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Mozambique: Matemo Island

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Matemo Island | Mozambique | Africa

[Visited: October 2015]

Our captain shows up on time, an early morning on Ibo island, before the tide drops. We are quickly on our way to Matemo, an island north of Ibo which appears as a green strip above the sea. The sun is gone, and we even get some rain on our way. We skip a planned stop at the sandbank between the two islands, and by the time we reach the southern tip of Matemo, the sun manages to break through the clouds again. The sea is a little calmer here, and we sail all along the coast to the northwestern tip of Matemo, where we land on a sandy spot jutting out into the sea. Once upon a time, this was the spot of a resort, but it has been closed: the cabins are still there, but are barricaded. We walk the wide beach towards the east, and are met by Dadi, our host, offering the only accommodation on the island. We install ourselves in the thatched tent-like huts right on the beach, and immediately feel at home.

Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Women in a village on Matemo island

We use the afternoon for a first exploration of the east side of the island. A sandy track leads east and south along the coast. The island is full of palm trees, and the track runs through them, and through small villages with huts. People are curious about our presence, come up to talk, or just smile and wave as we walk by. At one point, men are constructing boats. We see quite a few young women with the musiro decoration on their faces: it is made of bark, has a white appearance, and protects the skin against the sun while making it softer. The effect on African women is that they appear to be walking around with white masks. There are often small groups of women and girls painting each others, or their own, faces with the paste. It is a custom we have seen before on the Comoros islands, and it is a purely practical custom.

Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Palmtrees lining the track running along the coast of Matemo island

The next morning, we are out for a longer walk. Our host explains the island by drawing it with his finger in the sand, and he tells us that at the south side of Matemo, there is an old house he calls Vasco da Gama house. The trail runs south on the east side of Matemo, but does not continue on the west side. Instead of taking a motorbike, as he suggests, we decide to walk again. It is low tide, and we start on the beach, which now stretches for a long way out into the sea. My travel companion gets a musiro paint on her face and loves the fresh feel it gives. We walk through several small villages, see people on their way to small mosques, stop frequently for talks, see a small clinic in the making, walk on dunes, and continue further south. When asked, people point ahead: Vasco da Gama house must still be down the road. When we reach some ruins of what looks like an old building, we want to confirm that this is the house we are looking for, but the kids we see are scared and run away, into the fields. We continue walking until we reach another village where we are quickly surrounded by a bunch of kids, waiting for the chef who is father of several of the kids. He confirms that the house we saw is an old house. Did Vasco da Gama really stay there, or is it just a way of saying that it is an old house? Judging from the thick walls and the style, it could be several centuries old. We now walk all the way back to the north again, and then to the sandy west point which is home to a bird colony. Watching sunset on the beach, we wonder if we should stay longer here - Ibo seemed quiet, but Matemo is even much more relaxing and it would be easy to just laze away our time here. At the same time, new adventures loom on the horizon, as we are heading south to explore more of Mozambique. The next morning, our captain shows up on time, and keeps his promise: instead of using the engine, he hoists his sail, so the wind takes us away from Matemo, and back to Ibo.

Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Sandy northwestern point of Matemo island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): House with chicken on Matemo island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Palmtrees towering high above a white beach on Matemo island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Village with palmtrees on Matemo
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Beach on Matemo at the end of the day
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): The east coast of Matemo island with palmtrees
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Low tide makes the beaches of Matemo wider
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Cycling on the sandy trail of Matemo island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Trail on the southeastern side of Matemo island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Ruins of house supposedly from the Vasco da Gama era
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Rocky pans exposed by the low tide on Matemo Island
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Face of a girl covered in musiro
Picture of Matemo Island (Mozambique): Sail of our dhow taking us back from Matemo island to Ibo

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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