“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
It was once again time for the VAC staff and interns to embark on the epic journey from Johannesburg to the beautiful country of Mozambique. Our 10-day adventure started at O. R Tambo International Airport where we began the 6-hour drive through the rolling hills and sweeping landscapes of rural South Africa. Making our way east towards the border we came across our first exciting interaction with the local African wildlife…at a gas station. Yes, a gas station.
Alzu Petroport is, as well as being a convenient stop-over (desperately needed wee break), host to a game enclosure which contains six rhinos, fifty buffalo, eland, blesbok, ostriches and even an emu or two! To say we were excited was an understatement. Taking advantage of the insta/snapchat moment, we snapped lots of pictures, grabbed some food, said goodbye to our animals and set upon our journey once again.
Bumping along in our convoy of one car, one quantum van and one slightly wobbly trailer, we arrived at the much anticipated South African/Mozambique border. Here we took the plunge into our first African border experience. This experience, in short, consisted of queuing, an interesting look from a border official, a stamp and that was it. This process happened twice. Once on the South African side, the other on the Mozambique side. Unlike the borders many of us are used too, you could tell you had crossed from one country into another. How you ask? The South African side was calm and controlled, not many people apart from those passing through. The Mozambique side, on the other hand, was a hive of activity, people everywhere trying to sell you everything from local foods to sim cards to currency exchanges. A cultural explosion of energy.
Queue, look, stamp, done. We were through. Success…or so we thought.
Driving not some 200 metres from the border gate, through the endless homemade food stalls, the hundreds of queueing trucks, and copious amounts of local people, our trailer wheel decided it had had enough of us. It had literally given up. We had no alternative but to abandon it, in the safekeeping of the border control police of course, and carry on with our conquest. Being the avid adventurers that we were, we took the 16 bags, food boxes and the once surfboard out of the trailer, shoved them into the quantum bus and pushed on.
Unfazed by this hiccup, our motley crew of intrepid explorers carried on into the night, slightly squished, but excited nonetheless. Arriving safely in the capital Maputo just in time for a beer and some delicious food prepared by the amazing VAC team. With our tummies full, we promptly tucked ourselves into our comfy bunk beds at Fatima’s Backpackers Hostel, pulled over our mosquito nets and got some rest for our early start the next morning.
FUN FACT: Many of the scenes for the film Blood Diamond were filmed in Maputo…yes that’s right, we were in the same place that Leonardo DiCaprio had been in.
Fast forward a few hours, some bleary eyes and a breakfast sandwich or two later, we were once again bounding down the roads of Mozambique towards our next coastal stop. Now in the light of day, we could truly appreciate where we were. Endless palm tree forests covered the surrounding lands, the small villages we drove past were characterised by woven palm tree walls and roofs. Small settlements representing a simple way of living. Every so often, however, we were faced with the bright red signs of Vodacom stalls and the words Coca-Cola splayed across shop fronts, small reminders of a first world influence on a third world country.
Bonito Bay – Morrungulo, Mozambique
Arriving in the afternoon, we drove down a long sandy road to reach our breathtakingly beautiful first proper stop in Mozambique. Bonito Bay Resort. Situated on the sand dunes overlooking the Mozambique channel, surrounded by palm trees and thatched buildings, we truly believed we had arrived in heaven. Our stay there was more than magical. We had long stretches of pristine beach all to ourselves, using this to our advantage we swam, worked out and did morning yoga on the shoreline. We met the locals who used to bring their cows down to the beach every morning. We drank tipo (the best rum to every grace the face of this earth), local beers, braaied (barbequed) delicious seafood and swam in the pool. The resort was isolated, peaceful, and completely separated from the hustle and the bustle of the real world.
Let me not get started about the stars at night too…just wow!
Many people on the trip were in the process of completing their Open Water scuba diving course. This meant that there were afternoons filled with scuba diving training in the pool as well as dives on the reefs near the resort.
Following two nights and three days of perfection, fun, relaxation, and encounters with some local creepy crawlies (we were in the middle of nowhere after all) it was time for us to leave our stunning first home and continue towards our next stop Tofo.
Turtle Cove – Tofo, Mozambique
Tofo pronounced to-fu (like the food) was a beautiful town situated on, once again, long beautiful beaches and palm covered hills. Unlike Bonitos Bay, Tofo was a hub of activity. From a sprawling local market full of fabrics, paintings, carvings and food to copious dive centres, surf shops and local small restaurants. We were lucky enough again to stay in charming, tropical feeling hotel with a stunning pool, fabulous restaurant and it was just a 10-minute walk from the town centre!
Day 1 – Maxin relaxin
Our first full day in Tofo consisted of exploring our surroundings, chilling on the local beaches, having a look around town and settling into our place of residence. Of course, the evening consisted of tipo, more tipo and even more tipo separated by a dinner of local foods such as peri-peri chicken and matapa! Making our way to some local bars for a few drinks with the residents and other travellers who called Tofo their home.
Day 2 – Whale Sharks!
