How long will it take time
to fade the memory of a kiss?
To drain the potency of the passion
and the tenderness of our bliss?
A name not forgotten
but details of face will fade
into fleeting moments of reflection
on the connection that we made.
A poem once written for a man, now applied to a country. I have come to appreciate how much of a love affair with life is lived by the transient sailor. We get to know no country in depth or detail, but we flirt with the fringes of society and leave invigorated and passionate about the place and people we encounter along the way. Whereas most individuals live entrenched in a village their whole lives, we flit in and out of countries like migrating pelagic seabirds, never returning to the same place twice. It is this continuous exploration that brings with it an intensity born from the rawness of new surroundings and unexpected outcomes. We cast the mould aside and accept a life of constant flux and continual evolution. We shun normalcy to live a life of extremes. We seek out exploration and adventure. We try to make the most of each day, mindful of the clock ticking in the periphery. Tick tock. The countdown of the clock. We are always conscious that our time in country is on a running stopwatch, and as time closes in we try to fill every moment with the sweetness of a place we will most likely never return to. Tick tock, ping!
In the recency of our interlude
I can clearly see your face,
in that moment of silence
the minute before you wake.
Then follows the shattering of solitude
when your eyelids flicker blue
— alive we come in passion
as I crash into you.
Yet, while that clock is still ticking we get an intimacy of place that often eludes even the most resident of citizens. Days that flash past into weeks in a routine wind-down to the slow tick of minutes when that routine is gone. Tick tock. Tick tock. Once that pendulum is broken, the desire for its rhythmic beat is gone. As newcomers, we become completely involved in a place, consumed by the daily barrage of experience. Like a love affair, we dive in head first and bury ourselves in every nuance of culture and custom. With that intensity comes an addiction: An addiction to change, to unpredictable existences and to unforeseen futures.
With time against us, we fill in our days with a frenzy of activity, trying to eek out the most of our short interval in country. Time shifts and expands, and we define how we spend the hours in our day. We are allowed to fall into a slow routine of the undemanding life, with hours that aren’t gobbled up in commuting, meetings, schedules and commitments. A portion of time is spent ogling a country’s top landmarks and famous attractions, indulging in a “tourist brochure” exploration of a country. But as a cruising sailor you are more than a holiday-maker. We shop elbow-to-elbow in the street markets, bartering like locals over the cost of fruit and vegetables. We visit the community clinics looking for local remedies with fingers crossed on one hand and a translation book in the other. We wander through shady back alleys looking for an odd assortment of boat parts, smiling at the old men giving odd looks as if witness to a pare of doves in a badger den. Our kids chase their kids, not a common word between them but expressions of glee on their faces. In this knee-to-dirt experience of a country, we are exposed to her underbelly and we fall in love. We fall for all the things that aren’t advertised on the tourist brochures. We fall for her crooked streets and crooked houses, with the bad smells and the odd food, with the sly glances and the open laughter and the friendships that stem from curiosity and goodwill. We absorb the essence of a country into our pores and feel an intricate part of the fabric of life. In so short a period we feel an assimilation that generally happens in years. This is perhaps an overly romantic notion of a place, but every cruiser knows what it is like to feel the essence of a country under their skin, begot through the highs and lows of their experience. When the trip is behind us and we reflect on our time, it is the collection of these seemingly small, insignificant moments that defines our experience.
Passing time will soften
this yearning from within
and leaden the longing of desire
— memory of scent and skin.
So for now I cradle these lonely moments
without you by my side,
in the remembrance of your lips
I twist and wake inside.
For in the forgotten passion
that lay dormant
in the shadowed crevice of my soul,
you spoke and woke that part of me
with soft a gentle nudge.
What strikes me in this transient life we live is how potent but fleeting our experiences can be: intense, powerful, concentrated, all-consuming. You slip into the life that is in front of you at the moment and then – in the blink of an eye – it is gone. There are very few countries that we’ve visited that haven’t captivated me for some inherent quality. We know nothing of it other than the spelling of its name and in a small hop we land on site, amazed and awed and transfixed. In Tanzania it was the friendliness of the people. In the Seychelles it was the beauty of the land. In Madagascar it was the rawness of the on-the-brink existence. In South Africa it was the diversity. In Sumatra it was the intrepidness. In Mozambique it was the sea.
