Swahili Africa

Ibo, Mozambique

Ibo Island is a step back in time to when the Portuguese and the Arabs were both trading and defending their footholds in east Africa. Numerous forts, administrative buildings and, sadly, slave pens are reminders of times past. In 1975, when Mozambique achieved independence, a quarter of a million Portuguese fled the country and here, as well as in Maputo, much of what they built was neglected and left to ruin. Lots of fixer-uppers for those interested in cheap real estate.

Ibo Island Lodge, where we are staying, was once the governor’s mansion and office. It has been tastefully restored to look much like it would back in the day. With the addition of creature comforts such as a swimming pool, rooftop bar and wi-fi.

We get here on the slow boat, taking two and a half hours to travel the 20ish miles between Guludo and Ibo, passing local fisherman in their small vessels, barely above the water line, most likely leaking, as is the one we are in. An old wooden dhow with a 40 hp motor, we putt along the smooth-as-glass water, the first mate baling water from time to time and the captain texting on his cell phone most of the time.

Arriving to a chaotic scene on the public jetty, it is clear we are in Swahili East Africa. Women in colourful cloth wrap-around garb, with matching head dresses and babies in slings. Young boys diving into the water to fish with small nets and/or spears. Dhow captains loading and unloading cargo. Old men sitting in the shade of an ancient tamarisk tree watching it all.

We are not sure who will be meeting us, and are pleasantly surprised when a youngish woman comes forward and introduces herself as Lorrayne, assistant manager of Ibo Island Lodge and, as it turns out, the dive master for the local dive shop. We immediately begin making plans to dive.

We see an amazing array of aquatic life. Hard and soft coral of every shape and colour. Fish of every size and colour. Large schools of them. Moray and sand eels. Spotted blue sting rays. Sea turtles. Dolphins. Lobster. Angel fish. Scorpion fish. Lion fish. Blue line snapper. Sea cucumber. Urchins and anemones. Napoleon Wrass, a fish I had never heard of before, but Lorrayne is very excited to point it out, so I guess it is significant. My favourite is the “bubble” coral. Looks like hundreds of tiny balls of pink blown glass. It is all rather psychedelic!! Very trippy!!

The dive photos are either taken by Lorrayne or downloaded from the lodge website. My photography is not yet at the aquatic stage and my diving skills are not sufficient for me to be handling a camera, breathing and maintaining buoyancy! The photos don’t really capture the colours, nor the sheer number of gorgeous “things” that are everywhere we look. There is one dive site in particular, called the lighthouse, that we return to several times. The hour or so we are down there is like a hallucination.

We do two dives in the mornings, with a “surface interval” break in between that is intended to let the nitrogen that has been forced into our tissues during the dive be reabsorbed into our blood. These breaks last about an hour and we spend the time either swimming with dolphins or on a sandbank that is miles from nowhere, sitting in the middle of the ocean. We get back to the lodge in time for a seafood lunch and then its time to visit Felicity, the masseuse. After that, the pool, some reading, and a nap.

Sundowners are an integral aspect of life in this part of Africa. It began with white colonists needing their gin and tonics at the end of a hot, dusty work day and is today one of the more positive remnants of colonialism! So far we have enjoyed this tradition in a variety of gorgeous spots. Here on Ibo the sun sets behind a lagoon full of mangroves and we have sundowners sitting on the rooftop deck of the lodge watching it go, illuminating the lagoon and silhouetting the mangroves. Venus and jupiter make their appearance, along with a moon that is heading toward full, then the stars. A magical way to end a memorable day!

Yesterday was Good Friday, or so the calendar tells us. The local population being mostly muslim, Easter on Ibo is not a big deal. Those of you in the Christian world will be taking time off this weekend and we will be thinking of you as you enjoy your time with family, eating ham and too much chocolate. No easter bunny for us. By Sunday we will be in Uganda, planning an excursion into the mountains, looking for gorillas. Nevertheless, Happy Easter!

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