On the Beach

8 April 2018

(Above photo: Sunsets in Mozambique are extravagant!]

It is impossible to adequately chronicle all the moments of surprise in a vacation like this, so I’ll only talk about two destinations at which we relaxed.

From Ilha (eel-ha) we drove to Chocas Beach, which we’d been assured was the loveliest beach in Mozambique. Since the journey, not the arrival, is the centerpiece, I want to note that Linda is a terrific driver, especially on storm-drenched mud tracks. The 40km from the tarmac to Carruzca (cah-ruszh-cah) Mar y Sol, the original resort on the beach, was slop, with at least one stuck car we had to pass. At another point a couple exiting in a large HiLux 4×4 cautioned us that the “next 20km is really bad”. Undeterred, we continued to slip and slide up, down and around, meanwhile watching the gas gauge drop below 1/8 of a tank. We were told there was a gas station at Moussaril, before Chocas, so we worried a bit less. Of course, when we arrived there it was closed, the attendant couldn’t be roused by telephone, and we continued to the beach.

It turns out that the foreign tourist industry, which recovered after the end of the civil war in 1992, has been in decline for 10 years. It isn’t clear why, although raising the visa fee to $100 has clearly discouraged the backpacker crowd.  The place was nearly deserted.

We had a sweet and simple thatched cottage, completely isolated from others, 50 feet above the beach. The latter was soft white sand stretching far each way into the distance and fringed with coconut palms, deserted and pristine. Imagine the Indian Ocean as large irregular patches of aquamarine and violet—our view. We’d swim, read, eat grilled prawns marinated in salt, lime, and garlic, and relax.

The first morning we were there, gasoline anxiety was at the top of our list.  I set out with “Mr. John”, with whom we’d arranged a later boat ride, to find some gas.  What I’d forgotten about was the informal economy. There were a fair number of small displacement motor bikes, as well as some outboards, in the area. People would take all their one liter Fanta and Coke bottles to the gas station in Mousarril in the morning, fill them, and go home, displaying them at the roadside on a table or on the ground. We’d get 2 liters here, 5 liters there, and so on until we had added 16 liters to the tank. The gas station, by the way, had “a very small tank” and it was empty so the station was, again, closed. I’m not exactly certain how it all works but since the “Empty” light went on during our quest, it was a relief to raise the needle.

Later that morning we took a ½ hour boat ride to Ilha Siete Arboles which had recently been expropriated from its Spanish owners by the Mozambique Minister of Defense, who planned a hotel for it. It was hot and quite barren, excepting a thatched shelter, a few trees, and a small concrete swimming pool with a foot of algae in the bottom, perfect for breeding mosquitos. After a snorkel among some living and some dead coral during which we saw a number of small, colorful fish, we headed back to eat and read.

One afternoon we walked the length of the beach going south, looking to have supper at a fancy resort about which we’d heard. We saw hundreds and hundreds (so, possibly, thousands?) of land crabs scuttling into and out of their holes in the sand and into the sea to avoid us. Very dainty, speedy creatures, looking just like Sebastian from “The Little Mermaid” with glistening black eyes on stalks sticking up into the sky. We passed a large encampment of fishermen on the beach; it was so remote that I felt uneasy. Linda didn’t—“They think white women are ugly.”—and thought my concerns were unfounded. We didn’t find the resort, which was further than we thought so walked part of the way back in the dark along the tide-flooded sand track behind the beach at the edge of a huge mangrove swamp. We discovered a pretty, simple newly-opened thatched bar, had beers, and talked at length with the owner.

Kent Powell is from Wilmington, North Carolina and knew Bel Haven, where my sister-in-law, Pat, grew up. He came to Mozambique 15 years ago as a missionary. He founded and built an orphanage, a school, housing for his teachers, and so forth. He found that caring for 300 orphans and running a large organization was not the work he wanted to continue, so he left it in the care of Mozambicans,  married a Brazilian woman, and they located this property. He now has two simple cabins for rent, a fledgling bar/restaurant and 30 acres on a spectacular beach. He was an appealing guy, figuring it out as he went along. After visiting and watching the magnificent sunset, we dropped back to the beach and headed to our cottage. On our return walk there were even more land crabs and they often waited too long to escape, scrabbling across our bare feet and looking like so many tiny ghosts in the moonlight. At supper we shared a table with the only other couple at the resort. They are from Blantyre, he is an Italian who teaches primary school and she is from UK and works for an educational NGO. They’ve lived in Malawi for 15 years, not wanting to raise their son in Europe. They come to Carruzca every year for their vacation.