It was only yesterday that had you by my side,
wrestling beneath cotton sheets
and tying me up inside.
My singularity lost in that connection with you
— so sweet a tender place —
to banish morning solitude
in your butterfly embrace.
All places captivate you for some inherent quality; a few places consume you. For me, that place was Mozambique. It was as if the country, unknown to me all my life, opened its arms for a quick embrace and I fell headlong in love in that short moment of intimacy. I don’t know what led Mozambique to impress me with such a rare intensity of emotion. It was no single part of the country or specific moment in the trip, but a collective experience that left me raw and exposed. It was the infinite empty bays and the never-ending stretch of glistening white sand dunes. It was the myriad of single moments with strangers that we intersected with. It was the starlight shining down on unlit earth. It was the jellyfish that flashed and glowed beneath our hull with an intensity of a meteor shower. It was the slow rise and fall of a sleek back as a whale surfaced for air, exposing no more than a blowhole and an oval disk of flesh. It was the slow beat of a gull’s wing as it glided overhead, surveying us with a simple curiosity. It was the peace and quiet of the islands that dangled down the coast like a string of beaded pearls. My notes as we traveled down the coast captured the feeling at the time:
It is amazing out here, blue skies flanked by billowy white clouds on the fringes of a deep blue sky. We move through a patch of soft wind that ripples the surface on an otherwise flat, reflective sea. We’ve been passed by flocks of seabirds, and we’ve been assaulted by flying fish that shoot like arrows out of the water and bounce around the deck as if tossed by a novice archer. We’ve been joined by racing dolphins that play in our wake and sailed passed the solitary humpback resting on the surface of the sea. The serenity of our surrounding environment is exactly what the over-stressed office worker craves when dreaming of flinging off societal constraints. It isn’t always like this but when it is, you breathe it into your soul.
This was not my first time in Mozambique. I was lucky enough to land a position running a dive operation in a remote corner of the country a decade ago. I knew that it may be the last time I had the opportunity to spend an extended period on her shores and my farewell was an emotionally difficult one. At that stage in my life I was trying to carve every new experience out of the time I had; I’d severed the umbilical chord to my native country and the life I had established and was charging towards any unknown opportunity that presented itself. After two years in the African bush it was time for a change. I bought a ticket for America and a month later I was afloat in a small boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean. And that was the end of my time in Mozambique.
Or so I thought. Life has a way of throwing its curveballs and a decade later I was unexpectedly back on Mozambican turf, enchanted with the country all over again. Mozambique was not on the radar when we’d set out for the Indian Ocean, however the draw to return was a strong one. When we decided to sail to East Africa it was only natural that Mozambique would pop up on the radar… we were so close, too close, not to find a way to include it in our route. Of course, including it meant shaving off time in Madagascar and our time there had already been cut short by our detour to Tanzania. Tanzania or Madagascar? Well, let’s do both and while we are at it, how about Mozambique too?!
Having agreed “Why not?” we sailed down the coast from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Quirimbas, a small archipelago of 32 islands in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique. We were about to hit the stretch of ocean that cruisers avoid altogether – the currents rip along the coast making southward progress impossible as the 2-knot current sweeps you north. Our strategy was to hug the coast, keeping no more than 10 meters below us. Grazing the seabed with our keel, we tiptoed Atea through a slice of coastline peppered with free-diving fisherman; while hair-raising from a clearance perspective, it was a sociable stretch with men popping up from their hunt to wave to us in passing. So, although the threat of a northern push to Somalia is the common fear, we found a way to avoid the strong current and had a relatively simple passage south. Having built up a brazen confidence over the previous 300 miles, our cockiness was dashed in the last 30 miles as the current wrapped around the Ponto Delgado headland and completely stopped our progress. With an unreliable engine that left us unable to power through the current, we tacked back and forth in the same mile-wide band of water for five hours, pacing over the same ground like a caged bear. We watched the slow crawl of the midday sun from the same spot. We witnessed a glorious but underappreciated sunset in the same spot. Night descended while we were in the same spot. Determined not to spend another night at sea with our destination only five miles ahead of us, we pushed on into the darkness with the brilliance of phosphorescent jellyfish laying a glittering path to our anchorage and will forever hold a lasting impression of their underwater brilliance – Atea walking on stars.
