Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Baboons, Bungee and Borders, oh my!

So I just got back from two weeks of travel and crazy adventures and I am ready to be back in The Dombe. But since my mom threatened to throttle me if I didn’t write a blog post (and I believe she could find a way to do it from Colorado) I’m going to try and describe some of the more exciting moments of the trip. A good 50% of the days were simply traveling but that’s an adventure in and of itself in this part of the world. The weekend leading up to this grand trek was our Central Fourth of July party in Dombe where 12 other PCVs descended on our quiet little home to stuff ourselves full of good ol’ American cooking (grits, coleslaw, chili, potato salad, real hamburgers, onion rings, hot dogs and beer). ‘Bairro 12’ may never be the same but we all had an amazing time and Mona and I were thrilled to finally show so many people our life out there!

The following Monday, Amanda and I set off for Nampula and with amazing luck we traveled the 1070km in about 15 hours while paying just 55mets (that’s about $2). Our first destination was the Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island) which is a small island off the north part of Moz with a rich history and some beautiful views. We were staying at this super cute backpackers called Ruby’s with hot showers and cold beer! That first afternoon we explored a little and got our bearings before having an amazing dinner of seafood gnocchi on the rooftop of a little restaurant in town. The architecture of the island is either old colonial Portuguese or traditional ‘Macuti’ and it was hard to believe we were still in Mozambique. It was first settle by the Portuguese in the last 1400s and was used as the capital of colonial Portuguese East Africa until 1898. The church at the far north end, Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, was built in 1522 and is now considered the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere! And in the sixteenth century the fort (Fort São Sebastião) was built around the church to withstand attacks from the Dutch. It was an important trading post, a major missionary center and is now a World Heritage Site. You’re able to go in and explore the fort and see the tombs in the church all while being surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. We wandered through the narrow winding streets where you find the overgrown remnants of houses sandwiched between currently used residences, cute shops and little restaurants. We were also lucky enough to get a free bike tour of the whole island from an Australian couple trying to test out their new business. So Amanda and I were joined by a European couple living in Mocuba and we were guided by a local guy who shared stories and histories of the island and its people. It was a really unique way to see the community and those hidden gems you might normally miss. This part of Mozambique is predominantly Muslim so there were several mosques and each night we could hear the call to prayer. There’s not much nightlife so we spent our evenings on the sunken roof lounge of the backpackers enjoying the cool air and some cold Manicas!

From the Ilha we returned to Nampula to catch the train early the next morning to Cuamba near the Malawi border. We met up with some other PCVs and had enough people to get our own “sleeper” in the 2nd class section of the train (There is no first class, just 2nd and 3rd). Each little room has 6 bunks and the middle ones on each side fold down to form proper benches. We were able to sleep those first early hours and then stretch out and read and talk for the remainder (It was a 10 hour ride). As you glide through each little villa you are met by people selling vegetables, sodas and food which you can simply buy through your window. From Cuamba we took a three hour chapa to Mandimba right on the border and stayed with a volunteer so we could get an early start into Malawi. We spent one night in Lilongwe before crossing into Zambia and making our way to Lusaka. We were having really good luck with boleias and transport in general up to this point but the ride we flagged down when we got into Zambia ended up being the slowest driver in all of southern Africa and the trip took over nine hours (we were told it should be 6). We actually calculated it out and his average speed was barely 60km/hr! It was painfully slow and we arrived too late to get to see anything in the city! But we were safe and still made it to Lusaka so I shouldn’t complain too much. We left early the next morning to go to Livingstone, the closest town to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, and got in with time to walk to the market and get food. Plus we would finally be in one place for three nights!

It’s hard to really describe the immense beauty of Victoria Falls. It’s a sight that amazes you every time you turn back to it. The indigenous name, 'Mosi-oa-Tunya’ ( literally meaning the 'Cloud that Thunders'), describes it perfectly. As you approach you just see this misty cloud and hear the incredible rumbling of water surging over the cliff and pounding the rocks and river below. The combination of its width and height (1,708m wide and 108m tall) classify it as the largest waterfall in the world although it is neither the tallest nor widest. But whatever you call it, it’s absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  There is one set of “wet trails” where you can rent a big poncho and go out on exposed areas and really appreciate the amount of water moving over the falls. One moment it feels like you’re in the middle of a rainstorm and the next you’re back under the clear blue sky. You look over the edge and it’s as if it’s raining upwards. At one point you can clearly see the bridge just downstream that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe and watch people bungee jumping off the far side. It was at this point that I realized I had to bungee jump, no matter what. But we moved on, returned our soaked ponchos and headed down another set of trails that lead down to the river.

