Wednesday
Jun082011

El Gaucho Gales

San Antonio is in La Pampas, the horse-riding, cattle-ranching, steak-grilling cowboy territory.

I am mildly obessed with horse riding. I want to be a Gaucho.

The Welsh Gaucho, that's what they could call me. They'd embrace me as one of their own, I'd have my own ranch, my own horses, eat huge steaks everyday... all I needed to do was impress the Gauchos with my superb riding skills and they'd accept me as one of their own...

I'd been here with my mates three years ago and fulfilled the dream of riding a horse like a cowboy on the plains. I wouldn't say it had been a chilhood dream, more of an slightly weird adult obsession. But come on, what a life, riding around, herding cattle on the land, just you and your horse against the elements and then  past all the town's women longingly gazing up at you on your trusty stead, as you head home to settle down to a feast of huge chunks of meat and drink malbec in front of the fire. 

Ok so it's not 1897 but it must still be a little like that...no?

Matt and Min can confirm, I was once again a little keen to get back on a horse. I annoyed the hell out of them. At Estancia CinaCina, we met up with an old friend, Juan Manuel, who had been our host three years ago. I'd forgotten what a character he was and how flipping charming he could be. A beer and a laughter-filled chat later we were all booked up for a horse ride the next day.

That night, I'm not sure I slept. I was going to be a Gaucho again.

A familiar friendly face of Juan ManuelMore than a little excited

Min, tomorrow, I become a cowboy I've always dreamed of beingI turned out to be not so much Gaucho on trusty stead but Gringo on horse he didn't trust.

Gaucho horse riding is no dressage. Sweet mother there is pain involved. There's no dainty plinky plonky steps here, this is man on beast.. struggling to stay on beast. Get in wrong and it hurts a lot, but what amazing fun.

Going for the Che look...what do I get? Frank Spencer. So unfair... 'Oooh Fidellly

I wonder if Che had troubles with stopping too

Check out the MinHorse riding Gaucho style is one hand on the reigns, left for left, right for right. Kick heels for faster, pull back for slower and panic if you need to stop.
I'm under no illusions that it was me controlling the horse, the gaucho who took us out was in full control. Now I don't understand Horse Spanish but all those little clicks and tuts were making me go faster and slower. Nothing I did really mattered. We weren't bothered, we were on horses, galloping through the Argentinian Pampas.

The coolest man alive, our Gaucho guide

I have never had more fun. From time to time I'd see Min gallop full pace past me, big smile on her face, a proper cowgirl. An amazing day.

Maybe we can buy that ranch after all...

----------------

The Welsh Gaucho? Sounds hard to believe? In Patagonia the Welsh settlement of Trevellin is full of them. The towns people still speak Welsh and sing Welsh folk songs. It's an incredible story, one I hope to document in the future. Fingers crossed I'll fulfill another dream of mine and The story of John Evans the founder of Trevellin in 1889 will make it to a big screen. Aim for the stars eh. 

If you're interested, check out more on Trevellin and in particular, the story of John Evans.

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/Wales-History/Patagonia.htm

John Evans story : http://tinyurl.com/3zmpkv7

 


 

Wednesday
Jun082011

San Antionio de Areco

This is San Antonio Del Areco.

Only three hours from BA yet a world away. It's Autumn. Old faded buildings with faithful vintage cars parked outside, still maintaining their glory. Beret-wearing gauchos ride past on their horses and the town folk dance is about to begin. I adore this place. Is this the best looking little old town in the world? Is it real or are we on a film set?



The town folk dance, just another sunday in San Antonio

We only popped to Tourist information for a flyer. All this for us. Amazing

Young Gauchos look on

Empanadas in one of the beautiful old cafe/bars of San AntonioMatt uses Wifi. It's freaking everywhere. What a place!Kids in San Antonio de ArecoThe Three Amigos

Beautiful vintage cars, not bought as vintage, just still working aftert much love and care. I'm a big fan. I miss my mini.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Becoming local

Whilst in Buenos Aries, we had the pleasure of meeting up with my old colleague Pedro.
Rio born, former east london regular, Pedro has now been reborn as Buenos Aires all-round dude. He is an utterly brilliant bloke, now living the dream he'd talked about when I worked with him. It was a real pleasure to meet up with him.

He was an excited man, as I was. He loved the city and we talked like kids in a sweetshop. 'Go here…do this…this is amazing…have you seen…'.
A fellow Art Director, Pedro now works for Mother (Madre) in the city. For anyone that doesn't know them, they're a bit good. It was darn interesting to hear about life at this well known Advertising agency as well as hearing all about his new life in the city. Pedro was now a Porteno, he was now a local.

We talked about the differences between Buenos Aries and London, how Rio had been on his return and how the trials and tribulations of landing in a foreign city and trying and start a new life and career.

'You sound like a baby', Pedro said. 'It's impossible to be you'. (and this is coming from a man who as a brazilian, has a pretty good grasp of Spanish)
'Your personality doesn't shine through when you're talking in a language you're not familiar with'.

How true. I'd never really given this much thought until, a year ago, I realised how darn funny Mateus (our other Brazilian friend) was in Portuguese. Don't get me wrong, he was funny in English, but back then he was a shadow of the funnyman we now know. I went with him to watch a Brazilian World Cup match and was amazed to see the whole table cracking up at him (the Mateus we experienced daily in Ubatuba). The thought of Pedro, having a considerable personality himself, not being, Pedro was weird. But it's Pedro!

Pedro said that now, after 6 months he was up to 85% himself in Spanish but it was hard work. He'd been 98% in English after so long in London, something I can verify, an outward He then said he wasn't even 100% in Brazil as he had been away so long and had had experiences others hadn't. 85% or not, Pedro seemed to be having an amazing time and was well on the way to being the mother of all creative geniuses.

I like this meeting up with old friends on the other side of the world malarky.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Buenos Aries, I love you

I fell in love with Buenos Aries after only a few days in the city three years ago. In my humble opinion (and relatively limited experience) it's the best city in the world. (London I love you, please don't throw me out, it's merely a fling, Bangalore you know you'll always be my exotic bit on the side, New York I'm coming for you)

The people of Buenos Aries and the rest of Argentina for that matter are special. For a start they're damn cool.
This is not ripped jeans-flat cap-magazine article-following cool. (Guilty as charged) This is effortless cool.

It does help of course that Argentina's history and tradition (Gaucho cowboys for example) gives them an incredible starting point.
When it comes to clothing, any man that can pull off a baggy beret, neck scarf, socks rolled up over aladdin trousers and a bit of rope draped around the neck and still looks like the guy who gets all the girls is a hero of mine. (The fact that he rides a horse and eats only meat is also a big factor in my unhealthy infatuation).
The sexiness of Tango, the love of bold colour (see La Boca below) expression, graffiti and music all contribute to the feeling that this place is one of a kind.

I think that's the secret to it all, Argentinians are proud of their traditions and who they are. And who they are and were just so happens to be incredibly cool.  

Mix their warmth and eagerness to include a visitor with determination (the ability to protest and throw a few fire crackers has not been lost in the current economic boom) and a love of the good things in life and you have a very exciting place to spend your days.

That's not all. The people of Buenos Aries seem to look so darn relaxed.

Londoners will be amazed to hear that this is a city devoid of the tut, lacking in tantrums where people queue at bus stops and don't complain, because the queues work; where rushing around is simply greeted with a puzzled look or a rolling of the eyes and where anyone caught eating lunch at their desk would be thrown over the grill and served up as part of a mixed grill Parilllada. Here lunch is shut-down time, a full hour at least spent with all colleagues or family.  And so it should be.

