Paradise Is Pretty Pomene - Mozambique's Best Kept Secret
An urban legend claims Ernest Hemmingway would fly into Pomene, stay at the hotel on the dune and do marlin fishing there. I doubt it, but I wish he had. It’s such a good story. Romantic. It would’ve suited the daredevil he was, and he would’ve caught tonnes of marlin.
Once again, driving up to Pomene gave me an insight into the lives of Mozambiquans, the landscape, and the changes in vegetation as we drove north into a subtropical climate—giant Baobabs and coconut palms along the roadside. I later learned that one could buy Baobab juice along the road, the white liquid easily identified. I wish I’d known. The fruit is palatable and very healthy. I will find the medicinal qualities, and if we can buy a Baobab fruit, we surely will.
Turning off the EN1 meant the rest of the way would be on a dirt road. The only confirmation of my memory was the distinctive red-ochre colour of the sand, which soon had us stop to deflate our tyres. While Butch did that, I made lunch, which we had while slowly churning our way in a north easterly direction to the ocean.
My recollection of the road to Pomene is a long, straight road through grassy vegetation. The reality was everything but that. Could it be that the trees had become forests in two decades? Of course. I could recall the subsistence farming and small villages but not the many rivers and swamps. The roads, of course, were in a horrific state. The three new bridges are a life saver especially since the rivers are in full flow.
I had to remind myself that the landscape changes dramatically during the wet summers and dry winters. Of course, Freddie had also beaten its way through these areas recently, and, to make matters worse, not once but returned with a vengeance once it had finished its destructive path in Malawi. There were dongas in the road where the torrential rain had streamed, becoming rivers of muddy water. Text book soil erosion.
Ahead of us, we noticed a large pool of water flooding the road, Butch, who’s experienced this before in Botswana, wisely decided to check on the depth of the water. We both realised it would be impossible, it was a small lake! Fortunately, the chief in the area, Joe, heard our rumbles and came over to confirm Butch’s findings and showed us the detour which would eventually join up with the old track.
I couldn’t help but smile at Joe’s T-shirt sporting the words “Hart’s old Farts.” We were keeping good company.
He said they had experienced a lot of rain quickly, if memory serves, about 280mm in a few hours, but no lives were lost, and the destroyed homes were being rebuilt. He seemed pretty jolly and unfazed. Everything has happened before, and the worst cyclone, Idai, hit them in 2019.
Large trees with overhanging branches had us reduce our speed even more as we approached the hills where sub-tropical indigenous forests carpeted the earth from horizon to horizon. Soon mangrove swamps appeared as we neared Pomene. These I couldn’t recall at all. I only had eyes for my beloved then!
The damage caused by Cyclone Freddie became more evident. Palm trees were strewn about, some cassatas had lost their roofs, and entire homes were lying on the ground looking like a discarded plaited palm frond carpet left out to dry.
Rito, the previous village chief’s grandson, now the community camp’s manager, welcomed us and showed us to our campsite on the beach.
He said there was no danger of more winds or storms as Freddy had already returned from Malawi and lost its mojo on the way out. Thankfully, we thought. At the same time, he reassured us there had been minimal damage and no lives lost. A coconut dropping from the tree onto someone’s head would be more serious. Good to know. We could relax, kick off our shoes and enjoy the sunset he suggested. "Aye-Aye captain!"
A while later, Rito reappeared with a fresh Doraudo (Dorado) caught by the fishermen that afternoon. He’d clean and fillet it for us.
Butch braaied the fish for supper. Nothing is better than a fresh fish on the beach, the only sound; crashing waves as the tide rolled in. We were exhausted and soon ready for bed.
Rito, our guide, would fetch us in the morning when the tide was low to take us around the point so we could witness the blowholes. We thought that a sterling idea.
After coffee and rusks on the beach, while the sun lit up another perfect day, we wriggled our way into our swimsuits, got our hats on and waited for Rito to fetch us for our walk. The tide was receding nicely, and we could see the rock shelf below the cliff start appearing.
Rito, a seasoned fisherman who’d grown up on this stretch of beach in his small village amongst the coconut palm trees, showed us how he harvests fresh bait on the beach— weilding a machette he'd carve a hole into the sand. A thin shaft of reed is then inserted into the hole. The correct spot would be where the waves had just wet the hard sand but would not return he instructs.
The worm would latch onto the inserted blade of reed; once attached Rito swiftly flicks his hand and pulls it up quickly, and in the same motion, he swings and beats the long worm against the hard, wet sand. I’m too squeamish for the beating, and the worm looked similar to a snake. Although impressed by the skill he’d mastered, I closed my eyes as a shudder went through me. I had to stop my feet from running. Eels (which we saw later) and snakes are not my thing.
