Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A change of scenery: Ilha de Mocambique

In Mozambique finally, after nearly a year and a half of anticipation and talk of beaches and perri-perri prawns! Unfortunately we were only unable to see northern Mozambique given the time we had but from all reports and what we had read, we were in for a real treat!
Our first destination was Ilha de Mocambique, an island off the coast of Mozambique, joined by a bridge. However to get there was a journey in itself.

Arriving in Mozambique
Our entry into Mozambique went very smoothly. Apart from being a tad expensive for visas (USD100 each), the immigration officers were very efficient and helpful and got us back on the road in around 20 minutes. And that was with taking photos and a digital finger print. Amazing!
We decided given the time to try to get to the town of Cuamba for our first night, approximately 150km east of the border. Unfortunately the road made this into a 3 hour drive and it was starting to get late by the time we finally made it. Mozambique is on the same time as Zambia which really doesn’t make sense given it is much further east and results in a very early sunset from around 4:30pm onwards.

Cuamba was pretty uneventful; we had our first taste of Mozambique beers, most being quite sweet tasting although we did find one we liked. I loved the change in language to Portuguese. We also had our first taste of expensive accommodation in Mozambique, paying $30 for a room with a ¾ double bed, no running water, only cold bucket showers and water to “flush” the toilet. Horrible!

We got on the road early the next day, a bit after 6am, to try to get through the next 350km of road to the city of Nampula. We had hoped we might be able to go as far as Ilha de Mocambique but wanted to remain conservative. Lucky we did, as only 40 minutes into the drive we realised that Nampula was a going to be good going with an average speed of only 25-30km and the most challenging road we had encountered to date. Sand, pot holes, corrugations, etc. We may have been going slower than needed, I don’t know, but we figured we wanted to keep Ruth’s suspension in good working order.

The road from Cuamba to Nampula
I hate how photos never really give a good indication of how bad the road actually was!
I promise you, it was BAD!
Apart from being slow the drive was ok. Frustrating was the new road being built by the Chinese but not ready for use. Interesting was the reaction of children to us and our car. Normally the kids run over to the road and wave frantically; however the children on the road to Nampula did the complete opposite, running away like they were scared of us. Strange! Maybe they haven’t seen many cars before?

The scenery on the way to Nampula
And how our car looked after travelling on the road:
Check out all of the dust!
We arrived in Nampula around 5pm as it was getting dark, once again limiting our choice of accommodation. We went to check a couple of the places that we had marked in Lonely Planet only to find they had all doubled in price! For a pretty crappy room with only cold water they wanted $60-$70. Difficult to comprehend but there wasn’t much we could do about it at this stage. Eventually we chose a place called Residencial Expresso which was nice and had a hot water shower, yay! All for the “bargain” price of $100.

Nampula was the least nice Africa city we had come across in all our time in Africa; I’m not sure what it was but it just didn’t have a nice feeling. Fortunately we were able to park our car off the street overnight and in the morning left pretty early, keen to get to the coast.

View of Namupla from our hotel
Heading to Ilha de Mocambique: Would you trust the load on this truck??

On the island

Ilha de Mocambique is joined to the mainland by a 3.5km one lane bridge so we were able to drive the car over. There is no camping on the actual island, with a camp ground just before the bridge. But we felt to do the island right we should stay at one of the guest houses on the island.

The 3.5km bridge from the mainland to Ilha de Mocambique
The view of the island from the bridge
We chose a cute little place called Casa Branca which has only 3 rooms and accompanying bathrooms, included breakfast and wasn’t too expensive at $40-$60pn. Casa Branca oozed charm and plenty of seaviews; immediately we knew we had found the right place for us to stay.

Casa Branca
Our room at Casa Branca
The view from our room
Ilha de Mocambique feels like the place that time forgot with lots of old ruins and run-down buildings, narrow streets and old style lampposts.  It must have been amazing at its prime when the Portuguese were there, and still is beautiful in a haunting way. Trees grow out of building windows and doors, paint washed off the walls and many buildings are boarded up waiting for better days ahead.

Building ruins on Ilha de Mocambique
Tress growing out of an old building
Remnants of colour from years gone by
Old lamps and statues
Old cinema, now where people live
Perhaps the most amazing building on the island was the hospital. When I first saw it I assumed that it had been a hospital once upon a time and now was an abandoned building. However it is still the island’s hospital despite its depleted state and we were told to have a look inside, although we didn’t feel comfortable doing that.

The old island hospital: Still a functioning hospital. Would you use this hospital? 

Magnificent: Hospital and the old building next door...definitely a potential site for
a posh hotel, don't you think?
We did visit the island’s museum which was a bit disappointing given that around 90% of it is currently being renovated and is closed off. I’m sure it will be lovely when it’s finished. What we did get out of the museum however was the chance to chat with one of the guides there who told us that the hospital and the building next to it had been earmarked for a big posh hotel, if the hotel operator could find another site for a new hospital. Not surprising and I’m sure it will happen in time. We also found out that a lot of European countries, as well as China were putting money into restoring the island and core services such as water, apparently a problem for many of the island’s residents. 

Inside the museum. Unfortunately the doors were all closed off
from the public :-(
View out from inside the museum
This pulpit was inside the museums's old chapel.
I loved the detailed wood work and colours!
Ilha de Mocambique also treated us to a local Sunday soccer match on the island’s sand soccer pitch. We decided to head over to watch the game half way through after a late lunch and were surprised by how many people there were; perhaps 4,000 people, all making a crazy amount of noise. Unfortunately we were lucky to watch around only 15 minutes of the game before it was abandoned. A brave (or stupid?!) decision by the referee saw hundreds of people run onto the ground, presumably to give the referee a piece of their minds, before the local army and police started firing shots into the air to disperse the crowd. They tried to resume the game but the crowd was far too fired up and young boys went wild leaving the police and army to chase them down to the other end of the island. A tad amusing and from local accounts in the crowd, a regular occurrence at these matched. It seems you don’t want to be a referee for one of these games.

Referees and army personnel at the local soccer match after a bit of a "dispute"
with the crowd

A few minutes after the dispute the game was called off and young men headed
further down the island to protest

We had expected Ilha de Mocambique to be filled with tourists and given how lovely the island is, it was surprising not to see many tourists. Although the lack of tourists did impact the variety of food and services available, we were happy to have the island pretty much to ourselves, sharing with only a few others and the locals. Everyone on the island was super friendly and happy, particularly the children, a couple of which would follow us around as we took photos or sat to drink coffee.

On Ilha de Mocambique  children followed us everywhere
And this little boy was my favourite. I didn't get his name, but he
said he was five and he really liked sugar sachets!
More young boys making is very difficult to get a photo of the building
behind them :-)
Gateway to the sea
Fishing boats late in the day waiting for use early morning
The food was nice too. We ate plenty of fish and Mike finally had his peri-peri prawns. And of course, a few “2M” beers to wash it all down :-)

Grilled lobster at Hotel Escondidinho
Yummy dinner with a glass of red
Peri-Peri Prawns and a cold 2M beer to wash it down for Mike
Cafe Ancora on Ilha de Mocambique had lovely food and coffee
Mike with his "grande" 2M beer
I loved Ilha de Mocambique, for me it would become the highlight of our time in Mozambique. The island is absolutely beautiful and has left me wondering what it will look like in another 15-20 years from now.

Me and the beach sunset

More pictures…just because I went crazy with the camera!

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