Sunday, 24 May 2009

out of the mountains and down to the sea...

Well, we're on the homeward stretch now. Or so it seems. We've
followed the shore of Lake Malawi down to Cape Maclear, turned east
to Lishinga, crossed the mountain and forest of Niassa province, and
arrived on the Indian Ocean coast at the exquisite Ilha da
Mocambique. Here, we've settled in for a few days at Casa Heinrich,
the beautifully restored house of a friend from Zimbabwe, eaten
prawns and Lula (calamari), swum in the clear sea, ridden a dhow out
to Goa island and climbed to the top of the hundred year-old lighthouse.

Ilha is an astonishing place, capital of Portugese Mozambique for
over four hundred years, full of decaying grandiose buildings in the
great Imperial Portugese style at one end of the island -the Stone
Town -, and tightly packed reed-roofed African houses at the other -
Reed Town. Today, Sunday, we were lucky enough to meet Franciso
Monteiro, a passionately committed young Portugese architect working
here for UNESCO on a project to rehabilitate the mighty fortress that
dominates the island's northern end. He gave up part of his weekend
to show us around the fort, and we stood on the battlements at the
end of the island, looking out over iron cannon at dhows sailing down
the sunset.

Many buildings in Stone Town are in ruins, the consequence of forty
years of decay, and the forty thousand war refugees who thronged onto
the island - only two kms long by a few hundred meters wide - in the
eighties. Some have been restored, others have survived the gruelling
past decades. There are a handful of delightful restaurants and
cafes, a good hotel, a Centro Nautico offering dhow trips, and not
much else. Ilha is a long way from becoming Mozambique's Zanzibar,
but the beginning of it's rebirth is perhaps apparent.

Over the next few days we'll head south, through central Mozambique,
passing, at Inchope, only a couple of hundred kilometers from the Zim
border, only 6 hours from home. Then south, to Inhassoro, where we
hope to finish our Mozambique time with some diving, and more prawns,
and another spectacular Indian Ocean sunset or two, doubtless
accompanied by a cold Manica (or two).

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