We pulled into uncharted territory as illegal trespassers at 10:00pm, drawn by the call of a good night’s sleep and the calm of a boat brought back in from sea. We dropped anchor at Isla Tecomagi, the northernmost island in the Quirimbas. With the anchor down at long last, there was only one problem: We’d tucked in but not cleared into the country. Mozambique has a reputation for corrupt officials, something I’d had a lot of experience with ten years earlier. Avoiding bribes is easiestwhen you are not in the wrong in the first place. We’d heard that the Quirimbas were not trafficked by boarder control however as a national marine reserve we may run into marine police. Would they care about a few illegal immigrants?
We were to find out a few hours later. A speedboat raced up at early dawn and we woke to pounding fists on Atea’s hull. We bounded up to face a dozen stern officials carrying machine guns. They spoke rapidly in fluent Portuguese, a language we didn’t speak but was said with a force of authority that we did recognize. They boarded Atea and immediately started babbling indecipherable commentary while pointing around the boat and at our faces. We were on the defensive, knowing we’d entered the country illegally and had no right to be there. After handing over our passports and boat papers with over-sized smiles, we engaged the art of Spanish-to-Portuguese dialog and soon realized they had no interest in our immigration status whatsoever; they were, however, extremely curious about the fishing rods standing in their rod holders. We conveyed our inability to fish and proof was in the rusty rod and the absent reel, hook and line. It was a stick of notable degradation and after they had a thorough look they all laughed at the image of us pilfering their protected fish stock with our rotten gear. After our innocence was established, they jumped to selfies and group photos where I got to pose with a dozen gun-slinging officials and was gifted a police beret as a token of their friendship. We donated a few Cokes and they sped off, rounding a mother and calf humpback laying just off our stern. After the adrenalin-induced morning, we grabbed a cup of coffee and jumped onboard our dinghy to spend the next few hours in the peaceful presence of a humpback mother and calf napping on the surface of the water; our rush of adrenalin replaced with total serenity.
We stayed on site for the next few days, enjoying humpbacks in the water and children playing in the sand. Large dhows chockablock with near-naked bodies would idly drift past, all voices at full chorus. There was something so special in seeing these hardworking men with their heads tilted in collective song, breaking tune to beam us smiles and give us enthusiastic waves and thumbs up, the national symbol for “yeah bo, it’s all good!” We may not be welcomed by the government, but we were certainly embraced by the locals.
As a previous colony of Portugal, Portuguese is widely spoken but English speakers are almost non-existent. Friendly though they were, it was impossible to have a conversation with any depth. My “Spanglish” got us a fair distance but there was no fluidity of conversation to engage in anything other than rudimentary banter. As a result, we were outsiders with no more than avague understanding of superficial topics. Yet, even without discourse, I loved the people. Village kids would run down the beach to help us pull the dinghy out of the surf, jabbering away with smiles and gestures. Men would paddle by on their way out to fish, calling out to us and waving regardless of our inability to add anything useful to their day. The women, hands shielding smiles, would watch us with obvious curiosity. As outsiders to their tight-knit communities, we felt accepted regardless of our cultural distance.
We finally moved on to casually sweep down the coast, exploring the northern and central islands. We had every anchorage to ourselves, other than a regular stream of locals passing in their dhows and humpbacks meandering by. We had empty beaches filled with pristine shop-quality shells scattered underfoot, expansive sand dunes to race up and toboggan down like skiers racing on bristle-ice and crystal-clear water for chicken fights and fish play. Once again, we were faced with a decision to make – both directions I wanted to go. Our first option was to stay and spend the rest of the season in the quiet isolation of Mozambique. Our second option was to shoot across the Mozambique Channel to Madagascar where a social life awaited us. As Mozambique was offering such exceptional marine experiences in such pristine beauty, it was hard to think of leaving such a unique and peaceful place behind. However, Madagascar had been on our radar since deciding to transit the Indian Ocean and we knew we would regret it if we blew it off.
