This is our third night staying in Gorongosa National Park. It’s a pretty amazing place. The park was destroyed in great part due to Mozambique’s civil war in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and an enormous restoration project is underway here since 2004. I won’t give too much away because it has been written about quite a bit (see this article for starters), and will be written about more soon!
At any rate, the drive from Vilanculos was - what shall I say? - long. But we’re here, and the countryside is radically different. Very hilly, an incredible diversity of trees. And from what I hear, this park is known for its amazing bird life. We’ve noticed that amazing bird life is supported by a pretty remarkable level of insect life - less pretty and fun, but still interesting. Last night we went on a game drive and saw tons of animals - warthogs and baboons (the most common animals - the baboons are everywhere - even near the camp), several kinds of antelope (including waterbuck, reedbuck, impala, nyala…), and lots and lots of birds. Yesterday morning we had walked down to the Pungwe river and taken a poled boat across to the village of Vinho. This was pretty cool - a decent-sized but very traditional village, we visited the relatively new bakery, a former crocodile farm that is being converted into a cinema (they’re not on the grid - I’m assuming a generator will be involved, although there are also lots of solar panels around), a clinic that was built as part of the park restoration project, and a school. This last was the site of a really magical experience: I was staying behind as members of our party went to visit a farmer’s field nearby (I was tired). I was left with an English-speaking Thai woman and her two-year-old daughter (who speaks Thai, English and Portuguese), and a crowd of local kids who had gathered as we walked around the village. This group of spectators grew to probably almost twenty children (all under the age of eight, I’d say) sitting around us, watching. We were doing absolutely nothing - just sitting and resting - but they were undeterred, and seemed to be waiting for something to happen - wordlessly, without expression. After an almost painful forty minutes of this scrutiny (inspired, I suspect, by the little girl from our party walking away and sitting far away by herself), the children started talking to each other, laughing, and started to get up and entertain themselves. They were joking, playing an amazing game with a ball and four pairs of girls’ sandals, just chatting, rolling a broken bicycle tire around… what was magical was the long period of total and uncomfortable silence and alienation that gave way to what felt like a village scene from anywhere: children playing and talking.
This morning, we headed into the town called Gorongosa (along the western border of the Gorongosa park). I was planning to just sit at a restaurant, read (perhaps blog) and do some academic work, but while I was picking up a couple of things in the market, I heard some amazing music from the distance. I was hungry, too, so I set off to find either a place to sit and eat or the source of the music. I ended up at a house on the edge of a soccer field where a few small groups of people were sitting around. I couldn’t tell if it was a party or a bar, but as soon as I greeted a group of young men (in Portuguese - aw yeah), they invited me to sit. I did, and was immediately offered a glass of palm wine, the first of something close to ten glasses I accepted throughout the course of the morning. I had a great time chatting, drinking, and tasting some bits of pork that were served up at some point. The music, it turns out, was Zimbabwean, but it reminded me a lot of Congolese music. When the guys found out I was a music scholar, they had the hosts put on some local music in the local language (Chisena or just Sena). It was a really cool experience.
On our way into town this morning (while still in the park), we saw a HUGE herd of what we think was sable. All I know is they were huge, majestic creatures, I’d never seen anything quite like them in my life, and there must have been two dozen adults and probably twice as many young. It was amazing.
I should mention that on our last night in Vilanculos I was asked to perform in the resort bar (I brought my guitar along this trip), and did. It was pretty fun! As usual, some people were really into it, some people didn’t care at all, and most people preferred my music to silence…
I should also mention that the food in the park is great! From what I’ve heard, it has improved a great deal. Also, the place is fully booked. Pretty amazing, considering that there was pretty much nothing here just a few years ago…
More soon! Thanks for reading, and don’t be shy about leaving comments.