Thursday, August 23, 2007

Zalala Beach

Sunday may have been our nicest day in Mozambique so far. Olivia had gone to Malawi with the rest of our group to secure residence visas (you can only do it outside the country), so class was off and we had the day to ourselves. Our new best friend Aguinaldo knew this and, being the great guy that he is, and not wanting us to be lonely, decided it would be a good day to show us the beach.

We set out around 11 a.m. Aguinaldo came to pick us up in his Land Rover with two adorable boys, one of which was his son. Lara rode up front with Aguinaldo and his son, and I took the back with the other little guy.

Aguinaldo’s Land Rover is old, and wasn’t built with comfort in mind. It’s the type of vehicle that you would stereotypically think of as being in Africa. It’s almost as long as a Suburban, but with a much higher ceiling. In the back (where I was riding), instead of seats like you would normally expect, there were bare sheet-metal bleachers jutting straight out from the side of the vehicle like a bench in a cave. Aguinaldo had mercifully put a couple loose car seat bottoms in the back for us to sit on, but the chair was so high that I couldn’t sit up strait. Zalala beach is 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of Quelimane.

Remember the quality of the roads in Mozambique? Well, those were in the cities, and to get to the beach we had to head through the country. It was probably karma circling back around for my complaining about the roads in the first place. Potholes on country roads in Mozambique span the single-car width of the road. We drove fast, and we kept swerving off to the shoulder to avoid the largest craters. On more than one occasion my head hit the ceiling. The young boy riding in the back with me found this hysterical. Really, so did I.

On the way out to the beach we passed by Aguinaldo’s neighborhood. In his culture, it is customary to have celebrations at the 3-month, 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year anniversaries of relatives’ death. Sunday happened to be the 2-year anniversary of his grandfather’s passing, and everyone he knew was around his neighborhood. Luckily, he stopped to introduce us.

His neighborhood was spectacular. We turned right off the paved road and immediately turned left down a path through the trees. Suddenly mud huts with thatched roofs sprang up to our left and right. They were built close together, only a couple feet apart, and varying distances from the main drag we were on. Nowhere was the road more than two cars wide, most of it was only wide enough for our Land Rover.

We drove a bit more than a quarter mile and came to a cul-de-sac with maybe a hundred people gathered. Here Aguinaldo stopped and we all got out. Women sitting on blankets lined the hut to our right. They were talking to the women lining the adjacent hut. They looked at Lara and I, but weren’t impolite and didn’t end their conversation until Aguinaldo started to introduce us.

They wore the most wonderful outfits. Three bright and beautiful pieces of fabric were wrapped around them: one around the waist, one made up a blouse, and another made a head wrap. I didn’t take my camera to the beach, but I’ll try to get a picture soon.

First we met an aunt and his grandmother, then a couple cousins and nieces. We rounded the corner between the two groups into a surprisingly more open area. Small cooking fires smoked with the greatest and most mysterious smells rising from the kettles.

Behind the first hut we met another of Aguinaldo’s aunts. In Mozambique when a man meets a new woman (or when two women meet) you do that very-European kiss-kiss thing (one small peck on each cheek). After finishing this custom with his aunt, she turned to him and said something that made him double over in laughter. I didn’t catch it, but just grinned along. As we walked away, he told me, “She said that you have very big legs.” Lara laughed aloud and concurred with the aunt. My calves are a multicultural conversation piece.

Afterwards we met a few more of his family members, including his lovely wife, and saw a bit more of his community. In the back was a large group of people, maybe 60 or 70, all huddled together under a large covering. Aguinaldo said they were about to start dancing, but we left before they began.

Back on the gnarly road, we opened the box of cookies we bought in town and gave one each to of the boys. Two instant best friends and, as it turns out, pretty good Portuguese instructors.

The drive to Zalala beach was beautiful. We passed acre after acre of coconut farm on our way, as well as plain old jungle, and road side markets selling Roma-sized tomatoes and really bumpy oranges. The road, Aguinaldo had told us, had been built in the 1960’s and not repaired since.

The only access to the beach is this single one-lane road, but lots of people go to the beach everyday. Very few people have cars, so the most popular way to get to the beach is by bus. However, when I say “bus”, I don’t mean bus. Imagine a pick up truck somewhere between an S-10 and an F-250. Now raise it up about a foot off the ground, and put 30 (I’m not exaggerating) people in the back. Finally, send it down a ludicrously bumpy road going around 40 miles an hour. This is the Mozambican concept known as “machibombo” (ma-shee-BOOM-boo).

We arrived at the beach after a half-hour on the road. We drove through a small collection of resort houses and hotels and about 50 yards of jungle to get to Zalala.

It was enormous! The sand started 300 yards before the ocean, and the beach stretched to the left and right as far as you could see. Kids played volleyball and soccer, and folks drove their bikes and motorcycles right up to the shore. We parked our Land Rover on a dune, and headed down.

