Cowes Week is just a cruise around the dam compared to this spectacle of epic proportions. In November each year (some years are missed), the provincial governor sponsors a dhow race on Inhambane Bay. The competitors take this event very seriously as the prize money amounts to as much as a year’s earnings. Plan to be in the area during the Corrida de Barcos as Velas and you could witness, or even take part in, this unique challenge (dhows are for hire).
Around the shoreline along Tofo beach is a grassy mound on a small peninsula. Short limestone cliffs drop into the ocean where waves shoulder the rock relentlessly. This is Ponta Verde and here stand the remnants of a sculpture glorifying the victories of Frelimo. Just beyond this structure is a deep, narrow gulley, where bones of the victims of ‘kangaroo’ courts (summary trials held without proper proceedings or witnesses) could be found. If you are willing to risk climbing down this crevice, you could still find the odd femur or skull. But if you slip, your skeleton might become a tourist attraction too!
Maurice, the Ponta da Barra lighthouse keeper, is full of tales of times gone by. He recalls the days when Portugal paid him and his lamps burned with paraffin; today the beam is solar-powered, and he is not sure who pays him. Like Maurice, many folk are not here simply for the fishing and diving, and if you are a visitor of the more curious persuasion, draw closer to the point: watch the sunrise over the water where two opposing currents meet; jog down to Tofo and back; walk along the beach to the mouth of the mangrove estuary and at low tide, walk into the swamp and marvel at this delicate, complex ecosystem.
Sea of Zanj
The Sea of Zanj or Bahr-el-Zanj lies between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, from the east coast of Africa to beyond the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues). South African writer, T V Bulpin, wrote in 1957: ‘In the Arabian Nights there was such a sea. Sinbad knew it well, although in after years its name was quite forgotten. It was a fabulous sea of countless islands, strange and magic. It was a sea which nursed a lost world inhabited by nightmare creatures wandering through a whole greenhouse of fantastic plants. It was a sea of legends where dwelt the Roc, that monstrous bird which, it was whispered, could carry an entire elephant in its talons.
It was a mysterious wilderness of waters, a backblock of the Indian Ocean where the great rollers came sweeping in towards the shores of Mother Africa. It was the sea known to the Arabs by the ancient, long forgotten, but most honoured name of Bahr-el-Zanj.’
Diving with Dugongs
Dugongs are increasingly rare but can still be found in East African coastal waters, and at Linga Linga divers may even be lucky enough to observe them underwater. The young are born off-white, but darken with age to a deep slate grey. The skin is thick, tough and smooth. They are sparsely covered in short hair, except for long bristles on the muzzle. Adults use their flippers for steering, and tadpole-shaped tails for propulsion. The mammals are aquatic herbivores, feeding on sea grasses, algae and crabs. Feeding typically occurs in water 1–5m (3–17ft) deep. Characteristic wear and tear on tusks and tails is attributed to rooting and digging. Breeding occurs throughout the year. The exact gestation period is unknown, but is thought to be about a year.
Creatures of the Corals
Coral reefs provide a habitat for a large variety of organisms which rely on the coral for food and shelter. Decapod crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs, as well as fish like the parrotfish (Scaridae) depend on corals for shelter. Sponges inhabiting coral cavities as a protection from predators remove small chips of calcium carbonate from their hosts, thereby causing bio-erosion. Other organisms that inhabit the reefs are crown-of-thorns starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, clams, oysters, turtles and colourful sea anemones.
Keep off the Sand
Many of Mozambique’s flat, wide and hard beaches stand in such stark contrast to some of the available roads that motorists may be tempted to use them as freeways. Some argue that by keeping to the intertidal zone, below the soft sand where turtles lay their eggs, ecological damage is minimized. However, a closer look at the area that is exposed when the tide recedes reveals a multitude of tiny shellfish and sea lice, that must surely be crushed under the weight of a passing vehicle. In the past, various beaches have been used as landing strips, and racer Sir Malcolm Campbell even investigated the surface of Zalala Beach, north of Quelimane, as possible runway in a world land speed record attempt.
In his book Beneath Southern Seas, Tim Condon writes of Sylvia Shoal (2km; 11?5 miles from Morrungulo): ‘They abound in everything the sea has to offer, and every moment is like a chapter out of a Jules Verne novel. Indeed, I sincerely believe that, until a diver has dived on Sylvia Shoal, he (sic) has never dived at all.’ If the idea of diving with giant manta rays, docile whale sharks and big leatherback turtles appeals to you, then Sylvia Shoal, by all reports, is a good bet.