You get the feeling if you asked Porteno about positive aspects of the city 'how come it's like this…' the answer almost every time would be 'why wouldn't it be'.

I've concluded that it all comes down to getting one's priorities right and I have a theory.

What happened was, in the beginning, when planning the city, the men that mattered decided to gather for steak and wine to set the priorities. After much merriment and good food they realised they had run out of time to set the priorities. And so all issues had been resolved and Buenos Aires is what it is now.

That's not to say that this is not a hard-working city. There are many areas of the city; the favelas that surround the bus station for example, where of course it's not all glamour and sitting around sipping Malbec.

---------------

In Palermo, the city that's main fuel is meat on meat is one that doesn't really get going till late. Out for beers with friends at 9, steak and wine at 11, cocktails at 1am and to a club at 3 is all a bit of a given for a night out in Palermo, Buenos Aries. And it doesn't end there. On exiting the club at 5, the streets are busy with people. Now unlike Watford town centre after Destiny's chucking out time, what you encounter here (for the most part) are somewhat happier yet sensible people who just  like to have fun and go to bed late. It's as simple as that. Having a good time here doesn't seem to have the connotations or knock on effects it does at home. Off course in other areas of the city I'm sure it's different but here it all seems rather, well, right. Some might call it class, appreciation, restraint, culture or common sense. I don't know what it is but I like it.

Any city that puts so much into achieving such excellence in food and wine and yet isn't stuck up or snotty, which insists on sociable lunch and dinners and places enjoyment of life so high up on their priorities gets my vote.

Of course, I must acknowledge that my view of BA may be somewhat Malbec-tinted and narrow.

It may be that if we lived here and saw other sides to the city, more than the trendy Palermo life we led, I might realise its not all Rosé. Like any city, Buenos Aries has it's problems. We might be too busy living a life of luxury to realise. Who knows, but for the next week, all I know is, there is no finer place on earth to be.

Can you pass me that corkscrew...

The Recoleta cemetery. Eeiry meets poignant loveliness as you weave your way through the maze of family tombs. The wealthy and the famous names of the city are all here including one Eva Peron.

El Ateneo, a bookshop converted from an old theatre in downtown Buenos Aires.

Empanadas. What can I say. Incredible pastie-but-not-pastie's, filled with meat, egg, olives and some secret ingredient that makes you insist on eating them everyday for lunch. At 50p a go this is no bad thing for the budget.

La Boca

Wednesday
Jun082011

More than a little excited

'Are you sure you want to go if you've been before?' Min asked me way back when we planned the trip. Which was a bit like asking a 9 year old me 'would you like to skip Mcdonalds this saturday as you went last week for Angus McNichol's birthday'.

Angus McNichol's birthday was incredible.

Despite Argentina not issuing you with a paper hat or animal cookie on entry, going back to Buenos Aries with Min got me more than a little excited.

We weren't really in search for a future place to live but the thought of testing out another city, another way of doing things for a while felt pretty darn liberating. Unlike the rest of the travelling, Buenos Aries felt closer to a life we could lead, I suppose, closer to home. And what a city to dip our toes into.
We decided to get an apartment and live like Portenos (Residents of Buenos Aries 'People of the port')

It was easy enough to find a place through a letting agency and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our 'pad' as it was now to be known was as cheap as staying in a hostel when you worked it all out. In the heart of Palermo, where home of bars and parillas (steak restaurants) art galleries and bohemian shops we were off to a good start.

 

Wednesday
Jun012011

Buenos Aries baby

We've only gone and arrived in Buenos Aries.

This city is brilliant. Brilliant I tell you.

Got to get back out there...

 

 

Wednesday
Jun012011

A bed...on a bus? 

Now I know a 24 hour bus ride doesn't sound great.

This is not however the dodgy 353 from Berko high street with chewing gum on the seat.

This is Brazil to Argentina.

A meal, glass of malbec, two Jason Statham films and a round of bingo later, recline your seat fully and you stand more than a small chance of actually getting some sleep.

Genius.

The bus that is, not Jason Statham.

Min and er, Man

 

Thursday
Apr282011

Florianopolis and the Brazilian bakery

After having spent so many days on so many different beaches we of course decided that our next stop should be florianopolis, beach capital of southern Brazil. Well when in Rome. Which is weird because weren't in Rome, we were in Florianopolis.

Florianopolis is an island renowned for it's beautiful beaches and party lifestyle.

Who does this renowning anyway.
There were a number of reasons why, as I look back now at the New york times' review (“It’s a mixture of St.-Tropez and Ibiza but without the attitude and without the prices") it all sounds a bit, well, mental.
We had just come from spotless almost private beaches in Ubatuba. We'd had our own beach house in a small village, our brazilian friends had been the most amazing hosts and guides and we'd had adventures into the jungle.
Now we were back in the real world. A stinking, loud hostel on some darn beach.

What a grumpy old b*stard. Listen to him. On a beach in Brazil moaning about a noisy hostel.
I guess this is what happens when you're so darn spoilt ('Five beaches and a BBQ').
It was off-season as well of course so I must take that into account.  The beaches weren't 'pumping'.
The closest to "leggy models straight from the pages of Sports Illustrated and the Victoria’s Secret catalog perching on its billowing banquettes (NY Times) " we saw was an overweight Frenchman, fag in mouth slumped over a bar awaiting the next order of calamari and chips.
Still it was good calamari and chips.
The florianopolis we saw was not "rife with sports cars, Gucci handbags and the occasional private helicopter" It was the place that people said was "rife with sports cars, Gucci handbags and the occasional private helicopter". Could the seasons really make all that much of a difference?
Of course it wasn't all bad.
The island was large and varied and when one day we hired a car, we discovered that there were some amazing little villages and picturesque coastline. We drove from bottom to top and back again through built up run-down neighbourhoods, tiny beach resorts in need of customers, the town that sat on the beautiful lagoon and down to the south where cobbled streets led to oyster restaurants and photo shoots of trendy young models where taking place.
There were the highrise-backed 'benidorm' beaches of the north where, although creepy in their lack of life made us glad that we were there off-season. The faded postcards showing of a mass of speedo clad-bodies, loungers and parasols where the beach once was confirming this place as our beach hell. Death by sunoil.
But yet there were beaches like Praia Mole (world renowned surf beach) backed by trendy bars that if it hadn't been as windy as heck and deserted apart from the kamikaze surf contingent looked like they could have been amazing places to party.

Matt and I sat on a log at Praia Mole and watched in awe as the surfers tackled the biggest waves I'd ever seen. Matt told me the waves were 'quite messy' and 'dumping'. I nodded in agreement and muttered a few words under my breath about 'breaks' and 'narlyness' keen not to blow my cover as surf dude.
After some time sitting on the log wishing we could ourselves be those guys, in those crashing waves, mastering their ferocity as they threw us from side to side, being at one with nature, we realised that it had started to drizzle. Erggh. Time to go home.

Yes we were starting to see why people had been raving about this place so much, but it was cold and there wasn't anyone around to do any raving about anything.

I suppose we'll have to go back in season to find out what all the fuss was about.

Either that or New York times could change their headline to "Florianopolis. It's ok" or  "Floripa. Will make you look forward to a 24 hour bus ride to Buenos Aries".

Spoilt b*stard.

