A Travellerspoint blog

Back in West Africa

Return to Ghana!

35 °C

Hello!

I’m happy to say that I’m back in Ghana, having survived a few long days of travel to get here.

The bus from Vilankulos was uneventful by Mozambican standards, but it was definitely a different kind of bus ride. The busses are all normal sized coaches that were used in China 10 or 20 years ago, but that’s where the similarities to what we think of as coach travel end.

After waiting until midnight for my ride to the airport, I got a seat by the window and settled in for a bumpy night, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep. Once we left Vilankulos, however, I realized what a silly thought that was - apparently in Mozambique bus drivers blast 90s pop, Celine Dion, and horrible Mozambican gospel-rap all night on the speakers. I tried to drown it out with my headphones but it was no use. It was like being next to a speaker at a club. They also periodically turned the lights on for 20 minutes at a time for no apparent reason. It made me appreciate why noise and sleep deprivation are used as torture! I managed to sleep in short bursts, and I woke up at one point to realize that there were 3 people sitting in every 2-seat group, plus a long line of people sitting on empty jerry cans in the aisle. The boy next to me spent most of the night vomiting in an ice cream container, and the man behind me had three live chickens; there was also a goat sitting in the aisle!

It took 11 long hours to reach Maputo, which was choked with traffic. We had to stop many many times along the way to let people off and pick up more. I was originally planning on taking a chapa to my hostel to save money but after that journey I decided to splurge on a tuktuk.

I spent my two days in Maputo trying to catch up on sleep. I also found an amazing café near the hostel that served yummy vegetarian sandwiches and real espresso, it was so exciting!

My trip to Accra began yesterday morning at 4:30, with a flight to Johannesburg. I had 5 hours to kill in Joburg before my flight to Windhoek, where I had to wait 2 hours in the second worst airport ever (after Vic Falls). It’s one room crammed with seats so close that your knees touch the person across from you, there was a smoker’s lounge that was open to the rest of the room so the entire room was filled with second hand smoke (yum!) and all they had was a duty free that didn’t sell water! Needless to say I was very happy when I boarded my last flight of the day to Accra.

I've spent today getting organized for my time here - getting a sim card, getting money, going to my favourite shops. It's nice being in a place that is familiar, so I don't feel like such a lost tourist all the time. Within minutes of being in Ghana I was reminded why I love it so much - while I waited for my taxi driver to bring the car up to the airport, no fewer than five people came up to me to make sure that I was waiting for someone! And in my errands today, I became friends with 8 different people, including a rastafarian photographer and an accountant who wants to meet up with me to teach me some Twi. Ghanaians see a tourist and they just want to be their friend, I love it!

I'm back at the autism centre tomorrow and very excited to see all the staff and kids and be working again. It's so good to be back here!

Finally was able to upload pictures from Mozambique:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100878134308737.2565234.13604534&type=3&l=22ad8d581f

Posted by meggiep 09:20 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

Lazing the Days Away

Beach life in Vilankulos, Mozambique

sunny 20 °C

After our somewhat epic journey here, Jack, Kate and I have enjoyed the past few days in Vilankulos, a sleepy fishing village on the coast. It’s very different from Tofo; Tofo feels more like a tourist village, but Vilankulos is definitely a functioning town. The sandy streets are lined with thatch huts, and the beach fills up each afternoon with people waiting for the fishing dhows to arrive with the day’s catch.

We didn’t do much on Sunday except recover from our journey, and Monday we spent lounging at the beach by our hostel. On Monday we were also joined by Monica, Inga, Chris, and Camillo, our friends from Tofo. Tuesday we all set out on a dhow safari to the Bazaruto archipelago, Vilakulos’ main tourist attraction.

The archipelago is a series of sand islands separated from Vilakulos by a narrow strip of turquoise Indian Ocean. We set out with our group Tuesday morning towards the closest island, spotting a few dolphins playing in the water along the way. The island is a lovely strip of sand lined with palm trees, and as soon as we got off the dhow we headed into the water for some snorkeling. The water is very clear here and we managed to see some colorful fish (though not as many as I saw diving). I even spotted a little ray swimming by!

