‘Off the Cuff’ with Luxury Africa’s Patrick Siebel

Patrick Siebel

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Fancy an extravagant and indulgent African adventure? Luxury Africa takes a sumptuous slant on ‘going bush’ with its bespoke, high-end service and insider knowledge of the top safari spots in Africa. Owner, Patrick Siebel chatted to JN.

My secret pleasure is … Driving a really fast & responsive car on a twisty but scenic mountain pass.

My first job was … Church Administrator at Glenridge Church International.

My most annoying habits are … Being pedantic about how things should look or are how they should be executed.

A clear childhood memory is … Skiing down a run on my own, straight up to a restaurant where I ordered something to eat. Davos, Switzerland – aged 4.

What makes me really nervous is … My kids being in a situation where they are not able to stand up for themselves.

The best advice my parents gave me was … You need to be able to sit on the side of the road with a beggar, yet just as effortlessly be able to have tea with the queen.

If I wasn’t a tour-operator, I’d be … an architect.

I’m most thankful for … God’s amazing undeserving love for me.

My favorite meal is … Sushi-Rainbow Roll Reloaded at Willoughby’s Cape Town.

I know it’s good for me, but I hate … exercise & watching what I eat.

A book I love is … The Shack by William P. Young.

A song that resonates is … Amazing Grace and What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong).

My ‘happy place’ is … Piloting a light aircraftit puts me in an immediate good mood!

My most embarrassing memory is … My mother suggesting that for a fancy-dress gymkhana at primary school, that I dress up as a scuba-diver (not sure how that related to the equestrian world but I agreed). Anyway, on the day when I put the wetsuit on she had brought to boarding school, it was so tight that I could not mount my steed. Instead, I had to lead my horse around the parade ground. Everybody just packed up laughing.

My hidden skill is … Being able to speak fluent German.

If I was a dog, I’d be a … Golden Retriever.

Luxury Africa Cape Town

It’s a bit corny, but I love … Having an afternoon nap on a weekend, after a long lazy lunch.

I’m most at peace when … I am in the presence of the Holy Spirit whilst worshipping God.

The country I’d love to visit … Antarctica.

Favourite quote … “We rule with the heart of a servant, we serve with the heart of a king” by Bill Johnson.


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For the love of Toyota

WE’RE ALL SET for our annual camping holiday and in the midst of it all, our trusty Toyota Prado circa 2000, perhaps in a covertly defiant act of consolidation with Toyota’s workers, has decided to give up the ghost.

It hasn’t entirely broken down, but personally, the air-conditioning suddenly only working on number four-speed and sounding like a tractor is tantamount to giving up the ghost. We are in the midst of a Queensland summer, after all. We have a rich history with our workhorse. It has endured the craters of Fraser Island tracks, several camping trips to remote areas of Moreton Island and Stradbroke Islands, a few family road trips to Sydney and more.

It has also pulled lantana out of our creek, bears the scars of my then three-year-old daughter’s artistic swirls with a disco ball on the tinted windows. It has been hailed upon, scratched by overhanging trees, dodged kangaroos … and all the while, its air-conditioning has soldiered on, giving us a reprieve on those long, hot trips.

The good news is that a new fan will fix the problem. The bad news is that the spare part will not arrive before we leave. Alas, cramming a family of five plus camping gear into my little run-around Yaris will be impossible. The family announcement that we will be travelling three hours to our destination trapped inside what boils down (no pun intended) to the bowels of a tractor engine has not been met with great glee by our teens. My attempts at reminding them all that this is the stuff of which memories are made, has fallen on deaf ears. Visions of National Lampoons Vacation come to mind …

We have attempted a little humour – even suggested we hire the preposterous sign language imposter from Mandela’s memorial because we certainly won’t be able to hear each other speak. A friend suggested loud music but we’re not talking gentle white sound here, we’re talking full-throttle tractor!

I am painfully reminded that perhaps I am not destined for car comfort. Years ago, as a young reporter, I also happened to drive a Toyota – an old green Ute nicknamed The Green Mamba. It was fairly trustworthy if it were not for the passenger door which flew open when I went around corners. My safety mechanism was a belt tied around the passenger handle and I’ll never forget the look on my colleague’s face when I forgot to tell her to hold on.

My love affair with Toyota’s, however, endured. It turned out South African thieves liked them too. I optimistically bought a Corolla which was stolen in broad daylight outside my work one morning even with steering wheel lock firmly in place.

So I changed to Datsun’s – one of which was bright orange Datsun 120Y nicknamed ‘Fanta Spew’ for obvious reasons. So popular was that one that I had locals hopping off buses at stop streets and begging me to sell.

I finally gave in and sold before it was stolen and bought another Datsun in a less conspicuous colour or popular model. Thieves gave me a reprieve of three months before they stole that one. I had a flutter with an Opel Cadet and a Renault as thieves apparently didn’t like those, and then finally acquired the love of my life, a vintage Datsun Sunny 1000.

