Repressing Memories In Vilankulos
Here’s the thing with human memory. It’s short and has a life of its own. I have photographic memories of places I’ve been to and I realised; I remember the photographs and the feelings those places conjure. I can recall the smells, colours and experiences but not the lay of the land or GPS coordinates. Butch, on the other hand, remembers dates, names and where he stayed on previous trips—all a blank to me.
Vilankulos brings back unpleasant memories. We arrived there twenty years ago after twelve hours on terrible roads. Both of us were in a bad mood, and what’s more, I was hangry and stressed—we performed our first domestic, which spiralled into a shouting match. Plus, to add insult to injury, the campsite was small and overcrowded, and there wasn’t space for a mouse nor any privacy to voice our opinions. To cool down, I thought a shower would do. Alas, the shower stall was flooded and murky, but what the hell, I thought. The result? Some would say I got a good dose of athlete’s foot in the warm yucky water—my just desserts.
This reminds me, I got crabs in Tofo, two little blighters were running up the walls and got stuck in a corner in their desperate attempts to get back to the beach one night while I was preparing for bed. Being a Cancerian myself, I caught them and returned them to the beach, where they quickly scuttled off to the water. Relieved. Two days later, a frog glared at me from the shower stall. Did he think I’d kiss him? Not a chance. I have my prince, I hissed. Anyway, it was the no water day . Not even a trickle.
Like forgiveness, my memory of Vilankolos was wiped. We had a clean slate and I was ready to be wowed. I didn't recognise the place and for the life of me couldn’t remember where the ill-fated campsite was.
iOverlander suggested we go to Villas dos Indigo and Spa, it had an infinity pool, deck chairs, and a swinging lounger. Very glamorous for people who’ve been on the road for months. Unfortunately the campsite, an after thought, was situated away from the beach with no view.
Confession: lying on the lounger with a frosty mocktail in my hand overlooking a tranquil sea lapping the shoreline was picture perfect. One could’ve sworn I was in Mauritius.
We were surrounded by The Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of six islands strung off the coast of southern Mozambique. They lie within Bazaruto National Park and are known for their white-sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. Bazaruto, with dunes, is the largest island. Coral reefs around Magaruque and Santa Carolina islands protect rare marine animals, like dugongs. The wetlands, forests and grasslands of Benguerra Island’s interior are home to many bird species.
We’d taken a working Dhow to Santa Carolina on a previous trip and wouldn’t be going again. While I suffered sea sickness, and quite green around the gills, our crew did a spot of fishing, they had their handlines in the water, feet up and looked at us in puzzlement when we asked them "what now?" This time we were adamant we were going to explore Vilankulos, a popular destination for tourists from South Africa who arrive in droves with boats, jet skis and blow up flamingos.
Many foreign guests fly into Vilankulos and, if they’re lucky, to one of the islands where they’re collected and ferried, by powerful launch, to lodges on the mainland or the islands. In that way, guests are spared the inconvenience of bad roads and the realities of the third world.
Instead, they receive the sterilised version of poster luxury travel to a pristine beach and luxury resort where they’re pampered and indulged. It reminded me of my trips to Mexico, where it was almost impossible to experience Mexico unless you sneaked off and got the bus to Sayulita.
For the time being, Butch and I were delighted to be there, and I soon forgot my contempt and feelings of superiority because of our authentic travels. Butch often says, “We have principles, but if you don’t like them, we have others.” We were on “others”.
Every morning, at low tide, the beach would be covered in coquilles. The flesh presumably similar to white muscles. The shells were all open and the flesh removed. The mother of pearl lining in gossamer pinks and lilacs were beautiful. Where these came from remain a mystery.
Colourful Dhows and wooden fishing boats indicate we were nearing the old Arab spice routes and heading further north. During good weather and inclement these ancient craft plough the waters with nets and hand lines. Dhows are also used as a mode of transport for locals and brave tourists like us to visit the islands.
On our walks in the morning, we’d see the colourful boats lying all a kilter on the beaches waiting for the tide to come in, lifting them and ready to sail.
Ancient means of catching fish are still used, we noticed. Sticks and bamboo poles are stuck into the sand at regular intervals in a semi-circle; these artificial intertidal zones or traps are ideal for capturing fish. Women would sweep these areas in search of captured fish at low tide. Some of these structures were very small, old and barnacled.
Having our meals in the restaurant with other guests was a treat. The staff were friendly and made us feel special. Prawns were on the menu; we enjoyed them in every shape and form. The creamy tomato sauce and prawns on spaghetti was delicious and one I will remember to repeat.
After our walks, we’d lounge around the pool, read and occasionally snooze. There would be no housekeeping. We decided this was a weekend of pure indulgence, but Butch did groom himself for our evening dinners in the restaurant.
The time spent at Villas dos Indigo was very relaxing, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, but the camping spot for big rigs like our Honey Badger lacked je ne sais quoi. The ablutions were satisfactory, and I had a hot shower while Butch didn’t. The staff were friendly and helpful, gave us good tips and recommendations for our travels north, and the owner was charming.
Before we finally left Vilancolos, I was determined to see some of the old town. We stopped at the local data guys and replenished our data for the coming days, bought fresh Pao for lunch and the delicious Palmiers sold at the pastelaria for coffee later.
A harbour has a particular fascination for me, and Butch agreed. En route, we passed a good spot for a photograph. I told Butch I’d walk there, while he went down to the harbour. I had a few minutes to snoop around.
I found the perfect spot for my seascape adjacent to a curios shop. What a fascinating find it was too. The little grass and reed rondawel is a traditional Mozambiquan dwelling I was told.
The skeletal carvings are another reminder of Mexico, where the Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos or Día de los Muertos, is celebrated in November. The Day of the Dead rituals are a beautiful and artistic way to honour loved ones who have passed away.
“Similarly, skeletons remind us to remember those who have passed before us and to move forward. We mustn’t forget our loved ones! They remind us that life is short, and we should cherish our time with our friends and family by helping one another. Lastly, it reminds us that we must live in gratitude daily”. Nelson at Galleria Son Ho Chevale told me while I admired his artworks.
As soon as I stepped onto the quay, I met Zach who runs a water taxi ferrying passengers to and from the islands. His Dhow Rita was ready, and passengers were trickling down to fill the seats. He had time for a chat I could see, and I promised I’d mention him in my blog. This put me firmly in his good books, and he succumbed to a few photographs to accompany the post.
If I wasn’t a severe seasickness sufferer, I might’ve been on board bound for an island. He’s a smooth operator. I’m sure my demonstrations to drive my point home had everyone in fits of laughter and disbelief.
After paying a small fee, the ancient harbour master was much friendlier and allowed Butch to inflate our tyres before we left Vilankulos and headed up to Inhassoro. On the harbour wall small sardine-like fish were being dried, almost like "harders", our west coast equivalent, which are sold in the fish markets and enjoyed by the locals. These fish are added to maize porridge and other dishes for flavour and saltiness, very similar to anchovies.
Butch’s opinion of Vilankulos hasn’t changed, and he will, in all likelihood, give it a wide berth in future. I, have learned, never is a very long time. It was time to hit the road we agreed. There was so much to see and too little time to do so.
Water Taxi "Rita" - Zach 8448374818
Nelson Sonho Chevale art gallery - +8440501744