Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thoughts on infrastructure and maps

In recent weeks, I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with infrastructure. What does the word even mean? Infra- is latin for “under, below”. Literally: below structure; what lies under the structure, what holds it together. Or the under-structure, as in underlying structure. If city, if society is structure, infrastructure refers to the connections under the skin of the whole twisting, breathing, giant thing — the skeleton of the city. Traditionally, this means planned, built environments; water pipelines, power lines, highways. The government plans, the engineers engineer, the builders build, the head of the whole thing neatly constructs its own skeleton top-down. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the whole story.

1. Infrastructure doesn’t have to be built. If you’ve ever taken a taxi, you know that there’s more to it than just the street being there. Taxi companies set up a transport network of their own, covering any area where demand is sufficiently high. If demand in a certain area rises, the network can easily expand on very short time scales — let’s call this floating infrastructure; as in not localized and (as a result) easily scalable. Another example are the car- and bike-sharing programs that in the last few years have been writing success stories in metropolitan areas around the world. As far as transport goes, busses are more floating than trains: While trains require specialized rails, bus systems may often be expanded on roads already constructed for other purposes. Of course, not only transport can be floating; wireless networks require only the addition of a router to cover more area.

2. It doesn’t even have to be planned. If a city is setting up a transit system, they’ll hire a planner to do it, and come up with a beautiful bus network complete with maps, schedules and pricing schemes. But what if they don’t? Taxis will come in to fill the gap. In many developing countries, privately owned mini-vans operate on pretty regular routes and serve as the daily mode of transport for millions of citizens. This is ad-hoc infrastructure, an emergent phenomenon that happens as many individual agents swoop in to fill a demand. In Cape Town, I found these so-called “taxi busses” to be safer and more efficient than the publicly run trains — if you know where you’re going. In analogy, private cell phone providers are managing to cover much of the developing world with communication without any government interfering, or any wire being laid down.

Transit coverage in North America

3. The importance of maps. With traditional planned, built infrastructure, the system starts growing from a blueprint, a map. With the kind of emergent infrastructure I’ve become so enchanted with, we have to become cartographers:make maps to overlay on the existing plans and understand how one ties into the other.
Cape Town is currently working on a major overhaul of its transportation system under the moniker of MyCiTi, including a rapid transit bus system modeled on Rio de Janeiro. Maps are the only way to incorporate the already existent floating and ad-hoc modes of transportation into the plan, and using infrastructure already in place can help prevent a major waste of resources. Unfortunately, I can’t see any evidence that anyone is actually mapping what is already there.

There seems to be an unfortunate tendency among policymakers, still, to think only about the planned aspects of infrastructure, and leave out the emergent on; But if we want to do surgery on our cities’ skeleton, we first have to understand all the little bones and blood vessels that already keep them alive.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cooking Masonja

This is one of the few non-vegan recipes you'll see me writing about... but it was just too good to pass up.

Plus, these animals have many of the criteria that cause people to turn to plant-based food: low in fat and cholesterol, abundantly available in nature without factory farming (at least where they are from), full of healthy protein and a shell that you might compare to fibre in its effect on the digestive tract. Furthermore, many vegans I know still eat honey, an insect's product - and I, too, am talking about insects here.

When I was in Zimbabwe I was told that "Mopane-worms", or masonja, caterpillars found on mopane and mango trees in Southern Africa, are a rather common and delicious dish of the region. I didn't manage to get a hold of a plate of the delicacy - I did, however, manage to purchase a little bag of dried critters with the ominous label "MADORA" written on it, as well as instructions on how to prepare them.

Shuttled them back through Mozambique and South Africa, passed under the radar of German customs and presented them at my parents' house. Where I also finally proceeded to fry them up last weekend!

Before soaking...

The first step was a few hours soak in salt water - the previously dried and rather beef-jerky-like bits turned into plump, black, white-spotted caterpillars.

... and after.

Next, we discarded the soaking water and gave them a little boil in more salted water. A strange smell, like a mix of cow stable and fine tea leaves, wafted from the pot...

Finally, the beasts were thrown in a pan full of piping hot vegetable oil and fried there until crispy. Meanwhile, I prepared a little sauce of onions, tomatoes and piri-piri (little hot chilies) - the only thing missing in the end was a good batch of pap, sadza, or masa: maize porridge.

