Mine are the only footsteps to be seen along this stretch of beach at Anvil Bay. The sun warms my bare shoulders and my toes revel in the softness of the fine white sand. The words, ‘I dream of Africa’ fill my mind – words uttered by Italian writer Kuki Gallman, and immortalised in the movie ‘I dreamed of Africa’. I consider how she gave up her comfortable life to pursue her dream of living in Africa, and wonder at the hardships and heartbreaks she had to endure. Much like anyone who has a dream, and is brave enough to pursue it…

Much like Paul Bell, who had a dream of establishing a community run beach camp on the exact spot in Mozambique where he had camped with his family for 50-something years.

This was made possible by a landmark decision by the Mozambique Government to grant the Chemucane Community an ecotourism concession in the Maputo Special Reserve. A joint venture, the Companhia de Turismo de Chemucane (CTC), was formed between the Chemucane Community and the Bell Foundation and with funding from the World Bank and the Bell and Ford Foundations construction of Anvil Bay camp began.  This created many benefits for the local community, from the purchase of local materials, produce and services skills transfer, hospitality training as well employment In addition to this the community benefits financially from their share of the profits while concession fees support conservation efforts in the Reserve.

Anvil Bay is a low impact beach and bush destination where miles of untouched beach are fringed with coastal forest, and where beyond the sand dunes are the lakes, wetlands, forests and grasslands of the Maputo Special Reserve. Getting there is part of the adventure – ours admittedly more adventurous than necessary, and despite arriving in the dark, the welcome was warm, the sashimi fresh and the chardonnay chilled.

A short walk along the beach and along nestled in the coastal forest canopy was our casinha… a thatch and canvas dwelling made from local materials and crafted by local artisans. The simple furniture was created on-site by local carpenters and the king-size bed, with its fine linen, was draped in netting. The sound of rolling waves, a melodious lullaby. We had indeed arrived in paradise.

I awake early, the dappled light and melodious bird calls suggest that I may just catch the sunrise… pink ghost crabs scuttle out of my path into a nearby burrow as I emerge from the wooded path to a spectacular view. The colour of the ocean turns gradually from light pink to dark orange as the fiery ball makes its appearance before being absorbed by the clouds. I watch crabs dance with waves on the shoreline and families of plovers run the gauntlet with the waves as they dash… in then out, in then out, each time trying to retrieve a morsel from the newly washed sand.

The ocean is warm and I look forward to our snorkeling later that day. There is much to keep the adventurous guest happy… from kayaks, paddleboards and fat-bikes, to guided trails, fishing and an ocean safari – where dolphins, turtles and even manta rays and whale sharks may be seen. Humpback whales are seasonal visitors, as are the Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles that come ashore to nest during the summer months.

Chatting to Paul and Ricky Bell later in the day, we begin to understand Paul’s deep connection to this beautiful spot, and learn of the sense of community that prevailed decades past. We’re sitting in the ‘beach bar’ beneath a canvas structure supported by hand carved poles, my bare feet comfortable in the soft white sand and my soul being refreshed by the ocean view.

Over a breakfast of fresh fruit and banana smoothies, Paul tells of a time when the Bell and Butler families visited regularly. When Dr Butler would treat patients from the local communities for everything from belly aches to dentistry. It was a time when the current ‘beach bar’ was the family accommodation by night and clinic by day. A time when the ‘girls’ bathed in the sea and the ‘boys’ made use of the nearby lake, keeping a watchful eye out for hippos!

The nearby lake is now the perfect spot for sun-downers. Our short walk detoured past the solar farm – Anvil Bay is completely off-grid, an array of solar panels feeds a bank of batteries that supply power to the camp (there is a back-up generator for when bad weather persists). A borehole provides slightly brackish water, but the reverse osmosis system purifies it well providing delicious drinking water.

A narrow path through the bush leads us to a wooden deck, the perfect spot for G&Ts and bird-watching – the Maputo Special Reserve supports remarkable diversity of bird life, with about 350 species recorded. But it was a pair of bull elephants on the far bank of the lake that held our attention as they jostled for superiority, alternating between bouts of aggression and playful frolicking in the water – much to the annoyance of a nearby pod of hippos. Ricky tells us that it is not uncommon to have an elephant or two visiting the camp, as dung beetle covered mounds attest.

I chat to Jonito Timbane, Anvil Bay trainee manager, and he tells of a near escape with an elephant one day when he was walking home to his uncle’s house located within the reserve. ‘You have to throw your shirt down and run’ he tells me, ‘because the elephant will look for it’. Yeah, right, I think to myself!!

Jonito now stays in Mabuluco, 14 kms away along with a number of the other staff – Anvil Bay provides transport so as to avoid any incidents with elephant as well as to make things easier for staff. I ask him how he came be working at Anvil Bay, and he tells me he came to visit his uncle who worked at the camp, liked it so much so asked to stay. He started as a camp attendant, and when the building of the lodge began he learnt to do the plumbing and electrical installations, followed by being involved with the running of the lodge. He tells me that ‘his best thing is to learn more, and to see that everyone can now do things’ and finally with his infectious smile he says ‘and we need to see more guests coming’.

Skills training is a key value for Paul and Ricky, and Jonito was one of 18 staff members that were trained in hospitality skills at the SA College for Tourism in Graaff Reinet – another was Anselmo Mudumbe.

He proudly tells me that he speaks four languages, Shangaan, his home language; Chopi, which he learnt while staying in Inhambane with his grandfather; Portuguese as well as English during his schooling – in his spare time he gives English lessons to other staff members!  I ask about his time in Graaff Reinet and he tells me that he enjoyed learning about all aspects of tourism, and when asked what ‘his best’ was, he smiles and tells me ‘I would love to be in reception, but now I’m busy in front of house’. Something I assure him he is very good at!

With Paul and Ricky offering advice and overseeing the running of Anvil Bay, I am confident this is one community enterprise that will grow from strength to strength, and when the 25 year ‘concession period’ is up will continue to thrive and bring economic value to the community.


Read the article in the digital mag HERE