After a delicious lunch on the beach, we sailed over to another island which was completely empty except for us. We hiked over the sand dunes to the other side, where we found an empty beach and a huge expanse of bright blue sea, which goes on and on until Madagascar. We were so lucky to have this island all to ourselves! Once we’d had our fill of the waves we started the journey back to Vilankulos, unaware that Mozambique was about to throw us another curve ball.

When we were about 10 minutes from shore, we saw a boat with six or seven Mozambique Marines in full uniform approaching us. Everyone on the dhow fell silent as they pulled up next to us. Three of the men boarded, carrying AK47s, and started to yell at our crew in Portuguese (I was so mad I couldn’t understand Portuguese!) They then proceeded to remove our motor and all got back in their boat. At this point we were all exchanging very nervous glances…I was worried they were just going to take our motor and leave us there, or tow us to shore but take us to the police station - I didn’t have my passport photocopy with me and was worried the day would end with a large bribe to the Mozambican police. Two Marines got back on our boat, with their massive guns, and started arguing again with our crew. As we sat nervously they tied a line to our boat and started to tow us to shore, as we were guarded by the two soldiers with guns. I don’t think ten minutes has ever lasted so long! When we got to shore we all got off and just walked away to our hostel, without the soldiers saying anything to us! Once we’d calmed down and had a beer, we found out that the Marines had stopped our boat because it didn’t have a name painted on it so they couldn’t know if it had paid the proper fees. But since this is Mozambique, rather than escorting us to shore, they felt the need to remove our motor…It’s a great story now but it was definitely a bit nerve-racking!

We spent Wednesday just hanging out at the beach, having had our fill of run-ins with authority figures. Wednesday night everyone left - Camillo, Inga, and Chris heading north, Jack, Kate, and Monica heading south back to Maputo. I‘ve been hanging around until later tonight when I take the 1am bus to Maputo…why it has to leave at 1am I can’t explain, just another one of Mozambique’s quirks!

Yesterday and today have been lazy days for me; chilling on the beach, eating samosas, reorganizing my bag and getting ready for Ghana. This is definitely my least favourite thing about traveling alone - after sharing so many experiences together and becoming so close, suddenly my good friends have all gone their separate ways and I’m on my own again. Navigating the public transit back to Maputo definitely won’t be as fun now that I don’t have anyone to laugh about it with!

After my 13 hour bus ride to Maputo I’ll have the weekend there before heading Monday morning to Ghana. I’m very excited to be back in a country where I’m not afraid of police, although I’ll miss the yummy food and gorgeous beaches here!

Pictures to come once I’m in Ghana, the internet here just isn’t fast enough to load them.

Posted by meggiep 07:08 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Long Way There

The joy of public transit in Mozambique

sunny

Hello everyone!

Yesterday, Jack, Kate, and I set out from Tofo to Vilanculos, a beach town around 250 km north of Tofo. Getting here was another adventure in Mozambique public transit!

Our journey began yesterday morning at 4:30 with a walk down a dark, sandy road to the market to catch a chapa to Inhambane. We only had to wait around 20 minutes for the chapa to leave and it wasn’t even packed full! We drove to Inhambane and had to find the ferry across the bay to Maxixe, and luckily I asked the right person for directions; he was a teacher on his way to an English exam in Maxixe and took us all the way to the ferry and even helped us buy tickets!

The ferry was a bit different than we expected -it was a small boat with a motor literally taped to the back. The boat was packed full of people and packages…I was pretty nervous that we wouldn’t make it across the bay! It was a lovely morning though, the bay was misty and there were a few dhows (Arabic sail boats) on the water, and we made it safely to Maxixe. Our friend showed us the chapa station and wished us luck! He even helped negotiate a somewhat reasonable fare for us (even though we know we paid more than anyone else).

This is where our journey went downhill. We were forced to sit at the back of the chapa, where the seat is a bit higher up than the other seats, and even my head was touching the roof. We were so crammed in that I couldn’t move my legs or even fully relax my shoulders, and one of my arms was pinned against the window. We sat like this for three full hours before the chapa was full enough to go. Since we were at the back, and the trunk wasn’t shut, it was just tied closed, we had fumes coming in and soon we were all very very drowsy. I’m glad I was passed out most of the way though, I don’t know how I would have survived the uncomfortable journey otherwise! When we finally made the turnoff to Vilanculos the nightmare didn’t end, we just kept stopping along the road. At one point the driver just got out and stood around for awhile!