African groceries, German equipment

The onion-tomato-affair reminded me a lot of evenings by the fire down South, but I have to say that the masonja were a bit, well, unexciting: they tasted like very crispy, slightly salty and otherwise somewhat bland bits of protein. Maybe worm-shaped bits of seitan with a crunchy outside would actually be pretty similar...

At least my mother almost died from disgust when she saw my dad and me chowing down on our masonja, and that's worth something!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


With being back at my desk comes the need to play around and bide my time. I've been extremely fascinated by the spatial structure of information lately - how can we map the ways we interact, communicate, live?

Twitter is one of the most popular ways people share their "status" with anyone who cares to know. The site provides a cool streaming API that allows developers to listen to and filter through all the data that goes through in real time. It turns out it's reasonably easy to access using Python, and the last couple of days I wrote a script that listens to geo-tagged tweets.

Any tweet with coordinates then gets put on a map, and any tweet with an origin as well as a mention of another place is represented as a line between the two points. Within a few minutes, you can see the connected countries - mostly Europe and North America, with a few bursts in Japan and Australia and the occasional life sign from South Africa and South America - light up. And, maybe unsurprisingly, most people seem to tweet about nearby places.

I'm really excited about learning to use APIs and the amazing Python Basemap. What other interesting things can be done with all this data?
(Also, my plotting is waaay slower than my streaming. I can't keep up with twitter! Anyone have a good idea why that might be?)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The wild hunt

Finding an apartment can be a full-time job, especially in Munich, possibly the worst place in this country to find a place to live.

I went down, lodged myself in a friend's apartment, opened my laptop and found a site with flatshare-postings. Tried contacting people. Got about ten times less responses than I sent out requests - welcome to Munich. But hey, there was someone trying to rent out one room in their apartment, willing to meet me tomorrow!

The two-person.  The first two-bedroom I visited had a lovely bedroom for rent, but the horrible body odour of the other occupant filling kitchen, hallway and bathroom.
At the next one I met not only the current inhabitant, but also her mother and the mother's giant German shepherd dog. Mommy was quick to tell me all about how the poor daughter had been so disadvantaged that she now has to spend 3 years finishing high school at age 24.
So it went on, and all of them told me I could move in with them. When I politely declined, their ads went back up on the website. I started looking for bigger living groups.

The university students. They usually live in shared flats, and I was able to get some of them on the phone - no way out, no email you can ignore, I'm coming by tomorrow morning!
When I arrived at my next potential home, one of my two potential housemates was still not there; "he'll be back from this party somewhere out in the suburbs some time soon". "Yeah, we've got a microwave. No, no oven, we're thinking about buying one". "So, what do you do when you're not at uni?" -- "Well, mostly we just hang with friends in our kitchen, we prefer wine over beer usually."
When the tardy partier finally arrived, about an hour late, he repeatedly stated "I'm here now, but only physically so far... Give me some coffee!"

On the blackboard on the wall: a list of all the applicants who were to visit throughout the day. I might've moved into this marvellous living stereotype, but I suppose one of the 15 other hopefuls fit the bill better.

The "Verbindung". That's the German version of a fraternity... I located the only one in Munich that houses women, and called for a visit. Leather couches, a pool table, a garden in the back. Oh, and a fencing range in the basement, as it turned out that all the male members have to participate in an old-fashioned style of sabre fighting four times a week. And women can't be full members anyways, their main raison d'etre is that "guys behave a lot better when there's girls around". Uhm, no thanks.

The perfect. Then, I couldn't believe my eyes, I found a flat just five minutes from a Capoeira academy. It wasn't too expensive, either. I went to visit, and chatted for an hour with the people living there. They're cyclists and climbers and have a little herb garden on the flats balcony which overlooks a shady peaceful back yard. The girl leaving her room mentioned that she'd like to leave her piano in the room for a few years, *if I didn't mind* - I had truly found paradise.

Well, after two days I got a call from them saying "you were up there on our list, but eventually we gave the room to someone else. Sorry!"

