Quirimbas Archipelago, Pemba & Maputo March 23 -30
How long did I sleep and how long did I sit outside my hut? I could not tell without a phone or watch. Anyway, I did return to the hut and slept a while with the door wide open. I got up just in time to watch sunrise.
Kaitlyn and Ryan left shortly after 7am with their captain. They would be doing what we had done yesterday before returning to Ibo Island in the afternoon. Apart from the young man on motor bike, the lad who bought us food, a girl who showed me the shower and toilet facilities and the owner of the lodge, I saw no one from the village. There is nothing to do and nowhere comfortable to sit. Hence, I packed up and starting walking back to the beach to find my friends before 8am.
On the way, I walked past a fishing community and watched a team of fishermen pulling a large fishing boat out of the water. Then I spent around another hour watching birds feeding on the muddy shore.
By 9am, I was back in the main beach and found A in a camping ground with his friends who were serving a German couple whom I met at the sandbank yesterday. They had already set off for a day excursion at the Rolas Island. I like this camp ground which is neat with three sleeping tents (one for the couple and two for the captain and his assistant, the chef and supporting staff), a gazebo and a cooking area.
As it was too hot to move around, I stayed at the gazebo doing nothing but watching the ebb and flow of the tides, changing colours of the sea and birds (herons, feeding on the beach. Around midday, I found the heat unbearable and the gazebo insufficient to shield me off the scorching sun. I moved on and sat under a tree close to the tent of my friends.
Shortly after 10am, we placed order with the local lodge for four lunches (450Mtc each) and asked the food be ready by 12:30pm. Alas, our lunch did not arrive till 2pm. Why they had taken so long to prepare a simple meal with rice, chip, corn, octopus and bean? I had no idea.
I sat in the shade under a tree the whole afternoon while the kids were sleeping. A local lady passed by and Francesca and I paid 250 Mtc each for getting a face mask. When the sun gradually came down, Francesca and I took a walk to a luxurious hotel complex which had been abandoned next to our beach.
I did not feel hungry and skipped dinner. After sunset, I returned to the camp ground of the German couple and asked their permission to put up a mosquito net under their gazebo. The nice couple invited me to sit with them in front of a fire and we chatted for over half an hour before they went to sleep.
It was fantastic and cool to sleep outside. But it was very humid and I felt everything got damp. In the middle of the night, it rained for a short while. I had to get up and move my mattress and mosquito net to another place. All in all, I had a better sleep than in the hut.
March 24 Saturday: Metemo – Tandanhangue – Ibo
As the beach is not east facing, it is not possible to watch sunrise. Anyway, I got up before 5am and packed up. My friends were busy getting the kids dressed and taking down the tent. After sailing for a short while, Francesca discovered the mattress I had was missing. Fabian, A and I walked from the ghost hotel complex back to the camp site to look for the mattress. Eventually they found it in the camp ground of the German couple. As a result, I delayed them for half an hour and we did not set off till 6:30am. The journey back to Tandanhangue took two hours.
The kids and Fabian got off the boat before I could say good-bye to them. I hugged Francesca and the baby and wished them all the best. Perhaps we would meet in Malawi or somewhere in Asia. God knows!
A sailed back to Ibo. I was glad to be back to Cinco Portas and was greeted by Christian at the door. I had a home-coming feel: I love Ibo, the people and Cinco Portas. I had a hearty healthy breakfast.
In the afternoon, I met Kaitlyn and Ryan who had two amazing dives in the morning. They were impressed by the underwater world with a great variety of colourful coral and rich marine life. They saw half a dozen of lobsters. They also saw some 30 dolphins and swam with them. I was thrilled and decided to join them the next day.
There is only one diving centre on the island which is operated by Ibo Island Lodge. The diving master who is also the deputy general manager of the lodge, comes from Zimbabwe. He is passionate and sociable: I feel most comfortable and safe diving with him as our guide and my buddy. Tonight, I had prawns and fried noodles. Excellent! I had an excellent sleep on a proper firm bed after spending two nights on Matemo Island.
