Pemba Bay Mozambique (Port Amelia on the marine charts at 13 degrees South, 40 degrees 30 East) is not to be confused with Pemba Island north of Zanzibar. Pemba Mozambique lies 270 kms south of the Tanzanian border. 650 kms inland to the west lies Lake Malawi. Pemba is the capital of Cabo Delgado, the most northerly province of Mozambique. It is a pretty palm-roofed coastal town built at the mouth of an enormous natural harbour (said to be the world's 2nd largest). On the opposite side of the mouth, 2,5 kilometers distant, is Londo point, populated with giant boababs and exclusive holiday residences. It is part of the greater elephant migration reserve that sweeps down the coast from Mocimboa de Praia and then inland from Londo towards Montepuez and beyond. In 2007 a tourist was killed by elephants some 10 kilometers from Londo point and a lion invaded a village near the airport. The increasing presence of humans and their dogs has chased away the antelope and leopard that were to be seen only 6 years ago. It is a tropical paradise surrounded by clear aquamarine seas and spectacular coral reefs. Arab dhows with their characteristic lateen sails are prolific.
Not the ideal destination for the international traveller seeking comfort and efficiency, it does, however, provide a challenge to the intrepid adventurer wanting to discover a part of Africa still unspoilt by coastal high rise. Most visitors come for the beaches of golden sand and palm trees and coral reefs. Offshore diving and snorkelling is reckoned to be some of the best in Southern Africa. To the north lie 200 kms of lonely waterless islands and coral reefs, the Quirimba archipelago, named after the southernmost island in the chain. In the days of raids by local tribes and Madagascar war canoes, the administrative centre was on Ibo Island. Since the 1930's Pemba has taken over. Ibo's ruins and its fort are now a tourist curiosity.
Wimbi (meaning "waves") is a virtually waveless beach, and rainless from May to October. Here are arrayed most accommodation and other basic tourist facilities. It is about 5kms east of Pemba town itself. In the town you will find shops, banks, a pharmacy, restaurants, garages, a bakery with the freshest of rolls and bread (pao), baked twice a day. And, Yes!!!, we found a coffee shop where you can have a good cup of coffee and cake. The outdoor market, which is nearly 2kms long, has numerous stalls selling everything from spices to items of clothing. "Butterfly" foot pedal sewing machines, just like the old Singers, can be bought for R600. A visit is a must. The oldest part of town, the low town (Baixa) near the harbour, is a delapidated informal museum of traditional architecture and lifestyles.
The local people, the Makonde and the Mokua, will share their way of life with you and welcome you to their land with smiles while pressing you good humouredly and politely to buy their wares. They are master carvers and crafters of silver plated jewellery (much coming from Ibo in the north). Vendors are active on the beaches, the market and the airport. A warning: If you value your peace and privacy do not buy until you are leaving. The population of Cabo Delgado is 80% muslim (compared to 95% catholic from Nampula Southwards). Rape and murder are unknown, but "petty theft" is an ongoing problem.
There numerous grand baobabs, some estimated to be 800 or more years old. These are shrines for departed spirits and enjoy protected tree status. To understand better this spirit world read Ben Okri's "Famished Road". The traditional animist beliefs still lurk behind many of the outwardly muslim faces.
Pemba airport is close to the city. There are daily flights from Maputo. There are also direct flights twice a week from Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam.The 3000 kilometer road journey from Johannesburg is well worth the experience . No need for 4-wheel-drive, most of the way is good tar with only 150 kms of slow bumpy bad road remaining. The main obstacles are pot-holes and border posts (click Johannesburg to Pemba by Road for more details).
Make sure that the currency you are travelling with is in either cash US Dollars or cash Meticais. Visacard, Mastercard and Eurocard may be used to draw cash from banks, but not in shops or restaurants.
The Pemba Beach Hotel and CI Divers have card facilities. Rand bank notes can be changed at the banks for a good rate, but are otherwise not welcome. Restaurants, shops and hotels expect to be paid in Meticais, even if the price is quoted in US dollars. The Mozambique banking system imposes a 45 day delay on the clearing of travellers cheques, so traders refuse to accept them, but they can be cashed at a bank, for a fee. The "black market" in Pemba offers only marginally better rates than the banks, so is best avoided.
For South African passport holders visas are supplied without delay at all border posts and are good for 30 days. There is a small handling fee of Mtn60.
Once inside the country the visa can be twice extended by two more 30-day periods giving a total of 90 days.
Heavy fines are levied on persons who overstay their allotted time. For non-South African passports the visa procedure is more complicated and visas are best arranged ahead of time at the Mozambique embassy in Johannesburg.
Mozambique telephones generally work and are modestly priced. At month end, however, it can become impossible to make a call to Maputo or beyond due to exchange overload. Cellphone services (Mcell and Vodafone) are now operative. Teledata.mz provides a usable internet service, but is prone to unexpected down time, sometimes for several days. Electricity is 220 volt by way of two-prong European plugs. Power lines come direct from Cahora Bassa. Power is nowdays fairly reliable, but unexpected outages for a day or more still do occur, as do breaks in the water supply. A major curse is voltage fluctuation.
