We were up at 4:30 am and ready to be picked up around 5:30 by a chiapas (van) to meet the bus. We had decided to take the 'shuttle' which goes directly to Tofo rather than the regular bus which would takes us to Inhambane and then we would have to get a chiapas to take us the last 50 minutes to the ocean side village of Tofo.
The Chiapas picked us up about 15 minutes late and we sped through the streets of Maputo at crazy speeds. I looked at Louis and only said "I think this was a mistake". We met the bus, without incident and I was so glad to be finished the chiapas part of the ride. We climbed into the bus and sat in the back row and waited and waited as the bus filled. For almost an hour and a half we were surrounded with people selling everything imaginable. About 5 minutes before we were going to leave, a very overweight man (very rare in Africa) got on the bus and came down and sat on the back seat next to us. Then a very overweight woman did the same. It was hard to believe. Louis just looked straight ahead shaking our heads and watched as the rest of the bus filled with people and bags until you could not get anything more on that bus. Then we took off for our 6 ½ hour ride to Tofo. And that 6 ½ hours is on one of the fastest buses I have experienced. We passed everyone on the highway. The "airconditioning" was typical. When baking in the heat, the Africans will not open a window. When we would encounter road construction and the air was filled with dust and sand, all the windows would open. So many things in Africa are seen so differently.
The highway up the coast of Mozambique seldom gets very close to the actual ocean. We passed through many little towns, and as we pulled in for passengers, the hawkers would inundate the bus as they sold everything from bread and coca cola to cell phones and dresses. We also passed by many small villages of the traditional African round thatched huts. Around Inhammine (not Inhambane) the bus came around a corner and over to the right was one of the most beautiful ocean scenes I have ever seen. I poked Louis and yelled, wow, look at that! A few minutes later it was gone. I knew now that the stories I had heard about the beaches of Mozambique were true.
The bus leaves the main highway before Inhambane and takes off down along a narrow, almost lane and a half wide highway. Everything is so green, thatched huts with "forests" of palm trees in the distance. Lots of water, even rice paddies. As we got closer to Tofo, the incredible blue-green waters were added to the most incredible scenery. And it was our first real encounter with mosquitoes. I started my anti malaria drugs. Louis had started his a couple of days before. Locals were walking on the edge of the road and we passed a couple of modern and seemingly well maintained schools. All the students wear uniforms, with the boys usually wearing white shirt and tie. The bus drove down through the area near the beach where the shops and restaurants line the street. Most of them either just a kiosk or made up of wood and metal sheeting, somewhat haphazardly all attached to make a shop or restaurant and dining area in the back. It did look at what we thought was "African" and we were excited. The bus dropped us off at Fatima's (one of the best known backpackers in Tofo), and I tried to call Bamboozi to pick us up, without luck. We decided we had to walk the 2.3km up the sand road, with all our stuff. It felt hot, but not too hot and very humid. The kids would wave or come running out from their homes to greet and "play" with us. Some were even quite fluent in English and very warm and amusing.
We arrived at Bamboozi and checked into our own little thatched hut. African "layout and presentation" is so unlike anywhere else in the world. Our cute little hut felt like it was on the edge of a "parking lot", the pool was a strange mass of concrete, mostly above ground, without a deck and behind the lodge. The wooden stairs and ramp up to the main lodge (over looking the beach) felt like something from a "mystery spot". And then there was the huge thatch of the bar and restaurant and the view of the water. One of the more incredible beach views I have seen in the world. Many of the large thatched lodges catered to the young South African weekender and holiday traveler. The white South African Afrikaner certainly has a reputation here. Perhaps more on this later. The first evening we spent walking down the beach, the most incredible display of stars and so amazed that we had finally arrived in a place that we were safe walking down the beach at night.
The next morning Louis and I left Bamboozie to look for John's Place. It had been highly recommended to us, but was too new to be in the guide books. We found both John and his "Place" after asking a lot of people for directions. We were home "for a week" and John is a most amazing and wonderful person. No incredible view of the beach here. Just great people, many from Germany, a little restaurant and bar. And great prices. Our private double room is 700 Meticals or around $25. After a couple of days here, John even offered the use of his own private bath, so we even had hot water.
After an incredible first morning walk on the beach, Louis and I walked into the Diversity Dive Shop to learn about their "Water Safari". This area of Mozambique has an incredible amount of sea life, including huge manta rays, whale sharks (the largest sharks and fish in the world and can be well over 45 feet long), dolphins, sea turtles and the migrating humpback whales. We booked a safari for the next day to go snorkeling with the huge whale sharks and visit the amazing humpbacks.