Our second day consisted of scuba diving the morning (fun, fun, fun!!) and the greatly anticipated ocean safari in the afternoon.
FUN FACT: Mozambique is home to a huge array of beautiful sea life such as manta-rays, whale sharks and dolphins.
The ocean safari started off a little bit like the opening scene of a film about the Navy Seals on a top-secret mission. The group had to push the speedboat through the surf on the beach to get it deep enough that the motors could be in the water without touching the sand, we then had to jump on, wait for our captain to jump on then speed through the last few waves into the open ocean. We felt kind of cool, not going to lie.
It was then a case of trying to spot the large shadows beneath the waves that could be manta’s or the majestic whale’s sharks. Once we’d spotted a shadow it was all-hands-on-deck. We flung ourselves off the side of the boat with our goggles and fins and tried to find the cause of the shadow. Once we’d found our first whale shark, we kept on finding them until after two hours we’d swam with a total of FOUR of the beautiful creatures. For many of us, it was a life-changing experience. To say they were amazing animals is an understatement. It was truly a blessing! And to top it all off, as we sped home on our trusty boat, we found ourselves surrounded by dolphins. It was so amazing some of us even cried!
Day 3 – Pool party with my party people
Following a dive in the morning, the group made their way to a local bar which had its own fabulous pool.
We decided to throw ourselves our own little VAC pool party with Mozambique cocktails and many failed attempts at synchronised swimming. Some of the group also took the opportunity to go quad biking at the same time (minus the alcohol of course) which took them all around Tofo, along beaches and through sand dunes and local villages. We’re not sure who had more fun!
The day concluded with a group shopping trip in the local market. Hours of bartering, haggling and bargaining later, we all came away with endless local goodies from hand-tailored trousers made from local fabrics, to paintings and wood carvings.
What better way to celebrate a perfect day than with sundowners in hammocks, overlooking palm trees and the setting African sun!
Day 4 – We’re not good at kayaking
Our fourth day in Tofo was our kayaking trip to the island of pigs. Despite its name, there were very few pigs on the island but it was still an incredible island nonetheless.
The day started with a 30-minute drive on the back of a truck ( a traditional form of transport for many in Africa, what the locals call a ‘bakkie’) to the lagoon. Upon arrival we were met with long beautiful stretches of sandbanks and clear blue waters. In the distance, we could see the island we were headed for, covered with palm trees and surrounded by long stretches of sandy shore. It didn’t look far, or so we thought…
I think it would be safe to say that we attempted the kayaking. We weren’t very good. So, having made our way to the sandbank situated midway in our journey our guide thought it best…safer for us to board one of the local sailing boats, a Dhow, to take us the rest of the journey. Our lack of kayaking skills had become a liability to our own safety. Plus, getting someone else to do the hard work was pretty nice.
Arriving on the island we were greeted by the chief and shown around on a guided tour. We then sat down to a huge seafood feast for lunch. Yum! Tummies full, we hopped back on the sailing boat and headed back to the mainland.
Day 5 – 3 am departure – Kruger Time!!
We travelled back across into South Africa, picking up our fixed trailer on the way, and headed towards the world-famous Kruger National Park. Our accommodation was a large home, that looked as if it had been plucked from the English countryside. The only difference was that the balcony faced straight onto the hills of the Kruger!
Although the view was incredible, we were all very excited that see that we had baths in our rooms, baths we could use since there were no water restrictions where we were based!!
The Kruger National Park
Our first night consisted of a huge family braai on the balcony and animal spotting. We saw giraffes, waterbuck and hippos within the first few hours.
Our second day started bright and early. It was the day of our much-anticipated all-day game drive! We met our guides and jumped aboard our safari vehicles and headed into the untamed world of the Kruger. It is with great pride (excuse the pun) to say that the first thing we saw in the park was lions. And lots of them!! From then on out we were blessed throughout the day. We saw four of the Big Five (Lion, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) but unfortunately, the shy African leopards managed to avoid us all day. We saw a lioness and her cub, a breeding group of elephants and a huge lone bull elephant. It was incredible! Such a blessing to see such beautiful animals in their natural habitat.
None of us wanted the day to end, however, once back at the accommodation, we had another huge final braai which made us all feel so much better about being away from all the animals!
The next morning, we packed and headed back to Johannesburg.
It is hard to put into words how amazing the trip was. For many of us, we were so grateful to have had such a real African experience. We tasted local foods, drank local drinks, met local people, and saw local wildlife. We were plunged into new cultures in ways we couldn’t have imagined and gained so much from every interaction. I think it is safe to say that we all walked away with a greater understanding and a newfound respect for Africa and its people.
Alexz was born in South Africa to a South African mother and a Croatian father. When Alexz was 7 years old her family emigrated to London, United Kingdom. Four years ago Alexz visited SA with her family and this trip sparked a desire to return yet again to South Africa to explore her ‘birthland’. Alexz decided to do an internship through VACorps in order to make more memories in South Africa while at the same time getting practical experience in her field of study. She is an avid sailor and keen scuba diver having completed over 40 dives.