New Year and Snorkelling in Vilanculos (Dec 28th- 2nd)
Vilanculos was somewhere that I thought sounded amazing when reading about it in the guide book before arriving, the gate way to the magical (if expensive) Bazaruto Archipelago and all it's underwater wonders.At first sight it looked like it was going to disappoint but we had a small inkling that it wasn't the paradise that it might have been when on our Christmas day horse ride Volker had told us it had been hit by a huge cyclone this time last year.As we arrived at Baobab Beach Backpackers I think we all thought oh lets leave, except for the setting sun I think we might have looked at some of the other options in town, I'm sure this impression wasn't helped by the wonderful time we'd had at Bamboozi in Tofo. Little were we to know as we grudgingly set up camp how much we would enjoy our time here.That evening we cooked up some haloumi with couscous and veggies for dinner while Kaz and Dave had a surprisingly good meal at the bar.It's hard to explain and for some reason we didn't really take a picture of the bar, but it was a nice enough little reed hut with some shade and hammocks, but was set away from the beach and you could see the ruins of the old bar a much grander affair with an amazing deck (that you could still sit on) with views out over the ocean to the islands.Next day Paul and I went for a walk along the narrow beach in the direction of town hoping that this would change our mind about the town, to be honest it did anything but, a lot of the houses and campsites had obviously been severely affected by the cyclone.The beach maybe didn't help, after the white sands of Tofo it was very narrow, had a lot of sea grass washed up and rock.There were a couple of Dhow's sitting in the shallows that did look beautiful with the turquoise waters in the background and we came across a Vodacom stage that to us looked like it was being packed up, we didn't think any more about it.When we got back to camp we got talking to one of the local tourist guides who had a long chat with us, talking about lots of stuff.He was a local and had some interesting views, he reckoned that the English weren't very adventurous when it came to the local beers which can't be said for Paul and Dave who definitely enjoy a 2/M one of the local brands, he reckoned that the South Africans were slowly getting better with there treatment of locals having given up apartied but that the white Zimbabweans still had a long way to go.It's always interesting hearing the thoughts and views of someone like this, I think his name was Jonas.He also recommended us a Dhow tour to the island we could see out in front of us which was supposed to have the best snorkelling out of the numerous islands in the Archipelago, Magaruque Island.Paul and I were sold so we paid the deposit, we'd be on our way at 7.30am the following morning.I was quite excited but also nervous about the trip over to the island, most of the Dhow's were pretty small and there had been a strong wind and rough water when we had pulled in the first day.The trip out went fine though with a very smooth ocean at high tide, there were supposed to be other people on the boat with us but as it turned out it was only the four of us, as Kaz and Dave joined us, and our captain and deck hand - marvellous.The water was amazing, almost all of the way you could see to the bottom as the waters were crystal clear and to be honest if it weren't for the currents I think you could almost walk the whole way!As we approached the island we could see what we thought were cyclone ruined houses on the beach, on closer inspection these were new structures that had weird curvy roofs that were in the process of being completed.The Dhow glided further along the beach, we were the first dhow to arrive and it truly was like being on a magical deserted island all on our own.There wasn't much of a beach as we arrived as it was high tide and our captain recommended that we start with a walk around the island and reckoned it would take us about an hour and a half.This was magical, the beaches literally were deserted and we saw lots of crabs on the beach scurrying away as we approached, on the mainland side we also came upon an unexpected sight, a flock of flamingo relaxing in the warm shallows.We also found some amazing shells and the dried up remains of what we think might have been an urchin it was quite flat, round and white with an amazing black pattern in the centre, not sure why but I didn't take a photograph, silly me as it was truly beautiful.As we neared the end of our walk it was obvious that 'everyone' had arrived, there were now about 5 dhows anchored off of the beach and quite a few people on the beach and snorkelling off the reef - not enough to spoil the atmosphere but enough to make us glad we had arrived first and seen the island in it's pristine state.The beach itself had change drastically from when we first arrived and a huge reef had been exposed while the beach had now expanded it's white sands and we had a nice little shaded spot where we'd left our bags.It was time for