We decided to pull ourselves away. I was filled with a deep sadness as we pulled anchor and departed – I’d said farewell once before and my second parting was just as emotional. Ironically, not two hours after sailing out we received a message on our Satellite phone. Friends who we’d departed Tanzania with had taken another course south and had gotten trapped by the strong currents. They’d finally done the distance and were expecting to meet us in the early morning. After debating long and hard about leaving and finally committing to Madagascar, it was ironic to turn the boat around and be back in Mozambique five hours later. Entering coral waters after dark is not a risk to take lightly, but the impetus to celebrate John’s 50th birthday with our cruising mates made it a risk worth taking.
In the morning we got the call that they were pulling in, but a grounding on reef stopped their progress short and they were stuck at the entrance to the bay. We pulled up anchor and joined them as they clung to rock, kicking off John’s 50th. The celebration was a day-long affair filled with festivity, food and drink. Humpback whales graced us in numbers and activity we hadn’t experienced before: They swam between the boats and along side us as we played in the sea; they entertained us for hours as they slapped the water with tale and fin; they hung in our periphery as they cruised up and down our little bay, lounging on the surface or idly rolling on their backs. In the most epic display I’ve ever seen, we witnessed repetitive breeching not fifty meters away from us, our final salute as they headed out of the bay in the early evening (Images: Quinquagenarian Celebrations)
We’d had our party and said our farewells. We raised our anchor at sunset and said goodbye to Mozambique a second time, escorted out to sea by a pair of humpback and a school of dolphin. I felt the intense pang and joy of the cruising life – the odd emotional dichotomy of a deep sadness in leaving against the excited anticipation of arriving. As Mozambique receded, I knew Madagascar lay on the horizon ahead and I was sure she would be as rich and rewarding as the rumours reported.
Now, John and I aren’t ones for ignoring protocol. Following the rules is generally a good way to stay out of trouble when you are in a foreign country. However, we’d just departed Mozambique after shrugging off the clearance process. We entered and exited Mayotte – an indulgent stop on our way to Madagascar for its order, tidiness and extraordinary French cuisine – without going through the clearance process. And after a smooth but uneventful passage, we entered Madagascar to debate of the ease or difficulty of going through the proper clearance process. Having faith in the significance of three’s, we decided to blow it off again. Our time in Madagascar is recorded in an earlier article, “Captain Morgan’s Cousins,” and in it there is no mention of heavy fines or incarceration. We came, we explored, we drank and we departed. Mayotte and the Passage
The sensible course to take out of Madagascar would have been the typical cruising route: Nudge down the coast of Madagascar until you get to the western knuckle of the country, then grab a good weather window and make a mad dash for South Africa. But sensible is not our mode of operation. We were late in the year and starting to border on cyclone season, but I had a few things left to do in Mozambique.
Rather than south, we flogged due west with no wind and fingers crossed that our derelict engine would hold together until we crossed the Mozambique Channel. With strong southerly currents, we were relying on wind (which we had none of) or our engine (which was held together with vice grips and epoxy putty). It was a nerve-wrecking run. As it was, the destination I’d pinned on the chart would be very difficult for us to get to from our departure point in Madagascar and impractical given our timeframe. Regardless, I was determined that our return to Mozambique wouldn’t be a quick run through her southern stops; Mozambique had captured me and I was going to suck the marrow from her bones. Plus, there was someone special I wanted to call in on while I was there. We dropped anchor in a beautiful little bay, split between a vibrant, enthusiastic village on one side and the quiet, picturesque lodge on the other.
