Monday, June 2, 2008

to ibo via land

to explain where i am sitting now...cross legged on a cliff with my kerosene lantern to my left, a calm sea to my right reflecting a million stars in every direction over the island of ibo. getting here was almost as spectacular.
we left pemba around 11:30 am after a morning packed of logistics. geri cans of fuel, gallons of water, rice, fruit, computers, maps. our little helper guys packed our hi-lux pickup to the gills. just enough room for us three ladies: alice, lizia and myself.

and off we went, for a little while on a nice paved road, and then, a bright red dirt path through miombo forest and endless villages of mud huts with colorful women with painted faces, waving kids, broken bicycles, fruit stands, goats, chickens everything.
alice was in a greater hurry than usual, as we were a little late catching the high tide which would allow us to take our boat to ibo island. she was flying. i kept pointing out the speed limit signs, as a joke, because on a dirt road with pot holes the size of hot tubs, there's no way you could go the posted limit of 70km/hr, but she certainly was trying! we would pass these national geographic scenes with women with painted faces, kids pumping water from a well, a dude with an old singer sewing machine in front of his hut, kids running to catch up with the truck, while adults and livestock spread like ants to jump out of our way, and ultimately we would leave them in a cloud of light brown dust. i tried to take pictures as we zoomed by and nearly lost my camera and thrice hit my head on the ceiling. i saw the perfect baobab! but it came out a blur, even with a 1/1500 shutter speed. (people don't wear seatbelts here, and had i been wearing mine, i would most certainly have been strangled)
we finally found a shady spot to have a picnic. it happened to be occupied by an older makonde woman, also taking a break in the shade. as we slowed down she had a look of absolute terror on her face and did one of those hesitations a squirrel makes when it's facing headlights, and took off in a sprint. we pulled up pretty slowly but she ran away, screaming for her life, and never looked back. we felt really bad.
she came back 5 minutes later with a young angry man with a machete and a stick. he yells at us for scaring the woman and we pleaded, we were just stopping to rest and eat. i offered her some soggy fries.
soon, more people started showing up, a guy with two chickens strapped upside down on the back of his bike, a guy with 100 lbs of rice on another, and a fourth guy also with a machete and a stick, walking in typical mekonde fighter fashion.
we get a little uneasy with this crowd and get into the car to leave. lizia locks her door. the truck won't start. we kind of sit there, awkwardly waving goodbye, see you! thanks! they surround the car, and insist they only want to help. we get out and pop the hood - the battery is being held in place with a flip flop and a bungee cord - nice. i'm sure it's the alternator. the guys look at the engine like it's a spaceship. they poke it with a stick. we look at the dash and the battery is working, but the temperature gauge is in the red, and we have been speeding over dirt gravel and sand for a while...let's just wait. the guys don't leave. we stand awkardly in silence. finally, out of nowhere, like a horse that just decides to start sprinting, the car starts. we're so outta there!
we drive for another hour, more villages and goats. i see a guy ironing with a cinder block, a little market or a bar with a tv that can't possibly be plugged into anything. you see those dirty kids playing with the metal wheel ring and the stick like from the 20s. their moms have geri cans on their heads.
we enter quirimbas national park and hi-five the rangers who scramble down from their two story hut. the roads are slightly smoother now, and we careen around corners and nearly smash into buses, loaded to the gills with people and plastic buckets. one bus is pulling a trailer made out of a half of another bus. and they will be going over the same bumpy, messy road that nearly killed our car? sometimes, we come straight towards some guys on their loaded bicycles. they have no brakes and sortof just flail off the side of the road, legs sticking out, face in fear. alice says don't worry! they're used to it!
then, there, ahead in the road...what is that? it's a huge baboon! my first baboon!
we make it to the big tree on the edge of the mangroves at exactly 4pm. this is tanganyama. also known as the "pirate port" as we'll soon find out why. high tide is just about to hit, there are slanted sailboats lying in the mud, waiting for the water to lift them. a crowd of people unload everything from our truck into a wooden boat with a crooked outboard on the back. they are carrying everything on their heads. they call it 'helping' but really, they want something. i don't want to break out out the cash so i find a softball, a bag of trader joe's rice crackers and these cookies a girl from wwf made, that honestly, are so dense and heavy i'm sick of eating and carrying them. they are elated. one guy gets mad because he doesn't get a cookie! we take pictures. everyone is smiling.
then someone asks, so where is the combustible? uhhhh, crap. we had meant to be in a two-car convoy, but the other truck had problems and turned back...with all the gas. we had thought of everything...but this! the boat driver gives us a half-full gas can and tells us to figure it out. this guy shows up out of nowhere and says "i know a place that sells gas!" we pile back in the car, and this time, we have unknowingly agreed to give a lady and her kid a ride, plus negotiator guy, so we're packed in like sardines. we zip back across a mudplain that will soon be flooded with the tide and trap us on the mainland. kids are playing soccer in the distance, the sun is setting.
we arrive at a mud hut village and meander through the streets until we come to a store, which is conveniently owned by the negotiator guy and sells gas at three times the normal price. ooooh i get it. then they talk about mixtura. do we need an oil gas mixture? crap. someone needs to call boat guy. who has a phone that works? this goes on for a while and by this point in time, the entire village is surrounding us, kids climbing all over our our truck and ogling our gas cans. the owner shoos everyone away, basta!
i get out of the car and get mobbed by the kids. they are all gorgeous and all want their picture taken, as usual. one kid has plastic bags with rubber bands for shoes. they show me their soccer ball - a wad of plastic bags wrapped in rubber bands. let's play footbal. we are running all over the village, and with this ball i am like pele, kicking, passing, hitting chickens and goats with the ball, everyone is screaming and yelling. i am heading the ball and it sends dirt and sand all in my eyes and face, they think it's hilarious. this is the best part of my day. i hear a horn honking, alice is angry. let's go! we drop off the lady and her kid, who had been waiting patiently in the car the whole time, even though their hut was only a few doors down from the store. she was loving being in the car, it was like arriving in a limousine, so she relished the moment as long as possible.
we race back across the mudplain, trying not to get stuck in the mud (the rumor is when this happens and you stop, people come out of the mangroves to help but they eventually steal your shoes - piratas!) and we arrive back at the mangroves and the tide has righted all the boats. ours is still waiting, with all our luggage and supplies inside. we have to walk through some pretty deep water with slushy mud at the bottom that is seeping between my toes. i carry my laptop on my head. look, african style! people in the boat next to us point and laugh. they are loading a motorbike into some sort of makeshit viking boat with 8 rowers.
we get into our boat and motor through the channel and see the most gorgeous sunset with egrets, sailboats with ratty home made sails. wow.
we arrive at ibo, i have no idea how, our captain took us through mangroves in complete darkness, no flashlight, nada.
we arrive to this quaint little complex that is being renovated by a belgian couple. they are officially closed, but they are letting us stay in the little honeymoon house on the cliff. we hop out and carry our stuff on our heads to land. there is a baby gazelle on the grounds that was rescued in august. his name is elvis, he has a little black tuft of hair on his head. he wants to sleep in my bed, along with the two cats. dinner is waiting for us in this open air kitchen. it's octupus curry and rice, my favorite. i give ulrich one of my maps, he is psyched.
they cut the generator just as we sit down, so there's silence, except for the 'discoteque' that is across the street. ulrich, exclaims, oh no! not again! apparently, discoteque guy just bought that "i'm a barbie girl, in a barbie world" album and he plays is OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN. indeed he does.
still, a small price to pay for being in this slice of heaven. and i haven't even seen ibo in daylight yet. all i can say is...ha ha suckers, this is my JOB!

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