I finally reached Pemba, my final city stop before heading out into the bush, after more than 17 hours of travelling and a worrying wait in the country’s capital Maputo (pronounced Ma-poo-too) whilst an official took my passport and $25 away for my visa. I had been forewarned that it would happen at one of the Mozambique airports and it did return intact, but it was still a bit tense after 20-minutes or so.

I decided to go to Mozambique on a bit of a whim. I’d left my job in PR and wanted to get away from the ‘real’ world for a while. I had always wanted to go to Africa again, the one and only other time when I was 16 on a school exchange to Kenya. My parents had been to a fair trade eco-lodge in Mozambique earlier in the year and raved about it, so I decided to head out there for a month.


I didn’t have a clue about the country before booking the trip. In fact, until my mum and dad went there, I wasn’t actually sure where in Africa it was. I knew nothing about it’s civil war past (not actually that long ago – the peace was brokered in 1992) or the poverty (apparently more than three quarters of the population live on less than US $2 a day) or that malaria is the number one killer of children under the age of five (an estimated 50,000 children die of the disease every year) or that it was colonised by the Portuguese (a long time ago now, although they didn’t actually properly leave until the 1970s) .

I was picked up from the airport in a 4WD Land Rover truck and we made our journey north – a four-hour drive – final destination a spot on the Indian Ocean in the newly formed Quirimbas National Park: Guludo (pronounced Gu-loo-doo) Beach Lodge – the fair trade eco-lodge set up 18 months ago by a young English couple with big dreams and big ideas to ensure poverty-stricken communities benefit from tourism and the environment doesn’t suffer.

The journey was really interesting. We drove past small villages flanking the road, stone wall and thatched roof houses, women pounding cassava (an edible root used in making bread or cakes), goats running across the road, children pushing bicycle wheel frames with sticks (weirdly reminiscent of old Victorian hoop toys), people with huge bowls or material-wrapped packages balanced precariously on their heads (how do they do that?)… There were people selling wood, and chicken, and fabric, and cassava, and sugar cane… We drove past the some eerie mountains (huge hills just sticking up from pretty flat ground) that reminded me of the Glasshouse Mountains in Australia. And as it started to get dark (the sun sets at about 5.30pm) there were fires outside every house with people huddled round them. There was no artificial light other than headlights. And even those are scarce – I think we passed no more than five other vehicles. Our headlights picked up snakes absorbing the last bits of heat from the road, people walking or on bikes on the side of the road and seemingly hundreds of people crammed onto the back of an open truck. Halfway through our journey there was a big crossroads and suddenly the tarmac stopped and we were on a dirt track. Bumping through the bush on paths worn by heavy rainfall in the wet season we disturbed eagle owls and jackals and all sorts of other birds and mammals that were unknown to me. Abi who works at the lodge has seen lions near the crossroads. I’m kind of glad we didn’t.

There was no electricity at the lodge – paraffin lamps lit everything up after sunset. The stars out there were amazing. I wondered why there was a solitary long cloud in the sky, and then realised it was the Milky Way. You almost couldn’t help seeing shooting stars.

Home.jpgWe slept in Tented Bandas – mosquito net rooms suspended underneath pitched thatched roofs so you fell asleep with the breeze (or occasional howling gale) blowing through to the sound of the waves from the Indian Ocean breaking on the beach, and the frogs calling from the lily pond, and the insects... and the occasional dog. And when the night was very still you could hear the drums from a neighbouring village. I loved sleeping in the tents. You felt safe, but closer to nature and the elements. All the fresh air and being able to see the stars and moon from bed was brilliant. What was not so brilliant was the walk to the loo, especially as the lamps turned every bump in the sand into a shadow that looked like a snake. A head torch really is a must out there.

I did see snakes in the grounds around the lodge, seven actually , including the deadly black mamba (which one of the locals quickly killed with several thwacks of a big stick) and two sunbathing outside my tent one morning. I also had a huge spider living above my ‘alfresco bathroom’ (basically a bamboo wall wound into a spiral with a concrete shower base totally open to the sky, except I didn’t have a shower, just a big bucket and a tin cup). I decided I’d rather have the spider where I could see it, so didn’t get one of the gardeners to shoo it away. It didn’t seem to do much anyway (by huge, I mean about five or six inch diameter – that’s big enough I think!). I also saw vervet monkeys, all sorts of birds (including four foot tall storks and lots of very brightly coloured birds in different sizes that I’d never seen before), jackals, cute little ground squirrels that bounced around by my tent every morning, and hundreds of ghost crabs that suttled along the beach into their burrows. No elephants though, and no leopards or lions, and no humpback whales…

Elephants walked right down the centre of the lodge camp two weeks before I arrived, but only the security guards saw them. Apparently Mozambique used to boast some of the richest wildlife in Africa, but the civil war took its toll – poaching decimated the population of animals like elephant, rhino and turtle and fragile ecosystems were exploited. Conservationists couldn’t get into the country to help, so it just got worse. I think things are being done now. At Guludo they’re supporting a couple of marine biologists who are doing humpback whale surveys (obviously not very fruitful while I was there as we didn’t see any), turtle monitoring (a bit better, we saw quite a few diving) and coral reef surveys (I helped with one of these once. I was on ‘invertebrate watch’, which basically involved counting sea urchins and sea cucumbers along a length of string).

