This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ilha de Moçambique

I wasn't planning to write this today. Tomorrow I'll be stuck in Nampula, a rather boring city, and was planning on doing all my internet business there. All I wanted to do today was make some phone calls. I reached my Dad OK (he's in Greece now) but calling Canada has once again proven difficult. I'm not sure one can actually dial North America from Mozambique. My phone call came to 117 meticais, but I only had a 200 meticais note. Of course, the attendant here doesn't have change (standard for Mozambique). Instead, he's letting me use the internet to make up the difference. Alright then!

I like trains. I like riding them, I like looking out of their windows, I like hearing trains whistles. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to take Mozambique's last remaining regularly scheduled passenger train, from Cuamba to Nampula. It was supposed to leave at 5 AM. I arrived at 4:30. There are no lights in Cuamba at 4:30 AM, not even at the train station. I couldn't see where I was going, and I ran into a barbed wire fence at the station. I probably have tetanus now. Hundreds of Mozambicans were sleeping on the platform, covered in blankets, tarps, anything to keep warm. The train didn't pull up until 6:30. I figured we'd leave at 8 or so, but at 7:30 it disappeared. Soon, a handwritten note appeared on a chalkboard saying that the train was expected at noon. I puttered around for half an hour trying to decide what to do; ultimately, I resolved to trudge back to my hotel and ask the lady there if I could sleep for a few more hours, as check out time wasn't until 11:00. Just as I began to leave the train station, there was a commotion behind me: now, the train was leaving at 10:00. Thank goodness I saw that, or else I would have been stuck in Cuamba.

The train was pretty much like taking a chapa, but slower and less cramped. There was only one other woman in my compartment, so I could sprawl out. We spoke a little, but mostly she just sang to herself. She also bought a whole bunch of vegetables as the train passed through various villages; by the end, she had great bundles of onions, carrots, and cassava. One guy was selling chickens. Someone three compartments over from me bought two of them, I could heard them flapping and squawking around. I wished I was in that compartment; I love seeing chickens on public transport. The people selling all this stuff basically attacked the train as it stopped in their village. Their life basically revolves around that thing. They make their money selling produce to passengers. Little kids run down to the tracks to watch it pass, and sing songs. It was not uncommon to pass a village and see 150 or 200 vendors converge on the train, and another 700 or 800 people watching it pass. I am extremely happy that my life doesn't revolve around a passing train.

After a brief stay in Nampula at a hotel that reminded me of every small hotel in Thessaloniki, I moved on to Ilha yesterday. Ilha is pretty much amazing. It is an island 3.5 km off the mainland, in the Indian Ocean. It was the capital of Portuguese East Africa for 350+ years. There is more colonial architecture here than in the rest of Mozambique combined, Maputo included. The top half of the island is basically a ghost town, full of crumbling old buildings that nobody lives in anymore. The bottom half is a densely populated Makua fishing village with reed and bamboo shacks. It makes for a really interesting contrast. Pretty much everyone who comes here loves it. I met a Polish guy today who has traveled in Africa for 6 months, and he claims that Ilha is his favourite place in southern Africa. I can definitely see that.

Here's the problem with this place: the children here are extraordinarily poorly behaved. By children, I mean everyone under the age of 20, basically. The older people here are lovely. They smile and say good morning to you, but leave you alone. They're used to seeing a trickle of white people so I'm not a curiosity to them. In contrast, the kids are just vile. It's worse then just asking for money. That I can deal with. They harass you until you want to punch them in the face. Worse still, they know that they are being obnoxious, and continue being obnoxious because they know it's making you upset. For example: there are all sorts of people around town trying to sell you old coins which have been found on the beach. The oldest coin I've seen is an old Arabian slave trading coin, from the 1500s. I had a kid, about 14 or 15 years old, follow me around town trying to sell me bullshit hoax coins. For example, he showed me a coin and said it was a Portuguese imperial coin from the 1800s. I could plainly see that it wasn't; it was a 20 escudo coin from 1986. When I shook my head no, he laughed and ran away. 15 minutes later he was back. Now he wanted to sell me 5 euro cents. Again he told me it was an old imperial coin. Again he laughed and ran away, as I told him to fuck off and not to speak to me. Finally, he tried selling me a Mozambican 50 centavos coin, which is currently legal tender. He couldn't even finish his sales pitch because he was too busy laughing. I have about a million stories like this. Here is another one. I was walking back to my hotel from a restaurant yesterday, and kids were following me home. At first, I didn't know it was kids. All I heard were footsteps behind me. I kept turning around to see if someone was following me. Ilha gets really dark at night, there are barely any electric lights here, so I couldn't see anything. I kept hearing people behind me and I kept turning around to see who it was. I thought someone was going to jump me. I guess I was growing visibly agitated, because then I heard giggling. It was a group of 3 teenagers, and they thought it was funny to follow me and freak me out. They emerged from their hiding places them began running around me. Some asked for money. The youngest kid, probably about 9, actually reached into my pocket. I wanted to dropkick him. Eventually, after 5 minutes of this nonsense, they were admonished by a passerby and finally stopped. I've had rocks thrown at me innumerable times. Kids run up to me and yell things at me in Makua. I've considered the possibility that this is just how kids on Ilha ammuse themselves, because there really isn't too much for them to do. But no, I've decided that they are little twerps who know they are being obnoxious, and revel in that.

This is how my entire stay has been. I have been unable to relax because of the packs of idiotic kids who think it's funny to annoy the foreigners. My extreme dislike for children is pretty legendary, so you can imagine how agitated I am right about now. I trudge around, devising new and gruesome methods of torture, in case I should be so lucky as to find myself in a secluded area with one of the little bastards. I want to drown them in the Indian Ocean. I envisioned staying here more than just two nights, but now I can't wait to leave.

I basically only have a week left on this trip. I have a forced one stay stopover in Nampula as making it north from here is very difficult. Then I'll spend three nights somewhere (to be decided in Nampula) before spending three nights in Pemba lying on the beach. From Pemba I fly back to Maputo on the 7th. The last two days in Maputo will be spent tying up loose ends, buying music and generally preparing for my flight back on the 9th. It's begun to dawn on me that I'll be back in Canada soon, and I've begun to think a lot about Greece.


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