This morning wasn’t supposed to be so early! My flight was supposed to be at 11am. But that failed.
So at 6am, I headed back to the airport to try and get onto a new flight. The airline office opened at 6.30am and I spent the next hour faffing around with several people, before they finally accepted that they needed to put me on a new flight. It’s not direct, it’s via the capital of Mozambique, Maputo. But at least I’m getting there. Another day of flying!!
I’ve wanted to visit Tofo beach for several years. I tried to make it work when I was last in Africa. But getting to Tofo involves either a 2 day bus ride from Johannesburg, or an expensive flight. Last time I just couldn’t justify the price of the flight, given I was travelling for months. But this time, the flight, whilst still ridiculously expensive, was doable. And I’m off!!
I was a bit worried about luggage. I couldn’t find the luggage limit anywhere on the airline website. And my bags are quite heavy. But they accepted my 22kg! The flight across to Maputo was just 45 minutes! We were even served juice and a croissant (full of cheese that I can’t eat).
The city is on the coast, with lots of tall buildings, surrounded by townships. I had read that it wasn’t the best place to visit, and I’m not staying! Stepping off the plane, it was boiling hot. But it was also raining. Totally weird!
We landed at 10am. My next flight was departing at 10.40am! I wasn’t clear whether I had to pick up my luggage here, or not. It had a tag to Inhambane, but no one knew if it was going or not. And despite being told I wouldn’t clear immigration here, I did have to! Luckily it didn’t take too long. And I did have to pick up my bag! And then walk it over to domestic departures and check it again…!
Luckily all that didn’t take too long. And by 10.30am I was in the departures area. Which was one very small room. The next flight was on a tiny propellor plane. There were about 15 seats. But as I had barely slept last night, I was exhausted and fell asleep for the 45 minute flight up the coast.
I woke up as we were coming in to land over a palm-covered area.
The airport was funny. One room. Half of the airport was outside. You walk off the plane, to an outside bar! And wait at the bar for your bag! Hilarious. Luckily the hotel had got my email this morning and a taxi man was waiting for me!
And it was so hot! 37 degrees!! It was a pretty drive out of Inhambane, endless miles of palm trees, papaya, mango and cashew. The occasional small wooden hut.
I had no money. I didn’t have time to find an ATM in Maputo airport. And Inhambane airport did not have one. Luckily there was a petrol station along this road and I managed to get some money. As there is no ATM in Tofo!
The drive was less than half an hour. And we arrived at a massive white beach! I’ve never been away and stayed in one location for a whole week before. I considered moving around to a few different places in Mozambique. But nowhere looked as good as Tofo. So I hope I’m not going to be bored!
Accommodation on the beach is fairly limited. Even when I was booking back in July, most places were sold out. I couldn’t get a room for the full week. So I’m spending the first 4 nights in one place, then moving.
My room was nice – upstairs, with my whole own balcony area. Right on the beach. I dumped my bags and went for a walk around. Being hot, it was hard work. And it was also lunchtime. Many places were closed, but I found one small hut selling pizza. It was really good! I just had tomato and pepper (no cheese, no onions!) for £2. Yum!
Then I came across the African wooden stuff market. I love these places. So many things to buy….! I had a look around to see what they had. But as I am here all week, I have plenty of time for shopping. On one side of the market were fruit stalls. Awesome. That’s my week sorted! I got a papaya, 8 mangos, a lime and a bunch of bananas. For £2.50. Not too bad!
I walked quite far down the beach, all the way to the end of Tofo town. This beach is really long – it goes for miles and miles, up to Barra on the northern point of this small area, then continues up and up. And being so hot, it was hard work! I popped into the dive shop that I’m going to be diving with for the week – they all seemed really nice!
Then I did nothing. I have a feeling that I’m going to become good at doing nothing for the next week! I ate my papaya for dinner, and had an early night.
Sunday 15 November 2015
I was awake by 6am, way too early as usual. It was cloudy! I had some oats (amazing!) and banana for breakfast and headed out.
Diving started at 7.20am. They were super organised – tanks and equipment already laid out! I had brought all my own equipment, so that was loaded onto the boat. And then we walked down to the beach.
Diving is a bit different here – it’s from a RIB, that is launched into the sea, from the beach. I’ve not done that before! The boat is driven onto the beach by a tractor and left on the shoreline. You then push the boat into the sea. When it’s far enough out, you jump in. (Easier said than done). i.e. You try to jump up, and fail. Then have to be dragged in by one of the boys. Like a whale.
