A slight breeze ruffled the reeds, as the soft splash of the oars rippled into the sky. Twisted mangroves were tangled in their own leaves and brilliant greens to the extent that you couldn’t tell where the trees ended and the reflected image began. Our canoe smoothly cut through the River Amanzule that seemed more mirror than water. Once past the tunnel of trees, we emerged onto a wide lake where Nzulezo was a large dot on the horizon.
I felt suspended in time, lost in myself. I felt more traveler than tourist, more adventurer than student.
For our free weekend, we decided to travel by tro fro (public transportation at its finest—you feel every bump in the road and your heart stops as it swerves away from a head on collision at the last possible moment) for an undetermined amount of time (hearsay marked it anywhere between three to ten hours; in actuality, it was five) to what the guide book proclaimed was a Unesco World Heritage Site: Nzuelzo, the village on stilts. It could only be reached by fording a river before 3 pm on any day other than Thursday, and preferably not in dry season. We fortunately met all of the requirements.
The village itself was a clash of worlds. Electric light poles and recycle bins next to poles to beat fu fu and trash of generations past still littering the water. We saw children, some naked except for waist beads for the girls, sitting in front of a television watching the Disney movie, “Cars”. Around six families live on the stilt village on their own stretch of dock, which totals to around 450 people. The village floated on water, and isolated as it was, it had no way to turn money other than tourism. However, as Nzulezo’s affluence and my earlier awe indicates, the charm of the village and the journey to it has certainly been captivating tourists and thus their wallets too.
Our guide’s name was Justice. We had great difficulty communicating because he could not speak much English and we could not speak his language at all. Even so, he led us to the chief’s son and they both insisted that they wanted to answer all of our questions. He asked us what our names were, and Rachel replied, “I’m Rachel!” He called her ImRachel for a while before the confusion was cleared. We asked if there was a difference between wet season and dry season for the stilt village. His response: Wet Season? No problem. Dry Season? No Problem. We also asked about laws since we learned that the village had begun to modernize and listen to loud music, but only before 8 pm. We were curious what would happen if you listened to music after 8, or committed an actual offense. Apparently, the first line of defense was the community itself, yelling at an offender. However, in Justice’s words, if you have a “bad idea”…You die. True justice, I suppose!