“A weather-beaten tractor pushed the boat into the churning surf as we walked alongside and held onto the brim. Water rising to our chests, an instruction was shouted to us and we all clambered into the boat.”
Upon receiving an invitation to attend an April destination wedding in Inhambane, Mozambique, my scuba diving yearnings immediately increased. Visions of brilliant blue warm-water currents flooded my mind. I expected to be swimming among shoals of brightly coloured Banner, Butterfly, Parrot and Snappers with all of the enjoyment that I could muster.
To increase my chances of seeing all that I desired, I signed up for my advance Professional Academy of Diving Instructors (PADI) course that included five dives. After thorough online research, I decided on Tofu Scuba diving centre that was just under five kilometres from our beach resort.
Sun & salt and R&Rs
My girlfriend and I stayed in a fully-kitted (read: air-conditioned) beach resort on the Northwestern tip of Inhambane’s peninsula. The staff at the resort, Farol da Barra, made us feel at home during the gentle evenings and in between my dives. The roaring ocean, a mere hundred meters from our first-floor balcony, and a freshwater pool at the restaurant ensured, if nothing else, we would have a liquid-filled time.
The pool area was set back from the beach and shaded by lush coconut trees. After making fast friends of schools of fish, we sat poolside sipping the infamous Mozambique tonic, R & R (rum and raspberry) slushies. Their affordable drinks in the evenings washed away the day’s sun and salt.
The guest house’s menu was nicely varied. From pizzas to freshly caught sea platters, the food kept me fuelled for the days of diving to come.
At sunrise on my first dive day, I practically jumped into my fins (I then took them off so that I could walk the along the beach to the dive centre). I challenged myself to walk this long, beautiful stretch of beach each morning as a preparation for my dives. I used it to get my mind ready to learn a new skill. The tranquillity of dawn was also a mood setter.
After an hour and a half of bare-footed scurry along with the googly-eyed crabs, sweat beading down my smiling face, I reached the centre and introduced myself to the local and international staff of Tofo Scuba.
I went through a thorough induction and pre-dive safety briefing. My instructor assisted me in selecting my five skills that would be covered in my course. Two of the five skills are mandatory: deep diving and navigation. The deep diving skill would allow me to advance from my current 18-metre maximum depth to a 30-metre maximum; the navigation skill would allow me to competently swim on a heading underwater.
I had three skills choices and selected: fish identification, boat diving and drift diving. My first dive for the day would cover the boat skill. This would enable me to dive from a boat into the water as opposed to a shore entry – where one would normally walk from the beach and into the water.
We were ready to get into the ocean so we kitted up with life vests. A weather-beaten tractor pushed the boat into the churning surf as we walked alongside and held onto the brim. Water rising to our chests, an instruction was shouted to us and we all clambered into the boat. With the wet, slick, round ‘edges’ of rubber – not even the elite divers could make the this look elegant.
All aboard, we made a 20-minute journey to our first dive spot ‘Fingers’ – so named because of the reef’s shape below us. With the pre-dive checks having successfully been completed, we rocked off backwards into the water and made a controlled descent to the seabed below.
Following the dive master, we swam along the reefs outstretched fingers and saw abundant healthy tropical sea life. There was a school of brilliant blue Surgeon fish, yellow and white Bannerfish and one four foot Grouper that looked like it meant business. Further along the dive, we were lucky enough to spot a leaf fish that made me laugh bubbles because of its transparent ‘finless-appearance’.
Once we were satisfied watching a leaf under water, we had reached our limit and made our way safely to the surface, popping our heads out into the sea air for our first direct fresh air in 35 minutes. I had successfully completed my first skill.
Of the remaining skills, my favourite was fish identification. I was taught many hand gestures of how to communicate to another diver that I’d seen fish sighting. Sharks, jellyfish, barracuda, eels, scorpion fish, frogfish, many of the rainbow-coloured tropical fish – I was a marine dictionary with my hands.
Besides the underwater leaf, the highlight was when my instructor gestured to me on my final dive. Before even turning, I knew what wonder awaited me. It was a titan of a leather head turtle. He (or she) was gracefully finning through the water effortlessly. It appeared to be flying, and I was right there to witness the marvel.
Aside from the five-foot white-tipped reef shark, the turtle had really made my course-completing dive. I emerged from the water like a turtle would – beak first – as a successfully advanced diver.
The wedding ceremony was spectacular with a fiery sunset and rolling surf as the backdrop. The surrounding landscape of wind-formed sand dunes, full-fruited coconut trees, mango-sized avocado pears and happy local inhabitants made for a special evening for the bride and groom. The newlyweds wore their smiles late into the night, as did we.
Albeit for a different reason, my scuba diving expectations had been fulfilled by that crystal clear, brilliant blue and warm water currents of Mozambique’s Inhambane waters.