With sun screen protector smeared all over our faces we looked like the warriors setting to conquer the Mozambican sun. Our muscles would twitch with each little wave or breeze, even though water hardly ever reached to our knees. Left strokes, right strokes, too many to count. Coordination with your partner proved a challenging task. But when the bright coloured kayaks started gliding smoothly through the crystal-clear water, it felt we’ve come to peace with ourselves at last.
We might not have done 20,000 strokes a day like Riaan Manser in his one-year ordeal, but paddling along the coast of Mozambique’s sandy beaches just 40 km off the mainland was still a physical trial, a logistical nightmare and a culinary and sensual treat.
I never imagined getting nine people organized for a 5-day trip would require hundreds of emails, all flooding into my mailbox at once. I was told nuts and fruits were nonsense to boost my energy, I should buy bourbon and cigarettes to charm Mozambican officials, no one could figure out if the meticais – the local currency – had appreciated or not, and we were told Tupperware was THE top ingredient on a kayaking trip.
Heaps of bursting dry bags piled on top of each other were supposed to store our food, clothes, water and a kit for first aid. There was even some space for a few drops of whiskey and port, and custard to top a camping pasta dish.
The drive through South Africa and the Swazi kingdom passed in a glance. Even the Mozambican border crossing went smoothly: entry cards, passage fees, visas for those of non-South African descent. “Which country is this?”, asked one of the officials, waving the red booklet in front of my nose. He never heard of Poland, could not make out the name out of the scribbles on the pages inside.
Shortly after the border we met our kayaks and the accompanying guide. Excited we hit the gas: the national park and the sea could not be that far.
The first dune of sand was the needed reality check: the Freelander and pick-up track hit the sand and managed to wiggle their way through their ups and downs of that 70-km ride, but the Volvo had to stay behind. Three of us were forced to camp for three hours on the back of the truck: just the perfect chance to open a can and watch the world go by.
Sinking in the sand still was a trial to the drivers’ and passengers’ nerves. Hit the gas, push through, do not slow down, you could hear us scream. The drivers enjoyed the drive, some passengers clung to their seats, knuckles tense, holding for dear life. The sand was tough, so were the close-knit bushes we passed through. But the elephants chasing us along the way made sure the drivers’ feet stayed firmly on the pedal to speed up.
The next morning began with a relaxing paddle along Inhaca island’s west coast. Around lunch time we docked to its central spot. Restaurant Lucas was like a heaven on earth: juicy muscles, savory samosas and various types of fish. But it was the green, garlic-sautéed chilly sauce that still makes my mouth water by just thinking of it.
Heading towards Portuguese island later that day we had the wind and salt water full in our face. Our amateur skills were tested; keeping the island ahead of us was not an easy task. Those maneuvering in single kayaks were pushed to fight the waves. Strangely, just around the corner the sea calmed; we were forced to drag the kayak through sandbanks to make it to the shore.
Camping on the island was yet another treat: an outdoor shower with buckets of icy water falling on your head; dozens of rats who kept us company and even sought refuge close to our tents.
Next day we strolled for kilometers through ankle-deep water, clinching to ropes while dragging the kayaks through sandbanks on the way to the mesmerizing mangroves. Roots were sticking out to our left and right, hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing over our heads and flesh. I could count 36 bites after gliding through the swamp and wondered if there was a piece of untouched skin left.
The next day we touched Inhaca island again. Swam in the sea next to a pelican. Our guide took a nap with the Mozambican sun glazing into his face. I hopped through the labyrinth of crab holes in the sand to get to the deserted boats, left stranded to await the sea to wash them away; we ate lunch that supposedly stemmed from a Laurens Van der Post’s “A Far-Off Place”: couscous with apricots, biltong, feta and nuts, mixed with sweet chili sauce and a dash of pesto for that extra kick.
Again we’re back in the boats. Paddle against the wind, take it all in, especially the peaceful hum of the sea. Some choose to snorkel at a nearby stretch of beach. The sun starts to set as we head on the last stretch home; we get caught in the streaks of light. “I went to heaven that day,” I heard one of us say.
We paddle through the night. Soon the colours of each kayak fade in the dark. Slow-motion loving red team Ferrari sticks to the back, hesitant to hit the shore too fast.
Once again, the sand drive, the border and Swaziland pass by. The Volvo rebels: just 20 km away from the Swazi border the Swedish champ decides to die. Local mechanics try to give a hand; soon it’s clear that only a long-night towing escapade will get us home. Even worse was the bill that awaited the driver once the damage was known.
The Inhaca trip was short, sweet and beautiful, all the same. The kayaking a soothing exercise, even when racing boat against boat, bumping into each other or cutting off one another’s trail. Jumping in a competition to spit a monkey orange pip is yet another memory to keep. Even getting back on the back of a tow truck kept that adventure alive. As one of us on the trip would say in that deep, dragging baritone voice: “Mooooooi Man!”
By Agnieszka Flak