Bilene.

Everytime I go to Mozambique it’s a completely different experience.  This is, in part, because of the diverse & wonderful people that I get to go with, but also because Mozambique is such a massive country with so many hidden surprises.

During the past weekend, French Helene, American Veronica and I decided to head up North to Bilene, opting for the comforts of camping in exchange for a bigger budget for our bellies.  This weekend was to present a number of firsts for our friend Veronica:  first time to Mozambique, first time camping, and first time lodging a sea urchin spike into her foot.

Our first stop, though, was Maputo where we spent our Friday night at Zambi’s fancy waterfront restaurant indulging on lightly seared tuna fillets, rock cod and seafood salad, before making our way to Gil Vicente, a small but pumping live music venue on an otherwise lifeless street.

The next morning, after a typical, delicious breakfast of portuguese pastries and coffee, it was time for the 140 kilometre drive North.  Now, I know I have mentioned the joys of Mozambique’s police force before, but this journey proved highly entertaining.  Of five police posts we passed (some just a few hundred metres apart), we were stopped at three, and it quickly became evident that we were being targeted.

No, this is not a case of xenophobic paranoia, but rather an observation that came about after seeing dozing and distracted police officers suddenly fling their portuguese donuts aside to run out and stop only us.  Ignorant tourists, you see, are good for a quick buck, but as Mozambique veterans, we were ready for them –  passport, driver’s licence, international driver’s licence, car ownership papers, insurance papers, fluorescent vest, fluorescent triangles of the correct dimensions – we had it all and it made for a very amusing game.

Bilene is a little holiday town on the edge of a calm and crystal clear lagoon, separated from the rough Indian Ocean by a large, densely forested sand bar.  It makes a great weekend spot for families and watersport fanatics, particularly during long weekends such as this.  So, when we stepped out onto the sandy shore with dreams of a relaxing, watery weekend, we quickly realised that we had to incorporate 10,000 people and a dozen jet skis into that dream.  Once we were cocooned in the warm, salt water of the lagoon, however, the people on the shore seemed but a distant memory.

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After a late lunch gorging ourselves on the fruits of the sea (late because it took two hours to arrive, which I will optimistically assume was because they were plucking it fresh from the ocean), we made our way toward the Praia do Sol, a fancy hotel and restaurant on the other side of town.  What we passed through on the way there, and on the way back, was a truly mind-blowing insight into Mozambique’s nouveau riche.

Rows of zooped up cars lined the streets, trunks open to allow the thumping, bassy beats of hip hop and R&B to infiltrate the otherwise serene coastal air.  Next to each vehicle stood a handful of girls in bikinis, mini-shorts or tightly-clad mini dresses, twerking against men with overemphasised mid-regions.  The iceboxes beside each couple give an indication of a long night ahead.  They were here to watch the quadbikers pushing the boundaries of recklessness and gallantry as they raced along the main street.  Masses of oncoming traffic helped the drivers’ games, rather than hamper them – what better time to do a series of doughies than with a captive audience of cars and passengers to watch?

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However, don’t for one second think that this is just an outing for the adolescents.  Bilene is a family destination and nowhere more so than its main thoroughfare.  Children as young as five were seen hanging on to the steering wheels of screaming ATVs, while their 10-year old siblings sat watching and cheering while sucking on a bottles of Smirnoff.  It was a truly scary sight.

Praia do Sol provided our solace for the evening and again the following morning – a secluded spot with food, beers, shade and a distinct lack of revving engines.  We spent the time engaged in deep and enlightening discussions about politics, language, careers, passions, relationships, and culture, interspersed with Caprinhias, quick dips and a few chapters of a good book.

As always with Mozambique, the time evaporated and, with reluctance, we dragged our sandy feet to the car for the seven-hour journey home.  As always with Mozambique, it was not a case of Adeus as much as Até mais tarde.

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