Located at the entrance to the Mossuril Bay, the small island of Goa is home to a centuries-old lighthouse. Its listed tower signals the first stop of a stunning dhow tour around the old Ilha de Mozambique.
After a thorough selection and negotiation, we finally reached an agreement.
Despite the attention and discernment used, one detail is missing. Whimsical, if not comical. Still, by way of the associated story, a taint we would have preferred to have avoided.
From the various dhows moored in front of the pier, under the supervision of the bronze statue of Vasco da Gama, we ended up boarding a christened “Titanic”.
That morning, we had crossed paths again with Omar, a young seller of samosas who was traveling around the Island of Mozambique with a large bottle on his shoulder.
As expected, the boy's daily profits proved to be moderate. So much so that, instead of surrendering to his craft, Omar chooses to accompany us on the walk.
The dhow's owners know him.
They admit him on board and in the jar that the kid carried like an appendage of greasy plastic.
The Morning Departure from the Island of Mozambique
We installed ourselves in an area of the vessel that the captain indicates to us and where we would not interfere with the maneuvers of the trio of crew. Moments later, we set sail for Mossuril Bay, pointed at the northern end of the Island of Mozambique and at the exit to the Mozambique Channel.
The dhow shallows the fort of São Sebastião. It passes by a fleet of artisanal fishermen aboard their pirogues powered by a single paddle. When we go around the peninsula occupied by the fortress, we turn to the southeast.
We surrender to the immensity of the channel.
In that time, slouched between the seat and the bottom of the hull, we admire the skill with which the captain and his assistants adjust the sail to the wind, how they stretch and sway it with a fluidity that barely disturbs us in our panoramic throne.
As we approach the island of Goa, maritime traffic decreases noticeably.
Gradually, from a mere glimpse, a striped tower, white and red, is defined, above a dense ridge of vegetation that fills the east of the island, beyond a coast made of two lines.
A first, brown and rough reef. Another, just above, of a white sand that precedes the bushy green.
The “Titanic” approaches the rocky reef. It sails parallel, at a certain height, along the south coast and its successive cuts. One of them proves to be deeper than the previous ones.
It welcomes a small cove with a bed of wet sand. The captain points the “Titanic” to that natural harbor with crystal clear waters.
Facing south and with a calm sea to match, the cove grants us a smooth landing.
Goa Island: Landing on the Still Deserted Island
At a glance, we'll see you on dry land. We climb to an intermediate slab lined with coral stone.
From there, with a duo of crew members from the “Titanic” acting as guides and Omar accompanying us, we followed a straight coral-stone trail, furrowed in the vegetation.
One of two open roads that, in the form of a cross, covered the island of Goa from south to north and from east to west.
Always in a row, or almost in a row, arriving at the center of the island, we cut to its perpendicular.
At the end of this continuation, with the east coast again in sight, we came across the listed lighthouse tower.
“I ate two samosas.
With this heat, I'm dying of thirst” vents Omar, in the basic Portuguese he used to get along with Portuguese visitors, on the margins of the Macua dialect in which the natives of those parts communicate.
Here and there, with additional use of neighboring languages, cases of Kimuan and Swahili, useful for conversations with Tanzanians and even with Kenyans.
Without us expecting it, the boy makes use of a covered well. He throws a demijohn tied to a rope into its bottom. He retrieves it, filled with water.
He fills a metal glass, also available there, providential in that stronghold devoid of other infrastructure and punished by the tropical sun.
Omar drinks the glass in a single gulp. Restored, he urges us to climb to the top of the lighthouse. "We will! It is very beautiful up there.”
We ascended the stairs, without haste. More than guides, the two crew members prove to be escorts. As much as the island had to tell, little else they know that they are oriented there, enough to lead us to its focal points.
We let them gain headway.
Halfway up one of the flights of stairs, Omar stops to contemplate the view through a rounded window, now without glass.
