A most peculiar place, Ilha De Mozambique. As we stroll down the higgledy-piggledy streets, our faces red and pouring sweat; the salt chafing our thighs; we remark how curious this broken, charming little island is. Real estate, that would demand billion dollar prices a few thousand kilometers north, regards an azure ocean – wrapped around poverty.

A cruise is a distinctive experience – a mixture of freedom and shuffling queues. Of as-much-as-you-want- indulgence and expensive-as-you-can-get purchases. I remember now how it takes me about four days to get used to the joi-de-vivre of the throng, the incessant hilarity and determined partying. I alternate between sensory overwhelm and loneliness amidst the collective revelry.

A BIKE AND A BOAT
image001The colossal chaos of the ship is juxtaposed against the adventures preceding this. First a bicycle ride from Johannesburg to Durban and a night aboard a luxury yacht in the Royal Natal Yacht club. The ride was a gift to me – nothing can surpass the joy of pedaling my beloved pink bike for hour after hour and day after day. Testing my endurance and strength against the backdrop of the mountains of the Drakensburg and the Golden Gate National Park; the green fields, meandering railway tracks and idiosyncratic South African towns of Natal and the Free State. My comrades ,Kimo and Lafras, provide friendship and intellectual banter as we cycle 760km’s for 5 days, along with a band of cycling cohorts, from Nelson Mandela Bridge in Newtown, Johannesburg to Moses Mabida stadium in Durban city.

image003Kimo and I ‘uber’ to the Yacht club, where I am wide-eyed at the magnificent yacht we are sleeping on for the night. The kids fly down from Joburg and are equally excited to experience our luxurious accommodation – a small taste of what is to come…

The ship is magnificent! 3 pools, innumerable dining rooms with an unending supply of gastronomic marvels; bars and lounges enticing credit abandon with tempting cocktails. Names like ‘Faithful Bitch’ and ‘Purple Rain’ mirror the alarming alcoholic kick of the dubious concoctions.

image007Gabriel joins the Teen club and ricochets from disco to movies to face painting and teenage bonding.  He devises a method of marking the time – two are his boundaries: 5 30pm – to get ready for dinner; and midnight – his curfew after teen giddiness. image005
Abigail and Steph alternate between karaoke, dancing, sipping virgin and not-so-virgin cocktails; coloring-in while listening to soft jazz played on the grand piano in the Manhattan Lounge and tanning their gorgeous bodies on the 12th deck promenade. Steph happily greets every person with her friendly, winning smile complimented by her shocking pink hair!  This is the same deck that I run on early every morning – sweating and breathing as I experience the sea that is more-than-blue, the wind, the peace and the open horizon.

image009Eat, sleep, read…. repeat. Gabriel’s 5 30pm curfew brackets the end of our daytime paragraph and 6pm opens the evening sentence. We shower, relishing the clean water as it soaks our sun burnt, clammy skin and dress in our best for the gala dinner that awaits. Ajay, our Mauritian waiter, quietly maneuvers culinary marvels onto our table. The menu entices us to 5 course indulgences and sophisticated wine selections (and sometimes raspberry ‘sparletter’).  Our daily ritual includes after-dinner sweet, inebriating cocktails sipped in the cool lounges listening to musicians play lazy ballades. Every evening is showtime – raunchy musicals, hilarious comedians and twisted contortionists – sometimes brilliant and sometimes banal, but a fun way to end the day for me. The kids dash off to their various youthful diversions, from disco’s to midnight feasts, from dancing lessons to pool parties – midnight is the full stop for Gabes – sometimes sneaking in an extra half hour-or-so. I become used to the abundance of happy families, and begin to relish my unconventional little clan.

BROKEN BUILDINGS, BAKING HEAT AND THE BARD

image015Eat, sleep, read – repeat. Each day begins to chart a familiar routine, punctuated by the onshore visit to the Mozambique mainland. We snorkel in the warm water, playing with multihued fish and avoiding the treacherous spiky sea urchins. Gabes finds his hundreds of new friends on a beach and Steph goes solo on an adventure in a Dhow. image013Abi and I venture into the scorching streets, always surrounded by a throng of small, dark Mozambican urchins – close, but not offensive. Heading away from the rest of the tourists, we slip into the cool refuge of a small restaurant – the Portuguese owner is happy to chat and promises us a fabulous meal which he serves himself – Cava Cava – a tender kind of crustacean that melts in our mouths. Curiously, he turns away all other patrons, saying he has no more food and Abs and I sip the tart wine he offers while absorbing the slowly revolving fans and the cool blue walls of this little haven. Afterwards we walk, savoring the paradoxes of the island. image011Brightly colourful houses with no windows and pock-marked walls; an indigo ocean, encircling dust and poverty. We come across a statue of William Shakespeare – The Bard bizarrely incompatible with this colonial African island.

120 passengers pack into the life raft that has been used to ferry us from the ship  to the island and back, and soon we are once more swallowed up by the colossal ocean liner where we discover a secret deck at the back of the boat. image017Here we retreat from the overwhelming revelry to enjoy our writing and coloring and dozing in relative solitude. Our companions are the wind, the open sky and the cobalt blue and ice-white wake that disappears behind the ship as we head into an infinite ocean. We effortlessly sink back into the somnolent pattern – eat, sleep, read…. repeat.image019

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