While not exactly a getaway car, it was quaint, quirky and a match made in heaven. It was faithful right up until it caught fire while I was driving. A passing cyclist helped put out the flames but I’m afraid, that my last encounter with my adorable vintage car.

I felt as though I had come home when we settled in Australia and bought our Toyota Prado. Here was a  reliable car that would not be stolen in this safe-haven and could possibly outlive the dog. And it looked set to do that at just over 270 K on the clock and not missing a beat – until the air-con fan died, that is.

All I have to say is Toyota, please don’t go!

There’s one happy camper that still needs you …

© Lois Nicholls

This article appeared in The Courier Mail, 25th December 2013

KwaZulu-Natal – lots to love!

No matter how long I have lived away from South Africa, my love for the country never wanes. While our recent trip was limited to four weeks in KwaZulu-Natal, there was enough to feed the soul … until next time.

I love …

· Samoosas – piled high at the Karkloof Farmer’s Market … definitely worth returning for
· A R15 Nino’s breakfast in Durbs if you’re seated by 9am … the screech of tyres as would-be patrons frantically try and make the early bird deadline
· renegade zebras rubbing their rumps on lamp posts and walls at a Howick Lifestyle Village
· the creativity of Moyo – the African fusion restaurant on Durban’s Ushaka Pier
· Hot Horlicks on the menu and thatched roof at Piggly Wiggly on the Midland’s Meander
· Colourful grasshopper on Mount Currie
· The KZN countryside
· Oupa Hans’ pickled Peppadews
· Tsonga Handmade Farm – near the rural village of Lidgetton, where 160 women gather daily to create shoes, handbags and other accessories
· Local craftsman, Calson Mangeni, selling his iron works of art at the Karkloof Farmer’s Market
· Corner Post restaurant in Howick … their home-grown marinated olives sold at the Karkloof monthly farmer’s market are sublime … restaurant sample lunch time specials include char-grilled Greenfields skirt steak (rare) with a glass of house wine, beer or soda for just R60
· The sound of hadadas settling for the night
· The call of a dove
· Guinea fowl
· Nguni hide handbag bought in the Drakensberg and owned by friend, coveted by me
· Fish and chips at the Calabash Restaurant opposite Midmar Dam
· The Everything Shop on the road to Midmar Dam which lives up to its name, selling everything from potjie pots to pellet guns.
· Cycling along Durban’s upgraded beachfront with its post world cup wide promenade
· Durban’s new Moses Mabhida Soccer Stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup
· The disarming friendliness of small town locals

Forever favourites:

· Family
· Old friends
· Zambuk
· Wimpy wholemeal bread toasted chicken mayonnaise sandwiches with Famous Wimpy coffee … admittedly a bit daggy, but can’t help myself
· Cream soda floats
· A generous assortment of condiments on restaurant tables … it may seem like no big deal for locals, but believe me, it’s a novelty finding tobasco sauce on the table when living in a land where a measly sachet of tomato sauce costs 60cents
· Tomato Fritos
· Doodle nuts
· Giant beaded Madiba figure outside Jo’burg airport curio shop
· Mr Price Home – especially their locally designed cushions depicting South African themes
· Bovril (not the beefy stock brand but the unique taste that teams deliciously with cheese).
· Nederberg Edelrood
· Beaded milk jug covers
· Catties
· Chewy dried peaches that still taste of summer, ditto dried mango

Travels with my son

Thomas and I are incredulous. And it’s not because we are soaked through our clothes, from the spray of Victoria Falls. No, we are gobsmacked because we have just seen our first fifty trillion dollar note.

We are standing outside the Zambezi Blues River Cafe, a shady haven of a restaurant in the small town of Victoria Falls, having just strolled up into town from the falls. A very charming man is asking for R100 in exchange for a large wad of Zimbabwean dollar notes.

In his substantial pile are a couple of fifty trillion dollar notes, a few for five hundred million dollars and some for two hundred thousand dollars. My favourite is the pretty purple note for fifty million dollars.

”Will this money buy us a coke and a hamburger at the Wimpy?” I ask the man, thinking it’s worth a hundred bucks just to be able to touch such large denominations.

”Of course,” says Mr Charming and the deal is done.

”Here Tom, have fifty trillion dollars,” I say nonchalantly, tossing him a note as we make our way in the lunchtime heat to the local Wimpy.

I have come to Zimbabwe with Thomas, who is seven, because I wanted to be the one to show him Victoria Falls, to instill in him a spirit of adventure, a passion for the African bush and an enquiring mind. ”Will there be DSTV in the room?” is the main concern of this soccer mad boy.

Our plan is to spend three days seeing the falls and taking in the majestic 2700 km long Zambezi River, to see some wildlife and to bond.

