Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Mozambique Islands. Ibo Island
All above the reef the tide recedes leaving sea stars drying bare,
Metallic sheets of shimmering sea reflect the languid air;
The sheen of mercurial water blends into clouds of grey,
Anvil heads lie upon the ocean and press the waves away.
Island Silver and Tropical Blues
“Don’t go there,” we were warned on an overland trip through Mozambique more than a decade ago. “There is voodoo on that island.” People on the mainland were terrified of the place. They could hear the frenzied drumming on some nights, we were told. There might be an element of truth in that, but then again people tend to be afraid of things they do not know. Even in a country whose seaward side is defined by sandbars and coral islands, Ibo has always been something of a world apart.
Of course that made me mark it on my mental map as “a must go one day”. On finally arriving there it far exceeded my expectations in every way. Mozambique is a country consisting of a wide, jade green coastal plain, sub-tropical savanna and very few remarkable topographical features. The essence and the spirit of the country is its fabulous, vivid white and achingly blue coastline. “But why Ibo,” we were asked when I said it should be one of our icons. “It doesn’t even have a beach.”
Fair question, because a long coral-white beach is the image most people have of the Indian Ocean islands. The problem for me is that at those places with dazzling strips of white sand and azure sea, there is seldom much more to be revealed beyond the beach. Ibo, on the other hand, offers an ever-unfolding adventure.
You wake and look out past palm fronds sashaying in the breeze. A dhow glides through your window frame, seeming to float slowly on a dappled velvet blue sea, its lateen sail glowing with the soft gold of first light. Through the thickly scented tropical air the sound of the Muezzin wafts, “Allah Akbar”, God is great, while the shrill ringing of a mangrove kingfisher urges a more insistent wake-up call. This is Indian Ocean island life.
“I think I’m getting photographic overload,” Roger said around day three or four, with a huge grin.
From Maputo in the far south to Pemba in the far north the shoreline is a confusion of twisting rivers, lakes and lagoons, white beaches and fringing reefs, and island after island after island all the way. Just about every one has at least one beach, except for Ibo.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Ibo Island Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.
Islands in the Stream
From the time the Records had fallen for the charms of Ibo and started to mix lime mortar for the extensive refurbishment that lay ahead, one of the islanders gave them two small trees. He said they should plant them immediately and when they were finished the rebuilding the trees should be big enough to provide shade. Today the large tamarind and Indian almond trees are focal to the main garden enclosure where al fresco meals are enjoyed.
The staff are all islanders who have been up-trained by the Records. Most of them were involved in the building and general labour of the project. When the Records arrived the islanders were in dire straits but the lodge has been the major catalyst in kick-starting new economic growth and instilling a sense of self-worth in the community.
Admittedly there is no beach, but the lodge does have two swimming pools. Also whenever the weather permits, a dhow heads out to a mid-sea sandbar where breakfast is set out under a gazebo and you can stay there until the tide turns. After that you could take a history tour around the island, go snorkeling or scuba diving (there is a fully equipped dive centre), take a sea kayak out through the mangrove channels, or book a dhow-sailing safari and really get into island life. Or you could lounge around one of the pools until the sun goes down.