It's 8:30. Mohammed is waiting for us at the door of the Miti Miwiri, between the two trees from which, without any pretentiousness, the hotel's Kimuan name was inspired.
We salute each other. We cut short an already short opening conversation. We knew that we would follow the bed that the retreat of the sea gave us and that, in its time, the sea would return without mercy. We were on our way anyway, Mohammed leading the way, we his faithful followers.
We head south, along the coast of the deepest inlet of Ilha do Ibo, along the path that, further on, passes in front of the old Portuguese cemetery. We didn't get to review it.
From Terra Firme to the Exposed Bed and Mangrove Channels
At a certain point, Mohammed shows us the point where we were descending from the dirt road to the now striated soil, now muddy, here and there dotted with puddles, bequeathed by the ebb. A little later, between trees watered by the rains and the successive cycles of the beach-sea, and then a flooded trail that wound through the mangrove forest.
“This thing we are going through was opened with machines by the Portuguese. Since then, as people use it every day, it hasn't closed again.”
Gradually, the creek grew in width. Mangrove shoots began to flank it, projecting from the ground like vegetable stalagmites that forced us to walk and chatter in concentration.
Here and there, the trail led us to temporary ponds that left us with water halfway down the shin, junctions of what turned out to be, after all, a vast labyrinth of mangrove swamps. Soon, it took us back in the direction that Mohammed was validating.
Having overcome a new meander, we found a group of six women, half of them dressed in capulanas' skirts, the other half carrying bowls and a sack over their heads. One of them wore an old Benfica jersey, old to the point of having the infamous PT as a sponsor.
For some time, we were in the company of these women. Moments later, we crossed paths with other beings from the mangrove, we got distracted and lost our way. Two children had such a breakthrough in their path that they had stopped to catch shrimp and shellfish.
Ahead, a Wet and Endless Sand
All of a sudden, the trail opens again. But instead of a lagoon, it reveals an open channel. Decorated it a gaudy fishing boat in which a lone crewman seemed weary to find himself dry there. We round the boat and salute the helmsman. Tens of meters ahead, we are faced with a new expanse of striped bed.
This sea of wet sand stretched out as far as the eye could see, until a glimpse of the Indian Ocean that we almost only intuited as a white line, faint and diffuse, superimposed on the horizon.
Two or three resilient mangroves, distant from each other, occupied high redoubts on the bed and formed islets of green from which they spread greedy roots that grabbed all the nutrients that the ocean left for them.
Walkers coming from other trails came out of this sea of sand and followed their own lines almost out of sight. Most of them headed for the Quirimba that we continued to chase.
Net Fishing for What Takes the Tide
After another half kilometer, we came across a river that drained the water that the low tide had left behind into the ocean, already imminent.
The river seemed to give something to an organized group of natives. When we got closer, we realized that they were the six women we had met in the mangrove and that they had come forward. Their buckets carried large nets. Nets that we saw extend almost from one side to the other of the stream and drag against the current in order to capture the fish aimed at the Indian Ocean.
We crossed the river further up, where it was shallow and a wide one soothed it. A few hundred more steps and a new marine stream holds us back.
The Amphibious Entry into Quirimba
We cross it with the water up to the waist. On the other side, we finally meet Quirimba. And with the solitary coastal hamlet that occupies the far north of the island's 6.2km length.
It comprises one or two rows of huts raised on trunks and macuti, a covering made of flattened coconut leaves. An elderly baobab stood out, in the middle of the dry season, gray to match.
We entertained ourselves by appreciating the fleet of dhows anchored on the exposed bed offshore. When we notice her, we have a bunch of children from the village challenging us with stumbling blocks and photographic provocations.
The Colonial Past of Quirimbas and Quirimba
By our reckoning, at that moment, the tide would have turned and the Indian Ocean was regaining, inch by inch, the wide bed that belonged to it. We therefore agreed to go south along the coastline. As much as the time to return to Ibo allowed us, but with the ruins of an old church as a pre-investigated reference.
What is left of the church of Quirimba is part of the abundant colonial heritage that the Portuguese built in the archipelago.
During his initial search trip to India, after doubling the bottom of Africa he Bartolomeu Dias had transformed the Tormentas into Good Hope, Vasco da Gama started to travel the East side of Africa.
It had stopped off the Ilha de Mozambique that it is said that he was forced to flee because the population suspected the outsiders' intentions. Heading north, certainly with the coast in sight, Vasco da Gama made a stopover in the Quirimbas archipelago.
