Mozambique Odyssey with Tanzania & South Africa
Published on Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - Zanzibar, Tanzania: Coming from many parts of the world, we converged at the Serena Hotel in exotic Zanzibar, situated on the outer edge of Stone Town, overlooking the Mozambique Channel. In the evening we had cocktails poolside and met our fellow travelers.
Mike Messick, our Expedition Leader, welcomed us and introduced some of the team before going to dinner. Our group seemed small as the pre-extension group was still making their way from Tanzania’s Serengeti, and some thirty passengers were still onboard the Clipper Odyssey, having just completed the Madagascar voyage, waiting for us to join them.
Following dinner, we drifted off to a much-needed sleep.
Wednesday, March 7 - Zanzibar / Embark Clipper Odyssey: After breakfast, we checked our luggage and boarded our buses. One group went to the Jozani Natural Forest Reserve and experienced up-close-and-personal time with habituated red colobus monkeys. These animals were once hunted by the local people and thus wary of humans; now protected, they are very comfortable with people and scrambled, unperturbed around us. Our next stop was a magnificent mangrove habitat, though we didn’t get far before the heavens opened with such a deluge that we were soaked! However, the roadside drainage ponds gave us great opportunities to view pied kingfishers, blue-winged stilts, purple herons, intermediate egrets, and many more.
On the spice tour we passed by the Maruhubi Palace ruins built by the third Sultan of Zanzibar for his concubines. As the rain let up, we watched as villagers repaired a dhow on the mud flats. At the spice farm, our guide and his young assistants showed us a wide variety of medicinal and gastronomic herbs and spices.
We all met for lunch at the Mtoni Hotel before our walking tour of Stone Town, a maze of little alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques, and grand Arab houses. We visited the slave market where there is now an Anglican Church, and visited underground holding rooms. We wound our way through the narrow streets and visited the ruins of a Portuguese fort before boarding our buses and finally reaching the Clipper Odyssey.
On-going passengers had lunch at the lovely Serena Hotel overlooking the ocean and went by bus to visit the rural Mwenge School where both girls and boys were curious to see so many of us.
We boarded the Clipper Odyssey, and after the safety drill, introductions to the staff and a briefing for the following day, we had our first dinner on board and then to bed for an early rise in the morning.
Thursday, March 8 - Pemba Island / Misali Island: Pemba, or ‘The Green Island’ in Arabic, lies 31 miles north of Zanzibar. This is a hillier and more fertile island than Zanzibar with considerable slash and burn cultivation clearly seen from our buses as we traveled inland. The rain of yesterday was gone and we had beautiful weather as we visited the capital, Chaka Chaka, and its market. An interesting museum displayed historical and social information about the island and its people. We also visited a site where Seacology established a partnership with the villagers to protect the habitat of the endemic Pemba fruit bats and their favorite trees; as a result their population is gradually increasing.
Finally, we all gathered at a village school where the children eagerly awaited us. We had the great privilege of viewing a ‘bull fight,’ a local celebration of the rice harvest where men display their bull’s agility and strength. The bull, kept on a long tether, is taunted by men waving burlap sacks and then running for their lives as the bull charged, many being hit by the bull and tossed in the dust. No one, thankfully, was hurt. The excitement over, we returned to the dock and back to the ship for lunch and a repositioning of the ship to Misali Island.
The afternoon was hot and sunny as we landed on a white sandy beach. Some of us chose to walk inland with Lyn Mair and Lex Hes to explore the natural habitat while others tried out their snorkel skills off the beach or anchored Zodiacs. On the island, walkers explored Bendera Cave, formed of limestone substrate and known as the Ghost Cave, with spiritual associations for the local people. We saw a large baobab and talked about the many uses for this grand old tree. Others enjoyed the day in the water, swimming with orange-spined unicornfish, parrotfish, and lots of wrasses. The corals looked healthy with lettuce, plate, and staghorn providing habitats for the reef fish. The divers had their check-out dive while many of us had the opportunity to sail on dhows, admiring the skills of the sailors as these ancient boats were maneuvered through the waters around the island.