a quick snorkel before lunch! I was much more comfortable in these calm waters so donned my mask and fins with the others as we set off in the warm waters to see what we could see!It was truly amazing, the water was so warm and clear almost immediately you were in schools of hundreds of tiny little fish and as you moved closer to the reef you could spot all sorts of colourful Nemo type little fish.I was lucky enough to see what I think was a big puffer fish as we moved back towards the beach, our tummies had started to rumble.Lunch was still a little ways off so we chilled out in the shade letting the heat of the day dry us out, the smell of lunch being cooked on the braai behind us wetting our appetites.Lunch was amazing and surpassed our expectations, there was rice, chips (freshly cut and made), bread, a tomato and pepper salsa and some very yummy barracuda.I had been a bit nervous about the fish lunch but these were lovely fillets that had been marinated in a delicious sauce not quite sure what was in it but definitely some curry spices and garlic.All of us ate our fill and then tried to relax for the mandatory 30mins before heading back into the water.As we started to doze off I was brought back to the land of the living by someone shouting dolphins, dolphins at first I thought it was just someone shouting at the other dhows, one of the other outfits was called Dolphin Dhows and so I rolled over again but next minute our captain was at our feet pointing, dolphins, dolphins!We went down to the waters edge and could see the dolphins in the distance moving towards the reef, they looked like they were hunting certainly not hanging around to play but we couldn't miss the opportunity to try to get in close to them but alas by the time we were in the water with our gear they'd disappeared.Oh well we were on the other side of reef from where we'd been before lunch so it was time to have a look for some more fish! We weren't disappointed and before long I had notice an moray eel lurking at the entrance to asmall cave, I quickly moved away, my finesse in the water not quite being up to scratch yet and beckoned Paul to come have a look - marvellous, unfortunately we'd forgotten to bring our underwater camera.This side of the reef was teaming with even more life than the other side and we saw a lot of larger parrot fish and others.I hadn't mastered the art of diving down with my snorkel as yet but with some expert advise from Paul and Kaz I was soon diving down with the others for a closer look at everything.The angel fish would pretty much let you swim right next to them and the sound of the fish munching away at the corals was even louder.As we neared the moored dhows Dave found a crayfish sheltering in the reef wall, all I could really catch a glimpse of were it's white antenna that were sticking out as it tried to hide!It was an amazing experience that all came to an end to quickly, the tide was turning so it was time to pack up and head back to the main land.The journey back to the mainland wasn't as smooth as the trip out, the wind had picked up a bit and after about ten minutes with the mast raised (we'd motored out without the sail) it was obvious it wasn't that easy to control so while we bobbed up and down the sail was taken down, I was sad to not be able to see the sail up and propelling us towards our destination but at the same time relieved as it was obvious it wouldn't be so easy to control under sail.As we got under way again my confidence wasn't raised too much in the crew as we ran aground, the tide was moving out so that the channel home had gotten very shallow with a lot of very, very shallow sand banks that had to be weaved around, some more expertly than others!The captain and some guys who were hitching a ride back jumped out and after some shoving and pulling we were back in waters deep enough to motor on (about a half meter).Finally we made it back to shore, it had been a truly magical day.New Years Eve, we took this day pretty easy and basically chilled out at café all day long.It had an internet café below so we took turns to use there only three working pc's and tried to update some of the older blog entries.This was easier said than done as the power kept cutting out.It was a lovely setting though as we looked out of the waters of the very calm bay and watched the local's fish and search in the shallows for I'm not sure what!After all of our typing we decided to head back to camp hitting the super market on way to pick up some supplies of beer and ice, then it was time to think about our tummies and we hit a local restaurant, Na Sombra.I tried my first matapa, a local dish made of shredded cassava leaves, ground peanuts and coconut, as I ordered our waiter sort of laughed and asked if I had ever tried it before - what had I gotten myself into!!It arrived and didn't look too appetising, think of a cow pat on top of some rice but rather surprisingly I found it quite yummy and was able to clean my plate!The guys all enjoyeda traditional coconut based curry with chicken which they said was amazing so we were all filled