Christian introduced me to Axel and Lina from Germany with their 4-year-old daughter Golda. They were planning to leave for Pemba on March 27 in order to catch their flight on March 28. I would share their car to Pemba (12000Mtc for a car) and pay 4000Mtc. Perfect!
March 25 Sunday: Diving
At 6am, I left the lodge with Kaitlyn and Ryan heading to the diving centre. I found a wet suit and a pair of flippers that fit me and paid USD240 for four dives. Then we walked to the pier to board a speed boat which took us close to the Ibo lighthouse, one of the best diving spots in the area. My last dive was in the Philippines 15 months ago. In the first dive, I had difficulties in keeping my balance and controlling the buoyance. At times, I had to hold the hand of my buddy to prevent myself coming too close to the fragile coral.
I must say the coral reef formations and diversity are exceptional and breath-taking. It is the best and most expansive garden of coral tables, bucket corals and green tree corals I have seen. The soft corals are exceptionally colourful, vibrant and beautiful. Above all, they look healthy, colourful and in perfect condition without any damage. Furthermore, we saw countless coral fish of all sizes and colours. We swam next to many large schools of fusilier. Before getting out of the water, we saw a Napoleon wrasse.
As I was nervous, I inhaled heavily. As a result, I had to get out of the water after some 40 minutes. Poor Ryan still had half a tank of oxygen left and could have spent at least half an hour more underwater. I felt sorry that they had to cut short their dive because of my inadequacy. We had to stay on the boat for an hour before having our second dive. In the meantime, our diving master found me a smaller BC with which I had no problem keeping balance and buoyance. The second dive was more enjoyable as I did not have to struggle to keep my balance.
The second dive is close to the first site. But the coral formation is different: less hard rose coral and even more soft coral. The underwater world on here is most colourful and lively with millions of colourful coral fish. It is a world class aquarium. Ryan and Kaitlyn spotted rays, turtles and numerous colourful nudibranchs. I have a poor memory; I am not observant and have never been a good spotter. I therefore must have missed a lot (looking without seeing!). Anyway, I am already happy and content with whatever I have seen. This may be the best dive I have in my life!
I was back in the lodge around noon and had a late breakfast (my brunch). The wound on my left leg still troubled me and I dared not walk too much in the heat. But I want to see as much of the island as possible. I therefore paid a young man 800Mtc to take me around on a motor bike.
He came to fetch me at 3pm after borrowing a motor bike from his family. I asked him to take me to the cemetery to see the Chinese graves. I found half a dozen and noted all them had come from the Guangdong Province. We passed the central market area and the main settlements before reaching the western shore of the island. On the way back, I asked him to drop me off at Ibo Island Lodge so that I could watch sunset. But it was too cloudy. Tonight, I had grilled red grouper for dinner. Excellent!
March 26 Monday: Diving
As the diving centre had an inspection in the morning, we could only go in the afternoon. In the morning, I had a light lunch at Benjamin’s place. I had two boiled fish. Fresh but not too tasty!
This time, we would dive along a wall with many holes/caves. But the water looked murky and not clear. During the descent, I found water coming into my mask. I was suddenly struck by fear when I saw a sheer drop into the dark ocean. I decided to get out of the water immediately. While my friends were searching for lobsters, rays and unknown creatures in holes/caves big and small along the wall, I sat in the boat or swam near the boat.
My anxiety went away as fast as it had appeared. I decided to join them on the second dive. Unfortunately, it was getting dark with poor visibility. Hence I did not see the underwater topography and marine life at their best. The highlight of this dive was the sighting of an enormous thorn of star.
I ran into Raul who was taking a couple to visit the church. I joined them in order to see the inside of the church. Raul also took us to see the wood carving workshop run by a Spanish. The furniture for the new hotel run by Anna is all made from her.
Tonight, I had two grilled lobster tails for about US$15. Christian believes lobster should not be overcooked to bring out its best taste. He was right and the lobster was meaty but tender and most delicious.
