Along the coastline from Pemba (the capital of the Province of Cabo Delgado) all the way up to the Tanzanian border lies a group of tropical islands: the Quirimbas Archipelago. The islands are one of the most unspoiled destinations left in Northern Mozambique. I’m island-hopping in the Quirimbas.
I always dreamed of staying on an uninhabited island, far away from city strife. I imagined drinking coconut juice straight from the coconut and enjoying seafood on long stretches of white beaches surrounded by turquoise waters. I thought maybe it only happened in movies or Bacardi adverts until I went on a dhow safari in the Quirimbas Archipelago.
Ibo Island Lodge is the operator of the dhow safari I’m on. It is 25 minutes from Pemba flying low over a mosaic of emerald waters, desert islands, mangrove forests and palm plantations. For the first two days of my tour, I stay in the lodge, cocooned in luxury. A highlight is a historical tour around the relatively tiny island from guide Harris Mupedzi. He seems to know everything from its history to its birdlife and vegetation.
On the third day the big adventure starts: movie time for me on a dhow safari. Just after sunrise, with the call of the Muezzin still lingering in the air, the lodge guide drops me off at the port of Ibo. Although I don’t look like a movie star as I clamber into the 11-meter-long dhow with cameras dangling around my neck, I feel like one. With my fellow travellers and our personal guide Harris, waiter, cook, captain, and a first mate we set off loaded with camping gear. As soon as we are at sea our captain, Juma Chande, calls out and the sail unfurls. When the sail billows, the outboard motor is cut and there we go: sailing on this amazing dhow surrounded by kingfisher blue. Harris is preparing some fishing lines so we can catch our own dinner.
After some hours of sailing, sleeping and dozing on board, Mogundulu Island rises up on the horizon. A long white sandbank sticks out to sea and as we approach, the water turns a deeper turquoise. We are going to spend two nights here so we follow Harris over sand and bush to our camping place. Then we start exploring while the staff set up a complete camp. Our sleeping tents are shaded by a big Metonha tree and nearby there is another tent with a long dining table. After dinner we enjoy a great bottle of Nederburg and then another and then…I am lying back watching sparkles from the campfire rise up towards a canopy of stars.
Very early next morning we paddle around the island in a kayak. I have just got the hang of it when we turn back for breakfast. I feel I have really earned the fresh fruit. The next round is back in the dhow to dive into the Indian Ocean for some snorkelling around a rocky coral reef. However, exercise is optional in the deliciously warm water: some of us are underwater snorkelling and some are above the water sunbathing. And some, like me, do both. Lunch is sandwiches and ice-cold drinks. Back on the island I watch the sun set. And then it’s fresh lobster for dinner! It is so delicious that I find it hard not to eat it shell and all. I am so happy that I share my lobster thrill with the rest of the group only to find I’m so sunburned I also look like a lobster.
This trip is dreamy, peaceful, relaxing, and quite unlike anything else. We stop and start, sail and moor, swim and explore and laze until our last stop which is like a film set. Hidden behind thousands of rustling palms, Ulumbwa is on the mainland. As we approach it, all I can see are coconut palms. Our camping place is surrounded by water with only one side connected to the village. We look towards Matemo Island and also where the Ulumbwa River runs into the sea. I explore the mangrove jungle in a small motorboat with our captain and guide, while the others work hard kayaking. It would be easy to get lost there. Harris tells me about crab plovers, sandpipers and mangrove cuckoos. Later, we wander through the village pursued by friendly greetings in Kiwami and children screaming ‘Muzungu’(foreigner) from far away while waving and smiling. Just before dusk, the village fell silent as all the local people sat in front of their houses talking with family and neighbours.
Back at our camp, I hear music throbbing from the other side. Jordan, now in dancing attire, tells me there is a disco and asks me if I want to go there. But, the only way to get there is by boat or kayak and however much I would like to, I feel daunted by the thought of paddling through the dark, crabby mangrove at night. So I settle for a last lovely meal and enjoy another campfire under an almost full moon surrounded by the scent of frangipani flowers. Red as a lobster and full of lobster, I drink coconut juice straight from the coconut and feel ridiculously happy with everyone and everything in this idyllic hideaway.
Published in MOZambique Magazine in 2012.