Every South African should visit Mozambique at least once. The people, culture and lifestyle have the amazing effect of rejuvenating your perspective on life, while at the same time it's a great tropical paradise in which to kick back and chill for a couple of weeks.
We did the trip for a second time over New Year's and learnt a few new lessons about Tofo. And re-learnt some of the old ones. Here are a few fragmented pointers for when you're planning your adventure.
Life in our northern neighbour is haphazard and generally unorganised. This statement seems over-generalised, but it will hit you like a ton of coconuts as soon as you cross that border.
Funeral Parlour, Manica, Mozambique
"African time" some call it. Things happen slowly. Everything seems lacking in structure. Service is non-existent. Restaurants serve your food 1.5 hours after you order, and never seem to question why their starved customers hungrily scoff down meals in seconds. Nobody really cares about you or your problems.
It's a small price to pay for being in such beautiful surroundings and enjoying the friendly disposition of the people, but if you aren't prepared for some frustration then it will come as quite a shock.
And don't assume that because a place is run by South Africans, everything will be operating swimmingly. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Bamboozi Beach Lodge, who had absolutely no idea that our party of 7 were coming, despite the fact that we had paid the deposit and had printed copies of all the email correspondence that confirmed repeatedly our booking of 4 huts.
On arrival, we noted that the Bamboozi reception was closed. A bit of searching upstairs at the restaurant and we managed to track down the bar manager who told us that his establishment was separate from the accommodation and he couldn't help us. Great. Night was approaching quickly and there seemed to be no-one there to help.
Huts at Bamboozi
We ran into another angry group of about 10, who told us that they too had been double booked, and that our groups were not the first. There were plenty more people who also had nowhere to stay.
Finally a Bamboozi employee showed his face and started trying to make a plan, but not in a way that would suggest Bamboozi was responsible for the situation. More like he was doing us a favour. He did a walk around and pointed out isolated beds in the dorms, one available 2-sleeper hut and another completely barren dorm (no beds, mozzie nets or anything).
Bamboozi man didn't know who was responsible for the booking mess. Nobody with any authority was there. He didn't know how to contact them. Shrugging his shoulders, he walked away.
So with much discomfort, 5 of us slept on top of each other in a REALLY tiny 2-sleeper hut, while the other 2 camped outside in the sand. It was pretty awful, but the next day we managed to move into a bigger hut because by chance some people we knew were leaving that day and promised to let us slip in ahead of whoever else was triple-booked to go in it.
Drinking lots of these helped
Of course, we had to arrange and move everything ourselves. I had to go find my own mattress. We were climbing the rafters of other people's huts and cutting down the unused mozzie nets so we could use them in our new open-air hut.
For the first day, nobody came to see us. No-one from Bamboozi even apologised or so much as made eye contact. Eventually some of the girls found a lady who worked there and she did apologise and gave us the first night free. Wow, thanks for that.
The word on the street was that the Bamboozi owner/manager had flipped out the previous night after some irate customers shouted at him about being double-booked. After threatening to kill someone, he fled the scene of the crime in a drunken enraged state, never to be seen again. How... mysterious.
Bamboozi is pretty crud anyway. Too many vaalies, too much aggression and attitude. It was a bokjol. No serious. Even Jaque Fourie (Springbok rugby player) was camping there. Not what you want from your relaxing tropical holiday.
Moving right along to more pleasant times, the next leg of the journey was to Tofo beach cottages (www.tofo.co.za) where we stayed in Casa Quentin. It's located right at the top of a dune overlooking Mozambique's top surf spot, Tofinho point.
View From Casa Quentin
What an amazing place that turned out to be. If you ignore the creepy man-servant Bernado, who's first introduction to us was an animated and fiery story told in broken English of how the police had arrested him, but luckily now there was 'nao problemo' (no problems). At the time we didn't care that he was 4 hours late to clean up from the last group because he was arrested - we made ourselves at home with the comfort of our own kitchen and bathroom and took in some spectacular views over the point and ocean.
Quentin is a surfer's paradise. From the porch you have a perfect view of the waves fifty meters away. We were also lucky to have some storm swell drift in casually on the 1st Jan, with 8ft+ breakers slamming onto the shallow reef.
A fisherman looks out at the huge surf
Getting out at Tofinho is another story. You could of course attempt to paddle through the bay out to the point, but it's a long and exhausting fight against the current which runs rapidly over the shallow reef shelf. At the wrong tide, it's impossible.
