Maputo - Buses groaning with people, trucks tottering under piles of rubbish, markets teeming with shoes, underwear, fruit and cellphone chargers, clear plastic bags full of cashews hanging from the trees like decorations, upturned cars and enormous fish thrust into the road like prostitutes – all this flashed past as we travelled north from Maputo on newly tarred roads that belied 16 years of civil war.
La Goa Ecovillage, just outside of Quissico, was our first stop after a long stretch of coconut and mango-lined road. Warned about 7km of at-times thick sand roads, we had no choice but to press on, wheels churning and clutch burning – once so tightly wedged in that we could leave our scooters standing upright, encased in a mould of sand. Fortunately there was no shortage of Mozambicans to give us a helpful push, till arms and legs aching, we arrived at the “million-star” backpackers and eco-lodge known as La Goa.
Built completely out of natural materials including traditional grass and coconut wood, La Goa lives the eco-friendly ethos, while solar-powered lighting, bucket showers and community empowerment secure their eco-friendly credentials.
Stopping only to eat entire pineapples like giant lollipops on the side of the road, to chat to local police who found our scooters more interesting than seeing our licences, and to buy mangos so cheap they were practically giving them away, we made it to Vilanculos, the furthest point of our journey so far (10 000km and counting) and where we’d be turning back for Cape Town.
As the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique’s only underwater national park, Vilanculos sees a steady stream of tourists, many of whom opt to depart for the islands by helicopter. Desperate to find a more eco-friendly option, we managed to stow our scooters at Smugglers (a guesthouse and restaurant that is a veritable landmark in Vilanculos) and catch a ride with This is My Good Luck, a wooden dhow that transports numerous locals to and from the islands.
With nearly constant ocean spray and a drop off the boat into knee-deep water, we arrived at Benguerra Island dripping wet, pleased with ourselves for having avoided the environmental pitfalls of a helicopter. Welcomed with lunch on the deck next to water that was, well, azure, we settled in quickly to the luxurious life at Azura Eco Lodge and Spa – where having your own villa and a butler to meet your every need is part of the package.
The lodge was initially established as backpackers called Gabriel’s, after its major stakeholder Gabriel Cossa, and is testament to his vision for an eco-friendly establishment that would benefit the wider community. Apart from solar geysers, a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and reuse of greywater, the lodge has helped build the church, contributes to the local school and even plans a methane-fuelled soap-making community initiative.
We snorkelled Mozambique’s famous 3km reef, where we finally saw a loggerhead turtle, enjoyed a island hop and five-star picnic on the beach and a tour of Benguerra Island, which, at 11X6km takes in the whole village.
After another night at Smugglers, we set off for the French-run Dunes de Dovela, which offers safari tents and beach cottages in the heart of an indigenous coastal forest. With the beach a short walk away, sheltered pools great for snorkelling and a commitment to the community we’ve rarely seen before – Dunes de Dovela was right up our alley. More than 50 locals, most of whom could barely read or write, were trained extensively in construction while 15 of them received additional training in hospitality and are now employed by the lodge full-time.
Similarly, staff at Naara Eco Lodge and Spa, just outside of Chidenguele, have benefited from comprehensive training. Once the local construction team, staff are now trained chefs, waiters and bartenders. The lodge meets 80 percent of their energy needs from solar, supports local producers and is actively involved in community development.
We enjoyed a village tour to see some of the homesteads of Naara’s staff, kayaked the serene Nhambavale Lake, slept in luxury safari tents and we were even escorted back to our scooters by the chief. - Cape Times