On the way back, we are booked on to Rovos Rails’ train for a three-day journey  from Vic Falls to Pretoria. The train, famous for its food and known as the most  luxurious train in the world, will take us through the Hwange National Park in Botswana, through towns like Francistown and Gaborone and on to Pretoria.

My only real issue is whether we will be able to maintain the necessary table manners for such luxury, but we have been practising.

Apart from a rather vociferous spat over the use of my camera next to the imposing statue of David Livingstone and one violent altercation over manners during dinner at our hotel, we have, so far, survived quite well together on our African adventure.

Picture 205
I have fielded his questions about our trip to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World: ”Why is it called Victoria Falls?”

”They are named after a queen of England.” ”Oh, was her name Victoria Falls?”

And:  ”Will Robert Mugabe be there?” ”I don’t think so.” ”How do you know?”

We are based at the gracious Stanley Livingstone Hotel, where we spent our first day unwinding on our verandah and keeping a running list of all the game that come to drink at the water holes, just outside our room. So far we have seen baboons, warthogs, zebras, kudi and impala and an endless array of birds, from storks to hornbills to nightjars.

We take our trillions and walk to the Vic Falls Wimpy, which has a smashed window but is still operating from a side kiosk. When I slap my fifty trillion dollar note on the counter, the woman serving us refuses to take it.

”We don’t use that money any more,” she says. ”Only US dollars and South African rands.”

The newspaper vendor won’t give me a copy of The Herald. No, not even for fifty trillion dollars. The men selling nyamanyamas and tigers’ teeth don’t want it either. They are far more interested in our rands – or Thomas’s Arsenal cap. Or any spare clothes we might happen to have.

I realise we have been duped by Mr Charming and that, quite simply, Zimbabwean money doesn’t work any more. I later learn that, not long after a 100 trillion note was introduced in January, and the currency became a laughing stock, the government decided that all business in Zimbabwe will be conducted in other currencies.

Our trip, since flying in from Johannesburg a few days ago, has been action-packed: We have spent a morning watching wild game from the back of elephants, and an evening watching the sun set from a boat on the Zambezi River.

Thomas has already seen a number of crocodiles and the gape of an angry hippo in the wild, beautiful Zambezi.

Friends and colleagues who visited Vic Falls a year or two ago painted a grim picture of dire poverty and need outside the fenced-off resorts. But the over-riding sense is that the worst is now over for Zimbabwe.

Take, for instance, the lobby at the Shearwater adventure company, where we bump into people from Jo’burg, Germany and Japan, signing up for the bungi jumping, river-rafting and game drives which the company offers. It’s hard to keep people away from the roar of the Zambezi.

We have experienced nothing but friendliness, humour – and indeed, optimism from the local people we have met so far – the hotel staff, the guides from Shearwater, the traders at the markets and the other locals. We have discovered, to Tom’s delight, that Zimbabwean men are as crazy about soccer as he is.

Like Tendai, the waiter at the Stanley-Livingstone. He might not be an Arsenal man like Thomas, but, in between placing white breadrolls on our plates with silver tongs, he has Thomas rivetted with his view on English soccer teams and a promise to kick a soccer ball in the hotel gardens. We later learn that Tendai is anxiously waiting for news of his baby daughter, who was one of a large group of infants who have become seriously ill because of a botched government innoculation drive. ”They gave the babies the wrong vaccination. Lots and lots of kids are sick,” he says.

He promises to keep us posted on her progress. ”That’s Zimbabwe,” he shrugs, walking off to fetch our next course.

We put away our wad of Zim dollars and I fork out some rands for a few newspapers, all of which have, as their main story, the news that one of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF vice-presidents, Joseph Msika, has died at the age of 85. Later, we see flags flying half-mast at police-stations and other government buildings.

We meet our guide, Ben at the Shearwater headquarters for our next adventure – a night game drive in the 6000 hectare Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve.

We are part of an interesting group: A Japanese vet, a young couple who work in banking in Harare and a glamourous Zimbabwean woman who works as a diplomat in an east Asian country.

Our driver, Mike, is a laugh a minute and full of bush anecdotes. Thomas joins Mike in the front seat of the vehicle and, before long,  is acting like the main man, giggling helplessly at Mike’s banter.

Zebras, Mike tells us, are just donkeys in pajamas. When we see a warthog scuffling not far from a group of four buffalo, he says, ”there you go, you’ve seen the big five”. He stops the vehicle in the dark and whispers: ”There’s a lion on the road.” It turns out to be a telephone line. Thomas loves that.

He tells us that elephants, who eat an enormous every day, can grow to a weight of 7000 kilograms. Our jolly group erupts with joy when we drive past a group of elephants which includes two babies.

Mike tells us that elephant dung, mixed with water or burnt and inhaled, is a great pain reliever, especially for women in the throes of labour.

”I used it when I was in labour,” says the diplomat, from the back. ”It was wonderful. I hardly felt any pain.”
As it gets darker, Ben hands out some thick blanket jackets and we settle in to an evening in the bush.

