Friday, 23 November 2012

A wedding ceremony

The journey

My first experience of a true local tradition was a wedding ceremony. A few days earlier, Black Jack (Franzisko by real name), who is working for a local tourism agency providing us (Tofo Scuba) with many customers, invited me to join him for a traditional wedding ceremony in his home village. He also invited Martin, a german fellow who is close to ending his six months internship with them. He arranged for us three to meet at the bus station in Tofo at 6 in the morning of that Friday. When i got there at 10 to 6, Franzisko was already sitting there waiting for me and Martin with fishes for his family. Martin joined us a few minutes later, and the chapa followed shortly afterwards. The travel to Inhambane was an ordinary chapa squeeze ride. Franzisko let the bus driver who was to take us from Inhambane know that we were on our way so that he wouldn't leave without us. When we got there, we loaded the fish in the bus and had a comfortable seat at the back of the bus. The ride was set in a scenery of mango, papaya and coconut trees (from what i recognize). At some point we got to Inharrime where people wanted to sell us refreshments and snacks (coconut bread, nuts, and so on) through the windows. Later we arrived at our exit point in Milave. Milave is a small town on the N1 in the district of Inharrime in the province of Inhambane. There we met some of his family who waited with a car. We bought some beers for the week-end, and left part of his fish in a fridge in his friend's store. In the village there was to be no electricity.
We then set of in the back of the pickup through Milave and to Munguambe where Franzisko's family resides. On the way a child saw us and shouted « Mulungus » (whites) after us, to which Martin replied a « Mulande » (black). Once their we dropped our bags and beers at Franzisko's house and went to the central location where a few brothers live. Their more of the family members were gathered and we were offered chairs to sit down on. We joined them to drink their local spirit which was served one cup at a time to each present person. The rounds went quite quickly anyway and after 3 or 4 cups i felt the alcohol's effect start. Afterwards we went back to Franzisko's home and ate fish, rice and matapa. After lunch Martin and I had a siesta after which we went back to the village where we spent the rest of the afternoon. We then headed home and had supper in the light of a pocket lamp. We went to bed quite early, knowing we'd rise close after the sun, at 5 in the morning.

