This is the eighth, and final, post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.
Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.
I left off with getting ready to leave Swaziland (eSwatini) in my last post. Sorry it has taken this long to get back to the story – had a very hectic month or so. School starting, found a new job then was informed I had to move. I’ve now settled into my new place which is walking distance to school. So time to get back to my routine.
I keep a daily journal when I travel. I find it is a great way to remind me of the little things that happen that get overshadowed by the big things (like Elephants!). It really helps when I want to blog later – and in this case, much later – about my adventures.
At 11 p.m. on May 29th those of going on the trip to Mozambique loaded up on the minibus and left for the border. There was a lot more leg room on this bus and several of the group decided to sleep on the floor – in the aisle and between the seats. It was going to be at least a 12-hour drive through the night to our destination. I think I did manage to sleep… I think. It was always black outside so difficult to tell if time was actually passing.
We stopped at the border after a couple hours and had to unload, go through the Swazi customs building, then walked through an unmarked gate to a dimly lit building. Wow… I felt like we were sneaking across the frontier to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. After getting our passports stamped by a very cranky woman, we got back on the bus to continue on into the blackest night I’ve ever seen.
We were stopped many, many, MANY times – by “police”. It is expected and apparently it is a lucrative side business form them… or maybe it is how they actually get paid? I don’t know. But our local guides handled all that. We had a “bribe fund” apparently. Some just stopped the bus and chatted with the driver and guides in a friendly way, others would open the doors and shine flashlights in our eyes, and a couple of times we all had to get off the bus and the bus was “inspected.”
We stopped a few times. Am I ever glad I’d bought the multi-pack of tissues back in Saint Lucia! I had them and hand sanitizer in my bag – oh man, did I need those. I had to “wash” off things with the sanitizer before I could do anything. A couple of times the facilities were so horrifying I decided to wait for the next stop.
Around 6 a.m. we stopped to have our packed breakfast. This gas station at least had pretty decent washrooms.
Then we continued on to Tofo. We arrived at our hostel mid-afternoon – the Pariango Beach Motel – right on the beach! While it was not luxurious it certainly was miles better than I was expecting. I couldn’t get over the location – built right on the sand, you step onto the beach!
My accommodations were called a “casita” – a little grass shack basically. It was really nice and I felt like I was a real beach bum. It had electricity and an oscillating fan, so was very comfortable. And as a bonus, there was a safe imbedded in the floor! There were mosquito nets, so I pulled the one down over my bed, sprayed everything with my bug spray, and left to go exploring.
These photos show the path to my casita… it was a really neat place to stay!
The showers and toilets were in the main hostel building where the rest of the group was housed. So in the night I had to trek over to use the facilities, but the path was well lit and there was night security guarding the place.
When I did my nightly treks I was stargazing – the stars there were immense! It looked like a theatrical backdrop with fairy lights stuck through black velvet. I could only identify the Southern Cross.
This is looking at the back of the main building – you go through there to get to the beach, or hang a right to get to the toilets.
Our guides put up a tent for our dining hall. They would be cooking for us all. There was an outdoor kitchen in the hostel courtyard and some of the local ladies worked there.
I opted out of a couple of the included activities and chose to chill on the beach, did some sketches from the covered porch/bar, lounged in the lobby, rubbed the dogs… just chilled. Was really pleasant.
This is looking back at the hostel from the edge of the water… so close!
Tofo is beautiful. The beach is gorgeous and it not a developed tourist spot – I didn’t see any hotels. There are a few nice houses up on the ridge and some rental places, but the rest is all very low key. There are numerous adventure/scuba type companies operating there, and a lot are owned by people not native to Mozambique, but it all felt very authentic. It made me think of Hemingway for some reason. Run away, live on a beach, just work enough to eat… Was a very different type of experience for me.
I went out at dawn to get a photo of the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, but the angle is not right on the beach – both the sunrise and sunset end up happening behind things.
I took photos of the rest of the group going out for the “ocean safari” – I decided that I wasn’t meant to careen through the waves in a zodiac. Turns out they saw nothing out there. So I didn’t regret that decision.
We all went on a tour of Tofo, timed to get to a point where we could watch the sunset over the estuary. We were all loaded into a couple of very old, very creaky, tiny pick-up trucks. The one I was in was an Isuzu. As the “elderly” member of the group the guides treated me like I was incapable of climbing into the back with the kids… for which I was VERY thankful! I was given the passenger seat in the cab. I had to take a couple photos to show the interior. Oh my!
We drove through the area. There are coconut palms everywhere, and they are so evenly spaced it looks like deliberate planting. We stopped for a demonstration of climbing and picking coconuts, then we all got a chance to drink/eat a fresh coconut. I have to say that was delicious! So completely different from the dried out stuff we get. I honestly could not have identified that what I was eating was coconut if I didn’t know. The liquid tasted like honeydew melon to me.
We all loaded back into the trucks and then raced to a lodge up on a high ridge in time to watch the sunset. The “road” was a track through the sandy soil and a couple of times I thought we were going to get bogged down.
The sunset was beautiful.