Pemba has a 100 meter blue water drop off only 500 meters away from the beach. It is just too far to swim there. Best to go by boat with CI Divers (+258-82-6822700) or Pemba Dive (+258-82-3132266).
Inshore there are kilometers of shallower reef hosting swarms of juveniles, and
some rare fish sightings. Water temperature ranges from 25 degrees C in winter (July) to over 30 degrees in summer (December). Pemba coral is healthy and boasts a high incidence of different species.
This is prime kayaking country, with the Quirimba islands to the north, and lake Malawi to the west. More locally there are the fossil coral cliffs of Londo and Pemba bay. It takes about one hour to paddle across the channel to Londo.
The prevailing winter wind is South East. For most of the year visiting yachts may moor safely off the north facing Wimbi beach in front of the Complexo Nautilus. Gales from the north occur during summer, which is also the rainy season, and yachts may then need to seek shelter inside the bay near the container berth. A visiting yacht may stay for only 3 months. After that period import duty must be paid or else the vessel must leave Mozambique waters. A 300 kms run to Mtwara in Tanzania, or 400kms miles to the Camores (preferably Anjouan) will ensure the necessary exit stamp, after which the yacht may return to Pemba for a further 3 months. Import duty is 65% plus IVA (Mozambique VAT) of 17% for a sailing vessel with auxiliary engine or power boat. Every Mozambique vessel, right down to the 10 foot dugout caixqinas, has to be registered with a number.
The current in the Mozambique channel determines the roughness of the seas outside the bay. Recent research has demonstrated that for about 50 days the current runs south, and then for another 50 days runs north or does not run at all. If the wind blows from the south then a north running current will produce relatively calm seas, and vice versa. There is no way to know which direction the current is running at any point in time other than to sail out into the open sea and see what is happening.
This north/south current phenonomenon is particularly important for those who wish to visit Lazarus bank, the fishing mecca 80 nautical miles north east from Pemba Bay. A northerly set to the current usually means flat conditions on the bank.
Pemba is 13 degrees South, and thus, in theory, inside the cyclone belt. Mayotte Island 300 miles away on the same latitude has recently had several mild cyclone hits (at the 50 knot level). Pemba, however, being on the mainland, and on the edge of the Southern Indian ocean cyclone belt, seems to be immune. None of those I spoke to had any awareness of having experienced a cyclone, notwithstanding that the Indian ocean cyclone track map indicates a hit by a minor cyclone in November 2002. There have, however, been some fierce winds from the North, but not at cyclone strength.
At Pemba the fish is ALWAYS fresh! At MT50000 (US$2,20) a kilo (with its guts) you can buy and cook your own, if you wish. Several restaurants are within walking distance of Complexo Nautilus, including the Pemba Dolphin, Pieters Place, and the Nautilus' own restaurant. Pemba Beach Hotel will give its guests a ride there in its bus. Prawns, crayfish, and giant swamp crabs are fresh and cheap.
In town is "Sammy's Bar" with excellent and well priced food and adjacent thereto a "Chinese" restaurant. Head west down the main road in town. Just past the intersection with Standard Tota Bank on your left (and the M-Cell stall on your right) you can turn right into the parking area.
On top of the cliffs on the South side of town is the South African restaurant "556" which overlooks the main harbour and serves large juicy tender steaks flown in from Nelspruit. The pizzas are magnificent, and the wines are quality South African imports. On a good night the bush babies sit and catch insects near the lights in the trees outside.
There is a good hourly bus service running East from Pemba town to the lighthouse. There are a few taxis charging MTn200 for a ride from Wimbi beach into town. Car hire is expensive at US$120 per day. Hotel reception can arrange a private car hire at about US$50 per day. Petrol and diesel cost about MTn30 per liter.
This is malaria country. The prophylactics doxycycline and larium have unpleasant side effects (particularly larium) and only give 90% protection. The prophylactic malleron has no side effects but costs US$10 per tablet. Those who stay for long periods at Pemba do not use any prophylactics. The symptoms of malaria resemble flu: aching joints, a headache between the eyes, runny tummy, sensitivity to bright light, and a need to lie down all day (but often little or no temperature). Pemba residents are divided on what is the proper treatment.
However there is general consensus as regards coartem (contains artimesan) as the ultimate cure (recommended for body weights up to 75kg and, as yet, not FDA approved in USA where quinine injections must still be used). If malaria is suspected, but not severe, one should try taking a heavy dose of doxycycline (2 tablets 3 times a day with meals). Delay with treatment can be fatal. And remember: WHEN VISITING A CITY DOCTOR BACK HOME EMPHASISE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN IN A MALARIA AREA - IF HE SAYS YOU ARE FINE GET A SECOND OPINION - HE MAY NEVER HAVE SEEN A CASE OF MALARIA IN HIS LIFE BEFORE. There has been at least one death due to incorrect treatment by a city doctor. If you have been in a malaria area and are feeling seriously ill, treat yourself for malaria regardless of medical opinion to the contrary. The incubation period is a minimum of 7 days, but symptoms may not appear until about 2 weeks after being infected. Men, on average, seem to have greater natural immunity than women.
