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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Parting thoughts on Mozambique

MOZAMBIQUE | Sunday, 27 May 2012 | Views [830]

Yummy last dinner in Tofo, thanks gang!

Yummy last dinner in Tofo, thanks gang!

My two main objectives for volunteering in Mozambique was to learn as much as possible about marine conservation and about this country.  I can easily spend another month here (humpback whale season starts in June!) but I am satisfied with everything I've experienced, plus winter is arriving and the water temperature can get as low as 16 degrees Celsius, burr!  

Similar to all IT projects that ended, I did a debrief on this project, or more like my random thoughts:

  • I will never swim as serenely or as quickly as a whale shark, even Michael Phelps will have a hard time catching up!
  • I knew very little about manta rays before coming here, and didn't even realize they would be part of my marine conservation program here.  Mantas are truly breathtaking fish; I feel so lucky to have been in their presence, swimming alongside and watching them swim (or fly) gracefully through the water.  
  • How wonderful is the marine ecosystem that there's such a thing as a "cleaning station", where manta rays come to be cleaned by different types of fish, each species with its own function and task?
  • Why do the Chinese continue to believe in such nonsense and rubbish like manta gill rackers can cure cancer, remove toxins from your body, and promote fertility???  There is no proof any of this works!
  • I am more steadfast in my stance against shark finning.  What's wrong with just good soup, minus the shark fin?  Shark fins don't even taste good, and the fin has no part in the soup-making, except as a "garnish" at the end!  It's time to stop this ridiculous "delicacy".
  • It's not enough to tell fishermen to stop fishing for sharks; they have to understand the effects and how they ultimately threaten their livelihood.  There must also be alternatives so they can choose to stop fishing if they wish; promoting and building the tourism industry is a start, which itself desperately needs government support and oversight.
  • Local Africans need to be educated about the devastation of slaughtering turtles.  Turtle meat is not an aphrodisiac, neither are turtle eggs.  
  • Pixar/Disney finally got something wrong in one of their movies.  As you may know, in the beginning of Finding Nemo, Nemo's mom died and Nemo was raised by his dad Marlin.  That is scientifically impossible.  In the amphiprion percula species (which a clownfish is part of), there is one breeding pair (with the female being the larger and more dominant of the pair) plus 0 to 4 individuals who are excluded from breeding, all living in a sea anemone.  If the female of the breeding pair dies, the male gains weight and turns into a female biologically, while the largest of the non-breeding individuals matures and becomes the male in the pair.  Based on this scientific fact, after Nemo's mom died, Marlin should have become his mom and there would be a new "dad".  What a great science lesson that would have been for the kids and adults!
  • Another Finding Nemo scientific error:  Turtles have zero parental upbringing.  Once females are done with laying the eggs, they return to sea and never see them hatch.  As soon as baby turtles are born, they are on their own.  The only role the male turtle plays is to fertilize the eggs.  So in the movie, it would be impossible for the baby turtle to be with its dad in the EAC scene.
  • I've learned to eat my meals slowly and not inhale them, and eating on the balcony is such a treat.  I just need a good book, some hot sauce to spice up the food so I can't take large bites, a small spoon to take small bites, and to put down the utensils in between bites to slow the pace.  Why eat slow?  Because that gives time for the stomach to catch up to the brain and tell me that I'm full, because there's nowhere for me to rush to, and because I've noticed several slim and fit volunteers eat very, very slowly; I also happened to enjoy their company the most, so taking longer meals allow us to have richer and more interesting conversations.  
  • I can cook without measuring utensils, fancy cooking tools, nor need to know the temperature of the oven.  Vegan cooking is not as hard as I thought, and the results can be delicious.  Haven't had a microwave in a long time and really don't miss it.  Finally, it's fun to improvise on a recipe; my blueberry muffin recipe has been the basis for corn/bacon muffins and cheddar cheese/bacon muffins (both keepers but with room to improve).
  • I am thankful for the prayers, the angels or whoever else is watching over me that I did not get sick or even have an off day my entire time here, unlike some volunteers (e.g. hives due to food allergy, fainting and exhaustion due to jellyfish stings, nosebleeds due to ears not equalizing during descends).  Worst for me were mosquito bites, random cuts and bruises (mostly from boat launches and climbing in and out of the boat), and a few mild jellyfish stings. 
  • Along the same line, also glad no airline has lost any of my luggage nor have I lost anything.  Folks have lost hats and sunglasses during boat rides and chappa rides, or from being careless around the house and dive shop. 
  • The harsh reality of plastic usage is everywhere.  There are countless pieces of plastics on the beach, and where the waves meet the beach, there's always an "outline" of rubbish and small pieces of plastics, broken down but never gone, most likely from bottle caps or toys, etc.  The pieces are so small, make them very difficult to pick up, wish there was a giant sieve to sift the sand through.  Marine animals, such as turtles, digest these plastic pieces and end up being seriously sick and die.  So few plastic bottles are actually recycled, and not all plastics can be recycled.  One TED talk I watched introduced the fourth R, which I highly advocate because the usual three just aren't enough; besides "reduce, reuse, recycle", include a fourth R to Refuse.  Refuse the plastic bags that merchants offer when you buy something little or just a few items (I remember the 7-Eleven's in Thailand will put just one pack of gum into a plastic bag, seriously!)  Instead of buying a case of small water bottles, buy a larger size and refill a reusable water bottle.  I know it's difficult to completely eliminate plastics, but many things like one-time use items and disposable items, should be seriously reduced or completely eliminated.

