Translation courtesy of Dakota Bloom
Mozambique is probably, one of the countries of the world to which I had most longed to reach. I dreamed of a green country, exuberant, of long straits of uninhabited idyllic beaches along its extensive coastline on the south of the Indian Ocean. In regards to the human aspect, I didn’t have a very defined image of how would its people be and I could only try to get an idea associating it to the people I’ve already known of the rest of Africa. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that the Mozambican would be completely different, in the most positive off all aspects (in the most positive aspects), to the rest of the Africans that I knew until now.
Sweet melody Maybe the most substantial change that occurs immediately after crossing the border is to listen to the language. The effect of listening to such a familiar language as Portuguese instead of the hundreds of local dialects or the usual secondary languages of English and French, is immense. Both because I am a Spanish speaker and also because I have grown up with Brazilians as neighbors, so, to find all of a sudden Africans that speak clear and easily understandable Portuguese makes me quickly feel at ease. There is also a certain sweetness in the way they melodiously speak this language that makes it even more attractive. A sweetness that English certainly does not possess, however much assimilated I have it as a first language for so many years.
In this way, spending the end of every day chatting with Mozambicans becomes immediately one of my favorites pastimes at the end of the long days that I spent on this enormous country. I feel infinitely more comfortable talking“portuñol” (Portuguese/Español mix) than speaking perfect English. Even more so, the serenity and warmth that I feel from these people is in complete harmony with their sweet and melodic way of speaking. Like when Mr Càndido, the règulo (chief) of the first village that I visit, he receives me at the end of my first day just arrived from Zimbabwe. When I asked him for permission to spend the night in his village, the first thing Càndido responds after listening to me, with a softness that can only come from a calm person, is: “Mr Nicolàs, don’t worry, I’m going to help you”. There is a sunset of thousands of colors and he recommends me to pitch my tent right next to his house before it gets dark, and then invites me to his hut where his wife prepares xima for her family.
Distances between villages in Mozambique are huge, and the scenery turns again monotonous bush; while it is certainly more exuberant than previous countries, it is not really attractive. I got 1250km ahead of me before Maputo, and to my misfortune I will spend 1000 of them under furious head wind. A wind that from sunrise to sunset will not falter for a moment, punishing and draining all of my energy, while I try in any way possible to keep my mental serenity. If it wasn’t for the warmth with which I am welcomed in every village, I do not think that I could bear this combination of monotonous landscape, hellish head wind and emotional limbo.
Every night the ‘regulo’ welcomes me and shows me his village. A village where life is reduced to bare essentials. There is no electricity, water is extracted manually through mechanical pumps, for the bathroom you go to a hole in between the bushes, you walk barefooted hearing the cackling of the chickens, and in every clay hut with straw roof, there is a kitchen in the centre where ‘xima’ is being cooked for long silent hours in wood fire. It all irradiates a simplicity that feeds perfectly into the calm spirit of these people, which are awash with the beauty of the slowness in which these daily tasks are done.
Nobody seems to be bothered about running around over here, even though the actions of some people seem to be in contradiction with their reactions, like the time I found Joao brushing his teeth in a ‘bush’ river, squatting over the logs that his truck, now reduced to pieces, carried. Joao and his companion where transporting logs in their truck at 140km/h when he fell asleep and his truck shot off the side of the bridge, crashing dozens of meters into the river making it unrecognizable. By absolute miracle Joao and his copilot came out unharmed, and because the truck is not insured and they do not have the money to pay for a tow truck, they have pitched their tent on the river shore, and have lived there for two months waiting for who knows what that can change their destiny. Neither Joao nor his companion show any sign of worry; they were even smiling when telling the story of their miraculous survival from the accident.
Beyond the monotony of the bush and the head wind, Mozambique’s climate gets particularly beautiful at the end of the day, when the colours of the red earth vibrate at sunset between the intense green of the plants and the blue sky. As I descend to the southern part of the country and getting closer to the awaited Indian ocean coast, the villages start to appear more frequently and water stops being a concern, after days of having to do exhausting stretches of 100km of nothing more than pure bush and evil head wind.
