I wore my sunglasses as I drove. Zalala Beach wasn’t far. The last light of the day was filtering through the coconut plantation in flickers of soft orange. With the sun setting, we were driving hard to find a place to sleep. The road through the palms was long, narrow, and straight as an arrow, beautifully framed on both sides by soaring palm trees.
The road was swarming with locals on bicycles and on foot, walking leisurely in the centre of the road, carrying items back to their homes. “Honk them out of the way!” Wessel suggested as the car careered down the tarmac. An effective tactic. we carried on, beeping incessantly. It felt somewhat rude, but it seemed to be normal road communication in Africa, and the pedestrians made way.
We reached Zalala beach just as the sun melted behind the horizon, stopping at a local shop. We bought cigarettes and beers. The man made us promise to return the empty beer bottles, so he could trade them in for recycling. After a brief discussion about hotels, a local kid of about 10 offered to show us the local hotel. Instead of getting int he car, he took off running at full pace down the street, and we had to follow him.
For a few blocks we had a skinny Mozambican kid in our headlights, sprinting down the local roads in a flurry of flip flops and flailing legs. We drove slowly behind him. What a strange sight. He eventually led us to a man he knew who rented out a house. It was US$80 a night, way too much for our budget.
We wanted a small room, or a campsite. He told us that this was the only accomodation in town – the oldest trick in the book – but we weren’t armed with the Portugese linguistic skills to argue. We rented the house, and thanked the kid with a bag of chips. He went sprinting back down the road again. The house wasn’t anything special to look at, but if there weren’t any fleas we’d be happy.
A nearby restaurant had an outdoor patio, a grass thatch roof, a few plastic tables, and the floor of hard-packed dirt. Our waiter was kid of no more than 13 years old. We brought our own beers, and the kid opened them for us. We ordered Xima (Pronounced shee-ma, a similar maize paste as Nshima from Zambia), with chicken, and requested to eat it ‘African-style’, with our hands and a bowl of water for washing up.
While we were waiting, we were asking the waiter about what English he knew. Excited, he ran inside to find his school book, his English-Portugese activity book. We took turns saying sentences to each other, us in Portugese, and him in English.
Learning that we were from South Africa, the kid excitedly put on ‘Waka Waka’ by Shakira on his laptop for us. We laughed. That song had been playing every morning in the car since we started driving. We played it every day to inject a little energy into the day and to get fired up for the day ahead.
I needed to use the toilet at the restaurant. For the first time in my life, I found a toilet that I truly had no idea how to use. Wessel was the first to try it out. He came back laughing, and told me to try and figure it out. It was an open topped thatch cubicle, and inside was a pile of sticks and a deep well of water. Do you pee on the sticks? Or pee into the well?
Where was the toilet paper? Confused, I peed against the wall. I suppose you pee on the sticks, and presumably use the water to clean yourself, but where would somebody crap? Curious, we asked each other what we did. We all peed on the wall.
We all assumed that just because the Lonely Planet had placed a palm tree icon over Zalala, it must be a gorgeous palm-lined seaside resort. Unfortunately not. Praia de Zalala was not a pretty beach. We visited it early in the morning, on the way out of Zalala. It was overcast as we drove up and parked, and looked in disgust at the flat grey water, and the dirty blackened sand which stretched out for a hundred metres.
We thought we might as well test the water, since we were here, and rolled up our jeans. The beach was miserable. We reached the waveless water, dipped our toes in, and walked back to the car, disappointed. Back in the car, we took our frustration out on a nearby sand dune, driving on top of it and ripping it apart with Hammond’s wheels as we drove back down again. The locals watched, puzzled.