Currently Going With The Warm Mozambique Flow - Zavora
Being on the East coast of Africa, suffused in the Mozambique channel’s warm currents, brings a certain lightness to the soul. In this sub-tropical climate, every day feels like summer. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, here the gentle breezes and the ocean are warm. Precisely what the doctor ordered.
The main artery running from north to south through Mozambique is the EN1 highway, splitting off like veins to the east and west are subsidiary roads taking travellers to their final destination.
All these roads provide the lifeblood to millions of Mozambiquans who depend on traffic flow to survive. Small hamlets are dotted on either side of the roads, providing vendors, shop owners, informal traders, and artisans an opportunity to make a living.
At the beginning of a township and again towards the end, one will often find a school or nursery school, and children of all ages walk or ride their bicycles to school using the EN1 as a thoroughfare where it’s expected children would have a safe passage.
Traffic officials vigilantly police speed limits in these areas, and roadblocks are set up to check necessary documentation. Which is a conundrum we’ve learned. We were flagged down for speeding, doing 66km in a 60km area. The fine of 1000mets or, to make the paperwork disappear, a 500 metical “donation’ is accepted in cash. No receipts.
That incident has been our only run-in with police or traffic officers. Our Honey Badger glides through since her beautifications. Once the formalities are settled, and we’ve greeted in our broken Portuguese and English, the enquiries shift to our destination and where we’ve come from. The map on the side of the Badger is a great aid, and Butch’s red marker pen shows precisely where we’ve been.
We do have our favourite wateringholes and always stop at the Toll Bridge cafe for breakfast or lunch depending on our direction. Truckers on long haul trips and locals dine here. It is our introduction to the real deal. Nothing has changed over the years.
Road maintenance is reasonably good, and there might be potholes only on remoter stretches of the highway. The high summer rainfalls have also contributed to some of the damage. Like in India, everyone simultaneously has the right of way, and the onus is squarely on the shoulders of oncoming traffic to make way. It freaks me out, but one soon gets into the swing of things, and at the slower pace, everyone has time to swerve or make way. I have not experienced any road rage; motorists will indicate when it’s safe to overtake, and oncoming traffic often warns motorists of speed cameras etc. Soft toots from hooters are friendly rather than intimidating or aggressive.
There are many taxis. A taxi is a vehicle of any age or condition that is fit or not to transport people and or goats. Owning a motorcar, minivan, or bakkie is a luxury few can afford, so “public transport” is vital, especially in rural areas. There are no weight restrictions or passenger restrictions. We once travelled in a taxi with 33 other passengers with luggage, bags and my vanity case. I have nightmares when I see open bakkies carrying standing passengers (more passengers can be transported if they’re packed like sardines in a tin.) Seeing school children travelling similarly is hair-raising. We all know nothing good can come of it if the driver, which often happens, loses control of the vehicle. Officials seldom stop these vehicles.
Once we left the highway to continue our journey to our destination, Zavora, the condition of many roads became “next level.” Sandy or muddy would depend on recent rainfalls. When the red sand slowed us or bogged us down we’d call a pit stop, Butch would deflate our tyres, and I’d make my signature gourmet Pao’s. Lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado and gammon with a generous sweep of Hot English Mustard. That would be our standard fare. For dessert, some jelly babies, wine gums or a slice of fruit roll. In the heat we keep our water bottles full at all times to stay hydrated. Butch knows it’s time for a coffee when my chin drops to my chest, and my gentle exhalations become more audible than our book.
White plastic bags strung up on dead trees and branches, waving in the breeze, signal the sale of Cashew nuts —delicious, irresistible snacks sold in small bags for next to nothing. When we stop, sellers run up to our open windows to display their offerings. We have since bought raw peanuts in the shell, bananas, enormous pineapples and delicious buttery avocadoes.
Luxury holidays to islands and lodges on the coast are trendy. Guests fly in and are whisked off in Land Cruisers to glamourous spas and hotels where they are pampered from dawn to dusk and are expected to do as little as possible for as long as they can. I get the appeal but find it sad that many tourists miss out on the authenticity of countries like Mozambique when protecting themselves from the often complex realities. Still, more importantly, they miss the smiles and bright colours too. Being cocooned in this way heightens perceived fears. Instead of a deeper understanding of other cultures, fortresses are built where we imprison ourselves and old prejudices are unchanged, limiting the richness of experience to return home relaxed and tanned, with anxieties and stress bottled but poorer in understanding, humility or compassion.
We were ready to experience everything Zavora had to offer when we parked the exhausted Honey Badger on the lodge’s driveway. Our only criteria, we would like to be as close to the beach and ocean as possible, we told the manager.
To divers and snorkellers Zavora is the pinnacle. Not only are there numerous coral reefs, subtropical fish but also manta rays. There are two well known ship wrecks, a Dutch troop carrier built in 1939 the Klipfontein and the Rio Sainas.
For snorkellers like us the renowned coral and rock "pool" accessible at low tide is a dream. We were able to walk all along a rock shelf to the circular pool, the size of a football field. At high tide fish enter the pool and as the tide recedes are trapped inside. Amateur divers like us can snorkel during the low tide and see a selection of virtually all the fish swimming in that area.
A few minutes later, we were shown to our campsite atop a dune overlooking a postcard-perfect beach and aquamarine sea. The tide was high, but we were assured in the morning, we’d be able to walk beachcombing for miles.