With the forthcoming of smaller towns, I stop having to worry about getting food for cooking, a thing that until now had generally been a problem due to the lack of any form of rice, pasta or fresh vegetables in the previous villages, which pretty much lack everything. In these towns now I can get pineapples sweet as syrup for a few cents, as they are thousands of them piling up next to the roads. Also now available are luxuries like electricity, even if its only for a few hours at the end of the day.
After spending a few nights in the villages, I started spending the nights in the rural schools, where the teacher on call, who would live in a small house inside the school's fence, would permit me to install the mosquito net inside any of the classroom, and because it is holiday season I don’t have to worry about leaving early. Sleeping at schools lets me have a bit of privacy so I can be by myself, as I have been doing in Zimbabwe. It is also a good place to be able to install the mosquito net, which I must say is very necessary in this country where malaria is endemic. If I don’t find a school I can look for the rural clinic, where the nurses on call let me sleep on the mattresses of the stretchers. Wherever I go the Mozambicans always make my life easier, both from the practical and the humane side, with the care of welcoming a loved one.
The idyll exists
800km of monotony and solitude have passed, with this fucking head wind that is ruinging my life every day, so I start to question myself seriously where is this paradisiacal part of Mozambique that I was bringing in my imagination. At this point, this seemed just an illusion. But after a swerve of about 35km, at the end of a mountainous path that leads nowhere but straight down to the sea, I finally found it, and I had to scrub my eyes repeatedly to believe the sheer beauty that was in front of me.
Every adventurer has his reward: moments when all the pains of the travel, mental, emotional and physical, have been worth it. I am now in this idyllic place of kilometers of white flour bathed by a sea that is sometimes blue, turquoise or green. It is a relatively known place, but I get here at a time where there is only just a few of us, so few that we seem like dust speckles flying over this enormous heaven on earth. The beauty of this place is such that I feel the unavoidable sadness of coming here alone. It is not like this how I dreamt it.. but I have no other option that to accept this reality and to find consolation in that it is better to feel sad in paradise than in hell.
Every day spent in this place is a new day in which I believe that I will never be bored of being here. Every bath in this blessed sea is a bath that I will never forget, and it is the same with every walk in which I sink my feet in this floury sand or every night sleeping under the stars with the sound of the waves and the soft sea breeze caressing my senses. Every time I open my eyes to the sunrise over the sea when I open my tent at 6 am a new cycle of idyll starts.
Sometimes somewhere along the path, there are places where different paths of people that are looking for similar things converge. I am convinced that these encounters are not by chance, but by the underlying wisdom of the laws of destiny. It is in this way that here, in this Mozambican paradise, I have met Albe, a South African that has changed his life from a workaholic to rediscover the freedom of travelling around the world with his motorcycle while fixing his broken heart. These winds also bring to this idyllic remoteness Rica, a petite Japanese of 41 years, with a childish smile and a joyful spirit who has refused to accept the inhumane rigidity of her own culture. She has thrown herself into the adventure on her second hand Toyota van on a trip that has seen her drive on her own from Vladivostok to Portugal and then to West Africa, from there she has gone down to South Africa, and from there all around the continent to come down to Mozambique. Form here she will be going down to South Africa again in order to embark her Toyota to Buenos Aires and do all the Americas until reaching Alaska. Rica, Albe and me: 3 travelers who have chosen different modes of transport, who gather different life experiences but who in essence are connected by very similar values. We love the world and its people and we love to learn from it and them. We love to fuse with it because we know that the inherent wisdom that is transmitted to us while travelling its many paths leaves us with the most valuable of human lessons. In a sad time of my life, this paradise gaveme beauty and the encounters that I needed to replenish my convalescing energies.