At the first overlook Amanda saw a large baboon emerge from the brush and head towards us. She booeked it back up the hill to Stephanie, leaving Alissa and I to fend for ourselves. I don’t know if the thing actually smelled something or was just feeling confrontational, but it bee lined towards me and I spun to face the railing clutching my camera. The little punk (he was actually probably at least chest high on me if standing) proceeded to grab the back of my shirt and jeans and attempt to rip my over the shoulder purse off my back. He succeeded in ripping the bag nearly in half and was rewarded with the entire contents spilling onto the pavement. Then the little bastard had the nerve to just sit there in front of me and rifle through my possessions.  Cell phone, chapstick, passport (Gracias a Deus) and hairties were tossed aside until he found what he wanted – a half-finished pack of Vitamin C cough drops I’d bought the week before when I thought I was getting sick. In the meantime, a ranger type guy heard us freaking out and came over to help. He told us to just stay still but when the thief’s buddies began pouring out of the woods and he started with this threatening “hoo hoo hoo” crap and we took off in the opposite direction. Our hero scared the baboons off with a big branch and retrieved my scattered belongings. My legs were like jello and my heart was pounding as I attempted to shove everything into the dry bag I keep my camera in. Needless to say we did not continue down the baboon infested trails but rather did some shopping in the parking lot.

Still feeling a bit shaky we walked out to the bridge where I learned I could go ahead and do my bungee jump right then rather than returning the next day. So I got signed up, Alissa and Steph did a zip-line across the gorge, and I went back out onto the bridge to harness up! Never once did I get nervous and second guess my decision and when it was my turn to get hooked up I was shivering with excitement. I had done my research and knew about the girl whose cord snapped last January, but honestly I felt incredibly safe the entire time. The crew was friendly and professional and very conscious of every safety check that needed to be done. Before I knew it the guy was telling me to keep my arms out (like I was flying) and to jump out as far as possible when he told me to go. Then it was “toes over the edge” and “one-two-three-four-five-BUNGEE!” and I was gone. You drop and drop towards the water and then snap back up towards the bridge feeling rather weightless. At the bottom you just spin like a top (glad I didn’t eat anything before hand) and continue bouncing until you settle at the bottom and a guy comes down to rope you in and bring you back to the bridge. I bet the whole thing is a little over a minute but what a thrill! I was walking like a drunk as I weaved my way through the catwalks under the bridge and emerged back at the street to my entourage of cameras (Thanks for documenting the whole thing girls! You got some amazing shots!). It was a pricey activity and I had to opt out of some other things the rest of the trip but it was worth every kwacha!

The last few days of the trip were mostly travel although we finally managed to arrive in Lusaka early enough to explore and found a mall with Subway and a movie theater! And I’m talking a legit theater with stadium seating and concession stands not the shack on the side of the road playing kung-fu movies like we have in Moz. We had early travel days getting back to Lilongwe (burgers, pizza, shop-rite, cornnuts, etc) and then finally an easy day down to Amanda’s site just over the Malawi border in Angonia. We got lasagna and cheesecake in the Malawi border town of Dedza, meet the Malawi education PCTs who are in training just down the road and were back in Mozambique for dinner. And now I’m going to return to The Dombe for a couple of weeks of much needed peace and quiet. I have less than four months left of my service and while I’ll still travel, this was my last big adventure. One trimester left and I’m homeward bound – with stopovers in Cape Town and Greece!

Free and Easy - Dierks Bentley


  1. I'm seeing your mom tonight and I was thinking about how not much longer until I can see you too! Miss you, so glad you're having fun!

  2. I still say you're a "loon"! But I am abit jealous of all you have experienced.

    Mary's students return from Study Abroad and know they are changed by their travels, but are not always able to say exactly how they are changed.

    We will all enjoy having you here and being part of that return. I have the sense that a good choice for me will be to "stand back" awhile and let you "see who you have become."

    (I am pleased your Mom can still exert her influence!)

    Love, Dad