Lunching on the Zombie Cucumber

“… the Zombie Cucumber – the name Haitians give to a specie of a hallucinogenic plant, the Datwea stramonium, which has been called the #1 drug of prisoners, criminals, and black magicians the world over. Ethnobotanists believe that Datura is the mind-blowing active ingredient in a drug administered to zombie victims after they have been poisoned by another concoction based on tetrodotoxin, one of nature’s most toxic substances which can be found in the skin, liver, ovaries, and intestines of pufferfish on sale at the witchdoctor suppliers’ stalls in Mozambican markets. It paralyzed the victim physically while allowing the mental faculties to remain normal… The poison containing tetrodotoxin is given to the victim who appears dead and goes through out-of-body experiences. After the victim has witnessed his own funeral and burial, she is dug from the grave and force-fed a paste containing the hallucinogenic zombie cucumber.. .and the result is a zombie.” – Notice board at the Zombie Cucumber, Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I might never say that Mozambique is my favorite country, but I’ll be the first to tout her attributes. First off, it’s beautiful, and even though the fruit looks fucking horrible, it’s freaky delicious and oh-so-cheap. I also love being able to use my Spanish, and I’ve found that it’s hardly different from Portuguese at all. All you need to do is end everything in “shh” instead of using the crisp Spanish enunciation, and then make it all sound as if you’re mewing like a cat. Another plus to traveling here is the abundance of backpacking South Africans. Although I had come to this continent assuming that all South Africans were hot surfer geologists (and was quite disappointed when I found out that there were women, children, and ugly people to be found here as well), I’ve, in general, really liked them and owe much of the success of my trip to their ubiquitous generosity. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Mozambique. The reason I’ll remember this country with a deep sense of nostalgia is because, after 2 months of traveling, it’s the first country where I’ve had to muster my latent pluck, pick up my skirts, and do what my dear Swedish friend Emil calls “pushing [my] will through.” I like to think of it as an exercise in travel dexterity. For the first time in nearly 19 months, I’ve had to handle corrupt officials, march for hours without knowing where the hell I was going (Tofinho, you bastard of a town), and haggle with crafty shopkeepers over the price of a fried fish fillet. I was force-fed the proverbial paste of disgusting bathrooms, skin-scalding mosquito repellent, and the purchase of crap you really don’t want from children who are so laden with parasites that you don’t have the heart to say no. Oh, to awaken from travel hibernation!! Everyone who has ever traveled with me should know that I’m absolutely DELIGHTED. Nothing gets Sam Chu up and roaring like a good challenge, and Moz has definitely been it. It’s been quite a different experience from what I’d heard from other travelers. It is difficult, but not all that expensive. For example, today’s winnings include: 4 bread rolls, a massive bag of dates, a small bag of cashews, 4 bananas, and 1 anklet = about $2.

Some thoughts:

Whale Sharks: (Praia do Tofo) – These guys are assholes. Really. The day before the first time I tried to go out, they saw 15 of them. Every other boat that went out on the same days as me saw at least 2. Me? None. Nothing the 1st day, nothing the 2nd, and I wasn’t even able to go out on the 3rd, due to shit weather. Arghh!! I can’t even explain how disappointing it is. I DID see a lot of humpback whales breaching and frolicking with their kin, which was nice, and a pod of dolphins rolled through on one day, but when you go out looking for whale sharks, whale sharks you must have. I had none. The company I went with (Tofo Scuba) was super legit, though, and gave me half price on the second day. Afterwards, they told me I could just keep going for free until I saw something. I don’t know if this is company policy or the nimble workings of a cute English boy with a squishy heart, but I was touched. Shame I didn’t have more time.

Magaruque, Bazaruto Archipelago: Lovely! A couple of my chemistry students at the end of last semester surprised me with $100 wrapped in a thank you note. My instructions were to use it for my trip. Since I could easily have used it to take the bite out of stinging visa fees, I set it aside in a separate fund from my other travel money. On further consideration, though, I decided to put it towards things I really wanted to do, but would normally deny myself because of the cost. Anyway, after some enthusiastic bargaining in Vilanculos, I decided to use half of it on a boat trip to Bazaruto, an island archipelago that got rave reviews from my dear friend Sarah, a cool English chick that had come from up north. This is what I found:

Wheee!! Fishies! Also, happily, I found that my $150 underwater camera takes some pretty savage pictures. Score!
One more special picture, with a story. Almost two years ago, as I was rounding out the final few months of my last trip, I made my way up to the Guajira region of Colombia. I went partly because I had heard it was gorgeous and uninhabited, and partly because I REALLY wanted to see flamingos. I had heard there were many. After several days’ journey, and a lot of effort on my part, we arrived at the designated spot and our local guide proudly directed our attention to the much-awaited flamingos. Firstly, there were not flamingos. There was flamingo. One. And he was barely a flamingo at all. He was kinda yellow looking, emaciated, and really sort of creepy. It was a grim sight indeed. I took one photo to appease our guide, and then we sailed off without a backwards glance.
Everyone talks about the fish and dunes of Bazaruto, but lookie what I found!

Hooray! You can’t really see it from the photo, but they’re super lovely when they fly. Flamingos. Check!

Anyway, I’m in Malawi now and think I may be in love with the city of Blantyre. This is very confusing and worrisome, as Blantyre is generally regarded as the armpit of Malawi. Hmm. Anyway, I’m off. Will update again after a few weeks of tomfoolery in Cape McClear!

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