A Travellerspoint blog


From Mozambique to Malawi

It was the holiday season in Southern Africa too

all seasons in one day
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

My skin has turned the color of a honey-roasted peanut. There are constantly strands of fruit stuck between my teeth from tiny mangoes sold by children, five for a nickel. The air smells strongly of roasting cashews, though apparently the season is almost over. These were my last reflections from Mozambique

I spent Christmas eve and day with my traveling companion (hint: it has two wheels) riding from Nampula in north central Mozambique to the coast, Ilha de Mozambique. While the only visible signs of the holiday where the occasional santa hat and even more occasional small plastic Christmas tree, there was a palpable holiday spirit in the air. It was in the calls of 'boas festas' from those I passed and the busyness of the market on the 24th, ´dia de familia´. Perhaps it was even in the spirit with which women and children skinned down to their underwear and less when the rain started. They did so to take advantage of fresh puddles to the road to wash their clothes.


I arrived in Ilha to a wedding. Along the way I saw many people taking advantage of the holiday season for ceremonies. There was traditional dancing, a circumcision ceremony and other occasions which I was not privy to. I landed at a private home and a courtyard filled with children. My room had an overhead fan and a bright
green bathroom. Over the next few days I plied the street of the island, one of first European settlements in Africa and the southern hemisphere. Young-men aspiring a career in tourism approach me with sophisticated and casual pitches. I usually had a ten to 16 year old accompanying me at all times. Ilha is home to some beautiful and smart European owned restaurants as well as a densely populated African villages. Children play freely on the beach, roll tires and enjoy their nakedness in the puddles. It was here that Mozambique's seafood reputation finally caught up with me. A chunk of fish in broth, lobster salad, shrimp and calamari. Some of it even lacked the customary grains of sand that have appeared in almost every dish I ate since my arrival. At night the sleepy colonial island filled with the beat of club Nautico and dancing youths. It was with reluctance that I left Ilha and caught a train to the border before my visa ran out as well as the year.


I crossed the border into Malawi by bicycle. Either I was at some altitude or Malawi is all down hill, but regardless it was a beautiful decent down to Lake Malawi and the city of Mangochi. I managed to spend keep my bicycle in one piece and unpacked for my entire visit to Malawi although I found new obstacles along the road. Baboons, women dancing, and children crying out "Azungo". They would do so individually, "Azungu, Azungu," collectively AZUNGU, and even chant, "Azungu! Azungu! Azungu!. Their other favorite phrase was "give me money." I can almost imagine the vision in their head of a gangly (relatively) pale cyclist grabbing fistfuls of Kwacha notes from his bicycle bag and tossing them into the air. In fact I could afford to do this. There is only one bank note here worth more than $1.30. Should I? While perhaps it is a needed economic stimulus, my rationale not to is that it would reinforce paternalist notions that run strong here. Should I instead give to the international charities who have a strong presence in Malawi? I fear for propagating the NGO industrial complex. However it's hard to disregard foreign aid altogether when I get met workers at an independent foundation that has reduced malaria deaths by 90% in a community I visited, just by opening a clinic.

From the peaceful, bicycle friendly town of Mangochi I biked to the water's edge to pass the new year at a small beach community. I fell in love with the large and beautiful Lake Malawi. On new years eve, the midpoint of my journey, I was plucked from my travelers isolation by by some Irish nurses and taken to the roasting of a goat. There we were entertained by the a band of children with drums. They played Malawian classics like "Who let the dogs out" and "How are you; I am fine." The next day I caught a ferry up the lake, which was a time of great peace, only briefly interrupted by Malawian tourists who boarded at every port to check out the ship on their day off and take photos with me (for status? strangeness, I don't know). A few days cycling and chasing wildlife and I'm departing for Zimbabwe tomorrow. This is the most travel intensive portion of my journey. I know I'm getting a bit worn down because I've been hanging out with other travelers for the first time and staying at backpacker places. Still I'm happy with this adventure and looking forward to the future.

Reflections in Bullets:

    I´ve been slowly trading away some of my high quality goods for handiwork. I took the frame off my backpack and had a tailor put in on my bicycle bag so I´m basically just carrying the bike now and a shoulder bag. Some guy liked the thick rubber on my heavy Chacos so I traded them for some flip-flops.

    I feel like somewhat of a friend sl-t here. I met so many people, but within a week I´m gone. I knew it would be hard and it is. Hard for me to process and II feel guilty for knowing there are few I will actually keep contact with.

    In Mozambique there´s a marketing war of epoch proportions between two cell phone companies, Vodocom and Mcell. They plaster there logo on everything, free shirts are particularly effective. Or perhaps its the absence of all other marketing I noticed.

    It is widely known police, like everyone, put the pressure on during the holiday season. Bus drivers will be stopped four times over four hours and either talk or bribe their way through checkpoints. My first night on the bike in Maputo I was waved over by a cop. My heart pounded as the officer requested papers for my bicycle. I stalled and eventually he let me go.

    Not bribing is one stalwart rule of the travelers to do no harm. Another I´ve tried to follow is to purchase down the economic chain. Buying from street vendors can be healthier for me (often fruits or homemade goods), the environment (generally no or natural packaging) and the least well off. Unfortunately It´s been a struggle , as those packaged cookies with the frosting inside can provide relief from a stressful day of travel.

    Malawi's got religion! The presence and prominence of both mosques and church and their respective schools and charities was distinct from subtle Mozambique.

