Posted by: Anna | January 7, 2011

New Years in Tofo

Tofo (pronounced tofu, like the non-meat) is probably the most gorgeous beach town either of us has ever seen. Known as a backpackers’ paradise with amazing diving, Tofo is really the only reason we came to Mozambique. We arrived with high expectations and those were only heightened when we parked the car at Fatima’s (Tofo location – Alison and Laura had made reservations) and saw a massive expanse of sugar white sand and sparkling blue water. Standing in the huge thatched roof deck overlooking the beach, we were giddy with excitement; we knew we had found the perfect exotic, serene hideaway to spend the week between Christmas and New Years.

Tofo beach

Fatima’s was hosting the oddly named Tofo Earth Festival (we never could
deduce what the Earth signified, other than an extremely vague
description of its location). Guests of Fatima’s were offered admission
to the five day festival at a discounted rate of 500 meticais (about
$16); we bought our wristbands upon arrival. A lineup of bands and DJs
every night in the bar promised to provide fun nightlife. The beautiful
beach and excellent diving would take care of the day.

We checked into our 16 bed dorm, and we were the only ones occupying it. It couldn’t get any better. And it didn’t.

The first night, we were all tired and decided to go to bed early. Sometime around midnight we figured out that this would not be the serene, relaxing retreat we imagined. What had been loud house music when we stood at the bar retreated with distance, until only a bass-heavy untz-untz-untz remained in the dorm.  With earplugs in, it was merely a loud, repetitive thud accompanied by a seismic vibration of the bunkbeds.  Very soothing.  We had all debated how long the party would go on – Fatima’s is first and foremost the single largest provider of accomodation in Tofo.  We thought it would be somewhere between 2 and 4.  Nope – at 6am the party was still going strong, the untz-untz as loud as it had been at 11pm.

We spent the next day exploring Tofo, checking out the market, lounging on the beach, and playing frisbee in the sand. Alison had signed up for her open water (introductory) diver course to start that morning, so we spent most of the day with Laura. At around 5 PM, she called to invite us to join her and her new scuba friends for a braai (South African for barbeque) at the house they had rented for the week.

The twelve South Africans renting the house wouldn’t let us bring anything but instead insisted that we share in their huge quantities of meat, beer, and whiskey. We ate and drank; we talked to a really nice South African guy who has been diving all over the world while four or five of the single South African guys decided Laura and Alison were more interesting than us. One guy in particular was embarassing himself by fawning all over Alison. The food was delicious, the beer was cold, and the stars were beautiful. We finished the night by playing Texas Hold ‘Em. One of the girls was trying to teach the rest of the South Africans the rules of poker, but she herself was not that clear on the ranking of hands. When Tommy tried to explain it to her, she argued vehemently until he declared “I’m from Texas – it’s called TEXAS Hold ‘Em”. The other players voted to follow Tommy’s rules, based on his local insight.

Another night of untz-untz-untz was followed by an early wake-up because it was time for our first Tofo dive. We met up with our friend JoAnne from Maputo that was part of our Christmas crew at the dive shop. While catching up on the few days since we were together, we got our gear set up and wet suits on. The dive master Frida reviewed the dive with us and we were ready to walk down to the beach.

The reefs in Mozambique are located anywhere from 2-30 km from shore, so all of the dive shops use small rubber boats that you launch off the beach (no dock). To launch the boat, the jeep towing the boat backs toward the water at high speed, then slams on the breaks while momentum carries the boat into the water. Then all the divers work cluster around pushing and pulling trying to get the boat facing the right direction before the boat drifts off into the ocean leaving them behind. Once the boat is floating and facing the right way, the driver calls “Ladies Up” at which point all the women scramble to awkwardly leap into a moving boat that is about the level of your head. As a 5 foot tall person with no vertical leap, especially not starting from waves crashing on the beach, it was tough for me. Then the driver calls “Everybody Up” and all the men jump in too. We’re off.

Dive boats getting ready for launch

I told Tommy the night before that we should definitely take Dramamine before we left for our dive, but he insisted it was only a 30 minute boat ride and we would certainly be fine. Ha. When we arrived at the dive site, the crew started helping us get on our dive gear with the boat stopped in choppy water. During the fifteen to twenty minutes it took everyone to get geared up and do our safety check, Tommy turned from his normal pale white to a peculiar shade of green. By the time everyone was ready to dive, he was ignoring the safety checks, sitting on the floor of the boat, desperate to get in the water. That’s when my tank fell off, very nearly into the ocean with only one hose connecting me to it. An agonizing five minutes later, with me feeling like an idiot, we were ready to dive.

All of our previous dives were either walking in from the shore or stepping off a big boat (giant stride). This time, we got to do a backroll where you sit on the edge of the boat. Frida counts 3, 2, 1, go and you all fall simultaneously backwards and head first off the boat and start to sink immediately. Tommy thought it was fun. I thought it was terrifying. As soon as we were in the water, we could tell the visibility was not as good as the Red Sea (Dahab). The highlights of the first dive were seeing giant moray eels free-swimming and a giant fish eating a puffer fish, all puffed up. As we were doing our safety stop, we saw a group of fifteen devil rays swimming below us. Cool!

As we neared the surface, the surge of the water brought Tommy’s seasickness back with a vengeance. He struggled into the boat and laid down in the front, wishing for land. He stayed there for the next hour as everyone loaded into the boat, put away their gear, and rode back to the beach. As we approached the beach, Frida told everyone to hold on, advice I should have paid closer attention to. Since there is no dock, they just speed the boat onto the sand until it stops with a jolt. When the boat jolted, I went flying into our gear. We climbed out of the boat and walked back to the dive shop to wash and put away our gear. Tommy laid down on their couch while I put away both of our stuff.

New Years in Tofo, Part 2 – coming tomorrow


  1. It had to be fun to point out that it is “TEXAS” hold ’em, thus giving you the trump card on rules knowledge. Easy logical decision for the rest of the group. Sounds like someone else may have won your Texas money, though. Fun time!

  2. Looks beautiful but sounds less than beautiful.

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