quinta-feira, 27 de outubro de 2005

This way to paradise

Holiday-makers have always been deterred by Mozambique's troubled image, but a string of glorious coral islands is about to change all that, says Douglas Rogers.(Filed: 26/10/2005).

The new pioneers are wheeling and dealing down at the Dolphin restaurant on Wimbi Beach: swarthy Portuguese returnees, sunburnt white South Africans, earnest Britons and Scandinavians, all talking about opening dive schools, fishing charters and seafront guesthouses in anticipation of a tourist boom.
Overhead, a light plane is ferrying the latest guests to the new luxury resorts out on the islands, while to the west of the bay stands the Moorish-style splendour of the Pemba Beach Hotel, its lawns and palm-lined courtyards reminiscent of a sultan's palace.
The hotel was built by a Saudi tycoon in 2002. You might wonder what an Arab millionaire is doing investing in a remote coastal town in northern Mozambique.
Well, pretty much the same thing we're all doing, I guess. I'm drinking Dos Mahou beers with my father at the Dolphin's bar, waiting for a boat to take us to see a plot of land.
My sister, a developer in London, had bought (over the internet) five acres of beachfront on a peninsula across the Pemba Bay and hopes to open a guesthouse. Now she had asked my father and me to check it out.
For me, it would be an excuse to see a part of Mozambique I barely knew existed. For my father, a white African of many generations, it could be a lifeline.
Two years ago, the game farm he and my mother built from scratch in the hills of eastern Zimbabwe was designated for "resettlement' by the government of Robert Mugabe.
Their tourism business had collapsed, their home was under siege. Strange as it may seem, Mozambique, might prove a safe haven for them.
Neverthless, when I first heard my sister's idea, I thought she was mad. After decades of war Mozambique is finally at peace and opening up to tourism and foreign investment.
The capital, Maputo, 1,400 miles south, is rediscovering the Latin sizzle that made it the Lisbon of Africa in the 1950s and 60s; while the Bazaruto archipelago off the central coast is the talk of the world's fashion set.
Pemba, on the other hand, is so cut off from the rest of Mozambique it might as well be in Burundi. It barely has electricity (the town still runs on a generator) and the roads leading to it are so bad it is almost impossible to reach by car.
"You're making a mistake,'' I told my sister, but she refused to listen. "It's going to be the Maldives of Africa,'' she said. "You'll see.''
I flew into Pemba from Zimbabwe, ready to prove her wrong. A sweltering port with a lively beach-bar scene and a frontier-town energy, it was attractive enough, but it hardly promised paradise.
If northern Mozambique was going to become like the Maldives, I gathered it would be because of a chain of 32 islands that stretch from Pemba up to the waters off Tanzania, 300 miles north: the Quirimbas archipelago.
I'd never heard of them, but then neither have most Mozambicans. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the Quirimbas islands were thriving outposts, first of an Arab spice route and slave trade, later for the Portuguese colonists who landed there in 1495, traded in cloth, turtle-shell and slaves, and made Ibo Island, in the heart of the archipelago, the capital of the north.
By the 20th century, trade declined and the islands slipped into obscurity. The war years isolated them even further.
Now tourists and high-end hoteliers have rediscovered the lost islands. To get to them I took a light plane from Pemba and soon realised my sister was on to something: 10 minutes after take-off, a glistening ribbon of coral islands rimmed by white sand and swollen with emerald mangroves revealed themselves through low cloud.
Arab dhows plied a tidal waterway along the coast and the ocean was so blue I could see dolphin and sailfish spear through the waves. For a second I thought this really was the Maldives.
My first stop was Quilálea, a chic, nine-suite lodge owned by an Anglo-Kenyan colonial and his glamorous Belgian wife.
The island is barely a mile wide and too small for an airstrip, so the plane decanted me on a grass runway set between coconut palms on the larger island of Quirimba, and a speedboat crewed by three men in sailor suits, former island fishermen now employed at the lodge, picked me up.
My first stop was Quilálea, a chic, nine-suite lodge owned by an Anglo-Kenyan colonial and his glamorous Belgian wife.
The island is barely a mile wide and too small for an airstrip, so the plane decanted me on a grass runway set between coconut palms on the larger island of Quirimba, and a speedboat crewed by three men in sailor suits, former island fishermen now employed at the lodge, picked me up.
The name Quilálea comes from the Swahili word lala, which means sleep, and dates from the days when Arab ships took shelter in the island's protected cove. We soon cruised into it, a row of thatched pavilions gazing down at us from rocks above.
"Put your watch back an hour,'' said the manager, greeting me on the beach. "We're on island time here.''
Quilálea's nine stone villas are furnished with tribal wood carvings and all have private sea views.
From my sprawling bed I could see fish rippling the water and dhows sailing past my door. Teak walkways linked each villa to a terrace bar and salt-water pool deck overlooking the cove, while fresh lobster, crab and tuna were served in a thatched restaurant or at candlelit tables on the beach.
Years of isolation have been kind to the Quirimbas. The marine life is some of the most exotic on earth and turtles, humpback whales and rare dugong - a seal-like mammal from which the myth of the mermaid derives - populate these waters.
Quilálea was declared a marine sanctuary by the World Wildlife Fund in 2002, and I took time to snorkel the reef on its south side, swimming among writhing moray eels and millions of rainbow-coloured fish.
