Pemba, Ibo & Matemo Islands, Mozambique

28 June 2005

Off to Johannesburg on the late night express as this is the only way to make it to my connection to Pemba Island at dawn tomorrow.

Been a bitch of a week, so still trying to get my head around my latest mission. In short? Take a charter flight, get your ass to Matemo Island (close to Pemba and Ibo), spend a few days with adventurer Kingsley Holgate at the start of his Rainbow Expedition and write a story about it. Cool ….. I’m onto it.

Now all I have to do is locate Matemo Island on the map, read the expedition bumf to find out what the hell King is up to this time, get some sleep and, of course, crash-proof my liver against the veritable Tsunami of Captain Morgan that is sure to follow. Banzai!!

29 June 2005

As per usual, Africa runs according to its own clock. Everything is a little late and a little disorganised (with the exception of the awesome expedition crew) but Maputo truly takes the cake.

There is no real system here, so passengers basically grab a boarding pass with any name on it and they sit anywhere they want to on the plane. At least the staff all do it with a smile, albeit a strained one.

The flight to Pemba should not take more than an hour and a half, after which we’ll be picked up by Kingsley’s staff in Landrovers to then be transported to the Base Camp.

Meeting Kingsley for the first time is an experience, and in his case, the man is without a doubt as large as the legend. With a fleet of Landrovers at his disposal and the helter-skelter of Africa unfolding all round, he is absolutely in his element.

I hook up with Patrick from SA 4×4 Magazine and join him in the new Discovery 3 as our convoy sets off through the grimy streets of Pemba. We head along these little backroads to Gongene village where Kingsley has scheduled a handover of nets to the local community.

This is Mozambique at its best; vibrant, colourful, friendly and just to the good side of seedy. The village has obviously been primed for our arrival and the earthen courtyard is spic and span. A huge hand painted banner and fluttering Frelimo flags lend the gathering a festive air with tiny traditional dancers and a local band adding to the vibe.

The handover takes on the air of a celebration, with hand-clapping, cheering and vigorous dancing blending in with good-natured speeches from Kingsley and many of the other dignitaries.

The sun is dipping dangerously close to the horizon by the time we head off to where the dhow is lying anchored within a sheltered bay. Beach bonfires and a line of lanterns planted on reed poles lead us to the “Spirit of Adventure” as the sun descends behind her mast, a magma-red globe firing up the sky.

On board, everyone is welcomed with a drink, Captain Morgan obviously being the spirit of choice. A local Nkaza girl choir, resplendent in green dresses and muslin veils, performs in full voice. Speeches follow, lots of them, before the whole entourage eventually succumb to the delicious abandon of the chaos that seems to permeate Mozambique.

30 June 2005

Must be getting old. This is by far the worst hangover I can remember in recent years. The so-called “Spirit of Adventure” is to blame for the most part, but a packet of smokes and a total disregard for sleep (I grabbed couple of hours in between 02h00 and 04h15 when the bodies around the fire stirred once more) must certainly rate as contributing factors.

We say goodbye to Kingsley and the crew, setting off for Pemba Beach hotel aboard speedboats. It is a gorgeous cruise and we reach this stunningly situated Rani resort in time for breakfast.

By 11h30 we’re airborne yet again, his time in a colourful little plane ferrying us to Matemo, another island lodge making up part of the Rani Group. This is about as out of the way as you can get in the Quirimbas Archipelago and we sweep low over indigo bays and emerald isles as we approach this little piece of paradise.

Matemo Island Lodge nestles upon the shores of the island of the same name, spilling onto a sugar-soap beach bedecked with swaying palm trees. Everything exudes the languid and laid-back lifestyle epitomising this section of Africa’s calypso cost, but time is short and our schedule is chock-a-block, so after a formidable lunch, we pile onto the speedboats on a cruise to Ibo Island, one of the northern coast’s historic hotspots. Early confrontations between Arab traders, Portuguese settlers and local tribes on Ibo led to countless battles, with the varied cultures of the various factions all taking root on the island.

Some of the early forts date back to the 1700s, but the cannons have been silent for centuries. Stand on the ramparts, however, and you will feel transported back in time as you stare out across the tranquil bay to where lateen rigged dhows continue to sail the timeless winds of Mozambique.

Silversmiths now occupy part of the main fort, selling jewellery manufactured from old coins and using age-old tools and methods. I watch an elderly man in thick glasses shaping ringlets for a necklace, blowing through a pipe into a crucible to melt the precious metal before pouring it into moulds. These delicate coils are later linked to form necklaces, bracelets and brooches of a distinctly Moorish look.

1 July 2005

I skipped the continuation of festivities last night, opting to work through my images (and also giving my liver the opportunity to work through the overdose of Captain Morgan still sloshing about in my system).

It is one of those days which kicks off in 100% paradise, but then deteriorates into hell as you navigate a series of aerial hop, skip and jumps. Bush bus to Matemo’s dusty airstrip; twin-prop hop to Pemba; chaotic jostling for seats on the leg to Maputo; negotiate customs, then hurry up and wait for the connection to Jozi; cruise down to the Cape before heading off across the Flats to get home.

Should make it home by midnight, but you never know in Africa ………