As we departed Kruger National Park in South Africa with its flourishing animal and plant life, my travel partner, Johann Carstens, told me that once we crossed into the Republic of Mozambique we would see a stark difference. He was correct.
A primitive border post served as our entrance to Mozambique. It was a great contrast to the rustically elegant South African border exit post just yards away. Immediately it was evident that this country and her people had suffered years of war, economic depression and global isolation.
From 1977-1992, Mozambique, located in southeastern Africa, was crippled by civil war as anti-communist rebels defended their country from Marxist forces. Carstens, who was previously a member of the South African Army during part of the Mozambican civil war, also explained that residents of rural areas were left with no infrastructure, little outside communication and, out of necessity, killed most of the wildlife for food and existed on available natural resources. As a result, most trees were cut for cooking and heating, and the landscape shows the scars of a war-torn society.
On a dirt road that was actually a major thoroughfare, we rarely saw another vehicle. We did, however, have to stop numerous times to let cattle cross the road. There were, however, other stops along the way. It is custom and also a result of necessity, that when one has to relieve oneself, one simply pulls to the side of the road and do what needs to be done. I was a bit uncomfortable with this but quickly reassessed my rather conservative American behavior.
The first village we approached was an informal settlement of roughly 12-15 grass and reed huts; dry, barren garden plots; and common spaces where the men of the village sat together engaged in conversation while the women tended the children, livestock and toiled away in the garden.
Children playing along the side of the road greeted us with wide smiles and waving arms. We wanted to stop and share some snacks and mints with them but did not have enough for all so we just waved and continued the journey.
As we began to get closer to what was an actual town, I noticed what appeared to be a power line but was told that it was actually a phone line. Apparently, in most of these towns, electricity is basically non-existent unless it is supplied by a gasoline-powered generator. We began to see many more people and the occasional vehicle. Along the sides of the road were large bags of coal provided by the local municipality similar to how American cities and towns may provide garbage pickup. Coal is a necessity for cooking, boiling water and heating and is an abundant natural resource.
In every village, there is a community well, which is often the only source of fresh water for miles. We saw women with five-gallon buckets of water strategically balanced on their heads walking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Children also share the responsibility of gathering and bringing home water; we often saw groups of young children with smaller buckets in each hand.
Previously a Portuguese colony, Mozambique’s larger rural towns are bombed out shells of what were no doubt once beautiful Portuguese colonial stucco buildings, fencing and other architectural elements. These once flourishing commercial districts are now surrounded by crudely constructed sheds that serve as today’s storefronts.
As we neared our final destination of Xia-Xia, which is actually a rather large and flourishing town by Mozambican standards, the crowds increased, and there was more evidence of the former Portuguese inhabitants. Many of the homes were constructed of mud and stucco, and a sense of a thriving community became apparent.
School children dressed in uniforms walked alongside the road, groups of women walked together with armloads of supplies, packages balanced precariously on their heads and many with children strapped to their chests. Shops were abundant and the markets were crowded with evening shoppers.
As we closed in at our final destination—Paradise Magoo Resort—the sun had set and visibility was limited by the red dust whirling along the road’s edge. Leaving the hustle and bustle of town and turning onto the sandy road almost enveloped by vegetation, we saw a small sign warning drivers that only 4-wheel drive vehicles should proceed and to deflate tires to almost flat to be able to navigate the deep sandy pathways that served as roads.
My buddy lowered the air pressure on his side of the truck while I struggled to see the valve covers. I then saw lights headed in our direction. My heart skipped a beat—keep in mind that I’m a stranger in a strange land. Had someone followed us knowing that we’d have to stop? Were we about to be ambushed? My mind raced as I fumbled for a small stick to insert into the tire valve to release the pressure. The lights stopped just feet from us. The driver’s door opened and out stepped a jovial South African man offering assistance. We told him that we appreciated the offer and apologized for delaying him.
Tires now deflated, we proceeded toward the coast. As we approached the campsites, I was awestruck by the beauty of the sugar-white sand, palm trees and beautifully maintained grounds. We were literally driving in the valleys of major sand dunes. Before we found the reception building and checked in, my buddy insisted that we have a quick look at the Indian Ocean and do a bit of four-wheeling on the dunes.
Suddenly we emerged from the thick overgrowth and saw the moonlit Indian Ocean; we drove along the coast until we approached what appeared to be dunes that would be impossible to navigate. My buddy put his truck into four-wheel low and off we went riding the crests of the dunes under the clear African sky. We stopped on the highest point; from here we could see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the constellation Capricorn and stars unfamiliar to those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.
We checked in, got the key to our upgraded accommodations—a reed hut complete with beds and a small but functional kitchen—and settled in for the night. I was looking forward to daylight.
As the first glimpse of light streaked through the canvas windows, I was up and ready to see Paradise Magoo. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Walking toward the ocean, my feet sank almost to my knees in the powdery white sand; gentle breezes whispered a welcome. As I exited the crevice of two massive sand dunes, I realized then why Africans often refer to the Indian Ocean as “Mother.”
Obviously, the Indian Ocean is no grander than our Atlantic or Pacific oceans but when there are no other visible structures, people, vehicles or any other signs of life, it is as if one is alone with “Mother” –protected, yet vulnerable, small but empowered.
The next four days were truly amazing as we spent our time driving along the sand roads discovering the Mozambican coast. We stumbled upon a restaurant perched high atop a dune that offered amazing views of the coastline. Wanting a taste of true Mozambican cuisine, I ordered peri-peri chicken and was warned as to how hot it is. Actually it was not nearly as hot as some of our more common American or Mexican dishes, but delicious it was, especially paired with an ice cold 2-M beer.
Our evenings were spent in the resort bar with the South African couple who owned the resort and braaing (cooking on a grill) outside our hut. We had many good laughs sharing stories of travel and adventure, and I felt right at home as there were three dogs who also hung out in the bar. While I was drinking the sweet Mozambican rum with fresh raspberry juice, the only care in my world was picking the occasional flea off my leg. I had found my Mozambican paradise.
For additional information, visit www.mozambiquetourism.co.za and www.paradisemagoo.co.za.