PictureA termite mound built around a tree along the path
JUNE 15:  For whatever reason, the animals are very active early this morning, and I have been up since 4:45.  That was plenty of sleep, since I went to bed around 8 last night and fell asleep almost right away.  Now I lie awake listening to the different bird and animal calls of the mountains.  I notate some of the more interesting and funny ones in my journal.  There are some funny frogs that sound as if they are saying: “We DID it! Woomp! Woomp! We DID it!”  The goat cries are not as funny as they were in Mcondece, though.  Goats have very individual cries. One goat in Mcondece had a cry that sounded like a very grumpy BWAWAWAWAWAWA.  This one made everyone laugh, because “Bwawa” is a greeting one gives on a path when both parties are in a hurry, carrying heavy loads, or when one encounters someone one has already exchanged formal greetings with earlier in the day.  This goat sounded like a grumpy old man waving people off even as he was greeting them.

After an early breakfast, the mfumu showed us the “shortcut” from Magachi down to the lakeshore.  We would end up in Uchesse. At that point we would take the same path we took at the very beginning of my time here in order to get back to Cobué to catch the boat – we hoped, if we could get to town early enough to notify the lodge before their solar power shut off.  After all, they had no idea where we were or what way we were coming back; there are several options, all long trips.  If we didn’t make it in time to ask them to come get us, we would have to camp in Cobué after the long day’s hike, a prospect I did not look forward to at all.  I was determined to keep a good pace.

As the mfumu of Magachi walked with us to share the beginning of our journey (of course not carrying any of our belongings, he being a chief), we passed a small clearing not far from his home.  He pointed to it and looked at me.  “This is your land for your house, if you move to Africa.”  Of course I was charmed by this “invitation”; it’s nice to have someone make your entire day that early in the morning!  I did not know at the time that this was more than idle courtesy.  In this part of Mozambique, the chief of a village actually owns the land of that village to distribute to families as he will.  He actually could have made a land grant to me if he wished.  Perhaps he did!  Once in a while on the hike, I imagined our family’s potential home in Magachi.  As the journey went on, I began to wish for it, in fact.

Partway into the mountains I realized that of course I had not topped off my water bottle.  Fortunately, the reason I had not yet realized that was because I was not at all thirsty. I was certain I should be able to manage with what I had until we got to one of the lakeshore villages with a safe water supply.  We had left at 8, and though we already could tell that the day would be warmer than usual, we were walking through woods, mostly through cool valleys carved by tiny brooks that I imagine are torrents in rainy season.    

PictureI wish phone cameras gave a better impression of height and distance. The lake is the dark blue band, and the dark land on the right is part of Ngofi, far below. Uchesse is straight ahead.
We stopped for a break around 10:30, and I drank a bit of water.  That was fine – it was plenty!  Mr. Joe and Mr. Marcos were having sugar cane.  I think they assumed I don’t like it – I’m not sure why, since I actually like it a lot and never recall giving any indication I didn’t; but I am absolutely certain they would have shared with me if they had thought for a second that I might have wanted some.  People do make assumptions about what white people do and do not like to eat and drink here. This often results in people going to extra trouble cooking or bringing along unnecessary foods for me.  Marcos pulled out a Maria biscuit, which is a nice flat shortbread-type cookie.  I took one for energy; they are quite tasty after all.  If only I had thought about how dry they are!  Dry, dry, DRY! I had to use almost all the rest of my water store just to wash it down.  Lesson learned, but too late.

We continued our hike through a beautiful new terrain for me, uninhabited mountain forest – this is the hike on which I got the picture of the wildflower in June 27th’s post.  I was looking around when it was safe to do so, but also I was listening to Marcos’ colorful Nyanja.  The language has a lot of what are called ideophones: words that sound like their meaning.  We have a few in English: boom, moo, smack, etc., but nothing compared to many African Bantu languages.  Some native speakers use almost no ideophones, but Marcos’ speech is full of them, and it is an absolute delight to hear him talk along the way.  It’s like listening to the soundtrack of a movie, complete with sound effects.  Joe is laughing heartily at his story.  I don’t know enough ideophones to know what he is talking about, so I just enjoy the music.

By this point in the journey, I have come to think of Marcos as Papageno.  Like that character in Mozart’s Magic Flute, all he needs to be content in life is a full stomach, a roof over his head and good company – preferably that of a nice lady whenever possible – to be content.  His speech is colorful, direct and forthright, and he does what needs to be done with a minimum of fuss.  As I have mentioned before, he is a gentle, natural teacher and does not hesitate to help me with my Chinyanja and with teaching me about the trees and birds of the area.

We come over the last mountain and suddenly spread before us are the villages of Uchesse and Ngofi far below.  The lake is visible for the first time in days and I realize how much I have missed it.  “Nyanja yathu!!” I called out – “Our lake!” to Joe’s and Marcos’ amusement.  I heard them say it more than once after that as we continued down the trail.    

The path down the mountains was not bad at all until we got into the foothills at the Uchesse border.  It was there that I began to feel the first inklings of blisters.  The best thing to do is to ignore them; what else was I going to do?  We were only about halfway to our destination.

