Saturday, 8 August 2009

The beginning of the end

We moved further south the following morning to Tofo, a popular beach destination near Inhambane. Tofo is famous for a few big animals that frequent the area, humpback whales migrate along this coast to their breeding grounds, and whale sharks and manta rays linger in the area all year round. That combined with an amazing beach, Mozambique's best surf spot, good fishing, diving and plenty of other activities, turns this area into a hive of activity at certain times of the year. Fortunately for us all South African school holidays had just finished so it was nice and quiet.

We were still searching for lazy sunny days on the beach but were still being unlucky with the weather, the day we arrived it just rained and rained. It's like being in the UK here, not just the weather, but that fact that everyone is talking and whinging about it. I was also planning on doing some diving so it wasn't ideal for days on a boat.

I decided to do a couple of dives anyway going in search of manta rays, my first day of diving was cancelled due to the weather, we had a stroll along the beach and round town instead. We'd timed our visit to Tofo well for the humpback whale season and we could see water blasting into the air from the beach as they surfaced to breathe. On our return that afternoon we saw a couple of whales thrusting their entire bodies out the sea and belly flopping back down in an explosion of water, an amazing sight.

Diving went ahead more or less as planned the next day, but heavy surges and the bad weather meant conditions weren't ideal and there were no mantas to be seen. Apparently there were killer whales in the area the week before, the same thing had occurred the previous year and no one saw any manta rays for about three weeks, so maybe it just wasn't to be. We did have humpbacks surface just 30m from the boat which was an impressive sight.

After a week in Tofo we decided we should probably leave, we woke up to our first glorious day and decided to wander down to the beach to watch the whales for the last time. We'd sat and watched them most days we'd been there. We ended up spending several hours watching whales and lazing on the beach. A group of humpbacks surfaced about 150m off shore and just sat there for a while, we also had dolphins playing in the surf. By now is was too late to leave so one more day in Tofo it was.

We escaped Tofos magnetic appeal making a push towards Swaziland. We spent a couple of days getting to Maputo where we spent a night just north of the city. We ventured into town the following day to be met by some amazing thunderstorms, the city's roads turned to rivers. We stopped for lunch at the famous Costa do Sol restaurant, a seafood place that does quick, relatively cheap and exceptionally good grub. After our amazing meal we headed west towards the Swaziland border, staying in the Swazi mountains that evening. We arrived late and the night watchman didn't know anything about camping, so we took a hut located with amazing views. We had no electricity but a hot outdoor shower with views for miles made up for that.

We drove to the opposite side of the country the next morning, only a couple of hours away. We had no real plans, but ended up venturing into Mlilwane Nature Reserve with amazingly tame wildlife wandering round the camp. We did some walks the following day through the mountain scenery. We then ventured from craft shop to craft shop, there are hundreds of them in Swaziland all selling hand crafted works of art, amazing to look at even if you're not buying.

With Hannah's date to be back at work fast approaching, we decided to leave Swaziland on the south side and head into South Africa towards Richards Bay. The border officials had a look at the expired insurance stickers on the windscreen and started complaining that they were no longer valid. One was for the Congo and the other for Zambia. They eventually understood this and started asking about our "road worthiness disc", basically proof of MOT. I guess a valid UK tax disc would do the job but ours expired a while ago, as did our MOT. I just said we didn't have anything like that in the UK, and they eventually accepted there was nothing we could do about it and let us across the border. The campsite we aimed for was closed, so with the sun dropping we set the next nearest accommodation on the GPS as our target, Overwin Lodge. We arrived to a very warm welcome from Dawn and David who said they didn't normally do camping but we could do so, and were given use of a bathroom in one of their beautiful chalets. They do a lot of work in the area and had a group of school kids staying doing work in the community. Official figures say the AIDS rate in the area is about 40%, but apparently private doctors say it's nearer 80%. They run an AIDS orphanage which they call the "Children's Village" trying to help out a community that is being devastated by the virus.

The reason for us going to Richards Bay was because we knew there was a 4x4 Megaworld there, we'd seen in an advert in a magazine Hannah happened to pick up they were Africa's only stockists of Old Man Emu suspension parts, the springs we wanted! We arrived on the Friday, they didn't have the springs in stock and phoned around the country eventually tracking some down for us at a different branch. As usual, this happened to be the Friday of a bank holiday weekend (I swear we have hit far more bank holidays travelling across Africa than we would've had in the UK in the same period!). They wouldn't be able to get the springs in until Tuesday. They tried to move mountains for us, phoning couriers and trying to sort it so we could get them the next day. They were unable to promise, but the couriers would try their best.

The next morning we received a phone call that I really didn't expect, it was good news and all four springs had arrived! We took our car down to the store and they put them all in for us. We left as extremely happy customers, amazed at the effort they'd gone to. We left on a slightly sour note being told to enjoy South Africa but to "watch out for the blacks" by the lady behind the till. Racism is still deeply entrenched in parts of this country it seems.

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