Sunday, August 23, 2009

O Canada, eh?

After a few months readjusting to normal life, we managed to escape for an August week up in British Columbia, visiting Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler.

Some highlights from our first few days in Vancouver:

* Chatting with native Canadian, who really do say eh, eh?

* Dining at Cielo in White Rock, BC (great food) with Esther's niece Alexa and her fiancee Jerry while looking across the bay to the United States.

* Enjoying the public art, in particular the painted eagles. (We've previously seen cows in Chicago, flamingos in Miami, elephants and donkeys in DC, and pandas, alligators, and fish in places we've forgotten.)

* Traveling on the aquabus -- tiny passenger ferries.

* Flying over the city in a float plane.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mal de Disembarquement

Have you ever gotten off a boat and felt that the land was moving? Your head is rocking, as though you are on the high seas, even though your feet are safe ashore?

If so, you'll be happy to know that the French have a wonderful phrase for it: Mal de Disembarquement.

After more than two weeks afloat, we wondered how long we might have MDD. Each of us had had brief feelings of rocking on our shore excursions. But this time we were lucky. Esther hopped off the ship and felt fine. Donald had a few unpleasant moments in a small, dimly-lit souvenir shop at the Tinga Tinga market. But some sunlight and a visible horizon in the distance cleared that right up. Much better than suffering for days, as some people do. And vastly better than a few, unlucky souls who get it for years.

Dar Es Salaam

We've been back in the State for two weeks now. Remarkable how the demands of "normal" life have delayed blog postings about the last leg of our journey. We won't quite do Dar Es Salaam justice here, but then again we were very tired travelers when we docked there on the final day of our voyage on the National Geographic Explorer.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit was arriving in port as dawn was breaking. Dar has a very active port -- cargo ships, ferries, and many fishermen converging on the local fish market (photo) to sell their catch.

After saying farewell to our ship and its wonderful crew and staff, we had a quick city tour. We felt sorry for our local guide. She was brimming with enthusiasm to show us her city and relate its history, but her audience was (a) exhausted from weeks of touring and (b) had already learned much about Tanzania in Zanzibar the day before. Sorry. Still, we did learn a bit about the city, which appeared nicer than we anticipated. And we did enjoy the Tinga Tinga market and its unique, colorful art.

After lunch at the Kempinski Hotel, we headed off to the airport for our flight to Dubai (photos and blog coming soon!).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Exotic Zanzibar: Monkeys

Zanzibar is famous for its spices, its old city, and its monkeys.


OK, maybe they aren't as famous as the other attractions, but they still make for a great outing.

About half an hour from Stone Town is Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, a reserve that encompasses beautiful hardwood forests, brackish mangroves, ferns galore, and two species of monkey: the endangered Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey (top and bottom photos) and the smaller Blue (or Sykes) Monkey (middle photo).

The monkeys didn't come quite as close as the Mayotte Lemurs did, but they put on a good show.

Highlights included several very young monkeys (of both species) and a colobus that reminded us of Einstein.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Exotic Zanzibar: Humans

After a busy day at sea (and, happily, no sign of pirates), the breaking dawn found us in the second-to-last stop on our voyage: Zanzibar.

Just say the name out loud: Zanzibar. Doesn't that conjure exotic images?

Zanzibar is part of Tanzania -- indeed, it put the "Zan" in "Tanzania" -- but maintains an autonomous feel. Our visit began with a landing in Stone Town, where the mix of cultures -- African, Arab, Indian -- provides fascinating architecture spread through a maze of alleyways.

We particularly enjoyed the intricate carved doorways (sorry, no photos). Some doors had chain carvings, reflecting the history of slavery. Other had conical spikes which are allegedly traditional elephant protectors from India. Happily, there were no elephants running through the alleyways of Stone Town when we visited. The motor scooters and human-pulled carts were dangerous enough in the narrow passages.

Situated strategically in the midst of the trade routes, Zanzibar built its early success on spices, ivory, and slaves, the key commodities of the age. Tourism is the big draw today, but the spice trade is still going strong. Farms produce a wide range of spices -- on our visit we saw Cacao, Cardamon, Cinnamon, and Cloves -- and that was just the "C"s. There were also Kapok, Nutmeg, Black Pepper, and Ylang Ylang. (Not to mention the Banana leaves that could be twisted into spice carriers.)

