If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll know that I graduated last year with the intention of travelling in 2020. I spent 6 months working my little bottom off, regularly doing 50+ hour weeks and running the Christmas period for the pub I was working in, and saved up so I could jet off, worry free, in March.
I hadn’t fully decided where I was going to go up until around 2 weeks before I left. I knew I wanted to dive, I knew I wanted to be hot, I thought I might want to visit family in South Africa as I hadn’t been since I was 5, but I wasn’t sure if I could combine all of that into one seamless trip. Luckily, one of my best friends lived in South Africa for several years, and had done a month in Mozambique in a little dive school learning to dive, and he couldn’t recommend it enough (but more on that later). I popped an email over to them at Guinjata Dive Centre, and they gave me an offer for all the diving I wanted to do, and accommodation for 2 months (!!), that I really couldn’t refuse.
I got in contact with my South African relatives next and let them know I wanted to come out and visit. They were all incredibly enthusiastic, and as they are all dotted around the country it would really be a chance for me to see and experience so much, from Cape Town, to Johannesburg, to the Garden Route, to Nelspruit.
So that was it, it was made very easy for me, 2 months in Mozambique followed by 2 months in South Africa. I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait, so ended up booking flights for over two weeks sooner than I had originally intended to go. For Mozambique, I was required to get a visa from the Embassy in London, that was my biggest stress factor: that my passport wouldn’t arrive back with me in time for my flight. But alas, disaster avoided (making the £90 visa more than worth it) and on the 29th of February I flew from London to Johannesburg.
It was a long but direct flight into Johannesburg OTR. Luckily, I have family just 30 minutes away from the airport. OTR has a great service from the airport to different parts of the city (as it is huge) called the Gautrain. You can buy a return train ticket for very little that goes all the way out to Pretoria. I hoped on at the airport and was with my family in about 20 minutes, who very kindly picked me up from the station.
Having arrived early morning, my family decided to take me on a day out to the Apartheid Museum – a huge historical point for South Africa as a whole. This was quite a hard hitting day, and even my family members, who have been to the museum many times, felt very emotionally affected by it. The museum illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid through many different types of display, featuring art, videos, excerpts from books, photos, and physical remnants. I could’ve spent far longer going through every exhibit and still have missed so much. I processed so much information I felt just in the few hours we were there, which lead me to keep researching for weeks afterwards just to learn more (especially because I was meant to be heading back to South Africa for a longer period two months later).
My family then took me to a staple fast-food restaurant in South Africa: Spur. We had steaks and burgers, and then with the jet lag of having got off a flight and come straight out, they took me home to bed, ready for my very early flight to Mozambique the next morning.
And that was it, my brief stint in SA was over (at least for two months). I got a very early morning flight from Johannesburg OTR to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. I landed dazed and confused, having had a classic nap on the plane, as always. Luckily, a very kind man working in Maputo airport saw that I had no idea what I was doing, having come through the lengthy visa process at the airport, and guided me to the check in desk for my next flight to Inhambane, the closest airport to where I was staying.
I had intended to buy a Mozambique SIM card upon arrival at the airport, as I wanted to be able to contact the dive school I was arriving into as they were picking me up at the other end, however in my confusion I totally forgot, and having a very short stop anyway, I just headed straight through security to my gate.
Maputo airport is not big, and it’s not flashy, there are two gates and a couple shops/one restaurant. I sat there for an hour or so, trying to connect to the patchy wifi and let the dive school know I was well on my way, and before I knew it my flight was being called. I hopped on to this TINY little plane, and off I went to Inhambane.
Inhambane airport was one of the most surreal I’ve been to. Think air strip, small building, tiny car park, that’s it. Upon landing we’re told to disembark and we walk over to a court yard area, which has plenty of non-fliers waiting for their family/friends and just generally hanging about. Our luggage is pulled off the plane and dumped at one end of the court yard for us to run and claim. And then you just… walk out. That’s it. Surreal, but surprisingly easy would be my words for Inhambane airport. By far the quickest/easiest experience I’ve had at an airport, I have to give them that.
My dive instructor eventually arrived in a white bucky (the most common car in Mozambique by a long way, if you don’t know what that is I’ll leave a photo below, but picture little white pick up trucks everywhere), and we were fast friends. Rohan was super laid back, threw my rucksack in the car and told me we were popping into town to run some errands for the dive centre owner.
