The Fab Four Do Tofo – It’s A Dream Catching Up With The Knights
Our best times have been with Percy and Sue; they’re easy, fun, and organised. This time their Hedgehog was behind bars at home while they jetted in to spend time in Tofo.
Although we were excited to see them, we hesitated to infringe on their privacy, knowing they were holidaying with dear friends. Two’s company while three’s a crowd, the adage goes.
We’ve learned that a four-hour drive for average vehicles takes double that for us in our Honey Badger. She’s just different. Slow yet steady, we sally forth. As we get older, our nights get shorter, and when the cock crows or the sun peeks over the horizon, we’re often up. This fortunate occurrence suits us very well. Longer days enable us to drive without getting hot under the collar when we’ve been at it for hours.
At night, Butch often says when I’m faffing about or watching a movie, “We have an early start in the morning!”
“So what? Bring it on, Buddy.” I want to snap. “Who sleeps past 4h30 in this house? Not these old bladders.”
“On the road again”. Willy Nelson was in my head. It is a misfortune because it will be near impossible to quiet him down once he’d settled there with his keening nasal baritone, “which is dynamically limited and unpretty.” The online experts say.
The changes into Inhambane are immediately noticeable. The city has cleaned itself up. There are tuk-tuks lined up at the harbour, waiting for the Maxixe ferry to dock. It’s crabbing its way over and should be anchoring in a while, spewing masses of passengers who’ve made the short trip.
Butch needs to go online, and we both need something cold. Our usual bistro’s become a B&B, but the opposition has cornered the market now.
Two businessmen in suits, in this weather, are drinking beers and discussing a deal. “Bom Dias, com esta?" We offer a greeting. Surprised, they acknowledge us and respond with smiles. Our waiter speaks no English but can understand Coke. We point to the fridge.
Pasteis de Nata from the Pastelaria, we must have, I remind Butch once we’re back in the truck. Of course, he knows that. They’ve sold out, or don’t bake them anymore, I can’t understand a word the assistant says. I leave with two coconut balls they are dry and stick to our palates.
Colourful buildings, clean streets, and the ficus tree growing through the roof, its progress slow, but its roots firmly embedded into the cracked walls feels like a time warp. Does it secure the walls or drive the bricks apart? I wonder. Here it seems it’s keeping the building together like an ancient crone keeping the family together. The tattered, sheer, dirty once-white curtain billows in the breeze. Who lives there with a tree?
A string of masked patients sit quietly, waiting their turn on the long veranda at the hospital. Nurses bustle about attending to the sick. The sight of all the masks is a comfort and an inconvenient necessity and reminder. The gates next door a stark reality check. New Graves.
The 17km to Tofo seems faster this time. Informal trading is still vibrant and colourful. Progress is steady and noticeable. New buildings, homes and even the roads are being upgraded. Time didn’t stand still.
Mozambique is still considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world, but there is a marked improvement.
Learners wearing school uniforms, long ankle-length skirts and white shirts for girls seem to be the norm.
Across the board, people are well dressed. Many stalls sell clothes and shoes, including wannaabee Nike, Adidas and Batas. Colourful plastic sandals, Croc and Haviannas look alikes in bright Tumeric yellow, chilli red, hot pink, and fuchsia are neatly displayed on black plastic sheeting, often surrounded by puddles of water, line the streets. They must be rip-offs from China or India. Shoppers and pedestrians stop to browse or gracefully sidestep and zigzag past the offered goods.
If I had to describe my first impressions in one word, it would be festive or carnival. People are dressed colourfully—vibrant red and sunny yellow mixed with sea and sky blue hues. The earthy ochres, terracotta, and sand are layered with bright hibiscus purple, marmalade hues, bougainvillaea, and oxblood.
Walking is not a dawdle but a means of getting work done or getting to a destination as quickly as possible, except, greetings take a while.
Conversations are never-ending. There’s much to chat about on phones all day with those at home or in the marketplace where friends meet up. The cell phone has opened a world of communication in the third world. The ancient drums are quiet at night now.