Perhaps the most beautiful was the "Lipstick Tree" whose bright red fruit generates a tasty orange / red paste. You probably know it better as Achiote (if you dine Mexican) or Tandoori (if you dine Indian) or, perhaps, as Annatto Seed.

Piracy in the Seychelles

Security was a significant consideration when we planned our grand adventure. Traveling in the Middle East carries risks, both real and imagined. But it was the Somali pirates that captured our attention. After they hijacked an oil tanker last November, we carefully compared their sphere of operations with the intended route of our Indian Ocean adventure.

That comparison made it clear that piracy was a risk once our ship was up near the waters between Tanzania and the Seychelles. Certainly not a big enough risk to forego the trip, but something to be aware of.

We therefore weren't surprised when some large, tattooed, crew-cut gents showed up on the ship for a few days to provide security consulting before we entered those waters. Nor were we surprised to hear that the Somali pirates did strike again, very close to the Seychelles.

But it did hit closer to home when we learned that the pirates struck in one of the exact places we had been -- just off Aldabra -- and that one of the victims was a ship we had shared moorings with.

When we visited Assumption on the National Geographic Explorer, there was one other ship at anchor, coincidentally named the Indian Ocean Explorer. Sadly, the IO Explorer and its crew were taken hostage a few days ago, one of several hijacking in a recent "spree". We hope everything turns out well for their crews.

Not surprisingly, the ship we had been traveling on has now changed its sphere of operations. The National Geographic Explorer is now located much further away, exploring the far eastern edges of the Seychelles. We wish we were with them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Undersea with a $4 Disposable Camera

We've taken most of our blog photos with a standard Nikon SLR, and in a few cases, we've used an iPhone. But neither of those gadgets mixes well with saltwater. To record our snorkeling adventures, we therefore had to spring for a new camera.

We opted for the $4 underwater disposable camera from Kodak. It uses film, which is a bit disconcerting for a digital enthusiast. You don't get the instant gratification (and feedback) of seeing the photos in real time. You are limited to only 27 shots. And you have to go to a photo store to get the film developed. But you do get to take it under water.

Well, we got the photos developed today, and we have to say that the camera did a pretty good job. It's hard to aim underwater, so sometimes our shots were a bit off. And sunshine doesn't penetrate that well, so some pictures came out rather dark. But we did get some decent shots.

The three photos here are the best from each snorkel spot:

Colorful coral and fish on the patch reef in Mayotte.

Esther snorkeling at Assumption Island, just before the rainstorm.

An Eagle Ray gliding in the with the tide at Aldabra.

And a bonus fourth photo: A green sea turtle resting on the bottom in about 15 feet of water just offshore from Aldabra. Dark, but you can tell it's a sea turtle.

More Flying Fish

Photographing flying fish ... well, trying to photograph flying fish ... is an amusing pastime when sailing through tropical seas. Here are some more efforts as we sailed from Aldabra to Zanzibar.

Islands Recap

Best Island: Aldabra
Runner-up: Lemur Island, Mayotte

Best Mammal: Mayotte (Brown) Lemur
Runner-up: Bow-riding Bottlenose Dolphins

Best Reptile: Giant Tortoise
Runner-Up: Green Sea Turtle

Best Fish: Black-tipped Reef Sharks
Runner-up: Giant Sweetlips

Best Bird: Madagascar (Aldabra) Coucal, trying to lure a mate with a gecko
Runner-up: Red-footed Boobies hitching a ride on the ship

Best Crustacean: Coconut Crab
Runner-up: Let's not get carried away

Best Snorkel: Drifting with the tide into the lagoon at Aldabra
Runner-up: During tropical downpour at Assumption

Walk: Circuit of the crater lake at Petite Terre, Mayotte

Least Pleasant Walk: Going to the airstrip at Assumption under burning tropical sun with no shade

Best Drink: Chilled Coconut
Runner-up: Extra bottles of water on Assumption

Unexpected Moment of Discomfort: On the crater hike, we encountered some Mayotte soldiers on a training march going the other way. As each passed, there was a brief moment in which their rifles aimed at our heads.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sailing from A to Z

Our Indian Ocean adventure stretched for more than 3,000 miles. As a result, our explorations were interspersed with some extended periods at sea, including three full days in which we never saw land. After saying farewell to Albadra, we had one of those days on our way to Zanzibar.

