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Off The Beaten Path: Mozambique II

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Our journey to the town of Pemba was one of our more interesting experiences. Public transportation in Mozambique leaves extremely early, 3, 4, 5am, etc. Before the sun rose, we took a matola (pickup truck) for two-hours to a big intersection with the hope of catching a passing bus heading north to Pemba. The bus was supposed to pass the intersection around 7am… Well, for one reason or another, we missed the bus. With no other known option, we decided to wait at the intersection with the hope of finding other onward transportation to Pemba… We waited, and waited, and waited some more. Nothing showed and for four hours we stood in the blazing African sun. We were frequently surrounded by curious children who gathered whenever we applied sunscreen - a totally foreign concept to them. When I pointed to the sun and my skin, it dawned on them that we weren’t just applying lotion randomly. We were about to throw in the towel when one of the locals flagged down a petrol truck for us on its way to Pemba. In classic African style, we fit three people in two seats and headed north. Thankfully, at least, we knew we wouldn’t run out of gas!
Our initial plan was to sleep in Pemba for one night and then head to Ibo Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago the next day, but, after our journey to Pemba, we were totally exhausted, so we decided to spend a day enjoying the beach and hostel. The hostel boasted a ton of free activities, including archery and kayaking, so of course, Jeff did them all. We were under the impression that getting to Ibo would be complicated, so we asked around for advice and, as luck would have it, met a very nice woman who lives on Ibo and would be returning to Ibo the same day we wanted to travel. She was even willing to give us a ride in her car to the dock and a lift on her boat. Fantastic timing! So, the next morning, we drove with Lucy on badly maintained dirt roads to the dock and then boarded her crewed, motorized dhow. It was a lovely boat ride (calm, blue sea, mangroves, birds, etc., remarkably similar to Florida) and once we arrived on the island, Lucy offered us a room in her house for a few days and we took her up on it :).
IMG_6156.jpg Relaxing in Pemba
IMG_6200.jpg Pemba at sunset
IMG_6218.jpg Jeff on the Dhow crossing to the island
Ibo is similar to Mozambique Island in that its heyday was back during Portuguese occupation and not much has changed since they left. Most of the buildings were again now in ruin. We spent our time on Ibo walking around the island, viewing the old Portuguese forts, and visiting Christian, Muslim and Hindu cemeteries. We also took a guided day trip to the nearby island of Karimba (highly recommended by Lucy). Our boat rode to Karimba weaved through the mangroves and we spent our day on the beach collecting amazing seashells, walking through the village like the pied piper with a gaggle of children behind us, and having lunch at a local restaurant near the beach. The color of the water was fantastic - it was a turquoise blue and continued to get even more beautiful as the tide went out. Because the tide levels vary dramatically here, the water almost empties out completely and a land bridge is created from island to island. So, in the afternoon at low tide, we hiked back to Ibo on foot across sandbanks and through the mangroves. It was a great day and we capped it off with another lobster dinner! Did I mention I love the islands?? :)
IMG_6282.jpg What used to be downtown Ibo
IMG_6336.jpg The old fort at sunset
IMG_6377.jpg Jeff on the island of Karimba before low tide
IMG_6393.jpg This was the best- a sign to indicate to please not use the beach as a public toilet- the locals thought it was hilarious we took a photo of this
IMG_6433.jpg Our gaggle of kids that followed us through the town
IMG_6457.jpg Walking back at low tide- where we were walking was completely submerged a few hours before
IMG_6502.jpg The old Christian graveyard on Ibo
IMG_6509.jpg The oldest man on the island came to talk to us about the history and his experiences- he only spoke Portuguese so Lucy translated
We were enticed by Lucy to go with her to the “sandbank” (what we would call a sandbar) for snorkeling and relaxation. We took her boat out to a gorgeous patch of white sand rising out of the middle of the ocean. It looked like a deserted island surrounded by turquoise water (almost transparent). For lunch, we ate grilled fish and coconut rice under a makeshift tent while Anli, one of Lucy’s boat captains, pulled up these fantastically red starfish. We also snorkeled around and caught some rays to combat our horrendous farmer’s tan - it felt like paradise. Needless to say, we felt like we had arrived in a Corona commercial. We barely made it back to Ibo for sundowner drinks at the fancy Ibo Island Lodge which has a really great viewing deck on the roof.