The ceremony

We raised at 5, had some tea and coconut bread as early breakfast. We left for the village a little later, where we then all loaded in a pickup already full of people. But we managed to get in, and stay in until we reached the bride's village about 14 km away on sand tracks. Once we got there we were presented with chairs to sit down. It was like in Franzisko's village, we were treated as guests although we are Mulungus. After a while sitting there and watching what was happening, we got some tea and bread with fruit jam for breakfast. Ladies moved about the crowd serving them cups, tea, sugar and bread.
A little while later, still before seven in the morning, Franzisko told me to come over to a house where something important was happening. A few elders from each family were gathered for an important proceeding. First there was some talk of which I didn't get a word. Then, Franzisko's father went out of the house with a chicken and slit its throat. Thereafter he went back inside and some money was given to the bride's family. Last, they started listing all the gifts brought over by Franzisko's family. An elder read out each item, another found it in the suitcase and a third one wrote it down on a piece of paper. I stayed in the house a while, taking a long video of 6 boring minutes of exchange. Franzisko would have liked the whole part on video, but that was definitely too long. After a while Franzisko came back and asked how it went, so I told him I wouldn't be able to film it all. He took me out of the house and we all went for a stroll to get some drinks at a local shop.
On the way to the shop, they showed us a house which, during the war, was a general's house which served as a prison as well. There were people murdered inside, we were told by one person who apparently was in the general's army at the time.
At the shop we bought 6 25cl bottles of Irish Cream, 25cl bottle of Irish Whiskey and 3 soft drinks. The price was much lower than in Tofo. We split the drinks and walked back to the gathering, being loaded in case it got boring again.
We sat down again, and waited a while, until someone told me to get over to where some singing just started. Two groups of women were sitting on mats on the ground. Between the two groups they left some space open for those who wanted to show some dance steps. I took some movie shots of the singing and dancing and sat down on a chair again for a while. Later we were told to move to another spot under a big mango tree where some people were already sitting. We brought our chairs over as well. We were waiting there talking to some people about different things for quite some time. One guy told me he was working in the mines in South Africa, by 4km depth. It was quite dangerous as a mineshaft could collapse anytime. We were comparing life subjects as it was in Mozambique and Europe.
When the singing started again I rose to go over to yet another house where a group of youngsters, mostly girls, were gathered and sang and danced. I started filming again, hoping something interesting would take place. But then the singing subsided and we waited a while again. The singing started and subsided a few times, until at some point, it started for good and more people gathered in front of the house's door. The singing got louder and the excitation grew as everyone expected the bride and bridegroom to come out of the house. When they finally dared out, they were walking on mats laid out in front of them (like we do for celebrities with a red carpet) with their heads covered in a cloth to hide them from view until appropriate. They walked under the mango tree and sat down on an improvised bench made of chairs with a cloth to make it look nice.
The wedding ceremony then began and took some time. I didn't get what was said, so I proceeded with taking pictures. The lighting was quite difficult, the sun being high and harsh and the shade of the tree making high contrasts. But I managed some shots which show what happened and which aren't too bad. The bride, once married, showed her ring to the assembly. After that the families met each other, in order of close relationship with the bride and bridegroom. With Martin we went at the beginning with Franzisko and some other important people of their family. After a while it was over, and the gift distribution began : the married couple gave their suitcase full of gifts to different members of the families.
After a while some of us went under another tree a little further because we were bored. We got quite hungry and after a while they began preparing a table with plates, forks and such. We were served a first time before most anybody else. As we finished we were asked if we would like some more, which we did. We were full after the second helping, but some time after that, a girl came with plates full of food again, and we couldn't refuse it, so we ate again.
Later in the afternoon we loaded ourselves into the back of the backie again, and rolled back to our place. We went home, had some beer and food again and went to check the village to see what the program for the next day was. It came out that the bull wasn't to be slaughtered before five the next morning, so we went back to the house, Martin and me, because we didn't want to miss the bull and were quite exhausted. Franzisko had to stay a little longer to prepare the program for the next day and to write the days events down.
The next morning we rose at five again and had some tea and coconut bread at the house before leaving for the village. At the village not much was going on except some kids listening to loud music after a night of which the most spent dancing and partying. Around 8, Franzisko told me we would leave for the bus station on the N1, because i had to be back at work the next day. I said goodbye to the people and left on the back of the pickup.
The next day I learnt that the bull had been slaughtered while Franzisko was waiting for my bus with me. Martin witnessed it and took some pictures. First they tied the bull to a tree by the neck, then tied his legs in a way to make him fall. They then started slitting its throat. The bull still lived a while and emitted gurgling sounds while he tried breathing. Blood spurted out of the arteria into bucket prepared for this. Martin got a little nauseaus and had to leave. After 2 or 3 hours he came back and the bull was now meat, cut in pieces. Later they cooked and ate every part of it. Nothing went to waste.
The journey back was quite uneventful.

Friday, 31 August 2012

First day in Mozambique

LAM (Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique) have got a small aircraft with the back of the left propeller support slightly burnt. Can't see the right one, so I cannot tell in what kind of state it is. But maybe that's just how it's supposed to be.

I don't know what kind of craft it was, I was about to take off in. I was sitting in seat 14A which is located under the left wing. The craft is not even half full. As expected, the crew speaks mostly Portuguese, but the captain always says his messages in English after having said them in Portuguese. Although the English version mostly was way shorter than the Portuguese one.

Landing in Inhambane (pronounced Iñamban) was a new experience to me, as i received parts of aircraft on my head. Actually it was just the cover of a neon light. But still...

We left the aircraft on the tarmac of the airfield, which was parts of the Aeroclube de Inhambane, and were directed to the customs office. Confident of having done the right thing in going to the consulate in Geneva to get a 90 days visa for which I paid CHF 130, i strolled into the office to present my passport. I just had to fill in one more little form before going through customs. But then, at the desk, the officer told me I couldn't go in, that there was a problem with the date. I didn't understand as he brandished my passport under my nose saying « don't you see ? » to me. But then a lady from some tourism department who was on the same plane, tried to help me sort it out. She couldn't get anything done, so she left me her number on a piece of paper, and i gave her mine. She was going to call her director who was maybe able to help me. I never could thank her, as the paper went to a customs officer, and I forgot to retrieve it. So in short, the customs officers told me I had falsified my visa and that I could not get into the country like this. There actually was some marks left where one of the dates was written. So I had to buy a new one. Fortunately by then Ana Alecia, my CouchSurfing host, got there and helped me translate what they wanted. I didn't have any Meticais yet (the local currency), so I wanted to pay in USD. They would rather take Meticais, they told us, because the price wouldn't change, as the dollar's price vacillates. That's how Ana Alecia ended up paying for my entry visa to Mozambique. Obviously I paid her back later that same day. They told me I could go to Maxixe (pronounced Maschische), which is a 20 minutes boat ride across the bay, to go sort out my visa problems, and get reimbursed for the first visa.