This evening we were welcomed by Captain Alan McCarty over poolside cocktails followed by a delicious dinner.
Friday, March 9 - At Sea: We spent today at sea, making our way towards the Quirimbas Archipelago. After breakfast our lecture series began with Lyn Mair’s presentation on Islands in the Sea of Zanj, followed by David Conrad’s presentation, Old Zanzibar: Art, Photography, and the Shortest War in the World. Following lunch, Shirley spoke on Out of Africa: From the Cradle of Mankind to the Colonization of the World, and Jonathan Rossouw finished our ‘university of the sea’ with his presentation, Africa: The Bird Continent. After our first recap it was time for dinner. Although we had another early morning excursion, it seemed less painful with our watches going back one hour!
Saturday, March 10 - Ilha Dos Rolas, Mozambique / Ibo Island: As we looked from our cabins this morning we could see the African continent on our starboard side. We were now off the Mozambique coast and at the northernmost part of Quirimbas National Park located along the north coast of the country. We enjoyed snorkeling off a small coral head with lots of little reef fish swimming in and out of the corals. Others explored the island, finding a transient fishing village with lots of small reef fish drying on racks. Clearly these waters had been over fished and now only yielded the beautiful little reef fish we so enjoy seeing around the corals. Fishermen reside here for short periods of time to fish and then return to their permanent villages on larger islands or the mainland, taking their catch with them.
During lunch we repositioned to Ibo Island; once anchored, we boarded Zodiacs for a long, four-mile ride to go ashore. We met our guides and wandered through the now deserted streets of the settlement, the occasional resident now and again entering the main street from the alleys. It was somewhat eerie to be in these now deserted wide streets, its past now only echoes from empty buildings. The architecture is a blend of Swahili traditions, Portuguese, Indian, and Arab influences all intertwined. The settlement included palaces, villas, churches, and fortifications; the biggest and best preserved is Fortaleza de St. Jao Baptista where local artisans displayed wood carvings, clothing, and silver jewelry. From there we made our way to the beautiful Ibo Island Lodge and were welcomed by singers and sundowner cocktails as we watched the growing black clouds gather.
A brief break in the storm allowed most of us to make the long ride back dry. Once showered and dressed we enjoyed dinner after a recap of the days adventures.
Sunday, March 11 - Mogundula / Quirimba Islands: We began our day with an early disembarkation for a walk on Mogundula Island, another small island with transient fishermen occasionally using it to fish for their families on the mainland. Some of us circumnavigated the island learning about the natural habitat and the many varieties of plants, spiders, and bird life. There is a lake centered in the island which is fed by the tides, but interestingly rises on the outgoing tide and falls on the incoming tide. This anomaly causes local people to consider the lake sacred and swimming
in it is forbidden.
During lunch we repositioned the ship to Quirimba Island, one of the larger islands in the archipelago. Today almost two thirds of the island is owned by the Gessner family, originally from Germany, who have managed a coconut plantation since the 1920s. The third generation is represented by a brother and sister who continue to live on the plantation in the homestead built by their grandfather. The remainder of the island is densely populated by local Kilwani people.
As we walked from our landing site to the coconut plantation, we had many wonderful interactions with the people who had never had so many ‘white people’ visit their village before. This is not an island visited by tourists! At the coconut plantation we rode safari vehicles and tractors to explore the operations and to learn about the products that keep the plantation financially viable.
Monday, March 12 - Ilha de Mozambique: This morning we welcomed a leisurely wake up of our own choosing. Shirley led a group of hardy exercisers in various yoga poses while others either slept in or had breakfast. During breakfast we sadly said goodbye to our security team as they left the ship after protecting her for the last four and a half months.
We had a presentation by David, Quests for Fame and Fortune: Glory Hounds and Slave Traders in East Africa, followed by Lex discussing his experiences with, Leopards: Feline Phantoms.