The temporary solution. Soul crushed and eyes tired from nearly 2 weeks staring at online ads and waiting for replies, I found rescue in the form of the same friend's apartment I had been staying at: a room is opening up! It's a spacious 10 square meters, only about an hour by train from where I'll be working. And it's being vacated a mere 10 days after I'm supposed to start there - what's 10 nights spent on a couch, after all?
Okay, my new flatmates are engineers, so likely there'll be lots of physics jokes and I'll possibly lose any semblance of social skills.

But I won't be sleeping under the bridges by the Isar, and that's a start.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back home, with some detours

All things have an end (except for sausages, which have two, as we say in Germany...), and so I had to leave the wilderness and head back into what I've come to jokingly call "civilization".
Mama Schade's Blackforest Cake

First was a week-long stopover in Cape Town, to meet some old friends, tie up some loose ends and catch a plane back to Europe.
The best part of the week was my host Sheila, a lovely lady who had been part of the solstice-activities up in the Karoo and invited me to come visit when I was back in town - so I moved into her guest room, complete with my own bathroom and a heat blanket under the bed sheet, to preheat the bed on cold winter evenings. Oh how I love technology!

Birthday brunch
Sheila and I celebrated her 71st birthday together with lots of good food and wine, and had more of the same during the rest of the week. I also got to experience what life in South Africa is like living in one of the gated communities or "complexes" - very safe, very comfortable and with a lot of driving. The regular coffee shop is "only" a ten minute drive away, you can be in the city in a matter of half an hour on the highway. But there are green fields, beautiful views from the breakfast table and security guards to make sure you can sleep easy.

Breakfast table vistas in Durbanville

During the week I also met my previous host's daughter, who lives in Cape Town, is almost exactly my age and just had a heart transplant 8 months ago. We spent a day having coffee, enjoying classic cape views and collecting some golf balls for her dad... The feat of travelling once around Southern Africa seemed pretty insignificant compared to growing up with a heart disease and having to get used to your own mortality as a teenager.

Michelle trying to blend in with the guinea fowls in the background

And finally, the main reason for coming back to this city, I had my first capoeira-batizado! Sadly without much of my capoeira family, since lots of them were on summer vacation, but still very exciting for me. My mestre Espirrinho handed me my green first belt, and my "godmother" Mordaca gave me my nickname: Beterraba, beetroot, apparently because that's what my face looks like after playing.

with Espirrinho

When I finally got on my plane home, leaving the CT capoeiristas behind was the hardest thing. But in Dusseldorf, my real family was already waiting for me, with a beterraba-bouquet and a blackforest cake! What more could you want?

Brother + beterraba-bouquet
Now, after lots of sentimental pictures with friends and family, what's next? I'm traipsing around Europe for a little while, and then seeing if maybe I can stomach "civilization" for long enough to get my PhD here - I'm doubtful...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Modes of transportation

After my rather brainy solstice weekend with the Dr. I was to follow a several-month-old invitation to David's home farm further up in the Karoo, near Graaff-Reinet. His cousin Philip, leatherworker and horseman, a carbon copy of Captain Haddock with his beard, cap and tobacco pipe - if only his voice wasn't just a tad to squeaky - had told me I must come up there and learn how to ride a horse.

Philip - what a character.

So on Sunday afternoon, I climbed into the farmer's 6-seater Cessna, for the only airborne leg of my whole trip. He had learned how to fly because he decided it was the most efficient way to travel accross this vast country - and I definitely prefer it over driving! Couldn't stop grinning for about 10 minutes after the stomach-turning ascent, and then got to steer the plane for a little while. It's really difficult to keep the thing level inside a cloud, because everything outside is just white, white, white... But there is a little instrument for everything, including a water balance, so we didn't crash and made it to Coetzierskraal, the Luscombes' family farm, in just over an hour.

What keeps an airplane up in the clouds


Of course the rain in Laingsburg stopped when I left, and it started raining at this new place as soon as I arrived. I moved into one of the now grown-up kids' rooms, and went for a stroll of the vast meadows, complete with rivers and willow trees. And ostriches. And angora goats! Those look just like sheep, really.

3 stoves! The one in the middle has a little fire going.