We were very excited to set off on this voyage of discovery. Behind us there wasn't a soul on the beach. It was us, the sea, sky and solitude. Priceless.
The rocky shelf, where hundreds of thousands of crabs lived beneath the cliff, became more exposed as we walked along, exposing caves, caverns and pot-like pools filled with small subtropical fish, coral and sea grasses. Watching and exploring these wondrous phenomena at low tide on foot was fascinating. The small, blueish crabs scattered in every direction as we approached or neared them.
Now and then, the sea would build up, and a large roller would crash onto the shelf filling some holes once more. We were very comfortable until we had to do some rock jumping. Some of us aren’t as nimble as we like to believe, but Rito was patient and assisted us.
Out of the blue, a large wave thundered down upon us, catching first Rito, who held his balance and then caught Butch with full force, throwing him against the barnacles on the cliff face, with their sharp, ruthless jagged needle points. Thinking he had taken the brunt of the crashing wave, I brought up the rear only to get a smack in the face too. I lost my balance, flip-flops, and phone while somersaulting backwards into a deep pool.
Once I’d recovered and pulled myself together, spluttering the last dregs of salt water from my nose and throat, I could focus on Butch and assess the damage. He’d sustained a few large cuts and bruises, and blood flowed ferociously from a wound on his ankle. Unless sharks got to him, he was fine, he assured us and would continue to safer, higher ground.
With a swift hand, Rito recovered my phone before it washed away or slurped up any water. After a quick dry and plunge into a bag of rice, it regained consciousness and was soon up to speed again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph the rest of our adventure nor the blow holes, and my flip-flops were lost at sea. Sometimes I need reminding that it's ok to experience something for my own enjoyment.
The blow holes, visible at low tide, are a sight to behold. The loud rumble as the water enters the cave, the build up as the cavern fills and then the force of the explosion and expulsion through a round hole in the rocks is orchestral. We’d heard about them from friends. Unfortunately, they are best viewed at low tide, and the cliff shelf is the only way to get there. We might’ve been a tad early, and the tide would’ve receded more, making it safer. This time the early bird almost drowned.
By the following day, we’d recovered and were ready to trek along the beach to see where the MSC passenger ship had anchored in the bay. Tender boats ferried passengers to the spit to enjoy a day on land. We were eager to see what all the fuss was about.
A walk along the beach is always good for the body and soul. Some say it’s romantic at sunset, and I say it’s brilliant during morning’s first flushes, especially as the tide recedes. That’s when treasures washed on shore during the high tide lie exposed on the beach, ready for the picking.
Butch and I have reached a compromise. Sometimes I walk faster than he does, but sometimes he speeds things up, and I slow down to do beachcombing. We meet at our turning point to enjoy the views and take some water and whatever snack we’ve taken along for our beach picnic.
With our bums on a piece of driftwood, we discuss exciting things we spotted or encountered. This time the flocks of seabirds scavenging along the water’s edge are marvelled at. A few years ago, nasty black crows were the only birds in abundance.
Passengers who disembarked were treated to a picnic lunch on shore, the staff of a resort, surrounded by beach and mangrove swamps, told us, after which they could visit a market set up by locals where they could buy trinkets produced in Mozambique. There was ample time to enjoy the sights, to walk around and stretch their legs before they rejoined the ship at 16h00.
On our return, we decided to visit the old hotel sitting derelict and unloved on the dune. Forlornly keeping watch over the ocean, hoping someone would someday return to resurrect it and build it up to its former glory. Rooms with magnificent views. Portuguese tiles in blue, white and lemon. Large banquet halls and verandas where ghosts now enjoy sundowners. Nature, of course, doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet, and for the time being, the bougainvillaea, hibiscus, black mosses and delicious monsters will consume the walls, push up the tiles and nibble on the wooden architraves.
Villagers are hoping the Americans in the helicóptero will not lose interest. But they have conditions too, and not all the land, only sections of the headland. Progress is a greedy, insatiable beast. I want to say but refrain. When US120 million comes to play, it plays big and dirty and might swallow up the happy, carefree local inhabitants who have survived a war, hurricanes, floods and cyclones. Would they endure a big corporation? I doubt it.
We accepted Rito’s offer to prepare our dinner that evening, and I could watch him at work when he was ready and prepared with his ingredients. Food, as you know, is my passion, and I love learning new recipes and getting tips about local cuisine, flavours, and ingredients.
