We’re now in a little village called Tofo on the southern coast of Mozambique.  For us this is the end of the line, as far as we’ll be, both literally and figuratively, from our lives in Portland.  Today is the last of our nine days here and tomorrow we’ll begin the long slow retreat, first back to Maputo(the capital of Mozambique), then to Johannesburg, then Cape Town, and finally the multiple flights back to Oregon.

Tofo was the perfect place for us to finish up this trip.  Yoshimi found us a little cabana on the beach just 30 steps(we counted) from the warm Indian Ocean.  The place looks like something you’d see on a travel brochure for some idyllic tropical paradise and a total bargain for only $40 a night.  I could easily spend a month here hanging out on the front porch mindlessly watching the endless parade of waves.

When this trip began 8 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what part running would play in my travels.  Sure, I was planning on doing the Two Oceans Marathon, but other than that I didn’t really know.  My goal was for the travel itself to take top priority and not let running get in the way of the journey.  But what I was surprised to discover is that running actually added to the trip in ways I hadn’t expected.

I’ve run almost everyday here in Africa and have been able to use these daily runs as a way to explore each new town, to connect with others and even to take care of practical matters.  Here in Tofo, for example, nowhere accepts credit cards and the closest bank is 4 miles away.  So every other day I run to the ATM and return an hour later with a sweaty wallet and 5000 meticals($160), the maximum daily withdrawal.

In Maputo, I’d set out each morning with a 10 metical coin in my hand so I could pick up a couple of freshly baked bageuttes along the way.  I must have looked like some kind of deranged bakery robber running through the busy streets with a loaf in each hand.  But that bread tasted so great after those hard morning runs.

The first thing I’d do upon arriving in a new town would be to strap on my running shoes and head out on an exploration run.  Along the way I’d keep an eye out for good restaurants, bars, cafes and posters advertising cultural events.  It’s a great way to get a feel for a place in a short amount of time.

When I’d come across other runners I’d always ask for some recommended local routes.  Two women in Windhoek training for the Comrades Marathon showed me a beautiful trail that led to the highest point in the city, with views stretching deep into the desert.  It’s something I never would have found on my own.

Here on the rural dirt roads around Tofo I make a point to say, “Bon Dia” (Good Morning) to everyone of the dozens of locals I pass as they walk to work, to school or to the cashew farms that surround the village.  A few ignore me, some reply with a shy giggle, but most smile and return the greeting.  Sometimes little kids in their school uniforms lineup to give me high fives or run alongside me laughing hysterically.  I feel lucky to have had these unique interactions.

I admit that there have been times on these daily runs when I felt tired, hot and dehydrated under the oppressive tropical sun, but then suddenly I’d look around and realize, “Holy shit, I’m in Africa!”  This is where humans first started to run and now thousands of centuries later the best runners in the world are still from Africa.  That’s all the inspiration I need to forget about the heat and pick up the pace.

This trip through Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa has reaffirmed the fact that travel is my first love.  I’ll always be a traveler foremost and secondarily a runner.  But this trip has also taught me that these two passions need not be separated.  I now know that running will be a part of all my future travels and that a pair of running shoes will always be an essential item in my backpack.