Xmas in Mozambique

And just like that, our much anticipated stint is Mozambique is well underway. We’ve been here for a week now – having travelled 2,600 kilometres from Cape Town to Vilankulos, gateway to the Bazaruto archipelago.

We arrived in Maputo last week to an ominous grey sky, and impossible humidity. A friend of ours from Cape Town, Mike, has joined us for the Christmas holidays – and never having visited Mozambique before there was nothing else for it but to take him on a walking tour of Maputo to get the ball rolling.

Queue two days of trekking around the city – from sipping coffees at the urban market, getting locked into the main cathedral on Independence Square (we got out through an open side door), zooming through traffic on death defying tuk-tuks, strolling along the seafront promenade, to partying into the night to Maputo’s up-and-coming jazz-esque musicians… we thoroughly introduced him to life in Mozambique.

But that was only a short interlude – our main destination? The beach.  So on Thursday we picked up a hire car, loaded it with our copious amounts of luggage, and set off to drive the 500km to Tofo beach – a small laid-back village nestled at the start of a seemingly endless pristine white beach with the waves of the Indian ocean lapping at the shores.

Our arrival was less than dignified – turning onto the road housing our accommodation, our poor VW Polo promptly sank into the deep sand, and gave up.  We were well and truly stuck, wheels spinning, unable to make the last 100 metres of our journey.  Before we knew it, the whole of Tofo was surrounding us – digging at the sand beneath our wheels with their hands, finding logs and stones to put before and under the wheels, letting the air out of our tyres – and with 20 minutes of community effort, creativity, and heaving – Tofo’s population had our car out of the sand, and we drove round the back way to our destination.  What an entrance.

We checked into a small hostel there, and spent two days doing absolutely nothing.  We walked on the beach, swam in the warm ocean, lazed around on the sand, and ate seafood in the evening (including the best crab curry I have ever tasted).  Now the holidays were really underway.

Tofo, however, was just a break in our drive… we needed to get all the way up the coast to Vilankulos in time for Christmas. So on the 23rd, we loaded up our car again, and finished the 320km left of our drive… landing at Baobab Beach backpackers resort, and checked into our waterfront chalet. Holiday-mode on (although festive feelings largely lacking in the 30C sandy resort).

Christmas eve daytime we did nothing – we spent the day wandering on the beach, pottering around the small quintessentially African town of Vilankulos, sipped fresh coffees at a newly opened beachfront hotel, and lounged by our hostel pool.  But in the evening our accommodation had organised a Christmas party – and we were eager to take part.

The evening started with a show by the town’s local choir – think gospel music, dancing, and funky takes on Christmas carols.  Following which, PINTS of sangria were the included tipple – with heaving tables of samosas, pizzas, and canapes.  We drank and gobbled with the other 50 or so people taking part – making numerous new friends.  Kitchen melt-down ensued, and our Xmas dinner of barbecued fish, dry turkey, and a sauce alleged to be gravy (it wasn’t) arrived at 10 o’clock.  We barely had the energy left to polish off our Xmas dinner pudding of chocolate mousse before collapsing in bed for the night – we had an early Christmas Day start.

In an attempt at Christmas cheer – we had decided to book onto a day trip to the Bazaruto archipelago, with our small motorboat setting off at 8am.  We clambered aboard with a French family of four – and the seven of us set off for our Christmas Day treat.

After a 50km boat ride, we were deposited on Bazaruto island – a sand dune in the middle of the ocean.  We clambered to the top of the dune to take in the incredible views of the sea dotted with islands as far as the eye can see – and to take our Xmas selfies, of course.

From there, we were loaded into another boat – and holding on for dear life we bounced and crashed over the rolling waves into the sea to the two mile reef – also known as “the aquarium”, where we were to spend a couple of hours snorkelling.

We were lucky – we swam around among more astonishingly colourful fish than I could ever describe. The range of corals was stunning.  The sun shone down illuminating the seascape below us.  From one outcrop of coral, a huge patterned barracuda peered out at us (we took a quick look and moved along – scary looking thing).

Then our boat skipper was yelling for us to hurry back to the boat immediately – we all raced through the water to see what was up.  A turtle had come to say hello – so we spent the next minutes swimming alongside the graceful turtle, swirling around among the corals (we didn’t stand a chance at keeping up).

Snorkelling over, we were served up a fish barbecue on the nearest beach, before loading back into the boat to start the trip back to Vilankulos.

Almost immediately – shrieks of excitement… an elusive dugong was playing around in the water.  He came very close to our small boat, so we got amazing views of this near-extinct creature.  The animals had clearly come out in force to make our Christmas Day extra special.

There was time to stop off on a different tropical island for one last hour of swimming, before making the last hop back to mainland.

But it wasn’t over – on route to shore, we found ourselves surrounded … by a pod of dolphins who had come to play.  They frolicked around, swimming under our boats, jumping out of the water either side of us, showing off the baby in their group.  We swiveled in our seats, laughing, watching their antics and hardly able to believe our luck.

We exchanged a few small gifts back at the hostel, over beers and pizza, and sunburn.  It might not have been traditional, it might not have been cold and white – but it was a totally magically Christmas in its own way.