The Tofo Tango To Mozambeats
The weight of being South African slides off my shoulders smooth as velvet as I cross the border into Swaziland and a lightness of being washes over me like an overdue sigh. Summer took its toll on us. The innocence of Africa welcomes us as we greet friendly border officials and effortlessly deal with all the bureaucratic red tape.
We’re excited to reach our final destination, Tofo. A small fishing village a stone’s throw from Inhambane. To reach it we by-pass the frenetic bustle of Maputo. We have a taste of local Piri-Piri chicken on our first night at Tan-a-biki after our evening beach walk where we watched local fishermen haul their nets. Butch and Percy put shoulder to the wheel but soon realise their efforts fell short as their shoulders burned from the effort. An early start was required, our need for R&R (rest and recuperation not Rum and Raspberry) a priority.
Our cottage on the beach was a welcome sight and our housekeeper Amelia awaited our arrival on the path leading up to the open front door. Everything was as it should be. We couldn’t wait to grab our bathers and towels to dive into the warm Indian Ocean. Like the dingle “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair, and send him on his way” we wanted to take names off our roll-call too!”
Butch and I agree, this place is magic. Children love magic so on our daily walks we would wish our children and grandchildren could experience the magic. To encourage their parents I thought it best to highlight the fine attributes on offer in the hope they will be tempted to experience it too one day soon.
Children of all ages, I think I’ll keep it simple and tell you what we’d do, eat, enjoy and I'll attempt to entice you with photographs inviting you to use your imaginations and senses to explore through my eyes, the wonders of Tofo and Inhambane.
The sun rises over the dunes and before long groups of fishermen are seen walking along the water’s edge to their primitive but sturdy wooden boats, now many upgraded with small engines. While we pour coffee and enjoy our rusks we watch them discuss the weather, tides and wind direction while they load their rods, reels, bait and tackle.
As the rays hit our veranda we see them push off and then we step into our bathers. We wrap and roll our Capulanas (the colourful cloths women of Mozambique wear as skirts and sarongs), settle our sun hats on our noggins, polish our sunglasses and lather on the sunscreen before stepping onto the sand for our morning walks along the beach or behind the dunes along the sandy tracks where we get an idea of rural farm life.
Our grandchildren, we imagine, would run along ahead of us, stop to splash in the rocky pools, catching the small colourful fish left behind by the tide. They’d fill their small woven grass baskets with sea shells and bicker about the ones they missed out on. Along the way they’d meet up with local children assisting their parents with nets, pushing out their boats or digging for bait, small prawns and other delicacies clinging to the rocks. At times we’d all stop for a swim and they’d body surf with grandpa enjoying his antics like a huge whale shark quietly sneaking up on them.
We’d lay a table on the veranda or on the beach, we’d all give a hand in making the daily fruit salad including the deliciously sweet ladies’ finger bananas and other varieties on sale. They could pick the large pineapples, paw-paws, oranges, naartjies, yellow and purple granadillas from the children selling fruit using the opportunity to learn some Portuguese.
Some would accompany Glam’ma to the market to buy the freshest Pao (local Portuguese bread) and a bottle of Tipo Tinto (local Rum) and suco de laranja (orange juice). Once the table was laid we’d all sit down to a delicious brunch and we’d chat about our walk and plan the rest of the day.
By midday it’s customary for the fishermen to return to shore, if the catch was good Grandpa and the boys would be alerted by the exuberant banter and they’d wander over to see the catch. Later, our supplier, whom we’ve made an arrangement with, (negotiating a price for our daily fish when we arrived) will come over to the house and Grandpa would pick our supper from the offered selection which might include Baracuda, Cuta, yellow fin Tuna, Red Roman, Butter fish, Lemon fish, Stumpnose, Rock-cod and a few exotics we’re not familiar with.
Most days we’d just roll on down to our gazebo, permanently set up, Grandpa would pull up a chair and read while Glam’ma assumed the sunworshipers position. Now and again we’d dip our toes into the warm waters while the children have free reign to play, surf, body board, build sand castles, swim, jump and do what children all over do best, build friendships with other children. We’d know where they are at all times as we hear them laugh and squeal with delight.
When we’re thirsty we’d buy a fresh, juicy coconut from a seller who’d slice the top off in a single swish of his machete. Once we’d quenched our thirst he’d break the shell exposing the white, soft, sweet flesh which we’d scoop out and eat. From the Old Man we’d buy warm scorched cashew nuts, plain for the littlies and piri-piri for the grown-ups (but knowing grandpa even the littlies will soon be enjoying the hot spicy morsels). To wash away the burn we’d eat cool pineapple, holding the huge, fresh fruit like a popsicle, licking our fingers as juices flow down our arms and drip from our elbows. Sticky and smelling of coco-pine we’d all need to swim. While the children enjoy the waves I’ll keep a watchful eye from my floaty, paddling to keep up with the kids, the tides and currents!