As I’ve mentioned before, we love music in Africa, and the music grows louder in places like Tofo when the lights go on. Not the loud overloaded-washing-machine-trying-to-spin kind of doof-doof-doof taxis and VW Golfs with hung bums in South Africa blast from the rear but beautiful, upbeat or soulful marimba music. Fires are lit, music is played, children laugh, and a community comes together to tell stories.
Fires burn all day, but in a controlled way, using meter-long logs that are pushed forward for cooking. They prepare street food: grilled chicken, roasted corn on the cob, maise porridge and fish. Always slightly charred, smoky with a distinctive spicy aroma, I guess piri-piri. Matapas, an indigenous spinach-like plant, is another staple chopped, ground, and stewed with onion, coconut milk, and ground cashew nuts—an acquired taste but delicious. Cashew nuts are roasted on an open fire spread out on hot iron sheets. Crispy, hot and chock full of flavour.
All roads to Tofo are through the market. We were instantly transported back as if no time, no Covid, and no five-year absence had occurred. Butch was still in his sixties, and I’d hurdled cautiously over the fifties!
We could camp for three nights, the lovely Mysteria at Pariango Beach Hotel or Back Packers told us, her eyes lighting up. At first glance, I couldn’t see the campsite, but there was an electrical point and a washing line. lights and a guarda at night.We parked under the Casuarina trees. The guy on the motorbike who stopped a few minutes later wasn’t impressed and left, speeding off into thick sand, skidding, wobbling and setting himself right.
Off to the beach, we ran with a 2M for Butch and for me a Heineken Blue, in my other hand I clutched the beach recliner I’d schlepped from Worcester. I’d be damned if I didn’t take it with me, I told Butch six months ago. The sun was setting as we opened the chair and sipped our beers. Pink skies at night, shepherds delight.
Sue spotted us on the beach and charged over with Percy hot on her heels. We hugged and hugged and hugged. Oh, how we’d missed them. They looked fabulous. Tanned, clear-eyed and in top-notch form. We had to come to Casa Butch to meet their friends, and Amelia, the housekeeper, majordomo and manager, all rolled into one. Amelia had been impossible, sweeping and dusting all day to ensure the house was spic and span for Butch, Sue said.
Neither Amelia, Butch, nor I could stop the tears when we saw each other, and I still get a lumpy throat recalling our reunion. The kind and gentle Amelia always goes the extra-extra mile to see that everyone’s happy and everything’s 100% ship shape. She’s not aged a day, her face as lovely as ever. Still, the smiling, sweet, angelic lady we greeted when Percy and Sue took over our keys. We all had pent-up emotions pouring from our eyes.
Later, feet up on the low wall on the big open veranda, we peered through the new golden fringe of the palm fronds and admired the growth of the four coconut trees Butch planted as seeds twelve years ago. A nimble foot will have to climb those trunks to pick the coconuts now. The sea was calm, and in the distance, we watched silent surfers riding the last golden-tipped waves before darkness. Festive lights lit up the beachfront, throwing long red, green, blue and yellow trails onto the wet sand. Waves rolled gently onto the beach.
I thought I must tell the grandchildren to hold shells to their ears to hear the sea. That’s precisely the sound one hears.
Butch and I would go for long walks on the beach: first one way and the next day in the other direction to Tofinho.
Old nosey Parker couldn't resist looking into every bucket or tin along the way. The only way to see what fish have been caught for bait to be used later when the boats go out.
Some landmarks on the beach remain, like Fatima’s Nest, the diving school and one or two restaurants. The most noticeable change was in the residential properties that had mushroomed atop the dune, they lined up for a mile, modern, traditional, big and small.
It was low tide, and we could enjoy the rocky shelves, rock pools, and the sunray undulations the currents made as the waves washed over the sand and the early morning sunlight cast shadows over them. These will have solidified in a million years as the seascape changes.
The colour of the crystal clear water pushes my vocabulary to new heights: Aquamarine, turquoise, glacial, peacock, teal and indigo, saphire and cobalt. The depths of the sea determine the colour. It’s impossible to capture the roll, crest and breaking waves to illustrate the awesomeness of the gathering water rising, the first tiny glass curls, then the white just beaten egg white rolls before the peak and roll, crash and dump of a wave. In a million years, when we’re long forgotten, the moon will continue to determine the waves. If water had a memory imagine the tales it could tell.