It was this lodge that had been under the pin in the map; I had a very close friend who ran the place and I was determined to see her again. Having not seen Tibea and Evan in years, we fell right back in step and enjoyed the closeness of a special friendship created a decade earlier. Having taken us on as special guests, we spent our time at the lodge pampered and indulged. Sitting on 800 hectares of remote African bush with a small handful of guests, Nuarro Eco Lodge was like stepping onto the moon for us – expansive but private, luxurious yet eco-friendly, upmarket and posh while casual and social. We spent our days in a perfect balance between relaxation and adventure, spoiled by our hosts in a continual run of activities: private dives, bush drives and posh picnics followed by hammock time, G&Ts, decadent meals and social evenings. Our days were a balance of total zen and relaxation, activity and entertainment. The Indian Ocean had been full of highlights, but our time at Nuarro Lodge was a period of extravagance in our otherwise salt-of-the earth existence. Nuarro Lodge
After procrastinating and delaying as long as we could, we needed to break away from our haven and pull ourselves back into cruising mode. It was with great sadness that we pulled ourselves from such a magical sanctuary, knowing all that still remained to experience and explore. But it was time to go. Our drive south from the tender embrace of Nuarro Lodge was driven by two factors: First, it was getting late in the season and with the cyclone season only a month away, it was time for us to get south and resume our original plan. Second and more pressing, John’s mother was terminally sick and declining fast after a 10-year battle with breast cancer. With Atea in an unsafe location there was no option to fly home from Mozambique – we had to sail to South Africa, put Atea in a safe marina and get ourselves to an airport.
Easier said than done when traversing the east African coast. Weather systems sweep up the South African coast with increasing frequency and severity, and as they do so they kick up huge waves when they hit the current. There are limited options for shelter off the east African coast and timing the weather systems is paramount to the safety of boat and crew. Our first leg took us only as far as Ilha de Mozambique, a 200-mile sail to an unexploited mini-Zanzibar. On entry we passed a dhow with a jam of bodies protruding from every spare space and their sails as much a sight, a patchwork mess of old rags and fraying stitches. Regardless of their state of disrepair, they passed us with a welcome and enthusiasm that made our weary hearts sing. A knowing glance at each other and the decision was made – we spun Atea around and chased them down, their confusion turning to excitement as we tossed over our used but intact mainsail. It was an act of goodwill that brought two dozen thumbs thrust up in the universal sign of enthusiastic appreciation.
Now that we were true visitors to Mozambique and not discretely playing on the northern fringes, we needed to decide if we were going to present ourselves to the authorities or continue to fly under the radar. As far as the cruising community goes, a great number of cruisers transiting to South Africa skip Mozambique altogether to avoid the threat of corrupt officials or covertly dip in and out, hoping to pass through unnoticed. We decided it was time to come back onto the radar. For one, I’d dealt with the Mozambique officials before and the lesson learned was that as long as you are in the right and have time on your hands, you can outlast the standoff. However, if caught red-handed you were on your own, subject to whatever claims and charges the officials decided to lay against you. Second, our time had been unaccounted for over two and a half months and South Africa was not a country to mess with; we were going to have to explain where we’d been for an exceptionally long period of time and “just drifting around” was not going to cut it. We decided taking on the soft-palmed Mozambique officials was better than being confronted by the hard-nosed South African authorities. It was time to pay up.
After dropping anchor in front of the wharf, we went ashore in search of the immigration office. Our nerves were on edge. The corruption in Mozambique is a well-circulated topic and having lived in country before I knew it existed. Charm and attitude went a long way. We walked in looking as wholesome as we could present ourselves, pushing our kids in front to pave the way to any compassionate hearts that awaited us. Greeting us was a perfunctory, no-nonsense officer who went straight to business, asking us to sit down and hand over our paperwork without a sideward glance to our two saintly representatives. We were asked to explain our delay, and we blamed “our excessively long passage direct from Dar es Salaam to Ilha de Mozambique” on – ahem– “lack of wind, a broken engine and strong southerly currents.” We were exhausted, the sweet kids were suffering severe cabin fever, our food was scarce and we were so, so grateful to have finally completed the arduous journey. We laid it on thick. She bought it, then slapped on a $100 per person visa fee. “What?!!” I belted out, “We were advised NOT to clear in but we wanted to do the RIGHT thing, show our honesty and integrity, and we are charged a ludicrous $400 fee for a four-day visit?!! I won’t pay it. I can’t pay it.” She pulled out the official manual documenting current tourist visa fees and there it was: $100 per person, but I wasn’t budging. I smiled and pleaded sweetly, but that didn’t work. I pulled myself up and debated my case, but that didn’t work. I offered a few creative approaches – we could silently return to our boat and sail out, and both parties could pretend we never spoke – but that didn’t work. Finally, as I slumped in desperation and John whispered, “Let’s just pay,” the officer told us she would have a conversation with her boss. “Yes, please, let’s.” She returned in fifteen minutes with an offer – the only one we were going to get other than an escort to the jailhouse. Pay half; the adults pay full fare and the kids are free. Agreed. Even with non-corrupt officials there is a way to bend the rules, and this time it was in our favour. We thanked her for her compassion and her compromise, paid up, and walked out.
