Tag Archives: Christopher

Camera Lens

As much as I enjoy imagining how each boat ended up abandoned and quietly falling apart in the bay, I knew that it would be a photographer’s visual smorgasbord of decay and haunting beauty (see boats. posts for more about the topic). For this reason, it was also one of the spots I was most excited to take my visitors to.  

Christopher developed his film (yes, real film!) and posted some beautiful photos he took while he was here at the end of May.  There are some really great shots of the graveyard and a few other moments from the weekend in Vilankulo, so I thought I’d go ahead and share a few of my favorites here.

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Christopher also has a talent for portraiture.  His cousin Charlie once said, “I actually like the photos that Chris take’s of me. That’s saying a lot because no one likes photos of themselves.”  I think that Charlie had it right.

You can see more of Christopher’s photography on his website here.  

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Part III: a homecoming of sorts

I assume that most of you reading this are friends and relatives, though maybe not all, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that I lived in Swaziland as a child for several years.  I  think that was probably one of the most influential periods of my life; it certainly inspired a lifelong affinity for Africa and a real love of travel.  After 18 years of being away, I finally had the opportunity to return to the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland.

Even at the border there is a clear difference between these two African nations.  Crossing from Namacha in southern Moz over to Lomacha in Swazi, was rather like a breath of fresh air. The roads are paved, there is less litter, the buildings are better maintained, people sport traditional garb, and English is spoken.   I am not saying that Mozambique is worse for it, (well, maybe I am) but it was sudden opportunity to re-acknowledge the stark  deficiency  in infrastructure and development that heavily weigh on Mozambique’s shoulders.

But OH Swaziland!!! It was more beautiful and magical than I even expected.  I felt an instant sense of being in more familiar territory.  The landscape is dramatic – sweeping grassy mountains, foggy mornings and fields of  organized agriculture.  I remember several years back when I moved to Sonoma, California thinking that the landscape there really reminded me of Swaziland and Kwa-Zulu Natal. But now returning to Swaziland as an adult, I kept thinking that it reminded me of the striking Sonoma terrain (with a few more exotic animals thrown into the mix).


And so it was through this great surreal landscape that we made our way to the festivities. Christopher, Courtney and I loaded once again into a series of chapas, busses and finally hitchhiked our way to our next locale.

We met up with 10 other Peace Corps girls and their friends at the Sondzela Backpackers Lodge located in the Milweni Nature Reserve.  Our house was surrounded by free roaming wildlife – zebras, warthogs, impalas, springbucks, and one particularly well-mannered ostrich called Eeeshhh.

Then we made our way to the Bushfire International Music Festival, and basically spent the next 3 days dancing and having a great time.

 

One thing that I really love and miss about Swaziland and parts of South Africa, is that people just walk around wearing a mix of western clothing and traditional garb. Not every one, but it’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see it.

The men in particular get to wear a dashing combination of fur head bands, patriotic fabric, leopard hide loincloths, beads, and sheep fluff. (I obviously don’t know the proper names for the parts of the costume.) Like all good fashion, it gets mixed up depending on the person and event, but it’s pretty awesome. 

The festival was a multi cultural mix – with lots of focus on traditional Swazi music, arts and crafts. There were two stages, but the main one featured an array of different styles of Afro-jazz, pop, and gospel.  Though none of us knew any of the bands, it certainly didn’t stop us from participating. Some of the highlights included the band Freshly Ground, the African goddess/singer Lira, and the funk-gospel band Ringo.

I got several funny though memorable comments while I was cuttin’ a rug.  One went like this:

African man next to me: Are you Swazi?

Me: I just smile, furrow my eyebrows and don’t say anything.

African Man: You must be, because you certainly don’t dance like a Mulungu!!!

HAH! I laughed and smiled even more. I’m not exactly sure what he meant but I think it was in reference to how into-it we were getting. I wasn’t trying to dance like an African woman and I’m not naturally blessed with “Zulu booty” but still I took it as a compliment. Thanks?!

After three days of non stop dancing, story telling, people watching, nature walks, cold weather, rain, fog, mulled wine and lots of laughter – it was time to head back home. Christopher made his way back to Johannesburg to catch his flight and I started my 2 day journey back to Vilankulo. 

***

I’m so happy that I got to share the experience of going back to Swaziland with Christopher. I have been waiting to return for years, probably since I left when I was seven, so part of me was nervous that the experience would shatter some of the idealistic memories I held from my youth. Needless to say, it was a really important trip for me and in many ways felt like a homecoming. I don’t know if I told him enough, but I was so grateful to have my friend there from home to validate and share the experience with. Every stop along the way, from Vilankulo to Bushfire was memorable. It was a trip of a lifetime.

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Part II: Christopher realizes that Tofu is not made of soybeans

After catching the 3 am bus to Maxixe, the ferry to Inhambane and a quick chapa ride we arrived in Tofu, the main tourist town in Mozambique about 350 km north of Maputo.  *(please note, that Tofu is actually spelled Tofo, but it’s pronounced like the soybean variety, so I’ll maintain my misspelling)

I had already crossed swimming with whale sharks off of my bucket-list when Andrea and Alexi visited me in March, but frankly it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. So when Christopher said he wanted to do it as well, I was more than willing.  

The prospect of swimming with living dinosaurs seems to draw out quite the variety of thrill seekers from all over the world. One of the most visually striking people on our watery voyage was a Brazilian man who was covered from head to toe with tribal tattoos and expander rings. While he turned out to be quite soft spoken and friendly, Christopher did not take a liking to him since Mr. Tattoo Man did not listen to the instructions and made a big splash getting into the water, almost scaring away our illusive whale shark. 