Our days were sweet, and we spent many hours with Percy, Sue, Francois and Lesley. Our breakfasts on the stoep were a tradition we soon slipped back into. After our walks, we’d join them on the veranda for fruit salad, Tipo Tinto (a local rum) and orange juice, to put hair on one’s chest. Soaking it all up with fresh Pão. How easily we slipped back into our old routines.
Pão is a sourdough stone ground bun or short French loaf with twisted ends baked by local village bakers and sold in the informal markets across Mozambique. Each district or area has its particular twist on the basic recipe, e.g. crispy, soft or chewing. Always delicious. Makes excellent toast or crostini.
Dinner depends on the day’s catch and what the fishermen’s agents come up with. We bought crayfish en route to Tofo from a guy we knew. Delicious on the braai with garlic and butter basting, fresh lemon juice, and Piri-piri.
Percy, an old hand at buying fish, had his supplier deliver a beauty the next night. Fresh, the eyes must be clear, the men cleaned and spatchcocked (we say vlekked) the fish on site.
Sitting at the long table that night, with the candles flickering away, our laughter and chatter only interrupted when we chewed, sipped cold Gatao (a fresh green, white wine from Portugal) or passed the salad bowl around we caught up with the news from home. We were assured everyone missed us, as we missed our family too, and news was eagerly anticipated and looked forward to, even if it was just a word we were told!
That night I slept soundlessly. No nightmares of writhing snakes.
The last supper was a feast of delicious Asian Inspired Tapas at the very popular Sumi’s in Tofo. The space is tastefully decorated using local wood, calico and cream bull denim with locally made furnishings, plants, woven palm frond ceilings, and light fittings— perfectly executed. Accommodation has been added upstairs and an open cocktail bar with a view has been added. Simple yet tasteful.
Our choices for supper were delicious—a fitting end to a lovely reunion with the Knights.
Soon, it was time to wave the new fab four goodbye. Traipsing across the beach carrying heavy suitcases to the awaiting taxi, hearts full but sad to leave, they slogged half-heartedly. The group photos capture new memories. Butch and I stood forlornly, waving them off as they sped past the stalls and up the little incline to the airport. We waved until they couldn’t see us anymore.
Their aeroplane limped onto the tarmac in Inhambane. While the incoming passengers disembarked, “mechanics” started hammering on the engines with spanners, Chris told us. The flight was delayed. The Knights and Potgieters were eventually put up in a grotty hotel, where they managed to keep their spirits up until the next day. Photographs sent on WhatsApp evidence of how they were burning the midnight oil, a rip-roaring end to their holiday. Sue reported a headache of note due, I’m sure, to stress and their ministrations thereof.
Twenty-four hours after their original departure time, they boarded a new plane and had a lift-off. Two days later, after missing all their connecting flights, they sent a message to announce their safe arrival at home. They already missed us but promised to meet us in Zanzibar!
While they coped with their shenanigans, we were happily dining with our friends from Hermanus who had flown in on the crippled plane. Some faces never change and never get older, nor do their eyes get dimmer. Chris and Marie, our beloved friends, looked as jolly as ever.
Marie’s cup was overflowing, her nest full, and her heart brimming with joy. Andrew and his partner Gary, a most delightful man, talented, smart, charming, soft-spoken and kind, had arrived from Maputo. Emma is a breath of fresh air, and her best friend, Catherine, who flew in from Australia, gives me hope for Australia, in a word, fabulous. A chatty, takes no-nonsense, fun-loving gal who lives life with gusto. Andrew is a hive of all sorts of exciting titbits, which he generously shared with us, keeping us spellbound and hanging on his every word. Andrew and Gary. I was smitten. Marie, like you and Chris, your children are JOY. You have every reason to be proud. Of course, we missed Poppy but understand circumstances did not allow her to join Emma. Next time Em? Thank you for sharing your precious family time with us.
Gary is a very talented musician who showcases his music on Twitch – when I have Wi-Fi, I automatically Twitch and follow Gary’s weekly mash-ups. I might become a groupie. You can follow garylucasmusic on Twitch too.
