“For people who must live from day to day, past and future have small relevance, and their grasp of it is fleeting; they live in the moment, a very precious gift that we have lost.”(Peter Matthiessen)

Some people said the island had changed since I first came here 10 years ago. Not the place it once was and all that. Back then I spent several weeks here: charmed, captivated and entranced by the atmosphere of this colonial treasure-chest.

Well the charm remains. Nothing has ‘really’ changed about Ilha de Mozambique (Mozambique Island). It’s that kind of forgotten place where change happens slowly. The crumbling villas, imposing white-washed churches and crowded squalor of the Macuti (palm-thatch) town where most of the island’s population live continue to leave the visitor with the same impression. This is a must-visit place in Africa, and one which probably sees far less visitors than it deserves.

Boys on the beach

I’m staying in the same place I did before, although the family had trouble remembering me. “I think you were fatter before?” asked Luis, the owner. “And you were slimmer” I replied laughing.

A 3km-long bridge connects what was once the capital of Mozambique with the mainland, but I arrived more fittingly by dhow, slowly tacking back and forth over the turquoise shallows as I watched the island’s features take form.

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Home-made boat

Approaching Mozambique Island

Mosque on Mozambique Island

Palace Museum Mozambique Island

Fort on Mozambique Island

My journey up to here had continued along the coast, leaving Pemba’s tarmac on another dirt track towards Mecufi and the River Lurio. No bridges or boats again, but fortunately very little water as I followed bicycle-tyre tracks across a dry sandy riverbed to leave one province and enter another. I had now reached the limits of Swahili-speaking territory. Macua is the dominant local language spoken from now on.

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The heat has been oppressive again – a daily furnace from about 7am and only saved by the occasional breeze. Colourless mud-hut villages have the shade of mango trees as a refuge. Here I frequently stopped to rest, and with mangoes now in season bought them whenever I could. They were one of the few things available at the roadside. In larger settlements bread is sometimes available. The options are minimal.

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Rural Mozambique

Mangoes for sale

Bread on Mozambique Island

Rural infrastructure in Mozambique is comparable to what it was in the DRC. There is no accommodation and very little food. Village camping is by now a very familiar procedure for me in Africa, where most of the inhabitants of a place that may never have had a white face stop by in take great delight in observing how the unexpected foreigner constructs his home for the night, then prepares a meal of spaghetti and most often tinned sardines fried with onion and garlic. I rarely ever self-catered or camped in east Africa – street food and basic lodgings were cheap and easily available in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Mozambique they’re not. In one town I was directed to a Pensao (Guest House) where the Portuguese owner showed me a tiny room with an unmade bed. The heat inside was suffocating. He shrugged his shoulders when I replied that $12 was expensive, so I pedalled to the edge of the town and pitched my tent next to the mosque. I’m camping almost the whole time here.

Village camp

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Part of me could happily spend longer here on Mozambique Island, but my 30-day visa expires in 10 days and the cost/wait to extend it doesn’t feel worth the effort. Mozambique is the most expensive country I have come through on this journey.

After having followed the coast this far south I’m turning inland from here and bidding farewell to salt and sand. Looks like land-locked Malawi for Christmas.

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Mozambique Island

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Football at sunset