More warthogs, elephants, buffalo, baboons, zebras. In the middle of the reserve, we almost drive into two men with guns slung over their shoulders. ”Poachers,” we gasp. ”No, they are members of the anti-poaching unit,” says Mike.

”When it comes to poachers, we shoot first and ask questions later,’ he adds – and Thomas, enthralled, gives a macho shudder. The Stanley & Livingstone Reserve is particularly proud and protective of their black rhino, particularly as they recently produced some babies. We are on high alert to spot the babies, but tonight we are out of luck.

We stop at a simple camp, where a bush supper of kudu stew has been prepared for us. We sit under the African moon, over a few beers and we talk.

”I don’t know how we survived 2008,” says Ben. ”There was a time when the governor-general was just printing money.

The people in our little village were all so confused, we did not know what to do. Shopkeepers were baffled. Businesses refused to take the money. We just gave up. For about four months, there was total confusion. People did not know how they were going to live.”

Then Ben and the Harare banking couple compare notes on the past few years in their country, its recent humanitarian crisis, the cholera outbreak which killed more than 3000 people, the hyperinflation  and the desperate nationwide shortage of food.

”I wasn’t paid for seven months,” adds the ambassador, who is back in Zimbabwe for her annual leave. ”How do you survive like that? Luckily I have a child working in London. Without that help, I would not cope. I have a son at university and a girl still at school.”

But the Harare bankers believe that, since dollarification and the slow but steady political changes, things are turning around.

The death of Msiki – who succeeded the late Joshua Nkomo in 1999 and who famously called opposition supporters “imigodoyi” (useless dogs) is perceived as another small step towards wrestling power away from Mugabe.

”There are still big problems. Civil servants only earn a hundred dollars a month. That doesn’t even cover their costs. But business and economic activities are picking up in Harare. International companies are trickling back.

What will it take to pull Zimbabwe back to its rightful place in the world, I ask. ‘With our education and our natures, we will do it,” says the young banker.

”There is definitely a feeling of hope in the air,” he says. ”What I really hope is that Mr Mugabe lives to see what we are going to achieve after he’s gone.”

For more information on the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel, contact www.raniresorts.com.

Rovos Rail at www.rovos.com or call 012 315 8242. E-mail reservations@rovos.co.za

Have you caught the ‘grey and yellow’ recently?

“You use the train?” she asked me, looking down her nose through her readers. Amassing me with the ‘them’ who relied on the grey and yellow carriages in the Cape Peninsular.

I love the train, the carrier of personal worlds and private realities.  I remember my first trip, the first time I engaged, not as a tourist going to Simonstown, but as a commuter.  I’d moved offices and decided if I expected my staff to use the train, then I should too.

So I boarded at Claremont station one sunny afternoon.  At my naïve best, I didn’t realize the class split by carriage between first and third class.  In the first five minutes, two rather dodgy looking teenagers were engaged in argy bargy that was accelerating beyond using their elbows.

The fierce interruption by an elderly ‘tannie’ (auntie) further down the carriage, pried the one youngster away with her eyes to a seat safely beyond ‘punching distance’.  At the next station, I changed carriages only to find myself sitting opposite two prolifically and amateurly tattooed young men who glared at me for the duration of the journey.

It was with relief that I arrived safely in Muizenberg.

I now know that the carriages closer to Cape Town are first class and I head for their safety every time I use the train.  This week I opted for a train ride into the city rather than face an hour of traffic on a rainy Cape Town morning, plus the R50 parking bill.  I love the oneness of it all.  It makes us all equal – no vehicle icons to set us apart.

Thousands of personal worlds gathering on a track – going somewhere, their thoughts the journey, the station their destination. A perfect analogy of enjoying the journey, but still getting to your destination.

In a country with our racial history, where we live in the shadow of apartheid and where those that have drive cars, catching the train is a leveler and reminds me of my humanity and the common challenges that I share with my fellow travelers – working mother, wife, step-mother, spiritual ‘journeyer’.

It’s public transport day in early October, maybe I should start drumming up some support!

Kim Barty owns and operates Trojan Horse, a specialist Cape Town PR and communications business.

Exotic Quirimbas Archipelago, Northern Mozambique

© Sue SeagarSue Segar, recently travelled to the remote and exotic Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique.

