What was to be my unforgettable island adventure, started at the crack of dawn, when I met our tour guide, Wawa, in the Malandela’s car park. He was standing beside the “All Out Africa” vehicle that would take me and six other adventure seekers, across the Swaziland-Mozambique border, to the small fishing village of Tofo.
The twelve hour journey flew by with the constant changes of the sights and sounds, with every twist and turn in the road. Along the roadside were small mango trees shading young children who fed on the fallen fruit. Dotted around them were also an abundance of leafless trees on which hung plastic bags filled with cashew nuts, like clothes drying on a washing line. As we came closer to our destination, sand began to cover more and more of the road until we eventually turned off the main road onto a sandy track that seemed to weave in and out of the coconut trees and into the fishing village of Tofo.
The next day, we were all given free time to explore our new environment. Tofo rolls onto the beach. Its streets are filled with two types of stalls, the ones that sell handmade necklaces, bracelets or other handmade accessories and the ones that sell an abundance of local fruit, vegetables or the second means of currency along the coastline …… fish.
In the very early hours of the morning, the local men head out to sea, on their small fishing boats, to haul in the daily catch of fresh fish with their nets. By mid-day, they return to sell their catch at the local market or to feed their families, whilst the women wait patiently to follow the tide out, to harvest the clams from the rocky reefs using their machetes. I was fortunate enough to interact daily with the very friendly locals, who all seemed grateful for the extra pair of hands to sort through the fish or to help pull the fishing boats ashore.
After the free day to explore, I greeted the second sunrise with an immense excitement and anticipation. It was the day of our ocean safari. With nothing more than a snorkel and goggles, we scanned the open water from our massive rubber speed boat, for any dark shadows resembling turtles, manta rays or whale sharks. As soon as one was spotted, we would all jump into the warm, crystal clear water, frantically trying to get as close as we could to the mysterious shadow below us. That day, we were privileged enough to have three interactions with whale sharks. On each occasion, it is an experience that I will never forget. Swimming for over ten minutes at a time, roughly one metre above a whale shark, my attention would only be distracted by a curious passing dolphin. Reflecting now on my emotions, I felt an overwhelming gratitude and still cannot believe that that day really happened.
Although I treasured the ocean safari, the highlight of my trip came on the third day, with our visit to the secluded island of Imhambane. To reach the island, we had to kayak for over three hours, battling against the strong currents to reach the safety of land. As soon as our feet felt the soft sand, we were surrounded by the smiling faces of the island’s children.
We were given a 45 minute tour of the island on foot; visiting the island’s church, school and traditional straw huts that were perched in the shade of the coconut trees that stretched tall from the ground, creating a bowl shaped jungle in the very heart of the island. It was incredible to see the natural beauty, yet simplicity, in which the 500 inhabitants of Imhambane live. It is an enviable way of life, where man and nature are completely in harmony. Taking fruit from the trees and the bountiful harvest of fish from the sea, that is only metres away, Inhambane is one of the few places on this earth where money has so little value due to the abundance of the natural resources available.
After our tour, we were introduced to the island’s chief, who had prepared an enormous seafood feast in honour of our visit. The feast comprised a mouthwatering array of fish that was so fresh, having been caught that morning. The natural kindness of the island’s inhabitants towards us was very touching and we indulged until we could eat no more.
We returned to the mainland and ‘civilization’ on a dow sailing boat, manned by two local men from the island. The return journey took just over an hour and we were continually having to duck as the swinging mast moved back and forth to catch the fresh ocean winds.
For the rest of my time on Tofo, I heartily enjoyed interacting with the friendly local fishermen and playing football with the Tofo soccer team, who trained every evening on the warm, soft beach sand. These were also the nights that I took advantage of the warm waters after spending many an afternoon surfing great crested waves, with no need for a wetsuit for warmth.
I had a fantastic time, with a knowledgeable and wonderful guide, full of completely new and unique experiences that I will cherish forever.