up and ready for a New Year Eve to remember, but what to do?!The only other dinners in the restaurant were a large contingent of Vodacom workers in there bright blue t-shirts, Bazza, Bazza Vodacom - what ever that means!Dave kind of fancied a t-shirt so asked one of the guys why they were here, it turned out the stage we'd seen on the beach earlier wasn't being packed up there was to be a big party there this evening, the guy Dave was chatting too was a singer and one of the acts, he assured us it would be a good night so we left the restaurant to head back to Baobab to have some drinks with the intention of heading along the beach later on!I must admit I was a bit nervous about going along the beach, we'd be warned not to do so after dark by various people and knew we'd be going to a party that was basically locals.In preparation we removed all jewellery, watches, wallets, camera's and finally headed along the beach with one head torch, a couple of beers, some gin and ourselves.When we made it along the beach the party was already well on it's way with live music on the stage, it reminded me a bit of 50 cent and Justin Timberlake mixed in with some local flavour and as we edge towards the stage it was obvious at this point that we were the only white people on the beach itself!Before long it became apparent that everyone was very friendly, and we started to enjoy the music.As Kaz and Dave went off to find the 'toilets' Paul was discussing the meaning of Bom Fiesta with a new found friend when a younger kid stuck his two cents in about it's meaning and introduced us to a lady who obviously had only very basic English but she wanted to dance with me so in keeping with the spirit of things I tried to dance along with her although I'm not sure my body is capable of that sort of rhythm but there were lots of smiles.As I danced away both Paul and I were somewhat amazed, she had a baby on her back we found out later he was 14 months old, it basically was being thrown around as she jived with me to the music but didn't seem much perturbed and just bobbed along happy.Later that evening she'd still be making merry with the baby now asleep on her back, it was truly amazing a western child would have been screaming and I'm still not sure how they manage to tie the cloths that hold the kids to their backs well enough to stop it from just falling straight off!It's hard to remember the names of those we met as we danced away but it was amazing to see the smiles on everyone's faces (I'm sure some of them were initiated by the sight of us white people dancing) and the enthusiasm and kindness they all showed in trying to include us in there celebrating. We weren't sure if we'd know when New Year actually came as none of us had watches but as with everywhere else there was a count down and the crowd went extra mad as we hit 'HAPPY NEW YEAR'!!At this same time lots of fire works were let off above our heads and then just in front of us on the beach, at one point we had to duck as a fire works streaked above our heads out into the crowd.It was exhilarating and quite amazing, it was a new years experience like no other.The merriment and dancing continued into the might, the locals seemed to love dancing and would take every opportunity to include us but also to show off their stuff.At one point we had a small circle as everyone took a turn to strut there stuff in the centre, I must admit I was a bit reluctant but once in the centre the cheering and smiles made you forget about everything else!!As the night wore on there strangely seemed to be more young people turning up and I ended up dancing hand in hand with two young girls who just wouldn't let go.It was a truly amazing experience, if you are ever in Mozambique and get the chance to party with the locals you should definitely take them up on the offer!Our night wasn't over though and we were shown yet more kindness when the deck hand from our dhow trip and his mate offered to escort us home!We accepted gladly, the night had been amazing and we didn't want the walk home to spoil any of the memories!Back at Baobob it was obvious that we had made the right decision, there was loud music but not too many people so the boys had one more bottle of beer and bought our escorts some and Kaz and I enjoyed some lovely cold water.I think we made the boys night by giving them a small tip for our walk home, something that they obviously didn't expect and as we headed to bed they boogy'd on with some of the white girls on the dance floor with huge smiles on their faces - I don't know where they get the energy from they were taking large groups out on the dhows early the next morning!Mozambique and its people were definitely making it become a hard destination to beat!! The next day was a very relaxed chill out day were we recovered from hang overs and did some mundane things like cleaning out Kal and doing some washing! The following day we left Vilanculos with a new respect for the place, it hadn't shown much promise on our arrival but our experiences there made it a front runner for our best part of the trip so far!!