That evening we met up with our young South African friend Matthew who we had spent time with in Maputo and went out to dinner. One of the most popular places to each in Maputo is the Black and White. Very basic "African food", fresh fish, prawns, lobster, starting at around $3.00 a plate and so very good. We also attended a lecture at Casa Barry (yes, true) put on by an ecological study of the sea life and specifically the Manta Rays in the area.
Humpback Whales and Swimming with the Sharks
The next morning we were in the Diversity Dive Shop learning about our trip, what we were going to see and how best to put on those masks, fins and snorkels to swim with the whale sharks. We were off in a fast Zodiac type boat in search of the humpback whales. And see them we did. Leaping clear of the water in the most spectacular jumps. Often in groups of 2 or 3. We watched as they seemingly played, just slapping their fins on the water and then they would disappear just to reappear farther along in the water.
We had a good look at a huge sea turtle and a quick glimpse at a hammerhead shark. Then it was time to find some whale sharks and go for a swim with them. When the sharks are spotted, you immediately put on your fins and mask and slide quietly over the edge of the boat and then swim towards them. It was amazing. I was looking all over, not seeing any sharks and then glanced at my left wrist as this huge shark glided by within 6 inches of me. It was all I could do not to touch him (we had been warned not to as they would then dive and disappear). I followed the shark, kicking as hard as I could to keep up. I only lost him when he went under the boat and I hesitated. We also saw dolphins a number of times but they moved off too fast to be able to swim with them. It was an unbelievable safari, and even more so, because it was something we had never even considered until we arrived in Tofo. Louis was truly exhausted. It had been a very exciting but emotionally challenging day with the sharks.
As the days progressed we continued to encounter the friendly locals, we got to know some of the "hawkers" and the store owners always recognized us. We spent one day on a "picnic" hike down the beach to the community of Tofinho. Again, a experience walking a beach I will probably never forget. The whole day, we probably saw less than 6 tourists and just a few locals, some doing a "tribal-christian" baptism and a few just sitting on the beach or some young guys going spear fishing.
We made a couple of side trips from Tofo, one up to the gas station and ATM about a 20 minute Chiapas ride (the only ATM and only VISA friendly), and one day to Inhambane to check out the colonial architecture and the scenery. We also wanted to see how we would get the boat to Maxixe (masheese) where we would catch the buses going north in a couple of days. The town was quite "sleepy", the colonial architecture was sort of here and there, but it was worth the trip to see some of the house architecture (probably from the late 50's or 60's). The huge new Catholic church, and I mean huge, brought out a chuckle from me as I looked around at the women carrying all those heavy load on their heads back to their thatched homes.
LGBT people in Tofo?
Our friend Janice (who was most recently from Calgary, Canada) at the Diversity Dive Shop had been most helpful with information about traveling in Tanzania where she had spent many months as a volunteer. I told her I wrote for the SGN and we were writing about our travels in Africa from a gay perspective. She gave us the names of two women and two men who seemingly live a quite open LGBT lifestyles here in Tofo.
Gill and Jenny
Gill and Jenny own a wonderful deli in the same shopping area as the ATM and gas station 20 minutes of the highway from Tofo. Appropriately named Chilli's Deli, they specialize in hot pepper sauces including the Mozambiquan peri peri sauce. Gill had come to Mozambique from Johannesburg about 17 years ago and her family and friends thought she was crazy (remember the war was on). And then Mozambique would become a communist country with support from both the Soviet Union and China. Gill was the "ultra" entrepreneur as so many white Africans are. They need to be to be able to stay alive. Gill starting supplying beef from South Africa to the few remaining hotels and restaurants in Maputo. She would also open her trunk and sell her beef on the black market, watching that she didn't get caught. Years later she found herself to be a well known restaurant owner in Maputo. It was in this restaurant she met her partner Jenny. Jenny is an amazing woman. Also from Johannesburg (actually from the very upscale Sandton), she worked for a packaging and marketing company and spent her working life traveling to her accounts all around Africa.
The two of them ended up in Linga Linga, a very undeveloped but beautiful area not far from here in Tofo. After working to set up a tourist lodge in Linga Linga, they both moved to Tofo and established Chilli's.
I asked Gill why she liked living in Mozambique. She told me that she really liked living in a place where there are few LGBT people and she wanted to get out of the "gay" scene. From my "sometimes" flawed perception, I believe she is an incredible person that thrives on what most people would consider "formidable" challenges!
We had a wonderful time with them both and got to meet two of their friends from Joburg, Richard and Ricky. I found I had drank far too much and glad it was only a very short walk back to John's.
Tomorrow, if all goes well, we are on our way north towards Mozambique Island and then farther north to Pemba. Some long, long bus rides. But after chatting with John, everything should be doable.
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