The next day we all went to Pig Island. We left the hostel around 8:30 to walk to the bus, then were driven out to the estuary. Then we had to walk… and walk… to get to the water where two dhows were waiting for us! We had to wade out and get ourselves into them. This was actually pretty cool.
These are not tourist boats, these are working boats. When they aren’t ferrying tourists they are fishing. There wasn’t much wind so our guide and the boatman pushed us with long poles. The estuary is not terribly deep. A one point the wind picked up enough that we had a bit of a race.
First they took us to an area for snorkeling. I stayed on board. After that, we stopped at a large sandbar and we all jumped off and waded onto it to do some beachcombing. At this point I realized that the $10 poolshoes I’d brought along were the most important item I owned. I found some nice shells and a sand dollar. Unfortunately the sand dollar didn’t make it through the day. The dhows met us on the other side of the sandbar and we waded out and climbed back in.
Then we headed to Pig Island. By the time we got there it was close to noon. As the tide was out we all had to jump out and wade about a kilometer to the island (did I mention my poolshoes?)
The island has about 800 residents and no source of freshwater, other than rain. The chief is named Erik – he was 70, but didn’t look a day over 50! He asked us all our names and quizzed me – asked my age, how many kids I had. Then said he wanted to marry me – I declined. He already has two wives!
We were taken on a tour of the island before lunch. They have a school, hospital and church… really makes you appreciate what we have. As it is all sand they can’t grow anything (other than coconuts) so they fish and trade/sell on the mainland to get what they need. It was very hard walking in the loose sand. There were some pigs too.
By the time we were ready to leave the tide had come in so we didn’t need to walk out to the dhows, but it was harder to get back in, in deeper water. Luckily I’d put my camera in a ziploc bag – as my pack hit the water as I was trying to climb in.
The ride back took three hours – Julio and the boatman had to push the whole way. We saw a flock of flamingos on a sandbar – wow! As the other dhow sailed by them, they all took flight at once. Spectacular. As the tide was in they were able to take us right to the shore in the dhows.
I had decided my one big souvenir purchase would be a custom made jacket! One of our guides had some clothing made by a tailor in Tofo, so I made sure to have enough funds to pay for it. He came by and measured me, and then brought the finished jacket over on our last day in Tofo. For approximately $140 Canadian, I have a reversible padded, hooded, bomber jacket with three pockets on both sides, in an African print on one-side and handmade patchwork on the other. Very colourful! I think very suitable for an artist.
Sunday, June 2nd we left Tofu to head to Bilene for the last stop of our trip. It was a 6-hour drive (not counting the stops for police checks/inspections…)
We arrived around 8 p.m. at Villa Espanhola. WOW. This was not a hostel, but a resort! So nice for the last stop before heading home. Wonderful setting – on a private beach. Took quite a few photos. We spent two full days here and left at 3 a.m. in the morning on the third night.
I had a private “chalet” with a massive bathroom, huge walk-in shower that had… hot water!
It was a fair climb to get to the beach.
I opted out of the activities, except for the trip to the market. I managed to find fridge magnets and got one carved with “Mozambique” on it. Also bought a beautiful large scarf/shawl. Saw lots of purses, bags and jackets that were similar in style to mine but not reversible and not the same quality.
I spent my couple of days lounging around, went down to the private beach, watched Portuguese soap operas in the outdoor recreation area, took many long hot showers. Was a beautiful place.
Bilene is a resort town. Many of the buildings look very European – reminded me of the Mediterranean coast. Nice wide main road, shops, restaurants, accommodations – meant for tourists.
On the last day we all had to have our luggage out before we went to bed, and had to be on the bus by 2:30 a.m. as we needed to hit the road by 3 a.m. It was over 12 hours to Johannesburg where we all had flights to catch.
Again, many stops by police. Got to watch a glorious sunrise from the bus – I was the only person awake, well, except for the driver! In one town we were stopped and the “official” took one of our passports and walked away. One of our guides stuck to him like glue and got it back, after suitable payment I assume.
It was nice to be driving through the country in the daylight this time. Was very interesting to see the contrast between old Portuguese colonial architecture in the towns with the rural buildings of the population.
Something that was very interesting was the roadside shops – communication companies and others have their colours and logos on almost every single roadside business. Also, there are little one person kiosks – an enclosed area with an umbrella – where you can buy cellular service for mere cents. Cellphone service is cheap in Africa!
We crossed back through Swaziland, stopped for lunch, then crossed into South Africa.
At the airport in Johannesburg I took a lot of photos of beaded creatures – this type of craftwork was everywhere we went. The showpieces at the airport were amazing! Bigger than life Nelson Mandelas and fantasy animals. Little versions were in all the craft markets we saw on the trip.
Long flight from Johannesburg to Munich, long layover, then onto to Toronto and home. Relatively uneventful and I paid to upgrade my seat on the Munich-Toronto leg and managed to actually sleep.
The whole trip was amazing. Seeing the wildlife, learning about the cultures in each area, the scenery and the experiences volunteering truly made this a once in a lifetime trip.
If I had to pick the part I enjoyed the most I would have to say the stay in Tofo – it was so outside my expectations and something I would never have considered doing as I am not a beach person, generally. But white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean are a lot different than grey sand beaches in British Columbia, obviously.