Time to set sail for the Channel
The Channel of Mozambique. Its tides and currents, the greater or lesser flow of the sea, dictate the hours when the dhow and the launches are made to it and they can navigate in it. At 14 pm on a windy afternoon that ruffled the shallow Indian Ocean, we finally set sail for Bazaruto.
Neither the wind nor the small waves generated by the breeze seemed to affect the latest generation boats, equipped with powerful engines that ensured the route at high speed.
Along the way, the sea took on different shades of greens and blues, fascinating indicators of the shallowness of the bed and a kind of chromatic recreation of the dolphins and dugongs that inhabit the fruitful waters between Mozambique e Madagascar. The first ones did not take long to appear and welcome us with their leaps and unrestrained escorts in front of the vessel.
Even though there are more than three hundred, in those parts – considered the only prolific colony on the east coast of Africa – the sea cows never gave a sign of themselves. They have kept to distant sandbanks, safe from the engines and the inconvenience they cause them.
Sand and respective banks is not lacking. With warm waters, facing south, the Current of Mozambique, drags with it sediments that it continuously deposits wherever the ocean narrows or encounters obstacles. In the right sense, it also drives the many dhows that travel there.
The Majestic Vision of the Bazaruto Archipelago
After almost an hour of walking, the supreme monumentality of this phenomenon leaves us awestruck. We abandoned the front of the big island of Benguerra. As soon as its narrow northern peninsula ends, the domains of Bazaruto are inaugurated, the much larger island that lends its name to this archipelago in the province of Inhambane.
The boat continues along its west coast, turning to the mainland. Even so, hyperbolic dunes insinuate themselves well above this immediate coastline and vegetation, a mountain range of them, linked by these and other wind-shaped gestures.
However, the coast and the green bushes that line it increase in height. The island also becomes wider. The two factors make the dunes from us to move away until the glimpse. We quickly face the cove and the populated area of Asneira. The boat goes to the beach.
At 15:30 pm we are installed in Bazaruto. Half an hour later, we were led by James to discover the sand empire we had seen in the east of the island. The path to get there turns out to be almost as sandy as the ergs themselves. Only the sturdy jeeps in it advanced.
Bazaruto: discovering Ilha das Dunas and Lagos
Experienced, James, lead us without a hitch. Until he and a resident on a ATV find each other face to face, both with their passage blocked. Using a lot of gymnastics on the big wheels, the native there gets around the unexpected obstacle we had become and follows his destiny.
Just a few hundred meters further, a descent reveals Maubue, the first of the lakes that dot Bazaruto. We begged James to get closer to the water. “It's not possible, replies the guide. The terrain down there is marshy. It also hides crocodiles”.
We were on an island far from other Mozambican bags where those reptiles subsisted: Sofala, Zambezi, Gorongous, others. In the brief moment, we didn't know if he was talking jokingly or if he was serious. In any case, the short winter in the Southern Hemisphere made early sunset.
Accordingly, James reminded us that we should hurry up to the dune zone. By giving in to his appeal, we put the matter to sleep.
James makes the jeep snag and win a last slope. We leave the vehicle and go up, on foot, the irregular and vegetated slope of the dune, soon among dwarf palms and other shrubs that emerge irrigated by the frequent rain (850 mm annually, especially between December and March) despite the porosity of the ground.
The sunset among the Ergs
We reach, panting, the intermediate level of the sand mountains. The magnificence and exoticism of the scenery do little to help us catch our breath. Below, we found Lake Maubue again. Instead of the opposite bank that we had seen firsthand, it was bounded by the steep slope of a dune that stretched northward until we were out of sight.
To the opposite side, the high foothills that supported us dipped into a valley hollowed out towards the east coast. Along its entire length, ridges were repeated with sinuous shapes, streaked by the morning rain and flown over by small lilac clouds.
Minutes later, the sun dipped into the Canal de Mozambique and gilded the near west. At three other times, he delivered it to the night pitch.
Only the dawn, damp at first, and soon drenched, rescued the great star. We're back to relying on James to explore as much of Bazaruto as possible. We left with a blanket of dark clouds threatening to make theirs. The showers began mild. It didn't take long to alternate with deluge periods from which not even the jeep's canvas cover adequately protected us.
The sand road took us north and inland, between a new constellation of lakes that the rain increased and renewed. On the edge of the Lengue, the largest of all, a native of old age was cutting papyrus from an extensive adjacent cane field. "Remember the crocodile conversation yesterday?" asks us James.