It was quite a long drive to our first dive site, south along the coast. We bumped into a pod of dolphins and I was really surprised when we were ushered off the boat to swim with them! Never done that before! Usually watching only!! First dive was at a site called Manta. This is a large manta cleaning station. Getting ready was interesting. You get completely ready, on the side of the rocking boat. Everyone rolls in together, negatively buoyant and then basically race down to then bottom at 25m. No sloping reef. Just blue water all the way down.
What this means, is that you have a very short bottom time and then just ascend straight to the surface, with nothing to look at in the shallows. No idea why they don’t use nitrox. It was good – saw cool Nudibranch, a dragon moray eel (never seen before!), honeycomb morays and yellow mouth morays are absolutely everywhere (were so rare in Borneo – only saw once!) and lots of schools of small fish.
But it was super short. Getting back into the boat was a joke. You have to pull yourself up. Failing that (obviously) someone pulls you up. During the surface interval, we snacked on biscuits while driving back up north to the second dive site. On the way, we spotted a whaleshark!! So of course, we got in and had a swim with it.
This means, the boat drops you a few meters in front of its path, you look as it swims towards you, try to swim with it, but fail to keep up!! We did this three times. (And each time, requiring re-entry, whale style, into the boat.)
The second dive was in Tofo bay. The visibility was terrible and we lost over half the group within first couple of minutes. The current was all over the place and it was rather stressful diving! We did see some harlequin shrimp though – they are awesome. And usually super rare. When we came up, I had a massive headache and felt really sea sick. Luckily we weren’t far from land.
After I had tidied up all my stuff, I went back to my room and spend the rest of the afternoon lazing around. Mangos for lunch and papaya for dinner!
Monday 16 November 2015
I was awake for much of the night. Rain and wind. When I got up just after 6am, it had stopped raining. But the waves were huge. Oh god. Dreading going out in that. Guaranteed I would be sick.
But just before 7am, the dive shop popped round to say that diving was cancelled. Thank goodness. But now what to do for the day?! Nothing. And I managed to do nothing quite well. I went for a walk back to the market, topped up on mangos and bananas (£1.40 for 8 mangos and a big bunch of bananas) and water (90p for 5l). And then went to buy wooden stuff! I ended up with a wooden whaleshark, big fish shaped fruit bowl, big batik picture and lots of smaller batik pictures! I love African markets! Then I continued to do nothing. Whilst eating mangos, bananas and papaya!
The hotel next door is home to a local research group, headed up by Andrea Marshall. Every time there is a BBC programme about mantas, it’s always her. She even had her whole own programme – manta queen. And she runs talks every Monday!
So at 5.30pm, I headed off to go and watch! They charge 200mets (£2.90) per person to attend. But sadly Andrea wasn’t doing the one tonight. One of her assistants was. It was still good. I learnt a few things about mantas! They are supposed to be quite prolific around this coastline. But numbers are rapidly decreasing due to fishing and destruction of the reef. They estimate within the next 70 years, mantas will be extinct worldwide.
Tuesday 17 November 2015
Diving was back on today. And I was ready at 7.30am.
The sea had calmed down and was almost flat again. We headed south again today, to a further site. The second dive, we went back to manta reef. No mantas again!
For lunch I made it to an awesome cafe. And they did vegan food!! First proper food in a while. I had a spicy tomato and bean curry soup thing, topped with tortillas. And mango and carrot juice. Wow. So good!!! And then I managed to spend the rest of the afternoon doing. Well. Nothing! And some papaya for dinner!
Wednesday 18 November 2015
I’m changing hotels today. So I had to pack up all my things. The people were awkward about having to keep my bag for a few hours. We headed north today, a long way off shore! Basically in the middle of the ocean. The first dive was at a site called Reggies. It was nice – pretty coral. White tips. Nurse shark. That’s about all though!
We spent the next hour bobbing around on the surface. I was concentrating on not feeling sick. In an hour, we drifted 6km! Crazy!
Didn’t feel like we were moving at all. Next up, Office. Again, much the same. But a devil ray on the safety stop. Every time I see devil rays, it’s just a glimpse! When I came to pick my bag up from the hotel, the woman was really rude about it. They had forgotten to add a £2 item to my bill when I paid yesterday and she was so rude about it. As if that’s my fault! (Or even a huge amount of money….) They hadn’t offered to call me a taxi (I don’t need one anyway!) or ask where I was going. Lucky I was only walking a few meters down the road.