By 11:30 we had already passed through the corner of Uchesse that touches the mountains and we were in the center of Chigoma!  Joe stopped to talk to a family he knew, and a woman of the family offered Marcos and me some of their borehole well drinking water, otherwise known as manna from heaven.

We continued to the other side of Chigoma, where we stopped at the home of several of Joe’s sisters-in-law. He asked them to prepare us a lunch while he caught up on family news.  We had nsima (for them), spaghetti (for me, sigh), mustard greens – a vegetable! - that Joe had bought earlier from two girls along the path for 100 kwacha, and also some usipa at Joe’s request.  And water – borehole well water!  They had actually set out a Western-style table for us in their shady and neat “back yard,” complete with tablecloth, water pitcher and plates, spoons and forks for each of us.  This was a pleasant lunch.

A man drove by on his motorbike and offered to take me into Cobué while the other two hiked the rest of the way.  Of course I refused, though I do wish we had been able to send our packs with him for us to pick up when we arrived.  His bike wasn’t big enough for that, though.  Now that we were out of the mountains we were close enough to Likoma to have phone reception, so we borrowed his phone to call the lodge and let them know we would be in Cobué by 4 o’clock.  I had my doubts about that arrival time, because it was already 2:30.  I assumed everyone would know we were talking about African 4 o’clock and that they would be there around 5.

After lunch, Marcos took the lead and really picked up the pace!  Here I received a real shock.  We had turned from the path and were walking on a wide, dusty road.  Joe asked if I recognized it, but we had not come down any roads the last time I was in these villages.  Our entire journey before had been on narrow footpaths.  It was then that Joe told me that this was the footpath we had taken before!  Apparently there is a company doing gold mining in Tanzania that wanted access to Cobué, so they simply created a road from the Tanzanian border all the way to Cobué with no Mozambican government involvement or supervision.  They were in such a hurry to create this road they had simply bulldozed dirt into the dry riverbeds.  All these parts of the road were certain to wash away during rainy season, but people told me the company would be long done by then and would not care what happened to the road at that point.  Maybe the government would adopt it and maintain it, maybe not.

Already some families had begun to set up little shops and wayside restaurants and bars to cater to travelers. Some huts even had little pull-in makeshift parking areas big enough to accommodate two cars.  Thus far on the road itself, I only saw evidence of footprints, shoe prints and bicycle tire tracks; but the cars would come.  The cars and trucks were sure to come. I don’t know if I could have asked for a more graphic demonstration of the effects of development, good and bad, than that dusty road and the homes of those who just happened to live along it.  I was glad I had seen the area before the road was built, as it was certainly prettier and more natural then.  Still, I had to admit this relatively smooth, wide road was very easy to walk on, important to a hiker who could actually feel blisters forming as he walked.  People did not have to carry heavy loads on their heads while crossing rivers spanned only by a single, narrow round log. Families clearly had some hope to get income beyond their sustenance farms’ occasional bumper crop.  Nothing is ever simple, apparently.

The journey through Mataka seemed to take forever; I thought we had crossed over into Chicaia long before until we passed the tiny church in Chilola, a small village that is part of Mataka.  We left the road and began taking footpaths again near the lake, but fortunately not too often on the sand.  When we did have to go through a sandy portion, walking with that heavy backpack was twice as arduous, and the push off one has to do with one’s toes to get any traction carrying a load on sandy soil was excruciating.  No choice but to carry on, though, and fast!  The sun was getting low in the sky.

We finally arrived at Cobué, all of us correct with our arrival time predictions.  Joe and Marcos had predicted 4 o’clock and we got to the beach at almost 5 on the dot as I had thought, which is exactly how time works here.  Sure enough, the boat had just pulled in to wait.  I gingerly pulled off my hiking boots and peeled off my socks and changed into sandals and waded to the boat.  That cold water felt so good on my hot, blistered feet!  I climbed into the boat and waited for Joe to run some errands in Cobué.  Marcos would not join us; he was going to continue to walk home.  While I waited to leave, I took my sandals off and dangled my feet off the side of the boat into the lake.  The children on the beach saw what I was doing and pointed and laughed at the man sitting the wrong way off the boat.  I cared not in the slightest.

Once Joe came back and I had shifted to sitting forward, we pushed off and headed out.  As we motored quickly back to Nkwichi on the speedboat, I stuck one hand into the water so that the spray would come up and hit my face.  Today’s hike alone had been twenty miles; I had hiked over sixty miles this week, almost all of it while carrying a backpack that weighed between twenty-five and thirty pounds.  Riding back, I realized I have changed physically since I arrived, and it feels exhilarating.  There is simply no way I could have done such a thing when I first came.

We got to the lodge, and I limped into Volunteer Village.  I took all my sweaty, dirty clothes from the entire trip and threw them into the woven laundry basket in the corner of the hut.  I took a long, long cold shower.  Then I put on the clean clothes I had saved in my suitcase for my return, since my laundry had not yet come back from before we left. ALWAYS reserve at least one set of clothing! Thus reasonably presentable, I went to meet the other volunteers for dinner. 

I have five days to get my blisters to heal.  Then, on to the next three villages.    

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