Pemba is a magical island. Unlike Unguja, Pemba is hilly. Gentle, undulating hills and deep verdant valleys are all covered with a dense cover of clove, coconut and mango plantation. A more fertile land it is difficult to imagine.
But it is not just the landscape that gives Pemba its magical reputation. For centuries Pemba has held a reputation as a centre for the juju traditions of medicine and magic. Earlier this century, British writer Evelyn Waugh wrote of the island …
“… novices would come from as far as the Great Lakes to graduate there. Even from Haiti, it is said, witchdoctors will come to probe the deepest mysteries of voodoo. Nowadays everything is kept hidden from the Europeans, and even those who have spent most of their lives in the country have only now and then discovered hints of the wide, infinitely ramified cult which still flourishes below the surface.”
There certainly is a strange atmosphere on Pemba. How can so beautiful a place be so devoid of visitors? On an island with a population of 300,000, there can rarely be more than a couple of dozen foreigners. It is as if the people of Pemba have a secret that they refuse to let go.
That is not to say that the people here are not friendly. Travelling in Pemba is like travelling in unknown territory. In the countryside, villagers are eager to talk to passers-by and small children cry at the sight of a muzungu. In town, market stallholders call you over and sit you down to try their different fruits, laughing hysterically at your reaction. Old men in traditional dress offer themselves up for photographs and crowds gather to stir up the hilarity. There is an incredibly relaxed and easy-going atmosphere throughout the island.
The downside of travelling in Pemba is the lack of infrastructure and facilities. The visitor simply has to be prepared to ‘rough it’, unless staying at one of only a few decent accommodations. The only guesthouses on Pemba are at Mkoani, Chake Chake and Wete. All are very small, modest and probably fully-booked. Making reservations in advance is essential. Away from these towns, the traveller must improvise by asking to stay in villages or by camping.
Food must be bought at the local markets and shops. Generally, the only place to eat out is at the local stalls or at one of the few guesthouses. Transport is limited to a few taxis, private cars and the public bus service. Beyond this, walking is the only option. At present Pemba is an Eden, practically barely by tourism and commerce. However, even the strongest waganga spells will not be able to maintain this status quo. Nonetheless, Pemba has a beauty so intense that it will not be so easily tainted.
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