Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blister man! I am limping still from walking 70km in one go at the weekend, on the pilgrimage to Namaacha. This is a popular event which takes place every may, and is very much Mozambican (unlike, for instance, Christmas). Over friday and saturday, hundreds of pilgrims walk out of Matola, the western satellite town of Maputo.

They walk along the road west, and then north, climbing up 1000m to the border town of Namaacha on the edge of Swaziland. I am not quite clear why, it is supposedly related to the prophecy of Fatima but as far as I know that happened in 1930s Portugal. In any case, its a very popular event in all senses of the word, and many walkers are not catholic, or even not religious (like me). The idea is to get to Namaacha by the time of the big mass on saturday night, outside the cathedral. Some people leave on friday morning, and many on friday lunchtime, but Sérgio and Décio (the friends I went with) are eight-time veterans and reckon you should avoid the sun as much as possible.

So we ambled out of Matola a little after 4pm, 5 boys and 3 girls in all. After crossing the bridge over the Matola river we picked up the pace. The sun dissappeared quickly and we quick-marched through the rapidly-cooling evening, arriving in Boane (20kms from Matola), in about 2h30mins. We sat down with the other travellers in the grounds of the little church and ate our various packed lunches. I have to admit that I was thinking "this won't be too hard after all!!" but I kept this sentiment to myself, something I was very glad of later.

At 8.15pm we upped and hit the road again, quickly separating into the very fasts and the pretty fasts. I was in the very fasts along with Décio, Sérgio, and Eunice (another first-timer), as I had decided to follow the veterans' strategy of doing it as fast as possible, with no stops, to avoid falling asleep or muscle cramps. Eunice is only 17 but was tanking it along with us at first, refusing all offers to carry her pack etc. But at about 35km she suddenly stopped and sank onto one knee with an air of desperation.

Sérgio and I looked at each other for a moment, and visualized having to stop for an hour with a crying girl, until her brother caught up. No way, José! We each grabbed a hand and yanked her along. Décio came up with a stream of anecdotes about any old random shit, just to keep her occupied. To her enormous credit, after 2km, she recovered her swing and walked the next 20km without a peep. In fact, she was so quiet that S & D reckoned she was really a Makonde, an ethnic group from northern moz, renknowned for their taciturnity.

...more to follow...

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