My first experience of Mozambique was a grocery store. It was interesting to see, off the bat, what sort of food I could expect to be able to buy/eat. They had plenty of things, but not necessarily the things you would find on the grocery store shelves back home, and it was definitely curious to see which items were expensive. Fresh fruit and veg really ranged, depending on whether they could locally source it or not; tomatoes would be very cheap, but oranges were super expensive! Meat also varied, with beef being very expensive and often not great quality, and cheese was through the roof.
We then headed back to the dive school. I was super excited to see where I would be living for the next two months, and to meet everyone. Rohan, the South African who picked me up, was the diving instructor at the school, and someone I would be living with. I was also living with Siobhan (here after referred to as Chevvy), from South Africa too, who was there doing her dive masters and arrived two weeks before me. We became a little group of friends very quickly, I guess diving with people every day does that to you, but it felt like a little family.
This was only reinforced by the dive school owners – Lynn and Zelda. Both South African women who moved out to Mozambique to set up their dive school. Both diving instructors, with diving experience for years and years and years, and even used to instruct disabled divers, their knowledge and enthusiasm for diving is next to none. They made me feel so welcome from the get go, and were always willing to answer questions or give me advice to help improve my diving. We would often have Braai’s (think insanely good BBQs) with them and their friends and the food and atmosphere was always amazing.
Days at Guinjata were often pretty similar, but this made for brilliant routine. Wake up and be down at the dive centre by 7am – luckily our house was a two minute walk down the hill to the beach – get our dive gear set up and sorted ready to go on the boat, Rohan would bring the boat out (using the tractor, which I enjoyed clinging onto for dear life whilst he drove), and we would load up the boat with all the gear then sit down for a dive briefing.
We’d dive once or twice in the day, depending on tides, weather, tiredness, responsibilities we had that afternoon etc. After the dives we’d head back and either have lunch at the bar linked to the dive centre, or head back to the house and knock something together. Afternoons were spent looking after the dive school and chatting to any holiday-makers on the bay. It was always great to talk to people, convince them to try a dive with us, and actually build a friendship with them! Evenings were then usually spent chilling at the house or down by the bar. Whenever we dived with holiday-makers we’d always invite them down to the bar for a beer that evening, and I met some wonderful, like minded divers, who were always keen to discuss the sea/life/politics (which would always be a bit risky, hah!) And then we’d do it all again…
I managed to get my PADI Open Water and PADI Advanced Open Water, as well as my Deep Speciality and Nitrox Speciality, in the three weeks I was at Guinjata. I did 22 dives (with diving some days being out of the question due to weather, or the fact that I burnt myself so badly one day I had blisters and couldn’t walk). I wish I was still there diving right now. The flora and fauna underwater off the coast of Mozambique is phenomenal. I saw sharks, turtles, more fish than I have ever seen before, octopus, crayfish, a manta ray, a whale shark, and a whole host of other beautiful corals and marine animals. I experience 5m-30m visibility, unreal surge, calm days, crazy waves, and all of it I believe has made me a better diver. I am so grateful to Rohan, Lynn and Zelda who invested real time into teaching me and trying to make me a better diver, and who even though they’d done a million dives and seen a million divers before, would always tell me honestly when I was doing a good job and when I wasn’t. I felt at home at Guinjata, even though I was only there for a short while.
Although most days had the same basic layout, so much happened whilst I was staying at the dive school. The second week I was there was one of the big annual fishing competitions, which left the bay (right next to the dive school) as sunrise every morning for a week. This was an incredible experience. A hundred little boats would turn up each morning and queue to be launched into the water at first light. We would come down at 4/5am, sit and have a breakfast sandwich, and watch the boats launch into the waves (with varying degrees of success). Every afternoon at 4pm they would have ‘weigh in’ at the other bar just across the bay, so we would head down and see who’d manage to catch the biggest fish, and whose fish was too small to even count.
Another weekend, the dive school hosted a wedding for a South African couple. We took some of the grooms family diving, helped decorate the bar area, and serve drinks to the guests. It was a really fun night ending in dancing and lots of tequila shots!
I thought we had the ideal life. There were mentions of Coronavirus from friends back home on FaceTime, but Mozambique was safe, no cases recorded, no need to be worried. On my birthday, the 16th of March, Matt Hancock went into the House of Commons and said that all unnecessary contact should cease in the UK, and this is when worry started to set in. And then on the 23rd of March the UK went into full lock down, and the FCO advised all British travellers to return home. And I thought, S***.
Look out for my next post about navigating COVID-19 and an abort mission trip home/how I got back and to hear more about Mozambique!
Amy @thisgingertravels x