05.11.2014 - 06.11.2014
Another 6.30 start. I woke before my alarm to the sound of nature and the sea. We breakfasted well and commenced the next leg of our journey, another 250km further north up the coast. We were promised we'd be there by lunch time so the drive time wasn't of particular concern. However what goes up must come down and it was conscious that in a few short days time we'd be travelling from Vilankulo all the way back to Xai-Xai which must by now be a good 550km away...
Eddie drove like he was on a mission. Which he was; a mission to arrive before bellies (and Mrs Finn) began to grumble. We stopped infrequently. The first stop was just for 'gas'. Steve's expression coming from the bathroom was enough to deter the rest of us from trying - Steve's in the Canadian Navy and must have seen a thing or two in his time.
The next stop was a little more exciting: the Tropic of Capricorn. The sign was rather nondescript and faced north to south so, as we were driving north, we actually missed it. Eddie reversed back and we duly filed out for photographs. It was about as thrilling as the meridian line in Greenwich. Andrew's geography lesson was a little more interesting - he explained to Sam, who'd never heard of it, that anywhere between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn was officially referred to as 'the tropics'. I'd never realised 'the tropics' were quite so vast!
We drove on and the next stop was to admire a baobab tree. When we exited the vehicle, it certainly felt as if we were in the tropics. We'd travelled only around 100km north however the temperature and humidity had both upped significantly. The scenery was much the same as the previous journey (palms and local dwellings made from reeds and dried, woven palms) but now with the addition of some dotted baobab trees. Dana explained that they were not in fact indigenous to these parts however, when the slaves had been marched through en route to the port of Inhambane, they'd carried with them their main source of food, the fruit of the baobab trees, scattering the seeds as they ate and, over hundreds of years, these trees had grown up as a reminded of the landscape's sad history.
We arrived in Vilankulo bang on 1pm for lunch - another group bill for 19 to be divided and paid in up to three separate currencies. Whilst Mozambique's official currency is the Metical, South African Rand and USD are both universally accepted with some places even accepting euros. This had led to several complicated calculations as to who owed what, first in Meticals, then in the currency if their choice, and then adding up the totals of each currency at the end, using each establishments chosen exchange rate, to confirm we were on the money (plus tip). In general, there were circa three Meticals to the Rand and circa 10 Rand to the dollar. Andrew and Krista seemed to be our unofficial bill calculators and somehow, we just about muddled through.
The booked lodge wasn't big enough to house the entire group so the three couples were dropped at a sister lodge a good mile away before we continued on to ours. Dana used this as a great excuse to offload Mr & Mrs Finn with whom his patience was becoming increasingly thin.
The rest of us continued to Golden Sands, a resort of bungalows on a hill with spectacular views of the ocean and nearby islands. Each bungalow had two bedrooms so Jan, Krista and I were assigned one together and I shared a room with Krista.
After spending a good hour in the sea (singing Africa-themed Disney songs), in water so warm there was zero 'eek factor' as we splashed in, a storm appeared to be brewing. Dana had told us to expect flash storms in the Mozambican summer as rainclouds opened, dropped their contents and moved on... This rendered a few of a little nervous given the approaching two day boat safari however, by the time our couple-less group ate dinner at an excellent restaurant at the beach, the wind seemed to have passed and the cloud had dumped its contents elsewhere.
Dinner was amazing: fresh prawns with the option of topping them with the local Portuguese speciality of peri-peri, 10 out of 10 on the scale of hotness.
That night, after a bumpy trip down the sand road to the lodge and before bed, we packed a small bag for the following two days' Dhow safari and night camping.
We collected the couples and breakfasted together before boarding our Dhow early the next morning. We were headed for the Archipelago of Bazaruto, a collection of four small islands off the Mozambique coast, adrift in the Southern Indian Ocean. A Dhow is like a traditional local fishing boat; colourful, made of wood, little to no shelter from the elements, optional sail and a 25 horse power engine (the power boats we'd ridden earlier in the week had two 90horse power engines!). Ours was painted purple, old and rickety looking and called Adriana. We had with us a crew of three, a cook, a driver and a captain.
We could see our destination across the water, the island of Margurite, and began a slow and winding journey. The waters were calm and shallow and, as the tide was out, we had to zigzag back and forth through the deeper waters so as not to become beached. The water was crystal clear with few rocks and it was a beautiful journey. There weren't really seats but we sat around the edge of the boat legs dangling into the warm water of the channel between the island and the mainland. As we approached we saw a flock of flamingoes in the distance in shallow water and watched a pair of dolphins arching in the water and saw another one hunting a huge fish at an aggressive speed in water so shallow it looked yellow.
We arrived and dumped our stuff under a small shelter on the beach before donning snorkels and beach shoes, crossing a small inlet of water, climbing over the rocks before reaching the sea proper. The rocks were sharp and, having found a suitable place to drop into the deep water, I cut my knee getting in - I hoped the crew were correct that there were no dangerous sharks in the area as I was bleeding slightly.
