Thursday May 1st as many of you many know, was International Labor Day which is a national holiday in Botswana and much of the rest of the region (and world). Friday the 2nd was technically the last days classes but all of my classes had ceased meeting already. After gathering the nearly 10 items required for a Mozambique visa and paying a visit to the High Commission, I was able to travel with four other women from my program to Bilene, Mozambique, a small beach town on a lagoon adjacent to the Indian Ocean.
We hired a driver, Sylvester, and he drove through the night on Wednesday instead of spending our limited daylight hours on the road. The drive was about 18 hours in all, including the two stops for border crossing at South Africa then Mozambique. Sylvester had downloaded a collection of contemporary pop and R&B to play on the drive, but the USB component of his stereo wasn't working. So our only option was a pop-country-Christian worship CD by some American Idol wannabe with a throaty twang, which Sylvester listen to on repeat to keep himself awake. By the end of the trip, we could all sing along with every song, including this little gem:
About 10 km outside of Bilene, we heard a faint thud, but the car kept driving normally and Sylvester didn't seem too concerned. When we arrived at Complexo Palmeiras, our accommodation, we saw that one of the back tires was completely flat-- a slow puncture from driving over a screw. A fellow camper helped Sylvester patch the tire and he went to fix it the next day.
Upon moving into our chalet, we found out that "self-service" accommodation actually meant a mini fridge and a braai area. So we set out for the fresh produce vendors just down the road from Palmeiras. None of us speak Portuguese, but Kirsten is fluent in Spanish which really helped. We bought supplies to cook a few meals and we borrowed a couple of butter knives from the restaurant which we used to chop vegetables. We spent about four hours cooking enough food to satiate all four of us, but it was fun to have a challenge, especially after spending most of the day lounging on the beach.
|Keely, Kirsten and Gabby chillin in front of our chalet|
The next we took a boat out to the sea, or more accurately a dune that separated the lagoon and the sea. We had met a South African family at the beach the day before and they invited us to come with them on a chartered boat. They had three little girls with them and two little boys. I hadn't been around kids in a long time, and it was fun to experience everything from their energetic point of view. The oldest daughters of the woman who invited us was 20, and she introduced us to a guy named JJ, who is basically the only person who guides any kind of tourist activities in Bilene. JJ was with his friend Jaco and the two of them took us up to a viewpoint above a small bay where we could see sea turtles surfacing. Later they picked us up and more than made up for Bilene's lack of off-season nightlife by braaiing for us and showing us a really good time.
The next was actually JJ's 21st birthday, so we got to celebrate with him a bit. The guys picked us up in a boat and took us on a tour of the lagoon. We ended up at an adorable resort that serves waffles with ice cream and cocktails in fresh coconuts-- the perfect breakfast!
We left around 3pm, Sylvester hoping to make it out of Mozambique before nightfall when police checkpoints become a nuisance for foreign vehicles. By 3am we were almost to Pretoria, and most of the way through our journey. We had been stopped four times in South Africa by dubious "police checkpoints," each time being asked for a bribe, but Sylvester managed to get out of each situation without paying. But at 3am, I awoke to see our hazard lights bending shadows in the tall grass on the side of the highway. We were in the middle of the bush and we were out of gas. A couple of the others girls got extremely agitated (understandably), but I remained surprisingly calm, although fully aware that we were all in a very dangerous situation: SA is rife with violent crime. Sylvester tried to call his cousin in Pretoria but he couldn't get through, so he decided to try and flag someone down in the sparse traffic. As several cars simply hurdled past him and into the night, we decided that we would probably attract more sympathizers than Sylvester. Keely, Gabby and Kirsten stood outside and within a few minutes a car stopped. The driver was a middle aged woman driving her son to university in Pretoria for his final exams. She told us she worked at the border post and seemed just as alarmed at our predicament as we were. She kept saying things like "don't you know where you are?" ... "you are not safe here"... "they will rape you." Sylvester took his small gas jug and the car faded into the blackness. We prayed that no one else would stop and try to "help" us before Sylvester returned. I armed myself with the frying pan we'd bought, and told two of the others that the glass bottles they were drinking from could be turned into shanks if necessary. About 20 minutes later, we see headlights behind us. Someone steps out of the car and approaches the fogged up driver's side window and knocks. We all panic, until Kirsten announces that it's Sylvester. Apparently there was a petrol station just 8km down the road.
The whole ordeal only lasted around an hour, but the panic left us all flustered for the rest of the trip and definitely made things tense with Sylvester. We had already paid the balance on what we owed him, but we regretted not waiting until the end to do so. We couldn't get out of the car fast enough. In hindsight though we can all laugh about it, and it makes a great story of course. I definitely still think about the trip in a positive light.
We breezed back into town just time for me to study for two days and take the two final exams I had on the 7th and 8th, then start planning my next adventure...
Once we got to Swaziland, the rest was easy. The country facilitates tourism well: most people are very friendly, tourism info is abundant, and attractions are very well-marked by signs.
Getting carried away with sunrise photos:
|The pool just above the falls|
|A herd of zebras and elans|