Ok so it wasn't all bad, let us introduce you to the brazilian bakery

Take a electronic card, wander around and load up on an orray of pastries, sandwiches, fruit and brilliant coffee

A Coxinha - a popular Brazilian snack made from shredded chicken and spices (occasionally including Catupiry-style cheese) and Acai berry smoothie

Thursday
Apr282011

Now this is the jungle

Today we hiked in the jungle.

And none of this Indian forest calling itself jungle, this was pure Brazilian tropical wilderness. 

Lets get it out there straight away, we saw 5 snakes, one of which was THE snake used in that bit in Indiana Jones where she grabs a vine and it's not a vine.. I'm sure of it.

It was huge. An Iguana, some crazy spiders, the bluest of butterflies.

Ok, now's your cue to hum the temple of doom soundtrack...


The trek lasted 3 hours uphill through thick jungle. A local man, the gardener of Luana's aunt's place guided us, machete in hand, slicing his way up the mountain and stopping to point out snakes with a huge smile on his face (just kill it man!).



I finally did it. It's been a weird obsession of mine since I was a kid to have a shower under a waterfall in a place of paradise. I used to stand in the shower back at my mum and dads and closing my eyes and fully submerging my face under the flow of the water imagine that I was in this idyllic place. Today I only freaking well did it. It was freezing, a bit different from my dream but still it was incredible.


Our own private paradise unlike those of other places we've been to. This was just us and nature. What a feeling to hike in the jungle for 3 hours and to arrive at the site of a beautiful waterfall. An unexplainable feeling. But that wasn't the best bit. A hike down for another 3 hours and returning, gasping to a beach house where a BBQ and beers aplenty await. Well that's quite simply one of the best days I've ever experienced.

As we sat around the table tonight looking at the photos of the day (you can do that now)  we were all giddy with excitement and contentness. We'd climbed a mountain together, conquered the jungle, seen incredible nature at it's best, fallen down holes, into the water on a number of occasions and nearly stepped on deadly snakes. We weren't going to forget this is a hurry.

We got drunk quickly and were spark out by 10. What a day.

Thursday
Apr282011

Five beaches and a Barbecue

 In Brazil you don't just go to the beach, you go to five.

Well not exactly but the point is, there are so many beaches. If you head to a beach and it doesn't quite suit (the white sand and beautiful jungle don't quite do it for you) you just move on to the next one.

Over the last few days we've been to five beaches. Based at Luana's aunt's beachouse, we've headed out everyday to a different beach or two every day followed by a return to the house to BBQ a whole cow. What an incredible life we're living.

One of Matt's. I could get used to thisThese beaches blow your mind. We've been to a lot over the last few months, we are lucky lucky b**stards but these take it.
Beautuiful sweeping bays, green jungle that stretches out to the sea.


Missing Osterley

 

So how the devil did we get here?

Mateus and Luana, that's how.

Luana´s family beachouse is in Ubatuba, south east of Sao Paulo.

The drive out here from Sao Paulo was beautiful. The roads winded through amazing countryside, through lakes and eucalptus plantations.

 We were off to the beach and our home for the next few days.

Our home in Ubatuba

So I fell in love.

I'm not a dog person but this was no dog. This was Cheetah. 

Cheetah was Luana's aunts dog. A free dog that came with the house. She stayed at the beach house even when no one was there (she was fed by the gardener) 

She was therefore one of the most affectionate and soppy dogs I've ever seen. A favourite thing to do was sit on your feet. You move, she finds your feet and sit down. Burglars beware.


Free dog love

Ubatuba has over 70 beaches. That didn't turn out to be as horrible as it sounds.

So many beaches meant that you pick and choose your perfect one.

From the built up (yet desterted off season) to tranquil bays only accessible by treking through the jungle, there was something for everyone. Want more, we'll just move on.

We spent our days being driven from beach to beach by Beach guru Mr Mateus. 

Up in the morning, a drive to a different beach each day and then back to the house for a BBQ.

Can I swear? No ok sorry mum. We are one ruddy happy couple.

Beach 1 - Calm water in a wide bay, perfect for swimming and Mateus' first outing of his Speedos. All very excitable, a great deal of splashing about and screaming.

This is a bit of alright

2 - Beach front houses straight out of wallpaper magazine. We all spent some time choosing our perfect house before the sunset and we headed back to the more modest yet lovely setting of Luana´s beachhouse  for yet another steak feast.

 

Beach 3 - A hike through the jungle to a natural swimming pool. 

Man climbs, Matt sleeps

Beach 4 - The surf beach. Men excited.

Huge one footer

Beach 5 - The chillout beach. Handstands in the sand, snorkeling, sadness at there not being enough time to be a beach number 6. Back to the house after sunset for a BBQ.

--------------------------

To top off a perfect few days in Paraty we headed to the town of Paraty. 

Paraty is a an old colonial town. It had a very different feel to the rest of Ubatuba.

I'm going to let the photos do the talking. Stunning.


Paraty

-----------------
Having just come to bed at a late hour, you'd think that I might be a little worried or annoyed at the prospect of a six o'clock rise tomorrow.

But when you're getting up early in order to hike up a mountain at the back of a beach house in a coastal town in Sao Paulo state, Brasil, it's not quite the same as a day at work now is it.

All this because we have lovely friends.

But wait a minute, we didn't have a BBQ today...

 

Thursday
Apr282011

I hope you've had your lunch

Mateus and Luana wasted no time introducing us to their friends with a BBQ at their good friends' Henrique and Mirela.

Henrique and Mirela lived in an apartment, high up in a gated building in the centre of Sao Paulo. The view from his apartment was mental. This was a city of 19million and although you couldn't see the vast expanse of the city the fact that all that you could see were tall buildings told us that this city was huge. Huge but brilliant.

The city felt European, but that's a cheap shot. This city was truly Brazilian. It was alive, eclectic and… well pretty darn cool.

The favelas were no where to be seen in our first few days in Sao Paulo, poverty seemed to be in another part of Brazil.

Henrique had booked his communal BBQ area of his apartment block downstairs - itself a very cool thing, and planned an almighty meat fest, the Brazilian way. Having been to Argentina I thought I had an idea of what this entailed but it was different.
BBQ'ers back home would be amazed and in awe. This was high quality grilling. Huge steaks on skewers covered in salt, sizzling until the outer layer was cooked. It would then be sliced off, dished out in one bowl to all of us to pick at and the steak replaced to cook the next layer. This would go on for the rest of the evening as us newbies stuffed our faces and the Brazilian's looked on at us (with smiles and a feeling of pride I guess).

Oh sweet mother

You're killing me
And it's not all beast. Luana's delicious 'Vinaigrette' SEE BELOW

Some facts about a Brazlian BBQ

- Beer is served at 564 degrees below freezing. Brazilian's do not drink anything but ice cold beer and think that anyone who does is, well, English.

-  A BBQ is communal, everything is sliced up and shared. Meat is sliced up into small bits to be picked at all night

- Crusty bread with homemade 'Vinagrette' (above) is one of the greatest snacks ever invented

[I will post the Vinagrette Recipe when I've stolen from Luana] 

 - 'Calabrese' a flavoursome sausage with Lime juice trickled over leaves you wanting more and more. 

- And of course as this is a Brazilian BBQ, you don't just have steak, you have steaks and many different cuts. 

So it felt like we had 1-12 that night there was so much but one that stuck out for me was the Cupim or cow's hump. Now i'm pretty sure our cows don't have humps and that might explain why I've never tasted such an amazing bit of meat.

Cupim needs hours on the grill covered in foil as it's tough but is the perfect finale at a Brazilian BBQ at 3 in the morning. Perfect.

