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…means ‘Merry Christmas’ in Portuguese. I bought myself a present for Christmas – a cadbury’s chocolate bar. Those who know me will find this unsurprising. Although melted and slightly old, I was thrilled that it was sugar and savoured it delicately over the course of the minute or so that it took to devour.

In other news – things I have learned so far in Vilanculo include:

  • 2M remains an infinitely superior beverage to its gangly, awkward sibling, the Laurentina beer.
  • Stray dogs of the many varieties that frequent the shores here soon become difficult to tell apart after a while, as many of them follow the standard template of thin, brown, with a long bushy tail and a craving for affection.
  • …and they have a vast range. I swear I have seen a particular corgi-cum-mongrel thing in a number of distant locations on different days. I suspect it is him, as he seems to have accrued an affinity for demanding head scratches from me.
  •  There are three broad categories of foregner to be found in Vilanculo. Firstly, there is the holidaying South African family, complete with 4x4s, beer and general blindness to much of the local people and economy. Then there are the settled foregners – people such as Dave, Sabrina, Denis and others who have settled here to make lives – many inspired by the beauty of  the place. And finally, the litany of mixed travellers exploring the archipelago, winging it on public transport and the backpacker accommodation. Much of this group apears to be made up of aid workers of various sorts (from Mozambique or beyond) who have come to see more of the country, as well as an odd assortment of South Africans coming to adventure next door (like me), Israelis, a pair of spaniards, Americans, a Malawian and other mixed nationalities.

Yesterday was spent snorkeling two mile reef between Benquerra and Bazaruto islands, resting a while on the sands od Bazaruto and reflecting on the place. Then a final dhow ride back to Vilanculo with sails deployed in the wind for a change, to complete the journey.

Much of the rest of Christmas eve was spent recovering from the worst effects of prolonged sun and wind exposureand mild heatstroke, with (amazingly enough) no extensive sunburn as a result of the escapade. Back at Zombie and another casual introduction later, the evening was spent in long conversations learning about social agronomy in Mozambique and Indonesia from Catherine Cloud, working as an agricultural education specialist in Manhica province for FAO, the UN’s agricultural development arm, doing fascinating work getting children there to use videos to tell stories about their lives and their communities. It was a day well spent, and symptomatic of that effect where the longer you stay in a place, the more you begin to talk to people and the more conversations begin to open up. It is fascinating and rewarding all at the same time.

 It’s fascinating how one person connects to another, and another, and on until a lonely visitor has an informal family for Christmas

The result of this was a Christmas lunch spent with Gareth and Melissa, fellow travelers from Johannesburg I had met in passing in Vilanculo, and Catherine. The evening would end up at a different backpacker bar on the other side of the local Vilanculo town, and a long, dark walk from most of the places I had seen before. On the other side, beer and socialising with some Peace Corps volunteers that Caterine had sniffed out and meeting Robbie, a volunteer who happened to know another Peace Corps friend I had met during the course of debating work in Mpumalanga earlier in the year. Talk about a small world indeed. It’s fascinating how one person connects to another, and another, and on until a lonely visitor has an informal family for Christmas and a world of learning has been emptied into his head.