Ilha is a small island about 3 kilometers long and 500 meters at its widest. Vasco da Gama reached it in 1498 en route to India. According to tradition he asked after its name and the locals replied "Ali Musa Mbiki", after the local Sultan Mussa Bin Bique. The portuguese named it Ilha de Moçambique and later Mozambique was named after it. The locals just say "Ilha".
Da Gama returned in 1502 and established a factory on the island. In 1507 a fort was built and the island later became the capital of Portuguese East Africa untill relocated to Maputo in 1898. Fortunatly, Ilha has managed to preserve many of its old colonial buildings. However, the war of independance and the civil war have left their mark and much of the islands infrastructure has been neglected and fallen into decay. In 1991 Ilha was declared a UNESCO World Herritage Site. Slowly but surely renovation work is being carried out and hopefully this unique and charming island can be saved for the future.
The toll bridge connecting mainland Nampula and Macuti Town in the South of the island was completed in 1969. It is 3,8 kilometers long and has only one lane. The crossing costed 80 Meticais (20 on the way back). Macuti is described as the African part of the island. The dwellings are typically more modest than in Stone Town and more use is supposedly made of reed and corrugated sheeting than in the north, though I'm not too sure about that. Macuti lies lower than the roads and is characterised by it's huge fig trees.
The rich and long history of Portuguese colonialism is evident in Stone Town where many of the buildings have survived and still stand in all their faded splendour. Finding accomodation turned out not to be as difficult as we thaught. There is no campsite on the island and the only possibility seemed to be one of a handful of riad style pensões but the van would be a problem. A large hotel complex (Omuhipiti), is being refurbished but unfortunately not yet open.
We were on the Avenida da República and had just had a coke in the Cafe Central and were sort of served by a snobby, couldn't care less woman at the Bar / Reception with a "the kitchen isn't open" attitude. I suppose you have to have a room there to appreciate them.
Back at the van a friendly young man approached us and introduced himself as Vitorino. He soon learned that we were looking for somewhere to stay, hopped onto my side step, hung his right arm over the door and said "OK come with me". Vitorino aka the rasta man was one of those who can't stop talking, whilst simultaneously laughing, smiling and being very laid back. You just have to love them, I wonder how they do it?
We then drove to a bar on the beach next to which he was convinced we could stay.... on the road side!!! Unhapily the proprietor wasn't there but we assured him that he shouldn't bother, that we wouldn't be staying there and that we needed somewhere with a courtyard or anywhere safe to put the van in. He then took us to his very good friend, the boss of the local board of tourism. Unhapily he wasn't there either and just as we began to think oha, how are we going to get ourselves out of this one?, he bumped into the Padre. They exchanged a few words and we were then shown the way to a gate in the Travessa Entre Muros, behind the former French Consulate.
Behind the gate was a courtyard. On the left a large empty hall with a tin roof that amplified the echoes of young boys playing inside. It had a large door and a ramp. Occasionally one of them would come out for water. In the ramp was a shaft and next to it a plastic kannister, its top partially cut off and a rope attatched to the handle. On the right along the enclosing wall were the outhouses and some sheds. Across the yard were two toddlers classrooms. We were given a plot in the corner next to the gate and agreed upon a contribution.
This was now our home for the next few days whilst exploring the island. The courtyard was quite busy during the day when the children were there but most of the time we were out and about anyway. Each morning their mums and older sisters brought the children to school and waited next to the van untill the classrooms were opened. Of course we and the van were a novelty but Sig's mobile was the absolute attraction.
Just round the corner we found a corner shop, named Sol da Ilha, that was well stocked with luxury items such as an excellent portuguese olive oil and fresh crusty bread. Around the next corner we discovered the Ancora d'Ouro where we spent some time watching the world pass by and enjoying our pizza, fish and cerveja Laurentina. Vitorino's shop, one of the trinket staIls next to the pier was around the next corner. In fact the whole island was just around the corner and within easy walking distance.
Fort São Sebastião
The entrance tickets have to be bought in the museum which is housed in the Palácio de São Paulo, formerly the Jesuit College and later govenors residence. We bought them a day in advance and were told by the man who sold them that visiting the residence was included in the price and so we decided to do that straight away. The Palace is quite small. I was a bit put off as he accompanied us reciting his lines, but after all, it was inclusive. I'm not sure whether he was looking for something on the side, had nothing better to do, or didn't trust us. Half an hour or so later the tour was over, including a peek inside the church.
The fort was built between 1558 and 1620 and is said to be the oldest existing fort in sub-Saharan Africa. It dominates the northern coast and we had it all to ourselves. Indeed we seemed to be the only tourists on the island. In the Golden Anker were some Portuguese guests but I think they were residents. Visiting the fort was definatly worthwhile. A guide would have been good but nobody was there other than an old man who only wanted to see our tickets. By lunch time we were back at the van and made ready to drive back to the mainland.
- Thankyou Vitorino
- Thankyou Padre