We had worried that days at sea might get boring. However, we found more than enough to keep us busy. Writing blog posts and managing our photos and videos took a chunk of time (and even then, we are running more than a week behind on blog postings). Nature also presented diversions. Tropical seas may not be as rich in life as those in cooler areas, but we did have fun with the flying fish, boobies, and the occasional whales and dolphins.

Happily, the organizers of the trip also arranged various talks.

* We heard a trio of lectures from Tim Severin, an explorer and historian who made his name by recreating legendary voyages from the past. He spoke about sailing a leather vessel from Ireland to Newfoundland (suggesting that the Vikings could have done the same), tracking the travels of Alfred Russell Wallace (co-developer of the theory of evolution by natural selection) through Indonesia, and following the travels of Sindbad, sailing from Oman to China along the path of Islamic traders. His presentation on Wallace was particularly timely given all the attention to the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. It's a shame that Wallace doesn't get the credit he deserves.

* To help the many photographers (and aspiring photographers) on board, we heard from National Geographic Photographer Michael Melford. He explained how he usually took photographs (mostly on aperture priority), how he manages his photographs, and what he looked for in a good subject. This was a little like getting golf lessons. If you change your swing, the first thing that happens is that your scores get worse; but if you stick with it, things get better. The same is true with photography. The new tips provided new ways to mess up photos, but also ways to make them better.

* Finally, the trip naturalists gave talks about the local flora, fauna, culture, and history. A particular highlight was Ian Bullock's overview of the discovery of the Coelacanth, the "missing link" fish that had been presumed extinct 60 million years ago. The first Coelacanths known to western science were caught in the waters we sailed. Not surprisingly, we didn't see any live coelacanths on this adventure, but we did see a crumbling taxidermy of one in the natural history museum in Maputo.

A Three-Shower Day

Showering at the end of the day is one of the great pleasures of adventure travel. You rinse off the grime and sweat of the day's activities and emerge clean again.

On particularly good days, you do this twice, once to recover from the morning's activities and then again to recover from the afternoon's.

But the best days require three showers. Such was our second day at Aldabra.

Hitting the Beach

The day began with a pre-dawn beach landing. The tide was so low that the Zodiacs couldn't make it to the beach, so we had to offload on a sandbar covered with reef rubble and walk (in the dark) to a second Zodiac to get to shore.

On landing, we found something we've always wanted to see: a female green sea turtle digging her nest. But it was bittersweet to see her; she was clearly having problems. Dawn was breaking, and she hadn't even begun laying her eggs. As the sun rose higher, she gave up and headed back into the sea, to try again another night. Apparently it's not uncommon for them to try several times before succeeding.

About a hundred meters down the beach, we found further evidence of the challenges of turtle reproduction. Crabs were feasting on eggs from a recent turtle nest.

The tortoises were a bit harder to spot this early in the morning. It's not that they moved; as best we could tell, they just lay down wherever they happened to be when sleep hit them. But moving tortoises are much easier to see than immobile lumps.

Lots of birds as well, with particularly good looks at the Blue Pigeon and another Coucal. The sun was already very hot by 7:30 (this is deep in the tropics), so we headed back to the boat for a pre-breakfast shower.

Drift Snorkeling

Activity number two was a drift snorkel. Aldabra, the second largest atoll in the world, houses an enormous lagoon whose waters rise and fall with the tides. As the tide rose in late morning, the Zodiac would drop us on the ocean side of the channel, and the incoming tide would carry us into the lagoon. Once it got too shallow, the Zodiac would pick us up and we'd do it again.

This is a great snorkeling strategy for at least three reasons. First, it's easy to cover a lot of territory. Second, the incoming tide brings clear water into the lagoon; visibility is much better than you would find doing a drift snorkel on the outgoing tide. Third, and most important, we weren't the only ones coming in with the tide. Predators came in as well, as the rising tide allowed them to reach the smaller fish, crabs, etc. that live in the lagoon. We saw large sweetlips, snappers, groupers, eagle rays, sting rays, a pair of sharks, a sea turtle, and legions of colorful fish.

