Lingering Longer

Trip Start Feb 24, 2005
Trip End Jul 23, 2005

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Flag of Mozambique  ,
Friday, July 1, 2005

I'm in Cape Town again, and I have no idea how that happened. I got distracted by a boy, and the next thing I knew I was hurtling back across the continent in exactly the wrong direction. I'm all for serendipity, but did I have to come back in the absolute dead of winter?

The chill in the air makes my memories of Mozambique all the sharper. What an amazing three weeks. Susan and I encountered the usual round of travel-related hassles: Our Maputo-bound bus broke down before even leaving Jo'berg city limits, and internet servers were down for the entire country once we got there. After two days we gave up and hopped on a crowded, noisy bus for Tofo Beach, about 9 hours north of Maputo.

Tofo is a funny place for me. When we first arrived, I suspected I might get bored quickly--the beach is pretty and there are several dive shops, but it's quite undeveloped and the weather is unpredictable (always warm but often windy). But the most captivating places don't always appear so at first glance. In the beginning, I was in a tizzy because I couldn't buy onward plane tickets, and I was checking the internet every day that it was up. Then one day I forgot to check. Then I went a few days without checking. Eventually I found myself dutifully repeating the words every day, "I have to buy a flight to Kenya," but I could no longer remember what exactly a "flight" was, much less why I wanted one. Tofo makes you forget everything but that little crescent of beach.

On our first day there, Susan and I and our friend Anne went to the dive shop to go on a whale shark safari, where we would look for these huge creatures from a little zodiac boat. The weather was poor for spotting, so we were just on our way back to the hostel when the woman from the shop came running after us. The first humpback whales of the season had just been spotted offshore. We all hopped in the boat and went out for some impromptu whale watching. They put on quite a show, fin-slapping and breaching just meters from the boat. As they cruised along, they were joined by two separate dolphin pods. One pod seemed to be leading the whales along, their relatively tiny bodies arching up and over just in front of the whales' massive heads. Somehow the whales and dolphins timed their breathing so that they usually surfaced at the same time. Incredible!

It would be hard to pick one highlight of my time in Tofo, but our dhow trip to Linga Linga island would rank up there. It was meant to be just a day trip...a see where this is going. Around 9 in the morning we boarded a little wooden sailboat (the sail ingeniously patched up with bits of jeans and other clothing) for the 2-hour trip to the island, where we would spend the day frolicking on the beach and in the ocean before returning to the hostel around sunset. It's a two-hour trip--with wind. With virtually no wind and no motor we spent more than six hours languishing up the channel. Our boat captain amused himself with dubious "cigarettes" while we tried to get comfortable on the wooden planks that served as seats. For most of the trip we didn't seem to be moving at all, we just bobbed around while the island seemed to recede farther into the distance. By the time we reached Linga Linga, the sun was close to setting, we had eaten nothing all day but hard bread and processed cheese, and it was clear that we could not get back to town on the dhow that night. After a fruitless search for a motorized boat, we were told that the ten of us, with our daypacks full of bathing suits and sunscreen and little else, would be spending the night on the island.

A few in the group flipped out. I was seriously considering following suit, but my traveling companions, Frank and Theo, were too cheerful to let that happen. By the third or fourth time that I heard them say, "Hey! This is so cool! We're stuck on an island!," I knew that I was going to have to either slap them silly or get with the program. By that time our guides had built a lovely fire on the beach, Frank had shared his secret stash of chips and chocolate (a bit too prepared, if you ask me), a local had come out of the woodwork offering mattresses and sleeping bags, and someone had hunted down drinks for the campfire. I had to admit that though I desperately needed a toothbrush and pajamas, it was a spectacular turn of events.

We passed the evening playing cards, laughing, and, as one tends to do when stranded on a tropical island in Mozambique, musing on the meaning of Life and Happiness. In true form, Frank and Theo had me laughing more than I've laughed in ages. Once we'd sorted out who we would eat should the need arise (is it wrong that I've now twice on this website debated eating people??), we settled in for the night under a thatch roof with a fire roaring at our feet. Our captain, who had since switched from pot to rum, provided the evening's entertainment until the wee hours of the morning. Sometime after midnight, when I rustled around in my backpack, he stopped wailing Bob Marley just long enough to give me a big, "SHHHHHHH!!" Around two, with the Marley all sung out, he began a long and animated diatribe in Portugese. I can only assume it had a patriotic slant, because he ended it with a robust, "Mozambique, Very Nice!," at which point he passed out against the thatch with lit cigarette in hand. Pushing safety concerns aside, I took one last lingering glance at the people around me, at the palm trees illuminated by the firelight, at the midnight blue sky beyond them, and I fell asleep listening to the waves against the shore, certain that life does not get any better.

In the days that followed, Theo, Frank and I celebrated Mozambique Independence Day and the Full Moon, wandered blind into the ocean under a dark sky, tortured Theo with endless games of cards, and arranged a neck injury for Frank so we wouldn't have to leave. My pool game improved marginally while Frank's went to hell. We said goodbye to the Swedes, the Danes, Joao, and the other travelers who made Tofo unforgettable. I could have stayed stuck in Mozambique for a very long time, but I knew that moving on in my journey meant going back to South Africa. So here I am, in unreasonably cold weather, ostensibly buying the next ticket. But I just can't seem to hit the "Buy Now" button. But that's a dilemma for another day.
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jesshiggins on

Some of my best friends are Emerald-spotted Wood-doves! I'm coming back soon and oh, man, are you in trouble. We're talking I-got-kidnapped-and-woke-up-in-Fort-Collins kind of trouble.

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