Mozambique Island: Crossroads of Colonialism

By David Z. From Toronto, Canada

Travel Stimulus Check Entry # 3 of 5

Our wooden dhow crosses into the channel as local entrepreneur Harry Potter sails us away from the island to enjoy a day of magical snorkeling in crystal clear waters. A seafood dinner cooked fresh on a deserted beach awaits us following an afternoon exploring the island's hidden treasures. Another day passes in this most tranquil of places - historic, charming, Mozambique Island located just off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, Mozambique Island is a crossroads of people from Africa, Europe and India (Goa), and headquarters of Portuguese colonialism for almost 400 years. Inhabited for centuries before the arrival of Vasco da Gama who claimed it for Portugal in 1498, the island’s mix of Swahili, Arab, and European history blend for the ages in architecture, food, and tradition.

While the whole island and town are truly precious, there are treasures from the past like the huge decaying Portuguese San Sebastian Fort started 1509 and the largest in Africa at the north end. In its shadow is the Capelade Nossa Senhora (Chapel of Our Lady) Baluarte - considered the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere.

As you explore the island further, you find The Governor’s Palace Museum that started out as a Jesuit college in the early 1600s and now displays the island's colonial history. The island has still more churches,and mosques to explore, with its great pier extending out into the channel, the ideal place to catch the daily, glorious African sunset with a cold beer and local seafood snack.

Connected to the mainland by a very interesting two-mile, one-lane bridge, the two-mile-long island is far from the capital Maputo. Once you make the effort to get here, you discover a great hideaway from the hustle of the mainland. Half of the island’s old colonial city has been beautifully reconstructed, though still rustic, while the rest remains in ruins, still waiting to emerge from the destruction of a civil war that saw the Portuguese withdraw in 1992.

With the red and orange sunlight still lingering in the clouds, it’s back to enjoy one of the various restaurants and hotels, each with their own local flair unique to the island. En route, I loved walking by the statue of Luís de Camöes, a Portuguese poet who lived and wrote here many centuries ago, inspiring my creativity. If only I, too, could spend two years here as he did, I would write and paint my stories.

Exploring further, you reach the local Macuti town in the southern half of the island. Formerly the source of labor and stone to construct the grand city of European power further north, today it is a bustling hub of local merchants and tradesman. The locals live an island life, finding sustenance from the sea, and the youth take to the streets in the evening.

Ultimately, we make our way back to a tranquil beach absorbing calming warm ocean breeze and colors, past the ancient cemetery, down quiet streets, savor a local Portuguese dinner of giant lobster prawn and experience a feeling of peace so rarely felt on the road. I pledge to return.