Touring the Lagoon

After lunch (and a second shower), we emerged for the final activity of the day: a lagoon tour by Zodiac. The lagoon contains fascinating coral formations called champignons (that's French for mushrooms). You can see why.

The mangroves in the lagoon played host to many roosting Red-footed Boobies and their nemesis, the Great Frigatebirds (who make their living stealing fish from boobies). There were lots of other birds as well -- tropicbirds, terns, herons, egrets, etc. And a great view of lagoon fish, many of which we had snorkeled with earlier.

After baking in the 100 degree heat for several hours, we certainly need one last shower.

P.S. Our Aldabra adventure ended with a slightly gross image, but one that illustrates well the richness of the environment here. As the tide fell, our Zodiacs had to leave the lagoon, lest we be stranded by the falling water. As we zipped through the channel, we could see floating mats of material that the tide had brought out from the lagoon: rafts of tortoise dung.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aldabra: Birds, Bats, and Other Critters

If you can pull yourself away from the sharks and tortoises, you discover that Aldabra hosts all sorts of other critters.

First, there are the birds. Within a few hundred meters of our landing, we saw ten new life birds: Aldabra Rail, Souimanga Sunbird (pictured), Aldabra Fody, Aldabra Drongo, Madagascar Coucal, Dimorphic Egret, Crab Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Fairy Tern, and Comoro Blue Pigeon, as well as old friends such as Madagascar White Eye, Grey Heron, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Greenshank, Wimbrel, Great Frigatebird, White-tailed Tropicbird, Madgascar Turtle Dove, and Pied Crow.

We particularly enjoyed the male coucal: he had caught a gecko and was calling in hopes of sharing it with a lady friend.

The birds weren't the only ones aloft. Fruit bats (aka Flying Foxes) periodically skimmed the palms, and occasionally alighted for a snack.

On the ground were legions of crabs, ranging from tiny hermit crabs to gigantic coconut crabs.

We don't know if these giants can really open coconuts with their bare claws, but we wouldn't want to tangle with one.

Returning to the water at the end of the day, we discovered that the sharks weren't the only predators swimming in the shallows. They were joined by schools of Bonefish, Trevally (a type of jack), and Barracuda. We even caught a quick glimpse of a Permit (which they call Dart in the Indian Ocean).

It's not often that you can walk right up to a bonefish to take his picture.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Aldabra: Land of Giants

Once you get by the sharks on Aldabra -- which can take a while -- you get to the tortoises. These fellows (and gals) are all over the place. As noted earlier, an estimated 100,000 of these giants call Aldabra home. That's five times as many as in the entire Galapagos archipelago.

Tortoises definitely have personalities (tortoisalities?). Some pull back into their shells if you approach. Some hold out their heads and hiss. And some stick out their heads and wait to be petted.

We didn't witness it, but apparently there's a behavior in which the Aldabra Rail (the only remaining flightless land bird in the Indian Ocean) will knock on the trailing edge of a tortoise's shell and, in response, the tortoise will extend its neck and legs so that the rail can pull off insects. Some researchers on the island use that technique to get tortoises to relax when they approach.

Tortoises are the largest critters on the island, so they fill many of the ecological niches that mammals hold in other areas. They even do their best to be giraffes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Aldabra: Wading Through the Sharks

Aldabra teems with life; the contrast with Assumption could not be any sharper. Long protected from any development, Aldabra hosts the largest population of giant tortoises in the world; about 100,000 call Aldabra home, five times as many as live in the entire Galapagos. The only remaining flightless bird in the Indian Ocean lives here, the Aldabra Rail. Thousands upon thousands of sea birds nest here. The interior of the atoll is one of the largest lagoons in the world, brimming with fish. There's life everywhere.

To see these wonders, you first have to get to Aldabra. Getting the Zodiacs to the beach is a delicate matter, given the shallowness of the reefs and sand bars that surround the water. And then you have to wade through the sharks. Literally.

There must have been two dozen sharks cruising along the beach where we landed. Most were Black-tipped Reef Sharks, but there were a few Lemon Sharks as well.

These guys are essentially harmless -- they certainly have no interest in biting you. But they are curious fellows who will happily swim right over to check you out. We hope to post some of Esther's video footage once we are back in the States, but the photos should give you some idea of the fun we had with them.

