Life in Tofo centres around the ocean and the Market - a vibrant collective of colour and colourful characters.
You often bump into this colourful clan on the beach on the way to the Market, like Bob Marley (below) with his colourful sarongs and cloth bags.
Or Rosario selling pineapples in Mama Louisa’s turf.
At one of the stalls we found Regina grinding coconut to make coconut milk. Her husband laughingly told us she was divorcing him because he drinks too much. Regina said nothing.
Across the way Isabella runs a tiny pastel coloured shop selling basic foodstuffs. We fell in love with her smile. It’s a common Mozambican trait for the most part.
Then there was Mr Price who took his business name from a low end clothing chain in South Africa. I think he was selling beads. “I’ll give you a banana price”, he said as I tried to escape on my first day. I was intrigued. “What’s a banana price?” I asked. He smiled victoriously ”It’s a very, very small price for you,” he said.
But Tofo’s greatest salesman by far is Beach Boy, the basket seller. The word ”no” is not in his vocabulary. On the third morning I actually bought a basket I didn’t really want just to get some peace. We had to eat and the only way to reach any sort of food establishment is past Beach Boy and his baskets. I was buying peaceful passage as it were.
The conversation went like this:
“Beach Boy, how much for that bread basket?
“120 Meticais (R40). Special price for you Mommy”
“Okay, well I want you to know I don’t even want this basket but I am going to buy it on condition that you leave me alone for the rest of my stay here okay?”
“I won’t even greet you”, he promised jumping to grab the basket.
“No no, you’re allowed to say hello but you are not allowed to try and sell me anything again okay? Ever. Deal? If you do I’m going to put my hand up and walk on okay?”
And so we struck a deal. I got a basket I really didn’t want and he made a sale but more importantly I could walk past without being harassed. Well not too much that is. He’d still try a little, especially when he had new stock and I’d just raise my hand.
“Ok ok I know that finger” he would grin and give up. It really was a hand not a finger
Further on in the village we came across an Italian Restaurant called What You Want. It’s run by Michelangelo Fiore, who serves the best pizza for miles. We collapsed laughing when we found a Beach Boy Pizza on the menu. We had to order one and it was delicious. In a place where sourcing fresh supplies of Mozzarella cheese means a 14 hour journey to Maputo and back, these pizzas are an amazing culinary achievement.
When Michelangelo arrived for his shift, the background fusion of Mozambican-music-meets-dubstep was replaced by the dulcet tones of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama. We felt very much at home. Isolated though Tofo may be, her people have embraced Western music the same way they have cellphones and Chinese braids.
Sculptures by Magunda - a local artist famous for recycling war remnants into art – dominate the cool interior. Empty shells and AK-47 parts abound in his work.
Mozambican resourcefulness is everywhere, like the furnishing made from pallets, beer crates and drums. Further on in the village in the shade of a large tree, Armando makes window blinds and screens from palm leaves.
On our last day we had already competed the obligatory trip across the beach to the market when I realised I had left my phone behind. Doreen couldn’t face the walk back across the hot sand, so I left her with Beach Boy. “Look after my Sister ok” I said as I ran off. “No problem Mommy”, he replied, but when I returned he was nowhere to be seen. Instead Doreen was sitting in the shade with a different vendor. “Kaz,”, she said with a slight smile playing on her lips as I joined them, “I’d like you to meet Johnny Cash”.
Back home in the big city we missed the simplicity of Tofo and Ponta do Ouro, the riot of colour in the markets and the gentle rhythm of daily life. We missed our daily trek to Tofo Market and yes, we even missed Beach Boy a little. Not so much the village crazy called Antonio who takes to dancing semi naked in a trance in the market square, but that’s a story for another day.