Pulled mostly by a gentle current along the edge of the rock, Sam, Krista and I travelled several hundred meters length of the rocks looking down through only slightly murky waters at the colourful fish below. I don't know many names of fish but there were clownfish, some that looked like regular goldfish and some huge ones.
When we returned to the shelter, blood was trickling slowly down my leg but I was one of the least wounded of our motley crew; Dad had set up a first aid clinic and had been doing a great job patching people up and Andrew had a bloody bandage around each pasty calf from where he'd slipped on the rocks, Jan had sliced her finger open and Angie too had slipped on the rocks.
After reapplying copious amounts of factor 30, we walked towards the point of the island, a long sand bank with views of one of the other islands and shallow cool water with lapping waves. It was officially the most beautiful place I'd ever been, right out of a honeymoon brochure but completely deserted - apparently the islands were lightly populated but we saw no sign of this. The tide was coming back as we returned and the 'kiddy pool' before the rocks had filled up to allow the Dhow to sail up to the shore and the crew were busy preparing our lunch on board. There was a open fireplace in the stern of the boat that they stoked with coal and what looked like hay.
Whilst we waited I donned my goggles and swam a few lengths of the inlet, the closest thing to my normal exercise routine I'd had in weeks. And helped Angie with her floating - she was trying to learn to swim and in the shallow calm waters managed to float face down with her snorkel on and even managed a few strokes of breaststroke.
Lunch was delicious, and especially impressive since it'd been made on board the little ramshackle boat; they'd cooked a barracuda ('caught' at the market that morning) and knocked up mashed potato salad, a coleslaw and fresh bread. They even finished it off with a huge bowl of fresh popcorn that Dad administered generously around the group. As the dishes were washed in the sea, the wind was picking up slightly and kite surfers appeared around the edge of the bay.
The journey back to the campsite over the channel was very different. It was as if someone had left the taps on and the ride was bumpier and slow as the engine chug chugged along with waves occasionally splashing over the stern. The crew called at us to 'weigh the boat' with a lot of people sat at the bow, the engine at the back was lifting out of the water so we piled to the back, where the fire was still going providing warmth (and something for Dana to light his cigarettes on). Those of us who'd been sick on the previous boat trip began to pop precautionary travel sickness pills. We sang snippets of various songs, ranging from Queen to the Wheels on the Bus to pass the time - our singing seemed to anger the sea gods and the water became choppier as we progressed.The Finns got their macs on and began to frown as the water came increasingly close to the sides of the boat - Mrs Finn contorted her expression into one of disgust and discomfort and Mr Finn determinedly continued doing his sudoku puzzles. Whilst it was a little choppy and a little chilly, it was a dream compared to our last boat trip and at one point another pair of dolphins came to play, leaping in the waves just meters from the front of the boat.
A couple of hours after the journey began, the boat pulled up near the shoreline. There was a narrow beach lined with thick bush and no sign of a campsite. This made the Finns frown even more. We stopped a few meters from the beach and started a human conveyor belt of luggage passing bags to the dry beach as others jumped down into the knee deep water. Picking up my things I followed one of the crew into the bush down a not-quite-path that looked like it led to nowhere and 30 meters later emerged into a clearing of scattered tents and reed huts.
Picking one for Kim and I at the top of the hill and watched the others filter slowly in. The site was well equipped; the tents were sturdy with thin mattresses, there were cooking facilities in one of the reed huts, a campfire area, a block of two toilets and open air, reed walled showers that even had warm water heated by a donkey (boiler, not animal). From our tent we had a great views of the sea and the horizon in the distance (and of our neighbour, Andrew who, clumsily as ever tripped over his Mozambique flop flops on several occasions as he organised himself. Wanting to wash the sea off, I hung my clothes and towel at the entrance to one of the showers and washed off, all the while able to watch what was going on further up the hill and chat to Lani and Angie as they unpacked in their tent.
Before dinner, Kim and I took a short walk along the deserted, footprintless beach past Adriana, who was safely anchored just off shore, watching a lone windsurfer whizz back and forth and watched smaller fishing dhows bob in the waves.
We sat around the campfire as the crew stacked it with logs and quickly got it going and drank beers and wine (from tin mugs) that we'd stocked up on the previous day. Dinner was rice, a wonderful vegetable tomato sauce and grilled chicken. I tried to lighten the mood with the Finns, who I was surprised hadn't demanded to be taken back to their hotel room (upon discovering a hole in the mosquito net of their tent, she had demanded that Dana give them his tent but sadly the approach hadn't endeared him to her cause). Slowly the couples filtered off to bed and we sat around the fire telling stories and laughing. When the beer and wine ran out, we drifted off to our respective tents and Kim and I slept with the flaps up so as I dozed off I could see the outline of shadowy palm trees blowing gently in the breeze.