Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ilha da Moçambique, Ibo Island and the north of northern Moçambique . . . “Salamu Sana”

After a few days travelling the width of northern Mozambique we made it to the coast - to Ilha da Mozambique (literally 'Mozambique Island' and known to locals as 'Ilha'). Ilha is the oldest European settlement in East Africa and is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site . It was the Portuguese capital until it was replaced by what is now Maputo.

Portuguese architecture dominates and the town has a bizarre 'European' feel with narrow alleys and white washed buildings. However, many of the buildings are in a pretty advanced state of decay. Even the large fortress, probably the island's architectural drawcard, is over grown with grass and crumbling in places. Despite the dilapidated buildings, or perhaps because of them, the atmosphere on the island was compelling and we had a good time exploring on bikes that we hired from locals.

Addicted to islands, we went north from Ilha to Ibo Island, which was interesting in its own way. With its wide roads and large buildings surrounded by pillared verandah's, Ibo Island is quite different from Ilha. But, like Ilha, the buildings that haven't been renovated into guest houses are falling apart.

Proud of the tiny amount of Portuguese we had picked up by that time, we greeted people with "Bom Dia" as we looked around Ibo. Most locals responded warmly, but after receiving a stoney silence from a few we thought we might be doing something wrong. When someone kindly stopped to teach us how to greet people in Ibo's version of Swahili, we realised that perhaps some people prefer not to be greeted in the language of the former colonial power. We switched to the greeting "Salamu Sana" and immediately became more popular.

On our way to Ibo we travelled with a Belgian couple - Jones (clearly an alias as he later confirmed . . . it was chosen for ease of travel) and Jozefien. They planned to leave Ibo when we did so we got together and the four of us hired a dhow (local sailing boat used all the way up the east coast of Africa for fishing and transport). The plan was to sail from Ibo to Pangane, a beach back on mainland Mozambique about 70 km away. The first few hours of the journey were idyllic - a nice gentle breeze, calm clear water, swimming, sunshine and dolphins. The last few hours of the nine hour trip were not so great: it started to rain, the wind and waves picked up and my face turned a charming browny-green colour as I bailed water from the bottom of the boat. Phil, always happy to be on a boat, somehow managed to enjoy every minute of the long trip. But we were all exhausted when we arrived at Pangane and decided to stay a couple of nights to rest.

Well, I planned to rest, Phil planned to dive. He asked whether there was diving at Pangane and the enthusiastic response was that - yes - there certainly was diving - but with no gas "we go down to 20m!" Thankfully, Phil has seen the movie, The Big Blue, and decided against experiencing the thrill of the near death experience that diving with no gas offers. Of course, the locals at Pagane don't engage in this dangerous activity for the thrill of it. They hyperventilate and then dive without gas in order to catch lobster that will fetch the best price at the market.

After a few days at Pagane it was time to head further north to the Tanzanian border with our Belgian friends. Not a long distance to cover, but the roads were appalling. It was soon clear that the term "road" was not really used literally as the truck we were on maneuvered around gaping holes, over bumps and through newly formed creeks. On the bright side, the driver had to travel very slowly which meant I had a stress free, albeit bumpy, ride.

We broke the journey to the border by spending a night at Mocimboa . A local guy called Carlos kindly drove us to have a look at a guest house a few kilometres out of the town centre and gave us some practical advice on the possibility of hyena attack . . .

Carlos: No problem for you. The hyena only attack the small children. (Accompanied by a hand gesture indicating that a small child is anyone below waist height.)

Phil: So that's a problem for the small children . . .

Carlos: Yes, but no problem for you.

(Note to self: Do not visit Mocimboa with small children or very short adults.)

After a night at Mocimboa it was time to cover the last 120 km to the Tanzanian border. Although it did not seem possible at the time, the road got worse. It was 4WDs only and the gaping holes of the previous day were but a pleasant memory. Finally, over five hours later, we arrived at the Mozambican side of the border, got our passports stamped, walked through a few hundred metres of ankle deep mud to the Ruvuma River, jumped in a wobbly row boat and found ourselves on Tanzanian soil.

We will be spending about a month in Tanzania and I hope to update you with the first installment of the Tanzanian trip in a week or so. We got a Tanzanian SIM card so if you need to contact us by phone don't use Phil's UK mobile number anymore. You can contact us on +255 787 484 498. Texts are best and even they take a day or two to arrive (if ever) but we can't expect much more from a SIM card that cost less than 1 pound.

Also, Phil has posted more photos so click on the link to see the last of Namibia.


Blogger fernie said...

Hey Rachie, haven't read through your April 25th posting but will later - just wanted to say - miss you love you. Continue to have a fab adventure and don't stop the updates! love fernie

5:07 PM  

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