We entered Vilankulos around midday, one of the more popular tourist beach towns on the Mozambican coast. It was sunny and sandy, with lots of cars, lots of roundabouts and busy roadside markets. Vilankulos was bigger and more bohemian than Inhassaro, reminding me of a Mozambican Byron Bay. Cars with South African numberplates were everywhere, clearly a popular getaway for the South Africans. On the waterfront was the Zombie Cucumber, a backpackers hostel highly recommended by Lonely Planet. After all these weeks, our first stay in an African backpackers hostel.
Zombie Cucumber was the best hostel name i’d ever heard, and I wanted to know what it meant. It was named after a hallucinogenic weed which would put people in a temporary pseudo coma-like state. During the Mozambican civil war, in order to avoid persecution (or worse), it’s said that people would fake their deaths by consuming the weed; hallucinating and immobile and appearing dead, they earned the nickname zombie cucumbers.
The hostel was on a dirt path which skirted the coast, gnarled and in a state of disrepair. Parts of the road were falling into the sea, and it made for an interesting drive. We checked into the hostel, taking three beds in a communal sleeping hut which housed 12 travellers. The beds were arranged in a circle around the room, like the hours on a clock. We explored the hostel, which had a network of paths leading to cabins, a swimming pool, hammocks, and a big communal gazebo with the main reception, dining tables and music. Completing the setup was the obligatory photos, graffiti, foreign currencies and flags decorating all the walls.
We didn’t stay for long; lunch was more important. We found a nearby tourist bar, which at this time of the day was deserted. The walls were covered floor to ceiling with the scribbling of tourists in permanent marker. In true African style, nothing was available on the menu. The menu stated that the chefs and are all working their hardest and are on Red Bull. But, every time we ordered something, the waiter would come back. “No chicken today“, he would say. OK then, a bacon sandwich. “No bacon today“. How about eggs? “No“. Fries and Ricoffy it was.
In the carpark of the bar was a hardcore offroad monster truck. Our 4WD named Hammond, already heightened with big offroad tyres, was dwarfed in comparison. The modified Hilux stood a good metre higher than Hammond, mostly because of the unbelievably massive monster truck wheels fitted to it’s modified chassis. They were easily double the size of Hammond’s, which looked like puny pram wheels in comparison. It had anti-roll bars and some sort of crude generator hooked up on the tray. The drivers were probably the kind of people who hunt boars and take whiskey shots for breakfast.
Beyond the sandbars, an expansive mud flat glimmered in the sun. The mud stretched a few hundred meters to the sea, where moored ships bobbed lazily in the tide. Dozens more were stuck in the mud, leaning aside, anchored and chained to nothing. They were photogenic, however, and we took some photos as they set sail to nowhere. Climbing the grassy slope leading back up the car, Wessel stepped into a wild garden of cacti, yelling and cursing as he pulled the cactus spines out of his feet.
We had one last thing to do before settling down for a relax at the hostel; procure gin and tonic. We found a nearby bottle shop and chose a bottle of gin, and bought every can of tonic in the place. We filled the boot with bottles of gin and cans of tonic, and went back to Zombie Cucumber to relax in the hammocks, swim in the pool, and enjoy the Mozambique sun. A rare day without driving. We felt as though we were in need of a proper cooked meal, and had dinner at an expensive hotel restaurant, looking a bit like a country club. We ordered as much as we could and sat, eating and drinking, until we were the last to leave.
The next morning we woke up in the clock-shaped room. During my frequently-interrupted sleep, I heard people leaving during the night (I wondered where they could have possibly gone!) and didn’t sleep very well. Hoping to take in some sun in the morning, we drove to a part of Vilankulos with a long, deserted beachfront. Overlooking the beach was a big hotel bar, where we parked. Soaring palm trees – stretching skyward like nothing I had ever seen – guarded the beach from their great heights.
We started building a sandcastle. It started typically, as a misshapen lump with doors scooped out; a poorly-made castle. Then came a moat. We had a lot of time on our hands, so we dug the moat deep and created city walls. Then surrounding streets took shape, and more buildings too. Hours passed and before we knew it, we had a pyramid, a sphinx, a skyscraper, low density housing, a red light district, a helipad, and tennis courts. The sand city was a good five square metres, and we had attracted a big crowd of curious locals who watched with interest. After we smashed it like three Godzillas, we walked to the bar for some gin and tonics. They were refreshing and we stayed for a couple more. Sitting still for the whole day somehow didn’t seem normal, and mid afternoon, we decided to drive on, see what else was out there in Mozambique.