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Mozambique: Ibo

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Ibo | Mozambique | Africa

[Visited: September, October 2015]

After reading reports about the transportation to Ibo from Pemba, we are a little alarmed, as it all sounds pretty awful. However, our trip turns out to be a pleasant adventure. We are lucky in Pemba: the moment we reach the main transportation crossroads, a stationcar turns out to be going towards Ibo, and is almost full (then again, in Mozambique you never know when a car is considered full). The seats are not hard, and after some getting off and on of passengers, loading and unloading baggage, we are on our way. The untarred road leads us through beautiful landscapes of rolling hills covered by trees, and we regularly stop in villages to let people off and others in. Within 4 hours, we reach Tandanhangue, where we wait under a giant flowering baobab tree, with lots of others, for the tide to come in. Suddenly, a few guys indicate it is time to go, and we wade through the water to the dhow. A voluminous woman is taken to the dhow in a small boat and manages to step aboard as well, and off we go. The boat ride is a pleasure: people chat while we sail through the mangrove forest. When we finally approach Ibo, the sun is low enough to cast a warm light on the buildings of this old town. We walk the sandy streets for our first impressions until the sun goes down and it is time for dinner.

Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Street scene typical for Ibo

The next day is our first real exploration day of Ibo. We quickly learn the layout of the town, and walk the streets haphazardly. The more we walk around, the more we like it. Once a thriving trading town, and the second most important in Mozambique, the Portuguese built several forts to defend it. Even though some of the buildings lie in ruins, it is not difficult to realize that Ibo must have had a grand look in its heyday in the 19th century. Many buildings have pillars supporting roofs under which people can walk protected from sun and rain; they give the streets an attractive appearance. Some ruins have trees growing through the walls and windowpanes, while in others, you can still see tiles, decorative elements, and shelves where books once stood. Some ruins are for sale, others have been bought, and are being restored. The Ibo Island Lodge on the west side of town gives an idea of what the houses must have looked like; who knows, if more houses will be restored, what Ibo will look like years from now? Apart from the residential houses and the forts, there are also important buildings like the old Customs Building, the church, a former warehouse, the old post office, and more. Look, and look again, and the closer you look, the more details you will discover in these buildings, like the decorative elements around the Customs Building that are slowly rusting away.

Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): The old Customs building of Ibo is intricately decorated

Most people nowadays live outside the old part of town, where you can find small markets, shops, a Hindu temple turned mosque, and other signs of life. We walk around the Fortaleza de São João Baptista, a star-shaped fortress built at the end of the 18th century to protect Ibo against a possible French invasion. Walking around the perimeter of the fortress, you quickly realize that the star-shape is perfect, with sharp angles in the white walls. Once inside, you first come across silversmiths for which Ibo is famous, and then to a small courtyard with a small museum, unfortunately closed at the time of our visit. We climb the roof of the fortress for views over the sea and the mangrove forest in it. It is easy to spend several days on Ibo: its relaxed atmosphere and quiet pace may well make you forget any other plans you had. After exploring other parts of the island and a visit to nearby Matemo island, we pay a visit to the historian of the island and probably one of its oldest inhabitants, João Baptista. Despite his advanced age (he is well into his eighties and has countless children and grandchildren), he still has a remarkably sharp mind and speaks freely and energetically about his beloved island, Mozambique, and the medal he claims he received from President Obama. João does not stop talking, and we miss our last Ibo sunset because of it. What, we ask ourselves, will happen with all the stories inside this man who has seen so much of the island, when he is no longer with us? Early next morning, with doubts in our hearts, we take another dhow, this time heading to the mainland, and leaving our beloved Ibo island with its warm people behind.

Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Boats at low tide stranded on the beach of Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Afternoon sunlight filtered by the pillars of a house in Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): One of the many houses with pillars in Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): The Customs Building of Ibo in the morning
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Cleaning a dusty street in Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): House in Ibo in the late afternoon
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Girl in veils walking a street of Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Trees overtaking this ruin in the streets of Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Fortaleza de São João  Baptista basking in the morning sun
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário is the main church of Ibo
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): Chapel on the roof of the main, star-shaped fortress of Ibo, Fortaleza de São João Baptista
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): The streets of Ibo are lined with many colonial buildings in ruins
Picture of Ibo (Mozambique): One of the small fortresses protecting Ibo: Fortim de São José

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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