We had a short but delightful stop in Ilha de Mozambique, stepping off Atea to stumble back in history to a place lost in time. We wandered the tight cobblestone streets of Stone Town, explored Fort São Sebastiãos, once home to Vasco da Gama and the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharna Africa, and paid homage to the saints in the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Balurate, a 1522 Manueline structure considered the oldest European building in the Southern Hemisphere. Once a trade center for gold, slaves and spices, for a little boy its current value now lies in a less lucrative market: rusty bottle caps and used condoms. Braca took to collecting an odd assortment of street scraps that he built into bird nests that trailed behind us like Gretel’s bread crumbs. Unaware of the structural content of his artistically designed hives, we turned around to follow our trail home and were aghast to discover the composite of our recycled “crumbs.” Fortunately, 3km in length, the finger-thin island was a pretty difficult one to get lost in and we didn’t need to rely on condoms and caps for directional reference.
But it was enough to persuade us that it was time to move onwards. We grabbed a safe but short weather window for our next leg but were unable to get further than Bazaruto. The Bazaruto archipelago is a group of six islands and home to the country’s last remaining dugong population. We spent most of our time at Ilha de Santa Carolina, a 3x.5km rock island that was once a popular holiday destination for the world’s elite and, by repute, the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s song Mozambique. On site are the remains of a 250-room luxury hotel abandoned in 1973 just before Mozambique’s independence from Portugal and used as basecamp by the Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in the ensuing civil war. Having been the setting for Season Three of Survivor South Africa in more recent history, we played out our own script of Survivor Atea in the rustic charm of our little spot while waiting for the conditions to ease.
We stayed in the Bazaruto Archipelago for a week, exploring the islands and uncovering some dramatic ruins from Mozambique’s turbulent history. After a temporary stop in Inhaca, we grabbed what we thought was a good weather window for the remaining 30-hour sprint to South Africa. Like many cruisers, however, we were caught off-guard by an unexpected and dramatic shift in weather. They say that bad things come in three’s. On the final day of our transit down the coast we were hit by three terrible events in succession: A storm, a death, and an injury. We had just crossed over into South African waters and there would be no shelter if weather turned adverse until Richards Bay, 150 miles away. We would have to drive through whatever was to come. The first ominous sign started at 2am when strong winds started building from the south. We connected our Satphone to check the weather predictions and received news that John’s mother had passed away during the night. Feeling disconsolate and distanced, we drove Atea onward into seas that were continuing to build as the winds blew against the countercurrent, slowing down our speed and increasing our time to destination. Despite all our careful weather planning, we were caught out in the open in exactly the type of conditions we had been trying to avoid. Wave after wave crashed on deck as we reefed Atea down and tacked south into the teeth of 30-knot headwinds, Atea diving through the waves and crew braced in position as if gripping the back of a wild bucking bronco. At one point a monster wave crashed into the boat, laying her down on her side with a force that bent the starboard stanchions and sent water cascading through the cockpit into the saloon. Inside was chaos. We’d prepared Atea for sea, but we were not expecting such wild conditions. All contents on one side of the salon flew across the cabin when the boat was laid sideways, turning innocuous objects into projectile assault weapons. There is nothing like the scream of a child in pain, and no horror like seeing a child soaked in blood. Braca held his face as blood poured through his fingers, covering a split lip and damaged front teeth. Shaking from the shock and stress, I held our traumatised child as John steered Atea through the rough seas. We finally ended our ordeal at 2am in the quiet protection of Richards Bay harbour, shutting down the engine and finishing our Indian Ocean chapter.
