Sunday 25 February, we decide to make a day trip to Ilha which is a 2 hour drive away. We leave at 9am with me at the wheel – a brave move I think but am not about to tell the others this. I love being in the driving seat of such a big vehicle – a Nissan Patrol single cab 4X4 truck. We take the road to Nacala, a good tar road which, with the occasional other car as traffic, is easy to drive. Everything is very green at the moment with the cashew trees spilling over themselves to form green bushy umbrellas. Today even there are not so many people on the roads and only once we are about halfway into our journey do we get the cashew sellers thrusting their plastic bowls further into the path of our car – their idea is that the further in the road they stand the more likely it is we will see them and buy some nuts. Crazy – to think that we can’t see them well enough with nobody else around – that they don’t realize how much danger their arms are in – and that they think this is actually an effective sales technique!

We pass Namialo, which is the crossroads at which travelers to
Pemba turn. We go straight until we get to Monapo and follow the sign to Ilha de Mocambique. The roads narrows, the overgrown grasses and bushes on either side making it a dangerous drive – they effectively conceal any person who may be lurking on the road waiting to make a dash across in front of the car. This applies to goats, dogs, chickens and children alike.

But today we are lucky – there is no rain and we arrive at the start of the bridge to Ilha hot, sticky but dry. The bridge is long and narrow but the 2 concrete pillars at either side of the entrance border on ridiculously narrow, making my task of getting through without a scratch fairly daunting but we make it, heading over to Ilha mindful of not running over any feet stopped at the side straddling one of many Chinese made bicycles that look like they were left over stock from the sixties. The bridge to Ilha, Jack says, is one of the longest in
Africa. This gets us reflecting on how Ilha de Mocambique has perhaps the most ‘ests’ in
Africa. It has the longest bridge, the oldest church and for a long time, the biggest building.

Ilha is indeed a special place. As a world heritage site it boasts plenty of history – a history of the first traders in
Africa – trading in slaves. A history or Portuguese rule and forts and the British being held at bay. Then there is a more recent history of the Mozambican people fleeing to this safe haven during the civil war, a move that has overpopulated the island to such an extent that the government is starting to make plans on how to lure some inhabitants off the island on onto the mainland, a move that might be difficult seeing as the islanders like it where they are even if the conditions seem overcrowded, dirty and unhealthy.

Because it is a world heritage site, there are tourists beginning to interest in this place and where there are tourists there is opportunity and so people want to buy property here – all old ruins of what must have once been beautiful European style buildings lining narrow dirt avenues. But there is a catch here. Building and renovation restrictions are strong – the heritage must be kept and so certain modern materials and techniques are not allowed making it almost impossible to renovate effectively, cost and structure wise. The result is buildings left to their disrepair until it makes more sense to spend the money on fixing them and those buildings that have been restored look as though they were worked on a lot longer than their few months ago. Still, the place is beautiful and in a way the bare, toppled and moss covered bricks that stand in place of actual walls and windows add to the romance of the uneven roads, the trees lining not the sides but somewhere closer to the middle and the views of sea showing themselves through old abandoned archways.

This is almost the Venice of Africa.

We walk around and stop over at the Ancora d’Ouro for a beer, more for something cold with bubbles than for the alcohol it contains. This restaurant/bar sits just next the museum and is a fairly decent place for a drink, and the food looks good and reasonably priced, which is rare in these parts. Thirst quenched we amble on, because there is nothing much else to do than amble here. We walk along the promenade, the quartz and stone paving recently restored. Old benches and gazebos gives an insight to what the place must have been like back in the day when the museum was the governor’s residence and royalty, aristocracy and monks modeled this place as home.

Lunch is at Escondinho where the inner courtyard creates a sanctuary from the dust outside. We order drinks and then look at the menu. Although this is one of the best places for food in the north – the restaurant is owned by a Frenchman – there is nothing but a mixed salad available for the vegetarian. A brief discussion with the waiter follows in which he informs us the owner is out and there is nothing they can make for us, all the while looking fairly stricken at the idea that these people want food that contains no meat and even worse no fish. Of course, most people would agree with him – the fish here is some of the best. Eventually we settle on a meal of mixed carbs – bread, rice, potato chips and a small side salad. At least the rice was flavoured!

We decide to skip the fort for today – it is already after 3 and we don’t want to be caught driving at night – most of the people here walk along the roads in the evenings not realizing they’re not at all visible. The same dangers of goats, dogs, chickens, bicycles and small children running into the road upgrade the journey to a new level of danger when the sun goes down. As it is the sun sets along the way and we arrive at the outskirts of Nampula with the dark outlines of the rocks welcoming us back.