Fortunately we and our luggage survived four aircraft changes to arrive together in time to meet our ship for the week's trip up the Mozambique coast.

The highlight of the journey was clearly the opportunity to join the flight deck for the night landing in the small airfield of Arusha in Tanzania, the smallest airport on the KLM network that can take a Boeing 777 200. It requires a steep approach to avoid surrounding mountains including Kilimanjaro and the airfield occasionally suffers from approach landing light failures, but not this time.

Once aboard ship I have to say the crew looked a bit on the heavy side but this turned out to be because it included ex-SAS armed security guards to deal with any possible piratical intrusions. Quite comforting and a bonus to have their muscular arms (physical not metal) to hold on to getting in and out of the Zodiac dinghys every day especially in high seas. Zanzibar beach hotel security was provided by tall Massai warriors with spears!

Ahead lay about 2000 miles of largely uninhabited coastline with appealing white sandy beaches with occasional settlements established by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century and later by the inhabitants from the Arabian peninsular. This is one of the poorest countries in the world living on a few hundred dollars a year, perhaps connected with the size of their families, up to 15 children each.

Our first major port of call well north of the capital was the small island of Ihla de Mozambique, a UNESCO site with a population of 14,000 and from which the country gets its name and was its original capital until the railway was built much further south bringing south african gold and goods to the coast in Lorenzo Marques/Maputo in 1898.

Initial impressions on arrival at the jetty are of thousand upon thousand of children for whom the site of a ship must be a rare day of excitement and opportunity. The north end of this island was built with coral stone dug and transported by slaves from the southern end which is consequently two metres lower, and today still houses the poorer residents in makeshift shacks. The backdrop for the north is of gentle decline with few once stately Portuguese mansions in various state of repair or rather disrepair for lack of funds.

It is dominated by the hugely impressive fortress of Sao Sabastiao which has successfully repelled allcomers over the centuries including the Dutch fleets active on the spice routes in the 16/17 centuries. It also served as the staging post for slaves imported from the interior for transhipment to Arabia and the French sugar plantations in Mauritius and Madagascar. In 1507, perhaps to assuage their consciences, the locals built a small white church at one end, reputed to be the oldest in the southern hemisphere.

The subject of slavery arises everywhere along the coast and continued even after it was supposedly finally abolished in about 1880. More on the topic in later reports.

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