I wonder if anyones has had all 21 cuts in one night. 

 

Mateus' other friends Caio and Karena arrived to join the party and the beers and more steak flowed.

Amazing people.

To my surprise we discovered that the guys had met, playing in a band together, a very successful local Brazilian band 'Hellish' Mateus had had fans and everything, a rock star could you believe it. They were rock gods in their home city (The newspaper cuttings Henrique's wife sneaked us later confirmed it) 

Stories and banter kept going until the early hours of the morning until we were guided up to our room where we were staying at Henrique's place. Quite nice we thought seeing as the guy hadn't even met us before agreeing to put us up. These are the kind of people we were dealing with. Amazing stuff.

------
The next day we all planned to go and see Henrique and Caio's new band play. A pearl jam cover band, they were playing at 1 am at a bar in the city centre.

It was then that we learnt the key to a perfect brazilian night out and the secret to their infamous stamina and party lifestyle - we went to bed.

We woke at 11.30 PM to head out for the evening. We should do this more often Min and I discussed. It makes a lot of sense.

The venue was impressive as much as it was strange. On entering, you provided ID and your finger print. When ordering at the bar, you'd hold your finger up to a red light reader and money would be added to your profile. Mental. Of course I couldn't use the thing and there was much hilarity from the bar lady.
Really interesting way of running a bar and it was easy (despite my finger difficulties) and good novelty value.

The band was darn good, Eddie Vedder's voice nailed by Henrique.

The night was long. We stumbled home in the early hours and crashed out, throughly chuffed we'd been welcomed and shown a freaking good time.

 

Thursday
Apr282011

Another familiar face, another amazing experience

Please may I introduce you to Mateus Wanderly. A legend.
Mateus and I used to work together at my old agency, Brothers and sisters.

I think it may have been his first day when we first discussed Min and my dream of going to Brazil as part of a round the world trip. Even those two years ago the guy was excited for me, bringing up photos and recommending places.

It's funny how things work out.

Mateus and his girlfriend Luana decided to leave the UK and return to Brazil after we left in January. It so happened that they decided to get back to Sao Paulo a day after we arrived in the country.  Despite our fears that the last thing they'd want to do on returning to their homeland was entertain a load of English tikes, they insisted that they wanted to show us the city.

Not only that but they wanted to show us the state, the beaches, the parties, their friends, their friends houses, the whole lot.

What is it with Min and I and nice people. Once again we're blown away to being on the receiving end of a whole heap of loveliness.

We arrived in Sao Paulo hoping merely for some recommendations and possibly a night or two with familiar faces. What we got was a full open armed introduction to life in Sao Paulo, a place to stay, full attention and a bunch of new friends. This trip just keeps on giving.

Mateus is clearly a man true to his word. Two years ago I jokingly remarked that he could show me around when we went to Brazil. It was as comical and loose as that, and now, here we are, in his girlfirend's beach house with Brazilian rainforest to explore on our doorstep, having had the best possible introduction to Brazil. What a thoroughly nice man. 

Mateus told us on meeting him that he had been worried about us. 'What can you do in SP?' It's so hard to get around the city, transport is bad' (It's not London i guess he was thinking) He picked us up from the trendy hostel we'd be staying in and saying goodbye to the graffiti streets and retro shops, we jumped in his brand new car (purchased on his return from the UK) and started the next part of our trip in brilliant company.

Mateus is a very funny guy. Not only because he wears Speedo's with comedy pride, pushing out his belly and laughing at himself a great deal - On my arrival to dinner one night he said 'Ohhhh come on Tom go change. Why are you're wearing Trousers? This is brazil, only you and the Mayor that are wearing trousers'.

I went and changed into my shorts.

Luana and Mateus being Mateus

Thursday
Apr142011

The arrival of a friend

Min and Matt spy Tom climbing building
Today was a nice day. We were joined on our trip by our friend Matt.
Matt is 'our Kiwi friend'.
Yeah, we all want one, and Matt is by far the best Kiwi friend a man could have.

The truth is, now, he's actually a bit less Kiwi.
Matt's lived in the UK for 10 years and he's officially a Brit now (we were honoured to be at his citizenship ceremony). So Matt's a Brit, but really a Kiwi.

He's fully up on Britishness (Wouldn't dare talk to a stranger on the tube) but you call tell he's still a Kiwi through and through by his loyalty to good food, love of good coffee, passion for rugby and laid back demeanour.

Oh yeah, and he says Molk not milk.

Matt's one of us. He quit his job (a very successful job it must be said) and decided to galavant around the world with us until the end of the year when he'll head back to live in New Zealand and start afresh.

What an amazing feeling to meet such a good friend after three months away, in a beautiful Brazilian Cafe, downtown Sao Paulo and have breakfast together. To order in Portuguese and impress/show off to him after two weeks in Mozambique. To chat non stop about all the craziness in Africa and to hear all about home, the good the bad and the traffic in Putney high street. What a brilliant morning. Matt's here. As they day in NZ, sweet as.

So anyway, that's Matt. Enough of the introductions, let's get back to the story. The three of us are about to embark on three months of brilliance in South America.

The first few days in SP were spent in the uber trendy hostel of Vila Madalena. This is the place everyone is talking about, if you can be bothered to listen. Jokes aside, this was an amazing place to begin our South American journey and more importantly, the perfect place to meet Matt and adjust to the new continent and to plan the next three months (or in our case, talk about how we should plan the next three months)

Hostel Villa MadelenaWithin spitting distance (although spitting is frowned upon here as much as anywhere else so that's weird) of the hostel was the ridiculously cool district of Vila Madalena. Retro shops that the penny farthing riding trendies of East London could only dream of, galleries that would make old street graphic designers queezy with excitement and streets where Graffiti is legal and bursts of colour and coolness hit you smack in the face on every street corner.

This city is freaking awesome.

Post it note art, San Paulo

Havianas. You've all heard about them. Flip flops. Bits of rubber.

Who'd have thought that a we could make a full blown shopping trip out of it.

The Havianas store, Sao Paulo.

Matt makes a life changing decision Feet need rubberNew flip flops donned, we did Sao Paulo

Thursday
Apr142011

Leaving Africa behind

We feel an overwhelming sadness as the flight out of Jo'burg draws closer. The kind that makes us keep holding hands. It feels like we've unfinished business here.
'It get's under your skin' they say. But it's more than that.

I had had so many hopes and dreams for our trip to africa - I thought it would cleanse our souls, that we'd find 'purpose' here. We'd find something to pour our attention into that had more meaning
than the goal of simply getting richer, furthering our careers.
Yep Africa, that's where it would happen.
We'd find a charity, a cause, an individual who we could 'help' and our lives at home would be more balanced.

Of course life is not as simple as handing out gifts and money to less fortunate and waiting for a warm and fuzzy feeling to come over you and I realise that now. Instead, we've come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling for people, about what they did for us and how people reminded us of what was important in
life. 

We loved Africa because it summed up what this whole trip is about. Meeting people, seeing differences in the way we live our lives, absorbing what we can to make our lives better -  Not a case of arriving somewhere and going 'Poor them, they haven't got...' but leaving somewhere saying 'Wow we want what they have got'.

Africa gives in abundance. An overdose of warm-fuzzy feeling.
From linking arms with strangers on the back of a truck, watching an open-air film with the entire village, to a woman passing her child over to you on a busy bus (where it she'll fall asleep on you, a stranger for the 5 hour journey) Africa makes you smile, laugh and cry.

