A picture postcard
Leaving Ilha by boat for Cabaceira Grande at high tide means you can sail all the way through the tops of the mangrove trees and up to the landing place just behind the church Nosso Senhora dos Remédios. Cabaceira Grande is just opposite Ilha on the mainland, one of the areas the Swahili population of Ilha moved to when the Portuguese occupied the island in the 16th century. The church is one of the oldest in Mozambique. It dates from the 1570s, with beautiful Goan decorations on the front porch added a couple of centuries later and after having been destroyed by warring zimbas, been rebuilt and given to and later taken from, the Jesuits expelled in the the 18th century. It has the most elaborately carved Indian flower pattern door I have seen in the district of Ilha de Moçambique. The church was renovated around 1900 and appears white and bright in postcards from the beginning of the 20th century. The last restoration works to the church were done in 1969, along with the extensive conservation improvements done to the whole of Ilha at the time, in order to make it into a “historic city” and prepare it for tourism.
The church is deserted apart from the caretaker coming out of a modern school building next door. The church is in use. There appears to be a congregation of eight souls in Cabacaira Grande. Behind this building starts a large coconut plantation belonging to one of the guesthouse owners in Ilha. Only the sound of a hundred coconut palms is heard, until you notice life in some of the small houses nearby and a child starts screaming violently. A short walk away, under swaying coconut palms, you see the substantial two story abandoned governor’s summer palace. The palace is mainly a construction from the 18th century, although there is a plaque on it saying it dates from the 16th century and there is a veranda of reinforced concrete with iron rods hanging loose. Someone has planted great quantities of tomatoes which are almost ready to eat, in the cleared garden behind the building.
A neoclassical educational institution from the late 19th or early 20th century, lies a bit further along the road. This building is also empty. However, under the palm trees between the large abandoned buildings, people have built small houses, and slowly we realise there is a bit of traffic on the road passing towards Mussoril. Another dhow lies next to ours in the landing place behind the church.
We enter the boat again, and captain Assumane skillfully manouvers the heavy sail made from canvas cloth in different shades of grey and beige sewn together, to move against the wind as we pass through the mangrove one more time. This time the desitnation is a bit further north, near the wide white perfect sand beach facing the open sea, which we reach by walking across a piece of land which is very narrow now that the tide is at its highest. The sun is just about to set. A running engine of a pick-up truck spoils the quietness reminding us of people collecting mangrove poles for the inteste construction works going on nearby, where the beaches are being developed for tourism. We choose to ignore this for now and enjoy a little quiet holiday out of time and place a short boat trip away from Ilha.
End of postcard. Back to work.