On our travels in Africa, shopping in the local markets is one of my favourite pastimes. You never know what you are going to get and in which form, flavor or fashion it will be presented to you.
The little tuck shops that act as convenience stores, made out of palm leaves and reeds most of the time, stock all the essentials for the household. The list is normally maize meal, sugar, milk, biscuits, Cremora, eggs, OMO and dishwashing detergent … in a nutshell.
These little shacks are strewn all over the place in rural Mozambique, with organic red skin peanuts or cashews in little packets to make you want to stop and exchange a few words in Portuguese, or sign language if you wish.
One of the best times I’ve ever had was when on the spur of the moment I decided to fly from Swaziland to Vilanculous – without months of planning, in fact it only took a few adrenaline-filled hours. Early morning at the airport, standing in a queue to get my flight confirmed and paid. The entire airport is closed 2 hours before the international flight is meant to depart. “Don’t worry mam, this is Swaziland. They will be here now now.” Mmmm ok. Patience is a virtue. Minutes tick by. My heart is racing but I’m thinking… it’s not possible to be late for the flight if the airport is not even open yet right?
I finally got directed to a container office, an hour before the flight. Passport out, payment done, flight ticket issued, perspiration on my forehead and palms of my hands, my steps become leaps as I’m running at a rapid rate through the crowd with luggage over my shoulder, following the scarcity of signs to the next point. Only to find that Passport control, Customs and Bag Check-In are all within one room, and the systems are down so everything is done manually. Great! What to do… At this point you have to take a deep breath, smile to yourself, take the scene in, do some people watching and just go with the flow.
While waiting in the lounge, I paged through my Lonely Planet, reading up on my destination. The lady next to me asked where I’m staying. “I’ll contact a few spots when I get there”, I replied. It turns out that she owns a lodge and a few calls later, I had an airport taxi collection and accommodation booked. The beauty of spontaneous decisions.
The most idyllic spot with white sandy beaches, palm trees and coconuts, a turquoise ocean, friendly locals, delicious seafood and a few nerve wrecking diving excursions, but beautiful nevertheless. The infrastructure in some areas of Mozambique, reminds me of a movie set, as if the war ended just the other day. Most of the buildings are bombed, burnt and broken. Birds have made nests, the weeds are flourishing, cracks in the walls are widening and it all is slowly returning back to dust.
I then decided that the only way to really understand this journey and the people of this land better, is to travel “traditionally”. I took public transport from Vilanculous back down to Swaziland on an old fashioned bus – a journey of about 700 kilometers that took roughly 22 hours.
Guided by the moonlight, and followed by the impinging fish smell from the day before lingering around the market place and filling my lungs with the salty sultry air, I arrived promptly before the bus’s departure at two am to ensure I could grab a seat in the front of the bus with a window that could open and close to the door. Apparently advisable by a few co-travelers I’ve met on the way.
As the journey continued south, dodging pot holes and road blocks, cows and donkeys getting right of way to cross the road, the scenery of mamas walking with baskets of fresh fish on their heads and all the colorful cloths on the washing lines as we passed rural villages …the bus driver also occasionally stopping. Not for any substantial reason though, such as a fuel station. No, the sole reason – was to purchase mangoes and macadamia nuts from a merchant, normally a lengthy discussion too, with a bit of haggling and a few laughs before the bus gets put into gear and the journey continues!
Another time the bus pulled over from the broken tar road and after a Portuguese phrase I can’t decipher, the whole bus emptied in a second! Scrutinizing the scene, I realised that this was an official bush toilet break. All the guys ran to the left and all the ladies ran to the right of the bus where they could hide behind bushes and out of view. There we were, surrounded with palm trees and white sandy shores, the bus driver haggling for more mangoes whilst goats, chickens and luggage sat patiently on the roof and me holding onto my front row seat. One can’t but smile to oneself on what a rich experience it all is in the middle of nowhere going slowly. Priceless.
I remember arriving in Swaziland high up in the mountains overlooking Mozambique on the western border of Swaziland at a community spot called Shewula Community Camp.
Warmly welcomed and entertained by a group of kids and a senior white haired guy, singing and dancing. The ladies in the kitchen asked what I would like for dinner. Without hesitation I opted for the traditional dish – peanut butter chicken. The ladies agreed that is the perfect choice.
A few conversations back and forth and a few phone calls made. A little while later, the tour guide arrives back at the lodge, holding a chicken around its wings, in a rather fowl mood to say the least. The ladies translate that he had to bargain one of the villager’s prize roosters and got ripped off with the price he was charged, as he couldn’t find any other chickens for sale in the short time he had to arrange this. He disappeared around the corner. A few ‘sqwauks’ later, slight distress for both of them and then he started plucking feathers. Well. Indeed. Dinner. Just like that! The elongated drumstick surely is as organic as it comes.
The next morning I asked the ladies at the lodge if they could take me to the Madalla’s house (old man with white hair) as he invited me to come and visit. After a little while sitting on tree trunks in his yard, drinking sweet tea and communicating with a translator, we greeted to go our separate ways. But first a gift he indicated I had to wait for. His grandson ran towards me with a live chicken. In astonishment, surprise and gratitude, I accepted.
Some experiences may offend you, be against your beliefs or moral codes and may leave you feeling dispersed or totally out of your comfort zone. Ultimately that is why I love travelling. It moves me into unfamiliar places and new realms of looking at raw livingness. We are all sometimes too protected in our precious, built up world’s, with all the safety nets we have created in society that a whole life goes by without peeking into others.
My motto on this is to be unencumbered and willing at all times, to experience anything. You never know what is coming your way. Spontaneous adventures are the best!