The Indian Ocean Islands – Chole Island

1st March 2013

The overgrown ruins of the German administration on Chole provide an eerie sense of the imposing power of colonialist rule. These old stone edifices stand in grand alignment along a wide and immaculately straight central pathway, although the old stone gaol and boma are now freely open to all the whims of nature. There are also less distinct remains of the older Arab settlements here.

The island is also home to a sizeable roost of giant fruit bats, sign-posted along a path past a chirruping Qu’ran school, although the noisome racket of the roost at morning and night is guide enough. The docking beach at Chole is a good spot to see traditional boat-building and sail-making, in which all materials are impressively fashioned by hand.

This tiny island, only 1sq km, is a peaceful and natural haven to wander at leisure. The local people are friendly, and it is interesting to see their smart mud and pole houses, often well-decorated with pebbles to add colour and style. The pathways around the island sometimes take a fine line through the garden plots, growing mainly cassava and beans, and the newly extended school and clinic are encouraging for further achievements here. Boats to Chole should be easily arranged with your hotel, although it is very easy to jump aboard the popular local dhow ferry from the beach at Utende, just in front of the Mafia Island Beach Hotel. This ferries back and forth regularly throughout the day until 4pm, and the beachside wait is pleasant as the boat is always in view. The fare is about Tsh200, and ferryman and crew are welcoming and friendly, as long as you are decently dressed!

Chole Island – Juani Island

The remains of the legendary civilisation at Kua is on the west coast of Juani Island, approximately a twenty minute boat ride from Mafia Island and only accessible at high tide. The ruins cover a huge distance, and are generally overgrown although enough stands to give some impressive account of the fine civilisation that once existed here, although the earliest structures are not much in evidence. The ruined mosques date from the 14th century, while other surviving ruins are generally much later, from the 18th century. The largest standing ruin is a vast double storey structure with stone stairs and a maze of anterooms, although the state of the ruins make it hard to get around. Coral stone steps run up to the second level, from where a flue runs from the bathroom to a pit beyond the outer wall, and beneath the stairs a small chamber room is said to have confined badly behaved slaves. The ruins still sustain a strange aura of bygone grandeur, and local people have deemed areas spiritual enough for offerings to be left here. An extremely old but remarkably lithe caretaker lives in a small hut just beyond the ruins, and although he is unlikely to offer much assistance he is grateful for contributions – you do have to squelch through his cassava plantations to walk between the ruins, and the house in front of his hut is said to be the very place where the townspeople of Kisimani met their untimely fate…

Nearby, surrounded by cavernous stone tombs, the ancient central mosque still stands, albeit without its roof, which crumbled recently, but complete with vast internal pillars and sculpted mirhab. Potsherds and beads can be found in the earth all around the area, and glint amongst the shingle on the beach.

The island of Juani also had a reputation for its medicinal powers, as the milk from the island was said to have curative properties and the seawater pool that fills one of its caves was widely believed to cure aching joints, such as rheumatism. The effectiveness of this natural saline bath is however dependent upon the quality of sweet and delicious offerings brought by the afflicted for the Mohammedian custodian of the cave, who continues to hold a legacy of partiality to honey and dates.

Island explorers might like to range through the undergrowth to find the ‘Green Lagoon’ of the Kua channel, which provides an unusually shady swimming hole and a huge and apparently friendly grouper bids you welcome. The Lagoon is most easily accessible from a boat, about half way along the Kua Channel.

Chole Island – Jibondo Island

Around 20 minutes sailing from Juani, Jibondo Island has a sizeable community, with a reputation for their prowess as boat-builders and fishermen. All their building methods are entirely reliant on simple hand tools, with even hand-made nails to keep the vessels together. The women of Jibondo are said to be unusually adept at sailing and fishing, and the community is unusually organised into immaculate grid-like streets at one end of the island, with all fields for cultivation at the other.

It is also possible to arrange dhow trips to other areas around Mafia Island and the smaller islands of the archipelago, to find small, often deserted beaches and rural fishing communities. Bweni, on the northernmost tip of Mafia Island is stunningly beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt, and Dinidini Beach on the Eastern peninsula above Chole Bay is worth visiting, although it is only accessible at high tide. There is a large coral rock pool behind the beach, surrounded by small dunes. It is often visited for a lunch stop after a diving expedition to the Dinidini Wall. Dimidizi Beach, to the south of Chole Bay, is also a fine beachside spot, about 4km from Kinasi Lodge. Offshore islands such as Baracuni, 12km northwest of Mafia, and Nororo Island, 12km north of Mafia, are quiet and natural hideaways used by fishermen. Nororo has a resident community, and a couple of local restaurants for fish and rice dishes. You should be well-prepared for all excursions, with enough fresh water and refreshments, and especially if camping. Kinasi Lodge can arrange camping trips to heavenly deserted beaches on the northern peninsula and Okuza and Nyuni islands (south of Mafia), complete with fly-tents, mattresses and lavish cool-box supplies.

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