Tassmir & Grimer
After all the visa hassle at the airfield, we finally got into town. The drive was very short, but filled my with memories from my Madagascar trip, which was closest in terms of how it was. There were people in wooden huts and stalls selling stuff along the road to the airfield. Once in town, the feeling left and was replaced by the feeling of new discovery. A short drive through town showed me one of the main roads with most of the banks and mobile phone operators.

After having settled in, I went out to check out if I could get some money out of my bank card. I happily discovered that Barclay's Bank accepts my Maestro card, and that BCI accepts my Visa card. My wallet full of 500 Meticai banknotes, I went to check out two phone operators. Megan, Ana Alecia's highschool friend who currently lives here, told me that Movitel is a new operator, and that they offer a good service. Their customer service was much better than Vodacom's.

In the evening around 6pm, I went out for a walk. I started going down to the waterfront, and walking in direction of the fancy place. I was thinking about trying out the local beer in some bar, but definitely not at the fancy place, as this would have fancy prices too. Although this place should be nice for a sundowner, I was told. But the sun was already down anyway. Passing a group of guys hanging out on the walkway, we exchanged greetings. As I came near, the one closest to me shifted out of my way in order for me not to have to leave the walkway. I walked into a second group of guys who were having a nice time drinking some beer. Again, one of them went out of my way, we exchanged greetings, and one said something to me. As I didn't think it was directed to me I just went my way. As they called again, I turned back, then asked to repeat because I did not understand. They offered me to share their drink with me. So it was I was to try Tipo Tinto, which is Rhum with Sparletta Sparberry juice (some kind of strawberry juice).

Mercado Central de Inhambane
So I met Tassmir, Grimer, Ruben, John and Zeca. We connected on Facebook and later exchanged numbers to keep in touch. I spent some time with them until the Rhum was all gone. They then decided to go buy some alcohol somewhere, and invited me to join them. I climbed into Zeca's pickup and we slowly drove off to town center. Behind the gas station there should be a guy selling some cheap alcohol, but he was closed. So we went off to another place, which was a small bar in the rua opposite Barclay's rua. The guys wanted to buy the bottle of Rhum, but the lady at the bar wouldn't let us having it whole. So we chose to drink Manica beer, which is the local beer around here.

Later John and Zeca left by car, and I left with Grimer, Ruben and Tassmir by foot.

Tassmir stayed in contact with me, and the next day we took the ferry to Maxixe. But that's another story.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

CouchSurfing in Johannesburg

Braai with Laurentia and Robert
CouchSurfing, ever the best way to go discover a new place. You get right to the point within a few hours of meeting your host. I didn't see much yet, but knowing a bit how it works down here in SA (South Africa), I feel quite good while recognizing things that are the same around Namibia and in Cape Town.
Robert fetched me at the airport. His heavy Afrikaans accent in English takes me some time to get accustomed to. His first wife passed away, and he's now been married to Laurentia for 4 or 5 years.

Robert works for a geologist study. They are looking for whatever the earth can give them, be it platinum, gold, diamonds and so on.

Laurentia and Bruce (and Laurentia's brother Arnold) live in a quiet suburb called Norkem.
In the evening I then met Laurentia. She's a ever smiling woman and a highly enjoyable person. Being coloured is not always easy in SA, especially if you marry a white person. It's not easy for either part. In Laurentia and Robert's case, Robert told me some of his brothers don't talk to him since he decided to get married to Laurentia.

