Pemba, and the Oil

The city of Pemba has become our new base between adventures. It has also become the base for the rapidly developing oil industry. This town, described in the 2007 Moz Lonley Planet as a “sleepy beach town”, is now full with men that now look somewhat like my dad. Stores catering to oil and oil associates are cropping up everywhere. Roadsides are littered with English advertisements for “easy, safe and convenient” business parks – high selling adjectives up here. Fairly fabulous furniture, appliance and grocery stores are opening up between the tiny convenience stores and shops seemingly each day. We initially thought we’d rent a quiet house on the beach where we could nest for a while – but, those dreams were squashed upon hearing that oil companies now pay upwards of USD 3000 a month for the envisioned cabin. The town, as any resident remarks, is changing rapidly.

Instead, we’ve set up camp in Pemba Bay at the Dive and Bush Camp. Given that this place is South African owned, the camping facilities are near flawless – quite a step up from the side of the road. All meat – most things, for that matter – are imported from South Africa making for some delicious meals (with bacon and feta!). Inevitably, however, this stunts the emergence of local markets that could cater to tourism and oil. Local industry seems to be capped at providing low level labour and an unending stream of tomatoes. The stage seems to be far from set for a balanced end to this oil discovery. But, more on that later.

Pemba remains for the time being, a stunning town. It is located on a peninsula in the Indian Ocean with the 3rd largest bay in the world to the left, and the calm Indian ocean to the left. The water is, on the worst of days, turquoise. The sea is dotted with dhows and canoes heaving massive tuna out of the sea, while the shore is packed full of women harvesting the tidal pools (to within an inch of their lives). I spent a spectacular birthday here learning how to scuba dive (thank you Bryce) with the world’s most laid back instructor. I feel like a tool for having hesitated this long to try it. On my birthday dive, we lucked out. Not only did two turtles swim past the coral wall but, and as we surfaced, a mama and baby humpback swam by while the baby practiced his jumps.  And, all that was done with Charlie Witzel in a wetsuit right beside me! When we weren’t diving, we were able to take kayaks through the mangroves to hunt for crabs and fish while Josa literally jumps between kayaks as we paddle around. She’s becoming a real sea pup.

Of course, all this feels bittersweet. Our kayaking spot will be turned into a new port next year, and oil tankers will cruise over the dive spots. Baby whales will likely learn to jump elsewhere. One night over drinks, we overheard three perfectly stereotypical Texans discuss where they would build the storage area for the new port on the lodge’s property. Between that and picking up 50 Shades of Grey as the only book available to read here, all that is beautiful and Mozambican feels like it is fading fast. Literally everyone tells us to ditch the idea of tourism and build a “easy, safe, and convenient” hotel that would cater to oil companies. Hardly my vision of living in Africa… But perhaps my vision is too romantic.

Shame.

Anyway. From here, we set off with Charlie to explore the Quirimbas National Park. More on that next.