On a scorching November afternoon, a couple of my Tofo friends and I stepped into the back of a flatbed truck bound for Vilanculos, Mozambique, barely 200 kilometers up the coast from Tofo. In Mozambique, hitchhiking is known as taking a bolivia.
The flatbed truck could only transport us so far, so we boarded a chapa – a local bus/van with bald tires and way too many people on board – to the next town. From there, I raised my hand and we had another journey in the back of a van, the warm African sun shining down on us and the mango trees bordering the road, heavy with the weight of juicy oranges. That was lovely until we arrived at the next dusty town, where our driver was finishing his route. After an hour of unsuccessfully attempting to obtain a bolivia, we eventually obtained a chapa, followed by another chapa in which a drunk driver consumed a beer while driving.
We found the backpackers after dark, hot, dirty, and fatigued. The journey had taken seven hours to complete a relatively little distance. This is Mozambique.
The long and difficult day exemplified what it’s like to travel to Moz. You’ve spent days swimming in crystal blue seas and relaxing in a hammock for hours with incredible people and excellent cuisine, but then there are days when you want to rip your hair out. It’s one of the most intense locations I’ve ever gone to, yet I can’t help but enjoy it.
The sun rose above Vilanculos the next day, and I forgot about the uncomfortable incident the day before. When the tide went out, there were sandbars for miles and miles as far as the eye could see.
I could spend the remainder of this essay telling about how peaceful the beach is, with fishermen going about their business:
Or how the youngsters cheerfully played:
I could rave about how fantastic the scuba diving was (albeit it was pricey at $140 for only two tanks):
Or how the locals make the most of their gorgeous surroundings, even swimming to the sandbanks with a football in hand:
We may discuss how I spent more time in the water than out, how beautiful the stars were, and how bright the moon was in the sky:
Or how I had this rondavel, a round cottage with a double bed, two chairs, a mosquito net (no holes! ), and a functioning fan for only $19 a night:
While all of these factors contributed to the uniqueness of Vilanculos, it was the people I met there that made it unforgettable for me. I enjoyed enjoyable evenings with new acquaintances and locals, but my favorite encounters were with Nate and Orlando.
Nathan, a 21-year-old male, lives and works in Alaska’s wilderness. He traveled much and, like myself, got to Mozambique by word of mouth. He’d also spent time in Tofo, where he’d met Orlando, the owner of the local quad rental firm. Orlando has invited Nate to his community under the palm trees right below the beach, where the kids hold on to your quad and attempt to sprint after you, while the ladies sell coconut wine. It’s only a few grass and bamboo houses, but Orlando has never known anything else.
During his stay in Tofo, Nate came to know Orlando and realized it was a shame Orlando had never seen his own nation. He’d never seen mountains, felt the cold, or known anything other than the region around him. Nate then did something incredible: he asked Orlando to accompany him on his tour across Mozambique and offered to pay for his transportation.
In many respects, the connection made sense. Orlando got to see his home nation, and Nate got to experience life as a native.
We decided to walk down to the ocean and buy a fish from a local fisherman the day I met them. We negotiated a large one, the size and flavor of a tuna, for approximately $6 from Orlando. Nate began filleting the fish as Orlando began frying. He made a fish soup with potatoes and carrots first, followed by a fish fillet served with coconut rice and mata pa, a mashed and cooked native green leafy vegetable with coconut milk. We purchased Orlando drinks and then I washed the dishes, sharing the task.
One night, we went down to the beach and exhibited the stars to the people of Orlando. He was beaming from ear to ear when he spotted a beach he’d never seen before. Nate’s act was so kind that one wonders why more people don’t do it. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s quite giving and nice.
Their tale moved me so greatly that I asked if I may share it with you, and they graciously agreed.
I hope they make it to the mountains and that Orlando sees more spectacular sights than he has previously.
Vilanculos was my final visit to Mozambique, and as I soared across the sandbars towards South Africa, I quietly swore to return someday – but not on a chapa.