IMG_6542.jpg Our first glimpse of the sandbank
IMG_6561.jpg The very red starfish
IMG_6565.jpg Relaxing in my own corona commercial
IMG_6597.jpg On our way back to Ibo from the sandback
areal_ibo_..matemwe.bmp Photos courtesy of Lucy- aerial view of the sandbank (that tiny sliver between the two larger islands)
Banco_de_areia11.jpg View of the water and sandbank
Our time in and around Ibo was wonderful, but, alas, all good things must come to an end. Next stop, Tanzania. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 22:17 Archived in Mozambique Comments (1)

Off the Beaten Path in Mozambique I

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It was a long and complicated journey from Cape Maclear, Malawi to Cuamba, Mozambique. In brief, it went like this: matola (a pickup truck that carries passengers and goods in its bed), minibus, second minibus, second matola, Malawi border, bicycle taxi, Mozambique border, second bicycle taxi, and (finally) third minibus. It was insane, seven different transports. Along the way, we met up with a Swiss-French couple and two Korean guys . . . all making our way to Mozambique Island. It’s nice to join up with other travelers for a few days to swap stories, share advice, and work through the logistics of traveling together.
IMG_5586.jpg Sitting in the back of a matola leaving Cape Maclear
IMG_5594.jpg Our bicycle taxi border crossing
Once we arrived in Cuamba, we bought tickets for a train from Cuamba to Nampula leaving the next morning. Ticket buying in Africa is a total free-for-all. At first, people form a line, but once the ticket window opens, all semblance of a line breaks down, people run, cut the line, push, etc. We also checked into a hostel with our new friends which, I have to say, was by far the dirtiest and most rundown place we’ve stayed. Thankfully, it had mosquito nets, but no running water. Taking a shower meant pouring cold water over your head. Flushing the toilet meant dumping water into the toilet bowl to dilute whatever was in there. Always an adventure :) Lastly, we ate dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near the market. The only thing on the menu was roasted chicken over rice. It was surprisingly fantastic and cheap.
We left the hostel for the train at 4:30 in the morning and were able to sit together in a six-person cabin. The train journey was a memorable experience! It was fascinating to watch the country side go by and even more interesting to observe and interact with the locals. The train stopped frequently, every half hour or so, and at every stop people from the local village would mob the train selling food (mostly produce) and drinks. Jeff almost lost his mind when we found someone selling strawberries, which we haven’t seen since South America. They cost was a whopping $1.50 for a huge bowl and our whole compartment enjoyed eating them. One of the Koreans who we were with was an adventurous eater. He tried almost everything the locals had to offer, including roasted fish on a stick. It’s was also fun to watch all the local children clamor over each other just to wave at us. In between stops, we passed the time trading travel notes. It’s so interesting that even though we were American, Korean and Swiss, we conversed in English (the most common language among travelers).
IMG_5640.jpg The mountain view from the train
IMG_5676.jpg Jeff from the train
IMG_5699.jpg A woman carrying both produce and her child
IMG_5741.jpg The train mob selling their goods
After almost three full days of travel, we finally arrived on Mozambique Island. Seeing the Indian Ocean was a breath of fresh air. The water was an amazing shade of greenish-blue and our travel weariness eased almost instantly. Mozambique Island is a unique place. It was the capital of Portugal’s colonial empire in Africa for decades, but has been deteriorating ever since. It’s like you’ve entered a different time period when you arrive on the island. The buildings are crumbling; the narrow alleyways are lined with bougainvilleas; and small children follow you down the street just to see what you’re up to. We stayed at a great hostel, Ruby Backpackers. The owners were extremely friendly and the hostel had hot, running water! It was very exciting - don’t take it for granted people :) We spent our first full day wandering around the island and exploring an old fort on a nearby island which we walked to at low tide.