It is safest to visit in the dry season (May to October).
The best prophylactic is lots of mosquito repellent and long garments at dawn and sunset. You cannot get malaria unless the mosquito has already sucked blood from some other person who has malaria. Residing away from local people who may have malaria is recommended. Public toilets are an ultra high-risk zone. It is safer to use the bushes.
Of the 4 species of malaria parasites Pemba hosts two:
1) Plasmodium Falciparum which is responsible for the most serious form of the disease and the majority of deaths. It is also the one that if not properly treated is most like to become cerebral malaria (involvement of the brain capillaries), but any type of malaria can become cerebral;
2) Plasmodium Vivax which can remain in the body and reoccur at intervals. Note that once in the body all malaria is carried by the circulatory system to the liver, from where it leaves the liver to invade the red blood cells.
For more info see articles by the late Dr David le Sueur and Dr Lucille Blumberg:
DDT, banned worldwide for agricultural use, is now back in fashion for fighting malaria. It is the only poison that has proved effective against mosquitoes (Time Magazine 26 July 2004 at page 50). Pemba City Council regularly sends staff out to dust the interior of houses. DDT remains banned for agricultural use.
"Soft" landmines: The local habit of using the beach as a toilet has not completely died out, despite legislation, so watch out for soft landmines when strolling east along Wimbi. Municipal toilets were erected but stand disused (the toilet bowls have been stolen). One wonders why the authorities have not had the vision to install open air public floor level toilets, as has been done in Tanzania.
Watch out for coconut palm trees. A falling coconut can spoil a good holiday.
Bottled water is readily available at about MTn25 per liter. The municipal tap water is treated and drinkable (most of the time). Some permanent Pemba residents filter their water before drinking it. Boiling is preferred by the ultra-cautious. But then cholera is a serious matter.
There are attractive properties for sale at giveaway prices (US$5000 and less in Pemba town). But be warned - the land of Mozambique cannot be bought. The only title you can get is a concession to build, and that only if you are a permanent resident, or a corporation. If you do not build within the specified time the concession lapses. However, once you have built, and the building inspector is satisfied, you can then register permanent title to the house.
A non-resident may buy and own a completed house. ALL productive trees (coconut, banana, caju) are owned by someone. You cannot get a building concession until you have bought out all the tree owners (and new trees have been known to pop up overnight). Once you own a house you are EXPECTED to employ a day watchman and a night watchman. These men double as gardener and housekeeper. They are also essential to preventing petty theft. The going rate is MTN3600 per month (R1200, US$120), and there are plenty of good candidates.
The water carriers in the photo are a reminder that notwithstanding the new popular Government in Mocambique water is only available at a price. Public water supplies are scarce in Pemba city (unlike in many of the smaller towns). The less affluent residents of Pemba have to walk long distances for drinkable water. The manipulations for free water from landowners along the way is entertainment for the idle onlooker, but also a disturbing commentary on a failure of the new wealth to reach the poor.
The coastal area for some 200 kilometers north of Londo, and running west for the same distance inland, has recently been designated a conservation area with special emphasis on the migrating herds of elephants.
CI Divers and Pemba Dive are co-ordinating efforts to enforce existing conservation laws to preserve the corals and sea life in the area. The poverty of much of the local Pemba population leads to the plundering of the marine resources merely to survive. This is a worldwide conservation problem. It follows that industrial development and job creation in the area will greatly assist the conservation effort. VISITORS ARE URGED TO SUPPORT CONSERVATION BY REFUSING TO BUY SEA SHELLS AND TURTLE CARAPACES.
The forests: Inland from Pemba are great forests. Timber cutting is big business up and down Northern Mocambique. This is strictly regulated by the Government with an emphasis on the cutting of dead and sick trees only. A permit is required to transport timber by road. The timbers of Cabo Delgado are very dense (heavy) running some 1000 kilograms per cubic meter, and more and do not float. Most timbers are available at about US$750 per cubic meter (cut to your specifications). The most common types are:
Those who would like to see more of the forests (and also elephants and birds) should visit the "bush camp" maintained by Koos von Landsberg at the foot of a massive inselberg complex at Ancuabe near Montepuez (about 150kms from Pemba). Access in the dry season is possible with a HiLux 2x4 bakkie. Koos has a Unimog and a tracked personnel carrier for the wet season. This is a mountain climber's and hiker's paradise. The flowers come out in January and February (along with the flooded rivers). There are separate chalets and a magnificent mosquito-proof boma. Koos can be contacted on +257-82-6633570.
Slices of marbleFine marble, mainly white, is mined at Montepuez (150 kms inland) and cut into sheets at the factory and sales outlet at Pemba. Broken fragments can be purchased for US$40 per cubic meter, a popular local paving material. The good unbroken sheets cost a lot more.