From Pretoria in South Africa, it was about an 11 hour bus ride to the Capital City of Maputo in Mozambique. We were told before that if we didn’t have our Mozambican Visas prior to arriving at the border, then the bus would leave without us. Good thing we listened to that advice because the line ups at the border crossing were huge.
After a little bit of bribery (in the form of $1 each) the whole bus was able to be stamped in right away. Our first taste of bribery and corruption in this country…more to come. Maputo was a nice city, our first real “African” feeling place. We found a great Backpackers to stay in and it was packed with other travellers from all over the world. We spent 3 nights in Maputo just hanging out with other backpackers, walking the streets and going to the local markets.
We left Maputo on August 19th and headed up to the beach village of Tofo. We hadn’t seen a beach since Kabak in Turkey so we were really looking forward to lounging out and relaxing for a few nights near the ocean. My cold had worsened since Maputo so the 8 hour chapa (small bus) ride was hellish for me. I was sweating out a fever, hacking and coughing the whole way. Luckily we met some really cool people on the bus who helped make it bearable. There was 7 young backpackers on the trip and we all chatted, in separate groups, the whole way. There were two German girls in the back of the bus named Maria and Anna, who were on a 1 month trip in Mozambique. A sweet, easy going girl named Alice from Luxembourg (don’t worry, we’d never heard of it either), a strange Israeli who nobody was quite sure of, and a lively, ultra positive German character named Henry who we instantly hit it off with…despite him sleeping for 6 of the 7 hour bus ride.
Once we arrived in Tofo, we checked into our funky beachside hut. While checking in the Israeli seemingly lost his mind and started yelling at the staff in the hotel. Rule one in travelling is to relax and this guy was off his rocker. If there was any possibility of the 6 of us forging a friendship with this creepy lurker, it was immediately shattered with his spontaneous and uncalled for hostility.
The rest of us basically laughed at him and apologised to the extremely friendly staff after the unexpected onslaught. We ditched the aggressive Israeli and headed straight to the beach. Stepping on the sand was like stepping back into paradise and back into a world reminiscent of our Asia trip only with a palpable African flavour.
As soon as we saw the beach Henry and I ran into the water and swam in the waves for a bit. That turned out to be the last of my energy for the next few days. While Dariece hung out with our new friends I mostly stayed in our hut fighting off a fever and nasty throat infection. After 3 days when I was still in and out of hot flashes I decided to take one of the self malaria tests we bought in South Africa, just to be safe. Luckily it was negative, and the cold started to subside the next day.
The entire time we were in South Africa I had heard about the amazing diving in Tofo so I had really been looking forward to diving there. It is one of the few places in the world where massive, 4 meter wide manta rays come to be cleaned by other fish. Unfortunately the week before we arrived the entire coastline was ravished by a freak winter sea storm and so the visibility on dives was next to zero. Every time we saw divers coming back from the sea Henry and I would run up and ask how it was and every time they would tell us either that the visibility was bad, or the dive was cancelled. I planned to try anyway so I booked a dive on the same day that Dariece planned an ocean safari with Alice to snorkel with some of the huge creatures that frequent the seas near Tofo. My dive that day was cancelled but Dariece still went on her safari and was extremely lucky. She spotted Humpback Whales and a pod of dolphins which came right up to the boat and bobbed with there head up long enough for Dariece to have a conversation with one of them. On the way back to shore a Whale Shark was basking in the shallows, feasting on krill and all the people on the boat jumped in and snorkeled with the enormous 7 meter long fish.
Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the world measuring up to 18 meters long and weighing in at astonishing 13 or so tons. I spent an entire month on Koh Tao Thailand diving 26 dives trying to see one and Dariece got to swim with one before me. I was surprised that she even got in the water because she screams when we snorkel with 2 foot long groupers, but she did and she loved it. Although she still did scream when the the massive shark headed straight for her and suddenly came visible in the murky water! On the boat she met a fellow oceaphobe from England named Faye and her husband Oliver. When she came back to shore the three of them told me about the trip and I was extremely jealous and I immediately planned to do a safari the next day with Henry. That night we ate a tolerable meal at a funky local hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Black & White. We picked at the cold food and chatted with a table full of our new friends.
The next morning at 10:00 Henry and I set out on our ocean safari and for nearly 2 hours of slowly cruising around wavy seas we saw absolutely nothing. Finally we spotted a turtle bobbing on the surface and at that moment all the animals decided to come out and say hello. The driver spotted a couple of boats floating around a huge shadow. Sure enough when we got close we could see the huge Whale Shark! While we were getting ready we also saw a few dolphins playing in the water around the boats.
Henry and I hastily dawned our snorkeling gear and we were two of the first people off our boat. At first I was frantically searching for this mythical creature that has managed to evade me for the past 2 years, then suddenly the shadow became bigger and the detailed image of the incredible beast came into view. I swam along side it, crowded with other snorkelers, occasionally diving down a few meters below the shark to see his underside.
He was an adolescent male measuring maybe 6 or 7 meters long and he wasn’t shy at all. He stayed feeding near the surface for nearly a half an hour even with the dozen snorkelers crowding his space. At one point Henry gave me the thumbs up under water, knowing how long I’d waited to see a Whale Shark, and already seeing one himself in the Philippines, he knew the feeling I was having. I stayed in the water with the shark for a few minutes after everyone else had tired and went back to the boat. The one on one time with the shark swimming next to me is something I will never forget, a truly awesome ocean experience.
That night Henry, Alice, Dariece and I shared a bottle of wine on a hill at the edge of the bay. We talked about our Whale Shark experiences, prior travels, and home life, while Henry (a music teacher) played us a sound track to tropical paradise on his ukulele while we watched the sun set over the palm fringed beach. On that night it became clear that Henry and Alice were about to become our close friends and travel companions in Mozambique.