03.11.2014 - 04.11.2014 27 °C
There wasn't much to keep us in Maputo and after an early start, we left the city at 6am - destination Tofo, some 450+ km away.
The route out of the city took us back to the seafront where, shortly after the new shiny hotels stopped, so did the road. It became a deep orange sand track where, the intention clearly was to build a road at some point but, if the distance covered by sand track was anything to go by, this would take some time. It was however already being used to full capacity as we were far from the only ones bouncing over the pot holes.
We passed through some small villages where life was already in full swing still well before 7am. Kids went to school, people walked to work and local women sat at the side of the road already selling freshly caught fish. The 'road' briefly became a road, before becoming a sand track again before, eventually, miles later, we were on a real road. We crossed train tracks passing an ancient looking train clattering from somewhere to somewhere and the dwellings became more sparse as we left the city and entered the countryside. We passed through a couple of towns, made a couple of bathroom and coffee breaks, but mostly we drove watching the scenery slide by.
We stopped 'halfway' at around eleven am to get cash and food (petrol station or KFC - the southern Africans seem to love KFC, in fact chicken in general as we'd seen a few Nandos too). I opted for Oreos, the food of travellers, and a mango juice before we were back on the road again. As we travelled north, palm trees slowly began to appear in ever increasing numbers and the vegetation became less 'bush' and more tropical.
It was a beautiful drive on a beautiful but, the main thing I'll remember was that it was long. So long. Bloody long. One pm came and went and still we drove. After a bathroom break that may have scarred me for life, we eventually caught our first glimpse of the southern Indian Ocean and spirits were temporarily lifted. We were high on a hill and which, dotted with Palm trees, sloped down to vast expanses of blue water. But with still over 90km to go, spirits quickly fell again and tempers began to rise.
Some grumbling began, perhaps as expectations hadn't been realistically managed, but there wasn't much we could do about it; we'd get there when we got there. I felt bad for Dana as none of this was his fault, but eventually caved and quietly joined in the grumble grumble. Just after 3pm, 9 hours after our journey had begun, we eventually swung into Inhambane, former capital, former slave trade centre of Africa where passing boats would stop to pick up slaves who'd been marched from across the continent. It was a colourful little town, with Portuguese architecture, a pier and small port and narrow little streets. We made only a brief stop before completing the final 20km of our journey to Praia do Tofo, hippy/backpackers town that seemed quite empty of tourists but full of stalls and hustlers. You could even by the 'traditional' backpacker-in-Thailand elephant pants.
Exiting the bus at the beach, I sprinted the width of the sand as fast as it would allow and, having taught the none-British contingent of the group the word 'paddle' was the first to wade into the warm waters with and overwhelming sense of relief that we'd finally finished our journey.
We checked into Barra lodge at the nearby Praia do Barra. Jan and I shared a two bed-roomed thatched beach house complete with kitchen, terrace and two additional beds in the living area.
I was in my bikini faster than you can say pasty-beach-bod and, leaving my bag with the others at the beach bar was into the water straight away. It was a gradually shelving beach with shallow waters but as I wallowed hippo-esquely as the waves rolled in and jumped and body-surfed, I was the only person I could see for miles. Despite the other lodges dotted along the waterfront, the long beach was utterly deserted.
And, with no bus to get on the next morning, we celebrated. Wine was £1 per glass for something extremely drinkable. Dinner came later and went by in a bit of a blur. In true British fashion, Jan, Andrew and I could be found until the wee hours, along with Eddie the driver, propping up the bar and getting drunk for less than a tenner. Finally we were on holiday.
Somehow, I fell into bed. Jan didn't quite make it, instead passing out on one of the beds in the living room. I slept through till 6, waking to the sound of the sea under a mosquito net, the woven roof and rafters above me, popped some painkillers preempting the hangover, and went back to sleep until 9 when I woke feeling almost human.
Breakfast had an omelet station and I was set for the day, or so I thought. The mornings activity, for all but Dad and the Finns, was an 'Ocean Safari' to go whale shark spotting. I didn't really know what a whale shark was but apparently they were big, safe sharks that we could jump off the boat and snorkel with. I was in good spirits, dancing on the beach as we tried on flippers and split onto two groups for two boats.
But they weren't real boats, they were giant motorised dingys. We sat on the inflated outer part with
our feet hooked under straps fastened to the floor and holding onto hand ropes. The sea was rough and we bounced aggressively up, into, through and over huge waves as the boat sped out towards the horizon. And we drove. And I clung on for dear life. After a while a fin was spotted, the boat stopped and we saw two hump back whales, presumably a mother and baby, making their was down towards Antarctica.
And that's when it started. Without the speed from the engines, the boat rocked nauseatingly and I began to feel sea sick. I wasn't the only one. Alex was also looking deathly pale. We continued onwards in the search for whale sharks, apparently given away by the shadow they cast in the water. We spotted a couple of dolphins hunting happily but after driving, bouncing aggressively over waves for well over an hour, still no whale sharks and our snorkels remained untouched in the centre of the boat. By this point I felt utterly dreadful and prayed that we would give up and turn around soon as all I cared about was being on dry land.
As we eventually began the long journey back, I tried to focus on the horizon and secretly prayed that we wouldn't find any whale sharks as I just wanted it get back ASAP, get off the boat and deposit my breakfast onto the beach! In a way I got my wish as no sharks were to be found by either boat on the journey back either however, sadly the drivers decided to stop at a reef, almost back and offer some consolation snorkelling. As the boat stopped moving forwards and began to move every which way again, there was no time to put on flippers or a snorkel, I just had to leave the boat so paused only to remove my tshirt before dropping into the water. Alex did the same, without stopping to remove any clothes.
Sadly it wasn't much better, as even out of the boat, we were still being rocked by the waves and the nausea continued. Those who had been patient enough to wait for snorkels found themselves drinking seawater as the waves splashed over the top of them. And when I returned to the boat, I found that those who remained on board were looking pretty rough now too. We couldn't get back to the beach fast enough. Fortunately we were closer than I'd realised and, as we approached the beach, weirdly, the driver told us to hold on tight as he sped the boat up and charged at the sand before skidding to a stop sideways.
We scrambled off the beached boat as quickly as possible and, about 50% of the party collapsed groaning into the sand. We were a pale, waxy looking bunch as we rejoined Dana for a late lunch and it took a while before I wanted to do anything other than lie down and make groany noises.
The afternoon was spent horizontal, relaxing by the beach then the pool before, in quite a sea breeze, we regrouped on the beach for a traditional Brai - a southern African barbecue. The food was excellent, the atmosphere recovered and reenergised from the morning's disaster and we ate well, drank only a little and retired for an early night.