Now begins the time
when memory begins to fade,
and sweeps away those moments
of intimacy that I crave.
Return me to the dull perch
where you brought me from.
Leave me my reflections
that distance soon will numb.
Leave quiet to the shadows
and slowly disappear.
Slide me gentle to my loneliness,
let my old world reappear.
Two thousand four hundred and seventy kilometers of Mozambican coastline behind us and I still struggle to understand my particular attraction to Mozambique. It is hard to define what makes one place stand out from another. It is a question frequently asked when people hear of our lifestyle: “So, what is your favourite spot?” Each destination holds something unique to cherish, and when I reflect on each country we’ve travelled through there is something held out and offered by each. But there are a few places that materialize in front of the rest when the question is posed, and no matter how distant the details become Mozambique will always be at the front of this list.
What was it that captured my soul in Mozambique? Perhaps it was the humpbacks that made Mozambique so magical. We had daily sightings of humpbacks in mid-migration, calves hugging their mothers’ side, gracefully gliding across our track. We dove to the melody of whale song, listening to their reciprocal calls in the otherwise silence of the sea; we watched mother teach newborn the first rights of passage; we lounged side-by-side in the midafternoon blaze:
My most exceptional experience is a very private one. Today I disbanded from the family and drove the dinghy out into the middle of the bay where the whales had been traversing back and forth for the past few hours. I slowly paddled up to a mother and calf, who allowed me to sit alongside them forthe better part of two hours. They seemed in training, as they drove straight down and rose again in the same spot as a tight pair. It was the three of us in isolation; open ocean to one side, Atea a spot in the distance on the other, and not another living form in sight. At the end, the mother dove and the calf remained on top of the surface, choosing instead to turn her attention on me. Having been the observer, it was a rush to see her turn in my direction. She gracefully slid over to the side of my dinghy, coming over to investigate, eyes on me. She stayed with me for a forever-minute, both of us quiet observers of the other. It was a surreal moment to see the massive body of her mother take shape from a shadow in the sea, rising like an island under my dinghy. The pair joined and with a gentle flick of the tail and swirl of water around me, they rolled away back into the depths. (Images: Whale Photos)
Perhaps it was the diving. The underwater topography is like no other I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The coral is rich and vibrant, the fish diverse and prolific, life brimming from every crevice in the reef. It was ours – and ours alone. Having our own compressor meant we could drop in anywhere we wished, removed from the restrictions of dive operators or the muddle of novice divers. Because we were autonomous, we had the privilege of diving the world’s best-kept secret without another diver in sight. We shared the reef with the locals, however, and the scars left by human interference were obvious. Drag nets are commonly used by the local fishermen and anything above the 5-meter mark was surviving on barren terrain; the reef, devastated by dredging, was a wasteland of dead coral and strewn rubble. Drop below that line, however, and the landscape was transformed: The reef was alive and vibrant and teaming with life. I felt like I was the first person to ever descend into the ocean depths, witness to an unspoiled wonderland of colour and activity. The abundance and diversity of life was mind-blowing, particularly knowing just meters above me the reef was in ruins and devoid of life: There was a dividing line – above it, “what was,” and below it, “what could be.”
Nowhere else have I seen such complete underwater biodiversity of fish and corals; the kaleidoscope of colours and proliferation of life offers underwater vistas that leaves me breathless. I have never experienced a location with such an abundance of possibility. There are vertical walls that drop off the beachfront that plummet to a staggering 300+ meter depth, which offer caves and swim-throughs packed with large schools of fish and a line of pinnacles that stand sentinel to the swirling life around them. We drift past sweeping gorgonian forests, each fan expansive and fully intact, and meander through coral gardens bursting with colour. On the occasion a humpback is in the vicinity, we dive to the sweet sound of whale song. It is an underwater utopia, long may she remain (Images: Dive Photos).