The real highlight for me, though, came at surface level: a sunset cruise on the lodge's own dhow, the Doña Fatima. As its crew hoisted the sails and teased the tide, I sipped white wine from a pillow bed on deck and went to lala.
Mozambique is said to be named for Mussa-Bin-Tiki, a sultan who ruled here in the 16th century.
Today the region has a modern-day sultan of sorts: Adel Aujan, a Saudi soft-drinks tycoon and president of Rani Resorts, which built the lavish Pemba Beach Hotel on the mainland back when the town was a no-name backwater.
My next stop was the first of two resorts he is opening on the islands: Matemo, a 30-minute flight farther north.
Only the larger islands in the archipelago have permanent settlements and Matemo had one too.
After the flight, the 20-minute transfer to the resort took us through a Quimvani fishing village of thatched mud huts.
Black women with white painted faces - paste from the mussiro root to moisturise their skin - stared at us from under swaying palms; bare-chested men armed with bows and arrows speared fish in the shallows.
I've seen dozens of faux tribal village scenes dished up for tourists in Africa, but there was nothing fake about this.
According to Dave Rissik, a conservationist employed by Rani, whom I met later at the resort, the Quimvani islanders still caught marlin with handlines from wooden dugouts, and the arrows they used to spear shrimp and fish were so similar to those of the Kalahari Bushmen that they could be related.
Most astonishing, many of these islanders had never even set foot on the mainland before, though you could easily see it from Matemo.
I half expected Adel Aujan's resort to be kitsch and glitzy. Instead, it was done in elegant Afro-Arab style, with 24 identical wood-built villas set on the beach. Hammocks were slung between palms and an opulent bar area was furnished with oriental lanterns and lavish day beds, overlooking the water.
Sadly, the service did not yet match the style. The porter who walked me to my suite got all the way there before realising he'd forgotten the key. "Shit!'' he said, and ran back to get it.
Ordering a meal could be hard, too, as the waiters spoke no English. Such teething problems were understandable. Those same villagers who'd never set foot on the mainland were now employed as staff and taking my dinner and cocktail orders.
I felt awkward about this at first, but was reassured to learn that the government is working hard to create sustainable tourism - and protect the local way of life.
In 2002 the 11 southern islands in the Quirimbas were designated a national park, and three more in the far north have been earmarked for the largest conservation project of all: Maluane.
Created by the London Zoological Society, with private investors, it will comprise three luxury lodges and a game reserve on the mainland, teeming with lions and elephants.
The project is expected to employ 350 locals, and part of the profits will go to schools and hospitals. Ibo Island, meanwhile, with its ancient fort and crumbling Portuguese mansions a 30-minute boat ride south of Matemo, was already applying for Unesco heritage status.
I flew back to Pemba with no doubt that in a few years the north will be booming. I met my father at the Dolphin and we set off to find my sister's plot on a peninsula called Londo. Its only development was, conveniently for us, next door: Londo Lodge, an almost-finished boutique property owned by a young Dutch couple.
A boat from the lodge came to pick us up, and we soon rounded the peninsula and pulled into a secluded cove.
If Quilálea had been tranquil and Matemo dramatic, Londo Lodge, even in its half-finished state, was the most beautiful property of all: thatched villas stood on high cliffs, a curved stairwell led up to them, and a spectacular teak deck was carved into the cliffs under a tamarind tree.
We left our bags in one of the villas and a guide walked us down a narrow path for about a mile. I was struck by how different the land was to the islands: the earth was redder, the vegetation bush, not mangrove.
Stub-nosed baobab trees more common to the dry African savannah were everywhere.
Suddenly we came to a grass clearing marked with a stone boundary. This was it. It was on lower ground than Londo Lodge, a few yards back from the water, and it had a huge baobab in the middle.
A gorgeous beach stretched in front for 100 yards. My father envisioned a thatched villa on stilts on the beach; the main house behind that; a deck under the shade of the baobab. He had already spoken to builders in Pemba, worked out how to get materials in by dhow; a water supply connected; a generator set up for electricity.
We opened some beers and watched a dhow sail past. I noticed the plot faced west, back into Africa. As we watched the sun go down I realised it was setting over Zimbabwe. Right here, right now, this piece of land felt like home.
Mozambique basics
Getting there a 10-day trip to Tanzania and Mozambique with Sunvil Africa (020 8232 9777; www.sunvil.co.uk/africa), including seven nights at Quilálea, costs £ 2,479 per person, based on two sharing.
The price includes flights from London Heathrow, all flights and transfers within Africa, all meals and non-motorised activities at Quilálea.
Staying therePemba Beach Hotel (00258 72 21770;
has standard doubles from £ 70 per person, based on two sharing.
Matemo Island Resort (book through Rani Resorts in Johannesburg, (0027 11 465 6904; www.matemo.com)
has b&b in a standard room from about £ 170 per person.
Londo Lodge (00258 72 21048;
opens next month; full board in a double costs £185 per person, based on two sharing and excluding drinks.
The first Maluene lodge, on Vamizi, opened last month with others due to open next year on Rongui and Macaloe; further information from The Outposts (01647 231007; www.theoutposts.com).

Via: Travel.Telegrafh

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