By the looks of things and your photographs on Social media, I’d say your visit to Tofo was a huge success. Tofo’s magic spins a web around everybody, and one can’t help but succumb to her charms. I’m sure your lost luggage going home didn’t dampen your tans and joie de vivre.
The two meals we enjoyed at the Italian Tapas were tops. Not only was the company first class, the crostini’s, aubergine and hamburgers were delectable. I think their hamburgers are better than mine! Monday night’s hamburger and beer special is well worth it. Make a reservation when you’re there. My only complaint, why do you not serve a dessert? Italians all have a sweet tooth.
Our curry night started on the wrong foot, but I think the evening was successful. Tony’s a gem, and he certainly has pizzazz and personality. How thrilling to see him in all his colourful glory at the Indian restaurant. That was a good suggestion, Andrew. Sobering to see him full of joys, in love and still unfazed by anything life throws at him and a doting dad of a seventeen-year-old to boot. He’s fine-tuned, relaxed and slow-living into an art form.
The Tofo market is my favourite shopping area; I walk there to buy Pao and fresh veggies, purchase data from the local stall, and Butch stocks up with beer and his favourite white wine. Supporting local business is every visitor’s duty, we believe. Some stallkeepers have been there for years, but many are new faces. Everybody’s hoping for a better life while supporting their families, who might be market gardeners, scholars, joiners, builders or fishermen. When Covid struck, these families and businesses were hardest hit because they depend mainly on tourism. For almost two years, the beaches were closed, and only local fishermen could walk the beach to their boats.
Seeing so many familiar faces on the beach was encouraging, Bob Marley selling his colourful cloths, Antonio with his baskets and coconuts, and Fernando still at his curio stall in the market. They’re all grown up now. We didn’t see Sue’s favourite Six Fingers, but I bet he’s still around, probably moved up in the world. I hope so.
Fishing, carpentry, wood carving, pottery, clay tiles and brickmaking are some of the industries in which the people of Inhambane excel at. I noticed how the carpentry workshops have increased, and the furniture produced and put on display would be the envy of many decorators I know. My favourites would be the pottery, basketry and woven mats. I succumbed to one or two pieces of cloth the tailor hemmed for me on-site! He still pedals his old Singer. I have a new skirt, a wrap for chilly evenings, a lovely table cloth and a decorative covering for the Honey Badger’s dashboard. All rolled into one.
Although describing our accommodations in glowing terms would be a stretch, we enjoyed staying at the casual, unkept, unmaintained, bohemian backpackers. Pariango. Campers have access to a communal kitchen, dining and seating area where it's possible to hook up to the intermittent internet. The accommodations are basic and there are domitories for groups. I could have my laundry done which is always a treat.
We met the fabulous Canadians Cole and Hayden Ewing, travelling around the Sadec countries and ending their trip just days before Cole ties the knot. Canadians out from the cold are lovely and enjoy our blue skies, humidity, dirt roads, potholes and South African hospitality, which they say “capture you, hold your hostage and won’t let you go, often one evening becomes a week before we could make our escape!” they couldn’t resist the persistent “Ag where are you off to now anyway, just stay one more day.” I think Cole is an African at heart. Hayden thought he could party, but soon realised that Moz’s style was not for sissies when he slept it off on the lawn the next day.
Before they could shoot roots, they packed their tents and skedaddled in their rental. Yes, the best 4X4 in Africa is a rental.
Pariango’s won’t be the same without Jen and her Bistro on the stoep, with her welcoming smile, big heart and a shoulder for everyone to cry on. Coffee and cake at four o’clock in the afternoon was a standing date for us. Delicious Portuguese chiffon cake with a crème patisserie filling and a light dusting of icing sugar. She has a good repertoire, and I tried a lot. Carrot cake, Chocolate cake, Birthday cake and cheesecake. Scrumptious.
The vegan bacon (facon) Jen developed is a winner. On our BTL pão, we were knocked for six. It tastes like bacon, looks like streaky bacon and is as crispy as I like mine. We didn’t try Jen’s vegan cheese nor her vegan yoghurt, but they’ll be winners if her bacon’s anything to go by. If food always looked so good and tasted this good, I could be swayed to dabble in the Vegan way. Well done Jen, on developing a masterstroke.