Remember, it’s winter in Mozambique. Aguinaldo was in a t-shirt and shorts, and the ocean breeze was freezing him to death. We gave him one of our towels to wrap up in, and he was wide-eyed as we stripped down to our bathing suits and ran in. The water was sandy brown and, we were thankful to discover, warmer than the air outside. Being only a few kilometers north of the outlet to the Bons Sinais river in Quelimane, there is a tremendously strong current running north as soon as you are any distance out in the water. I could swim free-style against it at a leisurely pace and hold still.

Turns out, our throwing a book and a towel into a plastic bag before we left was way overpacking. Most people brought no towels or food to the beach. They just stripped down to undies and ran in, then air dried when they came out

We swam for a bit more, then we came back in and made a sandcastle with the boys as Aguinaldo took a much-earned nap. After ceremoniously destroying our castle, we played a little tag and soccer with a emptied coconut. Aguinaldo soon woke up and we all decided we were ready to head back.

Right outside the beach we stopped for what Lara and I thought was going to be a light snack. However, Aguinaldo wanted to sit down and eat, and we followed his lead. Aguinaldo ordered the biggest fish I’ve ever seen on one plate in my entire life. Lara and I got a dozen grilled shrimp with fries, and Aguinaldo and the boys shared the fish. As we dined on the porch we watched young men bring in the next patron’s meal from the sea.

I’ve never seen anyone eat a fish like Aguinaldo. It was about two and a half feet long and cut into steaks that you could scoop up with your fork. After those were gone, he picked up the head and dissected it, finding every morsel of meat available. No shred of fish was spared from his deft lips and fingers. When the feast was done he sent his apologies to the chef. “Tell him that I am sorry that I did not leave any fish for him!”

Satisfied and sleepy, we headed back home. As we passed by Aguinaldo’s neighborhood on the way back to our hotel he spotted his wife with his twin daughters who we hadn’t met yet. These two girls are the most precious children we’ve seen in Mozambique, and Aguinaldo is a rightfully proud father.

Next time we go, we’ll get pictures.


Blogger Paul R said...

Thanks for the reporting Kevin - great stories, you're making me jealous! Sounds like you guys are having a blast... Could you bring back some Chiclids for my fish tank, they're in Lake Malawi?

Toni & I's thoughts are with you guys,

August 23, 2007 at 6:50 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hey guys! Kevin, you're an awesome travel writer (new career?) -- keep it up! It's great to read about your adventures. Keep safe and have a good time!

August 23, 2007 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger Eric-Jan Manders said...

About that European (!) Kiss-Kiss thing. You know if you are in Holland you get a third 'bonus' kiss back on the first cheek. That's the real reason why everyone likes to go to Amsterdam.

See you in three weeks. Cheers.

August 23, 2007 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger bobselph said...

I second the writing career. Let us know your permanent address when you get one so we can send goodies!

August 23, 2007 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger sambo said...

Hello Kevin and Laura! I have enjoyed reading your adventures! Souds like it has been quite the experience so far, and inspires me to do some travelling myself. But I have to say, I do miss playing music with you, Kev.

Anyway, I'll keep reading the blog...take care and continue to enjoy your travels!

August 24, 2007 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Bill Selph said...

We love reading the blog. Keep it up when you can. Traveling is good for the soul.

August 24, 2007 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger John Harvey said...

We're thrilled that we can follow your advertures with these fun, engaging reports. Hope you will be able to find the time to keep it going. Tenha o divertimento!
John & Sheila

August 25, 2007 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger coley said...

Hey Kevin and Laura!! I really enoy reading about all of your adventures!! I agree you definately could have a career in writing! You would make grandpa proud! Stay safe and enjoy! Love, Coley and John

August 26, 2007 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Mac said...

Mannnn...I knew I should have stowed away in some of the luggage! I am very glad that there is blogging going on. I expect an address as soon as it exists. Kudos on the name of the blog by the way; my supervisor and I are in agreement that it is quite clever.

August 27, 2007 at 6:30 PM  
Blogger Laine said...

Having wanted to live in Africa, it is FABULOUS to read of your adventures. You write well and the reader can visualize your life there. I look forward to this year with "The Tales of Africa".
Thanks for sharing.

August 28, 2007 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Mary Porter said...

I kinda feel like we're there with you guys. Your descriptions of everything are fantastic. Wonder where those genes came from ??? ha ha We'll miss you guys this weekend. Have fun, be safe, and keep writing! Love, Mary P., Sam and Sarah

August 28, 2007 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger samantha said...

Hi Kevin and Lara,

Mother just sent me the link for this. Great job Kevin! This is a fascinating account of your African escapades.

Keep posting when you can.
warm wishes,

August 30, 2007 at 9:22 AM  

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