After a laid back few days in Pemba we were ready for some more adventure. Despite the weather, of the two tracks heading north we decided upon the shorter more challenging dirt and sand track to Tandanhangui, where we could get a boat to Ibo. There were plenty of rain storms about, but we figured at worst we would need to back track a couple of hours and go the long way round. The rain had taken its toll on the track, rutted, muddy and slippery in parts but we were encouraged that it was passable after crossing paths with a chapa (local public transport vehicle) in the opposite direction. We approached the mangroves and "port to Ibo" to find a local truck stuck axle deep in the tidal muds. There were dozens of locals gathered with all the excitement, who knows where they had come from as the "village" was literally a couple of grass huts, but either way I'm sure they were glad to see us as the tide had turned and would quickly have engulfed them. We set about our first recovery of the trip, thankfully it wasn't rescuing ourselves. We managed to winch the truck clear as the local children cheered us on, before we continued to the "port". I use the term "port" loosely as again this was simply a bamboo fenced grass hut where you could leave your car (secure parking) and a mangrove estuary where a solitary motor dhow sat full of locals awaiting the tide to lift it from the mud. We figured it would be some time until the boat was able to sail, but what the locals obviously knew was that you would need to swim to the boat if you didn't beat the tide. Overwhelmed by the sight of the overcrowded boat, Susan immediately dismissed the idea of heading to Ibo, this is something she had apparently been contemplating, but Kaz and I were unaware and had full intentions of visiting this wonderful place we had heard so many good things about. The author of our guidebook had labelled it his favourite place in the whole of Africa, and that alone was enough to sell us on the idea, but with Ibo also being tagged as "one of Africas best kept secrets there was never a doubt that we should go. The tide coming in, it was a race against time to gather our belongings and hatch a plan to meet back with Paul and Susie. Not knowing there was a possibility they would not be joining us, we had not discussed timing or researched local transport routes, we had no guidebook, and we were doubtful of mobile reception, We simply devised a plan that at worst we would make our way to the village of Pangane, 50km up the coast by the following Tuesday, 4 days time where they would be staying.We grabbed our stuff and hurried down to the muddy flats. By now the tide had engulfed the 25ft boat and although still firmly rooted to the bottom, the water was now nearly a metre deep and coming in quickly. The boat had managed to squeeze twice as many people on board, perhaps 40, no doubt contributing to the fact that it was still not floating. We waded out to the dhow, bags above our heads and eventually everyone shuffled enough to let the mzungus (white folk) on board. We were quite the talking point although we had no idea what the locals were saying as they spoke in Swahili, we could simply here mzungu as every third word. I even gave one small baby the shock of his life, I'm sure I was the first white person he had ever seen and when he saw me sitting next to him he started screaming. We sat in complete discomfort, baby screaming, jammed on the little boat like sardines in a tin, awaiting the tide. We discussed how we would try to catch back up with the others, we both knew it would be quite a mission.Eventually the boat departed snaking it's was through the mangrove rivers towards an Island somewhere. It was hard to tell what was the mainland and what not, and where in fact we were heading but we figured we were on the right boat…………."we must be, there was only one".Late afternoon and we drifted through narrow channel that opened to the impressive little island settlement of Ibo. Ibo is an island rich in Arab and Portuguese history, much decayed but with plenty of evidence of its past grandeur just like Ihla do Mozambique, but as far as we were concerned that's where the similarities stopped. Ibo was isolated, sparsely populated, clean, predominantly car free, and with lots of plantations and crops. People here were relatively self sufficient and we sensed that they seemed to take some pride in their community. In comparison to other coastal settlements, there was minimal rubbish on the beaches and throughout the town, and even signs stating you couldn't defecate on the beach.We pulled in to the beach, paid our boat fee, much inflated compared to that of the locals but still a steal at about $4. We waded to shore where the towns children gathered to meet us, offering to carry our bags or act as our guide. One young boy had excellent English and seemed very polite, and figuring we had no information, map, or even a guidebook we asked him to take us to one of the 3 homestays on the island. He mentioned he had heard good reports of one of the homestays, so we took his lead and wandered the dirt path to our home. The room was pleasant and clean, no running water, but a real toilet (that you flushed with a bucket) and a tub and ladle to shower. That afternoon we walked the town to get a feel for the place and booked ourselves in for dinner at the one and only local bar/restaurant, excluding the 5 star resort at the other end of the island. We were asked to order our meal immediately so they could have time to source the ingredients, the menu was limited, predominantly seafood with a chips, rice or xima side, but it was a pleasant feeling to know that they would soon be off to track down the correct fresh local produce. How they did this I'm not sure, there was no market or shops, I guess they just operated by word of mouth……….and we liked that idea. After wandering the towns decayed buildings we freshened up and headed back to the restaurant. The dark streets were littered with people, but without any lights you could usually see little more than their smiles. I guess us white folk didn't blend in so much, as people whispered mzungu to each other. The town was totally without power, apparently there was a town generator but