As the sun draws water we’d make our way back to the house, some would grab the basket, shopping list and community purse and head off to the market to stock up on fresh vegetables, saladings, spices and beverages. Some would make a dash for the outside shower to wash away the salty sand from their betel brown bodies while others count shells while listening to beautiful foreign accents floating over from the neighbour strumming her guitar.
As the sky turns pink, and we’ve been sprayed with Mosquito spray, the children would run outdoors to enjoy the cool breeze and the games starting up on the beach, for those with fancy footwork it might be beach soccer or volleyball. We’ll polish our Boule for a few games, winner takes all and we (Butch and I) end up on bar duty!
Sundowners could be watching the waves as the lights come on or we’d meander off to the market to enjoy the many wateringholes. After a busy day there’s nothing nicer than the collective sigh of relief heard as locals socialise, drums start beating a rhythm and The King and Queen open for trading. Children are seen and heard, they are welcome and it’s safe to jump in the puddles after the rain, or join a group of girls skipping, playing hop-scotch or hide and seek.
After a couple of toots we’d link arms and wander off down the beach to our veranda, light the candles and burn mosquito coils. We might wrap ourselves up in extra lenghts of brightly printed cloth to ward off the chill. While the fire is set to braai (barbeque) the fish or giant prawns the girls prepare side dishes, making platters of garden salad, baked potatoes, bringals, corn or butterut. Simple, fragrantly sweet, tart or bitter all the ingredients are organic, homegrown and lovingly tended by subsistance farmers who’ve been at it for generations.
While we wait for dinner boardgames, card games, dice, puzzles or word games are hauled out and everyone would make a fool of themselves, be thrashed or hailed a winner. The children could set the table and light the candles, light up Grandpa’s grill and hold the platter for serving. Chilled wine, fresh fruit juice or tiny Cokes in glass bottles would be served and to everyone’s delight we’d give thanks for another divine day in paradise.
With full tummies our Grandchildren would fall asleep to our sing-song voices as we challenge each other to another game. After coffee and chocolates or fresh fruit skewers we’d carry the exhausted little bodies off to bed, tuck them in, kiss them on their foreheads and ask that they be blessed abundantly.
When the grown up children go on date nights, we would gladly babysit, listening to music and the crashing of waves, Oupa and I might even dance, who knows, we'd suggest one of the many small eateries in the market, the new art gallery and beach bar. Sumi, the Japanese restaurant needs an early reservation, the food is top notch, service excellent and using fresh, local produce proves how ecclectic flavours and cuisines can be produced anywhere. The coffee shop above the diving school serves the best chocolate brownies and carrot cake for the sweet tooth.
Some days we’d go off to Inhambane to stock up. We’d pop in to the boys’ favourite hardware store for all manner of maintenance goodies. We’d have coffee and breakfast at the harbour while watching the ferries and Dhows from Maxixe. We might catch a ride on a tuc-tuc like tourists, do a sightseeing walk of the historic buildings, window shop or nip in to a few Indian stores selling a myriad of beautiful goods.
The girls could try on fashionable pieces in one of the many boutiques opening up. Our last stop before home might be a bite to eat or an ice cold Coke never forgetting Grandpa’s favourite tipple a 2M or Manica at a bar and we’d never return home without our favourite Pasteis de Nata, a traditional Portuguese custard tart for dessert. Grandma, who never can resist an artist, especially one with a smile will stop to chat, admire and bargain until she has a splitting headache for a beautiful piece to take home.
A rendezvous at the Inhambane market, an irresistable mecca for bargain hunters, “window” shoppers and for those who need retail therapy. One’s yen for wooden carvings, local art, gifts, souvernirs, fresh produce, fish, clothing, basketry, spices, toiletries or a sexy piece of lingerie can be satisfied in this maze.
The following days could be taken up with kyaking, sailing a dhow, snorkelling, collecting pansy shells on a tidal island, finding an elusive sea horse or just enjoying the sail, watching the capable captain trimming his sail as we make our leisurely way along the bay enjoying the quiet lapping of the waves against the bow as we tack and trim to do a spot of fishing. We would wait with anticipation for our guide to serve fresh coconut, bananas on Pao, succulent watery pineapple chunks, cold 2M beers and cold drinks.
As things stand we are able to harvest our own coconuts and with the help of a local guide who teaches us how to open the hard, nutty shell releasing the sweet, cool milk and later we're able to serve delicious coconut shavings to our guests and chunks are packed for picnic snacks on our dhow trips.
Like a child, I too enjoy making new discoveries and on inclement days we might visit new unexplored places, find a quiet beach, watch dhows setting sail, fishermen with their nets or local ladies bartering for best prices when the macarel run.