Fatal Crocodiles and the Remaining Fauna of Bazaruto
“We didn't have time to finish it but, by the way, you know: some time ago, another lady was doing exactly the same thing as this one and was caught by a crocodile. It seems that people here don't learn.”
We are intrigued by how crocodiles have proliferated on a relatively small, sandy island and in lakes like these, so far from the rivers and swamps of vast continental Africa. In the absence of a more scientific and ancestral explanation, we found that, at least, during the 80s, Bazaruto hosted a production of reptiles that was expected to be profitable.
But, the Mozambican Civil War broke out. The fauna of several natural parks and reserves in the country – a glaring case of the NP Gorongosa – was decimated. The context proved anything but propitious and animal husbandry was abandoned.
How many specimens would have been that, instead, found ideal conditions for their subsistence and reproduction in lakes full of fish, also inhabited or frequented by most mammals and birds on the island.
We bypassed the Lengue. Colonies of cormorants dry their feathers in the intermittent sun, on branches of coconut palms along the riverbanks. A new downpour drenches them and us.
Returning to calm, we come across a family of rare blue monkeys contemplating our incursion into their territory from the top of a leafy canopy, half-walls with the base of another huge dune.
The road on which we almost reached the next stop took advantage of one of the rare areas of the island where, due to a freak of the relief, the width of the dunes was reduced and allowed an approach to the east coast through the huge ergs.
Curve after curve, in this coming and going of rain showers and summer breaks, we go around a new sandy slope. It was noon. On the other side, we finally bumped into the east of the Canal de Mozambique.
Sailfish Bay, an Eccentric Cove
The ebb tide made the sea retreat far away, as did the clouds, stampeding under the pressure of the plunging sun. “Well, we arrived at Sailfish Bay. This place is special. I come here time and time again with guests, but now, I stick with the jeep. Explore at will."
We walked along the inlet to a cape that separated it from the next beach, which extended to the last southern meters of the 8 km length of Bazaruto.
In this Sailfish Bay, tiny waves unfolded as if in slow motion, with almost timed intervals between them. They crumbled against a sandbank artfully jagged by the tide. Next to it, an ephemeral marine pool filled the depths that extended all the way to the shore.
Two fishermen with few speeches were extending a net so long that it allowed them to dream of catching all the fish they kept there. We follow your toil for a few minutes.
Instead of going back along the bottom of the dune that closed the cove, we took a trail opened by fishermen. We followed it through its heights, dazzled by the unconditional feeling of freedom that that yellow and blue vastness gave us.
Back at the seaside, before getting into the jeep, we bathed in the warm waves, there, warring, of Sailfish Bay. Pressed by the urge to resume the journey James had been leading us on for hours, we didn't even get to dry.
We went into the shallow area adjacent to the Zingo Lagoon, which is semi-flooded and into which a mangrove swamp penetrated from the western marine boundary. The morning rain had given much of this section to shallow rivers and streams with mere hours to live.
We come across three women who, at intervals, find themselves forced to walk on one of them. Around the time we got rid of the flooded road, the first hut villages that we would have seen on the island appear.
Thereafter, as we approached Asneira and the Bazaruto area occupied by its two large resorts, more and more communities emerged.
The island's new tourist reality dictated that hotels, instead of fishing or migration to the mainland or further afield, ensured the subsistence of dozens of families. We quickly realized this benefit, as guests of the resort and as unexpected visitors to its employees.
The Picturesque Tsonga Villages
We stop at Anantara Bazaruto. James gives an off-shift maid a lift on her way to her village. We pass among several others, formed by huts or mud houses, many already reinforced by modern materials that undo the visual harmony and genuineness of the villages.
Upon arrival, a group of children of different ages receive the lady, in the house that Anantara's salary helped to complete.
In the midst of papayas and other fruit and shade trees, fresh water pumps and pestles in which the too, the manioc porridge that feeds the island, the archipelago and the nation.
Most of the natives who inspect and greet us there are of the Tsonga ethnic group. They speak Shitsu (a common dialect in the province of Inhambane), Xitsonga (the dialect of the Tsongas) and some Portuguese.
Many others of the approximately 2000 residents of different villages never got to familiarize themselves with Portuguese.
During the colonial period – but not only – Bazaruto saw itself for a long time without schools, or at least without teaching in Portuguese.
He also spent the years that passed on the sidelines of the violence and destruction of the War of Independence and the Civil War that ravaged the continental country. It's another reason why the island and the incredible archipelago around it gained the status of a Marine Reserve.
And because its scenery, its fauna, flora and people form one of the strongholds of Mozambique as surreal as real.
More information about Bazaruto on the respective page of Wikipedia