Ilha de Mozambique   Mozambique Island 


We arrived at Ilha de Mozambique a couple of days ago.  This has been one of the destinations we have been looking forward to for a long time.

This 3km long, 500-meter wide island was long a major trading center with ties to Arabia, Persia and India.  Shortly after Vasco de Gama arrived here in 1498, the Portuguese settled the island. 

After the fort of Sao Sebastian was built in 1558, Ilha was named the capital of Portuguese East Africa.  The fort still stands today and is the oldest intact fort in sub-Saharan Africa.  We spent 2 mornings wandering around, exploring the rooms and examining the cannons which remain perched along the ramparts, as though ready to go to battle.  We even found a pile of disintegrating cannon balls.

Because the island has no water, buildings built there have elaborate rain water collection systems on their roofs.  The fort is no exception and we enjoyed exploring the roofs and following the collection paths down to the huge cisterns dug into the ground.

The unique architecture developed on Ilha combines influences from Portugal, Africa, Arabia and India.  The use of similar floor plans and construction materials & methods combine to form a cohesiveness which was one of the reasons UNESCO designated Ilha de Mozambique a World Heritage Site in 1991.  Check out our "African Adventures Page"  to find links to the UNESCO web site.

Ilha is an interesting place to explore.  It is part ghost town and part active, vibrant village.  We spent our days wandering through the alleyways and old buildings.  The older, ghost town-like area is called Stone Town.  Most of these buildings were built between the 16th and 19th Centuries.  So many of the buildings are just shells now, but enough remains so that we could imagine how magnificent they must have been in their heyday.

After receiving helpful directions and even impromptu private tours, we were able to locate some of the remaining examples of the intricately carved doors brought from India three hundred years ago.  We were even allowed to explore the courtyards of what used to be private mansions, now turned into dilapidated communal homes.  We’ve got some great photos to post soon.  

Along the coastline of Mozambique, tidal fluctuations can easily reach 14 feet between high and low tides.  At low tide, we would find ourselves at the beach.  There we’d watch as the local islanders descended on the tide pools and tidal flats in search of anything that they could collect either for food or for sale to the few travelers or tourists.

One of the more interesting things to watch were the young children collecting pieces of old pottery, porcelain and even 300 year old glass necklace beads.  As it turned out, the beads were brought from Venice, Italy by European sailors who would trade them for everything from gold and ivory to even slaves.  Most of the beads now found on the beach come from the more than 500 ships that sank in the bays and waterways around the island.

One of the surprises on Ilha was the availability of great tasting, inexpensive fish, calamari (squid) and lobster.  The quality of the food on this expedition has been the biggest surprise of all.  Unlike our last African Expedition 10 years ago, we have choices beyond the then limited choice of fried chicken and chips (French fries).


June 30 – July 6

From Ilha de Mozambique we again packed up our backpacks and headed for our next adventure.  We pointed ourselves north for the town of Pemba and hopefully a trip by dhow (African sailboat) to some of the nearby islands of the Quirimba Archipelago.  The waters here are known for their impressive coral reefs and for good scuba diving adventures.  But first, we have to get there.

Pemba is the regional capital so we were confident that travel would be fairly easy.  Yes, you probably guessed it, the trip was anything but easy.

There are very few of what we would call buses in northern Mozambique.  Most public transport is accomplished as a passenger in either a minivan or in the back of a mini pickup truck.  In either case, we would be sharing cramped quarters with at least 20 other passengers.

Well, true to form, only the first two rides of the day went well.  The next FOUR lifts lengthened our day to over 12 hours of travel time, including 2 more flat tires and 2 more breakdowns.  On the bright side, we did meet 2 other travelers whose journey took them 16 ½ hours!  Oh did we mention the 3 goats tied to our backpacks on the roof of one of the buses?  Imagine getting them up on the roof.

After spending the night in Pemba, we hitched a ride to the nearby Wimbi beach for some days of relaxation mixed with some scuba diving adventures.  Our diving has been excellent and we have seen lots and lots of beautiful and interesting fish.  Some of the more exotic were mantis shrimps – which look like lobsters with no claws, a crocodile fish that was so hidden on the sand that you could barely see him, lion fish that seem to just float so stately – with all of their feathery, poisonous fins extended.  

Our much anticipated dhow trip hasn’t happened.  The boat captain has just told us that the water is too rough!  Disappointed!


July 7

We are starting to feel that, as far as transport is concerned, we must be a bit cursed.  We’re back at the Pemba airport 24 hours past our scheduled departure time.  Yesterday as our flight took off and was climbing, we noticed that the pilot had leveled off very early, then circled around back to the airport.  As we were landing, we found out that there had been a problem with a window in the cockpit and that the pilot was unable to pressurize the airplane.  When we landed and looked at the cockpit, it appeared that the window was actually gone.

LAM, the Mozambique airline, has only two planes in its entire fleet.  We were told that they could not send the other plane for us, and would instead be sending up a mechanic to replace or repair the window.  24 hours later, we can see toolboxes on the ground around the plane and an open place where the window should be.  Nobody is saying anything, so we’ll just wait and see.  Another adventure!

When it comes to getting around a country by public transport, I think we may have met our match in Mozambique.  It turned out that our plane was able to finally leave Pemba late yesterday afternoon.  We arrived in Maputo after dark, in the rain.

Sunday morning we decided to explore the city as we also explored our options to get to Durban in South Africa.  We began our walking tour in Maputo’s “baixa” area.   This is the old town center and the port area.

We wandered around the small fort built by the Portuguese during the 1800’s on the site of an earlier fort.  The fort takes up an area about one acre in size.  We were able to walk around its perimeter in less than 10 minutes.

We then walked to the train station to find out about taking a train to Durban.  The station was built in 1910 and is a really impressive building.  Check back in a couple of weeks for the photos.  We were surprised to find out that Alexander Eiffel, builder of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, had designed the train station's dome, as well as the nearby governor’s residence.

When we were in Iquitos, Peru on last year’s Peru Expedition, we found another building also designed by Mr. Eiffel.  It seems that many people of his time wanted an “Eiffel” iron building.  (See the Peru photos)   

So what about the train?  It turns out that the train was just getting ready to leave, and would take 20 plus hours to make the journey.  When compared to the 9-hour bus or the 1-hour plane trip, we decided to pass on taking the train.

From the train station we went to explore the city’s oldest Mosque, but when we arrive we found it locked up.  Oh well.  We ended our tour at the colorful, though run-down municipal market.  There we browsed the seafood vendors, the vegetable and produce vendors and bought some fruit for an afternoon snack.

We then tried to find out about the bus to Durban, but being Sunday, just about every business in the country is closed.  We finally found out the direct 9-hour bus only leaves on Wednesday and Saturday – which we missed because of our airline delay.

Tomorrow morning we’ll go out to the airport and try to get a couple of seats on the flight to Durban.  If all else fails, we will take the minibuses or chapas overland through the neighboring country of Swaziland.


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