There is of course painful poverty but the poverty we've seen has not been as tragic as in the cities of Mumbai or Calcutta. It is tragic that so many people die of what are curable diseases in the West but in the villages we saw, no one would ever die alone, they'd be surrounded by people (the whole village carrying the sick woman to hospital on a bed in Chitimba is an example) Communalism and family count for everything. To an onlooker village life isn't tragic but beautiful. If people stopped dying what wouldn't be paradise about the village life? Just because it's not Western doesn't make it wrong.

No one is on their own struggling for food in a village, no one begs on the street. The village may struggle but it would struggle together. Of course this is only what we experienced.

There is so much wrong with people dying needlessly and the West shouldn't sit back and let that continue to happen but in my humble opinion, at all times we need to remember that Africa is Africa and any efforts to 'develop it' in the model of the west would be totally ignoring what makes it so special and so much better that the west in some ways.
Community, family, togetherness. The sight of the entire village present at a funeral is the image that will stick with me. People needlessly dying is a tragedy, but the whole village shutting down and uniting together, that is a very amazing, African thing.

------------------------

We made it. We're in South America. What an amazing flight. Hardly anyone on the plane and no turbulence.
Africa sent us away gently.

We miss Africa.
There is nothing bad about Brazil. In fact, Brazil is incredible,
I think when we're done here we'll already have plans to come back, it's
up there with one of the best places we've ever been to, and that's
after having just arrived.
The thing is, it's not Africa.
Brazil is remarkably familiar after over two months in Africa. It's
how we live at home more or less, the cultural differences are less
extreme. Of course it's darn pleasing to the eye, there are many many
beautiful differences to discover but… it's just not Africa.

Several times Min and I have had a moment, where we've just stopped
dead and said 'I miss Africa.'
It's such a hard thing to explain, why we loved it so much. The fact that it's so hard to explain makes it even more special for us. We're the only ones who can understand and that is a very lovely thing.

Africa got us. It sucked us in.
We are going back.
But now, a new chapter. Lets move on.

Thursday
Apr142011

Aren't people lovely

Not only have we met some incredibly lovely people on our trip, we've also met their mothers, their brothers, stayed in their houses when they weren't there, slept in their beds (they weren't there to reiterate), played with their dogs, had dinner with their grandmas and practiced yoga with their girlfriends. All this after having only known them a couple of days. It's made us come to the conclusion that no matter what you might think sometimes, the world is an incredible place full of lovely people. 

If you still need a bit of convincing I'm here to help. 

Here's a bit about the especially wonderful Oooman beans that have made us feel this way.

Tomorrow we leave Africa.  The warmth and kindness we've felt can be summed up perfectly by our last three days on the continent.

For a week in Tofo we'd been holidaymakers. If truth be known it was a bit dull.

Not really dull of course - we were in Mozambique, on a beach, surfing and doing yoga in the sun, but the thing is, that our experiences weren't as full on as they'd been previously on the trip. For a while, things had been exactly how we imagined them to be. There were no huge surprises, no hairy moments and nothing to write about and we missed that. We missed the uncertainty and the adventure that makes travelling different from a big long holiday. 

We were on a big long holiday. 

Then things changed. We couldn't have possibly predicted where we'd be writing from now. It's been a heck of a few days.

As I write now, we are staying in the house of the mother…of the boyfriend…of our yoga teacher from last week in Tofo. You following? 

We just arrived, strangers on the doorstep and have been greeted with open arms. We've been cooked for, our washing has been done and we've been taken out on the town by family members. We have a very warm feeling inside.

Let's start from the beginning..

Our Norwegian friends had left for home and Min and I decided to move on from the beach, back to Inhambane, the town we loved so much. 

After a couple of chilled out days spent in town, I was pining for the beach again. 

The 'surf'. 

Yeah that's right, I now call it surf. I know all the terms. 

Min had been patient with my obsessing over surfing whilst we'd been at the beach; my checking of the surf report, my little recce walks down the beach and my insistence in renting a board and heading out to tackle mammoth 4 inchers. 

I wanted to surf darn it and I wasn't going let a ferociously calm sea get in my way. 

Needless to say it wasn't very good.

When we discovered that the day we'd left the beach the waves had got bigger, Min was lovely enough to agree to heading back to the beach for one more day. 

And what a day it was. It turned out to be one of the best of out entire trip.

I'd booked us both in for a surf lesson and as we arrived at the beach, sun beaming down, the waves looked good. In that there were some.

Our South African teacher was mostly used to teaching small children and this would come in handy. One by one teach helped us out, pushing us onto waves and improving our technique. By the end of the day we were both were both…well, surfing. 

Ok, so obviously we weren't very good, but that wasn't the point. We had had an amazing day together. 

We loved it. Until we heard about the sharks that is. Luckily, by that time we were back on dry land.

As the sun set, we sat with a beer on the beach contemplating what might happen next on the trip. The uncertainty was creeping back in again and we liked it. 

No matter how lovely it had been travelling with some lovely others, it was good to be on our own again. 

That night we had booked ourselves in to 'Johns place'. A small guesthouse/hostel in the heart of Tofo. 

The owner, conveniently called John, was a white Mozambican. I had wrongly thought him to be a South African, someone who had headed over the border and bought up property for profit. I'm glad I worked out my mistake before he did. 

John's long white beard and glasses gave him the look of an old fisherman. 

John

John, the owner of John's place was a fascinating man. We chatted for some time and as the beers flowed, we heard some answers to the questions we'd asked ourselves the week before. What was going on in this place? Tofo was strange, Mozambique was different for us, what did he think? 

John didn't hold back in his dislike of what was happening to Tofo and Mozambique and in particular some of the south Africans who had arrived. 

John was interested in Min and I as a mixed race couple. A was a passionate man, he'd experienced a great deal and (The civil war in the 90's for example). He was clearly a known member of Mozambican society.

The conversation was about to evolve not a series of horror stories, some that we had already thought were possible and others that shocked us to our core.

The nature of some of his stories are tough annd whilst I'm talking about the lovlieness of people I will not go in to them.

We'd felt so welcomed by John at 'John's place' Tofo's best kept secret.

The place was simple but clean. There were nicer places to have stayed but we'd had a good feeling about this place. Our thoughts were confirmed when we saw Maria, our yoga teacher was living and working at the place. 

I'd been doing Yoga with Min at our hostel the week before. It was, I must say, awesome. I really got into it, much to the pleasure of my girlfriend and we would do the early morning class before a day at the beach trying to surf. Good times. It did however make me realise for the first time that my body is approaching 29. My mind may  be a long way away but sweet mother the old joints are getting on a bit. 

Just get someone else to touch your toes for you, much easier. 

After 5 days of yoga I felt like a different man. 

Maria was Chilean. Her accent and gentle manner had meant the sessions were like doing exercise to calming whale music. 

'Close your eyes, a little bit' was my favourite of all her warm phrases.

Seeing us at Johns place, Maria introduced us to the barman, her boyfriend (and soon to be father of her child) Gabriel. Gabriel was white Mozambican. He was the Colin Farell in my eyes, Johnny Depp in Mins. Either way a good looking chap. 

That night, our last in Tofo, we sat in the bar as the African rain hammered down around us chatting. We moved from seat to seat to avoid the drips from the ceiling as Gabriel told us about his band, how him and Maria met and life in Mozambique. It got late quickly and Min and I had a bus to catch at four in the morning for Maputo. We had no idea what we would do when we got there but had booked ourselves on a 4 am bus. That meant up at 3.

We started to make movements to bed. Now what I mean by this is, Min went to bed and I stayed up and drank more with Gabriel. A bad idea. 

