The heat is getting on my nerves. Sweat beads on Kate’s nose, and it drips down Ashton’s temples. It’s stifling but no one has mentioned it, somehow it’s become normal. Today has been a long day of travelling from Zanzibar to Mozambique. It’s a short one hour flight from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Pemba, Mozambique, but it has taken all day (first a long car ride, then a ferry, then driving around Dar es Salaam looking for a hospital to have Don’s cast removed (fruitless), a search for bandages (fruitful), two ATM attempts, a money changer, and a long wait in the airport. Nothing seems simple and like India, the unknown is freaking me out a bit. People jostle to carry our things when we arrive at the airport. A giant Masai tribesman with red robes pick up our bags as if they weigh nothing. Don hands him some tanzanian shillings and a big smile spreads across his face, white teeth glowing against his black skin. Feels like the first smile we’ve seen all day and lifts everyone’s spirts.
We have chartered a sailboat that will leave from Pemba, in northern Mozambique. Isabelle and Dominick pick us up at the airport and deposit us at the beach. It’s after dark, and I try to not let that bother me. I wouldn’t care if it was just don and i (or at least not as much), but with kids it’s different.
We order cold beers and fantas to cool off in the hot night time heat and adjust to our new reality.
Once on board I start to relax. We settle into our cabins and meet the South African captain and crew that will take us around for seven days. Captain John is not only a master sailor, having competed in races all over the world, but he’s also a dive master, and a grand adventurer. His stories are legendary; taking a catamaran up the Zambezi river with lions swimming around the boat, an orca surfing the stern wave that just misses landing in the cockpit, skydiving into caves, sailing in the eye of a cyclone, the list goes on… The boat is called Dandelion, which reminds me of our captain’s hair, a long blowy blond halo.
We sleep well, and wake up to get some last minute things in Pemba town. First we need cash, and although that seems straightforward enough, it isn’t. Almost all the bank machines have run out of money. It appears that many people spend much of their day in lineups, either trying to get money from an ATM, mobile phones, or gasoline. Last year Pemba was dry of gasoline for four months, and Zanzibar had no power for three. It’s incomprehensible.
Don has taken his mother’s advice, and gone to the hospital to have his cast removed. We don’t actually know when he’s supposed to have it removed, but it seems impossible to think of being on a boat with a cast in this heat. At the hospital, he follows Captain John through backdoors, hallways, and do-not enter signs, poking his head into examining rooms, and operating rooms. Finally he finds the man he is looking for. The international sign for “i’ll give you some money if you help us” is given, and the cast is removed with a saw within minutes. They leave as fast as they came in, while the other thousand humans sit patiently and peacefully waiting… for what? until when? It is all rather unsettling. How and why are we born with so much dumb luck and fortune, and so many aren’t. Being white, and having a spare $20, seems to mean everything today…makes you feel a bit nauseous.
It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago we were surrounded by snow, because the weather is beyond balmy, it’s hot, it feels like 40C with the humidity. We’ve taken up a new routine of swimming and snorkelling. Ashton had forgotten how to snorkel for a few moments, but is now swimming around the boat again.
Ashton adores Tuka and follows him everywhere.
Some days we snorkel and beach, and others we do excursions. The island of Ibo was once a Portuguese trading town, then it was forgotten, and now it’s becoming known again by the backpackers. Electricity arrived only four days ago, and as we walk around, we can hear the villagers celebrating with the sound of blasting music. It’s an isolated town, but you get the feeling it’s on the verge of change. The ruined 16th-18th century buildings are beautiful.
We had a great lunch at one of the guest houses gorgeing on crab and prawns. The crabs taste a lot like Dungeness but a touch fishier. The island is like a capsule in time, and Mendo takes us around. He’s in grade 9, and earns money for his family by taking people on tours a few times a week.
We met a gaggle of children, and Gwen whispers a question, “Why is her dress so dirty and ripped?” The older children coming home from school are in their uniforms and look proper. Gwen’s hair gets a lot of attention. A pre-teen girl stops to examine Gwen’s braids. She gives a nod, and says they looked pretty. Sure she’s seen a white kid before, but not one with an African hair-do! I’m a big fan of these braids, I haven’t had to brush her hair in over a week!
Ashton asks me where he can get his hands on one of these cars. This, along with the stick and wheel are common toys in these small towns.
The boat is like our own island. We arrive back on board in the dark. Unfortunately Tuka, Captain John’s Mozambican first mate, has the keys to the boat and we find ourselves locked out. Gwen volunteers to slip through the bathroom porthole into the dark boat and rescues us. I’m so impressed with her. I’ve noticed lately a new confidence about her (or is that precociousnes?).
We head north up the Mozambique coast, through some of the thirty islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago. We sail some of it, but mostly we power as we’re against the curretn and predominant trade winds. It’s amazing to discover that we are one of the only cruising boats in over 150 miles of pristine ocean. Most of the charters have left because life in Mozambique, let alone running a business here, can be tricky. There are shortages of food, fuel, and theft (if it’s not screwed down with the bolts sawed off, it’s fair game), not to mention a fear of pirates. When I ask Captain John about this, he dismisses any concerns, and says that since the Americans have discovered oil off the coast of Mozambique, the waters are patrolled by the US and South African navies, and besides the pirates are mostly operating further up the African coast. Good enough for us.
There are more giant shells then I have ever seen. It is a beachcombers dream! Everyone understands that we don’t have much room in our bags,so we only take the favourites. Their is virtually no garbage in these remote places. We’ve sent home our lego, barbies, and cars. The kids have only pencil crayons to play with but somehow they are always busy.
Almost all the boats in this part of Africa are wooden. Often people don’t wan’t you to take pictures of them, for fear that you will steal their spirit. This boat seemed ok with it, but another boat that passed a man yelled “NO, NO, you understand???”.
Elise looked after the kids, while don and I went diving. It’s been seven years since our last, but what a thrill. Eastern Africa is one of the few parts of the world where the coral has not been affected by El Nino. The coral is incredibly diverse and resembles bouquets of flowers.
Click on the slideshow below to see more pictures from our trip:
Next stop, back to Dar es Salaam for a micro-financing tour, then on to Nairobi, Kenya to see my mom.