One thing I have discovered is that the people of Mozambique are generally very happy and welcoming. Mozambique is called the ‘Terra de Boa Gente,’ which means Land of the Good People, and this was proved to me over and over again. One night, for example, my friend and I went to a bar/club in town. Halfway through the night, I got hungry. We walked outside, but, as it was about 3am, nowhere was open to go eat. There was, however, a woman outside in front of her house (which was right next to the bar). She knew my friend, who told her I was hungry. She looked at me, smiled, shook my hand, then insisted that we could absolutely not leave until I had eaten. She had a little charcoal stove just in front of the house, which for some reason was stocked and running at 3 in the morning. She put a pot over the coals and fried up three fresh fish samosas. Just like that. She handed them over on a paper napkin, saying “eat, eat, eat.” Of course, we ate them all and thanked her. She expected nothing in return, just cooked some food for us because I was hungry.
Most of my early days in Vilankulo I spent riding on the beach with Mozambique Horse Safaris. As a volunteer, I either accompanied riders as a back up or, once I had been there a while, led tourists on rides down the beach. The people of Vilankulo seem to have mixed opinions about the horses – many of the locals are afraid of them. Fishing is one of the main activities in Vilankulo, both as a job, a tourist attraction, and a leisure sport. Riding along the beach every day, we came across some interesting sights.
Once, for example, while riding with a family on holiday, we walked past a group of fishermen in a tight crowd around something on the sand. Seeing fishermen around their catch is a fairly common sight, but usually they are gathered around piles of little fish. This time, they were gathered around a 4-foot guitar shark, and one of them was using a foot-long machete to chop its head off. Intrigued, we led our horses to join the crown and stare for a while, then continued on.
On another ride, we rode up to a group of fishermen and their families gathered around a dhow, unloading it. We were a group of six riders, and came trotting up to them. As I mentioned, many of the locals are afraid of the horses - before these herds were brought in by Pat and Mandy, most of the Vilankulo the residents had never seen horses before. Now they are more used to seeing horses, but seeing six of them trotting towards you at once can still be intimidating. As we rode up, these fishermen all pulled out their phones to take pictures of us, posing next to us and motioning us to stand where they wanted us. One man came up with his baby, trying to convince the infant to pet the horse. The baby's mother panicked at this, screamed, and raced up to slap the man. She grabbed her baby by the arm and yanked him out of the man’s grasp and away from the horses. Once the baby was safe in her arms she backed away as quickly as possible.
The sand road that leads to the stable goes past a few houses, and each time we drive past some of the kids who live in the houses usually come out to either stare or run alongside us, calling "hola, hola!!" Once, as we drove by, we stopped to share some polo mints with them. We had been feeding the mints to the young horses kept in a pasture directly across from where the kids lived, and thought they might like to taste them as well. First we showed them that they were edible, eating one ourselves to let them know it was safe. Then, we handed one mint to a boy who looked about six. Hegrabbed it. All of the children then took of running, and once they were a safe distance away they gathered in a small huddle to examine the mint. We could see them passing it from hand to hand, each sniffing it and touching it. Apparently stumped as to what it was, they then raced with it over to the mama of the group, who examined it in her turn. There were now about nine kids and one woman all crowded around the mint. Finally, it was given back to the original boy, who held it up in his palm, gazed at it, and then turned and hurled it onto the roof of a nearby hut.
After I had been in Vilankulo for about a month, we took a trip south to Tofo, where we stayed for a night. Tofo is a big tourist destination, known especially for diving and for the diverse marine life. We did an ocean safari, meaning we went on a dingy searching for dolphins, whale sharks, rays, and other sea creatures. If we spotted anything, we all had snorkeling gear and could jump off the boat for a closer look. It was very cool, but the process of getting to Tofo was a mission. We took a car, then ferry, then chapa. A chapa is basically like a minivan taxi, but filled beyond capacity. We counted at least forty people in ours. The back door was held shut with string, and at one point while the driver was trying to cram more people into the car, the side door came off its hinges. Luckily, our trip lasted only an hour. The rate was set at 44 mets (22 each - 60 mets is about $1) but we didn't have that so paid only 37 mets for the whole trip. Public transport here is always exciting…
Another day, we were in a tuk-tuk trying to get to a certain restaurant. Before getting in, we asked if the driver knew where the restaurant was (“yes, yes of course!” he said) and then negotiated a price – 100 mets. We then climbed in and drove, and drove, and drove. I was pretty sure we were driving in the wrong direction, and said so to the driver (as I don’t speak Portuguese and he didn’t speak much English, this was a little hard.) He stopped and asked someone passing by for directions. This happened twice. Then, finally, he found the right road, but it was a steep sandy downhill. We got stuck, and all had to get out and push the tuk-tuk down the hill with the help of a man passing by. Once down, the driver said he could go no further, and we should walk the rest of the way. Then he asked for 300 mets, since he had taken longer than originally planned. We said no, it was his own fault for getting lost, and we had agreed on 100 mets. After some discussion, he took the 100 mets and drove off. Then, the passerby who had helped push the tuk-tuk out of the sand came and asked for his own recompense for helping. “Just 100 mets, only 100 mets, a deal,” he said. We told him no, we had no more money, and walked away to the restaurant.