When I finally navigated my way down from my bar stool and to the room, Gabriel appeared, his phone in hand. He said that he had a little surprise for us. 

He had arranged with his mum for us to stay in his room in Maputo for our entire stay there. He said it was his gift to us. 

This guy had not known us more than two days and had offered his home and his bed to us. At first I was a bit taken back, this was too nice but then I realised that you can't say no to this kind of offer when travelling -  the difference it would make to have a connection in a big new city was huge. To be invited to stay in the home was the ultimate honour when you meet someone. Nothing wanted in return, just to help someone out. 

I thanked Gabriel too many times in my late night rambling goodbye and headed for bed (at which point of course I crashed into the room, waking Min up to tell her the news!!! she was thrilled obviously) We were of course worried that Gabriel had offered up this lovely home and his mum would have to pick up the pieces - she'd feel obliged to have us but she wouldn't want us there, surely?

We needn't have been so negative. So British.

3 in the morning walk to the bus stop.

We arrived on the doorstep of a gated home in the diplomatic centre of Maputo. A bemused guard with gun observed our every move from the Vietnamese embassy next door curious of the odd load-bearing couple shuffling their way up the road nervously.

We rang the doorbell and were greeted by two snarling dogs squeezing theirs snouts through the gate. To our horror, the gate then opened. The dogs were about to savage us, to tear us apart limb from limb, wildly ripping through the flesh of the intruders when Angi, Gabriel's mum popped her head around the gate. 

With a thick portuguese accent and a broad smile on her face she coaxed us forward and told us not to worry about the dogs, the were harmless. They did not sound harmless but we nervously edged our way into what would be our home for the next three days.

The place was incredible. 

Angi was a very artistic and expressive person we were to discover. The walls of her home, inside and out were adorned with poetry and colour. From her own beautifully crafted words of poetry to the walls of freedom she allowed to her grandchildren (she'd give them colourful pens and leave the room). The house was across between a political monument and a school mural. It was amazing. 

 

Angi had been the secretary to the president of Mozambique who had died (allegedly killed by the opposition) in a plane crash. She'd been through Mozambique's independence and it's civil war. She was now a grandmother whose house door was always open, the beds always full. Friends would let themselves in the back door, people would stay over. A drop-in centre of lovely people. 

We felt so welcomed to be classed as friends. It was home for three days.

Not only had Gabriel asked his mother to be our mum for the few days, he had also put his brother on full alert. He was to 'make sure they see all the good bits of Maputo and help them with anything we needed' We insisted that we didn't want to get in the way or be a hassle but next thing we knew we were out drinking with him and getting to know yet another lovely person. 

Joao, was an incredibly smart, passionate young man. 

He seemed incredibly grounded, being aware he was from a relatively privileged background in Mozambique. His opinions and his drive to learn was fascinating. It sounded like we were listening to a young politician.  He had no time for the rich kids talking about cars and their material things saying to us, what was the point of having a conversation with someone if you weren't going to learn anything. It was darn refreshing to hear a young student talking with such passion and intelligent views. 

Joao Walked everywhere in Maputo. He told us that he loved the city at night when the roads were dead and would walk for up to two hours home from nights out. We were a little nervous at sharing this particular experience with him but were pleasantly surprised at how safe the city was.

One night we took a trip to the local bar where we talked to a friendly bunch of locals of all ages in Portuenglish. We felt hugely welcomed on the big table of people coming and going all clearly knowing each other well. We moved on when the old barman took our glasses and moved on to seek out some live music. We ended up at Gils Vicente, legendary Maputo music venue it seems where bands take their turns to show what they can do into the early hours. This was no dodgy open mic however and the reggae, rock and mix groups sounded amazing. In search of food J took us to into what we realised later to be, lets call it, the seedy centre of Maputo. 

After seeing some things we'd never seen before whilst munching on a Maputo pie we headed home, a walk across the city. 

Like a scene from 28 days later, there was no one to be seen. An hour and half later we arrived back at the house having had the alternative sightseeing tour of Maputo.

The next day was a sunday, a lazy sunday in Maputo. What else would you do but go to the Yacht club for lunch of course. Darling. 

It seemed to be their equivalent of sunday lunch at the pub. Families sat for hours with plates of prawns and calamari. There were people of all different colours all enjoying dinner, laughing and joking and drinking wine. Wealthy black Mozambican families, Portuguese Mozambicans and tourists. Maputo seemed harmonious, a nice place to live. 

Sunday night, our last night in Africa was not wasted. Live Reggae with beers and Joao. 

Nucleo d'arte is an art collective/worshop, gallery, cafe, music venue and home of creative magicians of all shapes and sizes. We'd visited the day before and seen artists working. An old man had sat in a paint-splattered workshop, his current masterpiece lodged between the wall and his huge potbelly, brush in hand. He sat, cigarette in mouth, arms crossed staring at his painting. He may well have still been there the next night when we returned for a night of reggae. 

International expats from the embassies and NGO's nearby mixed with locals with a spattering of tourists on the dance floor. We moved to the music all night. This was good reggae. We were getting sad about leaving. 

Joao had done the job his brother had asked of him that's for sure. We'd seen the city through the eyes of a local, met his friends and experienced the nightlife. 

We made our way back to the house, as we did every night, past the group of guards huddled around a TV outside one of the houses they were supposed to be guarding. Their individual seats all the way down the road left empty. No one seemed to mind.  

We left Angi and Joao on a sunny Monday morning to catch our flight to sao Paulo. The fact that it felt a bit emotional to say goodbye is another demonstration of how amazing they were as hosts. The total openness, kindness and love they'd shown us, relative strangers who just happened to have met their son was incredible.

The messages of love for her family written on the walls, the grandkids toys strewn about the place, the friends coming and going, Joao dropping all his plans to show us around and the constantly smiling Angi forever trying to feed and help us 'Be at home, be at home'. This was the warmest home we'd ever been to. 

We'll never forget our time with Angi and Joao. We both had come away totally inspired. We hadn't stayed in a house but a home. A home run around love for friends and family where a friend would let themselves in the back door whistling, dinner was served for whoever was there and young grandkids had priority at all times. 

If our home is as warm, as welcoming and as full of love as Angi's in the future, well Min and I can sit back and say, yep, we made it. For a home like Angi's is worth a million of the most expensive of mansions. You can't buy a home like this, it just comes to you if, like Angi, you feel like this...

Collage of family members made by Angi

-----------------------------------------

Johan and Johannes From one set of lovely people to another. 

Not only do Norwegians have a beautifully designed passport for a design geek like me to gawk at at border crossings, it turns out there are other reasons to like travelling with them too - they're darned nice blokes.

We spent three weeks travelling with Johan and Johannes in all. We had laughed, danced like idiots, drunk too much, chatted and surfed together through two countries. We'd shared bus trips, bbq's, hairy incidents and life-changing moments together and we couldn't have had better company. Now, I don't just mean because they were trainee doctors and every tiny worry could be quelled in an instant (I swear we developed more things wrong with us because we wanted to test them) They liked dancing badly for the sake of it, a big hobby of mine. They jumped head first into things, on dancefloors and locals' bars they were the first up there. They were kind, totally grounded in the reality that this was Africa and we were lucky

These guys were going to be the best doctors imaginable. Their warm nature with people was evident in everything they did. If all of Norway is like these two chaps then bring it on. It seems awesome. Let's stop quarrelling over a few fishes and build a tunnel to Nordland. 