What do Daniel Craig, David Rothschild and Tokyo Sexwale have in common? Well, one thing, I gathered on a recent trip, is that they have all discovered Mozambique. In particular, they have been captivated by the remote Quirimbas Archipelago, a vast chain of 32 offshore coral islands which runs for some 250 km along the country’s northern coastline.
In fact, so captivated is our new Human Settlements minister that he recently bought his own island, called Quilalea, in this relatively little-known paradise. Till recently, the small island of Quilalea boasted the most expensive luxury resort in Mozambique, but Tokyo, who reportedly bought it for $20 million, will keep it for the private use of his family and friends.
Flying over the islands in a small plane recently, it was easy to see why this compelling archipelago is increasingly being described as the ”New Maldives”. And why the Rothschilds bring their friends and have invested hugely in the area. It explained why Dave Coetzee, a pilot for the Rani group of luxury lodges, threw in his job as a manager in the freight industry to fly small planes in the Quirimbas.
Flying over the islands is, in itself, an experience of wonder. Think of a vast ocean made up of a hundred different shades of blue and green, punctuated by a long string of largely undisturbed pale islands and islets, with just the occasional white-sailed dhow, sailing, fragile and alone in the watery expanse.
The islands, which begin about 70 km north of the historic port of Pemba and continue up to the Tanzanian border, are mostly uninhabited and tourism has made little mark on them.
© Sue SeagarThey are known by discerning divers for their jaw-dropping vertical drop-offs, some up to more than 400 metres. And for the extraordinary size of their reef-fish – including parrotfish, angelfish, cave bass and morays. Bird-lovers come for the lilac-crested rollers, coconut vultures and fish-eagles.
Knackered from a spate of bad news, I decided to pack my bags and regroup in the most remote spot imaginable. Where else then, but Mozambique, a place which has always fascinated me.
The instruction notes on travelling to the Quirimbas islands said any luggage weighing more than 15kgs would be left behind. So, armed with the Bradt Travel Guide to Mozambique, as well as my battered copy of Alec Garland’s cult classic, The Beach and Lisa St Aubin de Teran’s compelling book, Mozambique Mysteries, I packed my lightest clothes, my goggles and a notebook and turned my back on the bleak Cape winter. ”Very, very far north in Mozambique,” was all I said, when people asked where I was going.
An Airlink flight from Johannesburg had me in Pemba at lunch-time. Pemba, which is situated on the tip of a peninsula on the southern side of Pemba Bay, is the capital of Mozambique’s most north-easterly province, Cabo Delgado. (It’s a town which I later explored after my trip to the island and which carries an intrigue all of its own.)
The Italian diplomat sitting next to me couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the view of Pemba Bay, which he said is one of the deepest and most protected bays in the world.
”Did you know that Pemba is the third-biggest natural harbour in the world – after Sydney and Rio,” he said. I had not known that – but was equally gobsmacked by the view of the enormous bay with its wide, sandy, palm-lined beaches. This diplomat, on his first visit to this part of Mozambique, had done his homework – and told me that, despite being off the beaten track, Pemba – with its coral reefs, safe swimming and excellent snorkelling – has enormous potential as a tourist destination. There’s just the small problem of reasonable flights – it’s cheaper for South Africans to go to Mauritius.
© Sue SeagarMy exotic itinerary told me to wait for a light aircraft transfer with CFA Charters from Pemba to Matemo Island – and within minutes, a small group of us were making our way in the heat onto a very light aircraft. The more remote the island, the smaller the aircraft that takes you there, (and the more fascinating the pilot) it seemed. (Dave, apart from having flown in the Inter Tropical Convergance Zone of countries like Gabon, Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone (think horrific thunderstorms with cloud heights as high as 55 000 feet), also managed to take a planeful of people out of Gabon during the coup d’etat in 2003.) He’s also flown in Sudan and carried numerous heads of state and celebrities.
© Sue SeagarAn hour or so later, after a breathtaking flight over the seascape – at times lime green and at others a rich indigo – we landed on the singular island of Matemo on an airstrip that could not have been more than ten metres from the sea.
Matemo is one of the few inhabited islands in the expansive archipelago, which falls under the protection of the Quirimbas National Park. Tourism is carefully managed and the tourism developments are, in the main, exclusive. Think ice-cold cocktails on arrival, a welcoming committee of all the staff – and crayfish curry in coconut served outside under the stars at supper time.
Things were looking up. Maybe the guy who wrote The Beach was right: ”Escape through travel works.”
Matemo is also one of the few islands in the region with an upmarket lodge, owned by Rani Resorts founder, the top Saudi Arabian businessman, Adel Aujan. He founded Rani in the early 1990s, after being overwhelmed by the region’s breathtaking beauty and wilderness. His luxury lodges on Matemo and the nearby island of Medjumbe, as well as one in Pemba – the Pemba Beach Hotel and Spa – offer world-class luxury service and have hosted numerous famous personalities: Not least Gil Sander and the people who own Lacoste. And even our own former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, who chose Matemo as the spot to take his bride, Maria Ramos on honeymoon not so long ago.
