Stranded with a whale

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May 5th 2007
Published: August 8th 2007
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Inhambane marketInhambane marketInhambane market

Plenty of fruit on offer at this bustling African market.
There is something magical about Africa and her people, and after a week back in the mighty continent the people of Mozambique have rekindled the magic. It comes from the easy laughter of the locals who are always joking and laughing whatever the occasion; whether they are riding on the minibus, browsing at the markets, or walking along the beach. Mozambique is a portugese speaking country in Southern Africa, which is a little more than a decade out of civil war, and heading into a brighter future with the encouragement and support of South Africa just across the border.

I flew from Sydney to Johannesburg, the lovely reader, and then took a connecting SAA flight to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Maputo is known as the only latin capital in Africa, complete with salsa clubs for the locals to strut their stuff. It was very exciting to jump right into new travel adventures, but it doesn't seem to matter how many times I travel overseas there's still a temporary culture shock on arrival in a new country. It seems I still feel like curling up into a little ball in a corner somewhere. However the paranoia quickly passes, and I cleared immigration for a taxi ride to The Base backpackers in the centre of town. The staff and guests have been great, and I quickly fell in with a Chinese guy from Hong Kong who has travelled extensively for the last two years. Our chance meeting helped me fall into my stride, and this intrepid traveller has a goal to visit 110 countries during his travels.

We explored the museums and the markets during a long day walking around town, and then relaxed back at the hostel. We also stumbled into an Indian restaurant for dinner just in time to watch Australia's own master blaster Adam Gilchrist causing havoc with the Sri Lankan bowlers, as Australia went on to effortlessly win another World Cup in cricket. I explained the laws of the game to my Chinese friend as best I could, and only went into any detail when explaining the rules behind a six ... as Gilly was batting! I had an enjoyable few days in Maputo, before catching a mini bus for the journey north to Tofo.

Tofo is a famous beach for diving and snorkelling, and features the highest concentration of whale sharks in the world.
Lady walking, InhambaneLady walking, InhambaneLady walking, Inhambane

Carrying a load in the African fashion.
Travellers in Maputo told me Tofo scuba offers an ocean safari where you search for whale sharks, dolphins and mantarays to snorkel with, and I was excited to give it a try. The mini bus ride was the usual travel adventure in Africa, with people crammed in like sardines, but the locals do it all without fuss and in a cooperative spirit. We completed the trip with it's many stops in around seven hours, and I checked into Fatima's Nest backpackers with a South African guy who travelled up with me from Maputo. We looked out from the dorm right onto the beach with a water temperature of 26 degrees.

We signed up for the ocean safari, and an Austrian guy from the dorm decided to join us. The boat trip was led by a marine scientist who is studying whale sharks, and he gave a very informative talk before we set out. The area around Tofo is very rich in plankton, and immature whale sharks up to seven metres in length are found here all year round. I hoped one of them was willing to share a swim with us on our big day. We headed out through
Fatima's Nest crew, TofoFatima's Nest crew, TofoFatima's Nest crew, Tofo

We enjoy dinner at the restaurant, and our group features a brother and two sisters from Cape Town.
the rough surf and charged around for half an hour until we met our new friend. The whale shark is the biggest fish in the world, and can live for up to 150 years. Although massive in size they are harmless plankton eaters, and we dived in with instructions not to touch the shark, as this could alarm him and cause him to dive.

But our whale shark didn't seem to play by the normal rules, and to our very good fortune stayed with us on or near the surface for a lengthy period of time. The unforgettable experience included some accidental touches by snorkellors in the water because he remained so close to us. He even swam right up to the boat at one stage, and only turned away at the last moment. It was a memorable experience and at one stage I was snorkelling with the whale shark just below me in the ocean, accompanied by several smaller fish that hang around with him. The scientist said we were lucky to meet this male, as he didn't seem to lose patience with us at all. In fact, we were all exhausted back on the boat and he was still swimming nearby, having only dived once or twice. We started to head back and briefly spotted a mantaray, but he must have dived as we lost sight of him and weren't able to get in the water.

We were excited to have the opportunity to swim with a whale shark, and the fact whale sharks are in the area all year round is unique in the world. I haven't met anyone who hasn't seen a whale shark after signing up to the ocean safari, so the odds of success seem pretty good. Since then we've been relaxing around the beach, swimming in the ocean, swinging in hammocks and eating lots of seafood. Life is good here on the African east coast! Because of it's proximity the coast of Mozambique also attracts large numbers of South Africans who come from Jo'Burg, Pretoria or Nelspruit on a short drive across the border for holidays. We spent a day exploring the nearby town of Inhambane, where there are luxuries such as bank ATMs and decent internet, and also enjoyed an excellent meal at a market stall. A big plate of fish and rice with curry sauce cost the princely sum of one USD. Now that's what I call a cheap meal!

Mozambique is a cheap and accessible country in Southern Africa, providing travel is concentrated in the south. The country stretches 2,500 kilometres north all the way to the border with Tanzania, and travelling overland is not easy. Tofo in particular is a magic place for scuba diving and snorkelling in a country where, basically all of you should be here now!

All men who have achieved great things have been great dreamers." Orison Swett Marden

As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now.


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Additional photos below
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Tofo beachTofo beach
Tofo beach

Just offshore from this pristine beach are whale sharks, dolphins and mantarays who flock to the area year round to feed.

5th May 2007

Good on ya
Good on ya Tom, great that you are travelling again, thanks for the heads up e-mail on your new blog entry, keep them coming, I very much enjoy reading them. Your mate in Aussie Martin
5th May 2007

Its all turning red!
Hi Tom, That map of the world at the top of your page is well on the way to being totally red - quite amazing! Glad to hear you're back on the road and having fun. C.
5th May 2007

No Way!
Hey Tom, Long time no speak, all settled back in here at home! Earning stupid amounts of money so no doubt be on the backpackers trail next year hopefully. So wat you doin in Africa just a short holiday or you in for the long stint. I have a friend out in Africa at the mo hes been in Kenya and now in Uganda so let me know where you going as hes a cool guy. Anyway take care mate and keep us updated. Greg
6th May 2007

Hi Tom Great to be sharing another journey with you... Ren
8th May 2007

Green with evny again
Tom it is lovely to hear you are on the road, I was reading my diary from South America last night and it brought it all flooding back. I am sitting in my little office in AKL booking peoples holidays to NZ and wishing I was on a plane and an adventure. I am off to the states in July so that is my next trip. Alas it is only for 2 weeks for my brothers wedding but at least I will be on a plane. I love those long hauls baby. take care great to hear of your fun and surprise!
13th May 2007

Whale Sharks
We have them year round too! Love, love, love the blog - keep writing, maybe you'll make it to Ras Mbisi, we aren't far.

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