The next day, after a breakfast of oats cooked by the maid on an old-fashioned wood-fired stove, Plip and I went out to capture the horse I was supposed to ride. Her name was Venus, and she was with a young fole and quite grumpy to be made to carry me around on her back. My excitement made up for her apathy though, and so we managed to do a few circles inside a pen, then a few lanes on a larger field. After two days Venus, the fole and myself spent a whole morning exploring the farmlands all by ourselves. (I'd rather not tell you how the first time I got off the horse to open up a gate, she wouldn't go through the gate at all, turned right back around and trotted back to the stables. And how I had to take off my shoes and run after her through an ice-cold river. But it did happen... only once though!)

I'm on a horse!

Precocious baby horse

Horse riding makes a lot of sense out there, especially in places where a car can't go: One morning, David, his girlfriend and I drove out to a more remote part of the farm where the river had flooded a road, and promptly got the pickup stuck in the mud. It took about 5 men and half an hour of hard labor to finally get the vehicle back on solid ground.

The Karoo as seen from horseback

I stayed at Coetzierskraal for almost a week, and really didn't want to leave at all. But after 6 days I washed the farm dust and horse hair out of my clothes and got back on the road, down the grand N1, through Laingsburg and Hex River Valley. David's son needed his car down in Cape Town, and so for the first time since the beginning of the trip I was driving myself - back to the place where it all started.

(No,f course I would never be taking photos while driving. Ever.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Winter solstice

When I got off the train in Laingsburg, I was headed for the sheep farm of David Luscombe - a giant patch of arid land with merinos and damaras roaming more or less freely on it. The farm house had a warm fireplace and - for a change - working hot water, but no electricity. David arrived a few hours after I did, and I spent the next two days learning all about sheep farming. Apparently merino sheep are a bit dumb, and tend to get eaten by jackals, so they decided to switch most of their sheep over to the much more goat-like damara sheep. Those don't give wool, but nice meat, and because they sleep in one big flock at night, the jackals can't really get to them.

The plants wer enjoying the rain

Unfortunately it started pouring rain on my second day there, and both the local workers and the local sheep didn't like the unusual weather in the least, so the herding halted. I settled next to the fireplace with a headache and a fever (for a while I thought I had caught the malaria, but in hindsight it was probably just the flu), and waited for the main attraction of my stay: the winter solstice workshop of Dr. Cyril Hromnik.

CH taking pictures of the solstice sunset lining up with a person seated in an ancient worship site

I met Cyril a few months ago through his son - he's a historian studying pre-European African civilizations, and is particularly interested in certain stone structures found in Southern Africa. David's farm has got lots of heaps of rocks, little walls and strange man-made enclosures all over it, that no one was able to explain for a long time. Cyril noticed that all of these stones line up with the movable sky, i.e. the trajectories of the sun, moon and planets. His explanation? Indian gold traders moved down the Eastern coast of Africa long before the year 0, began mixing with the local population and brought with them their religion - the resulting culture he calls "Kenna".

Adjusting the marker for a solstice sunrise observatory

Apparently very similar structures are found in India. And once Cyril started looking for patterns in the temples, as he calls them, he discovered that some of them form shapes from ancient Indian mythology, for instance Rama's bow and arrow. To further corroborate that idea, lots of African languages turn out to have Dravida (i.e. old Indian) words in them!
For the last decade or so, Cyril has taken groups of interested people to David's farm to observe solstices and equinoxes from the old temples. About 5 of them showed up there last Friday, and together we spent the weekend clambering over rocks and staring wide-eyed at beautiful sunrises and sunsets over distant mountain peaks and between little monoliths.

Since the weather remained cold and wet (Desert? Lies!), the traditional South African Braai was moved to the fireplace in the living room. Yup, cooking over open fire can be very civilized!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shosholoza, kulezontaba stimela siphume South Africa

"The train is speeding up towards South Africa." Apparently that's the meaning of this old Ndebele workers' song which has been popularized by the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, more recently several movie soundtracks (for instance to Invictus), and the SA football team during the 2010 world cup.


South Africa's oldest train line also takes its name from the same song: the Shosholoza-Meyl. A bit like the trans-Siberian of Africa, it runs all the way from Johannesburg to Cape town, in just over 24 hours. Much slower, much cheaper, much more comfortable and much more exciting than the overnight bus. Finally, I got to take a train on my big African trip!