© Sue SeagarAfter a stroll on a white beach scattered with bleached cowries, and a swim in the sea, I took up the offer of an island tour of Matemo and learned from our guide, Eliseu, that the Quirimbas Archipelago – and particularly Ibo Island, which was nominated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – has a rich history, made up of a mix of African, Arabian and Portuguese influences.
The islands were orignally mainly made up of fishing settlements. Later, Moslem traders settled there and the area became part of a commercial network which originated in the Gulf of Oman and went down the East African coast. Dhows, bearing goods to barter, would sail down the coast making use of the so-called ”trade winds”.
The next morning, after a languid morning paddle in Matemo’s warm water, I flew on another small airplane to nearby Ibo. Our pilot pointed out the striking star-shaped Fort of St Joao Baptista, built by the Portuguese to keep control over local trade, as we flew closer.
Goats scattered from the grass landing strip as we landed. Soon we were driving through the island’s old fortresses, its cathedral and the once-grand old homes. The authors of the Bradt travel guide describe Ibo as the most fascinating and atmospheric town in the country after Mozambique Island. ”It’s a strangely haunting backwater … the most alluring off-the-beaten track excursion in northern Mozambique.”
Ibo became the main hub for Moslem traders in the 1500s, but, after the Moslems on nearby Querimba Island refused to trade with Christians, Portugal attacked the islands in 1523. By the end of the 16th Century, most of the larger islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago were run by Portuguese traders, with Ibo firmly established as the major town on the islands. By the middle of the 18th Century, Ibo was established as the main supplier of slaves to the Indian Ocean Islands.The island declined when trade moved to Pemba in the early 1900s and is now back to being an island of fishermen.
© Sue SeagarI disembarked at the magnificent Ibo Island Lodge – once the Bela Vista mansion – where a lunch of cold crayfish salad, white rolls and hot coffee awaited.
My hosts offered an array of options to while away the afternoon – I could go for a sail in a dhow or on a beach excursion (tide-dependent, as the little paradisical beach disappears at high tide). Or I could go snorkelling (”it’s better than Mauritius”) or go for a kayak through the mangroves. (In 1760, the Portuguese made the slaves cut a channel through the mangroves from Ibo to Quirimbas Island.). Else I could take a walk from Ibo to Quirimbas Island when the tide allows. I was particularly interested to do the walk to Quirimba Island – as I had heard about a third-generation German family, the Gessners, who have made their life on the island and who run a successful guest house. But time did not permit this, so I opted for the walkabout historical tour of Ibo.
© Sue SeagarOur Zimbabwean guide, Harris, described how, when independence came to Mozambique, the Portuguese elite on Ibo put salt in their car engines and drove them into the sea, how they put sugar in their printing presses and other machinery and smashed their expensive crockery – anything to prevent the locals from inheriting their possessions.
Supper back at the lodge was crab curry, accompanied by a couple of cold 2M beers and an early night with Lisa St Aubin de Teran’s book.
I left Ibo the next day, vowing to go back for at least a week to do all the hikes, paddling and suntanning I had not managed to do. But not without a visit to the local Ibo silversmiths. Since the 12th Century, artisisans on Ilha do Ibo have been hand-crafting intricate silver jewellery reflecting the African, Arabic, Indian and European influences in their design. Today, about 40 silver smiths on Ibo, some working out of the old star-shaped fort and others operating from an old house on the island, ply their trade, still using the ancient techniques.
Next stop was Medjumbe Island, where the Rani Group has, in my opinion, its finest lodge. Its luxury chalets, with muslim mosquito nets billowing over gorgeous white bedlinen, have their own plunge pools and jacuzzis, virtually on the beach.
At Medjumbe, I jumped at the opportunity to go for a snorkel in one of the coral reefs, after which I went bird-watching and saw a large fish-eagle.
My hosts told me there are at least 54 species of birds on the island.
Supper was crayfish and a choice of other fish straight out of the sea, cooked outside in front of us, beside the pool and overlooking the beach.
I left Medjumbe the next day, not before having swum around the whole island – a girl’s got to keep fit.
And then on to Pemba, where I spent one night at Rani’s Pemba Beach Hotel, where Patience, a woman from Zimbabwe, gave me an unforgettable facial.
© Sue SeagarThen, still in Pemba, a few nights of relative roughing it with Brenda – a charming underwater gardener and witch – and her husband, Rudi at the Pemba Dive and Bush Camp, showed me another side of northern Mozambique. Rudi promised me that if he took me out snorkelling on his old boat, I would be swimming with dolphins within ten minutes. I was.
By the time my trip was over, I had a new role model – the gorgeous St Aubin de Teran who describes in her book how, after three marriages and a very interesting life, it was only when she arrived in northern Mozambique (the Quirinthe Peninsula to be precise) that she finally recognised what she has been looking for all her life.
”On my first visit to Mozambique I was curious. By my second, I was in love,” she writes on the cover of her book. I agree.