We might spoil ourselves with a five star luncheon at the Green Turtle, the number one spot in all of Mozambique or laze on a lounger at Neptunes Bar ordering a Tapas of small delectable dishes, washed down with cold Sauvignon Blanc. The beach is never more than a few feet away and the little ones would never be bored with all that sea and sand about.
When the days are sunny and the waters are crystal clear and no one wants to budge we’d just do our trading from our deck chairs or the day bed as traders of all ages bring their wares to us. With friendly smiles, handshakes and introductions we’d get down to business. Sometimes we’d have to be firm in our dismissal of them explaining in no uncertain terms that we’re not interested in their selection of beads, bangles or bags. We would soon realise there were traders we had an affinity with and would support them. Thankfully in Mozambique everyone respects that and no further fuss would ensue. These are perfect days for a little TLC and the massages on the beach do the trick very nicely indeed.
Although our knowledge of the history is limited we would tell our grandchildren about the history as we know it emphazing how in 1972 when the civil war broke out the Roman Catholic church, which was very active, upped and offed before the citizenry could say AK47. Fear of change, civil war and Rome cutting off financial aid being reasons for the exodus. Christianity died quietly and unnoticed as Mozambicans fought to stay alive and until recently youngsters knew very little about Christianity although, they often carved pieces depicting Jesus on the cross.
It was with astonishment that we noticed a revival, small meeting places and churches have sprung up everywhere, I noticed Amelia reading a bible and to our surprise dear Bob Marley, our tailor extraordinaire, invited us to his Sunday church service. After an unfortunate misunderstanding only Sue and I managed to join him. Arriving in his best suit and tie he fetched us in his Toyota 4X4 bakkie (pickup truck). A small corrugated building nestled in a grove of coconut palm trees was where we were received by a small congregation of mostly women and children.
We participated, with the help of a translator, in an emotional service of much praise and worship, dancing, chanting and play acting. Story telling is still practised and here congregants were taught about the benefits of consulting a medical Doctor or clinic instead of visiting a traditional healer, with ulterior motives, as is customary. Although I’m sure much was lost in translation and I did feel like a character from The Poisonwood Bible, a missionary who gets it all wrong, I was deeply touched by the genuine, unadulterated faith, joy and respect everyone has.
It was refreshing to see the word of God applied to their lives and circumstances and not the dogma force fed or indrocinated by a multimillion dollar church in a first world country. I saw the words of Matthew come alive when he said “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” And “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Sue and I returned home excited to share our experience. Sadly Amelia was very disappointed that we’d not have an opportunity to visit her congregation too!
In January 2017 a devastating hurricane blew in from the east and swept over the dune on the left of our cottage. Although Tofo was spared the brunt of the onslaught and it was at low tide, much of the beach was swept up and dumped on our veranda, covering our lawn and garden, but, in some cases, along the beach front interiors were almost reclaimed. Many locals weren’t as fortunate and hundreds of homes, businesses, hotels and resorts were annihilated. Amelia’s home was one of them.
Since then her and her husband have painstakingly rebuilt a new home, this time a brick and mortar three bedroom house and not a plaited palm frond structure which is traditional. It was with much excitement that Sue and I set off with Amelia to “inspect” her new home. We were bowled over, it is lovely and once complete will be a showpiece in the neighbourhood. We met her sweet daughter, who we later discovered had Malaria at the time. It was only once we’d been to her home that we had some understanding of her circumstances, the distances she walks to the bus stop and the time she needs to travel every day.
“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Mozambicans have shown me the importance of empathy, humility and patience in living a meaningful life. Life certainly “isn’t a dress rehearsal” and “only time will tell” is a given. Wise words found in the most unlikely places
I enjoyed many memorable moments, I met remarkable people, we laughed a lot and as my skin browned, my hair frizzed and I was rejuvenated, even imagining a youthful glow. One highlight came unexpectedly from a teenage girl selling avocados who looked at me with a furrowed brow and asked very seriously whether I was a Rasta too!
On a few occasions in the market I was called Mama Maricha by some vendors! But, when a handsome young man asked to take my photograph and he said “because you’re an African” I felt overwhelmed and thrilled for that is who I am. Centuries ago Vasco da Gama said the inhabitants of Inhambane were the "kind and gentle people", nothing has changed.
Getting to Tofo: by Plane to Inhambane airport. It is much cheaper flying from Johannesburg to Tofo. From Cape Town use a separate affordable flight to Johannesburg rather than booking from Cape Town to Inhambane.
By bus: from Oliver Tambo in Johannesburg there's an overnight shuttle which stops in the Tofo market and leaves from there again. From Nelspruit also a shuttle. From Maputo there are busses too. The bus and shuttle services are reliable and very affordable.
By car: we do it. It's a three day drive either way.
Connectivity and Wifi: At the Tofo Market it's possible to buy FAST, RELIABLE, CHEAP DATA. We paid R200 ($18) for 10G from Vodacom!