On the South African side of the border the double highway becomes a single lane road, then the road gets narrower and we're dodging cows and goats. School children in bright uniforms wave and smile, the road gets narrower still until it comes to a total stop - the South African / Mozambican border. Two stamps, a short walk and Bem Vindo! Welcome to Mozambique... where the road is now a sandy track winding over some of the tallest sand dunes in the world, blanketed in swaying grasslands and magnificent forests. Our transport partner Sandra has a Land Cruiser, a loud contagious laugh and the biggest smile north of the border. She navigates the deep sand like a Dakar rally veteran and delivers our small group of intrepid ocean travellers to the villa where chef Bella and Peter are waiting with snacks, welcome drinks and stories of dolphins surfing just in front of the house all morning. We're here!
Early nights set the stage for early mornings - day one starts with a delicious chia pot with fresh fragrant mango - then yoga, lung stretching and getting to know the sensation of needing to breathe... ('just remember, it's an early warning system!') Our first ocean day focuses on freediving training along the rope; equalisation techniques, relaxation and deeper and deeper dives. Then it's dolphin time! Cruising up and down the coastline we stay just behind the breakers looking for a fin or a puff of breath, eyes scouring the ocean surface. Turtle after turtle breaks the surface 'is that a dolphin is that a dolphin... no just another turtle'. It's breeding time for two of the species that call this area home, both loggerhead and leatherback turtles are still present after their nights nesting on the welcoming deserted beaches. Day one is rife with turtles but no dolphins - and although this is uncommon it is also okay, these are wild animals and ecosystems, 'like an ocean safari' Peter reminds us - so we head back for a long lunch, afternoon naps and more freediving theory.
Day two dawns bright and clear: coffee, tea, smoothies and we're on the boat by six - with the sun rising over the ocean we train in the sparkling blue water before pulling up the ropes and continuing our dolphin search. Today is our day... we encounter a wonderfully playful pod of bottlenose dolphins, mothers and babies and young males circling us, clicking and squawking. I hear laughs of wonder and expressions of joy around me - this truly is the kind of day we live for. Intelligently wrinkled eyes lock onto your gaze and you are face to face with a sentient cousin never before encountered. There is a kind of kinship with these dolphins, as they spend time with us - circling back for more greetings and games you feel yourself sink into the knowledge of the shared planet we call home. The intelligent life we so search and yearn for is not above us - with just one breath and some patience you are invited into a world where we can revel in the incredible minds just below the surface. As the sun sets we practice yoga on the deck, staring out to sea between warrior and eagle poses, with our newly tuned 3D eyes we can now look beyond the surface and behind closed eyes we can still see the playful flukes and fins surrounding us.
Day three we don't head out to sea but time our breakfast and yoga session with the tides - at low tide it is rock-pool time! We walk along the expansive golden beach to the point where hundreds of years of waves and reefs have created an underwater fairyland of circular pools - some as large as a trampoline and deep enough to snorkel above brightly flashing fish - yellow, blue, white and silver. Under a ledge we find a shy porcupine fish, a feisty mantis shrimp and several groupers. In small crevices live cowrie shells hide and spiny urchins lurk. Floating into the open ocean we see a blue spotted stingray scooting along the softy undulating ridges in the sand. We bob around in the crystal blue water, losing track of time and place - becoming the aquatic mammals that we are.
Our final two ocean days don't disappoint - large pods of dolphins, vibrant reefs, turtles and a group of over eight white tip reef sharks hiding out in a cave. Every day sees our guests dive deeper and longer, get more confident in and under water and grow in their love of our beautiful ocean. Bella's incredible food is perfect for active days at sea - delicious, nutritious and beautiful.
Our final evening arrives far too soon, watching the trip video (below), seeing Peters amazing images for the first time, and sharing our highlights ('oh the dolphins for sure!' ... 'oooh the food!' ... 'that amazing coral reef'... 'the dunes!')
Thank you Esther, Nirmal, Rose & Tim for joining us - we loved getting to know you all and we can't wait to see you somewhere in the blue again!
Love, Hanli & the I AM WATER Team