Nowadays everything is kept secret from the Europeans, and even those who have spent most of their lives in the country have only now and then discovered hints of the wide, infinitely ramified cult which still flourishes below the surface. (Evelyn Waugh)

Not many people make it to Pemba, which is half the charm of this mountainous island. Arabic traders in former centuries referred to it as ‘Al khudra’ – the Green Island, and it’s easy to see why. It is as lush as a tropical destination at 4° degrees south of the equator could be.

Were neighbouring Zanzibar not to exist, surely more foreigners would make their way here. For those that do, diving dominates the scene. Like the safari and the climb up Mt Kilimanjaro, a diving package doesn’t come all that cheap, but then cheap holidays if you’re coming to east Africa for a short time and want to make the most of it, are a rarity. Budget travellers like me make do with the snorkelling.

Through Ngezi Forest

I spent most of my time during the week there hanging out at a place far beyond my budget, which I can only but recommend. The dive owner had also travelled extensively through Africa before making Pemba his home. His guests were naturally here for the diving, and most had flown in.

Blue blue blue

Paradise on Pemba

The island didn’t take long to cycle around. The roads are as equally well-paved as those on Zanzibar, but here one gets the pleasure of smelling cloves – pretty much everywhere! Alongside fishing, clove farming dominates the local economy. Roadsides are lined in rattan mats covered with the small pungent spice.

Cloves drying

Pemba is reportedly an east Africa hub for voodoo and traditional medicine, but mzungus who only speak a smattering of Swahili are not likely to witness anything. What is noticeable is how much more conservative the island is. Zanzibar’s mostly Muslim population gets diluted with Tanzanians coming from the mainland to work, and of course all the tourists. Pemba on the other had is all skull-caps, beards,  hijabs and the occasional burqa. I was warned not to go to a few villages as they disliked outsiders and I might have stones thrown at me. There was also some speculation that these same villages had allowed Somali Pirates to refuel. It didn’t make the island any less friendly,but I felt a bit more naked cycling in shorts.

Runaway girls

What I saw was a densely vegetated, peaceful and charming place. Want to see tradtitional swahili culture – come here. Not many beaches, but there is only so much white sand you can see before they start to lose their appeal. I’m back on Zanzibar (Unguju as they technically call it) for a few days now before returning to the mainland, hopefully by way of a dhow that doesn’t have an engine. It’s all about the slow travel of course.

Pemba map

Sailfish on a bicycle

Girls on Tumbe beach

Carrying the catch

Tumbe fisherman

Young girls in Tumbe

Dhows off Tumbe beach