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A Taste of the Island Life

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Abeja, Mario, and Mandela chilling out on the dhow.
Our rag sailboat called a dhow slowly drifts across the top of the shallow emerald water of the Indian Ocean, its sail flapping loosely in the soft morning breeze. A school of dolphins passes off in the distance, their fins popping out of the water every couple of hundred feet when they come up to breathe. The water here in Vilankulo Bay is very shallow and Abeja and I watch the bottom pass below us, hoping to see something interesting. Mario, the captain of our little vessel, uses a long stick to help the wind as it pushes us along, and his son Mandela (named after Nelson Mandela) rows furiously on one side of the boat. Even so, the boat moves very slowly and it takes us more than two hours to reach the little island of Magaruque.

Map of Mozambique
The island is one of five that make up a small archipelago off the coast of the village of Vilankulo in southern Mozambique, and Abeja and I have decided to adventure out of town to get a taste of island life. As the dhow finally arrives on the beach, we grab our snorkeling gear and jump out into the knee-deep water, which is just about the right temperature for swimming. Mario assures us that they will wait for us and watch our stuff while we go check out the coral reef and explore the island, so we head down the beach, happy as sea turtles playing in the sand.

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Beach or desert? Survey says: beach!
The tide is slowly slipping out of the bay, and low tide in this place is very unique and beautiful, because the water is so shallow that when the tide goes out, nearly the whole bay is a sandbar.That means that we will either be trapped on the island until the tide comes back in, or must walk back and swim across the small channels between sandbars. For some reason the thought of being stuck on this island does not worry us much as we put on our facemasks and flippers and begin splashing and bubbling our way around the reef. It is a small reef, but hundreds of varieties of strange and colorful tropical fish are swimming around it as we watch with fascination for about a half an hour.

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From the top, a view of the village below.
After a while, the water starts to seem a little chilly, so we climb out and set off to explore the beach, collecting little seashells that we had never seen before. It's not a very big island, but at this time of day it grows to more than twice its size because of the gigantic sand bar. We walk down the beach for about a quarter of a mile and then decide to head inland and up to the top of the towering sand dunes. When we reach the top, we can see all the way around the island and are surprised to see a small village below us.

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Our dhow's tattered ragsail.
As we approach the dhow and our waiting comrades, we notice that the tide is pouring back in and making a deep river of ocean in the channel next to the island. We board the dhow and Mario pushes off with the long stick. The ride home takes a long time, and since we are heading west, we are entertained by an amazing sunset over the African continent. By the time we arrive back on shore it is pitch dark and Mario walks us up the beach back to our thatched roof cottage overlooking the ocean. We clean up and go out to eat fish, since that is just about all they eat here on the coast. Once again, I find that being a vegetarian is very difficult for a World Trekker.

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A dhow sails toward the dimming African light
After dinner we return to our cottage to discover there is a raging party happening across the sandy street. A group of men and women are standing in a circle singing in Chitswa (the local language) while others beat rhythms on drums. We sit in the street for awhile, entranced by this primordial music and then go inside to sleep. When we wake just before dawn, they are still out there, drumming and singing as energetically as ever, so we get up and watch a spectacular sunrise over the Indian Ocean to the sound of real African tribal music. Later that morning we ask what the party was all about and learn that someone had died. Having such a celebration is one way the community pays final respects.

Leaving Vilankulo is not easy. When we tell people we are from California, many of them say, "take me with you", and although California is certainly a beautiful place, Vilankulo is about as close to paradise as you can get. I hope the people who live in Vilankulo know how lucky they are to live in such a special place.


Abeja - Paradise Found... And Lost Again
Kevin - Threat of Rape Unites Young Girls
Monica - Death of a Zimbabwean Hero
Team - Africa for Africans!
The Long, Painful Death of Rhodesia and Birth of Zimbabwe

Making a Difference - Shouting from the Mountaintops to Raise Rape Awareness!

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