Mozambique – a discovery of an African treasure
There is a country in the South-East of Africa you know by name, but probably don’t have a clear idea what stands behind that name. Often people associate Mozambique as a neighbor of the Republic of South Africa. Those of us born in the 60’s still keep the image of a country thorn apart by a civil war and devastated by a weird Marxist experiment. Our journey revealed a land of immense beauty, a jewel every dedicated adventurous traveler should discover.
The country blessed by nature with many resources through its history has been invaded and exploited by Arabs, Portuguese, Brits, French, its own little dictators and corrupted tribal leaders. Yet, the beauty of its nature and the unique cultural mix lay in the ground of Mozambique, turning it into one of the most interesting destinations to be discovered today.
You need to have the right mindset arriving at the Maputo airport. The visa procedure (if you haven’t get it back home) can take some time. The relaxed attitude of the authorities may catch your nerves. But time here runs at different speed and as soon as you accept it, you’ll have your senses opened to more important things. Like diving into the chaotic but charming life of the capital, with its old and new houses, the messy streets, the beautiful botanical garden, the buildings created by Gustave Eiffel, the marketplace or the Nucleo d’Arte cultural centre with its exhibitions of paintings, sculptures and carpets.
Yet our main goal is far away from the city life of Maputo. We head North. Most tourists take the road to the Gorongosa National Park in the centre of the country and then to the Bazarouto Archipelago with its beaches. Don’t get me wrong – these are beautiful places. But we are travelers, not tourists. We want to discover the history and culture of Mozambique, the spirit of the land. There’s no better place for this than the Island of Mozambique. It’s a small stripe of land a couple of kilometers long and one kilometer wide. The only connection to the continent is a 3.8 kilometers-long narrow bridge.
The Island of Mozambique is the first capital of the country. Established by the Arabs, it was taken by the Portuguese in the 16th century, after Vasco da Gama discovered the South route to the Indies. The Portuguese have built fortresses, cathedrals and beautiful houses. This has been the centre of the slave trade until almost the end of the 19th century. Today the Island is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a large restoration project has been initiated. They started with the old fort, but the remarkable houses in faded colors are still in poor condition. One can see and feel how splendid the place was in the times of its glory. Our guide was excited by the fact that there were 23 tourists in total on the island that day. You can imagine how far we were from mass tourism sites. We were staying at the beautiful mansion Terraco das Quitandas next to the former Governor’s Palace.
We rented a dhow, a local type of boat, to visit Caroushka – a magnificent large beach. There were quite a lot of people, but the site is so immense, that we had the feeling of being alone. Here, on the East coast of the Indian Ocean everything follows the tidal rhythm. So, we had to pay attention when to get into the water and how far we can walk, before the tide returns. I still wonder where this huge amount of water is going, where it disappears for several hours, only to come back and cover everything again and again.
Walking around the island was interesting. There are two towns – one Muslim, and one Christian. They are so different, but there’s no tension between people. Almost no one speaks English, but they are very friendly. When you ask them about the direction, they just take you by the hand and walk you to the place you are looking for.
After the Island of Mozambique, we moved to Pemba – quite a big city with an airport. The next day we were supposed to fly to the Quirimbas Archipelago. The hotel in Pemba was luxurious, which was good, because our flight was postponed 6 times. We finally reached Ibo – one of the 30 islands of the archipelago. Quirimbas stretches up to the border with Tanzania. Looking down from the sky at the emerald waters of the ocean, the white beaches and the trees is a breathtaking experience.
Our hotel, the Ibo Island Lodge consisted of three villas – the governor’s house, an office building and a house – heritage of the Portuguese colonial past. The new owner is a South African and most of the staff is Zimbabweans. The hotel is decorated with hand made furniture from Goa.
Ibo is described in Forbes as “a lost world on the edge of nothing”. Yet the island has a 600-year-old history with the Arab invasion, followed of course by the Portuguese. When walking along the streets, after visiting the three forts, we came upon Senhor João Baptista. He is the living history of the island. The toothless old man was bringing books out of his home, pointing on his name or picture in every story in the books. He was so funny and didn’t care at all that I was not getting a clue of his Portuguese speech.
I love sunsets in Africa, but nothing compares with the views in Mozambique. Sitting on the terrace of the old palace with a glass of wine I was enjoying with every sip the ever-changing pictures. The special program of the evening was star glazing. Our guide was carrying a pointer stick. While I wondered how he’s going use it to show us the stars, the lights were turned off and our terrace was transformed into a planetarium. I know little about the stars in Southern hemisphere and the lesson proved to be useful and interesting.
While on the Ibo Island we organized a picnic to the so-called Sand Bank. This is a stripe of sand in the middle of nowhere. Literally. We went there by our beloved dhow. It was quite windy, but our guides installed a Bedouin tent. We swam, had a snack and collected shells. Local fishermen arrived, threw their nets and then started collecting the modest catch. While taking pictures and admiring the beach, we realized that we had to leave Sand Bank almost in a hurry, before it disappears in just few minutes under the ocean’s tidal water. As I said, in Mozambique everything follows the tide and its inexorable rhythm.
Our last stop was Guludo – a small village on the continent. You can’t compare the Guludo Beach Lodge with any of the hotels and places we visited. The eco-lodge consists of a simple, but stylish and comfortable Adobe Bandas. There is a king size beds under the mosquito nets, a spacious veranda with a hammock and sun loungers, as well as an outdoor shower and basins. There’s no electricity or conventional running water. Guests looking for luxury should be prepared. Perhaps the most unusual feature of the bandas is their “loo with a view”. Toilets are built on a small platform alongside the banda and you have a great view of the beach.
The hotel is associated with the British NEMA foundation. Most of its profit goes to secure food for the children and clean water for the region, as well as scholarships. Kids are the biggest attraction here. They are so friendly and playful. You can find yourself taking part of a football game with local boys. Or be surrounded by a crowd of curious kids who want to play with your camera taking pictures.
The lodge is built along one of world’s top 20 beaches, part of the Quirimbas National Park and offers lots of activities. Ladies can ask local women to introduce them to the traditional “muciro” facemask of thick white paste. Usually only virgins were painted, but now even grandmothers wear the mask. We took a short sail to the stunning little nearby island of Rolas. There you can snorkel off the beach and view humpback whales cruising past from July through October. We noticed there few kite-surfers. The wind is perfect for them.
I couldn’t stop collecting shells. They remind me the white sands and the amazing emerald water of these virgin beaches. In the Lodge even the jam and butter during breakfast were served on shells. It is forbidden to collect corals, but in the end of my trip I had more than two kilograms of shells on top of my luggage. I brought them home as presents to my friends to whom I wish to take the same journey to Mozambique and discover its beauty.