IMG_5782.jpg The old fort at low tide
IMG_5836.jpg Small children wanting their photos taken
IMG_5857.jpg The old hospital...apparently still in use in some parts!
On our second full day, we took a guided tour of a huge fort on the on the north end of the island that was built around 1550. We also visited the oldest European structure in Africa - a small church built in 1522. As we walked from place to place, small children would run up to us and say “photo, photo…” They were so cute and loved to see themselves on the camera screen, they would always laugh hysterically when we showed them their picture. As a cap off to the day, we found a fisherman walking the streets who sold us over five pounds of lobster for $12…we ate very well that night :)
IMG_5858.jpg Jeff had to include this kid...he thought he was adorable
IMG_5898.jpg The fort used up until the 70's
IMG_5907.jpg Oldest European structure in Africa
IMG_5954.jpg More historic though run-down buildings
P1020001.jpg Post-lobster dinner
We decided to cap off our time on Mozambique Island with a dhow trip to nearby Goa Island (a dhow is a small, handmade sailboat). Goa is known for its beautiful beach and an old lighthouse. We spent a few hours walking around, climbing up the lighthouse for some great views, and swimming in the Indian Ocean. The sailing to and from the island was a little rough at times, so half our boat got seasick.
IMG_6080.jpg The lighthouse on Goa
The next day, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed north along the coast to Pemba and Ibo Island. We’ll write more again soon!

Posted by geldere 09:40 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Malawi and some R&R

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Malawi is a small, finger like shaped country located between Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania (smaller than Pennsylvania) and it packs a lot into a small space. Our first experience with Malawi was in the capital, Lilongwe. It’s pretty much what you would expect - large, crowded, and busy. We set ourselves down at Mubuya Camp, a lively hostel just outside of the Old Town, and from there spent two days exploring the city and planning the rest of our time in Malawi. The biggest draw is Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. Since it’s Malawi’s most famous attraction and alone could keep you occupied for weeks, we decided to orient our travels around the lake.
IMG_5304.jpg The Wilderness center in Lilongwe "How Tall Are You" Sign
Our first stop was Nkhata Bay. Malawi is interesting and unique geographically compared to other places we’ve seen in Africa. It reminded us a lot of Brazil. In fact, the town of Nkhata Bay is often likened to St. Lucia. We travelled via bus then combi with some other backpackers. It is always makes for interesting conversation finding out what other people are doing in this part of the world and how they got here. After being landlocked for some time, our first views of the lake were particularly spectacular. It is so enormous that you can’t see across it - it looks like an ocean. We stayed in a little, Caribbean looking hut, right on the water, which made created a pretty relaxed vibe. One of our goals in Malawi was to spend more time relaxing, so we spent time soaking up the sun, reading, and watching the local children play in the water. Since Jeff can’t sit still very long, he also made use of the free kayak and snorkeling gear provided by the hostel.
IMG_5354.jpg View of the Bay
IMG_5372.jpg Jeff on the deck of our "caribbean hut"
IMG_5378.jpg Jeff kayaking and chatting with some local boys in their canoe
On our second day in Nkhata Bay, we went scuba diving. The visibility in the lake was great and there were lots of fish, so we really enjoyed it. Over 90% of the fish species in Lake Malawi are endemic to the lake. The main fish were cichlids which have the most interesting behavior. The mom fish swims around her babies fending off predators and if she senses real danger they form a ball and swim into her mouth. We saw it twice - really amazing. We also saw the elusive dolphin fish. They mainly come out at night and are the lake’s largest predator fish. They also filmed part of the Planet Earth series at Lake Malawi if you want to check it out. What was especially nice about diving in the lake?...no sharks! :)
IMG_5417.jpg Some local boys enjoying the view
IMG_5426.jpgGetting ready to enjoy some Thai food :)
IMG_5434.jpg Sunrise at Nkhata Bay
As a side note - if you want to know what happens to your Salvation Army donations, look no further than Africa. The locals wear all sorts of American t-shirts, including “Race for the Cure”, “GAP”, “Boise High School”, “Alzheimer’s Awareness, and one local was even sporting an official US Postal uniform.
