Special guest entry - Ilha to Ibo to Pemba

Trip Start Apr 03, 2008
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Flag of Mozambique  , Quirimbas Archipelago,
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

  Kyle's cousin Greg here, hijacking his blog on behalf of the Ruth family. I'm going to try to set a record for entry length and verbosity here, so continue at your own risk.

Our journey on this entry begins in Ilha de Mocambique, where I spent a month working and Kyle spent a week visiting. On the fifth day of Kyle's stay on Ilha (Wednesday May 28) my parents' flight arrived in Nampula, 180 km west of the island. Jorge, my client and the owner of the property at which we were staying, was feeling ill and had been required to drive the 4 hour round trip to Nampula each of the previous two days for business, so we spared him having to go three times in three days, borrowed the car of Hafiz, the leader of the Muslim brotherhood on the island, and set out to Nampula with Kyle at the wheel..

Before we left, Jorge reminded us a few times to bring both our passports and licenses as being stopped by police at periodic checkpoints is a routine occurrence in Mozambique (and not having required documents subjects you to fines and/or bribes). Just after we got across the one-lane bridge to the mainland, Jorge called my phone to let me know that there was an issue with the car: if you gave it more than the tiniest bit of gas, the engine would simply rev as if it wasn't in gear at all. The solution was simply to not give it very much gas, and not put yourself in situations where rapid acceleration was required. Yes, I told him, Kyle had noticed. About fifteen minutes down the road I realized I had my license but had forgotten my passport, so we turned around, back across the bridge, back to Jorge's place, picked up the passport, and back on the road to Nampula. As we headed out a second time I jokingly asked Kyle if he had everything he needed, because we weren't going to go back again. Fifteen minutes later, around the same spot where we had turned around, Kyle mentioned that he had left his license back on the island. I was certain he was joking, then gradually realized he was serious. I told him he shouldn't be driving, so we switched immediately, then 5 minutes later got pulled over at a police checkpoint. After the usual round of questions, searching for a weakness to exploit, we learned that the car's insurance had expired in March. I pointed out to the police officer that according to the paper we found in the glove compartment it was valid until December 3, but then realized 12-3-08 is March 12th, 2008 outside the US. We were let off with a "tell the owner that his insurance is expired when you return the car", and didn't even have to pay a small amount of money for a "refresco" (soda, or cold drink) that police often ask for.

(As a brief aside, our relatively good fortune could have been the result of a story I had heard a few weeks earlier - Hafiz had been driving several years ago in a different car and was pulled over by the police, and given fines for several things, including driving a car than would have failed inspection in any country. He went to the station and paid some fines, but subsequently the officer that pulled him over was transferred than hit by a bus. After that, the police never pulled Hafiz over, as an aura of mysticism surrounded him and it became known that bad things happen to you if you inconvenience Hafiz.)

The rest of the journey to and from the Nampula was thankfully uneventful (no more police stops!), aside for the occasional moments where the car refused to accelerate for periods of time, and my parents arrived more or less as scheduled from Johannesburg. We all spent two nights together at Jorge's property, as I finished up writing a business plan (for his property to be opened as a 20-room inn), and Kyle and my parents went out for a sailing trip on a dhow (traditional sailing, fishing boats on the eastern coast of Africa) and explored the island a bit. My parents had a great time visiting the island, between interacting with the locals, taking pictures of groups of children, sailing to a spectacular nearby beach, eating great food from the two main restaurants on the island, seeing the colonial architecture and visiting the 16th century fortress, relaxing at Jorge's beautiful property on the water, and enjoying the first-rate hospitality of a born and experienced hotelier. The only rough spot in the visit came the first night, when my mother tripped on a small step in the courtyard of Jorge's property and landed on her knee and face. It was quite a shock stepping into the bathroom and seeing blood streaming down her face. The wounds weren't seriously though, just very visible, and she shook off the injuries like a seasoned traveler and kept going strong.

