Mozambique

Written by on December 23, 2012 in Africa, General with 1 Comment

I’d made a reservation for the “Africa Bus”, a bus that went from Durban, South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique, over the phone, but wasn’t sure how reliable that would be, so I showed up at 530am outside the Pavilion Hotel to ensure my spot on the bus.  I was actually quite surprised to find a nice, relatively new, air-conditioned coach similar to any good tour bus in the US or Europe, and my ticket was only 300 rand (or $33).  I scored a window seat near the front, popped on my headphones, and pretty much zoned out for the 11 hours to Mozambique, except for the 2 times we stopped to cross the border into and out of a little country called Swaziland.  I honestly have nothing to report on Swaziland as it didn’t feel any different to rural SA or Mozambique.

We finally rolled into Maputo around 4ish, but the traffic was so bad we didn’t get to the bus station until nearly 5.  In that hour in traffic, I’d seen enough and was happy I’d made the decision to catch the early shuttle up the coast to Tofo the next morning.   I’m sure the taxi I took to the Base Backpackers ripped me off, but it was raining and I just wanted to get out of the bus station, so I paid up and was dropped off at one of the more run-down places I’ve stayed on the trip so far.   It was getting dark, and I’d heard Maputo isn’t the safest city, so I made a quick supplies run to the grocery store so I could get back to the hostel before it got too sketchy.  I ran into Francisco, the late 50-something guy from Barcelona I’d seen on the Baz Bus a couple times, who was also taking the shuttle up to Tofo in the morning.  We agreed to help wake each other up in the morning, as the shuttle (aka chapa) picked us up bright and early at 5am.  Ugh.  Yet another super-early morning in Africa.

While waiting for the shuttle, we met Bastian, a nice 31 year old German guy travelling on his own, and made fast friends.  I had strategically picked Base Backpackers as a hostel as I’d read on the Lonely Planet travel forums that it was the first place the shuttle to Tofo stopped, so we were in the prime position to pick our seats before anyone else got on the bus.  This turned out to be key, as the chapa quickly filled up with people and bags, so much so that there was zero leg room…or air conditioning…or room to even breathe.  Luckily the rain continued, so the 9 hours in the uncomfortable shuttle wasn’t as hot as it would be on a normal day.  By the time we arrived in Tofo, the 3 of us had agreed to check out Tofo Beach Backpackers, and Francisco and I had agreed to splash out a bit for a private room as neither of us could handle a dorm again.

Bastian and I were planning on staying in Tofo for at least a week, so I was happy to have someone split the cost of a room where I could unpack and settle in awhile.  It makes such a difference to have your own room and not having to pack and lock everything up everytime you need to leave your room.  Francisco was harmless, and it turned out I never really even saw him as we were on much different schedules.  He’d be sleeping every night when I got home, and I’d leave for diving in the morning before he woke up every day.  All in all, a great arrangement!  It got a bit expensive for me when he left on the 4th day, but I didn’t care as there was no way I was leaving my private rondavel with it’s own ensuite bathroom to move to a dorm!

Tofo was exactly what I expected.  A long crescent beach with hardly any people that stretched several kilometers with azure colored water.  P1000662

 

A few hotels and backpackers on the beach.  A couple beach bars. 4 dive operators.  A few of the classic Mozambican dhow sailboats.

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Several locals trying to sell African wares, including curios, batiques, and cheap bracelets made and sold by little kids trying to getcha on the beach.  The bracelets were actually cute and very good value, especially compared to those the girls were selling in Dahab as the materials they were using in Tofo were strong.  And then there were the women carrying fruit on their heads, like this one.

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How strong their necks must be!  This was one of the main streets in Tofo.

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A nice surprise was hearing from my sister Renee that she thought that one of her old high school friends was probably going to be in the same area as me for some crossover days.  She introduced Eric and I on Facebook, and we met up for drinks on my first night in Tofo.  We ended up diving  and hanging together for nearly a week, until he had to head back to Arizona for the holidays.  It was great to connect with someone I’d never met but who has pretty much the same family upbringing that I’d grown up with.  He live less than a mile form my sister today.  Eric and I are both good divers, so it was easy to buddy up with him for the days he was in Tofo.

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Our first dive at a site called the Office didn’t disappoint as we saw a couple white tip sharks, several massive eels, and this leopard shark.

