Mocambique, La Ilha bonita

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , , ,

On Tuesday 26th October we skipped merrily to the aiport knowing we had avoided 2 days of bus and train challenges. A few hours later we were gripping the handrests with sweaty palms as the plane buffeted through what the pilot described as “light to medium turbulence”. Both myself and Muneeza are nervous flyers when it comes to choppy wind (oh er!) so we were delighted when the plane touched cloth and we were once more on terra firma.

We met a friendly French dude at the aiport who was heading to Pemba and needed to hit the central bus station like us. As he spoke good Portuguese he saved us from being stung for an expensive cab ride, so we returned the favour and let him jump in for free. We managed to find a chiappas bus to Ilha de Mocambique within seconds of getting to the station but this is when it all turned sour. The bus was rammed and still they crammed us in. We had to sit right at the front, Muneeza squashed between Big Mama and even bigger Papa. I had to perch on pathetic cushions behind the driver’s seat that apparently constituted a seat. My legs were jammed between the people facing me on the real seats. And still they packed more people in. After 20mins we departed and within 10 more I couldn’t feel my right leg. Now, I have a healthy paranoia about DVT and was convinced that 2.5hrs sat like that would kill me. My only option was to stand. So for what turned out to be an elongated 3.5hrs (thanks to officious police stops – officials here love to take their time, oblivious to the discomfort of passengers) I had to stand in a semi arched position with my feet rooted in one place and my head and neck twisted to cope with the curved roof. Needless to say we arrived at Ilha de Mocambique with me spitting bricks.

Unfortunately, due to the delay, we arrived after the last light of day had seeped away over the horizon so couldn’t explore the town. We headed straight to our hospedaje, Escondinho, that had been recommended by the French dude. It turned out to be a great recommendation – the rooms were big, we had a really cool external private bathroom and there was a large pool. The building is a classic old Portuguese colonial structure with a large open interior courtyard surrounded by terracing, in which now sits the pool. We were too worn out to explore so settled in to the restaurant at Escondinho and were pleasantly surprised to discover the food was delicious. I tucked in to the best tuna steak I’ve ever tasted and though at $8 it is more expensive than most local restaurants, the quality was worth paying for.

We spent the most of the next morning dozing in the humid heat. We then explored the old stone town. The island is roughly divided into two parts; the macuti (reed) town dominates the southern part where families live in basic mud & reed houses, crammed in below street level, and the old stone town lies to the north where the heart of the Portuguese East Africa capital once lived. Conditions range from basic to desperate (crumbling, leaning walls). Amongst this poverty you discover the occasional modern gleaming building where someone who has money has restored the property and lives in comfort.

Surrounding this ramshackle town is pristine Indian Ocean. The sea is clean, the sky clear blue and fisherman stretch out as far as the horizon in small wooden canoes. Looking out to see and then gazing back on the crumbling, broken town, you can imagine the splendour that this island once offered and just how incredible a place it would have been to live at the prime of Portuguese rule. You then rue the impact that the swift exit of the Portuguese in the aftermath of independence has had on the infrastructure and the people.

We have had 2 days on this island and, as with most of Africa, my experience is divided. On the one hand I love ambling along aimlessly, relaxing to the gentle rhythm of the Mozambique locals. In this heat you have to go slowly. Strolling through broken ruins, then stumbling across groups of children playing with a distant echo of the Green Mosque calling people to prayer can be incredibly evocative and calming. However, the fact that this place has such incredible poverty and lack of options also serves to slightly unsettle you and give a sense of the macabre. The old colonial buildings would have been incredible at their prime but they sit empty and forlorn. It just feels that the island has been left to its own devices and there is no plan or purpose. Perhaps it is not a priority for the Government to repair and restore but it is sad that something so beautiful could be left to fall apart like a house of cards. If this island was a song it would be Bittersweet Symphony.

So as our time on Ilha de Mocambique draws to an end and we retire to the veranda to sup on a cocktail as the colonial Portuguese would have, we prepare oursleves for the next challenge which is the 6 day climb of the mighty Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We leave tomorrow, Friday 29th, for Nampula and then take a flight to Dar es Salaam on the 30th. Our climb starts in Moshi on November 1st. We’ll be 6 days without Internet and 6 days in a mental and physical battle to make it to the top and respect the mountain as we climb.

Take care, catch you on the flip side.

love james & muneeza x

  1. Ria Madison says:

    We have been following your blog and are are very impressed!! Seems like you are adapting to African life.Take care, and keep writing. Love from Botswana.

  2. james salmon says:

    Jamer/Munny – loving the read – what an amazing trip – wishing you both the best of luck on Killy – keep safe jx

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I give you the best of luck even though you are the mountain right now 🙂

    Stay safe

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