I can’t negate the fact that it has taken me the physical effort of Goliath and the mental determination of the Dalai Lama to take the decision of leaving. And even so the first day of cycling toward the city was nearly unbearable. The only thing to lessen this malaise has been the elixir of the fruit hanging of the trees of this country: the Mango! The Mozambican mango is unique: It the largest I have ever seen, sometimes reaching the size of a small melon, and its sweetness is like a syrup that sometimes I even think that is making me horny. What an aphrodisiac experience it is to taste these mangos! I have said already that for me paradise is a place that I can find mangos all over the floor, and it is here where I wake up and I am surrounded by mangos! I sin terribly from gluttony and these mangos that I pick up under the trees make my taste buds take absolute control of my brain; I just can’t resist and every day I leave camp with no less than 3kg of mangos attached to my bike. The weight does not matter to my legs, as it is my taste buds that are in command now.
Getting to the outskirts of Maputo I take a wrong turn and I end up in a sandy path in construction by the sea, where trucks from a Chinese builder overtake me without mercy leaving me blind and coughing in giant clouds of dust. It is 10 am, 38 C and 500% humidity, I stink of sweat and now I am breading like a Schnitzel while I keep on grumbling for not having spent more time in paradise. At that same moment, a Mozambican from Portuguese origin who is standing by the entrance of a house by the sea sees me pushing my bicycle through the sand with a dog-angry face and makes ironic jokes about the wonders that Chinese are building in Africa.
Luis takes a photo of me with his phone, and after telling me about his indignation about the coastal works, which are a product of the ineffable corruption between the local government and the Chinese which have expropriated him of half of his house patio, invites me over to offer me fresh water. Right away Luis invites me to stay with him and his wife all the time that I need and takes me to a beautiful guest room where I will spend the next 5 days with his precious company.
Luis has had one of the most fascinating lives that I have ever known. In his youth, he was forcefully sent by the colonial power Portugal, to combat the independentists. There, while fighting this war in the middle of the bush, he realizes the atrocity of what he is doing and decides to change sides to support the independence of Mozambique. Luis tells me in his own words: “I am not Portuguese, I am and I feel African.” When living in his independent country, he spent 7 years living alone in the bush, with other bushmen (the native people of the bush) from whom he learned the simplicity of living in nature (and from nature) before returning to Maputo to earn a living through different activities.
After days of long and infinitely interesting talks Luis confesses to me that when he saw me the first day pushing my bike through the sand a poem of the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa came to his mind:
Nao sei para onde vou,
nao sei por onde vou,
so sei que nao vou por ai...
(I don't know where I am going,
I don't know through which way I am going
I only know, that I am not going through there…)
When he saw me he had a strong feeling, maybe due to the heightened sensibility that he developed in his years living the bush, that in front of him he had someone that he could call a friend. He never hesitated or suspected of me for a second before inviting me to his house, something that he had never done before. With that poem and with the mutual connection that I felt from the first time I spoke with him, I realized that very few people in this world, without knowing me, can have the capacity to understand deeply my nature by simply looking at me. Luis immediately became my friend and confidant; one of those massive gifts, like blessings, that I am given by the roads of the world.
With Luis, I have walked through every corner of the eclectic Maputo learning about its history. A city that is nowadays divided between the orginal African poverty, the colonial mansion with Portuguese past in the seafront, the newly built luxury buildings made with laundered money and finally the great supermarket and shopping chains that come from the great capitalist neighbor: South Africa. All this mixture is spread in a network of avenues named the great leaders of Communism. Foreign banks in the corner of Mao Tse Tung and Kim II Sung, just a few blocks away from the yuppie and elegant bars at Mao Tse Tung and Vladimir Lenin, and further away the high-class clothing stores at Karl Marx and Ho Chi Minh. Everything in Maputo seems to be like a satire of politics, maybe a perfect mirror of the anarchy that the globalized world is nowadays, where everything loses value quickly, all is trivialized, a passing fashion.
My days in Maputo are near their end, but I could have easily stayed for a month in Luis and Sandhya’s home. On my departing day Luis offered me to take me in his Defender the 50km up to the frontier with Swaziland. These 50km will not contribute anything significant in my bike, but it will surely give me more time with this great friend that I have gained in Mozambique.