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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Mozambique Paintings
MAY 10 , 2007

A Tofo Breakfast

Imagine waking every morning to clear blue skies, a picnic table overlooking a deserted white sandy beach, clear blue water stretching for miles out to sea. Placed on the table in front of you is a steaming hot cup of coffee and plate full of bacon and eggs, freshly baked bread rolls, sausage and grilled tomato - that's a Tofo Brekkie, and we had it every day for two weeks.

A Tofo Breakfast

After a rough night in a dorm, as soon as reception opened we arranged a transfer into a hut, for some reason, and I am presuming it is to do with a lack of management, our hut was cheaper that the dorm, came with two somewhat lumpy but comfortable beds, and individual mosquito nets. Home as it would eventuate for the next 14 days.

We have planned a number of big ticket activities on this trip, the six day pony trek in Lesotho, gorilla's in the jungles of Rwanda or Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro are on the short list, the other item, which Donna has been hanging out for, for quite some time is Scuba Diving. We had weighed up three possible locations to do our Padi Open Water Dive Course, Sodwana Bay in South Africa, Lake Malawi in Malawi, and Tofo Beach in Mozambique. After reviewing all three options we settled on Tofo, based on the warm Indian Ocean currents, much hyped about reefs and coral fishes, and the relatively cheap cost of living in the area.

After three months of traveling we are both now waking at around 6am every morning, so after a hearty Tofo Brekkie we traipsed down the beach towards the Tofo township to enquire about doing our dive course (lacking a plan we had neglected to make a booking). Fortune was on our side this time, a new group were starting the following day, we signed up immediately, were measured for equipment and given our course materials. The rest of the day was spent doing, well, nothing really, with a perfect beach what can you do.

I am not going to bore you with too many details about the days or afternoons where we just lounged on the beaches, suffice to say the water was a toasty 27 degrees, the weather was quite calm, a moderate wave broke consistently over our stay and we managed ok.

The first day of our dive course was spent cooped up in a room watching diving DVD's. The other members of our group were attempting to complete the course in three days, we made it clear from the start we were in no hurry and were happy to stay for as long as it took. In order to get everything done, we came in at 7am on the second day, went all through our diving gear, then spent an hour or so in the pool for our first lessons under water. It was 11am by the time we managed to get some food in our bellies and all to quickly we were on the boat heading out to Clownfish Reef for our first ocean dive.

Clownfish is a beginners dive, we went down approximately 8 metres, performing skills on the surface, and at the bottom, after which we had time to swim around the reef marveling at the various fishes and corals. All too quickly it was time to surface and head back to the Dive Centre. After lunch we were back in the pool for our second pool session of the day, by its completion we were absolutely knackered, so when we clamored back in the boat for our second open water dive of the day we were not exactly excited.

The second dive called for a controlled emergency swimming ascent which basically meant I spent 15-20 minutes floating on the surface in an increasing chop and swell while the other students went down one at a time. By the time it was my turn I was somewhat green and in no state to dive, thankfully the dive master called off the dive and we were put back on the boat and sent home for the day.

The next morning we were informed that our dive instructor had come down with Malaria, at least that is the story we were told, there is a fair chance it was an ear infection from all the questions Donna was asking him over the previous days. With no instructor on hand, we took a two day break so that a replacement instructor could be brought in, after which the weather turned against us and we had three days of rough seas and frustration.

Let me explain a little bit about Tofo, essentially Tofo is a small beach side community. There are no shops or banks, there is a small street market, and a number of small stalls selling basic items. Accommodation is basic, two backpackers, a hotel and some moderately upmarket bungalows. Most people still live a basic rural lifestyle. Huts are made with dirt floors, a wooden structure with thatched walls and roof, a gap of maybe two feet between the roof and the walls to allow for ventilation. When the weather turns bad, and by bad I mean bad for diving, the only thing you can do is sit on the beach or go for a swim. After five days of this I was going slightly mental. I'm not a beach person - at all.

On the 6th day we headed back to Tofo scuba only to have further disappointment - at least we were given a 90% chance of diving the next day. Some cursing was heard.

As dawn broke we were full of excitement - however one look at the ocean dampened any spirits we may have had left - the only positive was a pool session with Gabriel our new instructor in preparation for calm weather.

With nothing left in Tofo to do we took an afternoon trip into Inhambane, a quiet little town where we were able to fire off a few emails, stock up from the local bank and make some purchases from the quaint little pharmacy still run in the traditional ways from 100 years ago. The Chappa ride back to Tofo was something special - a new record for us with 25 people crammed into the mini bus, thats not counting the children that we could not see and the masses of goods crammed into every nook and cranny (Chappa's are rated at 15 passengers).

Finally we were allowed back into the water, due to the delays the other students had all moved on so it would only be Donna and myself finishing the course.

With all of our pool sessions completed, and only three dives left in the course, we were set for our final day of diving. Another 7am start, gearing up for a double tank dive, this time we would be accompanied by an underwater videographer, filming a promo for Tofo Scuba, as if we didn't need the added pressure. Our first dive went off perfectly, amazing viability we dropped down to 8 metres, completed most of the remaining skills left to do, then swam around the reef until our air was used up. Back on the surface we did some surface skills, then back onto the boat and off to Salon Reef for our second dive.

