, coupled with a multiethnic, spicier cuisine, gives this place an exotic feel.

But Mozambique is also one of the poorest countries in Africa, and consequently, the world. The war demolished entire industries and the country has been slow to rebuild them. Unemployment is high and for those who do work, monthly salaries average 2000 meticais, or about $80USD. The country is now banking largely on tourism to aid in growth.

After an omelet, fresh fruit and some coffee on the boat, it was off to our second island destination, Benguera. En route, we discovered a pristine white sand barge. “We’ve never been,” my guide, Dumas, said. “Do you want to go?” Of course, I replied.

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Walking through this deserted island, with its small inland sea; sitting on a piece of driftwood, staring out at sea; this was relaxation at its finest.

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Suddenly, a small boat of fishermen came ashore, hauling in a huge net and solid catch. Besides my crew, they would be the only other people seen today.

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After some time on the sand barge, we sailed to Benguera Island, which was apparently inhabited, although we didn’t see anyone there. The boat dropped me off, allowing me to walk the beach at my leisure and snorkel some reefs.

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Back on board, we set sail for camp. Along the way, Manuel, our cook, bought some crabs and calamari from local fishermen for dinner.

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The rustling of palm trees and light crashing of waves rocked me to sleep.

Chartering a private sailboat

Bazaruto Island, Mozambique

My plan today had been to join a 3-day dhow safari with SailAway which would take me to the offshore Bazaruto Archipelago, a chain of five nationally protected islands off of the coast. Because of a high income-low impact development approach to tourism, the accommodation options on the islands are limited and quite expensive. SailAway provided an alternative — an opportunity to visit them aboard a dhow, a traditional sailboat, while camping out.

This morning, David, who runs SailAway told me that the group of three other guests that were to join the trip had their passports stolen and would now be unable to go. “I’m not going to cancel the trip,” he said. “The boat is yours.” The bad luck of others had become my good fortune; I’d have the dhow at my disposal, along with the three-man crew.

The captain, Manuel, led me down to the vessel — and while it certainly wasn’t luxurious, it was comfortable. There was a place to store my bags in the front, benches running along the sides, coolers for the food and water and a firebox for cooking in the back.

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The cook, also named Manuel, used some charcoal to get a fire started and put a kettle on while my guide, Dumas, talked me through our itinerary.

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With the sails up, we headed north for our first stop, Bazaruto Island. It was a scenic trip out there with dolphins following alongside the boat. We even spotted a dugong, this cool sea mammal unique to the area. The island itself felt completely deserted; on our beach, there was no other sign of life except some sand crabs.

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There was a tremendous dune further down the beach. From the top were views out to sea as well as the lush inland.

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After lunch back on the boat, we made our way to Two Mile Reef, which has the best snorkeling and diving in the area. Somehow, there wasn’t a single other boat or person there. Below water, colorful schools of fish darted among the coral, eels lurked in crevices and a gigantic sea turtle searched for food. My camera didn’t come down, so here’s a boring photo of the reef from the boat.

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With the sun starting to lower in the sky and our first day coming to an end, the sails were raised and we made our way to camp.

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Manuel grilled some freshly caught paragosan fish for dinner. We had a couple of beers around the campfire before heading to bed.

Flying into the Bazaruto Archipelago

Vilanculos, Mozambique

This morning, it was back to OR Tambo International Airport for the final leg of my month-long trip through Africa. My destination was Vilanculos, Mozambique, a small beach-side town on the Indian Ocean coast.

There’s one daily direct flight on Pelican Air, which is the only commercial carrier allowed to fly here. Unsurprisingly, the cost of airfare is through the roof; the only other option though is to fly through the capital of Maputo and then slog the final 9 hours by bus. Better to just eat the cost.

It was an ATR 42 propeller with a capacity of 48 passengers. All together, there were only 8 of us on board though, giving plenty of room to stretch out. Strangely enough, a UNC undergrad was sitting in front of me. He was spending the summer teaching English in Vilanculos. Small world.

The approach into the airport brought us over a vast and brilliant stretch of shimmering water, the colors of which ran the spectrum of every shade of blue and green. White sand barges occasionally dotted the ocean.

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After paying the $3USD entry tax (this, in addition to the $40USD visa) and having my bags searched again, my hotel transfer via pickup truck to Pescador Guesthouse was waiting for me.

We drove through town, which was bustling with activity but still showing signs of recovery from the cyclone that hit in 2007. Entire stretches of road have yet to be rebuilt (nor will they ever it seems) and fallen trees are stacked high.

Pescador was right off of the sand road and completely empty. It’s a small place to begin with — just six rooms — but had a staff waiting at attention upon my arrival. The manager, Nathalie, offered me their king room with a gigantic bed and views of the beach and water.

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The afternoon was spent relaxing at the pool, soaking in the perfect sunny weather and enjoying a place all to myself.