Assumption Island

Two days in the Seychelles. That was the great consolation prize we received because of the unrest in Madagascar. And not just any islands in the Seychelles - we went to two of the most remote: Assumption and Aldabra.

Our first port of call was Assumption, where Seychelles officials had specially flown to clear our ship into the nation. For reasons that are a bit murky, Assumption hosts a truly gigantic runway; you could land anything there, but few aircraft have any reason to. (Some speculate that one leader of the Seychelles wanted western countries to be able to send a large transport plane to evacuate him and his family in case of a coup.)

Assumption was super-duper hot. Many a traveler turned back before reaching the airstrip; we made it only by ducking into the shade of random Casuarina trees whenever possible. There's not much on the island today, either human or natural. It was once a thriving seabird colony, with rich soil (from the seabird guano) and lots of trees. Then guano mining took off, and much of the island was denuded. Mining ceased about 25 years ago, leaving behind rusty trucks and deteriorating buildings. The natural environment is rebounding, but only slowly.

Our bird species count for Assumption? Just four. Our new friend the Fody (this time the Aldabra Fody), Abbott's Sunbird, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Greater Frigatebird.

The good news is that life still teems underwater. The patch reef is close, so we could snorkel off the beach. We again saw a host of colorful fish, plus a few larger predators like mackerel and trevally. We also were fortunate to be caught in a classic tropical downpour. The rain cooled us nicely and made a fascinating pattern on the surface of the ocean, but had no noticeable effect on the fish below. (We hope to have underwater pictures from our disposable camera once we are state-side.)

P.S. The idea of an economist being on Assumption Island which was once covered in guano does seem like rich material for an anti-economist joke. Take your best shot.

At Sea with Boobies

Imagine, if you will, a humble flying fish going about its business as dawn breaks near the Seychelles. The flying fish hangs out near the surface, feeding on plants and small pelagic creatures. All of a sudden, a giant comes roaring across the surface of the ocean. What should the fish do? Well, if you are a flying fish, you swim away as fast as possible and launch yourself into the air.

That's a great strategy for getting out of the way of the ship -- the fish can easily travel a hundred meters or more. But there's a problem. Red-footed Boobies have figured this out. So as the sun rises, our ship is accompanied by a booby squadron. And when a flying fish takes off, the boobies dive bomb. Usually they miss -- flying fish have some evasive maneuvers up their, er, sleeves. But the boobies succeed often enough to make this a worthwhile strategy (or it may just be that they enjoying riding the wind above the ship).

P.S. Still hoping for a better flying fish photo; but at least we got one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leaping Lemurs

After a much-needed shower, our Mayotte afternoon began with a visit to Lemur Island. (The official name of Mayotte's third largest island is M'Bouzi, but Lemur Island is much more appropriate; it's crawling with them. To be more precise, the trees are crawling with them.)

Lemurs are fellow primates (pro-simians to be precise) who split off from the simians (monkeys, apes, us) some millions of years ago. Most lemurs are limited to Madagascar, one of the reasons we and many travelers were disappointed when Madagascar got dropped from the itinerary. After our up-close visit on Lemur Island, however, we are feeling much better.

As shown in the pictures, lemurs are quite different from monkeys and apes. Their faces are rather dog-like with a noticeable snout and a wet nose. Your basic monkey, on the other hand, has a much flatter face (see, for example, the vervet monkey we saw in St. Lucia in South Africa).

As we learned first hand, the lemurs also have very soft paws and sharp nails. We had a chance to feed them bananas, which they adore. Several jumped on us in their enthusiasm. (Sorry, no photos of a lemur on Esther's shoulders -- too close for the zoom lens.)

Lemurs weren't the only critters on the island. There was a cute black-and-white cat, who appeared to have reached detente with the lemurs. There was also a healthy population of bright red Madagascar Fodies. We had never heard of the fody before, but they are common in the this part of the world. The males looked like a cross between a finch and a scarlet tanager.

After spending an hour with the lemurs, we headed off for the first snorkel of the trip. We explored a patch reef a few hundred yards off Lemur Island. As you might expect, we saw all sorts of beautiful fish: brightly colored Butterflyfish, Surgeonfish, Wrasse, Parrotfish, Fusiliers, Trevally, Sergeant Majors, etc. We even found the day's "prize fish" -- the pipefish. Pipefish are basically three-inch sea horses that have been straightened. Very cute. (Sorry, no photos yet. Once we get back, we will post anything usable from our disposable underwater camera.)