Our luck changed once we got here though. We were standing by the chapa waiting for our change, and a lovely Italian lady asked us where we were staying and if we wanted a lift! We are staying at a little backpacker lodge right on the beach. The village is very lazy, with sandy, palm-tree lined streets that all lead to the beach. I’ve managed to reunite with Joe (from my overland trip) and am looking forward to a few days of not being in a chapa!

Posted by meggiep 08:53 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Beautiful Tofo

Beaching and diving in Tofo

sunny 25 °C

Ola!!

I’ve spent the past four days at Praia do Tofo, a delicious slice of blue Indian Ocean bordered by an arc of white sand. Getting here was an adventure though!

We woke up early Wednesday to catch the chapa at 5am from our hostel. A chapa is a van crammed with as many seats as possible; it’s essentially the same as a tro-tro in Ghana or a matatu in Kenya, except in those countries there are laws on how many people can be inside at one time…not the case in Mozambique! Our chapa was so crowded with us and our bags that I was basically holding up all the bags every time we moved to prevent being crushed by them! We were taken to the main chapa station in Maputo and herded onto a slightly bigger one. Then we waited…and waited…and waited…for the chapa to be full enough to leave. We finally left at around 7. Tofo is only 400 Km from Maputo but the journey takes a long time…partly because the roads aren’t the best and partly because a chapa stops a LOT along the way. We were hot, dusty, I couldn’t feel half my lower body…when we finally arrived in Tofo at 2. After a long drive down a winding sandy road we reached our hostel and practically kissed the door we were so happy to be there!

My hostel is very well located, right on the beach, with lots of little thatched huts and dorms. We spent Wednesday playing in the ocean - it’s nice and warm with lots of surf - and drinking celebratory beers. The next day I got busy diving! Tofo is known for its big fish - whale sharks, manta rays, and dolphins are all frequently spotted, so I’ve been looking forward to diving here for a long time. Since it’s been 2 ½ years since my last dive I had to do a refresher course Thursday morning before heading out for my first few dives Thursday afternoon. We saw sea turtles, tons of colourful fish, blue stingrays and electric eels! Friday I was up early for my very first deep dive. I’m certified to go to 18m, but I decided to earn an extra certification here that will let me go even deeper. I had to study Thursday night and take a little test all about deep diving on Friday before the dive. Our maximum depth Thursday morning was 30m (100 feet!) and when we got to the bottom my instructor Steve had me do some simple math problems to make sure I hadn’t gotten Nitrogen Narcosis (caused by the pressure at deep dives; it’s not dangerous by itself but makes you act drunk so you can end up doing stupid things). I passed my math test and we set off to explore the reef. We saw a lot more cool fish including angler fish, which sit on the rock with a glowing ball on their head waiting for smaller fish to come close, and even saw a few dolphins!

I spent the rest of Friday on the beach with Jack and Kate. We found this amazing place for dinner - very cheap, we were the only non-locals in the place, and there wasn’t anything vegetarian on the menu (very typical of Mozambique…I’ve had a lot of just french fries for dinner) the waiter went out and got the ingredients to make me something! It was the same thing I’ve eaten since I got here - spiced beans with rice - but it was the best version I’ve had!

Yesterday morning I was up early again for my last dive in Tofo. It was probably the best dive I’ve ever been on! It was well offshore, about a 45 minute boat ride, and when we got in we realized that the visibility was far better than anything I’ve ever experienced - about 15m! Right when we got to the bottom we spotted two white-tipped reef sharks swimming near us and we were then greeted by potato bass, a gigantic fish about half the size of me who swam slowly over and stared at us. So cool! The current was really strong so we just drifted along under water, and we came to an overhang where we hung on to the rock and watched as bright yellow, orange, purple, and blue fish swam above, around, and below us! It was amazing, some of the fish are so beautiful, with lots of different colours, polka dots, and even swirls. At the end of the dive we even came across a group of four grey reef sharks!! Awesome! On our way back to Tofo we even got to see some dolphins playing in the water! It was so cool.

