Sailing to Ilha das Cobras

February 29th is the beginning of the 2016 Leap Year. Every four years we add a day to our calendars to bring them into sync with the earth’s revolution around the sun—because it’s easier to change our human systems than to change the laws of nature.

To celebrate the Leap Year, people all over the world are speeding up the push for a justice-based transition away from fossil fuels and towards new economic and energy systems. Many believe small steps are no longer enough and the world needs a great leap forward.

In Northern Mozambique there is a transport system that has changed little in a thousand years or more, yet it may provide vital clues to transitioning tourism, one of the planet’s largest industries, away from fossil fuels and into more socially just ways of operating.

Serving coffee to guests at an island picnic spot

Serving coffee to guests at an island picnic spot. A way to get more local people involved and spread the benefits

Here elegant Swahili dhows still ply the coastal waters providing a vital link for residents of fishing villages, boatbuilding centres and regions renowned for their valuable commodities. The cargos of people and goods are transported far and wide by this means, even to neighbouring countries. And it all happens without the need for carbon based fuels; the wind provides the energy to power this extensive transport network, while the know how is embedded in the culture.

Dhows, along with palm trees and turtles form an easily recognizable part of Africa’s East Coast tourism iconography. To western visitors dhows are synonymous with adventure and romantic escape, the perfect antidote to our supposedly busy lives.

Not surprising then to see an increasing number of dhow boat owners making the move further into tourism, it’s an obvious and natural match. Here on ilha De Mozambique a number of locally owned dhows have recently been spruced up for this purpose. Every day they anchor by the pontáo, with a fresh lick of paint, life jackets on display and a charismatic and linguistically talented guide nearby. Trips to Ilha De Goa, Carrusca and the lagoon near Cabeceira are their mainstay, although true to the spirit of dhow adventure they are open to all ideas.

dhow kayak

Dhows and sea kayaks (or better still canoes) are a good combination and a great way to expand what’s currently on offer

From a social justice viewpoint most people would agree that local people should be first in line for local jobs and emerging economic opportunities. That is exactly what is now happening on Ilha and its not just the boat owners and crews who benefit economically, think about the artisans that build the boats, the people that source and mill the timber, grow the cotton used for caulking, spin the coir ropes, even the nails are locally forged by a blacksmith. It’s a beautiful system, one that’s all the better for having discovered new and growing markets in modern-day tourism, and with this a vision of a low carbon and socially just economic future.