We spent most days trying to get an invite over, only time will tell! 

The fact that we all experienced so much together means the likely hood of meeting up and travelling again is high. As they say, things that happen twice, keep on happening. And we hooked up twice on the trip so who knows.

Now all this sounds a bit gushing I know. I'm the first to be sickened by people who shove their new 'travel friends' in your face.  'Yeh Barry's a travelling friend I met in back in '08 in Guam, we like nearly, like died together' or those Facebook shout-it-from-the-roof-top types with notes of their walls like 'wish I was back in Bahdh country Jeffers. I miss you guys, all my other friends are shit'. 

 'Remember Sydney 2009? what a night. BBFFE!!! ' I mean is there anything more annoying? 

But I suppose you have to acknowledge that when you travel with people it is a funny thing. Most of the time, I guess people associate the place they were with that person and get excited. You were both there, it was awesome. Yeaaahahah! Let's shove it in people faces as they weren't there.

However if you ask yourself, would you enjoy that persons company no matter where you were? and the answer is still yes. Well go nuts, keep writing memories on walls and tagging photos of you together in paradise.

You've simply made friends. 

In Johan and Johannes, we made friends. 

Watch out facebook wall. 'MALAWI 2011 YEAAHHH!'

----------------------------

Ernesto

We'd been told by a german couple on our travels that when in Tofo we must stay at Turtle cove (they'd got that right, an amazing place) and to get in contact with Ernesto, the barman and insist that he took us to his own bar. Not just a bar I must say but a caravan.

Ernesto was a young guy with a dream of running his own turtle cove, his own bar, series of bars. He'd worked hard to buy a caravan which he had transformed into an amazing mobile bar. On mozambican beaches especially on a Sunday, the whole town heads to the beach and hangs out. A perfect spot for a mobile bar to rock up. Something hadn't worked out with his plan however and so instead, the caravan had now been made permeant, a feature in a beautiful but basic wooden/reed bar on the roadside in Inhambane. 

We found Ernesto on our first day in Tofo and, taken in completely by his infectious laugh, asked him when we could go and see his bar. 'Prawns and crab' he said. That was his speciality. He'd pick us up from the bus station in his car and ferry us to the bar. 

He picked us up, true to his word and threw in 'Ernesto's guided tour of Inhambane on the way. 

The bar lived up to the hype. The bright pink old caravan had been converted brilliantly,  the main window now the serving hatch, the interior lined with bottles and snacks. We sat and drank as the sun went down, laughing and joking with Ernesto as he cooked prawns and crab for us in the small kitchen at the back of the caravan. 'Ernesto's cooking lessons' then took place as we learnt how to cook, simply the huge crabs he'd bought at the market in garlic, coconut and tomato. That can't have been all as it tasted magical. We sat and ate the feast and congratulated Ernesto again. Ernesto drove us back to Tofo in another random act of kindness that in Africa comes often and we said our goodbyes. Ernesto was a lovely guy, he thoroughly enjoyed hosting us tourists at his usually local bar well away from where the tourists normally stayed. The best thing about it all was he hadn't seeked it out. He had been recommended to us by someone we'd met along the way. He couldn't believe it. We said of course that we hoped this theme would continue. We would definitely recommend a trip to Ernesto's bar, who knows, by the time you get there, it might be a lot bigger, there may even be a few. Ernesto seemed like a guy who'd make things happen. 

A thoroughly nice guy with a dream.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera to show you Ernesto's Caravan bar but watch this space as I try and track down photos.

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Beautiful Mozambique

I feel like I'm cheating on Malawi but saying it but it turns out Mozambique is kind of alright.

It has it's charms.

The first of which we experienced was the bazaruto archipelago. Sounds impressive already eh? 

This is honeymoon territory, small islands, crystal clear water and white sand that made zanzibar look like it needed a hotwash.

Bazaruto is dream holiday destination and here we are, popping in, just another stop on our trip. Needless to say we were a bit chuffed.

We booked ourselves on a snorkeling trip to the islands expecting to have a nice time but not really realising the full extent of what we were letting oursleves in for. We were on a boat to paradise.

We had expected a crowd of rowdy people on the boat but were over the moon to discover that we'd be on our own, just Min and I, the Norwegians and the crew. 

As we approached an island, the boats engine ceased and the the true serenity of this place showed itself. We were drifting on the edge of the reef, the water became clearer and clearer until the sand greeted the boat with a big embrace. We had landed. With huge smiles on our faces we all rushed to jump off the boat and explore. This was too good to describe in words, I had to take a picture, where's the camera, ok there, right....

Incredible. 

Needless to say we were a little bit happy

MIn and Tom on Brighton beach, NovemberAfter snorkeling the reef, we headed back to the beach where the crew had been preparing lunch.

This was no sandwich and a bag of wotsits. What a meal. Fish and crab stew, crabs, rice and salad. Feast your eyes around these little beauties... 

Fish and Crab stew a la Mozambican dude

After lunch and one final swim, the crew members called out to us to jump onto the boat and head back to the mainland. We pretended not to hear them for as long as possible and then gave in like small sulky children. We didn't want to leave this place, for a few hours it had been our little own bit of paradise. 

-------- 

But as is the nature of this trip, we would be moving on from one beautiful place to another.

What a town. Inhambane had a small town feel. It had it's fair share of visitors but it didn't feel like a tourist town. Neither did it feel like a town that had been taken over by expat south africans as Tofo had. This town felt like it had grown as one, it was place where people loved to live, where everyone knew each others names, where life was good. This was a side of Africa we hadn't seen yet and we liked it.

 

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Africa with streetlights. Welcome to Mozambique

Malawi cannot be described without using cliches. The friendliness of the people, the beauty of the lake, the 'warm heart of africa'. As we sat in a taxi on route to the border all I could think of was when we'd be back, what we could do at Chipoka school, how we'd take the ferry next time and go to Lilongwe. Mozambique seemed, well, simply the next stop. The next stop was to be quite different.

This was Africa, but weird. There were streetlights.

Into Mozambique:

4x4's leave trails of sand dust behind them on their way to the beach. As the sandy mist parts, the familiar sight of African villagers, reed huts a pot on the fire, people getting on with life as they have done for a century.

We're in Tofo, Mozambique.

A beautiful place, but a South African playground. Quite a shock for these weary travellers from quiet Malawi.

One scene that sums it up was that of a large South African in an oversized 4x4 screeching to a stop outside a village hut shop. The female seller shot to here feet, walked across the road to his car, handed him a six pack of coke through the window. The guy then screeched off again, with just the faintest of acknowledgements. 

They've got it all sorted here it seems.

There was a bizarre economy in Tofo aswell. When Poverty of $1 a day meets rich South Africans and an international surf crowd who easily part with cash as if it grows on trees, there are some strange results. The prices of things fly up to bizarre amounts and vendors snarl at you when you refuse to buy for example, a bog standard T-shirt for £20 (What was in Malawi £2) It's an odd thing to get your head round.

It was all, well, a bit weird. The juxtaposition of flash cars, huge South African gated beach houses and the very traditional African village life we'd been so used to in Malawi left me feeling it was all a bit, wrong.

It's not that the area doesn't benefit from the development, I'm sure it does. It's just that it felt like a load of outsiders had bought the town, putting fences up around their own little enclaves, making everything pretty and western inside their walls. It felt like they'd look out at the 'locals' and shake their heads.

The roads were full of big shiny cars, either side of the road, african villagers lived the same lives as they always had. In Malawi, it was aid agencies driving around in bubbles, here it was South Africans.