We’d dined in the lodge’s dining room on a previous visit and would do so again. After a day of heavy driving, I encourage Butch’s yen to relax and unwind. With our chairs facing the endless rolling of the crashing waves onto the beach, we sat with our drinks and let our minds take it all in. Ozone is what our lungs and blood corpuscles called for now.
March was the off-season, we were the only diners that night and chef treated us to prime cuts of Dorado. Do-rade is a small fish with tender white flesh, shimmering silver skin and, when grilled or fried, a rich, succulent, meaty flavour similar to that of pompano or red snapper.
We enjoyed our well-prepared and perfectly grilled buttery fish and would return for our same choice the following evening. For dessert, the barman spoiled Butch with a well-executed Don Pedro, while my virgin Don Pedro with a strong espresso hit my sweet spot perfectly.
I went to bed and sighed contentedly.
The following day I jiggled my rotund way into a bather and wrapped my kikoi around my waist after sipping my morning coffee sitting in my chair on the dune, watching the tide recede as predicted.
We set off with my little cotton bag, a freebie from the Italian bus company, our water bottles, my lip gloss, and a plastic bag and phone. Beachcombing is a slow process, and I enjoy taking my time. Every rock pool and tidal pool is inspected. From afar I suss out the best route to get maximum enjoyment from my search for pretty or unusual shells. Sometimes small subtropical fish are caught in the pools when the tide recedes, and I enjoy spotting them.
There were sea birds, and that was a pleasant surprise. On previous visits to Mozambique, we only saw crows and a tiny sprinkling (we could count them on one hand) of other birds. To and fro, they dashed on their spindly little legs, making no mark on the shimmering water and leaving just a feint footprint. Beautiful, joyful little tits and babblers! We were thrilled to see them back after so many years.
A few fishermen set their lines and nets while divers pulled on their flippers. We’d stop and look inquisitively at the day’s catch on our return. We, indeed, were in the market for oysters; we told one diver. He’d look us up later he promised.
Lunch was two dozen fresh oysters shucked right there on our doorstep. To accompany them we had some lemons, freshly cracked black pepper, local piri-piri and a dodgy bottle of Tobasco sauce I dug out from the back of my spice cupboard. The sea on our tongues! Next to me, Butch was tucking into the oysters with great abandon. Not quite Casanova, who reputedly ate 50 oysters a day!
Fishermen would return from the sea later in the afternoon when the tide came in to sell their catch to guests. We were bowled over by the two enormous crayfish two men brought our way. Unfortunately, they had been speared. We’re not keen on speared crayfish, prefering them caught. Sometimes sand is trapped in the flesh when the spear is removed. The crunch of sea sand on my tongue sets my teeth on edge and does not appeal to me.
A special treat is having my first morning coffee in my night clothes. On our second day, I managed to do some housekeeping and my laundry, which was stacking up. With everything spic and span, I spent the rest of the afternoon in my hammock, swinging while reading and dozing. A treat I rarely afford.
I unpinned our laundered sheets and towels from the washing line and couldn’t resist bringing handfuls of cloth up to my face and taking deep breaths to breathe in the fragrance of fresh, clean ocean air and Skip. Few things are more satisfying than that. Ask any housekeeper. I folded my laundry with extra care before stowing them.
Excitedly we unpacked our Thule to find our snorkeling equipment only to discover my goggles had no head strap and our flippers had no ankle straps. Shows you how well prepared we were, taking things for granted can and will leave you in the lurch.
With a borrowed pair of goggles and our booties on we made our way all along the rocks to the tidal pool. Locals were also setting off to harvest crayfish, mussels, oysters and fish. A kaleidescope of fish of every description, size, colour and species glided and swam dodging and diving, hiding in the dark crevices. colourful fins swaying to the rhythem of sea grasses. Healthy corals thrive in the warm waters and we found it fascinating and exhilirating. There were times while I was floating, bouyed by the warm water that I lost touch with the realities of my life. In this warm water womb I blended with my environment and the silent ebb and flow of the great ocean.
I always attempt to give a fair review of the campsites we stay at. Covid wrecked havoc on the tourism industry in Mozambique and many lodges, hotels and back packers simply closesd their doors. The Zavora Lodge survived, but, needs a lot of TLC. Not much maintenance has been done since the new owners took over a year or two ago. The campsites are very basic. Electricity and water is laid on. We had a shady gazebo where we enjoyed our meals. The ablutions, although basic, were clean, the tepid showers were ok. I could wash and rinse my hair. We enjoyed our stay, didn't expect much and were quite comfortable. Once the aftermath of Freddie and Covid have been cleaned up Zavora Lodge will be up to the standards travellers to these parts expect.
Although we do not have our routes and itineraries planned well into the future, we make exceptions, especially when we have an opportunity to spend time with friends or family. Our camping buddies Sue and Percy would be in Tofo, a fishing village near Inhambane. We hadn’t seen them for five months and needed a catch-up and a big, long hug.
After our chat online we couldn’t contain our excitement any longer and decided to head up to Tofo a day earlier than anticipated. Our arms, shoulders and legs were getting their golden colour back. We felt invigorated, healthy and eager to explore one of our favourite destinations.
Who said old age is not for sissies? There’s never a dull moment and retirement is exhilarating. My theory that sunshine on the skin, blue skies and the ocean caught in our eyes are anti-depressants will be proved one day!