The Mozambique pimple

I arrived in Mozambique with a pimple near my left eyebrow. I didn’t mind too much—I pretended it was a sign of a 49-year-old’s youthful skin and pointed it out to my slightly spotty 15-year-old.

“You can’t even see yours,” he muttered, adding savagely: “You’ve just made that sound again.”

Living in a family of men (husband, two sons, neutered cat), I am continually surrounded by sound effects. The cat—with a full repertoire of noises to communicate satisfaction or disgust with his food—is the least expressive. Whether they are talking about a wave, a goal or a film, my family swish and whoosh their way through descriptions. So imagine my surprise a few weeks before our trip when our teenager turned to me in the car and asked: “Why do you make that sound?”

I had not uttered a word—I had merely lifted my hands and shrugged my shoulders to tell people on the side of the road I regretfully would not be offering them a lift.

The next day, and the next, and the next, at the strangest times, he would say: “You’ve done it again.”

Eventually our 11-year-old joined in. “You’ve just done it again, Mom.” And he mimicked the sound I made—a kind of hissing intake of breath.

I thought how horrible it would sound through dentures one day and resolved to put an end to my one and only sound effect. The only trouble was I never knew when I was going to make it.

We have friends who have explored Mozambique along the camping and 4x4 route. Others have gone straight to their luxury lodge on the Bazaruto archipelago. We opted for a middle way—fly in, hire self-catering houses in two coastal towns and get around on foot.

The weak point, I realised as soon as we arrived at Tofinho, was food. If we’d driven in we’d have brought supplies. If we were at a hotel we’d be fed night and day. Instead we had a tea bag, two oat bars and half an hour until the Tofo market closed.

The manager grabbed his quad bike and collected fish, prawns, rice, tomatoes, onions, eggs, oranges, tea and pao (bread). Few meals before or since have tasted as good.

With only a few additions (notably delicious local beer) that was more or less what we lived on for a week. For lunch we discovered small coconut bread rolls—sold by Alex, the self-styled Mr Delicious—and roasted cashew nuts.

In Villankulos, we caught a blue bakkie/taxi to the market, alongside two women and a trussed live chicken. “You made that sound about 10 times in the trip,” our younger son said. And then he solved the riddle. “You make it when you feel guilty.”

The boys had come to Tofinho to surf but a howling cold front had followed us from the Cape, so we booked a boat outing to dive with whale sharks. It was an organised tourist activity—watch a video, hear the rules, get kitted out with equipment.

What size are you, the wetsuit attendant asked a willowy German tourist next to me. “Medium,” she said, and easily wriggled into her neoprene second skin. Next he looked down at me. “Large,” I said, but he handed me a medium-to-small. With my husband’s help I squeezed into it and waddled down to the beach. I was poured into the speedboat and we sped through the choppy waves. I felt awful immediately and was getting sick long before we reached the rendezvous—100 metres of ocean littered with boats and snorkellers.

“Jump,” the guides yelled to the tourists. I stayed put, too weak to move. So they zipped up my wetsuit and pushed me overboard. The first thing I did was look for my family.

They were right in front of me gesturing furiously at me to turn around. I did—and there it was right next to me, this large, incredible, silent presence. A young spotted whale shark. Absolutely worth an hour of sea sickness.

After Tofinho we went to Villankulos and spent most of our money getting to the islands of the Bazaruto peninsula. We caught a dhow to Margaruge, snorkelled and ate delicious purple calamari stew, wandered around the deserted buildings and hotel of Paradise Island and climbed the sand dunes. Our younger son spent the days on the mainland exploring, drawing and reading. Our elder son took an open-water diving course. My husband became obsessed with catching a fish.

But we all shared one perfect day. The weather was hot and still, the sea translucent. We caught a boat to Benguerra Island, with Zeto and Zephyr, our skipper and guide, walked to the inland lakes to see the nostrils of freshwater crocodiles, swam on endless beaches and in a deserted lagoon-type natural sandy swimming pool, before heading to the highlight—Two Mile Reef—a wonderland of Dr Seuss-like coral and shoals of countless different fish.

Too soon we were back at the Johannesburg airport hotel’s buffet table, groaning with out-of-season tasteless fruit, roast meat and overcooked seafood. Our sons said they wanted to go back.

I looked in the spotless mirror of our hotel room. My pimple was gone; my son’s were worse. I made that noise again.

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