As I was flying out of Vilankulos, another funny thing happened. In order to enter town, you need to fill out an immigration paper. I thought this was only necessary for entry into Vilankulo, but when I flew out, they insisted I fill out one leaving the country as well. One of the questions asked is where you are staying - city and address. I was flying to Johannesburg to see my cousins, but couldn’t remember the exact address. I had it in my phone, but there was no wifi in the airport, so I couldn’t look it up. So, I filled out the rest of the form, left the ‘address’ part blank, and carried on hoping no one would notice. Foolish choice. Sure enough, as I handed over my passport, boarding pass, and immigration paper, the man behind the desk said, “sorry, madam, you have haven’t put an address.” I took back the paper and shuffled around a bit, pretending I had a solution. The people in line behind me were getting impatient. I told him I did not know the address, but he didn’t seem to understand. I handed the paper over again, pointing at the address part and saying again “I forgot what the address is.” He looked at it, looked at me, and said again, “sorry madam, the address…” I took out my phone to try for wifi again, and saw that there was a network for the airport lounge, but it was password protected. Again, he didn’t speak much English and I speak no Portuguese. So I held the phone out to him, pointing at the wifi password message to ask what the password was so I could connect and find my address. He looked at it, nodded, and smiled, saying, “oh yes, very good,” and then wrote the name of the airport lounge on the line for the address in Johannesburg and motioned me to pass through the gates. I'm not sure what happened there, but it's clear that there was some extreme error in our communicatoin.
On the 4th of July, I graduated from Edinburgh University. The ceremony took place in McEwan Hall, a building which had been under construction during the entirety of my university career. The three classes before me hadn't been able to graduate in that famous building, and so my year were all happy that construction had just about finished in time for us. My family flew up from California and Montreal to celebrate with me, and we all stood in the characteristic Edinburgh rain taking pictures before heading inside for the ceremony. After graduating, the six of us drove down to Stirling and Dalmally, spending about a week exploring in Scotland, then flew to Corsica for another ten days on the beach and then to Provence and Paris. Following that, I went to Portugal with my friend Yui, then back to Montreal. Obviously, it was a great summer after college. Now, 2.5 months after graduating, I'm starting my next adventure on a new continent: Africa. And so far, it's amazing.
In the weeks leading up to my departure, I was nervous. Part of it was just that everything was so new - I didn't know what to expect, how to visualise the place I was going, the people I would be staying with, the things I would be doing. Imagining myself in Africa, I pictured the plane trip, and that's where the picture stopped because I couldn't fill in any more detail. I can see myself, for example, landing in Edinburgh, or in Europe, because the city and the continent are at least semi-familiar. But landing in Vilankulo, everything was unknown. Part of the nerves was also that I had a lot of time in Montreal to sit around and worry. I don't live there, so I have no friends and no job to distract me. My family is there, which of course is wonderful, but they, being Montreal residents, have their own friends, jobs and lives built up there. A third level to my perhaps irrational worry was just the turn my life was taking. Having been in school since I was four years old, the sudden confrontation of unstructured, unplanned, unschooled days seemed daunting. I kept telling myself I was being ridiculous - I could choose to do almost anything I wanted now, I was a university graduate with a wide open future. But it was precisely this wealth of options and choices which made it so daunting - no one was going to tell me where to go, or which classes to take, or how to schedule my time, for the first time. I was talking to my friend, who graduated a year before me, about all this and I think her words most accurately sum up the feeling (I hope you don't mind me quoting you, Chloe): "What it must be like to delve into something like that, something totally, utterly new. Terrifying, definitely. But maybe liberating too? Totally new: think about that. How often do you have opportunities like that?" And so, at 7pm on October 2nd I headed to the airport, boarded my flight, and set off into the unknown.