First Shosholoza managed to confuse me sufficiently with their out-of-date website that I got stuck in Jo-burg for an extra 2 days - there are no more Sunday sleeper trains, and no way was I going to sit on a train for twenty hours. On Tuesday I tried again, showed up at the station early in the morning and purchased a ticket to Laingsburg. 2 hours later I returned to find a long queue at the gate to the platform, which opens only one hour prior to departure. The passengers were a mixed crowd, whites, blacks and coloreds, mostly South Africans on their way to visit friends and family by the looks of it. We slowly filtered through the gates to the notice board with the compartment assignments. I found my name listed together with that of a Ms. Hendricks, and figured it would be a relaxing day with another single lady traveller.

When the train arrived at the platform and I found compartment 8B, things didn't appear so relaxing: Ms. Hendricks was travelling with a 6-year-old daughter and what looked like a 12-year-old son. She was, however, friendly and chatty and showed me the bathroom, the drinking water tap and the hot shower.

(Savor this one please. Here I am, not having seen an operational hot water tap in about 6 weeks... and Shosholoza-Meyl, for the price of just about 45EUR all the way across the country, comes with a hot shower in each carriage.)

Leaving the city I never actually went to see

By the time we were rolling out of the city, I was playing my guitar for the little girl and being filled in by my companion that the other child was not, as I thought, the elder brother, but with 26 years at the mental stage of a 4-year-old and suffering from severe autism. Eish. At least the compartment was quite spacious, two thre-seater couches which could be converted into beds, and another two beds which fold out from the walls above. And it had a sink, too!

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the whole situation, and flu-ish from 4 days in a poorly insulated farmhouse, so I crawled into one of the overhead beds - surprisingly comfortable - and spent the first hours of my trip dozing. In the afternoon, I headed to the dining car. Upholstered seats, table cloths, friendly attendants, and tasty food at very reasonable prices! I had some tea and some salad and watched the arid countryside go by. It didn't quite fly by, but good enough, and the sunset over the desert was stunning as always. 

A dining car with a view.

Meanwhile the staff was taking their afternoon break, and I managed to chat up the chief conductor of the train, a yound Zulu woman from the North. And she promised she would find me a place to sleep, just after Kimberley, without small children or autistic tantrums. By 8 o'clock, I was reshuffled to a different compartment, just me and a teenage girl from Kimberley who - in broken English, but better than my Afrikaans - told me she was the junior table tennis champion of SA. Kinda cool.

All I had to do now was take a hot shower (temperature good, water pressure delightful), bundle up against the Karoo cold and sleep until 6 in the morning, when me and my bags would tumble out of the train onto the platform of the old Laingsburg train station. A station so cold and deserted that when all the passengers had left, I had to beg the station workers for some of their instant coffee and hot water. But friendly as they are in the desert, my wish was granted, and I ended my journey learning some Eastern Cape Xhosa while waiting for my pickup.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Two cities

The capital of Mozambique
It's been too long since I had liberal access to an internet connection - where to start? I left off in Maputo, my re-entry point to civilization. Here I stayed with an expat Brit, Jerry, who now makes a living teaching English to wealthy Mozambicans - and has a local girlfriend who was dispatched to come rescue me from a greedy txapela-driver upon arrival. She came in with a torrent of angry Portuguese and brought me home safely, to a spacious colonial apartment in the center of the city. With wooden floors and even running water, although the water only runs by virtue of a privately installed water pump.
Palm trees in the city

The first day Jerry and I explored the streets and markets of Maputo, dusty glory of days gone by, but much more lively than Beira in the North. The sidewalks are full of street vendors, with cell phone airtime and freshly roasted cashews. At the market we haggled in broken Portuguese for the most beautiful seafood I've ever seen.
Anyone know what these fish are called?

Over lunch and some Pretas (the local dark beer) we met policeman Inok, who wants some English lessons from Jerry, proceeded to introduce us to all his local friends, teach me some Shangana (the local language) and ask me out for lunch the next day.
Jerry and Inok having lunch at the Mercado do Povo

Later we were joined by Ines the backpacker coming down from Tofo. The beautiful seafood was prepared, and I finally had Mozambican shrimps! Supposedly they were served for free alongside your drink in every pub along the coast about 30 years ago, now they are a luxury good.
With Ines in tow, we headed out to enjoy another attraction of Mozambique, the live-band Karaoke at Gil Vicente's cinema. A spectacle not to be missed, with the full house band of GV accompanying more or less capable singers for their choice of song.

