'The hot African sun filters through stable doors fitted with fishing-basket weave and bamboo slats as I wander sleepily around my vast, open bathroom. There's a recycled Gordon's Gin bottle filled with boiling water for cleaning teeth, a thermal-syphon and coconut-husk shower contraption that looks like a nodding donkey, and a double-chambered composting loo with views over the powder-white sands and pale-turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
'British architect Richard Nightingale has designed these new bandas at Guludo, in Mozambique. They're strictly eco, combining local materials and traditional techniques with the latest findings from the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales. They have walls of mud brick, roofs of thatch secured with rubber from stripped-down tyres, and ceramic floor tiles made by a local woman's group. They're simple, providing everything you need and nothing you don't. They're also chic, with windows that open dramatically to catch the ocean breeze and chair backs with unevenly spaced struts to mimic the dappling of light.
"I never imagined we could make something so beautiful," says Mandela, the head of construction.
'Lovely as they are, the bandas are only part of the vision of Guludo co-founder Amy Carter-James, who won the New Statesman award for Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year two years ago, when she was just 25. Born in Woking, Amy decided she wanted to use "high-quality, low-quantity" tourism to protect the environment and alleviate poverty while teaching in Kenya during her gap year. In September 2002, she and her boyfriend (now husband and business partner) Neal drove north from Maputo to Cabo Delgado, the poorest province in a country still recovering from 15 years of civil war, with a list of potential sites. They knew Guludo was right the moment they saw it; looking at the 12km beach, it's easy to see why.
'From October, Guludo will have seven new eco-bandas, including two with mezzanines for families, as well as three of the original tented rooms, and a staff of 55 locals managed by four Brits. Getting here has had its challenges: for one thing, the average amount of education is two-and-half years and the local languages are Kimuani, a variant of Swahili, and Portuguese. But it's a gorgeous place to stay, with fresh fish or vegetarian food for lunch and supper; kayaking through the mangroves, picnics on Rolas Island, and sundowners overlooking the forested interior; where elephants are sometimes spotted.
'The marine life is extraordinary, offering regular sightings of turtles, sharks, rays and dolphins and humpback whales.
'A visit to nearby Ibo Island where, from the 17th to the 19th century, the Portuguese controlled the trade in ivory and slaves is utterly compelling. Ibo's crumbling mansions are being restored by USAID and assorted European NGOs, but for the moment it is still something of a ghost town, its walls choked by strangler figs. There is a surreal lamppost and lighthouse from 1764, an old customs house with log books from the 1940s and in the main fort, built by arab traders in 1754, 15 silver-smiths make delicate jewellery in the courtyard. The project is supported by the Agha Khan Foundation and Ibo Island Lodge, whose rooms, furnished with Goan antiques, overlook magical tidal flats.
'Guludo's support for the community is intrinsic to the operation - and is needed in an area where life expectancy is 38 and 30 per cent of children die before their fifth birthday. As well as running Guludo and developing Mipande, a treehouse bush lodge scheduled to open for Christmas 2009, Amy and Neal have set up a foundation, Nema, to "tackle all roots of poverty" in the area. The foundation has rehabilitated 26 water points, paid for 49 students to go to secondary school, and provided meals of porridge for primary-school children in Guludo village, increasing attendance from 80 to 300. Some 4,400 mosquito nets have also been distributed to pregnant women and those with children under five.
'Nema's next focus is to raise awareness of HIV and Aids by linking classes to football matches against other participating villages. This has all happened in two years, so the foundation's name ("Nema means when suffering is over and suddenly there's happiness", says Amy) is spot-on.
'The fat, malnourished bellies of the children stayed in my mind alongside drinks by a campfire under the blazing stars of the southern hemisphere.
The great thing about Guludo is that you can do your bit for the environment and the local people just by having a good time.'
Evening Standard, 23 October
October 23rd, 2008