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krisek Ilha de Mocambique - A travel report by Krys
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Ilha de Mocambique,  Mozambique - flag Mozambique -  Nampula
14917 readers

krisek's travel reports

Island built of stone, marble, reed and charm

  13 votes
Page: 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Ilha de Mocambique once was a trading Arab port and a shipyard, centuries before Vasco da Gama arrived in the late XV century and the Portuguese made it the capital of Portuguese East Africa. Now, it is an enchanting place, with unexplainable magnetism.

Ilha de Mocambique - Fort
Ilha de Mocambique - Fort
Joy, a minibus driver, surprised me immensely (after my interesting experience of touts in Nampula) when he offered to drive all the way across the bridge from the mainland to pick me up on Sunday at 4am and take me to the main bus station on my way back. I was very happy. However, based on my experience that the Mozambicans were not trustworthy, I was being very careful with my feelings of joy about Joy.

He eventually kept his promise and did come for me, for which I rewarded him with a very nice tip. By that time however, I already knew that he would come, because I met a few islanders, who were very nice. Very nice indeed. I met many of them at the football pitch - I was the only tourist there watching. I actually did not spot many tourists on Ilha de Mocambique, anyway, or anywhere in the country for that matter.

I selected the island as one of the places to see in the country, as I’d heard it was unique and so significant that the country took its names from it. And it all was true. It was a magnificent place, where people took it easy and stayed remarkably happy despite their hardships of life. They were friendly and open. I often sat down with them on a stone near the ocean and chatted for hours. They were pure with their feeling and observations about the world that surrounded them. They made my stay on the island the highlight of the trip.

Samuel Anrane, a 16 years old guide, found me promptly outside my hotel and we made a deal for him to show me around the island. He took me to many places around the entire island and told a few stories. He said he would like to be a journalist when he grows a bit more. It was actually interesting to hear him saying that he would like to be a journalist. He was the first African man I met who wanted to be one. I challenged him a little by asking him to report to me what has been happening on the island. He struggled a lot actually, but it was funny. I guess if he sticks to this goal, he might actually become a journalist.

Favourite spots:
Ilha de Mocambique - Hospital
Ilha de Mocambique - Hospital
Samuel showed me many grand houses and buildings scattered around the island proving that yet about a hundred years ago this must have been a splendid place. My favourite buildings are those of a hospital. It looked like it had been built in a classical Roman style. Its pale walls reflected the sunshine like mad. I thought it was a grand building of a court or a townhall. There was park in front of it - that was my favourite spot.

The northern part of the island was called ‘stone town’. This was the part with many historical buildings, the pier, fortress, palace and the main mosque. The southern part of the island was very different. It was full of traditional African households – huts covered with straw and bamboo. It was fascinating to see such contrast. Not only was the architecture so different, the life itself went on completely unlike. This was where the majority of people lived, life was more of a ‘business as usual’ nature. People cooked, shopped, washed, socialised, etc.

What's really great:
Ilha de Mocambique - Mosque
Ilha de Mocambique - Mosque
The fort on the northern tip of the island built between 1558-1620 is now the only complete large fort in the southern hemisphere. It is an amazing structure. First of all, it is large and well organised. It has a church inside, an execution stand, a hospital, and the commander’s quarters. There are many intact cannons placed on the top of the fort’s walls.

Yet, there is even an older building than the fort on the island. It is the church just beside it, which was built in 1522 and which is arguably the oldest European building south of the equator. It changed its purpose from a church to a mosque to a chapel. What astounded me was that the chapel survived all those years. The fort had its own church inside its walls, yet the chapel just outside the wall was kept. Curious, isn’t it?

Ilha de Mocambique was so small but had so many qualities! It was calm and yet there was always something happening somewhere. Disco, football match, fishing boats cleaning, the market...

Ilha de Mocambique - Harbourmaster
Ilha de Mocambique - Harbourmaster
On a stroll around the island, I also found a great gate to the harbour master. It had two large anchors placed beside it and two cannons. I could understand the idea of having anchors there, but cannons, hmm…, I am not sure why they were there. The Ilha boasted many grand public buildings, a palace, great mansions, and a few lovely churches and mosques. Sadly, there were too many ghost buildings, too. Many of them in a catastrophic condition! I had a chat with three boys in the port about it and they couldn’t explain why this was so but blamed the government and lack of money. When I saw a broken cinema and found out that this was the result of a cyclone, which hit the island in 1990s, I realised there was something about the other ruins. Samuel told me that the cyclone devastated not only the island, but also many other towns across the country. This explained many things. It wasn’t people’s negligence alone, why so many buildings were in this terrible state.