But wow. What a difference. This place is amazing. My room was huge. And airy and light. With a massive balcony, full of a tropical garden. I had flowers scattered all around my room. There was free water, fruit, cakes. Huge comfy seating areas with loads of cushions. The people were so helpful and explained everything about the area (the other hotel didn’t do any such thing!) The amazing lunch place was closed, which was a shame. So I went back to the pizza place and had a plain pizza (no onion, no cheese) – took them two attempts to get that right again. No need to go to my woman at the fruit stall today – loads of free fruit at the hotel. And wow – the passionfruit tasted immense! Like a mix of pineapple and passionfruit in one. I enjoyed lazing around on my balcony for the rest of the afternoon. And burnt my lemongrass oil in my oil burner. There were no mosquitos here. Surprising as loads in the other room.
Thursday 19 November 2015
Getting up today, I was still a tad tired. But was still wide awake by 6am (not my usual 5am!). It had been raining for the past couple of hours. And was still raining. Breakfast was immense. Oats, fruit, juice, a whole assortment of homemade jams (mango, pineapple, passionfruit, ginger, strawberry) and peanut butter. Yum!!
I bumped into someone I had been diving with yesterday, who told me that the meet time was now 7am instead of 7.30am. So I ate breakfast in a bit of a rush and headed over for 7am. No need – my boat was still 7.30am. So back for some more breakfast….! On the boat, we headed South again today. And just after the point, we came to a stop – a whaleshark!!
So of course, we quickly put some fins and mask on and jumped in. It was bigger than the one a few days ago. And was right on the surface, swimming really slowly and feeding. It was so cool. We got so close. So close in fact, that I got hit a few times with the dorsal fin and the tail. I didn’t mean to be in the way, it just kept changing direction. So awesome.
The first dive site was the furthest south I’ve been. As soon as we descended down to the bottom (about 25m), there was a massive ray just hanging out above the reef. It looked initially like a marbled ray, but was so much bigger. Turns out it was a small eyed stingray.
These stingrays were thought to be extinct, until one was spotted in Tofo in 2009. Since then, they have only been spotted in Tofo and are super rare. Cool! During the rest of the dive there wasn’t too much going on. A few nudibraches. Schools of yellow and blue striped snapper. A large potato grouper. A devil Ray sneaked by on the safety stop though!
I’ve only seen a handful of devil Rays – and every single time, just a glimpse before they disappear! After the dive, in a change to usual schedule, we headed back to land for a long break. And the sun was out! It was only 11.30am. But time for a quick lunch! I headed back to the cafe I went to a few days ago. Amazing food. I got a beetroot and lemon juice (yay juice!), and falafel tacos. Wow they were good!! Makes such a change eating real food!
And back to the dive centre to head out at 12.15pm. This time, we were going on an actual ‘whaleshark safari’. ie looking for the one from this morning. We drove up and down the coastline. But no luck. So onto diving. This time, in Tofo bay. At one of the famous sites around here – Giants. This again is a manta cleaning station. But as usual. No mantas!! I’ve done 8 dives here now and not a single manta! They are supposed to be everywhere here. There were some harlequin shrimp though. Which are so cool. I didn’t manage to get a photo, as they were in a hole and I was using a wide lens. Nothing much else for the rest of the dive, which was disappointing.
I have been diving with the owner of the dive shop for the past few days. While we were on the boat he asked me if I wanted to come back and work here as an instructor. I thought he was joking. But it was a genuine job offer! That would be fun….!
We got back around 3.30pm and for the rest of the afternoon I managed to do nothing. I sat out on the balcony, looking out across the ocean. So pretty. And then some fruit for dinner!
Friday 20 November 2015
Final day of diving! After a breakfast of oats and fruit, I went off to the dive centre. We set off a bit later today – 8am. And heading north. It was a bit choppy. The diving was fine. At Hospital (because lots of surgeon fish). And then back at Reggies. Nothing exciting. An eagle Ray and a leopard shark. Both far away. A Jenkins whipray. No mantas. Disappointing. We got back really late at 3pm, so my favourite lunch place was closed. So just fruit for lunch then! Then to packing! And more fruit for dinner!