 In the following days I wandered around by myself, taking some photos of the architecture and (covertly, because otherwise they want money from you) of the roadside vendors of vegetables, fabrics and second-hand clothing. By the way, I saw where all your donated sweatshirts and sneakers end up, and someone is making a profit with it!

Orange and cashew vendors everywhere.
I'm really sad I never got to see a cashew tree though.
Where your jeans go to die

Nucleo de Arte: open studio and gallery
Along my wanderings I encountered, in an open studio-space called Nucleo d'Arte, the Mozambican poet Eduardo Costley-White. He bought me several beers and decided I had to be taken to the shop of a Zimbabwean immigrant at the - currently closed - city fair "feira". Extolling the virtues of Manica - another local beer - and of lesbian love encounters with African women, and under promises to send me a poem on a postcard, ECW then dropped me off just in time for me to catch a night bus to Johannesburg.

Interlude: border crossing
South African home affairs had me so worried. I thought I might get arrested if I didn't get my study permit cancelled before re-entry, I thought I might have to bribe and plead. Well, in the end it turned out it was quite easy, and while South African officials are far less friendly than any other African nation they happily stamped my passport in the end and let me through.

According to one of my fellow bus passengers, my stoic smile and complete calm in the face of being taken to the back office and having to wait for half an hour was impressive... here's to being prepared for the worst.

Johannesburg, or not
Arriving at the main station in Joburg in the wee hours of the morning I was properly worried about my safety, probably for the first time on my whole trip. All the fast food joints were still closed; I found from one of the cleaning ladies that an adjoint garage had about twenty little stalls in it which were already serving instant coffee and rolls to what you might call the lower class of Jo-burgers on their way to work. I settled at one of the plastic tables and made friends with the owner of the stall. He was a black guy, running the place with his wife, and was worried for my safety too. To the point of offering me a place to stay in case my plans somehow didn't work out! I stayed for several hours - and free instant coffees - until my couch surfer instructed me on how to get to his place.
GauTrain, just like at home, only cleaner

That place turned out to be far far out of the city, almost equidistant from Pretoria as from Jozi. I got the privilege of riding the brand-new GauTrain linking the two cities, so clean and safe that I wasn't allowed to eat an apple on it. Then my next host, just recently moved out of a converted nightclub, took me to his new abode: a farm in the middle of nowhere, Magaliesburg.

Is this view worth the commute?

The interesting thing here was that him and his buddy, both named Johan(n), are trying to go "off the grid", i.e. be independent from municipal electricity and completely reliant on solar. They had rigged up a whole system to run computers and speakers off the battery charged during the day, or off a generator in case of emergency. The water is also heated by the sun, at least in theory - the whole time I stayed there I didn't manage to have a proper hot bath/shower.

The two Johans constructing my bed

Pool table on the farm!
Instead I helped Johan 2 move all his stuff into the second farm house, relaxed at the living room pool table, ran around the high veld countryside. And for 4 days didn't really encounter any unsafety, or any big city things at all, until I caught the Shosholoza-Meyl train straight through the heart of South Africa to the Great Karoo.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Na costa da Mozambique

Another country, another language, everything is different here from Zimbabwe! People live in little round huts made from grass mats, and they eat fish and drink Mozambican beer and dance the night away. A night that starts early, because we're at the eastern-most edge of the time zone, so it gets dark around 4:30 in the afternoon.

I crossed over from Nyanga almost two weeks ago, and at the border post got promptly ripped off by clever street money traders with a trick calculator while changing my money into the local currency, Meticais - one Mt is worth about 3 cents. A zim girl who was also walking across the noman's land decided I needed help, and adopted me for the rest of the day - she suggested we hitchhike to Beira together. Hitching a ride on a truck is a much more comfortable way to travel than by minibus: you get to sit next to the driver on your own seat, or take a nap on the little on-board bed they all have, you can request a bathroom stop anytime, and buy copious amounts of cheap cheap pineapples and oranges on the side of the road.
Pineapples on the road

Of course the roads in that part of the country are so bad that said truck took about 8 hours to cover the 300km to Beira, dodging pot holes along the way. And when I finally got to my couchsurfer Flore's house, I just barely had the energy to head down to the beach with her, buy a Laurentina (one of the three local beers) from a street vendor there and dip my feet in the Indian ocean.