March 27 Tuesday: Ibo – Pemba by Car
I got up before 5am and took my last stroll in this small enchanting and atmospheric island. I made my way to two new lodges located close to the fortress. The one built and run by an Italian couple would be handed to the National Park authority for management in due course. Another one to be opened soon is run by Anna from Spain. Both are located next to the sea with perfect sunset views.
I found a dozen of weavers weaving their nest in the garden of Ibo Island Lodge. It is fascinating to watch these tiny birds weaving a nest quickly using their mouth.
I returned to Cinco Portas for breakfast and said good bye to Kaitlyn and Ryan and Christian. We had a boat transfer around 10am and set off in a robust 4WD an hour later. We followed N247 which is essentially a dirt road in bad condition especially after heavy rain. Though the distance is only about 125km we took four hours to get to Pemba.
We had no particular problem with the bumpy road as our vehicle is sturdy. But I can envisage many vehicles would have a most trying time. At one point, we watched locals putting tree trunks over gullies so that vehicles could not fall into the gullies. The head worker asked us for money. At the suggestion of the driver, I handed them a 20 Mtc note.
When we were almost at the end of the dirt road, we saw a chapa stuck in mud. Traffic suddenly came to a standstill. One truck in the queue tried to move on by getting all passengers off so that it could drive through the field. Then it got stuck too. Passengers of the chapa rolled up their trousers and sleeves and pushed the vehicle forward till its engine started to run. Our 4WD had no problem once the chapa was out of the way. I was glad I was able to share a 4WD with Lina and Axel to Pemba instead of taking a chapa which might break my back!
Christian suggested me stay in Pemba Magic Lodge run by an Australian. It was 3pm when I arrived at the lodge. I took a comfortable cabin for 3000Mtc and had a late lunch at 4pm. Then I walked along the beach to watch sunset. I skipped dinner and went to bed earlier. But I was woken up around 2am by lightning and earth-shaking thunder which lasted for an hour. Heavy rainfall continued for several hours. I suspect the torrential rain might have worsened the road condition making it impossible for many old vehicles to take N247.
March 28 Wednesday: Pemba – Maputo Flight Delay of 10 Hours
I woke up at sunrise. I took a stroll on the main road for half an hour before having breakfast. Today was a travel day as my flight to Maputo was scheduled at 1320. Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado Province with a natural harbour, is the largest city in North Mozambique with a population of over 150,000. It is a relatively modern city with good roads and an international airport. But the city does not appeal to me. I headed to the airport after checking with LAM office in the town centre that the flight would be departing on schedule. I arrived at the airport after 11:30am and watched the incoming plane touching down. Then all of a sudden, we were told that the plane was grounded owing to technical problem and we would depart at 10pm. Oh God!
The airline LAM gave me a food voucher of 400Mtc which I used for having some prawns and a beer. It was very hot and I found a cool corner inside the airport where I sat till boarding after 10pm. I was given another voucher of the same amount for dinner: I had chicken with rice and a bottle of water. I wasted a whole day at the airport for nothing.
Finally, we boarded a plane that landed at the airport around 10pm. The flight was delayed for an hour and I did not land at the Maputo airport till 1:30am. I ordered a transfer from Delgado Bay City Hotel for 700Mtc. By the time I was ready for bed, it was 2:30am!
March 29 Thursday: Maputo
I had a decent sleep and did not get up till 9am. I already felt at home on my third visit to Maputo. I decided not to rush around and would only go to see the Museum of Natural History which is within walking distance from my hotel. I like the leafy boulevards and old-styled two-storeyed homes in the embassy area. The museum is housed in a church-like colonial building. The collection though not big is surprisingly good with exhibits neatly presented. I also bought two table cloths in the souvenir shop.
It was lunch time. I walked across the road and stepped into Hotel Cardoso which is housed in a white-washed art deco building with fabulous views of both the old city and Maputo Bay. I had a no-frilled lunch (beef rice with salad) in the bar as I had no appetite for buffet in the restaurant. The meal together with a beer cost less than 1,000Mtc. Very reasonable for a light lunch in a 4-star hotel with old charm and fabulous views!