Perhaps it was the familiarity. All the things I loved most about the country surrounded me again: the parched earth and the dry veld, the never-ending miles of red dirt and white sand dunes, the wild bush pot-marked by clusters of frond-built huts. Our time in Mozambique was short, yet through recall I felt like I’d been there long enough to forget what was before and not care about what might come next. I wanted to stay with the sand dunes and the parched earth. The palm trees and pistachio plantations. With the whales and the urchins. With the rawness and the humbleness. With the beauty and the peace:
I remember this side of the country from my experience a decade ago, when I was young and single, living a simple life out in the quiet African bush. I recall the terrain vividly: The rolling sand dunes, the expansive palm forests, the blistering heat on red earth. I recall the subtle sounds: The scratch of a chook digging for a grub, the jangle of a cow’s bell, the flap of a bat wing swooping overhead, the slap of the surf, the swish of palm leaves, the noise in the silence. I remember the earthy smells: Salt, sweat, wood, sand. I recall insignificant humdrum moments: Walking home at night, guided only by the light of the full moon; finding my way by noting the familiar kink of a tree; a hand slap on metal as a hitch-hiker called out their drop-off point, watching the repetitive swing of a machete dropped down on hard wood, standing quietly beside a woman with a 15-pound babe strapped to her back and a 30-pound bundle balanced on her head. I remember the strangers and my friends, each showing me how to carve out my place in a country and a culture so very different than my own. All the sights, sounds and smells of Mozambique remain the same, allowing me to settle into the familiarity of comforts she gave me a decade ago. Local Sites
Perhaps it was the emptiness. Due to a ten-year war for independence followed by twenty years of civil war, Mozambique remains relatively undeveloped. There are few cultural landmarks and little tourist infrastructure to draw in the foreign guest. Those that come seek out a more reclusive experience, passing on the glitzy resort for a shack on the beach. With the paucity of international tourists, it was easy to feel completely immersed in a foreign world without the crutch of shared companionship. We were completely isolated from all things familiar, and as a result wrapped ourselves up in our surroundings with little thought to the world that lay outside her boarders:
We did Braca’s homework on the aft deck today. Atea slipped quietly down the coast as we watched the islands slip past, the coastline empty of anything but a continuous stretch of white sand and rolling dunes. The calm rock of the ocean and the quiet slap of water on our hull has to offer one of the most serene classrooms in the world. Our break was filled with the spray and spout of a humpback whale and a large school of dolphin racing in our wake. Otherwise, our day was filled with the beauty of silence broken only by the whoosh of a whale’s breath or the soft beat of a gull’s wing. Just now a large adult humpback rose and dove meters in front our our bow… no one but us as witness. This is our third sighting today, a half dozen in the past three. We whale spot like commuters watching taillights in traffic, made all the sweeter by our shared solitude. It is a period when everyday life slips to the magical, and any previous concern fades into insignificance. Silence and Solitude
A frequent image of the cruising life is one of expansive sea and total solitude, but this can be quite an erroneous image – the cruising life is often a social extravaganza. You are often so wrapped up in the social scene that you forget to mix in the local culture. Parties are nightly, social activities daily, and pretty soon your visa has expired and you’ve explored half the places you’d intended to visit because you couldn’t pull yourself away from the cruising collective. Then there are places that take you off-grid and the rewards fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, offering a radically different and unique experience. Mozambique falls into this latter category. It is a diamond in the rough and a missed opportunity if not explored:
Mozambique has captured me completely, caughtin the vice-grip of her African bush claw. Life before? Life after? Who cares – this was what it is all about. No rush and bustle. No outside demands and pressures. No schedules and deadlines. Nothing buzzing and beeping and tooting in a continual barrage of noise. Our days are ours and ours alone.
Whatever the reason, Mozambique was my love affair. I wanted to be wrapped up in the experience and never let go. The urge to cancel all forward plans and become a permanent fixture was strong, however I was on borrowed time. It was an affair that wants no end but inevitably dies. Passionate and potent. Quick and finite. The life of a cruiser is to evade permanence. You squeeze out the sweetness of every moment and then you cast it aside. You fall in love and then you flee, racing towards the wanderlust and the freedom of being your own master, making your own choices and following your own heart. But some places hold you, no matter how fleeting your time together.
No matter the number of times I blink
and try to see you clear,
tomorrow morning your image
will mist and disappear.
Your name will continue
to echo inside my head
but this I do not know –
How long will it take time
to fade those moments that I miss,
and place into shadows
the memory of your kiss.