On Friday, a driver from Technoserve (the NGO I've been working with) picked us all up in the morning and drove us the 4-5 hours up to Pemba, a large town on the coast to the north of Ilha and the tourist center of Northern Mozambique. Just to the north of Pemba lies the Quirimbas Archipelago, which includes a national park, a protected marine sanctuary, and a string of deserted islands with high-end luxury resorts, and Ibo Island, another historic island inhabited by the Portuguese in colonial times. Pemba serves as the arrival point for international tourists (mostly European) that come to visit the islands. We had booked two nights (Saturday and Sunday) in Ibo Island Lodge, a former Technoserve client and luxury hotel that occupies a restored colonial mansion. Their business is oriented towards benefiting the local community, and their venture has received support from the Ford Foundation and other organizations supporting responsible tourism ventures. While we had booked seats on the small plane that flies between Pemba and Ibo on our return (Monday), we thought that option would be too easy on the way there. Much better to make our way to the small fishing village on the mainland next to the island and then make our way over local (dhow) transport. Out of concern from my parents comfort, however, we didn't want to take public transport up to the village (which would have consisted of departing at 4am, cramming in with +/-30 people in a minibus (a "chapa"), getting dropped off and waiting for a second bus, etc.) so the challenge was to arrange some transport for the 120 km (but 3-4 hours) or so (according to the guidebook "4X4 A MUST!").

One option was to arrange transport through the travel agent in Pemba that arranged the flight and the lodge reservations, but they quoted us $240, which we thought was excessive (and not as entertaining as arranging something ourselves). When we arrived in Pemba we stopped by the taxi ranks to test the market and quickly negotiated from $400 for the trip down to $200, which didn't seem like such a great bargain to go in a Toyota corolla. After one taxi driver told us the trip would take 8 hours (as opposed to the 2 the travel agent had said) we decided we'd come back in the morning and see if we could do better. So Kyle and I woke up at 6am and took a taxi in to the town from the backpackers' we were staying at with the plan that we would arrange some transport and return at 7:30 to pick my parents up. In order to catch a boat over to the island, we knew we would have to arrive around noon (at high tide that day), which would mean leaving before 8 am and taking less than 4 hours on the road.

In the taxi, I told the driver what we were trying to do, and he immediately told me his buddy had a good car and they could do the trip and that it would take 3-4 hours. We couldn't negotiate him down from 5,000 meticais, about $200, but told him we'd pay it if in fact he had a good car. He assured us it was a good 4X4 and we went to take a look. It turned out to be a minivan, with comfortable seats and a serious sound system, but DEFINITELY not 4X4 and with questionable clearance at best. Just perfect, we decided, and so we pulled back in to the backpackers at 7am with the driver and his buddy in our white minivan already stocked up on bread, fruit and water. As we headed out, we were already making contact with the ground on the relatively flat dirt and asphalt roads around town. The first stop we made, to pump up the cars tires and take on a second spare tire, didn't exactly increase our confidence. After 30 km on the good road, we turned off the on dirt road that runs directly north into Quirimbas National Park and to Tadanhangue, the village from where the dhows depart to Ibo. Within the first 200 meters of the dirt road, we probably banged the dirt and rocks of the road five or six times with various parts on the underside of the car. Our taxi driver, who was in the passenger seat, kept commenting that this stretch of road was quite bad. I asked him if the car would actually make it to our destination, and he assured me that it would ("sim, vai chegar"). The drive was great, off the beaten path and past baboons, rice fields, and small villages that probably didn't see a lot of white people too often. We stopped to buy bananas and take pictures with people in the town, and the drivers showed up the large trailer hitch on the back of the car that was responsible for much of the banging, which was slightly reassuring.

At around 11:30, we pulled into Tadanhangue, which wasn't much more than a few houses and a little harbor in the mangrove trees that houses some dhows, with and without motors, and some dugout canoes. We arrived just as one dhow was about to depart, which consisted of 33 people in a 20' foot boat. They were in about waist deep water, so the locals pulled over another boat, loaded us in that just off the beach then dragged it over to the dhow so we could squeeze in, making the grand passenger total 37 people and one chicken. The boat was motorized, so they kept the sail unfurled, and we motored across the bay in a slow and steady pace. As we approached Ibo, in a classic and unsurprising moment, the motor sputtered to a stop as the driver tried to squeeze the last drops from the diesel tank. Luckily another motor boat was cruising past, and after a quick wave of the arm and a bit of siphoning, we continued on our way, arriving on the beach with the locals, unloading our backpacks and suitcases as they unloaded their bags, sacks of rice, coconuts and live animals.

