GUARDIAN I’ve had indolence ingrained in me, laziness taught as a masterclass and torpidity thrust on me as the norm. In other words, I’ve been thoroughly chilled-out at a very comfortable thirtysomething degrees celsius in the little visited Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. But, stranger than my inertia, was my complete and utter inability to grasp time. I abandoned my talent for punctuality at Pemba airport – where all the wallclocks remained steadfastly stuck at six o’clock; a non-measurement of the here-and-now that told me this would be my kind of place.
Pemba town is a small, sleepy thatched settlement on the coast of Mozambique. It is claimed to have the third biggest natural harbour on the planet after Sydney and Rio – but that geographical anomaly is its only similarity with the two metropolises. Apart from the stupendous harbour, Pemba is also the gateway to the Quirimbas archipelago, an outrageously pretty group of 31 islands that stretch up the north coast towards the Tanzanian border.
A twin prop awaits me on the airport tarmac. It gurgles, then roars like a bomber from a 40s war movie as it shudders down the runway. The sound is evocative, it might be taking me back in time to Casablanca rather than across a few miles of bush and sea to Quirimba Island. The land below looks untouched by man; baobabs and scrub tumble down to white beaches and an ocean of preposterous, impossible azures. We buzz a few headless palm trees that look like so many puzzled telegraph poles and then land on a red-earth gash in thick, tropical undergrowth. I clamber into the back of a waiting pick-up, which bumps its way through endless coconut plantations, and jump out near a group of men lounging in the shade of an ancient tree. They’re angling for a lift with me – in a skiff that will splash us to Quilalea island.
Quilalea is not much more than a spot on the local map – and doesn’t exist at all in the atlas I inspected at home. It’s a tiny, exclusive resort that maintains its own time zone an hour later than the Mozambican mainland; an eccentricity that keeps it in tune with the sunrise. I was so blissed-out on my arrival that I didn’t notice the hour’s hiccup until it was pointed out to me – a watch is hardly necessary here.
I take to spending my afternoons lolling around in a string bed working on my tan and reading; a languid, tiring occupation that’s only relieved by a well-earned rum and Coke in the evenings. Supper is taken on the beach. During my idle chatter with the managers over lobster and wine, I’m told that a lion had wandered into Pemba town a month earlier. News travels slowly in these parts. I keep the doors to my bungalow wide open and have a solid, warm night’s sleep and waken to a wonderful view of the ocean.
My slow morning walk around Quilalea takes 40 minutes. The bush whirs and clicks – a frantic clockwork of newly wound insects are chirruping before the sun gets too hot. Through Heron Point, past a lacework of coral rock and on to Turtle Beach, I suddenly realise I have the place to myself. The quietness and solitude is intoxicating and I succumb to the overpowering lust for laziness on the small private beach outside my room.
A twinge of guilt forces me to flap down the beach in fins and snorkel. Within a few metres, the coral is luminous and lilac, sulphuric and yellow, khaki and green. Sea-cucumbers and starfish stretch on the bottom as if sunbathing. A school of butterfly fish the colour of autumn leaves are joined by a sixth-form college of blue fish flurrying to a deeper part of the ocean. A lugubrious turtle minds his own business below me. I’m entranced.
The next day a speedboat takes me to Ibo Island. An elegant blue bird stands nonchalantly on one leg watching my progress. The sniffy creature would look more at home sipping cocktails in a Manhattan drawing room than he does standing in an East African mangrove.
There are just two small guest houses on Ibo; I stay in a banda – a hut made from local matting – at the Bela Vista. It’s perfect, an idler’s dream that immediately casts a sleepy spell over me.
Ibo Island comes as a welcome and extreme contrast to the luxury of Quilalea. Once the Portuguese capital of Cabo Delgado province, the small town has since fallen into the most desolate and ruinous beauty. It is quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited. If you took Gabriel García Márquez’s village of Macondo from A Hundred Years Of Solitude and transported it from the Catholic legend of South America to Africa’s eastern flank, then you would go some way to understanding Ibo’s overwhelming magic.
All the roads have long since been reclaimed by nature and are mere ghosts of what they were, covered in a film of dust and grass. An ancient tumble-down villa has a car-less garage that hasn’t been used in decades. The hollow walls of other homes, their roofs and floors long gone, gaze emptily into the vanishing streets towards the old cathedral. I peer through a small hole in the church door and see a solitary man sitting amid the marvellous decay. I rattle the knocker to attract his attention, but he doesn’t stir; he might well be dead in front of the cobweb draped altar. It is romantic, charismatic and haunting. A remarkable town full of magnificent dereliction, tropical rot and equatorial stupor.
Ibo seems to have been created for dawdlers like me. By three in the afternoon, its already weak pulse slows and the streets become deserted. I sit on the broken promenade, sagging in the heat like an old dog, and stare across the grassy road to the beach and the distant cathedral. Minutes stretch; Ibo’s sorcery means that the small fragments of time I usually count in now have no end and tomorrow seems far, far away. I’m beyond chilled.
I break Ibo’s spell by cadging a lift on a fishing boat going to the mainland. The dhow creaks gently as it cuts through a sleepy sea freshly splashed out of a six-year-old’s paintbox. It took two and a half sun-drenched hours to reach my destination. Galudo Base Camp is charming, a resort that’s kicking the norm: it’s eco and ethical and bang-on. Wedged between the endless bush and sea, it seems to be on the edge of the world. Large tents are simply furnished with a bed, clothes stand, desk and laundry basket – you need nothing more. My shower is behind a curved bamboo screen; an alfresco spout that gushes from an old can into a marble heart-shaped drain.
Galudo village is about a mile away – and is central to the success of the Base Camp. Home to 1,500 people, it’s an archetypal African community, spotlessly clean and blindingly optimistic. A lizard a yard long nonchalantly marched out of theundergrowth and slid into the village waterhole. None of the women or children washing took any notice of the visitor.
The beach in front of Galudo Base Camp is 12km long, made of pure white coral sand and utterly deserted apart from me and one or two fishermen. Life here is ineffably lazy; nothing happens quickly. Food might be served when you eventually remember you’re hungry; a drink will arrive with a story; and a smile is absolutely guaranteed. Who could want for more? It is impossible to get any more chilled, nor any more wound down. Time grinds to a wonderful, tropical halt…