We geared up in the boat, then dropped to around 13 metres, Salon Reef was amazing. While performing skills on the bottom we would have the camera man floating around us, and massive schools of coral fish swimming past. As a fisherman it was extremely frustrating to see so much life so closely. Quickly our time was up, each of our dives lasting approximately 40-45 minutes.

Back in the boat we sped back to the Dive Centre for lunch, before being briefed on our final dive for the day, Simon's Town. For this dive we were lucky enough to have our original instructor back, as well as diving as part of a larger group. Again the camera man would accompany us down.

After completing our last dive, we were glad to be back in the boat, only to find out we still had to complete the ten minute float and 200 metre swim. By the end of the day we were absolutely knackered. Steve, the Brit who basically runs Tofo Scuba still had time to talk us into doing the first of our Advanced Diver Dives, the Deep Dive, which would allow us to dive down to 30 metres and see Manta Reef, Tofo's Signature Dive. Unfortunately that also meant reading before bed.

Another 7am start to go over our Advanced Diver Material before gearing up and heading out again. This time we had an hour on the boat ride out to the reef. On the way we were fortunate enough to encounter a whale shark, everybody quickly sliding out of the boat and snorkeling along side for 10-15 minutes.

When we finally got to Manta Reef we had a fantastic Dive, both this and the last dive of our course were essentially fun dives, we saw an amazing abundance of fishes, including some breathtaking Manta Rays.

Back on the surface, with everything completed it was a little depressing to know that it had finally come to an end. Luckily we saw another whale shark on the way back which we able to snorkel with, this time I managed to fin along side for quite a way, keeping just ahead as it dove and resurfaced. Absolutely amazing stuff.

A big thanks to all the guys down at Tofo Scuba, especially Drew and Gabriell our Instructors. Not only were they 100% professional the whole time, but they put up with us for two weeks while we finished the course, and imparted a love of diving that we will definitely carry around with us as we move north through Africa. We were both extremely grateful not just for the quality of the dives, being able to learn in surroundings offering so much diversity in fish and coral, but being taught buy a group of guys who place so much emphasis on safety and quality, and judging by some of the cowboys we dived with on our final dive (who had learnt elsewhere) we are in good stead for future dives.

Drew, Gabriel, Matt and Donna in front of Tofo Scuba

Before I go on to our trip from Tofo Beach to Vilankulu four hours up the coast, I would like to impart a few thoughts on our time in Tofo. Aside from the sea food buffets for only 10 dollars, its amazing how quick you can get sick of eating fresh sea food every night of the week.

While it was great diving with Whale Sharks and Manta Rays, sometimes the coolest experiences were diving with some of the smaller fish, like the miniscule dominoes, or the trumpet fish. At one point while swimming a trumpet fish came and just sat on my shoulder and waited there (using me as a distraction for its hunting).

I am not saying the decision has been made just yet, but odds are on we will be getting a dog as soon as we find a place to settle down. For some reason where ever we have been on our travels animals have just gravitated to me. The photo below is of Sally the dog (who is actually a male and we have no idea of his real name). Every morning he would join us on the beach as we walked up to the Dive Centre, chasing stones, sticks or the frisbee with great enthusiasm.

Sally, playing on the beach

After all the excitement of the diving it was a little depressing to be finally moving on, as much as we were bored of tofo, it gets under your skin. We decided to move north to Vilankulu - supposedly destroyed after the recent cyclone, we had been unable to get a decent update from Tofo, however we decided to see for ourselves.

Waking early Donna managed to wrangle us a ride into Inhambane with a South African couple returning home on their honeymoon. They were a lovely pair who took us all the way to the waterfront where we secured passage on the local ferry for only 45 meticas. On arrival in Maxixe we were grabbed by a local tout who took us through the town to a bus heading north to Vilankulo.

We were assured before handing over our cash that the bus was full and would be leaving any minute, an hour later we still hadn't moved. At least we were treated to some local entertainment right beside our chappa, a rather tall Mozambican gentleman beating the crap out of a homeless beggar woman to the laughs of the surrounding crowd - we thought it best not to get involved and were thankful when it was broken up.

Finally we were on our way - express to Vilankulo, at least that was the plan. One hour into the journey we stopped and all the luggage stored in the vehicle including our packs and four truck tyres were strapped to the roof. This allowed additional passengers to get on board. An hour later the passengers were off loaded, and all the gear brought back inside - anything for a few extra bucks.

One of the advantages of local travel, aside from actually getting to meet the locals, is being offered the local produce. Several times on the trip we would pull up at a village where throngs of women would surround the bus offering piles of grenages (green oranges) for sale. At one stop two freshly slaughtered goats were offered for sale, I was not too impressed when the lady beside me bought two rear legs, at least they didn't smell too bad. As usual Donna and I managed to buy our favorite travel food - freshly baked bread, at only 10 metica's a loaf it's an absolute bargain and keeps an empty tummy at bay for hours.

As the sun set we cruised into Vilankulo, a town still recovering after the Cyclones in February. WFP and World Vision tents still dot the landscape as much as fallen palm trees. We checked into Zombie Cucumber tired and ready for a hearty feed...

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