At the crack of dawn after a very rough night sail from Tofo 140 miles up the Mozambique coast to Bazaruto Tim wakes me up urgently. The problem is Humpbacks. The wind is blowing over 30 knots, the seas are an ugly black mess. And whales are literally everywhere. We’re ripping along well over 10 knots. If we hit one of these giants the giant wins. Our thin fiberglass hull is no match for 40 tonnes of dense flesh and blubber. We’d be destroyed, all would be lost. He and I stand at the helm in awe- everywhere we look massive black torpedos are defying gravity and breaching completely out of the water. I count over 50 individuals in 2 hours. Twice we have to shut off the autopilot and wrench the helm hard over to barely miss a jumping whale right in front of us. It was terrifying and yet of course awesome.
By midday we have tucked up in the lee of Bazaruto Island, the largest in the protected archipelago and National Park by the same name and ride out the remainder of the gale in peace. We are to begin a trip at noon on the next day, but down one engine we have no chance of motoring 30 miles against the howling southerly to Vilanculos where we have to clear customs and take on provisions. I send out a message to our incoming guests that we will be delayed one day and we allow the stress of the sail to ease.
Over the next month Discovery will travel less than 50 miles. We find little reason to move the boat at all other than to get provisions and fuel every 10 days. We have been searching the earth for a place like Bazaruto since I left port for the very first time in 1999. I’ve called it somewhat haphazardly “The Search for Perfection”, knowing full well that perfection does not exist except in our dreams. But if perfection does exist, for me it is here off the coast of Mozambique.
This is a big call, I know. I’ve become pretty hardened by adventure and though always thankful, not always entirely easy to impress. Let’s face it- we’ve seen a lot. But Bazaruto is magic, as the photos here demonstrate. Whenever the winds are light we can play for hours flying the dunes. As far as we know we are the first to paraglide this archipelago. When the tides are right we can use the tow winch to get up a few thousand feet and get a proper view. We’ve done this in some beautiful places- Tonga, the Maldives, Madagascar- but doing it here leaves you completely speechless. The beauty is staggering. When the winds crank we kite, when the days are still we head out to swim with Humpbacks, Manta Rays and dolphins. Each time we’ve been out we see dozens and dozens of whales and once at anchor a pod (if you call them that?) of Mantas swam right up to the swim step.
Now looking back I find it impossible to break down our month in Bazaruto into days so I’ll attempt to combine the experience into impressions. Our guests on the first trip were Thomas, Adrienna, Clara and two new guests Fred and Holly from the States.
The first thing we did was get them up up in the air using our tow winch and tandem rig so they could have a look around the lagoon. I believe we could have ended the trip right there. Even Holly, who is terrified of heights couldn’t say no and is probably still talking about it now. I told Thomas that we didn’t charge for towing, but accepted a dollar for every minute of smiling after landing. I cannot yet deliver the bill as he tells me he’s still smiling, some three weeks later! Using a paraglider to see these areas is like having a silent helicopter- no engine, no sound. Looking around leaves the mind somewhat useless. Some people gasp, others shout, others are silent. Whatever their reaction, believe me- the synapses are firing at full speed.
The flying is so good in Bazaruto that Jody and I were hoping to not get wind. This is probably not the best attitude for a kiteboarding expedition, but luckily for our guests the winds did give us a number of visits, providing for flat water kiting that is every bit as surreal as the flying.
Inside the lagoon in Bazaruto there is only sand. With the rise and fall of the tides sand island appear and disappear like a mirage. Rivers of butter flat turquoise water run between them and it is here that we kite. On the highest of tides you can even kite inside the dunes, on temporary lakes of water just 1 foot deep.
But the days that provided 8-13 knots, the days that were just a bit shy to kite- those were the ones we’d head to the big dune on Bazaruto island to fly.
We’d huck two solo gliders for Jody and I and a tandem wing so I could take the guests for a spin into the dinghy and sometimes fly until it was too dark to see. You don’t need shoes, you don’t need a shirt, you don’t even need a helmet. Just a wing a harness, a bottle of water and some way to relax your mouth after smiling non-stop for hours.
In fact the only real glitch we had other than our continued engine trouble for the entire month was placing Discovery on a sandbank for the day completely unintentionally. All comings and goings in Bazaruto must be done on high tide. There isn’t really anything dangerous about doing otherwise, but it is embarrassing if you screw it up.
I tried to move us one morning just a few hundred meters so we could access the dune a little easier and we didn’t quite make it. In no time at all Discoveries’ hulls were nearly completely dry. She sat proudly, if a little off kilter for a few hours getting a nice hull scrubbing compliments of Tim and I. Fred and Thomas even got some kiting in and both Tim and Jody took photos from the top of the mast. One of the few times it was totally stable up there.
Between the two trips Jody and I were treated to three blissful nights at the gorgeous Indigo Bay Resort in return for some of the photos you see here. Their GM Andy Conn had no idea their resort was sitting under one of the best paragliding spots on earth. Given the dune is about 10 times the size of Dune Du Pyla in France, our “discovery” could soon have the paragliding world making a trip to Africa. I’m not usually a fan of resorts but the Indigo has all of the ingredients we’d been missing and more. Hot bath, big luxurious comfortable bed, incredibly friendly and attentive staff (nice to be taken care of instead of the other way around for once!). It was heaven and honestly the best place I’ve ever stayed.
The second trip with Rob Bass and Volker Schmidt and his family was more or less a repeat of the first, minus putting Discovery on the dry and plus quite a bit more wind. We managed again to get everyone up for a long flight on tandem at the dune, swam again with the whales, did a lot of kiting, even speared a few fish for Julienne’s impressive table.
And suddenly it was all over, our playtime finished like a child being taken from the sandbox. We found ourselves in Vilanculos for several days trying to get one of our refrigerators going again (unsuccessfully), tried to get our engine going again (unsuccessfully) and finally I decided to just give up and spend one last day of flying the dunes before heading back across the Mozambique channel to Madagascar. Three more trips to go before we head around Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic where we will officially complete our circumnavigation and begin the final year of the expedition. There have been rumors lately that there may be more in store after 2011 winds down…
“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning, you didn’t even think to ask.” ~quoted in the incredible movie, 180 south