We walked from the beach over to the lodge, which was a beautiful property and a very pleasant place to stay. The accommodations were inclusive of all meals, tours of the island, and a trip out to a secluded sand bar for breakfast on the beach. The lodge was great, and Ibo was a very interesting place to visit. There is an old fortress and some deteriorating colonial properties, as well as traditional villages where most people on the island live. Basically all of the Portuguese left in '75, so now there are only 5 or 6 expats on the island and a local population of about 5,000. We walked around on a tour with a local resident during national children's day on June 1st. All of the children were dressed up for the special occasion, with the girls in beautiful brightly colored dresses and some of the boys wearing shorts and little ties. On the island we caught the weekly soccer game featuring the Ibo Island Lodge team, made up exclusively of employees of the lodge, including Kissinger, a Zimbabwean that worked as the head waiter and barman at the lodge. Kissinger was a great host during our stay, as well as interesting person to speak to about history and future of Zimbabwe. We also visited some silversmiths, a witch doctor, and a little moonshine bar where a guy makes papaya wine out of his backyard. At 5 meticais per liter (20 cents) its quite the bargain, but as they say, you get what you pay for. We drank some papaya wine with a group of local men, snapped a bunch of group photos, and then gave them 15 meticais to drink the rest of the afternoon away. As it was national children's day, it was a big holiday, with a disco party planned later that night. Of course, Kyle and I headed over to that later on, where we saw our guide, who had clearly spent the rest of the day after our tour had ended putting back the papaya wine. The next morning he told us he drank 5 liters after we had left.

After two nights on the island, we left via a 6-seater plane that takes off from the grass runway on the island. Needless to say, we were the only passengers, and we let my Dad take the co-pilot seat. Luckily, the pilot didn't have a seizure, stroke or heart attack during the flight. The flight was absolutely beautiful, with the pictures we took out the windows easily travel-brochure-worthy. The flight goes over most of the archipelago and many of the expensive luxury resorts, and the clear turquoise water and white sands are quite stunning.

Back in Pemba we got picked up by Rudi, the owner of Nacole Jardim, a bush camp on the beach near the airport. Rudi took us to the grocery store to get food for the next two nights and then we stopped on the side of the road to buy two big fresh fish off a guy for 4 dollars. Nacole Jardim consisted of some huts by the beach on a 100-acre piece of property owned by Rudi and his wife. The property has a natural mud bath, walking trails, a huge hollowed out thousand-year-old baobab tree, some kayaks, and archery. Of course, we took advantage of all of the activity offerings, and had a great time cooking for with the kitchen facilities provided, enjoying the perfect sunsets, and the fire on the beach at night.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave, and on Wednesday morning we drove back up the steep unpaved road in the owner's pickup truck with my mom in the cab and my dad, Kyle, and I standing in the truck bed as we cruised up the hill to the airport. A perfect way to leave Mozambique behind. Of course, at the airport, after the customs guy who searched our bags asked for money to buy phone credit (I ignored him) Kyle and I learned that the flight to Dar Es Salaam leaves on Tuesdays and Thursdays, not on Wednesdays. The itinerary we had printed out had a flight number from the previous day's flight and the current day's date, but the airline employee confirmed we were in fact reserved for the next day's flight. I called the travel agent who booked the flight, who pulled up the record on his computer and said that we were booked for the next day, and had no idea why I would have a piece of paper that had the wrong flight number and the wrong date. Classic.

So Kyle and I waved my parents goodbye and headed back into Pemba. We checked into a small hotel next to the beach, checked email, kicked it on the beach (and kyle entered a three hour negotiation for elephant hair bracelets with local boys that started at $8 each and ended at $3 each), and then when it got dark went back to our hotel. We started watching a terrible Will Ferrell movie where he coaches soccer, but then halfway through the screen just went black, and that channel no longer came in. (12 hours later its still out) So we headed to dinner instead, ordered our food, and then just after it arrived, the lights went out and we couldn't see our food at all in order to start eating it. Ahh, Mozambique. After a couple minutes, the lights went back on, we ate dinner, then returned to the hotel, couldn't watch the channel with movies, and so went to sleep.

Now I finish this blog entry, still in Pemba, about to return to the airport where we will hopefully be going on to Dar Es Salaam, then to Arusha, the Serengeti, and Rwanda.

Ok, I think that was probably long enough. If you're still with us, congratulations. Kyle and I will try to follow up with a shorter, though hopefully more entertaining, entry from Tanzania or Rwanda.
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freestylefeet on

The old name "Nacole Jardim" has changed to Pemba Dive & Bush Camp. Rudi is there and now as a couple of more helpful staff. You will be surprised to see how the place has upgraded to a Resort with Chalets, Backpacker and Camping. Visit their web site www.pembadivecamp.com they offer lots of helpful hints, especially to go "Getting There"

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