Imagine all the people living life in peace, sung John Lennon in the early 1970s.
At about the same time all those years ago Mozambique was heading for a period of extreme conflict that was to last almost three decades.
Our guide on the first day in Maputo rattled off the time-line: “Two wars that went on for 27 years, the colonial war, the second a civil war that raged for 15 years… the peace treaty was signed in 1994.”
Of course, as we all know there is nothing civil about war and nobody wins.
Though, today the people of Mozambique are embracing peace. They are at peace with themselves, the world at large and especially visitors to their wonderful country.
The wounds have healed, even though some scars remain... such as some sidewalks and roads that haven’t been upgraded in 25 years or the grubby buildings crying out for a bit of maintainance.
There are exceptions. Most notably Maputo’s flagship Polana Hotel that underwent a facelift completed in 2009 and is now a truly world-class establishment.
“It was a little run down after all the troubles, but you can see how magnificent it is now,” said Luis Nhaca who has worked at the Polana for 32 years – most of them as head doorman – and has badges from around the world covering his suit to prove it.
“Everything was made bigger and better and you have seen the swimming pool.”
It would be difficult to find anything to better the pool and its setting overlooking the sparkling Indian Ocean. However, there was one casualty of the revamp… the casino that drew punters from South Africa like moths to a light when Maputo was Lorenzo Marques and casinos were (itals)verboten(unital) in the Republic.
But all is not lost (then again, gambling houses rarely lose) as the Polana Casino moved to new premises a short ride from the hotel. It was completed in 2006 and a new restaurant, Divino, opened last year.
And, according to Cape Town photographer and travel writer Yolanda Saayman, Divino’s prawns are divine.
“I ordered the queen size prawns which was a huge helping, so I cannot imagine size of the Kingsize or Tiger prawn servings,” she recalled. “They were so fresh it seemed they hadn’t been out of the sea that long.
“The peri-peri they were cooked in was soooo tasteful and not overwhelming like you often find. It was definitely the best I have had, including when I was in New Orleans.
“That meal validated the hype and fuss about the legendary LM Prawns we only read or hear about. I would go back just for that.”
For the time being she will have to remember the world’s best prawns or imagine the barmy July weather north of Maputo to that of a wintry Cape Town.
First stop 470km north is the town of Inhambane with its out-in-the-open arrival/departure “lounge”… great in mid-year, just the opposite in the rainy season.
Luggage loaded, it’s a 30km ride in an open jeep to the Barra Beach Club, through countryside of coconut trees and grass huts that look as though the smallest huff & puff would blow them away.
But locals, who produce most of their own food and seem to want for little, reckon their homes are fine and swiftly repaired with a few coconut palm branches.
John Lennon could have had the people of Inhambane in mind when he penned: Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can; No need for greed or hunger; A brotherhood of man; Imagine all the people; Sharing all the world.
The kilometres-long beach at Barra is shared by many. Scuba divers, snorkelling enthusiasts, youngsters selling the freshest prawns this side of the equator and travellers who realise they’ve discovered a premium chill-out destination.
Next stop up the coast – about 30 minutes in the air – is the international airport at Vilanculos, transfer to a 12-seater, single prop plane where passengers can chat with the pilot during the 15-minute flip to Bazaruto Island and the stunning resort of Indigo Bay… a chill-out spot in a league all of its own.
A visitor could spend half the day walking the beach between Zwnguelemo Point and Mulidza Point (the two points protect the resort from either north of south winds) and the other half lounging at the pool cocktail bar, with “bar stools” in the water… life jackets recommended.
Another option is to try your hand at some of the activities offered. Giving everything a go would need at least two weeks on the island.
Besides bird watching, horse riding and sand boarding on some of the most spectacular dunes, all other activities are on the ocean or in it.
Imagine scuba diving at 2-Mile Reef, snorkelling at Neptune’s Reef or big game fishing in the deep blue Indian Ocean.
Alex Lucas Zivane, skippers the resorts fishing craft, has lived on Bazaruto all his 27 years and knows the island and surrounding sea as well as his weather-beaten hands.
“When I take fishermen out I guarantee they will catch something big,” he beams. “The prize catches are Marlin and Sailfish, but they must be released back into the sea.
“But there are plenty more, such as Dorado, King Fish, Yellowfin Tunny, Waho and Barracuda.”
Zivane also takes guests on sunset cruises in a Dhow while another excursion is the 8km trip to Paradise Island (aka Santa Carolina), halfway between Bazaruto and the mainland.
“People spend the day, it has some of the best snorklling. They also like to see the old hotel there.”
And it’s the old Paradise Hotel that is stirring up interest and memories of “the good times” there in the 1950s and 60s.
Rani Resorts, operators of Indigo Bay, are planning to restore the hotel giving it a full-on retro feel.
“Environmental impact assessments have been done,” said Lindy Chazen of Rani Resorts. “And although the old hotel is to be knocked down, a lot of the original material will be retained and used in the new building.”
There are also grand plans for the piano from the old hotel and who is to play it when the new resort opens some time next year.
“Legend has it that Bob Dylan wrote the song ‘Mozambique’ during a visit to Paradise Island in the late 60s,” said Chazen.
The piano was recently moved to the manager of Indigo Bay, Andy Conn’s office.
“We have been in touch with Bob Dylan’s manager but Bob cannot recall where he wrote Mozambique,” said Conn who added Dylan was top of the list of people to perform when Paradise is revisited. - Weekend Argus
Sadler’s trip was sponsored by SA Express, LAM (the national airline of Mozambique), Dana Tours of Mozambique and Rani Resorts.