Thank you for your lovely Mozambique recipe book. I’ll treasure it and use it whenever I need inspiration. I regret we left without a proper goodbye, but we hope that signals that we’ll meet again someday. We think so.
While I sat enjoying our visits, I was privvy to the many people, young and old, familiar locals, tourists, friends, shopkeepers, stall keepers, and neighbours who stop to say hi, chat and often ask for your advice or expertise. You are the mainstay of so many people who orbit around you. With everyone, you are friendly, kind, patient and encouraging. That’s an exceptional quality few people have. You have a soft heart for rich or poor, those who deserve it and, more importantly, for those few who believe they don't deserve empathy.
One afternoon I sat working in the lounge off the stoep and heard the following conversation:
Weird, I thought.
Footsteps approach me, coming in from outside. It’s Jen and her dog tip-tipping close behind her. “You drive me crazy, and you never listen.” They go into her kitchen; the door closes softly. The Kenwood comes to life, the whisk straining at first with the eggs and sugar.
Outside, a door slams and the owner's Pajero start up, revs and drives off.
Tofo, it is rumoured, has a municipal water delivery problem which aggravates the horrible water flow in our ablutions. They went from a trickle to drips to nothing. My description of the water situation was “shit, shitter, shittest”. On one occasion I managed to get the mixer to add a dash of hot water. On the morning of our departure a couple from the Seychelles decided to pack up too. They'd had enough and needed a hot shower.
When I mentioned the dire state of the water supply in the loos, washbasins and showers to Mysteria, who was plaiting her daughter's hair, she looked at me, batting her large doe eyes, quite mystified. She had no clue, she admitted. To add insult to injury, no one had complained in all those days. She was flummoxed. When I suggested she check it out, she looked at me perplexed. I suspect that nothing has changed since. Just goes to show how easily we succumb to a charming face.
We extended our three-night stay in Tofo to a week. Once again, the Tofo magic enchanted us, making it hard to leave. When all things are considered, it remains our number one holiday destination. All my expectations are met there. I can walk around in my bather and wrap all day, and under a gazebo, I can read while sipping fresh coconut water or quenching my thirst on tangy, fresh pineapple. A massage on the beach is a blissful experience and not to be missed. The temperature of the ocean is set at “perfect”, visitors and locals alike are friendly. I can do all my daily shopping while taking a stroll, and at night there are half a dozen eateries to choose from. Supper at home is always something fresh from the sea, and every ingredient in my salad is organic—a simple, colourful, joyful, stress-free blended life.
Fernando relies heavily on Jen for support. He’s an alcoholic, desperately trying to quit his addiction. I met him on the beach, where he displayed his shell necklaces, bracelets, ankle bracelets and wall hangings. He is an excellent wood carver, and his art is beautifully crafted. I explained our situation and that I used to be a frequent visitor to Tofo and had previously bought trinkets. He understood.
I’d see him most days, and we’d greet and be on our way. One afternoon he stopped to chat, and I could see it hadn’t been a good day. There was the smell of hooch on his breath. Waving his goods around, he told me it was his daughter’s birthday, and to celebrate, he wanted to present me with one of his wall hangings. I protested vehemently, but he was adamant and looped the fish and shells around my neck, saying, “I give it to you not because I like you, but because I love you!” How could I decline? That said, he marched off unsteadily, weaving his way to the beach.
Later Jen explained and confirmed that it was indeed his daughter’s birthday, but every meticais he earns or receives goes straight to the bar.
The following day, he was at Jen’s, seeking the affirmation that he needs to “take it one step at a time, one day at a time.” He had no recollection of his fondness for me. The kindness of strangers is overwhelming. Our inclination to judge people based on their appearance or behaviour is the fence we so carefully erect that's when we miss the story. Don't we all have a story? His wall hanging will go with me, no matter how inconvenient, to remind me that kindness and respect are intrinsic and can be given freely.
Thank you, Sue and Percy, for liberally sharing your time and space with us. Thank you for the laughs, the fun and the serious times. We broke bread at your long table on the stoep and got to know your friends Francois and Lesley. I get the appeal and why they got the nod to join you in Tofo. Seeing you again has put the writhing snakes to bed until next time… Zanzibar.