Finally  what I'll miss and not miss about Tofo.

Will miss:

  • All marine life in the ocean, except the jellyfish.
  • Watching the sunrise and sunset from the beach, despite the wind and sand.
  • Seeing the countless number of stars in the night sky, as soon as I step outside of the house and look up, thanks to the lack of streetlights.  It's a comfortable stroll in the dark on the beach to our favorite bar for dessert or drinks, especially since the weather is much cooler than daytime (have even worn a long sleeve shirt on a few nights).  I'm happy that I can finally identify the southern cross constellation with ease, which I've now seen on four separate trips to the southern hemisphere.
  • Someone to cook dinner for me four nights a week; even though each dish repeats weekly, the dishes are simple yet hearty.  I especially enjoy the local dish Matapa, may need to improvise back home.
  • The squeaky sound my feet make when walking in the sand, I've never heard such sound when walking in other beaches.
  • Beach volleyball with random people, none of whom is particular good at the sport but we all have a good time, playing past sunset with minimal light.
  • Samosas sold by the kids at 5 mets each, sometimes still warm in the tub.
  • Everyone says hi or waves at you, whether you know them or not.  And when you finally meet them, it's likely you've already seen them around town many times before.
  • Things are cheap!  What I spent here in two months may be the same as what I'll spend in Europe in two days.
  • Trying to predict how rough or smooth the boat ride will be by looking at the ocean and the sky, even though from the shore, it always seems calmer than when out in the ocean.

And won't miss:

  • Tan color water that flows from the tap:  it's the color of ginger ale, and even though I was told it's safe to drink, I never drank it without either purifying or boiling it first.
  • Sand everywhere:  in my shoes, clothes, beach towel, hat, book, sunglasses, backpack.
  • Washing by hand:  even though the outdoor sink has a built-in washboard, this sucks.  Even though I will still have to do this in Ecuador, at least I will have access to a washer for a few days in Paris.
  • Power outages:  happens at least once a week, sometimes for minutes, usually for a few hours.  Once on a Sunday, there was a scheduled outage by the company but no announcement was made, so we had no power from 4 AM to 6 PM, and started cooking with candlelight and headlamps.  When power is out, we can still cook with the stove and oven (both are powered by gas and are lit using a match), so we would boil water in a big pot for tea and put bread in the oven to toast.  Simple living indeed.
  • Forgetting to turn on the water pump:  I'm not sure what is the exact mechanism, but there's a switch to the water pump that we have to turn on and off daily to make sure there's water in the tanks for all the bathroom and the kitchen sink.  Sometimes we forget to turn it on during the day, so when I tried to wash the dishes or about to take a shower, there's no water, so we would turn the switch on and wait a while.   
  • Running out of propane for the stove and oven:  the propane comes in a large tank which ran out twice during my stay.  It only took a few hours to have another tank delivered, but when there's no other way to heat or cook, those few hours seem a lot longer.  Both times AB would cook dinner over a barbecue (just like camping!) and we would eat cereal or sandwiches for lunch. 

Thank you Tofo, Mozambique, another continent down, and on to Europe!  Even if for a week, I think it will be a shocker, especially when reminded of "first world" problems like people who walk on the street with their head down while texting (and expect you to get out of their way), and countless other "problems" that seem so minuscule now when compared to the "third world" problems I saw with my very own eyes here.  I am looking forward to a decent cup of espresso, crunchy baguette, red clay tennis, and being with my friends, Isa and Donna.  On with the journey and new adventures!

Tags: cleaning station, disney, finding nemo, manta ray, marine megafauna, parting thoughts, pixar, sea turtle, tofo, whale shark

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