We then headed to Cape Maclear. It’s a legendary backpacker spot and has been on the backpacker circuit apparently since the 1970s. Getting there was a task, as it tends to be. Since we arrived late at night, we couldn’t see our surroundings when we checked in, but in the morning, we woke up to a lovely beachfront view and the locals going about their daily lives (fishing, washing, etc). We soaked up some more sun, caught up on our emails, and went to Thomas’ for lunch which had tasty chicken and chips (french fries). We also got mobbed by some children on the way back from lunch who wanted to hold our hands and entertained a small boy carrying water by giving him high fives. They were adorable!
IMG_5482.jpg Jeff chatting with local children at sunset
IMG_5501.jpg Beach view of some locals swimming/washing clothes
On our second day in Cape Maclear, we took a boat trip out to an island in the lake for some snorkeling, fishing, and lounging. We didn’t catch any fish using line and a hook (local style, no rod), but caught a few fish barehanded with bread as bait. The snorkeling was great since the fish were so colorful and numerous. We also went to dinner and met a really nice high school student named Edward, 22-years old, whose life goal is to go to law school. He was extremely excited to talk with Jeff about being a lawyer and they had fun discussing law school “hypotheticals”. He told us that law school is understandably expensive- but then he told us it cost 30,000 kwatcha per semester which comes out to only about $200...we are constantly reminded that people here are extremely poor and even $200 is a lot of money to them.
IMG_5567.jpg Fish eagle on the right about to touch down at grab a fish
IMG_5571.jpg Boat ride back to our hostel
IMG_5581.jpgSunset in Cape Maclear
We head to Mozambique in the morning and revert back to Portuguese (sigh). We will write more soon!

Posted by geldere 10:36 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Zambia- A River Runs Through It

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We left Livingstone and headed to Zambia’s capital Lusaka via bus. Lusaka is pretty hard to avoid as all roads in Zambia lead to it. After spending some time there I have to say it wasn’t my favorite city. Lusaka is a melting pot of rich and poor, rough in places, with not much in the way of sights. We visited the National Museum, which had an interesting display on witchcraft (still practiced by some Zambians), and had lunch at Subway. The food tasted pretty much as expected and provided us with a little taste of home :)
IMG_4935.jpg Photos from our Bus ride; ladies selling goods at a "bus stop"
IMG_4947a.jpg Women getting water from a water pump
IMG_4949.jpg Man carrying a bundle of firewood
From Lusaka, we made our way towards the Lower Zambezi National Park. We took a taxi to the combi station, then a combi to Chirundu (the closest town), followed by a taxi to a waiting boat, and finally a boat to our lodge (always a process). We camped out for two nights in a tent provided by the lodge which was in a great location. The campsite was situated above the river and included a bar with satellite TV (so Jeff could watch the US Open), deck overlooking the river, hot showers, and a pool. We spent several hours relaxing by the pool. On our first night, we enjoyed a “sundowner” cruise along the river and saw lots of hippos, a few elephants, and one crocodile. The next afternoon we decided to participate in one of Jeff’s favorite pastimes - fishing. We set out with Tobias, our guide, who took us out for four hours to see if we could catch a tiger fish, Zambia’s best known game fish. The long and short of it was that I caught two fish and Jeff did not catch anything (ironic, I know). The first fish looked like an enormous catfish and made a burping noise. The second fish was a tiger fish (so named for its impressive teeth). It put up a good fight and jumped from the water several times.