Attentive to his movements, we noticed how his face created a perfect silhouette, against the blues of the Mozambique Channel and the slightly cloudy horizon above.
We resume ascension.
When we reached the top, the guides were already circling around, busy investigating whether the weather and the winds had caused damage.
Goa Island and the Panoramic Top of the Old Lighthouse
One of them holds the acrylic housing of the electric lamp, as if to test its stability.
We noticed that her fingernails were painted bright red.
Omar also notices. We face puzzled eyes. Omar refuses to observe anything, with his countryman close by.
Later, he confesses to us that he also found it strange. “I don't know… she thought it was funny and painted it. Around here, it doesn’t always mean anything.”
Without being able to elaborate on the subject, the kid takes advantage of the unexpected protagonism.
He puts down, once again, the bottle of samosas and fits in the rusty bell of the lighthouse, enjoying the views around.
We photographed him again, in that inadvertent photogenic of his.
As we do so, we notice several splashes, distant, yet well highlighted above the deep blue of the Mozambique Channel.
Restless Whales in the Mozambique Channel
We change objectives. When we framed and magnified them, we realized that they were whales, given to repeated leaps and similar exhibitionisms.
For millennia, the Mozambique Channel has been on the migratory route of different species of cetaceans, especially humpback and humpback whales. In the colder months, these species leave the very frigid waters of the Antarctic Sea heading north.
From June to September, they travel up the south coast of Africa and travel between Mozambique, Madagascar, with frequent passes along the Comoros archipelago.
Its seasonal presence in these stops justified that, in times when whaling lacked regulation, two companies, said to be Norwegian, set up whaling stations in Inhambane province, in Linga-Linga.
Later, they abandoned them, even before the slaughter of cetaceans was made unfeasible due to their protection and the establishment of different terrestrial and marine eco-reserves in Mozambique.
And the Secular History of the Lighthouse of the Island of Goa
The lighthouse from which we continued to enjoy the surrounding Indian panorama was built in 1876 to mark the entrance to Mossuril Bay.
To guide vessels offshore, especially those destined for the Island of Mozambique.
It is considered the oldest in Mozambique and it is estimated that of the entire African coast of the Indian Ocean.
Its quadrangular architecture, instead of being rounded, served as a pattern for several others built in Zanzibar and along the southern coast of German East Africa, colonial territory dismembered after the German defeat in World War I and which gave rise to present-day Tanzania.
Originally, the lighthouse on the Island of Goa was a mere twelve meters high.
In 1923, its tower was increased to the thirty-one meters at which we were, equipped with a new light and objective, probably predecessors of those that keep it in service.
Departure from the Island of Goa, Towards Cabaçeira
As we had agreed, the Island of Goa and its emblematic lighthouse were just the first stop of a wider itinerary around the Island of Mozambique, with disembarkation scheduled in the no less intriguing peninsula of Cabaceira.
Aware of the value of his time, the captain sees us linger at the top of the tower. Despite the distance, he manages to alert the crew-guides that it is time to proceed.
We took some final pictures.
After which we return to the ground and the colorful “Titanic”.
From there, we point to the point of Cabaceira, alongside colonies of leafless baobabs that seem to greet us.
This route, we complete it already pushed by an intense wind that makes the dhow's sail blister and the boat lean to the limit of its fast buoyancy.
The captain notices us apprehensive.
Decide to calm us down. “Calm down, friends. This afternoon is just like that. The closer to sunset, the more intense and faster it becomes.”
We abstract and enjoy the slope. We took pictures of the crew struggling with the sail and the oscillation caused by the waves.
Meanwhile, the distant houses on the Island of Mozambique unfolded at a befitting pace.
Finally, the captain makes the “Titanic” enter a shallow inlet, protected from mangroves. We return to bonanza.
We walked in knee-deep water, among alarmed crabs, until we returned to dry land. As in the long colonial times, Cabaceira proved to be a separate expedition.
To which we will soon dedicate its well-deserved chapter.