water

Tofo, Mozambique

It was probably one of the best days out ever, traveling on a dhow from Barra to Pansy Island where we snorkelled and then enjoying a local lunch on Pig Island (Ilha dos Porcos).

Paulo, our guide, introduced himself to us earlier in the week. Engaging us with his friendly demeanour he outlined the boat trip with snorkelling and a lunch, which we have been wanting to do since the first time we came to Tofo in 2008. Taking his contact details we agreed to set a date.

When on holiday, time seems long and schedules irrelevant. Suddenly one realises that the trip home is around the corner and even if the weather is crummy with a chance sunshine one should take the gap and see more than just the confines of the little holiday town. Good call!

At 08:25 the bakkie was here to pick us up. Leaden clouds framed the horizon with a crispy edge in the air. Nevertheless, our spirits where high and everyone tumbled into the back. The trip to Barra was long and cold and without any expectations. I even asked Paulo of the ship has life vests and he gave me a quizzical look, as if I spoke a foreign language.

Driving through coconut forests on twisting sand roads past derelict lodges I could not but feel being in a tropical thunder type of movie – surreal… We arrived at the launch where several dhows were waiting. Several other tourists were also there, mostly coming in their own vehicles.

The beauty of no expectations is that everything becomes part of the journey, the experience. Paulo kept on telling us some history of the lodges, especially the empty ones. It sounds like there are problems in Mozambique emanating from renewed political upheavals and unrest further up North (probably connected to the financial benefits of the gas deposits found off shore in Beira). These turmoils don’t visibly permeate our tourist environment. (Although I am sure there are many more conversations flowing beneath the perceptible surface)

Boarding the dhow we got introduced to our captain, Mandito. The clouds were still menacing but our spirit of adventure positively filled our sails. The dhow was simple with a long bamboo holding up the lateen and scattered planks providing a floor. Nimble hands got us off on our cruise, floating over a forest of sea urchins.

Our first stop: Pansy Island. The name comes from the many pansy shells found on this sandbank island, which emerges only on low tide. Deftly manoeuvring his ship with just the wind and rudder, captain Mandito pulled us close into the bank where we disembarked. Paulo brought a whole box filled with snorkelling gear (masks, snorkels and fins) for all to kit up. My foot was still sore from a shattering bump earlier in the week and the fins wouldn’t have fit in any case on my size 13’s.

Off we went! At first it was slow to enter the crystal clear water. It was still cold. Within minutes the skies cleared and distracted by the multitude of shells, corals and fish swimming with us at an arm length’s distance the coldness was soon forgotten. We were searching for the famous seahorses which unfortunately stayed illusive. Instead we saw scorpion fish, stone fish, clown fish, crabs, crayfish, other fish, stars, tube worms and even a little octopus. It was beautiful! The children loved it as did us big ones.

Then it was off to the next destination, Pig Island. Sailing past the sand banks we saw many many people bent over in the water picking muscles and gathering them in floating buckets. As Paulo informed us, this is the community collecting food, for themselves and for the market.

On Pig Island, which is named after all the pigs farmed there centuries ago, we got a traditional lunch of deep fried fish, rice, tomatoes and onions, a delicious cassava sauce made from the leaves called mapharinia, chips, clams and pickled muscles. We took some beers along to wash it all down.

After lunch Paulo took us for a personal tour of the island. There are about 1500 inhabitants. We met the three teachers at the little school with 200 children. The soccer field and market place was next to that. We walked through the coconut palms to a small clinic past the church. Ironically there were many pigs too, tied up to trees and some in pens. Chickens occasionally crossed the paths, some looking a little disheveled.

On our way out Paulo introduced us to the chief of the island, Eric. A pleasant man wearing a grey coat. He greeted us all in broken English. It was the end of the day and he said time for a beer and then rest. (Actually he sat down after we left to do the books of the days earnings.)

And so our day was winding down. The sun was low and the tide high when we left Pig Island. Sailing back the captain decided to gun it over Pansy Island, which was now submerged beneath the swells – a short cut, if you like. Paulo had a good chuckle as we neared White Sands on the other side of the lagoon as many of the other tourists had parked their cars close to the launch and will have to wait till much later for the tide to ebb before being able to drive back through the low lying areas.

The sun was setting as we disembarked into the warm waters of the mangrove. It was gorgeous! The proverbial cherry on top of a wonderful day with friendly people and nature in Africa.

You can contact Pualo Gwambe on +258 84 52 345 68 or +258 82 39984 51

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Tswaing crater just North of Pretoria is one of the greatest day hikes in my neck of the woods. Even the drive up to the old “Soutpan” takes you through unfamiliar terrain, instilling a sense of adventure. Taking the Soutpan road you pass through parts of Soshanguve, an ever growing settlement established by the previous regime. The name Soshanguve is an amalgamation of the various tribes names that were settled in the area back then. Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda.

I haven’t been up this way for some time and couldn’t miss the new shacks and houses that have emerged from the barren ground. This is the real South Africa. This is where most of the population lives, in townships, far away from the gated communities and golf estates.

The concrete fence of the Tswaing reserve is in tatters. Maybe the beams have been salvaged as construction material for the surrounding housing developments? (Incidentally, the friendly and helpful lady at reception mentioned that they struggle with poachers in the reserve.) Entering the gate you notice that part of the large Tswaing visitor’s center has been gutted by a fire. A skeletal ruin which will be echoed later on in the journey when one passes through the ruins of the old salination plants.

The Tswaing experience has never been cold and this hike was no exception. Although it is the middle of our Winter the mercury must have been in the mid twenties. Luckily I took a hat and lots of water.

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