There are two alternatives, but both of them are extremely intimidating for a first timer. The one we stuck with was to walk out on the shelf as close to the jagged headland as possible, until a lull in the waves came and it was possible to run out over the soft parts and jump into the water just at the point the soft seaweed underfoot gave way to razor-sharp barnacles.
You could only hope and pray that your timing was perfect, or else the water level would drop suddenly, leaving you stranded on your board on the jagged reef, or even worse drag you across it shredding any piece of skin that you dare dangle over the edge. My mate's fin was torn out his board, I got cut to pieces and we both lost many man-points in that debacle.
Click on the symbols in the map to get information
Go To The Larger Map
The second alternative is the method of choice for the hardcore locals. Walking to the end of the grassy headland, there is a path that winds down over rocks that are literally shaped like pointy stabbing assegais, onto a shelf which is partly exposed and offers a fairly quick and easy entry right into the sweet spot of the break. See the map above for details, the red line is the reef walk, the exclamation point (!) is the rock jump!
Quick and easy, that is, if the prospect of being slammed into a bed of knives by a 6 foot wave doesn't bother you.
On some days it was safer than others, and in calm conditions it would be quite possible to take your kids snorkeling around the area to view hundreds of spectacular species of sealife. But not while we were there. We had fantastic surfing waves instead and a couple of short but highly enjoyable sessions. In winter, it probably goes off on that little point.
I recommend staying in Quentin, or any of the other Tofo cottages in the Tofinho area. They're quite well equipped and are preferable to busy "commercial" area of main Tofo.
Before the ridiculous swell arrived, we spotted a marine safari boat just beyond backline. It was floating around a whale shark, and seeing as we'd wanted to get up close and personal with one of these creatures anyway, we decided that getting a free look would be worth the effort.
We grabbed snorkels and surfboards, and paddled like crazy to the point where the boat had been. There, just on the surface, was a massive whale shark about 5-6 meters long, feeding slowly with it's huge gummy mouth. For about fifteen minutes it was possible to swim mere inches away, before it drifted out further to sea.
Capdog surfing with a whale shark
If you're in Tofo, go on a whale shark expedition on a boat. You won't regret it. It's quite a sublime experience to be so close to such a huge marine creature in it's natural environment.
The entire Tofinho point is littered with species of fish. You can put your head underwater from the shoreline of the bay and see hundreds of brightly coloured clownfish, parrotfish and others that I could not name. It's an amazingly clear and beautiful part of the ocean.
From Liquid Adventures, a dive shop on Bamboozi property but separately owned and run, it's possible to do a day trip on kayaks to an island in the Inhambane bay. What an amazing experience. You get to meet some of the 700-odd people who live on this tiny island community, and they prepare a feast of seafood and local cuisine for lunch.
The "tour guide", who works for Liquid Adventures, takes you around the island explaining how the locals survive with only limited access to the mainland. It's a facinating excursion and ends with a trip back by dhow (sailboat) with the kayaks in tow.
Next to a small cafe in Tofinho lives Maurice the baby baboon. She's completely tame and loves to crawl all over people. Pay her a visit.
The party on the main beach is pretty big and wild. It's mostly rich Mozambique locals with boot music, but Fatima's and Dino's on the beach also have their own events. Awesome fun, but be warned it tends to drag a bit - the Fatima's party only really winds down on midday of the 1st Jan. The beach is an absolute mess for at least 2 days after that.
So if it's New Year's jol you're after, but without the banging music and other people's mess all over your living area, rather don't stay at Fatima's or anywhere in the main beach area - rather make the little trip over the dune to Tofinho where it remains a tropical paradise in the first few days of the new year, rather than a rubbish tip.
By far the best service and snack food came from The Waterworks, a small surf/coffee shop and book store in Tofo. We found ourselves eating their delicious pizza sticks pretty often, simply because you were guaranteed to have your meal in less than half an hour. It was by far the best and most competent place out of the many that we tried.
The owner is also one of the regular surfers in the area, and he was very friendly and helpful. Speak to him about breaks, wind conditions, swell and board rentals. He's got it all sorted.
The owner of The Waterworks, Miguel at Tofinho
Mozambique is shedding it's reputation as a corrupt, dangerous country. We always felt very safe, even in areas that if seen in South Africa would be avoided like a plague. We went through roadblocks where cops were stopping the incredibly dodgy taxis and other disintegrating, unrecognizable vehicles, rather than soliciting bribes from tourists. Which is what they should be doing. Somehow I think the message has hit home: tourism is badly damaged by corruption.
Cheap seafood feast
Get to Mozambique. It's a fantastic adventure, and it's scarcely believable that such a different, exotic world is just a few hundred kilometers away. Well worth the mission!