Indian ocean sunrise

All the buildings are owned by corporations... or falling apart.

Jongue and mother, and me stirring chima.
I stayed in Beira for one weekend: crumbling colonial glory, defunct ports, dirt roads in the city center. I hung out with Flore, as well as with her boyfriend Jongue, a local musician who builds jembe drums for a living

and whose big African mother cooked me one of the local specialties, Matapas - crabs in a stew of Manioc leaves cooked with peanut and coconut shreds. Wow was that tasty! And Saturday evening took us to a remote campsite with all of Jongue's musician friends around a big fire, eating and making music. Dancing and jamming with a jembe band on my little guitar even the Portuguese speaking got a bit easier.

My place in Vilanculos
From Beira I headed on the overnight bus to Vilanculos, a tiny beach town a few hundred km South of Beira. Here I found a strange contrast between some lovely absolutely Western hostels, complete with pool and British backpackers, and a city centre full of red dust roads an little round reed huts. Oranges cost 1Mt on the street, coconuts are free off the palm trees. The water is amazingly warm, and the children still get excited when they see a white person walking by (mostly because they hope for some candy or money I think, but they're friendly anyways).

The first day I made friends with some local fishermen on the beach, and they spontaneously offered to take me out fishing! So I spent a whole working day out at sea on Cpt. Tarcisio's boat, the Natyiwane, helped them pull in the nets out near the Bazaruto archipelago, and went home with 5 lovely little fish for dinner.

Vou pra ilha de mare...
Pulling in the catch

Since my couch surfer here, Hugo from Spain, works as a diving guide in Vilanculos, I decided I couldn't miss on a chance to see the stunning archipelago close-up. We went by speed boat over to the island, poked around the bush and waterholes inland in the morning, and then went for a snorkel in the reefs in the afternoon. I didn't expect it to be so good, but I just loved it! Huge rainbow-colored fish got a bit distressed when I tried to chase them down, and some of the corals change colors when you poke them with your finger... Unfortunately I came out of the water with slightly changed colors myself, and a case of stage 2 hypothermia, lips purple, disoriented and unable to speak! But a few cups of hot coffee and all the skippers' spare sweatshirts brought me back to normal quickly enough.

Exploring Bazaruto

Somehow we ended up crashing a local wedding at the hostel!

And what else? I made friends with lots of other travellers at the pool side, took time to relax, and then headed down further South in a mad sleepless trip to Maputo. Saturday night I got on a bus in the dusty center of town, roundabout 2 in the morning. My new-found travel companion Ines showed up with a bottle of Tipo Tinto, the cheapest alcohol you can get here - 50Mt for a 500mL bottle of rum. Good value... And it made the bus ride so much more enjoyable! At 6 in the morning we arrived at the waypoint of Maxixe, from
Ines and Daniel and the crumbling glory of Inhambane's old cathedral

where we caught a ferry full of freshly caught fish over to the charming old town of Inhambane. And what do you do early on a Sunday morning? Of course, church! Since the sermon was in Portuguese however, we didn't last through the whole service (I really feel sorry for everyone in the middle ages listening to Latin sermons every day). Instead we spent a few hours wandering the sort-of-but-not-quite Lisbon-like streets of the town, stocked up on bread, eggs and Tipo Tinto, and caught a ride with a friend of a friend into a proper beach colony, Tofo. Full of coconut palms and some of the most beautiful beaches in Mozambique.
Short short stay in Tofo!

Sleeping didn't seem worth my while, so I kept busy with a sunset walk on said beach, cooking some egg sandwiches,  going for a last skinny dip in the Indian ocean under a star lit sky and drinking TT with Ines and her Portuguese friends. Until 4 in the morning, when I haggled a good price for a chicken bus ride all the way down to Maputo.
Here I arrived on Monday, completely sleep deprived, to the house of an Englishman named Jerry - it's like the promised land, with internet, running water, wooden floors and located right in the center of this lively Southern African capital. The afternoon nap on a comfortable bed under a mosquito net was heaven, I think I might be adjusting back to civilization already!