we gathered it hadn't worked for some time. Like a little oasis of power, we sought refuge at the bar (the only place to have a generator) only to find hordes of locals, seemingly drawn like moths to the surging lights of the bar. The towns men and children had all gathered to watch the football on the television, and though not a person was drinking, the barman didn't seem to mind. One table remained untouched, cutlery in place and we were ushered like special guests into our plastic chairs. Now like the TV, we were a focus of entertainment. We didn't realise at the time but we were the only tourists on the island amongst the 5200 local residents.My squid and Karnes prawn curry were tasty, and the football some good entertainment and a nice novelty, even for us, but it has been a long day so we gave away the idea of sticking round for the discotheque that night and headed home.What followed was the most unpleasant evenings we have ever experienced. The hot still evenings similar to Pemba, but now a tin roof and mosquito net aswell made the conditions unbearable. We lay in bed, concentrating on trying to breathe, it was literally like sleeping in a sauna. Sweat poured off us and before long the sheets and pillows were drenched, it was horrible but there was no escape. Drenched in our own sweat, I figured our surrounds could get no wetter and so I saturated my towel with water, laid it on top of me and hoped to pass out. With morning came a light breeze and some relief, but we were up early to bathe and get some fresh air. We enjoyed a typical breakfast of local Ibo coffee and sweet condensed milk on bread.We had employed our little guide from the previous afternoon to show us the sights of Ibo, and it was an interesting and informative experience albeit from the perspective of a 14 year old. We wandered the grand old 18th century Portuguese fort on the tip of the island, built to protect the island from the French, but at times used as a centre for slave trade and more recently a jail. The islands colonial buildings stood crumbling, with trees growing throughout, the place had an eerie feel but it was impressive all the same, even in its current state. We imagined at one time it would have been quite an imposing settlement nestled amongst the mangroves and plantations of the Northern Mozambique coast.As we walked around it was humorous to hear the local women call to their children to run out and see the mzungus as we walked past. To touch our white skin sent the kids into a laughing frenzy. The day was extremely hot, energy sapping just like the night before but we spent the morning wandering the island, and trying local fruits before settling back in the refuge of the shaded bar.Speaking to the locals we became increasingly aware of our predicament with meeting Paul and Susan. We had no phone reception, and even if we could get another phone we were told Pangane (where they were staying) had no reception for miles. We ruled out getting in contact or for them to return to pick us up at Tandanhangui (TD). We were left with 3 options:
- There was no transport links between TD and Pangane, we could catch a dhow to TD, overnight under a tree and get the 1 early morning chapa 5hrsback to Pemba and the following day another 2 chapas 8-10 hrs north to Pangane (with no official timetable there were some gross assumptions with this option and even then we wouldn't have made it by Tuesday).
- Dhow to another village further north on the coast, overnight in the local village (the community officer on Ibo said he may know someone otherwise it would mean sleeping under a tree), then catch 2 chapas (hopefully connecting) to Pangane.
- The third, most expensive but most direct option was to pay a local dhow boat Captain to take us the 30miles up the coast. This was a long journey by sail power but even worse at this time of year heading directly into the dominant NE trade winds.
We spent the afternoon discussing our travels plans with anyone who could speak English (very few) or understand my b******ised Spanish/Portuguese. We picked the brain of the Swiss owner of the Cinco Portas Hotel, but he didn't fill us with any hope as we sat by the pool and waited for the boats to come in. We wandered the beach waiting for the fishermen in their dhows to come in, and eventually came across the community officer named Ibraimo, who had a basic grasp of English. He had previously lined us up a young captain who had agreed to take us for over US$100, but given the average MONTHLY wage on Ibo was a mere $15, we figured this was ridiculously steep, and that it was a fortnights accommodation for us. We were in a predicament and he knew that, but it was also a matter of principle for us now. Like everywhere cash is king, we knew there would be other nibbles, we just had to find the fish, and this was proving difficult. We hounded Ibraimo to find us some more "captains" and eventually he agreed and told us he would find us that evening. It was much easier for him to track us down, coz by now we were sure the whole island knew we were there and where we were staying. That evening we had arranged for our homestay host to cook us dinner, and an interesting but tasty oyster curry was served with rice and the local matapa dish.That night as he promised, Ibraimo tracked us down at the bar and brought another captain along. With Ibraimo acting as a translator we negotiated a deal and agreed for him to pick us up at our homestay at 4am, white person time it was stressed by Ibraimo to the captain. By now, word of our desire to get to Pangane had travelled the island and no sooner had we agreed a deal and we were approached by another supposed captain to undercut our deal by 50%. We felt a bit bad having agreed a deal but we still thought we were paying well over the odds and agreed a new deal, with our new captain telling us he would fetch us at 3am. The early start was due to the tides and the inability to cast off until mid tide, but this guy wanted to arrive before the other captain did aswell. With the early start ahead we retired back to the sweatbox to roast for a few hours. We felt slightly uncomfortable about our new deal, it just didn't feel right for a number of reasons, but we were sure it would all work