“It’s not just a pretty island; it’s a profound experience. I can’t explain it, but go, you’ll see.” Umm yeah, maybe, for dreamers, followers of fairies and wearers of crystals. I sceptically boarded “our” private boat from Inhassoro on mainland Mozambique, to this “profound experience” on Santa Carolina otherwise known by the whimsical as “Paradise Island”, part of the Bazaruto archipelago .
The sun seared my skin, and spray from the semi-rigid hull crunching into troughs of water slapped me with a kind of perverse respite. Finally slowing to a more dignified pace I loosened my numbing grip on the safety rope, wiped the stinging salt from tightly scrunched eyes and blinked to clear my vision. The last time I’d seen the water it had been a choppy inky blue, it was now the colour of Blue Curacao. The tranquil surface levelled to gentle swells. Ahead the Curacao became luminous aqua, then flawlessly clear, the pure white sand beneath glistening in the dancing rays of light that bent and refracted in the lapping water. Okay, so it was pretty, and tall palm trees dotted along the coastline did add an air of romance. I turned to my husband, Gerrit. “Nice place for a honeymoon.” He smiled and squeezed my hand.
Stepping off the boat into refreshing water my feet found firm but hedonistically soft sand. I scanned the shoreline – almost the full length of the 3.2 kilometre by 480 meter island. No signs of life. Silence seeped slowly into me. Ah well, the dry sand would burn like hell I was sure. Having grown up in sunny South African I knew all about hot sand and blistered feet. As I left a guilty trail in the comfortably warm pristine castor sugar sand I relaxed. Maybe its whiteness reflects the heat I mused, as the powder squeaked softly beneath my feet.
I sighed as I stretched out in a patch of welcome shade, my toes still luxuriating in the sand. The lyrics of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mozambique’ played in my mind. Back in the 60’s Paradise Island had been the playground of the rich and famous. They flocked to the glitzy casino hotel that dominated its main beach, landing on a private airstrip and revelling in the postcard perfection; while the war of indepence raged on the mainland with FRELIMO, the Mozambican Liberation Organisation fighting to overthrow Portuguese colonial rule. Poor Bob, overcome by the island’s beauty had been inspired to pen a frivolous romantic song, only to be condemned by ‘global social conscience’ when it was released in 1976 – the one year hiatus between independence and the ensuing 16 year long Mozambican civil war.
Unable to resist exploring we left the beach and walked hand in hand beneath the blank gaze of elegantly arched “streetlamps” stepping carefully along uneven grey paving stones, crisp blue-green grass spiking through the myriad cracks to the abandoned hotel. Shattered windows, broken tiles and missing taps lent her the faded air of an elderly beauty debauched by the good life; vandalised by the occupying troops during the latter part of the war. We crossed the island in a matter of minutes, and discovered a curved triangular chapel jutting from a rocky promontory over glistening turquoise water. The sagging chapel appeared to have stood empty along with the hotel, but braided leaves and freshly picked wildflowers adorning the entrance and inside indicated otherwise. Only later would we meet the island’s caretakers and chapel’s worshippers, when they emerged from the depths of the hotel ruins as the sun weakened, to check that we intended to leave.
Drenched with perspiration from the mild exertion of exploring the island, entering the soothing , buoyancy of the water was like passing through an invisible shield into a different realm. The dappled underwater world magnified by my diving mask existed as it had for centuries, impervious to the changes on land. Tropical fish in shades of yellow, pink, mauve and red drifted silently by like flowers swaying in the current. A flash of electric blue darted into an underwater cave. Sea cucumbers, starfish and corals were spotlighted in turn by shafts of sunlight, bouncing flashes of clarity in the cosseting cool. When hunger drove me reluctantly ashore I was astonished to find that we’d floated in suspended reality for hours. Palm shadows stretched across the beach as we tucked into a picnic of seafood and home baked bread, and sipped on a chilled spritzer.
I didn’t want to return to the mainland. I wanted to inhabit this abandoned corner of paradise, wrap myself in the perfect blue bubble of light, soft sand and whispering palm leaves. I wanted to keep a lookout for dolphins, dugongs and even mermaids, while I listened to Bob Dylan sing of romance in his Magical Mozambique.
About the Author: Nikki Meyer, author of Game for Anything, has lived and worked in the Kruger National Park, South Africa since 1992. She and her husband have an off-road trailer and spend their spare time exploring some of the more remote parts of Southern Africa, with a preference for beach and bush.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.