Swahili Coast – The South – October 2006




the beginning of RamadhanAt the beginning of Ramadhan, I met Birgit in Dar and we travelled down the Swahili Coast for a pleasant 2 weeks "away from it all". The original plan was to cross into Mozambique from Tanzania by land, but unfortunately my visa didn't materialise in time from the consulate's office here in Zanzibar – and then it was too late to wait for it to be issued in Dar.

In Mtwara we asked everybody who might know what the chances were of entering Mozambique without a visa but in the end I decided they were pretty slim. It certainly would have been an adventure to exit Tanzania (cancelling Birgit's single entry visa), get local transport to the river crossing. pretty fishing village of MikindaniWait for high-tide to cross. Find further transport 7km up to the Moz immigration post. Show my note from the Moz Consulate (ZNZ) explaining that it wasn't my fault and smiling sweetly. The consequence of being refused and having to back-track sounded like too much pain and possibly take too much time… especially as the fallback plan was to get a flight the following day. So instead, we had a lovely slap-up lunch at the Southern Cross hotel overlooking the bay and a second night at "10 degrees south" in the pretty fishing village of Mikindani.

Away from any tourist trimmings: solar power battery chargingI found Pemba (Moz) big, functional, with an interesting historic quarter and a gorgeous 5km beach looking a little like a resort somewhere along the Mediterranean from 50 years ago. Arriving by air, not only saved a few dollars on the price of the visa, but it meant we could start our travels from a town with cash machines, telephone cards and a variety of bread and vegetables which I think we didn't really appreciate till we'd been "up country" for a week.

The province of Cabo Delgado was most rewarding to visit. Away from any tourist trimmings we travelled by lorry along dirt-track roads, stopping frequently to drop and pick and occasionally stretch our legs. The land was undulating and fertile. People looked well fed and well clothed. take a dhow across to the island of IboOne cultural curiosity is seeing women and daughters going about their everyday activities wearing a white face-pack. Very exciting at first, but I think eventually even the photographer in me managed to get over it.

At the end of the road we waited under the meagre midday shade of a cashew tree among the mangroves and mudflats waiting for the tide to come in sufficiently to take a dhow across to the island of Ibo. a number of elegant municipal buildings. The present population live among and beyond in their own mud-walled, grass roofed housesA former Portuguese administrative centre, the "town" was laid out with broad tree lined avenues, colonnaded street, paved squares, fortresses, a church and a number of elegant municipal buildings. The present population live among and beyond in their own mud-walled, grass roofed houses. At night, once the new moon has set, the island is still, quiet and in pitch blackness. There's no electricity. The stars are fantastic.

A couple of days later we continued our travels by dhow, moving along the coast, past beautiful "desert" islands and one up-market (presumably South African) island resort; the water a beautiful clear turquoise green. The wind was not always favourable, and at one point we realised the bay we had entered was too shallow to cross and the boatmen had to punt our way back out to the open sea. moving along the coastIt was during this heightened activity that a freak wave dowsed our luggage and "half-filled" our boat. We recovered, damp but otherwise unscathed, feeling extremely vulnerable for the following hour.

We stayed the following weekend in a fishing village called Pangane, located on a spit of land and so boasting a choice of beaches and swimming. a fishing village called Pangane, located on a spit of land offering a choice of beachesThe guest house featured a fish wholesaler's walk in refrigerator which meant there was a good supply of seafood for supper and the beers were well chilled.

It seems wherever you go by public transport in Mozambique, reporting time is always 4am – about 45mins before first light. So on the Monday morning we stood silently, gazing at Orion and Sirius, waiting for the murmur of a distant motor vehicle. We were headed 400km south and expected to do it in a minimum of 3 stages, ideally in the same day. Of course when the lorry came it already had a mountain of people on board. Why didn't anyone mention that Mondays is post-natal day at the bush hospital 40km up the road?

In one section the track became too sandy and everyone had to get offThe lorry picked its way along a bumpy dirt track, the bush brushing sometimes dangerously at our dangling legs. The sun came up and "the craic was good" (as Van the man would say). In one section the track became too sandy and everyone had to get off – the able men helping to push. We ended-up walking about a kilometre through the bush.

Fifty seven kilometres and several hours later we reached the junction with the "motor road" – the main trans-national highway. Luckily an "interstate" bus came through shortly after so by 8:20am we had started the second segment, albeit standing on a very crowded bus. A further 8 hours and the final connection was made with similar ease, though Birgit complained there had been no time for a "comfort break". (I was nervous that we still had more journey than daylight ahead of us.)

Ilha: even an esplanade with ornamental lightingIt may have been downhill to the coast but I suspect our increasing momentum was due more to our driver wanting to break his Ramadhan fast. Increasingly we dropped passengers in haste and refused to stop for others. At the end of the road we screeched into the market and sacks of grain were frantically unloaded. I was amazed (sorry no photo) to see among the normal fast food enticements on offer was a tray of snails in garlic – yes really! I don't recall ever seeing this in Africa before, in fact anywhere. There were two sizes, the larger shells (10cm) I'm pretty sure were land-based, but the smaller ones looked just like what I had once had in Paris.

Ilha felt good, though it's hard to say exactly whyBy the time we turned out of the market and on to the raised single-track causeway, the sun had surely set. At the other end, lying several kilometres out to sea, was Ilha do Moçiambique; streetlights shining. Our chosen guesthouse was an old stone building with high ceilings, sea-view bedrooms and a comfortable living room. I immediately felt "at home" and was quite happy that this should be our base for the next 3 or 4 nights.

Clearly it had been significant in Portuguese timesIlha felt good, though it's hard to say exactly why. Clearly it had been significant in Portuguese times; the fortresses, the churches, the public buildings and merchants' houses. Generally the streets were broad enough for vehicles and the architecture predominantly colonial. There were paved squares with park benches, and even an esplanade with ornamental lighting. And yet there was something Swahili about it too, I found it curiously reminiscent of Zanzibar, or even Lamu, possibly from an era before tourism has staked its claim.

portraitWe had some nice lazy days there, exploring, reading, eating out and chatting to people. One day I bought some sardines on the beach and we had a lovely long lazy lunch "at home" over a bottle of vinho verde.