After lunch the Clipper Odyssey anchored off Ilha de Mozambique, the oldest European settlement on the east coast of Africa; we went ashore to explore the historical sites and the Makua people living on the island today. We were greeted by a line of lovely ladies singing a welcome song, their faces painted with the white and yellow powder they use to protect their skin from the sun.
Then we stepped back in time with our visit to a wonderful museum housed in the old Portuguese Governor’s Palace and the Catholic church. The museum has a collection of sacred Catholic art collected from the remains of many churches throughout the islands. Also on display are artifacts from Chinese porcelain to Arab antiquities, evidence of the centrality this island played in the trade routes throughout the Indian Ocean. At the peak of its prosperity in the 18th century, the settlement handled some 70% of the ivory exported from the Mozambique coast, as well as gold, silver, and slaves.
From there we walked to the old fort, Fortaleza de São Sebastião, built in 1620 and superbly preserved throughout the centuries. In 1991 the entire island became Mozambique’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site and has received considerable support to restore the internal buildings of the fort.
We had the choice of remaining in the town or enjoying time underwater, either as snorkelers or as divers.
After dinner we enjoyed a screening of The African Queen with popcorn in the Main Lounge before finally retiring for the day.
Tuesday, March 13 - At Sea: A welcome sleep in for those not joining Shirley for yoga, our day at sea began on calm seas and beautiful clear blue skies. After breakfast, Giovanna Fasanelli began our lectures of the day with Understanding Coral Reefs. She was followed by Kevin Clement and his presentation, It’s Not Easy Being Beautiful: Tropical Plants of Africa. Now filled with information about underwater gardens and the natural, air-breathing gardens of Africa we were ready to discuss what we had learned over lunch.
In the afternoon Lyn continued an exploration of the natural world, this time focusing on the amazing eco-systems of mangroves with her presentation, Mangroves: Civil Engineers of the Plant World. We had time to consume chocolate delights created by our ever-busy chefs, while Utpal adorned more of us with his fabulous henna designs.
Shirley completed the day of lectures with her presentation, You Are What You Eat: Subsistence Economies of Southern Africa—The San.
Wednesday, March 14 - Bazaruto Island: We began with an exciting morning as the Clipper Odyssey nudged up against an unchartered sandbar and became stuck! As a result, our plans for the day were rearranged and we headed to three different lodges that were able to accommodate us for the day, spending a lovely time with various activities organized by our expedition staff.
In the late afternoon, we boarded our Zodiacs and headed back on the hour-long ride to the ship, anxious to see what condition she was in. With the help of Paul, a local expert on the sandbars of the archipelago, our staff began their maneuvers to dislodge the ship; finally, at 9pm a slackening tide gave just the opportunity to put everything into the engines and we were able to back off the sandbar and the ship was afloat! The delight and relief was palpable with whistling, shouting for joy, and dancing on the deck. We were now free!
Thursday, March 15 - Tofo / Inhambane: After a good night’s sleep, we woke to the gentle rocking of the ship as she headed towards an anchorage off Tofo, a well-known beach and resort site off the African coast. This morning we hoped to see whale sharks, dolphins, and manta rays.
After breakfast we loaded into local dive boats and made our way along the coast, tacking back and forth in search of underwater mammals. We were delighted to watch several pods of Indo-pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins surfacing for air. However, the whale sharks and manta rays eluded us. It was beautiful weather, not too hot now that we were south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Rain clouds were scattered around but we watched from a distance as they dumped fresh water into the sea.
This afternoon we had an opportunity to go ashore for a walk through the mangroves, relax at the beach resort, or travel into Inhambane, one of the oldest coastal towns in Mozambique. The 45-minute ride into the town passed neat villages and subsistence gardens. Local people grow a lot of manioc and consume this root vegetable at every meal, using the leaves to add to their diet.
Those that ventured into the mangroves waded, some knee-deep, through mud to experience this intricate ecosystem up close. A mangrove kingfisher was spotted and lots of fiddler crabs were waving their claws at passing females. Mudskippers, mangrove crabs, and mangrove whelks were also observed.
