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Your Vacation in Lights: Vacationing in Mozambique

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ken Goldman of Potomac is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured; in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of your fellow readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: 17 days in Mozambique, with some time in Johannesburg.

WHO: My wife, Barbara Sadick, and I.

WHEN: April 21-May 3, 2008.

WHY: My stepdaughter was a freelance journalist in Johannesburg, writing about Gorongosa, a recovering game park in Mozambique. After reading her articles, we wanted to visit the park and see the country.

PLANNING: We made our own flight reservations with South African Airways. My stepdaughter made the arrangements for traveling to Gorongosa and then back to Beira, Mozambique. For the rest of the trip, we worked with Kaskazini Tourism Services in Pemba.

GETTING AROUND: Many of the roads are in bad condition; hiring a driver makes inter-city travel much easier. We took one short flight on the local airline, LAM, which would put many U.S. airlines to shame. One segment of the trip required an air taxi, which is always fun.

ITINERARY: After a couple of days in Johannesburg, we flew to Beira, then spent three days in Gorongosa. We also had three days in Ilha de Mozambique, two days in Pemba and four days on Ibo Island.

THE LANGUAGE: Portuguese is the official language, though a large number of people spoke English and were eager to practice with us.

POSTWAR: Mozambique was a Portuguese colony until 1975. Shortly after the Portuguese left, a civil war broke out and lasted until 1992. The country is now peaceful, but the scars remain. Much of the infrastructure had been destroyed, and recovery is very slow. Most of the places we stayed at had their own generators. Gorongosa was the site of some fierce combat, and during that time many of the animals were eaten or killed for their ivory. Despite the events of the past, all of the people we met were friendly, and most of the time we felt safe. Only in Beira were we advised to stay in at night and eat dinner at our hotel.

WILD THINGS: Walking and driving around Gorongosa was a wonderful experience, even though the wildlife is not as diverse as it had been before the war. We saw a wide variety of birds, baboons, crocodiles, bok (antelopes) and warthogs. In Pemba, when we tried to go snorkeling, our boat almost drifted into the Indian Ocean. We had better luck on Ibo Island, snorkeling off a small sandbar.

HOME VISIT: As a part of our walking tour of Ibo Island, we visited a witch doctor and her family. Proud of his cooking, the man of the house showed off the rice he had just prepared. Unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to speak with the witch doctor or learn about her practice.

FAVORITE HOTEL: The Ibo Island Lodge consists of several restored old residences and is dedicated to helping revitalize the island's economy. We paid about $450 per couple per night, which included breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as most activities; the current rate is $670.

FOOD AND DRINK: Mozambique does not produce any wine, so we drank a lot of beer. Our favorite was 2M (pronounced "Dosh M" in Portuguese), though our host in Pemba preferred the more familiar Carling Black Label. The samosas and grilled prawns we ate on Ilha de Mozambique were typical food for the coast. One evening on Ibo Island, we had crabs and, as experienced Marylanders, were able to instruct our fellow guests on the proper way to pick the meat.

GETTING CHANGE: One of the things we take for granted is the ability to get change. In many places, this was almost impossible; it's as if the government printed only a limited number of small bills. In Pemba, for example, we had a chance to watch the volleying negotiations between our host and the liquor store as he tried to buy a case of beer. They had no change and he did not want to overpay, so the shopkeeper finally let him take it for a bit less, trusting him to make up the difference on his next purchase.

Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report each month. To submit, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own), and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail vacationinlights@washpost.com.

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