Are We There Yet?

9 10 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 7.28.08-7.30.08

We are traveling through Southern Mozambique. The days of air conditioned, double decker South American buses are gone. Movies are a distant memory. Food and snacks are no longer brought to your seat by stewardesses. But most importantly (for anyone with a bladder the size of a peanut), no more bathrooms on the bus.

Most of the buses in Mozambique leave at 4am. This means that you have to wake up at 3am, and stumble to the bus station while you’re still half asleep. You might think this is a good situation because you sleep for the first part of the trip. Wrong. You can’t lean your head on the window because it will smash against the glass as the bus bounces down the dirt road filled with pot holes the size of craters. You can’t lean your head on the seat in front of you because the backs of the seats don’t reach past your shoulders. You can’t lean on Chris because when it’s hot, he gets cranky and doesn’t want anyone to touch him.

As soon as the sun rises, it becomes unbearably hot. The African heat intensifies when you are crammed onto a bus with people practically sitting on top of you. You can’t open the sliding glass windows to get fresh air because you’ll just get a mouthful of dust. So you sit in this oven on wheels and smell everyone sweat. You have to drink water sparingly because it could be seven hours between bathroom stops. While the drivers will stop every half mile to pick someone up, they don’t consider bathroom stops a high priority. So you have to purposefully dehydrate yourself, which inevitably causes Chris to get a headache.

If a row seats 4, then 6 people will be crammed in. The seats are basically modified bleacher seats with no cushions or arm rests. You’re lucky if your seat has a back on it. They are so close together that your knees jam into the seat in front of you (and I’m only 5’7″). If anyone on the seat tries to shift his weight, it affects everyone else on the row. Children do not have to pay a fare as long as they are sitting in someone’s lap. Mothers will attempt to have three children sitting on their lap, and one strapped on their back. You may even end up with runny nosed child sitting on your lap.

If you get an aisle seat you can’t stretch your legs because the aisle is crammed with people (who were unlucky enough not to get a bleacher seat) and luggage, which includes huge bags of ground corn, potatoes, and it wouldn’t be any fun without a few chickens. The buses are so crammed that people will climb out the window because it’s too crowded to access the door. Likewise, children are passed out the windows to the crowd which inevitably gathers around the bus to sell oranges, bananas, peanuts, coke, water, tomatoes, peas, and lettuce. The only positive point of this type of travel is that you can probably get all your grocery shopping done without leaving the van.

Very few of the roads are paved. Although evidence that they were once paved can be seen in sporadic patches of concrete. The roads are so full of potholes that the constant jarring motion makes it impossible to read to pass the time. As the bus lurches from one side of the road to the other, my stomach often feels upset. And I can’t lean on Chris now because he’s hot, uncomfortable, and has a headache. The combination of the heat, the smell, the cramped space, the lack of food and water, not to mention the fact that I am tired and cranky as I sit on violently swerving buses causes me to question why I travel.

But then we arrive in a small beach town like Villanculo, our next stop. We find a place to stay, chug some water, eat some great sea food, and plan a tour to an island for the next day. Chris’ headache goes away, and my stomach stops churning. We commiserate with other travelers who arrived the day before, “How long did you bus ride take?” “Thirteen hours!” “Oh, you’re lucky mine took 15,” and so on.

The next day, we set out for Bazaruto Island, about an hour and a half by dhow, a local sail boat. You can stay on the Island if you can cough up a few hundred dollars a night, but there are no camping facilities or public transportation to the island, so backpackers are forced to take overpriced day tours. There was only one other group on the island when we visited. We took a short walk down the white sand beaches, then grabbed our snorkle gear, plunged into the blue water, and swam out to the reef.  We swam through schools of hundreds of silvery fish. I chased a few puffer fish to try to get them to puff up (without success) and watched giant parrot fish eating the coral. Another traveler later commented that he had to go scuba diving to see the types of fish we saw with fins and a face mask. After an hour, we swam back to the shore where a seafood buffet awaited us. We had steamed crab, a fish stew, perfectly cooked calamari, rice, salad, fresh fruit, and two types of fruit juice. We had seen the cook slicing vegetables in the boat on our way over, but I have no idea how he prepared this feast with only a fire pit.

After lunch, Chris and I decided to walk around the island. Chris had heard another guide mention that it took an hour to walk fully around the island. So we started walking down the beach as crabs scurried in and out of the waves. About two and a half hours later, we were still walking. We were worried that our boat might leave us, so we were power walking through loose sand. We kept turning the corner to see another perfect inlet, but I just wanted to see our boat. About thirty minutes later, we saw our boat sailing towards us. For once the laid back it-doesn’t-matter-what-time-we-leave-or-arrive African attitude worked in our favor. I was worried that everyone on the bus would glare at us as we climbed on the boat, but our boat captain simply said, “The island is bigger than you thought.” And we sailed back to the mainland.





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