Actually, I got to go diving a few times. It was fantastic. The corals were amazing. Hardly anyone has dived there before. The sea was (relatively) warm – although you wouldn’t know it from Barbara the Italian dive instructor who insisted on wearing the thickest wetsuit possible. Basically anything below bath temperature and she was ‘Freesing’ (said in a very thick Italian accent). The reefs were teeming with life. We saw some pretty fish and some pretty ugly fish. Very few I knew the names of. We saw stingrays, crocodile fish (very convincing), leaf fish (apparently, although I didn’t have a clue what Barbara was pointing to), lionfish, angelfish, damselfish and butterfly fish. And the turtles were amazing – we saw one sleeping that had wedged itself under a rocky ledge. We also saw a pod of dolphins from the boat. The day after I left they saw a female humpback whale and her calf.

The local people were friendly. Random fact – their favourite colour was always black. Their English was quite funny, but much better than my Portuguese – th e official language of Mozambique. Where I was out in the countryside most of them spoke pigeon Portuguese or just the local language, ki-mwani. When they spoke English they seemed to put ‘ee’ on the end of everything, l ike lunchee, saucee, juicee… except for coffee, which they call ‘coff’.

There were more than 40 local employees at Guludo. I was a ‘mazunga’ out there (white skin) and they called themselves ‘aguda’ (black man). I think they thought that all white people are rich. One of the chefs was getting married for the second time (as in second wife – they’re predominantly Muslim around Guludo and apparently it’s common to have more than one wife) so the day before he came up to me and told me about his new ‘wifee’ and asked if I’d like to go to the wedding. I couldn’t go, but told someone about it later. They told me it’s traditional to give money to the new bride and groom at the wedding reception. I did try to explain to him afterwards that I had no money as I’d spent it all on my flight out to Mozambique, but I don’t think he believed a word of it.

I liked going to Guludo village. The kids were full of smiles. They loved having their photo taken with digital cameras when they could see their faces on the screen. Once you had taken a photo you had to show them, whereupon they would all crowd around the camera pointing and laughing. Guludo is a poor village – it’s in Cabo Delgado, one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique – but villages by the sea do better than those further inland. They do live in their mud wall houses, but the structures are made out of wood and stone and they’ve got a sort of palm leaf roof on them. There are some children with the swollen bellies, but I’m guessing it might be from some sort of worm rather than being hungry. They just need the school in the village to be built now (it is planned) and life won’t be too bad at all.

Apart from hanging round the lodge, going to the village and going diving, I managed to see a bit more of the Quirimbas National Park. The marine bit actually houses an archipelago (I never know how to pronounce that) and I went on day trips to Rolas Island and Ibo Island.

Rolas Island was definitely what I imagined a teeny tropical island to be like – white sand, turquoise sea, etc, etc. The colours are amazing. My photos don’t do it justice at all. No one lives there, fishermen use it as a stopover and to dry their fish (very smelly). It’s also one of the few places that you can find coconut crabs. Guess what, I didn’t see one of those either. Apparently they’re huge with powerful claws and hide in holes that go deep into the ground. There’s a legend surrounding the crabs on Rolas Island – they can’t be taken off the island or something bad will happen. Apparently every time someone has tried to take one of the crabs off the island their boat sank or they died or something. So now no one’s going to risk it. I think they must live a pretty charmed life then just chilling in the undergrowth, and just being prodded every now and then to ‘perform’ for the tourists.

Ibo Island was eerily beautiful – wide streets and grand but dilapidated Portuguese-style villas that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Mediterranean. It was once a trading port for slaves – it’s shocking to see the size of the rooms in the fort that 200 people were kept in. There was standing room only. Now the old fort is home to silversmiths who make intricate jewellery and the dilapidated buildings are being bought up at an alarming rate. South Africans and other rich foreigners are turning them into holiday homes, guest lodges and hotels. Some development will be great for the island – it definitely has loads of potential as a tourist destination – I just hope it doesn’t lose its atmosphere.

I also went to beautiful Pangane beach – palm trees, white sand, turquoise sea. My day there was only slightly spoiled when I was told that the villagers from Pangane use the beach and sea as their loo. One of those things you don’t really think about, but of course makes sense. Ah well, I’m sure it’s just as bad on English beaches from sewage pipes.

I’m running out of things to say now, actually I just don’t want to bore you. Mozambique was a lovely country. I only saw a teeny tiny bit of it, but even that small bit is worth the journey time to get there. The country is developing fast. There does seem to be quite a good amount leaning towards ‘ethical’ and ‘eco’ tourism though, which is something at least. Still, at the moment, it’s not busy in a Spain sort of way (thank goodness). I’d like to see some more of it.


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Words by Tori



Posted on Monday, September 25, 2006 at 10:40 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment