Gripped by a sudden desire to be on my own and leave the bustle of town behind, I decided to go on a solo expedition to the lighthouse on the far North of the island. This walk is only to be undertaken at low tide and I was told by Jorg, the owner of my hotel, just to follow the path north as far as I could until I reached some mangroves.
“If it feels a bit dodgy, just do it, you’ll be heading in the right direction,” was his sound advice.
I stopped in at the fort on my way past to say hello to everyone, forgetting momentarily that I was immodestly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Cadria could barely meet my eyes and I kicked myself for not having anticipated her reaction: after our shopping trip the day before, my wearing shorts was almost insulting. I beat a hasty retreat hoping she would have forgotten all about it by the following day.
The sun was hot but the walk was thoroughly enjoyable. After passing through a village of mud huts with racks of fish drying in the sun and a makeshift boat yard where children played around the skeletons of dhows, I was soon into the bush, basking in the sun and the liquid burbling of sun birds and orioles.
The walk to the lighthouse was long (nearly six hours there and back) but it was well worth it: not only did I have my first experience of being inside a mangrove, though unfortunately there was not a dugong to be found, I also encountered some interesting island characters – the turbaned fisher women catching tiny silver fish in a net floated with flip flops, the lone spear-fisher in the distance who floated like an apparition out of the mangrove and who I would later ask for directions, and, the fisherman on the rocky outcrop where I would find the lighthouse who told me that he knew the island like the palm of his hand and that I had to walk on the low tide line through the water instead of struggling, as I had been, over the razor sharp fossilized reef.
The lighthouse is perhaps the most isolated spot on the whole island. An island itself, it is cut off from Ibo’s mainland by a thick mangrove forest and is only accessible at low tide. No one lives here, only ghosts and itinerant fisherman who shore up to mend their nets and sleep in the shade amongst the purple flowers called ‘Beijo de Mulatta’ (Kiss of the Mulatta) and dream of big fish.
Two boys who were with the older fisherman showed me around the ruins of the lighthouse and the old lighthouse keeper’s house.
“It is beautiful here. And there are big fish in these waters,” said one of them, simply, when I asked what they were doing here.
They couldn’t let me walk back alone they said so they accompanied me all the way back across the bay to the beach path which I had strayed off earlier, pointing out treasures such a sea cucumbers and star fish on the way.
I arrived back at Miti Mwiri at around four, baked by the sun and covered in cuts and bruises where I had slipped on the reef, but elated. Not only had I made it to the lighthouse, I had also been bowled over by the beauty of the island. It is an idyll and the kindness and openness of its people is humbling. Everyone who I spoke to on my walk asked me who I was going with – “not alone, surely?”, they said. “Let me accompany you.”
Forget, ‘You will never be alone in Barcelona’ – ‘You will never be alone in Mozambique’, more like.