IMG_4973.jpg Hippos with their impressive jaws on display
IMG_5037.jpg The view of the Zambezi River from our camp lookout
IMG_5048.jpg Me and Tobias proudly holding the first catch of the day (the "burping fish")
IMG_5056a.jpg Check out those chompers on the Tiger Fish-appropriate name!
IMG_5059.jpg Jeff taking a crack at fishing
The next morning, we left the lodge by boat at 5:40am and reversed the whole process back to Lusaka. We made good time back to Lusaka, so we decided to catch a bus to Chipata, our next stop on a whim. It turned out to be one of our toughest travel days. We were put on a bus that was supposed to leave around 10:30 am, but operated on a “leave when full” policy and it didn’t fill up until 1:30 pm. While we waited, droves of people marched up and down the aisles selling everything imaginable. It was hot and our patience was wearing thin when the bus finally left; even the locals were getting irritated. Eight hours later we finally arrived in Chipata; we were tired, dehydrated and hungry. Moreover, since it was a last minute decision to head to Chipata, we did not have a room booked, so we hired a taxi to take us to one of the hostels recommended in our guide book. It took us two tries to find a place that had rooms available. Given that it was dark, late at night, and we had to go to two different hostels, the taxi driver charged us an arm and a leg (meters are a rarity in African taxis). Generally, I have an understanding that since we are foreign tourists, we will get charged slightly more for things, which I’m ok with. Most of the people here are very poor and it’s usually a few bucks we’re talking about, but in this instance, we were really swindled. So, that was extremely irritating but you learn for next time. In the end, we just shrugged it off and headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.
There’s really not much to do or see in Chipata, but it is a good stopover when trying to get to Malawi and/or South Luangwa National Park. So after a day of rest in Chipata, we travelled via combi to Mfuwe Village, the gateway to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia’s premiere game park. The trip took three hours on mostly dirt roads.
We stayed just outside the park at Croc Valley. Not wanting to repeat Chipata, we called ahead and reserved two dorm beds. Fortunately for us, however, the dorm beds were full when we arrived, so we were upgraded to a private cottage free of charge … one of the nicest places we’ve stayed since starting the trip :)
We went on two game drives in South Luangwa National Park, one day and one night. The day drive sets off at 6:00 am (the best time to see animals is at dawn and dusk) and we saw lots of animals, including giraffes fighting (see below video link) and two female lionesses with cubs. The cubs were about three months old and adorable- we hadn’t seen any cubs up to this point so it was exciting. The night drive set off at 4:00pm (it is winter here, so it is dark around 5:30pm). The night drive was amazing though because we saw two leopards fairly close up, one at dusk and the other in the dark with a spot light. Our safari vehicle also got a flat tire and we all had to unload in the dark so that it could be fixed. It is definitely unnerving when you leave the safety of your vehicle in lion and leopard territory (and even more so at night) so we all had our headlamps pointed in the general direction of the bush hoping to not see eyes staring back at us.
Video of the Fighting Giraffes
IMG_5091.jpg Hungry hippo out of the water (they only come out of the water towards evening to eat because their skin burns too easily during the day)
IMG_5152a.jpg Mom and cubs- they were georgous
IMG_5201.jpg Warthog (aka Pumba :))
IMG_5267.jpg Up Close with a Leopard
IMG_5274.jpg Just after sunset in South Luangwa
South Luangwa was our last stop in Zambia, so the next day we set off for Malawi. Public transport is very limited leaving South Luangwa and combis leave the village between 10 and 11 at night (not the safest drive in my opinion given the dark, bad roads, wild animals, and tired/drunk drivers). As a result, we were planning to hitchhike during the day back to Chipata, but then by a stroke of luck one of the owners of Croc Valley was driving not only to town, but to the Malawi border as well - so we got a lift with him all the way to the border! It was amazingly more comfortable than a combi and he was officially my hero that day.
We’ll write more from Malawi soon!

Posted by geldere 07:22 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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