Add it all up and it was quite a day: crate lake hike, hanging with the lemurs, and snorkeling with Indian Ocean fish. We slept well that night.

A Bit of France in the Indian Ocean

The best day of our voyage (so far) was at little-known Mayotte in the Comoros, northwest of Madagascar. Unlike the other major islands in the Comoros, Mayotte has chosen to remain part of France. (The rest of the Comoros claim Mayotte, and in the past, a majority of the U.N. Security Council agreed, but a French veto kept Mayotte part of France.) So, much to our surprise, we found ourselves spending a day in the EU.

And what a fine day it was.

We spent the morning hiking around the Dziani Crater on Petite Terre, the smaller of the two main islands. (Quick quiz: What's the name of the main island?). This proved to be the first semi-strenuous part of our cruise -- mostly because of the sun and humidity. We are now deep in the tropics, a long way from the temperate climate of Cape Town.

As we circled the rim, we looked down on the canopy of trees and the green lake at the base of the crater. A particular highlight was seeing large Fruit Bats (also known as Flying Foxes) flying across the crater. Much larger than the bats back home, they are rather cute, in a winged fox kind of way. We also saw White-tailed Tropicbirds, Madagascar Bee-Eaters, bright red Madagascar Fodys, two endemics (the Mayotte White-Eye and the Mayotte Sunbird), Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers, and African Palm Swifts, amongst others. We also spied a Kestrel, none of which are listed as occuring in Mayotte, so maybe we had something new there. (Sorry for the grainy kestrel photo; the zoom lens was back on the ship.)

On the way back to the ship, we did a quick beach stop. We saw many trails of sea turtles crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. The female turtles usually come at night, so we didn't see any in person. But their trails -- which look like tracks from a four-wheel offroad vehicle -- show that they are about. Maybe we will see some later in the trip.

Answer: The main island is called Grande Terre.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mozambique Recap

Best bird: Green (Red-billed) Wood-Hoopoe

Best mammals: Melon-headed Whales, Spinner Dolphins, and Transtropical Spotted Dolphins (all spotted in the Mozambique channel)

Best fish: Flying fish (still trying to get a photo)

Most interesting visit: Ilha de Mocambique

Least interesting visit: Maputo

Most useful Portuguese phrase: Bom Dia (Good Day)

Most disappointing news: Civil strife will prevent our scheduled visit to Madagascar.

Most encouraging news: Instead, we will visit the Seychelles.

Ilha de Mocambique

We were supposed to be in Madagascar today, but civil strife prompted a State Department warning against U.S. tourists going there; quite reasonably, the tour operators decided to take us elsewhere. So today we found ourselves on Ilha de Mocambique, the island that gave Mozambique its name. The island has a rich history as a port, boat building center, and Portuguese settlement. It served as the nation's capital until 1898 (when Maputo became the seat of government). It is now primarily a fishing village.

Despite being a World Heritage Site, the island gets only a little tourism. A few Europeans have begun to renovate homes into small hotels and restaurants, but we saw few other tourists (other than fellow guests on the ship) during our visit. According to our local guide, our ship was the first to visit since 2005. And before that, the last two visits were in 2001. So the arrival of the National Geographic Explorer was a big deal. When we came ashore, our group was welcomed by an enthusiastic throng, including some lovely women dancing and singing. We then walked the length (3km) and breadth (0.5 km) of the island.

The highlight of our tour was a visit to the Palace and Chapel of Sao Paulo, originally built in 1610. The Palace, which served as the governor's quarters, is decorated with remarkable pieces from France, England, India, China, etc. It even has statues from the New World. Exactly what you'd expect on an island that was so strategically placed on the trade routes between Europe and Asia.

Outside is a statue of Vasco da Gama, who originated the trade route from Europe to India. He reached Ilha da Mocambique in 1498 (in those years the Spanish generally went west -- finding the New World -- while the Portuguese went east). Of course, as we have often been reminded on this journey, Da Gama was hardly the first to sail these waters. Arab traders had plied the Indian Ocean for centuries, as had the Chinese.