I had a leisure stroll back to my hotel. I discover the whole area is full of nice eateries, pubs and cafés that remind me of many European cities. I stayed indoor till 4pm. Suddenly I had an urge to take a walk and have a drink in the grand Polana Serena Hotel (which reminds me of Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel). It is a short walk and I got here before sunset. As the hotel is east facing, I could not watch the gorgeous sunset with deep orange and gold hues. I walked straight to the garden and pool which look over the Maputo Bay. I was thinking of having a drink. But I found the atmosphere a bit heavy and stale. I looked at the menu of the formal restaurant and found the price surprisingly reasonable. But it would not open till 7:30pm. It’s too late for me.
Though I was not hungry, I went to the restaurant of my hotel to take a light dinner. The staff welcomed me as an old friend. There were three guests already in the restaurant: a young man on a business trip from China and two ladies from another African country. I was disturbed by the two ladies who spoke very loudly. The man left as soon as he finished his steak. I still had problems with my ears and had to flee without finishing the pasta with prawn. Chinese have been known for being noisy and often inconsiderate when talking loudly in public places. But they seldom talk loudly and non-stop for over an hour!
March 30 Friday (Easter Friday): Maputo, Mozambique – Nairobi, Kenya
I would visit my godmother in Taunton after Mozambique and purchased an inexpensive ticket from Maputo to London via Nairobi on Kenya Airways. I would depart from Maputo at 3pm and Nairobi around 10am the following day. At first, I planned to spend a night in a hotel near the airport in Nairobi. When I discovered it would be equally troublesome to go through the immigration, get a transit visa and return to the airport around 6am the following morning, I decided to spend a night at the airport.
Today, I got up in time to watch the sunrise in Mozambique for the last time. But I returned to bed for a nap till 9am. I could not think of anything particular to do on Easter Friday: the offices and money changers were closed and the streets were dead quiet. But I found many locals having breakfast and coffee in cafés which are great for people watching. I had a nice cup of cappuccino for 120Mtc in a relaxing atmosphere while others were reading the newspaper or watching a cooking programme on a TV screen. I took a taxi to the airport shortly after 11am and had to wait for hours before the plane took off after 3pm. There is no lounge in the departure hall. I spent a few hours doing nothing in the airport. Anyway, I had a pleasant flight and landed in Nairobi around 9pm.
Remarks (written and uploaded on May 29, 2020)
All along, I plan to reflect upon and write remarks on my journey in Mozambique which formed part of my 64-day journey starting at Longyearbyen Norway. I am glad that I have taken advantage of the direct flight between Portugal and Mozambique and flew to Maputo after my visit to Madeira and Azores Islands, Portugal.
I was in Mozambique from March 5 to 30. Out of the 25 nights, I travelled leisurely in the southern part of the country with Nomad Africa on a “8-day Mozambique Escape” tour from March 7 to 14. We drove along the coast with well-paved highway seeing the more touristic and developed part of the country. I visited Barra Beach, Tofu Beach, Vilankulo, and Xai Xai. The highlights are the excursion to Bazaruto and seeing two small whale sharks off the Barra Beach.
The most memorable part of the journey came after the organised tour when I travelled to Northern Mozambique. I travelled like the locals taking the chapa (minibus) from Nampula to Mozambique Island, the only World Heritage Site in Mozambique. The island with many colonial buildings, is atmospheric and authentic without many tourists. The people are poor but nice and friendly. I had a most enjoyable excursion by boat with a local guy who calls himself Harry Potter.
My original plan was to continue my way to the Quirimbas Archipelago after leaving the island. But when I met a few young Chinese from Nampula on Mozambique Island, I was advised to return to Nampula as there were more buses to the north. I appreciated their kindness and got a lift to Nampula.
Anyway, my day began well when I took an early bus. But my journey on March 19 2018 turned out to be the most eventfully and scaring journey in my life.
First, while on the highway, someone on the bus told me to get off to take the bus of the same company right behind us. This bus would take me closer to my destination.
