Finetastic Adventures

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Long Tom, Mozambique and Back

Long Tom

We had a really enjoyable time traveling to Sabie for the last weekend of March. This time we weren't lucky enough to snag a ride so we took coombies (public taxis), but none of them took too long to fill so we arrived there by 2 PM on Friday. There were over 60 Peace Corps volunteers there to either run or walk the half marathon on Saturday. Dave ran and I walked the 21 Km, mostly downhill, from the top of the Long Tom Pass. Dave even beat his goal of two hours by nearly 15 minutes! On the other hand, I barely made the 4 hour gun; I was walking with a few others and we took our time enjoying the scenery, the food stops, and cheering on the ultra marathoners. It is beautiful there, plus it was fun seeing so many PCVs, some of whom we hadn't yet met from the SA 14 group. Peace Corps supports this run as a KLM fundraiser for a school scholarship for a worthy child.


Sunday was spent traveling to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Luckily there were 3 groups of us going from Sabie, a total of 14, so we were able to fill our own coombie. This was fortunate since we spent 2 ½ hours at the border trying to get our visas; if we had been only the four of us on another full taxi I doubt the driver would have waited for us there. It is possible to get a visa ahead of time, but it costs six times more. We were also lucky that a trailer was attached to the taxi at the rank in Nelspruit, so we were not forced to hold our bags on our laps. It was a comfortable ride and we were delivered right to the door of our backpackers, though it took a while for the driver and his assistant to locate it.

Maputo is a big city, and upon first setting eyes on it, it looks like a war-torn city. Buildings and sidewalks are in disrepair; many large buildings seemed unoccupied. It's a city rebuilding itself after civil war ended about 13 years ago. We spent all day Monday walking the city, trying to find the fish market and sidewalk crafts. The nice part about being there was being able to go out at night, though always in a group and vigilant about our surroundings. We started our week-long fill of seafood and fish, which we don't get in South Africa. Plus the Portuguese bakeries, yum! We were glad to have Steph and Charlene with us, but the bonus was that their Spanish helped us communicate with the locals.

The three groups of us were together again as we traveled by bus to Tofo, a village on the Indian Ocean about 8 hours north. I say 'about' because, depending on the day, it can be anywhere from 7 to 9 ½ hours. Since this 25-seater bus was full from Maputo, we got to Tofo in about 8 hours. And full means not only of people, but bags. They get piled anywhere there is space in the bus, which means climbing over mounds of bags when getting out at the pit stop.

Our three days in Tofo were awesome. This is by far the best beach I have ever been to. Other than 3 backpackers, the only commercial development on this long stretch of beach is a restaurant and a dive shop. No hotels or resorts. The village itself is small, but has a few places to eat and vendors who sell a few food items. So there were no crowds, even though this was just before Easter weekend. The beach was wide and easy to walk; the water was warm and little to no undertow. We collected beautiful shells, something I haven't done since I was a child, since it seems beaches I have been to lately have none. We continued filling ourselves with seafood, and just relaxed. You can't go to Tofo without swimming with the whale sharks, so we spent a couple of hours on a snorkeling tour, but only found one whale shark with which to swim. These are the largest fish in the world, though ours was only a teenager and several meters long. Being docile fish it's possible to swim right alongside them. We did go to Inhambane one afternoon, about 30 min away, to use the ATM and walk around. It is a very delightful town, and we had a good dinner there before heading back to Tofo that evening. Needless to say, we hated to leave this little bit of paradise. But we took the bus back to Maputo for our last day in Mozambique. Unfortunately it ended on a bad note, with Steph getting sick enough for us to take her to the clinic, and to add to that, fending off a mugger on our walk there. On another note, we experienced one of those 'six degrees of separation' moments. One of our fellow PCVs came to Maputo while we were there; we knew he would be there with his sister, who was visiting him before returning to the US after traveling abroad. Turns out she is the girlfriend of one of Larry's good friends, though he has yet to meet her. Maybe by now he has though, since she was planning to move to Atlanta on her return just recently. So I was able to send Larry a hug with her. Talk about a small world.

And Back

We made it home to Polokwane before dark after leaving Maputo on a morning bus to Nelspruit. It was Easter Monday, a national holiday, so the taxis filled very quickly all the way home. Ordinarily we would not have tried to make it home; we would have needed to leave Nelspruit by 10 AM at the latest. But on this day we left about 12:30 and made it in record time.

I unfortunately brought home one thing I didn't want: giardia. I began feeling ill the night we got home, probably 7 days or so after I either drank some tainted water, or had ice or salad not cleaned well. I wasn't careful the first day in Maputo, so most likely picked it up then; after that I drank only bottled water, but it was too late. I got meds at the clinic here and took care of the bug. This was my first time being ill since moving here 9 months ago, so I guess I have been fortunate on that account.

Second quarter began at our NGO when we returned from Easter break. We have been busy continuing the work we began first quarter, most of which involves computerizing the records. The organization is well-established but the record keeping had not yet entered the digital age. So we have spent a lot of time on the financials and client roster, creating new databases and spreadsheets for all the information. We created new registration forms for new and returning clients and spreadsheets for all the financial records; by training the staff to use these programs we hope to make this work sustainable. We are also involved somewhat in helping design curriculum for some of the workshops, teaching the kitchen staff to take inventory and create menus, and helping them to become more organized and efficient in general. Dave has been helping to coach a few of the clients in basketball; there is a provincial tournament coming up in which they will play. We attend district and municipality meetings that focus on organizations that work with the disabled. Still to work on are gaining employment for some of our clients and setting up HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, and family planning, for the males and females. There is no shortage of work to be done.

We have submitted 6 articles to the local newspaper; so far 4 of them have been printed. There might be another in this week's paper which I will get on the way home today. We attended a meeting of the local bicycle club last week; we hope to work with them on improving the safety of cycling in Polokwane. We continue to ride our new Treks to work daily, and on the weekends for exercise and errands. Last Sunday our route took us through farmland just north of town; the quiet road reminded us of cycling in Wisconsin, with its rolling hills and fields, except for the mountains in the distance! The weather has been wonderful for cycling; only rarely have we been threatened by storms on our way to or from work.

Some of you have asked why we are sequestered in our house after dark. Though we have not been threatened at all in South Africa, the night is not safe. If you are in a private car and can drive directly to a destination, or take a private taxi, that is fairly safe. Though you still have to be careful about parking your car. We got a ride to and from the cycling club meeting last Friday evening, and most attendees preferred to park in the gated lot by the building. If you go out to dinner or a movie, you must have the attendants watch your car, even during the day, for a rand or two. (Sometimes we have them watch our new bikes, even though they are locked.) So the only way we get out at night is to either fetch a ride or catch a private taxi. But frankly there isn't much to do anyway. Most locals spend time in homes of friends or family, or at church functions. The couple of times we have gone out, to the concert in December and to a night-time movie once, we caught the private taxi home. Other times have been with people who have picked us up on their way, either to a friend's (which is rare) or to a meeting (even rarer). So, hope that answers your question. We do feel though that our social life has improved with time; we have more pcvs coming over or we have been busy traveling. We have 3 volunteers coming to spend a weekend next month, and on another weekend we are traveling to attend a birthday party in Potch, about 5-6 hours by bus. So life is good.

Though they may not yet be labeled, you can check out photos from Long Tom and Mozambique at our gallery site.

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