Snorkelers shared their swim with many jellyfish, fortunately not the stinging type, creating a surreal experience with their dangling tentacles streaming in the water column. There was a great number of reef fish to add to our underwater exploration.
All back on board, we enjoyed an evening out on the deck with sunset cocktails before going down to dinner.
Friday, March 16 - Inhaca: We had a leisurely morning as we sailed south to Inhaca, named after the Inhaca chief that dominated the southern mainland of the Gulf of Maputo in the 16th century. Jonathan prepared us for our visit to the St. Lucia/iSimangaliso Wetland Park with his presentation, Land of Shaka: The Wildlife of Zululand while the chefs prepared a delicious brunch.
As we approached Inhaca we could see various birds nesting and roosting in the casuarina and forest trees on the hill: white-breasted cormorants, reed cormorants, little egrets, dimorphic herons, gray herons, and sacred ibis. Once ashore we were welcomed by a hearty troop of young men and women who danced with such joy and energy one felt exhausted just watching them! High kicks, one after another, demonstrated the Zulu influence, a style that is used by many groups in this part of Africa.
Some of us went snorkeling where there were great corals and scores of fish. The most prolific were many species of butterflyfish, an indicator of a healthy reef.
Others visited the research center; an antiquated little museum, with an excellent array of bottled specimens. The center boasts a wonderful herbarium with carefully collected and displayed examples of endemic species. We had a little walk through rehabilitated forest and enjoyed the ambience of this beautiful part of the island. Other walkers took to the coastal dune forest and could hear a cacophony of somber greenbuls chatting to each other.
Outside the lodge, we walked into the picturesque center of the village with its historic FELIMO Headquarters building, the central market and Restaurante Lucas. Our route through the residential area took us down sandy lanes between bamboo walls and doorways, offering glimpses of tidy family dwellings in shady groves of trees. Music emanated from several compounds with plastic containers hanging next to the gate, the only signs indicating that these are millet-beer bars: a container filled with millet mash means there’s beer available, but an empty container and the happy sounds from inside indicate that there was beer earlier but you’re too late to get any.
Saturday, March 17 - Maputo: St. Patrick’s Day and we were alongside at Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and surprised to see a city with a skyline of tall buildings after traveling along the rural coastline. The market was bustling with people selling their produce—cashews, meats, bread, fish, clothing, sunglasses, and all kinds of other household and luxury items.
Our city tour included a visit to the palatial green and white railway station built in 1910. From there we went to the Botanical Gardens passing a large square with a magnificent statue of Samora Machel, the country’s first president. As we walked to the gardens we also passed by the Iron House, a construction of prefabricated metal parts. The city’s Catholic cathedral stood majestically to one corner of the square. Once in the gardens we were shaded by huge trees, some the roosts of straw-colored fruit bats.
The Natural History Museum was an unexpected highlight. Although somewhat dusty and in need of refreshing, there were fabulous displays and dioramas of African animals engaged in meticulously placed ‘natural’ behaviors. There was an ethnographic collection showing the different tribal groups of the country and a unique display of the development of elephant embryos during gestation.
Back on board for lunch, we set sail for South Africa. Shirley gave her presentation, You Are What You Eat: Subsistence Economies of Southern Africa – The KhoeKhoe and Bantu Farmers. Ice cream was our decadent treat before sitting down to hear Lex’s presentation, Lions, Manes, and Sociability.
After dinner we had our dessert while Jonathan shared with us the upcoming trips for the remainder of this year and the beginning of 2013. As we went to bed, we were sailing into South African waters and looking forward to experiencing another of Africa’s countries.
Sunday, March 18 - Richard’s Bay, South Africa: We were all having breakfast after a very bumpy night when the thrumming of a helicopter announced the arrival of the pilot to take us into the sheltered waters of Richard’s Bay. This is the largest port in South Africa with at least six cargo terminals handling various ores, minerals, timber products, aluminum, granite, and chemicals.