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There were also some huge potato grouper and camouflage grouper like this guy, who must have been 5 feet long.

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Now THIS is why I came to Mozambique!

And, it was a bonus that he had an underwater camera to capture our first AMAZING experience with not one buy FIVE giant manta rays when we finally saw them!

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Unbelievable creatures.  So gracefull.  So elegant.  So amazing!

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I was so happy!  We gave each other  a well-earned high-five after our last amazing experience in the water.  Wow!  To see such an amazing and unbelievable creature swim so close to you and interact with you.  Only divers can understand.  If you’re not a diver,  you should become one.  These experiences are in-fucking-credible!  Get certified!  You won’t regret it.

Stepping off my soap box for a second, it was sad to see Eric leave earlier than our little gang that had formed.  Bastian and Therese were the German contingent, and as soon as Eric left, we picked up a super-cool Chilean couple, Camilo and Carolina, and a Canadian couple, Mike and Jasmine.  All of us were on the same page with diving, and all of us were in Tofo to see and dive or snorkel with the elusive whale sharks.

After 8 days of diving, and running short on time, I decided to head north to Vilanculos to see more of Mozambique while I was in the neighborhood.  Whale sharks will have to wait.  Dammit!  AGAIN!  Deep breath.  It’s ok.

I had several amazing manta ray experiences, including on the last dive with Camilo, Carolina, Mike, Jazmine and me with Willem and Ritchie, our dive masters.  Ritchie shook his indicator and pointed, which usually means look that way…like 10-20m in the distance.  This time he shook it and pointed at a gigantic manta that was less than 4 feet away from me, just hovering there over the cleaning station.  The current was really strong, so I tried hard to grab on to some rock/coral  on the back edge and put a death grip on it and hung on for dear life.  OMG!  The giant manta’s winspan was estiamated at 4 meters across.  All of u s were hanging onto the nearby coral for dear life to try to not scare it away and managed to not spool it for at least 2-3 minutes before our over-ambitious photographer spooked it with his camera flash and she banked away.  STILL!  Probably my most awesome underwater experience ever.  I wish I had pics or videos to share.  I would’ve, but the photographer that scared the manta didn’t show up when we’d made an appointment to swap photos.  Boooo!  Oh well…it’s ingrained in my memory how absolutely awesome that experience was.  I just wish I could share it with you.  And I really wished I could have shared it with Eric.  He would have LOVED it!  Anyone would have.  But, we bonded as dive buddies and it would’ve been very cool for him to be here for that.

The day before, in a last ditch effort to try to find whale sharks, we’d gone out on a dive shark safari and had managed to find a pod of dolphins that we were able ot get in and swim with for awhile, which was pretty freaking awesome.

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No whale sharks, but we had an awesome dolphin experience and lots of great manta sightings, so I can’t complain.

And after Eric left, I picked up my nitrox certification from Tofo Divers, so now I’m certified to go deeper , or at least get longer bottom time while deeper.  As most of Tofo’s dives are at 30M and then there’s nothing to see at 18m, the safety stops were quite boring.  They need to find some dive sites where they can profile up to a reef or other things to look at rather than taking 10-12 minutes to get to the surface.  Otherwise, the diving was great!

I had been calling American Airlines to push back my flight for 30 days and then finally I started gaining traction.  Hooray!  More time in Mozambique!  My first flight was bumped back to 12/17, which bought me a couple days to head north up to Vilanculos.  Then I bought a flight to J’Burg, so I could meet my flight out on the 17th.  But, the next day, I was able to exchange my J’Burg-Hong Kong ticket to the 20th.  Score!!  This meant I could take my time in Vilanculos AND go hit a few more SA spots I’d been feeling bad about missing, given it could be decades before I get back to Africa again.

So, Therese and I, as well as Camilo and Carolina decided to head to Vilanculos on the 13th, and met up with three Norwegian girls en route.  We had to take a chapa to the ferry terminal in Inhambane, take the slow boat to Maxixe, and then take a bus or chapa from there.  As there were 7 of us, we felt like we had some bargaining power.  The chapa guys felt better dealing with Camilo, were masterminded a private chapa for the 7 of us for only about $10 more than it would be to ride in misery on a normal public bus.  All of us were in, and we were on our way to Vilanculos 30 minutes later.  Not only did we have room on the bus, but we took over their mp3 player so we could listen to Jack Johnson, Bob Marley and Coldplay for our 4 hour ride up in the rickety minivan.  Not too shabby!  Ended up costing each of us about $10/each.  The scenery was mainly palm trees lining the highway, and we passed through several villages and women carrying stuff on their heads.  Usually it was some sort of food or drink, but I had to get this one on film.