The islands were already known as Maluane, the name of a textile that the natives produced and exported in large quantities to the mainland. And they were inhabited and controlled by an Arab-Swahili population, similar to the population of Ilha de Moçambique, which was not very welcoming. As such, the navigator proceeded to the next stopovers of Mombasa and Malindi.
In 1522, the Portuguese returned determined to annihilate Muslim rule. Quirimba Island was the first to be occupied.
As always in the Discoveries, the religious rushed to impose Christianity and ordered several churches to be built. Quirimba's was just one of many.
In your chronicle “East Ethiopia and Varies History of Cousas in the Taueis of the East", the priest Br. João dos Santos he describes what he found in the Quirimbas at the end of 1586, during a trip to the Orient where he was part of a group of missionaries.
According to the narrator, João dos Santos sailed recovering from an illness for over a month. Well, it happened to re-establish itself precisely in the Quirimbas: “So much so that I was sane from this disease, I soon understood in the necessary things the Christianity of all these islands, subject to the Parish of Quirimba in which many Christians, Gentiles & Moors live. And then I went more, taking, & forbidding some abusives, & ceremonies… very harmful to our sacred law. "
Among these "bulls” that João dos Santos tried to fight, there were the circumcision and the celebrations at the end of Ramadan, which scandalized him greatly: “all get drunk, & walk naked in the streets, painted with almagra & plaster, pollo body & face & every hu makes himself the greatest momos, who can. "
At the turn of the XNUMXth century, with a strategic base on the island of Ibo, where they would build the São João Baptista fort and where they already had rainwater reservoirs crucial to the breeding of animals and the refueling of ships, the Portuguese were owners and lords of the largest part of the Quirimbas. Neighboring Ibo quickly gained prominence.
Quirimba Above and Below, on the Indian Ocean Tour
On Quirimba Island itself, apart from the village of Ponta Norte, little more remains from those times than the church. After another twenty minutes of walking, we found it without a roof, with one half of its front knocked down and the nave's walls crowned by cactus and tentacular prickly pear trees.
On the way back, we completed it with the return of the Indian Ocean in sight, tinting the incredible coastal scenery with a greenish-blue as we passed: colonies of mangrove swamps above the white sand that seemed to us to be walking vegetable beings trimmed by someone Eduardo Mãos of Scissors of the region.
Farther inland, a forest of coconut palms, their crowns shaved by one of the cyclones or tropical storms that, from time to time, cross the Mozambique Channel.
And trees that, in unbridled competition with the mangroves for nutrients, had developed strong, zigzag trunks and branches, and a dense branch that served as a home for herons and other little or no frightened birds.
With the return of the Indian Ocean, more dhows and tiny boats begin to arrive. Some sail aimed at the village of Quirimba, others at Ibo and even the northernmost stops of the Quirimbas and the mainland.
During a good part of the walk, we are accompanied by more children who have fun challenging the rising waters and, as always happens in these African places, they encourage us and encourage us to photograph them again.
We return to the village. They offer us brown sugar, which we eat without ceremony, while we join an audience that accompanied two men in a disputed game of ntxuva with the board laid down, almost buried in the sand.
As the dhows made their way there, the village came to life. Women in great play flocked to the seaside we had arrived with buckets and bowls that they would fill with fish.
Some stood out for their mussirs, the natural sun masks of Mozambique. On their way, tiny grocers responded to the last afternoon's shopping, while, on the sandy boulevard, another bunch of children enjoyed skiing in groups, with skis made of curved coconut leaves and stiff sticks, taller than themselves, serving as canes.
We arrived at our landing beach, at that time, with the sea already a few meters from the detached houses. Amidst a hubbub of chores, peeps, and intrusions from the children, an entourage of men loaded onto an old Massey Fergusson tractor, a water tank there carried by a dhow.
We recognize Mohammed. With sunset just in time, the guide led us to the boatman who would take us back to Ibo, in a combined and complicated navigation through semi-open sea and through the labyrinth of mangrove swamps on the way.
We traversed the meanderings of the mangrove in a disorienting shadow that only Mohammed's knowledge and the boatman's mastery managed to overcome.
Once out of the mangrove, we watched the sun go down on the houses on the island of Ibo. For everyone's convenience, we disembarked at the little beach in front of Rua da República and under the shelter of Miti Miwiri. The night did not take long to return the Quirimbas to their centuries-old retreat.