Connect the dots

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Indian Ocean Island Gems: Ilha de Mozambique

Finally, Mozambique redeems itself with this low-key island. Before moving to the better port of Maputo, the capital was formerly on this laid back island. Roughly one square kilometer and walkable from south to north in about 2 hours, it is also easily reachable by car as it is connected by causeway to the mainland.

One way traffic only

You first walk through the crowded makuti (reed) town where people were forced to migrate when their lands were decimated during the war and then you are assaulted with this massive hospital (still currently in use as a hospital), the start of the stone town. Here is development just waiting to happen. Many of the colonial buildings still stand in various states of deterioration. In a few years, it may look like a very different island. A local even stated that there was a prospective developer for the hospital. The catch: the developer will need to build a new hospital in place of taking over the old one. We spent a few days relaxing here and even took a dhow for some nearby beaches and lobster.

Makuti homes

Local barber

Once the biggest hospital in Southern Africa

Dhow building

Powdery white sand and crystal clear waters

The best spot to rest your head: O Escondidinho. Now in Ilha for 8 years, this French family was here way before the new, more boutique bed and breakfasts laid their foundation. They offer simple, comfortable rooms with high ceilings, delicious food and an immaculate pool.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dhow Safari to Magaruque

We weren't leaving the Vilanculos without visiting at least one of the islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Marc had taken a dive earlier in the week with whale sharks and manta rays! We wanted in on the fish action too.

After baking in the sun, we stuffed ourselves with fresh crabs cooked by the crew on the boat and waited for low tide to walk over the rocky reef. The fish were visible right where you stood on the rocks, but after getting in with a snorkel and mask, all you needed was to lie still and let the angel and butterfly fish surround you.

Mamalene and Alex fortunate enough to ride on a PURPLE dhow


At high tide

At low tide

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mozambique's Got Beef

What happened to Mozambique? Was it the Portuguese leaving the Mozambicans in economic shambles after independence? Was it the immediate civil war that lasted two decades?

This was the first African country where we felt that the people were less than welcoming, aggressive and didn't stick to the deal when it came to money and that for such a poor country, they were charging up to $80 for motel-like spartan rooms (on top of charging us extra for a mattress for Alex!)

Another bizarre occurrence was that all the big (read: expensive) hotels in the major cities (Nampula and Quelimane) were always full to capacity. Who were the people staying in these places? Again, we found that many business and government workers traveled throughout the country and stayed in these 4-5 star hotels or guesthouses!

Please, can someone explain Mozambique to me?

Horsing Around

What are the chances of two full Filipinos, one half Filipino and a Zimbabwean living in Manila all on a horseback riding trail in Mozambique?

That's exactly what happened the morning we decided to head to the northern part of Vilanculos for a morning beach and village ride.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cidade do Paraiso?

At first glance, Vilanculos sounds like a perfect seaside town with the turquoise, calm, tropical fish filled Indian ocean and the nationally protected Bazaruto Archipelago with its white sand beaches and towering dunes easily reachable by
dhow, a traditional fishing boat. But a closer look shows a vacation spot that is suffering. Suffering because the prices for food and accommodation are grossly inflated and lodges are made to keep you from ever interacting with local culture. With locals paying nearly 50% more for tomatoes than they would only 30 km north and the problem of over fishing, it's an economy not working very well.

Even the Zimbabweans managing the place where we were staying how it was only a matter of time until it all fell apart. During the boom and the trouble in neighboring Zimbabwe, many Zimbabweans, as well as South Africans, constructed many large lodges and enormous self-catering (having a complete kitchen) homes. The gigantic 4 bedroom/4 bath house we had rented was a result of this mania. Fortunately, they were able to cut us a good deal for an over week stay. Unlike many of the other hotels in the area, the managers of this lodge were in the mindset that having a few beds filled were better than having none. The formula for this place was that the vacationers would have a housekeeper and even someone to do grocery shopping for them but would cook most meals in the house. Throughout South Africa, many people who go on vacation never step into a restaurant but braai or cook their own food. Hence, the large amount of self-catering options throughout South Africa. In some spots, a large town only had one restaurant, and usually only a Spurs Steak Ranches (for you Americans: think Sizzler).

But Vilanculos is not the only town that suffers from this. Most of the southern coastal area of Mozambique is geared for tourists wishing to not leave the comforts (nor the cuisine) of their homes.

We considered moving further north but with Mamalene's vacation time running out and the best options to fly Mamalene back to Johannesburg being in Vilanculos, we were going to make the best of it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vamos Embora!

In order to make her experience more African, we ditched the car rental and took public transport into Mozambique. Although, I have to admit, the exorbitant rental prices were also helpful in making that decision.

From Nelspruit, we crossed the border and made our way to the hustling and bustling capital city of Maputo. Arriving in the evening, we had a taste of Maputo night life with well heeled residents hanging out in cafes for late meals and drinks.

After a grey and lazy morning, we made a deal with a taxi driver (who later was extremely dissatisfied with the agreed-upon price and sulked about it for several minutes - VERY Mozambican!) and headed to Inhambane for some sun and sand. We were hoping to finally leave behind the freezing winter in South Africa. But we weren't going to be that lucky! All night long, we had chilly non-stop rain. Moving onto to the laid-back beach town of Tofo, we spent the night NOT sleeping due to high winds whistling through our palm leaf roof and bugs falling from the ceiling and into our beds.

Heading further north (and hoping for warmth and some comfort) to Vilanculos, we took a crowded bus to our home away from home for the next week and a half. We were finally going to get some relaxation and maybe some sun.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mamalene Has Arrived

After nearly 6 months of not seeing her and some broken Skype sessions, Mamalene was finally coming to see us in South Africa. We decided to take advantage of her newly acquired Portuguese and head into Mozambique. But we weren't going to let her leave without a taste of safari here in Southern Africa. First stop: Kruger National Park.

Every time in the park is different, with this time as no exception. (And I can't seem to tire of sitting in a car all day to see animals.) Mamalene was treated to a 4 out of Big 5 sighting on her very first day. The elusive rhino never made an appearance. Sadly, on our way out we caught an eagle and vultures feasting on an impala that was clearly run over by a car on the road.

Mamalene realized quickly how addictive game viewing can be and so we indulged her with one more day in the park. Given the choice, she might have stayed in the park for the full two weeks of her vacation!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Third Time's A Charm

Okay, so a week with a trusty Garmin (we would have been stuck or very lost without it), a comfy bed and breakfast, a haircut, a Thai massage, a visit to some galleries and the Apartheid Museum (how awful doesn't begin to express it), Bambanani in Melville and Asian food (duck over rice and bokchoy!)… I have to admit, I was beginning to love Jozi. We were trying to get some rest and get our last fill of western comforts before picking up Mamalene and heading into the rougher parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.

Any cities or places you thought you wouldn’t like but surprised you did?