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We had the chapa drop us off at the Zombie Backpacker Hostel, which was actually quite quaint, with well appointed rondavels, a nice pool, and a bar.

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Prices were a bit high, but I was fine here for at least one night.  The dorm was empty, so I claimed it for $12/night, despite all the mosquitoes.  Good thing the nets were in tact.  We spent the afternoon checking out other accommodation in the area, and found a spot next door that would take 4 of us into a 2 bedroom condo for 400 mets each (which is about $15).  DONE!  So, we were going to move the next day.

Our next order of business was to arrange the next couple days of activities..a dhow dolphin safari on a traditional dhow sailboat for the next morning, and then scuba diving the next.  Woohooo.  Done.  Long day.  Turned in early as yet again, we had another early morning meetup for or dhow safari.  Go figure!  Can’t anything start at 10 or 11am on this continent!?!  J/k…turns out all the good action happens before 8 in the wild.

We walked down to the Dolphin Dhow safari office and met our crew.  Mpebe and Sharon were a Zimbabwean couple who live in J’Burg joining us, and then our motley crew of Chileans, Norwegians and German.

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We had a blast!!

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The sun was shining, the boat worked, and the crew was fun.  The snorkeling actually sucked as visibilities was less than a meter in front of your mask, but it didn’t matter because the scenery on Macarque Island was so stunning, no one cared.  A lot of us took for long walks around the island, which was surrounded by uber-soft sparkly white sand and bright azure see-through water in every direction, sometimes with a darker blue surrounding it.

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GORGEOUS!  I must have walked 4-5 miles.

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My camera battery died or I’d have better pictures. The sand banks kept stretching into the sea.

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I could’ve lived there!  (although it’s not allowed).  They do have a few 5* hotels on Bazaruto Island for like $600/night, but we didn’t see them.

We got back from the trip all feeling the need to check in with the outside world, so made our way through town, which was a lot farther than we’d thought, to the Kiliminjaro Net Café, where wifi kind of worked, and they hadn’t told us they were closing any minute.  Our bad.  So we hopped across the street to a restaurant called Brizas, which one of the best meals I had in Mozambique,…and for a  reasonable price.  Again we were all exhausted and had yet another early morning wakeup call for diving the next day, so we were probably in bed by 10p that night.

I woke up excited, as the sun was shining, the waves were tame, and we were headed out to the Bazaruto Archipelago for a 2 tank dive on 2 mile reef, which is why I trekked all the way up to Vilanculos for.  I had high hopes and they didn’t disappoint.  It wan’t just about the diving, but also about having the experience to get out to the Archipelago and see how beautiful it is.

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I have found few places in the world that have the same vast expanses of uninhabited white sand beaches strewn with clear azure waters in every direction.  Both Bazaruto and Beguerra had those beaches.

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I remember them in Zanzibar.  The Whitsundays in Australia.  I can’t remember seeing anything like these anywhere else in the world that I have been. That really says something!  If you know of places like this, please ping me because I want to find them!  I’m sure they exist elsewhere…I just haven’t seen it.  And it’s breathtakingly beaituful!!  Screensaver worthy!

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We saw plenty of wildlife, beautiful coral, several monster turtles, and on the last dive, we went to a cleaning station for devil rays, and witnessed about a dozen of them making laps on the station, as well as what seemed to be a mating ritual where 3 males were chasing a female.  So cool!  But, given the expense of diving out on the Archipelago (~$150 for a 2 tank dive – ouch!), Camilo and Carolina had decided to head back down to Tofo to re-join Jasmine and Mike for a few more days of diving before they head to Namibia…and to hopefully see some whale sharks!  That said, the diving off of Two Mile Reef in Bazaruto was spectacular.  Theresa took the same bus, although is headed south to Ponto do Ouro for Xmas.  The gang from the last 10 days has finally gone their separate ways, which means it’s time for me to go, too.  I was able to change my flight so that I can now go from Vilanculos to J’Burg, and am planning on using my last few days to see as much as possible in the Blyde River Canyon/Kruger Park area.  

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  1. Herb says:

    Tofo had wifi what a world!

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