When travelling, you get used to disappointments: the Eiffel tower is just a big, industrial metal structure, Macchu Pichu is so full of tourists that living your Indiana Jones -moments is pretty useless. London is crowded, an African safari feels more like modern photo-hunting, and almost everywhere else is expensive, overpriced and under-delivering. That's why, every now and again, it's refreshing to come across a place which actually lives up to the expectations and mental images you'd had ever since you were a child.
Mozambique is certainly refreshing, not only because of it's unsual cultural mix, but because it is viewed by most backpackers as off the beaten track, hard to travel through (which it is) and too large to take on. Most people we'd met had concentrated around Maputo and Tofo, which meant that although our hostel in Vilankulo was fairly full, it was only the slightly more independent travellers that had made it that far (no overland bus in sight- yay!). Which, in my mind, always means they have a story to tell.
Vilankulos is not a big town. It's certainly bigger than Tofo, and more of an actual town , with banks, big local market with big, burly blokes playing tiny drums with a passion, and little coffee shops and restaurants, all selling pretty much the same variety of chicken, fish and maize. The beach is unusual- rocky and not particularly attractive at high tide, and yet wonderfully colourful during low tide, when the sea retreats several kilometres out, leaving exposed dunes of sand, seashells and little dhow boats with peeling paint.
We met a wonderful bunch of people, all whom arrived from various places- some just starting their trip, some working locally, some just finishing a year-long trip. It was a fantastic mix of people, and we spent happy evenings playing cards, drinking beers and staying cool.
My favourite part, however, was the fishermen and their boats. To me, it made Mozambique look like everything I'd imagined during my Finnish/English confinement. The sun setting behind us, and the little boats coming in, different coloured dots in the horizon; the women, wearing orange, pink, green, yellow, tying their chitenges and laughing, gutting fish, trading in fish, talking about fish. Kids picking crabs, carrying younger siblings and chasing dogs; dogs chasing each other and the birds; and the excitement and chaos which ensued when a boat arrived- the huge, odd-looking fish being gutted, smelling foul, right by the water's edge.
I was intrigued by all this, and went down to watch the boats and wave to the kids every day just before sunset. It was calming and peaceful to think that their routine had hardly changed over the years (Except, possibly, for the fact that the fishermen had mobile phones), and that people seemed so happy and content.
We didn't, in the end, even go on a boat trip to the Bazaruto; we were quite content just being there. If I could dot down my favourite places on a map, Vilankulos would certainly get a pin. Not so much because it's unusual or stunning or affords you with tons of activities, but because it offers that special vibe that everyone chases when they go travelling: it removes you from what you know, and shows you something totally new and different.