The beautiful side of Mozambique

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In my last two posts I described some of the more, um, interesting sides of Mozambique. Part of what makes the country exciting (and indeed charming) is its unpredictability and distinctly tropical way of operating.

Those posts taken alone, however, sell the country short. For all its quirks and faults, Mozambique is a stunningly beautiful country, has amazing food and is full of lovely people.

To understand the physical beauty of Mozambique let me first give you a short geography lesson. The country is situated in the southeastern corner of Africa and runs from South Africa in the south, north past the Tropic of Capricorn all the way up to Tanzania. If you’re not familiar with Africa just understand that’s a very long coastline.

If you’re visiting Mozambique odds are you’re going to the coast. (There are national parks inland that the country is trying to restore although most of the big game was sadly killed during the country’s civil war either for food or by landmines.)

The Indian Ocean currents that flow down from the equator keep the water between 70 and 80 degrees, which is perfect for diving, snorkeling and swimming, not to mention marine life.

On our last day in Mozambique Sean, Marc and I managed to sneak in a dive after a previous attempt had been rained out. After a choppy ride out (with a brief dolphin sighting) I was happy to just get off the surface.

It was a truly spectacular view underwater. We dove at a reef called Witch’s Hat where the abundance of marine life rivaled any aquarium I’ve ever seen. Within the first minutes we were swimming through schools of hundreds of tropical fish.

Continuing on we spotted the first of several large stingrays, including one that was being cleaned by a swarm of small fish. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the manta rays the region is famous for.

We also spotted one absolutely gigantic lobster (the local variation is called a crayfish or lagosta in Portuguese). It was hanging out under a rock and was easily longer than my forearm.

All told we must have seen 1,500+ fish in 30 minutes, a far cry from the few dozen you’d spot in similar dives off Cape Town, where the water is much colder.

The same marine life that makes diving great also is a big part of what makes Mozambican food so great. Seafood including lagosta, barracuda, giant prawns and other fish are local favorites and all are delicious with the local piri piri chili sauce.

On Sunday night we feasted on three giant lagosta with chili sauce and garlic butter. We were each served a full lobster that had been halved then grilled over charcoal. You’ll have to take my word for how beautiful it was because the iPhone photo I took does this meal no justice at all (it was Martha Stewart food pic bad).

The best part? The entire meal with a beer was under $14. For a full fresh lobster. $14. Insane.

The amazing spreads of fresh fish, chicken, tomatoes, onions, chilis and green peppers can partially be explained by the local economy and politics. Diesel and gasoline is very expensive in Mozambique, which in turns means that transporting either fresh or processed foods is also very expensive.

In an economy where most people make a few dollars a day it’s simply not feasible. Instead, almost all produce and meat is grown locally by small-scale farmers and sold at informal markets. It’s like the dream of the Portland foodie, but for a completely different reason than we see a farmer’s market in Oregon.

Regardless of the economics, the point is that visitors are treated to fresh, organic produce. I’m still dreaming of the tomatoes.

Traveling in Mozambique can be an incredibly rewarding experience, even if it isn’t always the easiest or most luxurious. You get to witness a culture that is wholly different from the west or even South Africa and you get to enjoy some of the finest beaches in the world.

Tourism is also an important industry for a country still trying to recover from years of civil war and political turmoil. It brings in foreign investment and exposes the wider world to the country. They still have a long way to go but I’m impressed by the country’s progress so far and wish them nothing but the best.


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