out.We were awoken just before 1am with yelling at the window. The captain had comewith his crew to collect us, admittedly he probably didn't have a watch but this was ridiculous. It was pitch black with no power in the town, we knew the tides would not be right to sail for several hours and as I stood in discussions, Karen could even smell the alcohol on his breath as she lay on the bed metres away. It just didn't feel right, neither of us felt comfortable going with these guys and in broken Portuguese I told them we had changed our mind. We had a number of reasons not to go, first and foremost being they had come straight from the bar, but I didn't want to antagonize them by saying they were pissed. It was difficult conversation given Portuguese was no-ones first language and they tried to convince us otherwise, but our minds were made up. We thought our parents would never forgive us for taking such unnecessary risks and as they say, if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat………. then it probably is a rat..3 hours later we were up again, bags packed and sitting on the porch hoping the "right" captain would appear out of the darkness. Only half an hour late he did. We were relieved and felt much better about this, he seemed friendly (we hoped he hadn't heard about the other captain), he had his crew mate with him aswell but we were much more comfortable with these guys. It was still dark, as we wandered the backstreets of the island towards the beach. They towed the dhow to the shore and we hopped aboard and as the sun peered over the horizon we sailed off leaving the majestic Ibo behind. The seas were calm, the winds gentle, it was peaceful and serene, it was the perfect departure.As the sun climbed from the horizon, the wind remained light but slowly Ibo disappeared behind us. Sailing within the Archipelago we were never out of site of an island, comforting thought when travelling on a rickety old boat with some randomly stitched cloth for propulsion, but that said we felt totally safe. The journey was relaxing, whilst Karen slept the first few hours away on a comfortable tarpaulin on the floor of the boat, I slept on a thin wooden plank………anything was more comfortable than our previous two nights sleep.As we ventured north the mangroves slowly gave way to sandy beaches and coral reefs. The water crystal clear, aqua in colour, the sort of thing you see in resort brochures. It truly was paradise, and the best bit was there was not a motor boat or another tourist in sight, just the odd sail powered fishing dhow. It really felt like we could have sailed back centuries in time.By mid morning, the sun was high in the sky, the wind had disappeared and water turned to glass. It was hot, but not a stifling heat like on land, it felt refreshing, almost invigorating to be on the water. That said, whilst we were making poor time Karen and I would take the odd dip and swim along beside the dhow until we were ready to hop back in. Most of the time we could see the bottom whether 2 or 20 metres deep, we could spot the fish swimming and even saw a turtle lazing on sea bed. We occasionally paddled with our snorkelling gear and the captain had a go too. By late morning we were going nowhere, we had passed a resort island and were crossing a channel to the next when the boat stopped dead. Seemingly unphased the captain got out his solitary paddle, held together ingeniously with a larger tin can lid and a couple of rusty old nails, and started paddling. The two guys took it in turns, maybe a half hour at a time propelling the 20ft heavy old dhow. I would have had a go but I would've been embarrassed to hand back the paddle exhausted after 5mins or so. These guys looked like they had done this before, they were both well built up top, rippling with muscles, even the captains partially disabled mate who could not bend his knee at all and hobbled round accordingly.It took 2 or 3 hours to reach the island on the other side of the channel and by this time we had been on the boat for 7hours or so. Karen and I never really knew how far we had gone or how far we had to go, we had a map but the captain struggled to read it and besides his Portuguese was almost as bad as mine so conversing was difficult. Despite this we had slowly formed a relationship with the 2 crew, they seemed to like us and found our behaviour interesting and humorous as we did them. At this rate, the journey could've lasted days, but on the plus side we had arrived at one of the most beautiful islands one could imagine. A small spit of white sand jutted out from the end of the Ihla das Rolas, and disappeared beneath the clear turquoise water. The captain and his mate took this as a chance for a brief rest and a chat with a curious local fisherman, as Kaz and I took to the water for a refreshing swim. Soon it was time to get moving again, the shallow waters allowing our friends to pole rather than paddle for a change as Karen and I snorkelled along beside the boat. Eventually we tired and hopped aboard and not long after a fresh breeze picked up and we were back on the move. It was lunchtime and we shared our food with the crew, they were interested in what we ate, but neither were hungry enough to eat the vegemite, or surprisingly the tinned sardines. They lived on a diet of fish of a similar size but they weren't interested unless cooked and served on a bed of starch.We made good time over the next couple of hours, and slowly the white sands of Pangane appeared in front of us. The journey had taken us over 10hrs, it had been a long day, and it wasn't cheap but a wonderful experience and perhaps the highlight of our trip so far. We couldn't help but feel sorry for the captain and his mate, who would turn around and do it all again, they would not be home till well after dark. We handed over the money, the captains smile as wide as the bay itself, it was definitely worth his while. He warned us to be careful of the "banditos" in Pangane, especially with all our gear and his smiley first mate despite his permanent hobble insisted he chaperone us to the campground, carrying our heavy combined pack on his head.We just hoped Boner and Susie would be there, we had no camping gear and there were only grass huts to be seen.