Laurentia would love to travel to Europe and other places. She's been to New York so far (maybe to some other places too, but I can't remember). She likes getting to know new cultures and enjoys watching a nice scenery. She seems awed by the Alps that run across several countries in Europe. I showed her my pictures of different hikes i took in different parts of the Alps in Switzerland, showed her pictures of France, landscapes and ancient towns and cities. She loves the old architecture and the general aspect of towns and cities in Europe.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

New project

Un nouveau projet s'est profilé dans mon esprit ces 4 derniers mois. Le but en est de voyager sans but précis et surtout sans date de retour définie. Les diverses étapes sont bien entendu secrètes, mais en gros, j'ai parlé de mon projet à Ben qui a vécu en Afrique du Sud. Quand j'ai mentionné la plongée, il m'a dit qu'un de ses amis vivait au Mozambique et qu'il y avait été plongeur. L'ami en question, Lorien, travaille maintenant dans une agence de voyage à Tofo et conseille à ses clients d'aller à Tofo Scuba ( pour plonger.

The diver backpacker
Après avoir pris contact avec le centre de plongée, défini la date de début du stage (1er septembre) et commandé le matériel nécessaire au travers du centre, il était temps d'annoncer mon départ au travail.

Le projet se décline donc en deux phases clairement définies:

  1. Stage de plongée de 4 mois pour devenir PADI Dive Master
  2. Voyager indéfiniment

Le reste sera défini ultérieurement.

Les détails du projet ne sont pas non plus très définis, à part pour la phase pré-initiale (c'est-à-dire l'arrivée sur place). Mais ce n'est pas le moment d'en parler.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

3 weeks in Thailand

The plan was to escape christmas and the cold. It worked for the cold, and only halfway for x-mas. Arriving in Bangkok i soon noticed that they love playing x-mas songs on speakers in various places in the streets. There was the odd x-mas tree made of some material or other. I stayed with a couchsurfer at his condo (flat/studio) for 2 days. He showed me the city and temples in it. We ate a lot, chatted a lot and drank a few beers.

After that i went north to Chiang Mai by night train where i met Nina who is traveling for half a year now. There I did a 3 days trek with two couples from Romania and 3 guys from Korea. The Korean barely talked any english. Our tour guide T is a very funny bloke. You never know when he's serious or not. On the trek we saw and washed elephants, swam in waterfalls and slept in a Lahu village on the top of a mountain.

After the trek we went to a place where you can eat Thai food cooked by yourself with T. They give you some kind of round grill with coals inside. On top you grill, and on the side you make noodles and stuff that needs liquid to cook. Nina joined us later and we got really wasted. So much that we felt bad the whole day after, which was new year's eve. We barely held until the fireworks where over at new year and went to sleep.

I spent some days in and around Chiang Mai. I rented a small motorcycle with which i went to the Samoeng Forest (a national park). I met some people there too, one a German (i think he was) who lived there with his Thai wife and his two children on a farm and guesthouse he built himself. We spent a nice evening talking with him, his wife and their other guests. The next morning i spent searching for the hotsprings he told me about. As the roadsigns are mostly in Thai, i had to ask people how to get there. Which was no problem as they are really helpful. Even if they don't know they don't give up, they just ask someone else until they find someone who can help somewhat. After that i mysteriously found my way back to Samoeng (which wasn't the plan) and my battery stopped working. So i had to go strait back to Chiang Mai without turning the engine off again.

After that i spent some time with people from and around Muan Baan, the guesthouse in Moon Muang Soi 7 where i stayed. The manager of the massage salon just opposite invited me to a game of bowling the next day. After that he invited us to a Muay Thai boxing evening. We went there a bit late because we were playing cards and Kuan (the massage salon manager) didn't want us to interrupt the game to go to the boxing. So we kind of missed the whole show. Anyway, we spent a good evening with Tony, a bloke from Spain who spends his 3 months holidays in Thailand this year. He's a masseur on Majorca.

Two days of travelling took me down south to Chumphon and then Koh Tao. I spent long hours in a night train to Bangkok, then a train to Chumphon, then a night ferry to Koh Tao.

Koh Tao is the diver's paradise. I even bought my basic snorkeling equipment in order to have my adjusted mask (with prescription lenses inside) and fins and snorkel.

All the time i was greatly helped by Fong's mother whom i unfortunately didn't meet this time.