Information Box:
South Africans do not need visas to visit Mozambique.
It is recommended to take malaria tablets while visiting the Qurimbas Archipelago.
The official currency in Mozambique is the Metical (MT) = 100 centavos. US dollars are widely accepted. Travellers cheques cannot be changed in Pemba and there is no Bureau de Change at the airport.
A US $3 – $5 per person stamp duty is required when passing through security at Pemba.
When departing from Pemba, all travellers are asked to open their luggage – and bags are searched by an official. This is standard procedure, and partly to check that no shells or other natural items are removed.
There is a strict 15 kg restriction per person of soft luggage, including hand luggage on all air transfers to the islands.

© Sue Segar 2009

Goodwill visit to Central Africa

Flag of the Democratic Republic of the CongoSue Segar spent a week travelling with senior members of the South African National Defence Force on the annual goodwill visit to soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.

We exit the airport building and walk into smouldering heat and a throng of beggars carrying dangly-legged beggars on their backs. We are told to keep walking and not to engage. Go straight to the vehicle, we do not want any diplomatic incidents says the general in charge.

We know that we can be glad we have come through the diplomatic entrance – people have been known to part with hundreds of dollars just to make it through the crooked bureacracy from airplane to taxi.

Welcome to Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Leopoldville, once nicknamed ”Kin la Belle” (Kinshasa The Beautiful), and now known as ”Kin la Poubelle” (Kinshasa the dustbin.)

Whatever you do, do not take any photographs of airports, soldiers, policemen. And, if you think the Parisiens are hostile and unfriendly, try the Kinshasans for attitude.

We climb into the waiting vehicle which proceeds slowly through the boiling cacophony of traffic, towards the city centre. It stinks everywhere. We drive past trucks so overloaded it’s a miracle they haven’t keeled over. Some have goats and other livestock tied tightly to the top of the cargo. We drive past fields and fields of litter, with pools of green, slimy water in between the piles of rot.

At times we strain through the black mud track which the road sometimes becomes. We marvel at the fact that we haven’t skidded into the other cars veering from all directions into our lane.

We drive past rows of delapidated, unpainted buildings with a far brigher past, where rows of clothing hang out to dry. Small brown rivers choking with litter flow down the side streets between the rows of buildings, making their way into the Congo, a river with a flow so strong it could cover the energy needs of the whole of central Africa.

”This place is like … Hillbrow,” says someone.

”Eish, you can’t say that about Hillbrow, says someone else.

We are in Kinshasa as part of the South African National Defence Force’s annual goodwill visit to the SANDF troops who are deployed in Burundi, Central African Republic and DRC.

Every year, senior members of the force, accompanied by key business and civil society sponsors, take a trip to some of the remotest spots on the continent to bring a little festive cheer to the soldiers and to show appreciation for the role they are playing in peace-making in Africa.

Our first stop was the Kamina Air Force base, in the south of DRC and a three-day drive from the nearest international airport. Here, about 50 South African soldiers assist the United Nations with peacekeeping operations. Inside the remote hangar, where soldiers sleep in Weatherhaven tents, the homesick soldiers received gifts of rechargable lights and headlamps, as well as camouflage Bibles from the Bible Society.

With the muffled sounds of Come All You Faithful in the background, the army’s Chaplain-General, Brigadier-General Marius Cornelissen delivered a simple sermon, based on verses from Ecclesiastes, about a man looking for answers to the meaning of life – and feels that he is just ”chasing the wind”.

Then Lt Gen Rinus Janse van Rensburg, the former SANDF Surgeon General motivated the troops, saying they have been described as ”dependable friends” by their host countries in Africa.”You have given hope to locals. You have helped to bring DRC from civil war to sceasefire to democratic elections and towards reconstruction,” he said. He told them the army has arranged to have Christmas packs delivered to their families back home. The soldiers beamed and, over lunch of fried chicken from home, shared anecdotes and photographs of their experiences in Congo.

At Kamina, Major Louis Van Heerden of Hoedspruit described how, in the evenings after work, she listens to Congolese music. At weekends, they visit a creek not far from the base for relief from the relentless heat.

One thing you notice in the South African military forces is the fact that they comprise mainly black and Afrikaans South Africans. You won’t come across many English soldiers in Bujumbura, Bangui or Goma.

There is something deeply moving about hearing a senior soldier – Sergeant-Major Scheepers – telling a room full of black soldiers in a deep rural spot in Africa that ”I love my soldiers and I will do anything for them.”

South Africa has nearly 3000 soldiers deployed in some of Africa’s most strife-torn areas. SA troops have been In Central African Republic since 2007 at the request of the president, to help with military training, refurbishment of military bases and upgrading of the fighting capability of the CAR Armed Forces (FACA). In Burundi – a country which is moving forward since a successful election – the SANDF is largely engaged in a peacekeeping mission with the African Union. In the DRC, where government and rebel forces are engaged in continuous fighting, the SANDF is, among other things, on an ongoing mission to disarm, demobilise, repatriate rebel troops, before helping to resettle and re-integrate them.