When you throw surfers and bus loads of drunken backpackers into the mix, Tofo became an odd place to work out. It was only toward the end that it started to win me over and that was mainly because it was here that a bit of fun became an obsession.

Surfing. Where have you been all my life.

 

Thursday
Apr142011

The length of Malawi

After our work with Starfish, our experiences at the school and having just stared up at skies day on day, it was hard to leave Salima.

Leaving is becoming hard. That horrible feeling that it's time to move on, to leave a place behind.
Sometimes the place has a different idea however.
The place wants to know why you're going, the place laughs and jokes with you all the way to the bus station. The place teases you with a flurry of activity on your final journey, faces you recognise and beautiful scenes as you board the bus. The place hugs you meaningfully and then shakes its head as the bus pulls out of the station and into the unknown. Some places, it seems, you simply cannot visit once. 


We headed on to Cape Maclear. Backpacking hotspot. Erggh.
With all the incredible experiences we've had, there's a danger of us becoming travel snobs. Sometimes when you arrive in a place, your first reactions can end up being hard to shift.
Cape Maclear was that place.

Cape Maclear had a lot of volunteers, young 'gap yar' volunteers. 
As a local guy we met put it, 'these kids have no conversation because they are 12 and mummy and daddy had paid for them to be in Africa'. 

The bars in Cape Maclear looked nice, they were busy, it was a lot of fun, but it could have been the backpackers scene in Australia. Or Clapham. 

Enough of the moaning, it was beautiful of course. We were in amazing Malawi, on our own by the lake. The views from the lake shore as the sun set were mind-blowing. We were very happy.


Crazy clouds of Malawi

 

 

We left Cape Maclear, looking forward to hooking up with our Norwegian friends again.
We were even more excited that we'd been invited to stay in a house in Blantyre, southern Malawi.

Johan's parents had a house there (His dad was also a dr and was writing his PHD on rural medicine).

The guys had decided to take full advantage of the place and wanting a few weeks of great experiences had been using it as their base in Malawi. We were chuffed as heck to have been invited to join them.

A proper house. Our own room in a house. So much space. After so long away from home it felt so very good. And what a pleasure to have a car after months of public transport. Well, what a pleasure to be driven round should I say. What lovely guys letting us tag along. We'd landed on our feet again. 

We all took a trip south to Mount Mulanje.

I was chuffed to hear that this was Tolkien's place of inspiration whilst writing LOTR. The misty mountains. I liked this fact, true or not, it added some magic to the day.

 

We hiked for the day, jumped into an icy waterfall pool and drove back to the house for a BBQ. Just another day in paradise.

After much merriment, we were over the moon to hear that the Johan and Johanes had decided to have words with South African airways. They were going to extend their trip. They had decided to join on our voyage to Mozambique. Erling wouldn't be joining us as had to go back to Norway.

We all got drunk and excited about what southern africa had in store for us, then our excitement lessened as we realised that the next day a 14 hour bus ride awaited us...

On route to Mount Mulanje

Thursday
Apr142011

Salima & Senga Bay

What a beautiful place.

This may be my favourite place yet. I think. It's a tough one that.

The town of Salima feels 'away'. There are no tourists, it's a quiet working town and therefore at times it can feel like you are the only two people from outside that have found it. I loved that feeling.


It's also an amazingly beautiful place.


The clouds over lake Malawi both at day and night are the most beautiful skies I have ever seen.

These photos won't do it justice.
Gazing up at them is like staring way beyond this world. Armageddon meets the happiest moment of your life. Simply stunning. This is a magical place.

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Transport in Salima

Getting around town in Salima is one of the best things about being here, from the amazing bicycle taxis (simply a cushioned seat being the rider where you sit and enjoy the ride through to 'transports'.

'Transports' can vary but are most predominatly pick-up trucks and open-backed lorries. As opposed to buses or personal cars, the only way to get around here is to jump on the back and get settled as you can.

The least said about this all the better as my mum's reading but what an amazing way to travel, wind in your hair and all that. Not sure it's going to catch on at home but it beats the 336 to Chesham broadway.

Shadows cast from the back of our truckView from a bicycle taxi, Salima

MIn on the back of a transport

Thursday
Apr142011

Back to school

 



Emanuel from starfishWe boarded a local bus to Chipoka school with 'small' Emanuel.

Emanuel took care of the schools linking project at Starfish and also so happened to be an ex-student of Chipoka. What a thoroughly lovely man.

We walked up the road to the school in unbearable heat. Teachers house lined the dust driveway to the school. This was a live-in school. Most students who studied here lived in dormitories on site. This was the way it worked in Malawi as travelling from remote villages to school was never going to be practical. Many of the students were sponsored, the only way they could possibly afford to go to school.

Rabson, the headmaster of the school greeted us warmly and took us on a guided tour of the school - The football pitch where goats were grazing, the fields of grass were used for detention (hack down ten paces by ten paces for being naughty) and the kitchens where a car-sized vat of Nsima (Maize porridge and staple of Malawi) was being prepared for the hungry students.

The film will of course go into much more detail but needless to say there were things that were pretty different from my own memories of Chesham High school. Saying that, when that bell rang and kids flooded out of the classrooms, I was instantly transported back.

New dorm beds had been bought by Chipoka's linked school in Maidstone, an example of what Starfish's linking can achieve. Until recently, students would sleep on the floor as there weren't enough working beds.


Boy's dorm at Chipoka

As we filmed, we received more and more attention - understandable when you turn up with a big camera to a school in Africa, or anywhere else for that matter. After encountering a fair share of shy kids running away as we turned up we also got to experience an overwhelming number of the boys who, seeing the opportunity as one to show off started mucking around on camera, some of which will be a bit too obscene to make the final cut. Comedy though. Boys will be boys and it was there home as well as school of course, we should have expected no less.

It seemed our presence was causing quite a stir across the campus. The kids had plans...

Intrigued studentsA glimpse into the staff room (I always wanted to know what went on in there)

We had the pleasure to interview a sponsored student, a charismatic young man who did our job for us by beautifully summing up Starfish and the good that it does.


We had covered off our shots and were close to wrapping up for the day when we were surprised to be invited to the school hall where we were told, some students were waiting for us. Why? For a performance of course.

As we walked through the grounds of the school we noticed more and more people joining us heading to the hall. We turned the corner and were greeted by a vast hall of students.

Still unsure what was going on, we were ushered to the front of the hall. Before we knew it, pockets of students surrounded us in the hall. These were acts. Instantly, Min and I had become judges. We were placed onto chairs in the centre of the room and it began. A performance. Many performances.

As we clattered tripods and tripped over cables in our hurry to catch up with the event now taking place, we started to think that this was going to be something very special.

One by one, groups of kids shuffled to the front of the hall, their heads down, looking at the floor as if they were thoroughly bored by it all. Then from nowhere, they burst into song.

Shivers travelled down my spine. The type of tingles you get when you listen to gospel (or for me, welsh choral) that leaves you in state of awe. An emotional rollercoaster of harmonies. These just young kids singing their hearts out.

We were in a school in Malawi, listening to these kids pour out their hearts in song. We were the luckiest people on earth.

I've listened over and over to the recording now and it truly is the most powerful piece of music I've ever heard. The setting, the build up of emotion throughout our trip and the incredible priviledge of having met and seen all that we have over the last few months summed up in one bit of music. There's a chance that to others it won't be anything special but I'm more than happy with that. This was mine and Min's moment and no one can take it away from us.

The starfish story and music from Chipoka will be updated onto the blog when edited.