Even with splashing and all our human noise we found it. We only saw one whale shark but it was HUGEbigger than the boat (almost 16 meters) and as an added bonus it was accompanied by a dolphin! You’ve got to see it to believe it:

Sure swimming with a whale shark was fabulous, but the real highlight of my day was when we returned to our cabana and I took… prepare yourself… my first hot shower since November!

The following morning I took a scuba refresher course and went for a dive.  It had been almost 6 years since my certification but luckily it came back pretty quickly. We didn’t see any manta rays as I had hoped, but I did see the biggest shell I have ever seen in my entire life. It was just sitting there on the bottom of the sandy sea. I kept pointing and trying to show my utter excitement –  big eyes and lots of hovering right over it. Maybe they were distracted by the schools of tropical fish or leopard eels, but none of the other divers seemed quite as impressed. What was wrong with them, I mean really, it was a very big shell!

The beaches in Tofu are very different than what I have in Vilanculo – the water is deeper and there are actual waves. I’m rather glad I don’t have that sort of motion of the ocean in front of my reed cabana, but it did make it awfully fun to body surf and watch the Roxy team show off cool tricks.

 The entire next day was dominated by one of the worst 13 hour bus rides of my life. We did walk away safely and without an accident, but it was quite awful. We had a mean driver and a trickster for a door man, a flat tire that was fixed with toilet paper, the radio blared even when there was no reception, luggage and boxes were stacked to the roof and on our lap.  

It felt something like this:

Christopher said it was different but comparable in misery to his experience of traveling in the 10th class train-car in India.

Finally in Maputo, we met up with Courtney and several VSO friends for dinner and recovery. 

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Part I: Christopher Meets Vilankulo

 

Christopher arrived on a Thursday afternoon.  I think of myself as a rather organic, “see where the road takes us” kind of traveler, but since there was so much to see and share I actually made a calendar of events so that I we wouldn’t miss anything. 

I brought Christopher to work with me on Friday, where we hopped into the back of a CARE truck and made our way to Nhapele, a small village about an an hour and half up the highway and into the bush. 

We were supposed to meet a group of weavers but due to rain (and the fact that the group rarely actually weaves together) there were only a few random community members to welcome us.

So I sat on a log patiently and Christopher took a jet-lag nap in the truck, while we waited for a few of the women to gather.

As a discredit to my attempt to assimilate into my community, I had yet to go to one of the only 2 dance clubs in Vilankulo.  So Friday night we put on our dancing shoes and met up with several friends from work. It had been a rainy week so there weren’t many people out, but we danced ’till  3 am and had a great night anyway.

On Saturday we had potluck at Eve and David’s house. Santiago, our regional project manager who is Spanish but lives Canada, was in town, and Sara had a fellow Peace Corps volunteer visiting from South Africa. With a gathering Americans, (French) Canadians, Europeans and a variety of temporary-Africans, the night was filled with good conversation, plenty of good humor and a bounty of delicious food. 

As the meal was winding down, we, full and happy,  made our way to the couches and watched a movie on the projector.

***

Now, I guess I must make a public announcement at this point. It seems that my visitors have a tendency to pick up strange skin rashes and bumps when they visit. Alexi did. Christopher did too. (No, it’s not my arm thing; I have been selfish and kept my fungus to myself.) Both their symptoms seem strangely similar – red, bumpy spots clustered on elbows and the upper butt area.  

At the expense of Christopher’s privacy and perhaps even his dignity, I will tell you that his rash had a striking similarity to the shape of … Florida.

Now one of my favorite parts of having old friends come to visit is not necessarily the big events and grandiose gestures, but often the subtle moments when friends can sit and chat, read a good book or watch the sky and quietly enjoy the other’s presence. That sort of grace is often reserved only for those friends who have know each other so long that you don’t have to concern yourself with filling each moment but instead simply know the value of calmness.

That being said, on Sunday we made our way to Casa Rex – the local fancy shmancy hotel and spent the afternoon drinking real coffee, reading, talking with passperbys and basically enjoying the simple pleasure of being on vacation. 

 

 

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Preface: Christopher’s Visit

Some trips are so epic that it’s hard to know where to start the story or what details to give. When each day is filled with a mixture of activities and great conversation, it always takes me a few days (or weeks) to digest the most valuable (and drawable) details worth documenting. And so it was with my most recent visitor. 

This is Christopher:

I have known Christopher since I was 11. He is a grand traveler and has gone all over the world in both high and low style, documenting his adventures with beautiful photographs along the way (www.chrislowellphotography.com). When his initial plans to visit fell through last December, I was almost grateful for the delay; Not because I wasn’t wanting of visitors last year, but because now at my 8 month mark I had so much more to show him and a bit more street credit to my name.

Now, this was not his first trip to Africa but it was the first time that we had traveled together since 2005.  I’m not sure exactly why it had taken us so long to plan a trip together (school, work or finances seemed to always get in the way) but my plans to travel southward for the Bushfire Music Festival in Swaziland offered just the perfect opportunity for a (platonic) African adventure together. I was set on showing Christopher a bit of each element of my life here, from my everyday domestic routine to field excursions for work, abandoned boat yards to tourists beaches, big African city life to rural nature reserves.  

He came to visit for 10 days, and the travel-gods blessed our trip and made each day more memorable (though not always more comfortable) than the previous day.  And so it is that I have lots to share and will have to divide up my review of Christopher’s visit into three additional parts. Part I, Part II & Part III

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