Finally got to upload some photos, https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/DJG/


Posted by dericvito 09:24 Archived in Mozambique Tagged bicycle Comments (0)


Adventure and new friends in this pais tropical

sunny 39 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

I went to sleep at a sunny 4am this morning to the sound of the muzzen call to prayer. But I'm not in the middle east anymore, I'm in Mozambique. That, and the best south Indian food I've consumed outside of India are a testament to the diversity of this country. The hour I arrived is a testament to the challenging transportation system and strange time zone that make the sun rise before 4am.

I spent my first week in Maputo, the capital. My first impressions (coming from Beirut) were a slower pace, orderliness (people following traffic laws / waiting patiently in line), and the high numbers of people out on the streets during the day. I hit the ground running with the help of some friends and friends of friends. I had dinner the first night with friend Abdul and his family who I met when he was studying public health at the UW. The next night I connected with a friend of a friend, an American who works at an NGO here.

Maputo is a pleasant city with large street-trees that provide shade from the summer heat. I spent my first days running errands, looking for visas, cooking lunches. I found a street ball organization and watched their tournament, only narrowly deciding against joining the dunk contest in my street shoes and cargo shorts. But I enjoyed Maputo mostly for the nightlife. A fashion show and concert at the french cultural center, live performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazoo and a host of local groups, a private dance party into the early hours. I witnessed the the most creative dancing I've ever seen by four 14-year old boys who role played amongst themselves a teenage romance dance. Oh, and I'm now an incredible dancer too :-) (somehow it's just easier here).


I spent time with expats in Maputo, because that's who I was connected to. Always an interesting group, most have good intentions and some are doing great work. Unfortunately they 7 we all bring cultural baggage. One woman complained about waiting for a Mozambican room mate to see her flat. "She was late, I couldn't believe it, I mean don't make me prejudice!" My favorite story however was of a raid on expats at their primary hangout, a bar called Mundos. Apparently anyone who didn't have their papers in order where kicked out of the country. I found the idea of immigration raids on white, highly educated folks hilarious, but of course they didn´t think so.

I have also had to confront many of my own prejudices here. Coming to Africa I feel like I got a lot of warning explicitly and inexplicably about danger. I've had to transform my barometer of when I'm really threatened and who I should really fear. In the three weeks I've been here I think I've made a lot a progress at this. I often try to walk towards someone who appears to be a threat (but my instincts tell me otherwise) and start a conservation. Usually these poor, black young men (some holding machetes) were happy to talk and other times they simply shrugged me off. Overall the legacy of oppression here is very tangible in everything. People on the street call me "patrao" or "boss." This is also used for wealthy locals. A friend on staff at the hostel in Maputo would joke with new arrivals that I was his boss. It was awkward.

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After Maputo I spent a week in the beach town of Tofo, pretty much taking it easy. I rode around in the sand. I talked with locals about philosophy and business at restaurants and along the walk from my hut into town. Sometimes I did that walk in the pitch black and couldn´t see the nose on my face (I usually can). And of course there was a beautiful salty ocean.

Most recently I departed Quelimane, the first city I've spent any time in where bicycles outnumber every other form of transportation except feet. All the taxis are bicycles, the only obstacles to a Utopian bicycle society are the potholes and giant white SUV's of the NGO's. Here, on my first night I was lucky to land at my only little "Hidmo" (for those who are familiar), a two week old restaurant / community center run by a woman named Dona Luxa and assisted by three or four friends who welcomed me into their group. There was Mario the drunk and horny man from Beira, Catia a 24 year old who I later discovered had a nine year old and four year at home, who´s husband died from Malaria, and Abelito, the charismatic student who DJ´s at the local nightclub. For the four days I and passed most of my time there chatting, eating and drinking.

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I have a lot to tell, but little time, so I´ll save the rest for the next post and leave you with a few other reflections:

    • People work hard here.
    • Speaking the language well is one advantage that I counted on. My Portuguese is about 80% effective here, but because it´s many people´s second language and it changes from the north to the south, conversation can still be a struggle.
    • I my mp3 player has been mostly dead here, which you would think would be a struggle, especially during the multiple 18 hr journies where I´ve hitched in trucks, caught mini´buses which broke down in the middle of the no-where, and true buses where people stood in the aisles for more than 9 hours on dirt roads. Most of the time I had a child in my lap. But only 14% of people have power here, so music is music is mostly consumed publicly. It´s nice that way.
    • After three months in the middle east I finally got a decent handshake, the Mozambique handshake which involves a little thumb swagger.
    • People eat more rice here, that makes me happy.
    • My bicycle has become a commodity . It is something tangible that Mozambicans can own, which is great, but I've received to many propositions to feel comfortable.
    • It's very hot where I am. Very hot. But still ok.
    • People make requests, strange ones with no apparent justification. A decently dressed teen approaches me at a cafe and "makes a request" that I buy him a sandwich. A server at a restaurant tells me she wants me to "offer her" the change from my meal and hands are constantly extended. But for all the "begging" I've also met many entrepreneurs.
    • The service here is very deliberate and attentive. It make me uncomfortable.

Unfortunately have only a few photos and no video to share due to the fact that: 1) it seems almost absurd to take out my digital camera here 2) there is limited and weak internet here 3) I lost my camera battery charger.

Next week I catch a train to Malawi, then down to Zimbabwe, before entering Johannesburg.

Posted by dericvito 03:15 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

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