Leaving our five students behind still sleeping, we departed Mossuril early on Friday morning, as the cock was crowing and the first shift for school was assembling in the center of the village.
We were accompanied by Mora the dog, and three of the staff from Sunset, who helped us with our bags, as we made our way to the ramp of slaves – the ancient stone gangway leading down to steps and then the beach, where our Dhow was moored. Thousands of people left Mossuril this way - bound for Asia, and other destinations, and a life of slavery.
The light on the beach was extraordinary as we waited for everyone to congregate for the 7am sail, it was cool and very still. I was skeptical that our luggage would fit on the Dhow, but what looks like a small boat in the distance, is actually a big sturdy wooden craft, with a huge curving sail, that takes enormous strength to hoist.
We waded out, and boarded, and we were off, on the first stage of our journey home – we were bound for Ilha de Mozambique, eight kilometres away, where we would stay one night, and then travel by road to Nampula airport the next day.
The sail was raised revealing the butterfly, and we made slow progress out into the bay. It quickly became apparent that there was no wind, so after deliberating for a bit, the eight man crew got the oars out, and started to row us further out into the bay, trying to catch a stream of wind. What happened next will forever remain a special moment and memory – they started to sing - not just any singing - beautiful lilting Macuan songs, and led by Capitano Louis, they created harmonies to row in unison.
Although, I’m told this happens a lot, I felt very lucky to have heard them.
However, it was all to no avail, as after about an hour of singing and rowing, they decided it would take hours more to reach the island, and moored the boat on a beach, where we all got off, leaving our luggage on board in the hands of James, one of the staff who accompanied us, to drift towards the island in its own time.
We on the other hand, boarded the back of a truck, with around twenty locals – men, women, children, babies, the Dhow Captain and all their provisions – two huge sacks of bananas, fish and pumpkins. We drove to Ilha over a four kilometre bridge, passing our luggage on the way.
Once we settled in a small hotel beside the Dhow mooring, we waited for our luggage to arrive, which it did, accompanied by James, who promptly re-boarded and sailed back to Mossuril – this time with a little more wind.
The Island is a special place, the former capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has a long history steeped in Portuguese colonial rule and the East Africa slave trade – it was the first place Vasco de Gama landed in 1498. Now it is a lively Island City - ruined palaces, fountains and squares, bleached by the sun, but not enough to hide the ghost signs and colours of an ancient past.
Hand painted typography is everywhere here. The letterforms bold and straight or, a kind of handwriting which I’ve never seen before. Behind the crumbling facades are really nicely designed interiors for small hotels, cafes and restaurants – there is a smattering of tourists and some backpackers supplementing the busy local trade.
Saturday morning saw us up early again, this time to catch a mini bus to Nampula and the flight home. When we arrived in Mozambique, and went into Nampula to get some money from the Bank, the city felt like a crazy African Wild West Frontier town – now it felt familiar, and not nearly so crazy.
Before we left the island, we had time to sit by the Dhow mooring and eat breakfast, watching the first early boats come in, their passengers wading to land with things to sell in the market balanced on their heads. Our five students are coming to Ilha today for a day off – so we watched to see if we could catch a glimpse of the butterfly boat bringing them over in the wind.
We have had a remarkable time here – we have done so much, learned so much, and met kind, warm people, who smile a lot. I hope we can continue with what we started here in as many ways as we can.
As we begin our descent into Johannesburg, there is only one thing left for me to say –
Goodbye Mozambique for now, thank you – after all the months of planning, it was a real pleasure to finally meet you . . .