Ilha de Mocambique travelogue picture
Well, it was great to see that many of the grand mansions were being restored. For example Casa Branca II hotels, which under the name of Mooxeleliya, offered me a room to stay, which cost me €18 a night. The room was large, comfortable and made in a traditional XVII century style, with XX century bathroom amenities, hidden behind a screen made of bamboo cane. It was perfect. I felt lucky. I first went to Casa Branca I, but it was being renovated, and the rooms, which were not part of the project, were full. It was funny, as I didn’t see any tourists around.

Some other mansions around the ‘stone town’ were also housing hotels, but there were not too many of them on the island at all. I am not sure if there is ever a ‘busy tourist season’, but if one plans to come during that time, then I guess it would be advisable to make a few calls to perhaps make a room booking.

Ilha de Mocambique - south
Ilha de Mocambique - south
And hey, I did mention that there was a disco on the island! It was on the southern part of the island, very near the causeway leading to the mainland. Ha! Yes, it was also a major pick up joint (or a meat market), which often led to another key southern activity – baby making, judging by the number of kids per family. I was told that both disco going and baby making were major attractions on the island, since few people actually had television and as the night always fell early, there was little else to do. So, people boogie and get jiggy with it. I almost joined the extravaganza on my very first night on the island, but I was exhausted and already full of exciting events that day (the extravaganza at the disco I mean).

Ilha de Mocambique - Townhall
Ilha de Mocambique - Townhall
On my first day, I also met two guys Enzon and Manito. Enzon sold me a seven piece silver bracelet (each bit representing a different day of the week), which I didn’t want to buy but he was asking me to buy it so intensely that I became weak and gave in seeing he was really poor. Later, we kind of became pals and I gave him some clothes – mainly t-shirts, shorts and socks. When I asked him whom he would like to be in a near future (he was 19 at that time) he said a doctor or an engineer. I asked him to show me his hands and told him he better aimed for an engineer.

Manito’s English was best, his smile the widest and he was a funny character. He was attending a college to become an architect. Wise choice, as there was much to do on the island. All four of us, Samuel, Enzon, Manito and I, hang around until the end of the day. The boys were very sociable and friendly. I asked them to take me to a bar where locals and no tourists went, and we had a few beers. In the park near the hospital.

Ilha de Mocambique travelogue picture
Reliquias was the best restaurant on the island but its grill was kept under key and when the owner was out, grilled dishes were out of the menu. I found it utterly amusing. The restaurant was based in an old Portuguese building and had a great interior. My favourite part was however, the open-air terrace at the back of it, overlooking the ocean in the western direction. This, of course, meant great sunsets! The restaurant also featured a not smiling waitress. She was really looking very bored and totally disinterested. I told her that I would have given a larger tip had she smiled. I politely explained that smiling was important for the customers, because it added an additional spice to the dishes and the ambiance to the restaurant. She might not have been the best waitress but, my oh my, the grilled lobster was miraculous! I only ate in this restaurant. Despite the gruesome waitress!

Other recommendations:
Ilha de Mocambique travelogue picture
On my second day, which boasted much better weather, I went on a stroll early in the morning without an escort. It was equally thrilling as with a guide, or maybe even more so. Since I knew the island from the previous day, I went to all the same places and even more. That very morning, I met many people who wanted to be photographed so much. As I was passing by their houses or just simply walking on the street, they would shout at me asking for a picture. An entire family would gather demanding to be snapped. I loved it and they loved it. It was a great morning. I normally take a small Polaroid camera with me to poor countries, so I can give photos away, straight away. This time I forgot to take one. I was miffed.

Published on Saturday February 16th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:48 PM rating by alfonsovasco

thanks to you i now know that mozambique is the name of the country and also of this island-

Sat, Feb 23 2008 - 11:28 PM rating by jorgesanchez

I was in Mozambiquye island 20 years ago! Things have changed a lot. Thanks for the info.

Sun, Feb 17 2008 - 01:37 PM rating by horourke

very interesting report with detailed local colour. I am not sure about the smiling waitress . Perhaps there had been visitors of a less pleasant mode who might have misunderstood smiles?

Sun, Feb 17 2008 - 01:37 PM rating by davidx

You have been to some amazing places and your reports about them are invariably interesting, informative and stimulating.
I saw Mozambique from a mountain in Zimbabwe but at that time [1991] there was still a civil war in Mozambique

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 07:52 PM rating by rangutan

Another brilliant report, great you write about local women too. A Polaroid camera is a good idea and hot tip!

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