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Far from the Madding Crowd in the Bazaruto Archipelago
 
 
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Far from the Madding Crowd in the Bazaruto Archipelago

Benguerra Island

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

As we approached the Pelican Air counter in Johannesburg, South Africa, I searched through my bag for our flight confirmation and passports. The woman at the desk smiled warmly and cut my efforts short, "Just your last names, please."

The realization of just how far we had traveled was immediate.

Twenty years of civil war and a history of famine have kept Mozambique and its Bazaruto Archipelago - one of Africa's most precious treasures - off the tourist path. Not for long. The government's commitment to democracy and foreign investment are slowly changing the face of this remote corner of Africa. And intrepid tourists are discovering its wonders, South Africans and Italians above all. They were the majority of passengers on the 18-seat twin turbo prop plane bound for Vilanculos, the gateway to the Archipelago. All well-healed tourists. No backpackers in site.

To fully enjoy Bazaruto, you need to adapt your concept of luxury. Although the resorts and lodges are sophisticated, here, luxury means getting as close to nature as possible. Our first brush with reality came shortly after landing. Visas purchased and luggage in hand, we were whisked to the awaiting boat in a comfortable minivan. As we approached the coast, we spied a craft anchored in the shallow water. That was it. There was no dock much less a harbor. Our initial uncertainty was short lived. In a matter of seconds our small group was removing shoes and socks, rolling up trousers and wading out to the sleek fishing boat.

The Archipelago, a national marine park since 1971, consists of five islands - Santa Carolina, Bazaruto, Benguerra, Margaruque and Benque. The 25-minute boat ride from Vilanculos to Benguerra Island, our home for a week, was the perfect way to arrive. The contrast between the deep blue sky, turquoise water and stark white sandbars rising up from the sea remains one of the most memorable images of our trip.

Snorkeling and diving along the Archipelago's virgin coral reef is an unforgettable experience. While isolation has carried a steep price for Mozambique, the dearth in tourism has ensured that this part of Africa's Indian Ocean coast is today unexploited. The diversity of marine species is phenomenal. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, my daughter and I rushed off to the beach, snorkel gear in hand, moments after we arrived. There were seashells everywhere. So many that we forgot all about snorkeling and busied ourselves examining each and every one.

The next morning we woke to find the beach roughly 100 yards - nearly a full soccer field - longer than the previous afternoon. The coves and inlets had been transformed into an endless stretch of sand. Wading in the shallow waters was nothing short of an underwater safari. There were starfish of every shape and color and seahorses frolicked in the reeds. "Look, a cowfish!", I cried. "Oh, there's a crab", my daughter shouted. The lodge staff suggested wearing water shoes at low tide. We were thankful to have followed their advice.

Returning home, I wondered which of the following memories would remain, a private picnic on Pansy Island, dune boarding on Bazaruto, snorkeling along a virgin reef or the solitude of an endless beach shared with but a lone fisherman.

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