I spent the afternoon lounging on the beach. Kate, Jack, and I got boogie boards and played for awhile in the surf, and then sat with our feet in the sea watching the tide go out. It was the perfect end to my Tofo getaway!

Today Jack, Kate and I went to Vilanculos, a town around 250 km north of Tofo. We left at 5am, had to go on three different modes of transport and got here at 2pm...but that adventure deserves a blog post of its own!

Posted by meggiep 06:45 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

Maputo Madness

Battling hassle and potholes in Maputo

sunny 25 °C

Ola everyone!

I've had a few hassle-filled days getting to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

I left Zimbabwe yesterday. The Victoria Falls airport is 20km outside of town but in a very different world - on the way we were stopped by police looking for a bribe (luckily my cab driver got me out of that somehow). The area outside the airport was filled with around 100 men just sitting around, my cab driver told me they were all waiting for work.

The airport itself is pretty awful. It's very very tiny; the front room has enough space for maybe 2 check-in desks but was crammed with 8. There were lines of people everywhere - you have to line up to check in and get your boarding pass, then line up to go through immigration, then line up for security, all in this one small room. All the check-in desks have computers but none of them work - my boarding pass was just written on a piece of paper!

On the other side of security it's just another small room with two doors as the 'gates'. The plane arrived late and when it was time to board, the flight attendant just shouted across the room!

Transferring in Johannesburg was also a huge hassle involving three lines. Even though my layover was two hours, I still had to rush to make my second flight! And when I landed in Maputo my pickup from the hostel was 45 minutes late. This is Africa!

Maputo is a large, very rundown city. There are huge potholes in the streets and the sidewalks that are filled with garbage, all the buildings are falling apart, and the people aren't very friendly. I think part of it has to do with the language barrier, but Mozambique is definitely a very poor country. Last night at the hostel I met two Brits, Jack and Kate, and today we set off to get our paperwork in order.

Mozambique has a law requiring foreigners to carry a passport or a notarized copy of their passport at all times. The problem is, when police stop tourists to check their passports, they often take the passport and refuse to return it without a 'fee payment', so we decided to get the notarized photocopy. This, of course, was an adventure in itself. We asked at the hostel where to go, but the first photocopying place was closed. The owner directed us up the street, where we found a shop with at least 10 photocopiers, none of which were in use. The owner told us they were all 'busy' and told us to go somewhere else. We found a second place, but they said that the photocopier was busy copying a book (the machine was turned off). We finally found a place that was willing to copy our passports and headed to the notary.

Apparently everything in Mozambique, from photocopies of passports and drivers licences to resumes, has to be notarized, so the office was incredibly crowded. We pushed our way to the front and then had to wait around 30 minutes to get the copies back, all while people were yelling different things and pushing to the front of the line.

But we finally got our copies and set out to see Maputo. There isn't much to see here, so after we found a good breakfast place we wandered down to the waterfront. Unfortunately the waterfront is pretty run down and sketchy, so we got ice cream and headed to the city's only touristy attraction, the old Portuguese fort. The fort is right near a garbage dump and a crowded bus station, but once inside we found a really cool photo exhibit about Albino people in Africa. It was more interesting than the fort, which had no information on it and a 'view point' from the top that was just a view of the crowded bus station. Maputo is definitely not geared for tourists and seems to have no interest in changing!

After that we decided to head to the grocery store to get supplies for our bus trip to the beach tomorrow. We got a tuktuk on the way back but the driver didn't speak English and we got a little lost, and then, to our horror, got pulled over by a police officer. The driver had to give in his licence but we were watching very carefully and no money was exchanged. When the driver got back in, he started yelling that the officer had taken 200 Rand from him (we knew this wasn't true). He wanted us to pay him back for it...we refused, but the situation was getting pretty scary. Finally we were dropped in front of the hostel and didn't end up having to pay him anything more than what we'd agreed on. Yikes!

Tomorrow we're heading to Tofo Beach, a 5 hour drive from Maputo that on the bus takes 8-10 hours (this is Africa!) I'm very excited to be on the beach, where I'll be scuba diving and doing some yoga. Should be a nice break from crazy Maputo!

Posted by meggiep 09:37 Archived in Mozambique Comments (0)

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