Second, after my bus had gone, I found out the other bus had broken down. As a result, I had to jump on another bus that passed by.
Third, I met a nice young man on the bus who spoke some English. When he took a photo of the street scene with my phone for me, a policeman rushed in trying to grab both of us to the police station. The bus driver and other passengers told me not to go as the police was known for corruption. While the policeman took the innocent man away, another evil-looking man jumped out from nowhere trying to get me to another bus. During the confusion, I rushed back to my bus and hit my left leg onto the steel steps. Purple-coloured blood gushed out! I was scared. My bus driver closed the door and started the engine without delay. Seeing the blood, he took a bottle next to his seat and poured the liquid over my wound. Wow! The bleeding stopped immediately. I discovered it was strong alcohol that he might be drinking from time to time! I can still see the scare on the left leg today.
Fourth, the driver told me to get off at Muaguide to take another bus to Tandanhangue, the port to take a boat. The van was old and looked unroadworthy. It was overcrowded with animal, food, drink and more than a dozen of passengers. The engine was overheated and broke down several times. What I thought was a short ride took four and a half hours.
Fifth, by the time I arrived at the port, the last boat had gone. As it is wetland, the boat can only go out in high tide. Luckily, I met a French family from Malawi with five kids. Fabian an economist and his wife, Francesca, a doctor, were my saviours. They had been camping all the way and welcomed me to stay in their tent. Though they did not have much food (as they expected to reach the island that evening), they invited me to eat with them. I have heard so many horror stories and worried my leg would be infected. I was relieved to have Francesca to check and clean my wound.
My time at the Quirimbas Archipelago was unforgettable. I love Ibo, a small island where influences from Oman, Portugal, Africa, India and China are evident. In the cemetery, there are many tombs with Chinese names from Guangdong Province. I stayed in a lovely hotel Cinco Portas with an excellent Swedish chef, Christian. The island has many grand and charming colonial buildings, some of which have been superbly restored and turned into luxurious hotels or nice guest houses. I dived twice: the underwater world with pristine coral and colourful fish is most impressive. The sunset is unforgettably beautiful.
My side trip to the Matemo Island with the French family was wonderful. The water was crystal clear. From the boat, I could see turtles and dolphins. I enjoyed snorkelling and seeing plenty of hard and soft corals. When I was not in the water, I became a nanny so that Francesca and Fabian could get into the water together.
I had a more comfortable journey to Pemba where I flied back to Maputa. But it was not without drama – it’s Africa. I completed my African experience on a 4WD with a family of three (instead of a chapa with dozen of locals). It is a dirt road and at a particularly bad section, a chapa got stuck. I watched how passengers had to push the vehicle. I was lucky to travel four hours in a sturdy 4WD for this 125km-long journey on March 27. When I thought all the troubles were over, my plane to Maputo which was supposed to depart after 1 pm on March 28 had technical problem. Finally, I did not leave Pemba till 11 pm that evening.
Mozambique is a poor but most lovely country with amazing coastline and friendly people. Maputo with lots of history and colonial buildings has a surprisingly relaxing and charming European feel. I am glad I have found Delgoa Bay City Hotel where I stayed three times during my stay in Maputo. The country has rich tourism assets. The Mozambique Island, the Quirimbas Archipelago and its beaches are real gems yet to be discovered. I love to return to the Quirimbas Archipelago and travel overland to Tanzania one day.
Unfortunately, the country has been tormented by both natural disaster and terrorists since my visit. Armed groups attacked villages in Cabo Delgado Province in May and June 2018, killing 39 people and displacing over 1,000. In March 2019, Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic damages in and around Beira in Central Mozambique. On April 13, 2020, the Islamist terror groups killed five people on Quirimba Island (next to Ibo). This bad news breaks my heart and I cry for the poor country and its people. The recent pandemic has been disastrous for the underdeveloped countries. I don’t know how the poor people in Mozambique are coping. I pray and hope they are keeping safe and healthy and survive during this tumultuous time.