As I noted in the previous post, the people of Likoma Island were what made the place really special. They’d approach us at every opportunity, and the only thing they ever asked was for us to take their picture. They just loved to see themselves on our camera screen. They’d get so animated, dance around, make faces, and do poses. It was hilarious. Here, in full color, are a few of the people we met.
Sometimes when traveling through the developing world as a white Westerner, you feel that the local population looks at you and sees nothing more than a dollar sign. Some days it feels like the entirety of your interaction with locals is limited to requests for you to give them money or buy something from them (at highly inflated prices). And though you know you are fortunate, though you know that you do have so, so much, though you know that what may be a pittance to you is a fortune to them, you can’t help but sometimes grow weary. For me, this was certainly the case in Mozambique.
Thus our entry into Malawi, known as the warm heart of Africa, was a welcome change. Here the bumper sticker saying is actually reality. The people of Malawi are among the most friendly, helpful, genuine, and generous we have met. They certainly don’t have more than those in neighboring countries–they very well might have less–but they do not see themselves as unfortunate or in need of help. When they approach you it is usually not to ask for a handout, but to ask your name and to tell you that you’re welcome in their country.
And though we’ve found this to be true throughout the country, no where has the beautiful nature of Malawians been more clear than it is on Likoma Island, an 8 km x 3 km piece of paradise in Lake Malawi. Here, thanks to a history of good relationships with “colonial powers–” who actually left a positive legacy on the island, including health and education systems that are among the best in Malawi–as well as a limited number of visitors, travelers to Likoma are greeted with overwhelmingingly warm welcomes from each and every person encountered.
Adults wave to us from their porches and call out hello. Women gathering brush for their fires accompany us down the path, scattering away snakes (real and invisible) with a mix of singing and whistle-blowing. Men stop to shake our hands. The mayor of the island welcomes us into his home and gives us bananas and tea. But it’s the children, tiny tots to budding adolescents, who really make us feel special.
To them, we are wonders. Upon sighting us, they burst into squeals and shouts of “mzungu, mzungu.” They use their school English lessons to greet us with “Hello. How are you?” They sidle up to us and ask “What is my name?,” meaning in fact “What is your name?”. They jump up and down on their stoop as they watch you approach and then run out and swarm you, giggling madly as they grab for your hand. The tiniest ones run up to you arms up, ready to be picked up and carried around. They stop as they walk home from school in their uniforms to pull out their exercise books and show you what they learned in class, hoping for a few words of praise. They accompany you as you walk around the island, fighting over who gets to hold your hand, pointing out everything you pass—manioc plant, papaya tree, goats—until they reach some imaginary boundary at which point they say goodbye and head back home. They ask if you can be friends, and really, who could say no, especially since they ask for nothing else except the occasional balloon (I’m not sure who introduced the kids to balloons but they love them).
The children of Likoma Island are joy personified. And though I certainly loved Likoma’s sandy beaches, turquoise waters, colorful aquarium fish, impressive cathedral, waterfront market, stately baobabs, relaxing backpackers lodge (Mango Drift), and carefree attitude, what really made the place so magical wasÂ simply walking with the island’s children.
Our first stop on our way north was actually east, to Mozambique. It was never a match that was meant to really work out, as Mozambique is known on tourist circuit for its beaches, and if you’ve been reading here you know how well we do with beaches. Lovely and all, but it doesn’t take us long to tire of them.
But what really defined our experience in Mozambique was hassle. The hosts at the hostel in Maputo could not bother to stop texting on their cell phones to talk to us. The cost of the flight we planned to take to the north doubled (from $200 to $400) once they added their taxes not previously mentioned. All the buses were scheduled to leave at 4:30 AM or so, only they usually didn’t leave until after 6, so you spent hours sitting on a crowded bus waiting after getting up so early. And better yet, the taxi to the bus station who’s high cost had been explained by our hostel hosts as being a far distance and complicated drove five minutes down the road, turned once and stopped. I think we could’ve walked if it hadn’t been 3:30 AM. On the bus, instead of putting people’s luggage above or below the bus, they stuck it in the cab with all the people. In fact, cramming stuff on the bus was rewarded, as anything put below cost extra. So space was at a high priority. I won’t even complain about the bus breaking down, since that just comes with the territory going overland in Africa, but this did mean filling the next already full bus with another entire busload of people. And to top it off, the whole country was relatively expensive for a relatively low level of quality. Our glorious bus experiences cost us $25 for a 8 hour ride (which with breakdowns and whatnot ballooned to 12 hours). Very comfortable luxury buses in South America (or buses in South Africa, or Malawi) were substantially cheaper. Basic places to stay ran nearly $40 for a double.
For all the hassle, we did have one very nice experience in Vilankulos, one of the beach towns along the coast. We went on a dhow safari out to the Bazuruto Archipelago, a series of five islands a few miles off the coast. We enjoyed a great sail out to the island and spent the day snorkeling on the mainland side along a beautiful coral reef cliff face teeming with fish, then walking along a sandy beach shore on the seaward side. We were served a delicious kingfish lunch and swam in a warm lagoon. It was an idyllic relaxing day away from the mainland.
So while every place has its highlights and lowlights, we just didn’t find Mozambique worth the hassle. The hassle just outweighed the reward, and we’ve found other nearby countries much better as far as reward for the effort. But hey, we never would’ve known it if we didn’t go, so now we know. And I guess now you know too … at least what we think.