Just over 180 kilometres from Maputo and already in the province of Gaza, poetry lies in the sand. And there it lies until it reaches the sea. There is something poetic about the Bilene Lagoon, or Uembje Lagoon, if we want to use the real name that few people know about. This place for quick escapes for those who live in the capital, has been for a long time synonymous with relaxation. Here life goes barefoot and committed to the salt water that washes our senses.
The transparent lagoon, seasoned with heat and salt, is about 27 kilometres long. It is about the pure delight of doing nothing, or about pumping the muscles with the help of a canoe, paddle board or windsurfing board, if the wind shows up. In this quiet village, the only thing you will actually find is the canoe, because everything else you will have to take with you. But the lagoon allows for more. You can walk for miles without leaving the sand. Great depths can only be found far away, where the water becomes a darker blue.
Around so much water, guarded by casuarinas and palm trees, there are numerous places to stay, snack or enjoy a more composed meal. The fish and the prawns are very local. Every day they arrive fresh at the hands of chefs that enhance their flavour.
Getting to this poetry in a pure state is easy. From the provinces north of Gaza you can travel by plane to Maputo, then rent a car, right there at the airport. We recommend a 4×4. Then, from the capital city, take the EN1 heading north. The road is in good condition, and you only need to scrupulously respect the speed limits.
The trip takes just over 90 minutes. After passing Manhica you will find Palmeira (Palm Tree). It is said that the name stuck after a giant palm tree that stood there for years became a reference for those travelling through there. One day a lightning strike fell the tree. Now in its place is a sign that keeps its memory. Later, about 15 kilometres from the destination is Macia. In this roadside village you can find all the types of fruit available in Mozambique. Quietly ripened by the sun, it is sweet and juicy. Here, the mangoes, papayas, mafura and lychees have a different flavour and leave a fragrant taste in your mouth.
To spend the night you have a lot to choose from. You can sleep in comfortable tents at Villa N’Banga or at Nghunghwa Lodge, at the end of the lagoon, but there is more to choose from.
The village has everything you need. At ‘Bilas’ shop, the oldest café in Bilene, you can order delicious custard tarts, bread and, if you need ice, you can also find it there. If you like cashew nuts, natural, sweet or spicy, you can buy it from the seller who every day heads to Palmeiras Lodge, or order them. By the way, also ask about the famous rissoles that everyone talks about.
There are also crafts that you can buy. Most of the people who live here have low income and any help is always welcome.
Beyond the lagoon is the beach, and going into the waves is something best left for good swimmers. Because you don’t need to swim in such large waves, you can just take a walk. To get there, you can arrange with the fishermen. After setting the price, it is 10 minutes to the sandbar that separates the lagoon from the sea.
After enjoying such a great gift of nature, it is the time to watch the turtles. Bilene beach hosts two types of turtles, one of them is the leatherback sea turtle, which is one of the world’s largest. To find them, just turn right on the sandbar that separates the lagoon from the sea, up the cliff, known as Turtle Rock. The ideal month to watch them is February but they often show up in the following months. At sea, you also can do sport fishing and snorkel in the lagoon.
But the best of this poetry comes when the blazing and fast sun departs to other lands. The day goes off in the sky and thousands of stars shine just for us. It is an open sky planetarium, where numerous constellations can be told apart and distant planets are almost in reach.