After South Africa, we headed east to Mozambique for some beach time. Moz is starkly different from its neighbor; first, the main language is Portuguese, since it had once been colonized by Portugal, the population is almost all black, and the country was in a bloody civil war until the 1990s. Our first necessary stop was the capital, Maputo, which is on the water and supposedly a nice place to spend a few days. We ended up being a bit disappointed, due to a number of factors: our lodging situation (the first place we spent a night "temporarily" had no electricity or running water and the one we moved to on the second night was quite expensive), the fact that it was a city holiday meant that everything was closed and the town was dead, and prohibitively expensive taxis, which caused us to decide not to go to dinner at a famous seafood restaurant a bit out of town (taking public transportation at night would be too risky). All in all, we ended up feeling a bit trapped and ready to leave sticky Maputo after spending only two nights.
We took a crowded minibus (which would turn out to be our most comfortable ride in Mozambique!) to the beach town of Tofo, about 8 hours up the coast, and stayed at Bamboozi Beach Lodge, which consisted of a group of simple reed huts (the kind most Mozambicans call homes), communal kitchens, bathrooms, and a restaurant/bar that sat up on the dunes with great views of the ocean. One of the main reasons we picked this place is because it has an on-site dive operator, and I wanted to take my open water diving class.
Our time in Tofo was pleasant; Nick passed his days relaxing and reading (finishing Moby Dick, and reading all of Heart of Darkness and Gulliver's Travels), while I spent four days diving and studying the PADI open water course book. In the evenings we either cooked or went to dinner with the friends we met on the bus from Maputo, a fun group of people from Portugal, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. Tofo is nothing more than a small cenral market and a few blocks of sandy roads with a handful of restaurants and surfboard rental shops, sitting on a 2-km stretch of wide beach dotted with beach lodges. The seafood in Tofo is good: most dinners consisted of shrimp, calamari, or fresh fish of the day cooked simply and served with a heaping portion of coconut rice or chips (french fries). One evening one of our friends bought lobsters off a fisherman on the beach and we cooked a feast of vegetable pasta and lobster tails, followed by a bonfire under the stars.
I ended up really loving scuba diving. At first I was apprehensive, and I was giving myself a 50/50 chance of dropping out of the course after my first open water dive. The diving in Tofo can be a bit scary for a beginner because it's all done from a boat in the ocean, and the swells and currents can be quite strong. It turned out that getting into the water was the worst part, and as soon as we descended, I was enthralled with my surroundings and not bothered at all that I was breathing underwater. I ended up doing five dives during my time there: the four that are required for the course and then one deep water (30-meter) adventure dive. The last one ended up being my favorite, with the visibility perfect, the fish beautiful and varied, and I even saw a manta ray, which is what Tofo's diving scene is known for, but they had been scarce of late. The PADI course was on the expensive side in Tofo, but the dives were rewarding, and I wanted to have the class done so I'd be able to dive during the rest of our trip in Lake Malawi, Zanzibar, Thailand, etc.
Having had our momentary fill of seafood and diving, we decided to start the long haul north toward Malawi. Most people we had talked to over the previous weeks told us that travel in northern Moz is very difficult if not impossible: hitch-hiking, days on cramped chapas (mini-buses, really more like vans), and nights spent on the side of the road would be the only way to get through the area. But then we met people who had done the trip, and while they confirmed that it was certainly long and uncomfortable, it was doable. That, coupled with the high price of the flights ($550 and up) led us to decide to just buck up and head to Malawi overland. The first logical stop on the trip north is Vilanculos, another beach town and the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, which made it worthy of staying for a few days.
Vilanculos is more spread out than Tofo, and while there is a central area, it's not where all of the resturants and lodging are. We picked a place to stay that was near the beach called Zombie Cucumber, which had a few hammocks and wasn't too far from the center of town, and our hut ended up being much more comfortable than the one we had in Bamboozi (it even had a double bed, a table, and a fan!). The islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago are not too far offshore, but the lodging options on the islands are prohibitively expensive. Instead, we took a day trip to the nearest island, Magaruque, which was lovely. There were only six of us on the tour, and we went with some locals on their "dhow" sailboat. We spent the day walking around the island, snorkeling, and eating a fresh grilled fish lunch. The only other people we saw on our 2+ hour walk all the way around the perimeter of the island were a few fisherman fixing their boats.