The next morning we left for Nuarro, a very high-end and remote resort with its own airstrip at the outer tip of the northern shore of Nacala Bay. It had been touted to us in Ilha by a Mozambican woman who had gone there with girlfriends. We thought we’d splurge a little. It was a long drive over a dirt track through villages, poorly signed. There had a been a deluge the previous night; we had watched the amazing near-constant lightening display from our cottage at Carruzca. The road got worse and worse, deeper ruts, bridges washed out requiring us to cross rivers, whole chunks of road simply dropped off into oblivion, massively deep and extensive puddles. Our little car is remarkably capable, it seems. Finally, after 4 hours of hair-raising driving, as we thought we were approaching Nuarro—we were still actually 25km away—we descended into a broad valley and the road vanished into a kilometer of deep, churned mud. We started through it but halted 1/3 of the way, realizing if we continued we’d spend the night stuck there with adequate water, one piece of bread, and no bedding. Villagers were having difficulty walking through it; the rare motorbike was up on the side being pushed through the maize fields. After deliberating, I managed to turn around and we backtracked most of the worst road before it got dark. Finally arriving in Nacala, the busiest port in northern Mozambique, we struggled to avoid all the 18 wheelers carrying shipping containers, tried not to run into the many motorcycles with no head- or taillights, avoiding potholes so large they would tear off the front wheel if hit at any speed, and, with Linda’s excellent navigational skills, we found our way to a backpacker’s lodge, a clean, quiet cottage, and supper with Laurentina Pretas (Guiness-like stout). We slept well but decided in the morning, after Linda searched the internet, to go to Ossimba, another high-end resort but at the outer tip of the southern arm of Nacala Bay.

After two hours of false starts and dead ends, including a trip to the new and lovely but deserted Nacala International Airport, we went for lunch at The Thirsty Whale.  Linda knows the owner of a same-named tavern in Bar Harbor where we’ve eaten and wanted a photo of the place. The owners were Zimbabwean, very helpful and one of them, Mike, had visited Ossimba that morning on a long run. He drew us a map and after delicious shrimp in garlic sauce, we headed out. Another challenging road but only 15 km and we arrived at paradise.  Set completely apart from civilization on 1.5 km of a spectacularly lovely beach bracketed by cliffs—with no habitation visible beyond it in either direction—was an elegant resort with 10 individual thatched cottages, an infinity pool, and a central lounge/dining area. It all was perfect, including steps cut in the lava rock down in front of our cottage to the beach. We were the only guests at the time. We’ve had great seafood, snorkeled and swam, read and painted (Linda), and talked and talked.

We’ve put ourselves in many adventure-filled situations which are fun but stressful. Stress can both bring you together and drive you apart, both of which we’ve experienced.  It is a challenge to drive over very difficult roads; it is more of a challenge to be the passenger. Everyone’s driving calculus is different, naturally. At base, we are both very competent drivers and caring people.

The two years in Malawi have been fun and meaningful and eventful and difficult. That it is all ending soon is not easy, even as we are ready to return to the US, at least for awhile. When the stakes are high, our differences seem more important. We’ve chewed on this bone a lot during our vacation.

Practical lessons we’ve learned. 1) Always fill up your gas tank, no matter how full it is, at the last known station. 2) Always carry some food and plenty of water in the car, as well as bedding.  You may be spending the night somewhere unexpectedly.  3) Be prepared for directions and the criticism of your driving from the passenger if you are on a difficult road.  Their anxiety is much greater than yours because they don’t feel in control (and aren’t!). 4) Get at least one SIM card and phone top-up between you for each country you are in. The ability to call for emergencies and directions/reservations is a great time-saver.

As we walked along the beach last night in the dark after sunset, stars appearing overhead and lightening flashing to the north, Linda said she was ready to head back. Surprisingly for me, I felt, and said, that I would like another day or two. I mean, we’re in Paradise.

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