As soon as all the formalities had been completed we set off for the 90-minute drive to the small town of St. Lucia passing many eucalyptus plantations used in the pulp and paper industry. Once at the water’s edge we split up into two groups, one going on a game drive/safari along the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia and the other group went in flat-bottomed boats along the estuary.
Seven safari vehicles departed in overcast conditions traveling in a northerly direction passing grasslands with a mosaic of woodland thickets. It wasn’t too long before we started to see a variety of antelope and in no time everyone was nonchalantly chanting the names - bushbuck, common reedbuck, kudu, waterbuck, and small duiker. Zebra and their young grazed on the sweet grass and trees were full of berries, especially the tassle berry with racemes of tiny red berries. Palms often formed the basis of the thickets making good places to see a skulking Burchall’s coucal, a large black, cream, and chestnut bird sometimes called the rainbird. Vervet monkeys scampered into the trees and peered at us through the branches. A fine lunch was enjoyed at the Ocean Basket Restaurant in St. Lucia, before the groups swapped.
The brown muddy waters are an ideal place for Nile crocodiles and hippos with their pink noses and twitching ears giving away their presence. Birds were plentiful with the enormous Goliath heron (the largest heron in the world) easily seen on the shady shoreline. Active black and white pied kingfishers darted between the reeds while great white egrets and gray herons strutted along the reed beds where bright green blue-cheeked bee-eaters swooped overhead searching for tasty insects. African fish eagles perched on high branches giving us good views of this iconic bird of Africa.
Monday, March 19 - Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park: Sleepy passengers left Richard’s Bay early for the drive to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park. Established in 1895, this is the oldest game reserve in South Africa. It is the stronghold of the white rhino in Africa that was brought back from the brink of extinction by the sterling efforts of conservationist Ian Player.
The beautiful park with its rolling green hills and wide vistas is home and refuge to a large diversity of wildlife; although it was a hot day we were lucky enough to see some wonderful sights as our safari vehicles drove us around. The 14 vehicles kept a long distance from each other and we did not have a huge gathering of cars in one spot. Elephants were close to some vehicles whilst some of us only saw them from a distance as they moved across the hillsides. White rhino were seen in a variety of locations mostly doing a good job of mowing the grass with their wide grazing mouths. The dominant large tree in the open areas is the marula, producing sweet, apricot sized fruits much loved by elephants. Palms and reeds fringed the river-beds.
The stately nyala was the star antelope of the day. The male, a dark charcoal brown has bright tan legs while the more delicate females are a lovely tan color with white stripes. Tall, elegant giraffes gathered in family groups close to their favorite acacia trees and gave us all great views as they peered quizzically at us. Groups of impala were often in association with herds of zebra, peacefully grazing together. African buffalo were seen wallowing in muddy pools or grazing on the hillsides, sometimes in single file walking towards a drinking hole. Birdlife was rich and varied with birdsong accompanying us all day.
We had lunch at Hilltops Restaurant, right in the middle of the park with breathtaking views across to valleys and mountains in the distance. Replete, some of us came back to the ship while the majority boarded safari vehicles for a few more hours of exploring this magnificent game park.
Back on board we had our farewell cocktails and captain’s dinner. Cameras captured the many friends made and email exchanges ensured that we would keep in touch and perhaps journey again together.
Tuesday, March 20 - Durban / Disembark: Final stuffing of suitcases, organization of hand luggage and farewells over breakfast were the order of the day as we prepared to depart the Clipper Odyssey. We had traveled 2,011 nautical miles and experienced many rich cultures, seas, birdlife, African mammals, and fabulous coastal scenery from Zanzibar in Tanzania to Durban, South Africa.
After our final farewells to the crew, we boarded buses for a city tour of Durban. We visited the bustling Victoria market with tantalizing smells of spices and displays of fruits and vegetables. Handicrafts were also there, tempting us to cram that last item into our now bulging cases.
A walk through the Botanical Gardens brought us up close to African spoonbills and a spur-winged goose with tiny goslings trailing behind. Our tour ended at the Moya Restaurant where we waited for our various flights and onward journeys either home or to new adventures.