Re-integration is something the SANDF had to deal with after 1994, when former combatants had to amalgamate into the national defence force. We don’t hear much about that process, but, according to Cornelissen, it was a profound and almost miraculous process, involving white soldiers washing the feet of their black compatriots and long sessions during which soldiers from across the previous political divide shared stories and wept at long reconciliation sessions facilitated by the force’s religious leaders.

Here in Congo, the re-integration process is still a formidable challenge. While we were there, the talks to end the fighting in eastern DRC collapsed after rebel and government representatives failed to reach a ceasefire agreement after three days of talks in Nairobi.

Fighting since late August between government troops and the rebel group National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) under the Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda has displaced more than 250 000 people in eastern North-Kivu province. Nkunda claims that his four-year-old rebellion is defending Congolese Tutsis from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels and local militias linked with the DRC army.

The North Kivu conflict has its origins in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis, spilling refugees and rival fighters into the DRC.

It is said that the average Congolese person has a meal only every three days, a result of war, appalling delivery of services and general corruption in the country. Some lobby groups blame the war in DRC on influential figures in the industrialised world wanting to access the rich mineral resources of the Congo. A UN expert panel has accused Rwanda and the Congolese governments of backing rebels in eastern DRC.

In Goma, a place which makes Kinshasa look positively civilised, SA’s Colonel Barney Klaasin described how South Africa’s 725 troops in the rebel area below the Nyiragongo volcano have had to deal with a range of war time atrocities, from rescuing child soldiers to seeing people’s heads being cut off and to dealing with women who have been raped and then had sticks poked inside them until they have died.

”We survive by dialogue,” Klaasin said, adding that he has an excellent relationship with both the government forces and Nkunda’s people.

We learn that South Africa has helped to register at least 170 000 former soldiers for the DRC defence force.

”Our people travel for days to remote places to set up demobilising centres for rebels. They sometimes work in very dangerous conditions,” said Captain Sonica Van Rooyen, a seasoned Congo hand, who has worked closely with demobilisation efforts. ”One team was travelling in the river in a boat which started sinking. They had to swim to the other side in the middle of the night. I received an SMS in Kinshasa from the one guy saying, ”nou moet jy vir my bid”. (”Now you must pray for me.”)

General Raymond Mdutwana, chief of South Africa’s advisory group to the DRC’s army, described the almost insurmountable task faced by those tasked with disarming and re-integrating rebel soldiers. The Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) is known as one of the most unstable and impotent defence forces in the world, comprised as it is, after years of war and a serious lack of funding, it comprises various disparate military units.

”What we wished for has failed,” he said of the most recent negotiations debacle. He adds: ”The situation in the east is keeping us busy, so we cannot focus on training. The most difficult aspect of this is the effect it has on civilians. When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

We hear, repeatedly how, as some rebels are demobilised and re-integrated, new rebels groupings are formed and new rebels recruited. A vicious circle if ever there was one.

But General Van Rensburg persists, from base to base, with his motivational message to the SA troops. ”Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God,” he tells the troops in Kinshasa.

I am reminded of the Chaplain-General’s earlier sermon about chasing the wind. ”Then I saw all the works which my hands had made, and everything I had been working to do; and I saw that all was to no purpose …”

Now, in Kinshasa, we are driving four vehicles to a single lane, as the driver wends his way along. A policeman, standing precariously in the middle of the chaos, blows shrilly on an orange whistle and bangs loudly on the vehicle, with a baton. I wonder out loud why these cops even bother to try to control the chaos and what can they achieve with those batons? A Congo regular replies: ”I have seen them crack windscreens with those batons.”

We pass the Stade des Martyrs, a stately spectacle among the mess, which is best known for hosting the ”Rumble in the Jungle between Mohammed Ali and George Forman, and which can hold 80 000 people.

As we drive, a pair of young men in a battered old car decide to dice our bus. Their bloodshot eyes lock with ours and they make hand movements signalling pistols aimed at us, handgrenades being thrown our way. One of them yanks something off the back seat. Without losing that eye contact, he holds the thing up by its tail. It is a massive dead rat, with extraordinary long molars.

While his buddy accelerates to keep up with us, he indicates by pointing at the rat and putting his fingers to his mouth, that he intends eating the creature. Then he throws his head back and roars with laughter.

We pass the national police headquarters, a tall shell of a building, burnt out and non-operational, except for a few people peering out from cooking activities a few storeys up.

We reach the Memling Hotel, where, back in the 1960’s, the mercenary Mike Hoare held meetings with the then Congo government in a bid to get rid of the communist rebel forces.

We walk into the air-conditioned lobby full of businessmen dressed in Brussels-styled suits, and workers from the UN, Unicef and the World Food Programme. The sparkling Christmas tree and the shops selling Elle Decor and exquisite diamond necklaces from Switzerland provide great relief from the potholes, the heat and the beggars outside.

© Sue Segar 2009