We would have his fried Baracutá with coconut rice and a simple salad for supper. The filleted barracuda is flavoured and marinated, for a short while, with chicken stock, garlic and finely chopped chilli and ginger before being lightly dusted with local stone ground flour.
The fascinating part of my masterclass was the preparation of the coconut milk. First, he had to climb the highest tree to harvest the freshest, ripest coconut. While he grated the coconut flesh on his special grater, I sipped fresh coconut water—a delicious thirst quencher, his baby daughter kept watch all the while.
To make the milk, water is added to the grated flesh. This mixture is then kneaded until a liquid is extracted and becomes milky. The milk is strained and bottled. The coconut milk can keep in the refrigerator for a few days, and I noticed the “cream” separated from the milk after a few days in the fridge.
The rice was cooked in equal parts water and coconut milk. Delicious. We’ve become very fond of the Mozambique-style “sticky” rice. Chopped or grated vegetables like carrot, onion, garlic, chilli, green pepper or slivered green beans are added for flavour and colour. All cooking is done on an open fire.
Having dinner served to our table is a rare treat. Our meal was scrumptious and incredibly special. Thank you Rito, besides being an excellent chef you treated every product with respect. I learned a trick or two from you, they will be employed in my cookery. To accompany our fish we had fiery local piri-piri sauce
Once we’d satisfied ourselves that no Hemmingway ghost was lurking in a dark corner of the hotel, we searched for the shipwreck. The colossal steel cargo ship, the Berea, was visible at low tide. The Berea ran aground in approximately 1960 and has been covered by sand for much of that time, and recent sea changes and currents opened the rusty wreckage up.
The well-known Wreckage Lodge overlooking the tidal pool and wreckage was closed during our visit. Covid and the consequences of a pandemic hit this piece of heaven and destroyed it, the final blow to the nail was Freddy. It would take a passionate person commited to the community to return to build it all up again. Finger's crossed it does happen.
Pomene is an off-the-beaten-track destination loved by serious and recreational fishermen who have hunted big game fish for decades. We’ve heard of people who, for many years, camped there after receiving permission from the village chief. At a reasonable cost, they were permitted to erect houses in the local vernacular and were fortunate to spend many golden holidays there. Unfortunately, these arrangements were not legal and mainly depended on the chief’s goodwill. A few years ago these properties were all confiscated. We understand that a few private properties are situated along the beachfront, and we assume with lawful paperwork in order!
Getting to Pomene requires at least a high clearance 4x2 vehicle, but I’d be more comfortable in a 4x4!
The community campsite is adequate, and the park and camping fees are very reasonable. Rito, the camp manager, is fantastic, helpful and an excellent guide. He can source fresh fish from the fishermen and negotiate an affordable price. Because Pomene is isolated, few locals speak English, but Rito is very proficient, making communication easy. He would be a good interpreter too.
There is a shop in the village but, it will only stock basics. We did buy lovely Pao (bread) from a renowned local baker, we were not disappointed. Take everything you need to Pomene and enjoy the solitude.
Thank you, Rito, for making our stay in Pomene so memorable. You were an excellent guide who became our friend, and I know you will make Pomene a bucket list destination for everyone who loves the sea and the quiet, where they can enjoy pristine beaches and be safe.
Rito accompanied us back to the main EN1, where he would spend the day visiting his sick aunt recuperating in hospital. He is a font of knowledge and could educate us on much of the history and the devastating civil war. His stories and local “gossip” was fascinating.
Before leaving us, he insisted on making sure we were set to go on our way. With one of my old flip-flops as a sample, he went off to the market to purchase a new bright, candy pink pair manufactured in Mozambique for me. He stocked our fridge with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and avocadoes. He also insisted we had fresh Pao for the road.
The chorus of voices shouting their farewells as Butch pulled off turned out to be a warning and cries of impending disaster! We’d hooked the town’s electrical cable on our slightly extended Wi-Fi aerial. The louder the voices shouted “aerial”, the more insistent and impatient Butch became, assuring everyone that the aerial was fine. It was not until Rito came flying across the street to tell us to stop, “Boss, you’re taking our power cable with you!” Embarrased we realised we were causing havoc. Thank goodness we could avoid a calamity. Bystanders were clambering all over the truck to release the two centimetre-thick cable from our protruding aerial. We were shocked at our stupidity and made a quick getaway.
To make a camping reservation WhatsApp Rito on +258 848 260 027
There is intermittent data connectivity. Data cards can be recharged in the village I believe.