We left Khumbulani Lodge by 8:30. Instead of heading for St. Lucia–about 15 minutes east–we decided to drive north another hour to a place called Sadwana Bay. It is closer to Mozambique, where we were once again thinking of visiting before heading to Vic Falls. Sadwana Bay sounded like the best snorkeling spot around. We also hoped lodging would be cheaper since it was a pretty remote area. We really need a place to settle in for a few days, something we can afford, preferably on, or very close to, the beach. I want to spend some chill time swimming and snorkeling and catching up on some work, though we know that Internet access will be sketchy, at best. It turned out that Sadwana Bay was very developed for the SCUBA market so the best part of the beach is blocked off for those paying for SCUBA adventures with one of the four outfitters who get access to this area of the beach and ocean. Also, it was very windy so the swimming and snorkeling wouldn’t have been any good until the next morning. Lodging was expensive too so we made a quick decision to push on the Mozambique where we heard that Ponta da Ouro was a spectacular beach with great snorkeling when calm, and good surfing when the swell was big enough.
The remote border crossing was only a short drive off but it did take a while to get through. The border post was a perfect testament to the difference between South Africa and Mozambique. The SA side had a nice building, pens for filling out forms and guards with good uniforms. Once through to the Mozambique side we had to scrounge up our own pens, fill out lots of paperwork, the buildings were shacks. However, the many guards were dressed sharply and they all carried automatic weapons. The most telling change was that the paved road ended 20 feet across the border and multiple sand tracks led off in many directions. Fortunately there was a seasoned driver also heading for Ponta da Ouro who told us to take whichever track we liked, they all ended up in Ponta da Ouro eventually. The driving through mostly thick sand for 10 K was quite harrowing and we got stuck a few times and had to get out in 4 Low. Once we got to the village there was a delta of tracks through the sand and it was mostly impossible to tell where the town was as buildings and homes were scattered everywhere. Near dark, we made it to what appeared to be main street as the sand track ran mostly straight between a series of buildings. The ocean was just east of the town but we drove on hoping to find a place to stay before it got too dark.
I guess SCUBA folks are generally wealthy and it turned out Ponta da Ouro was geared specifically to this market. The cost of doing a dive wasn’t bad, $90 for a 3-hour boat dive, a bit cheaper than most US dives, but lodging rates were the worst yet. The first place we checked out had a spectacular location: right at the end of the long bay in the most protected crescent before stretching out to the point. The wind was up so it was choppy but you could tell that in the right conditions the snorkeling and swimming would be quite nice. And if a big swell came in, it was reported that there was good surf off the point. However, the cheapest room they had was $50 for the two of us and it was worse than most slums in the US: old, concrete floors with not paint but plenty of ants, two single beds that looked and felt ancient and probably wouldn’t be useable even with our own sheets and sleeping pads. The wood door was partly rotten so it didn’t close well and wind came slinging through all the many crooks and crannies. The cinder block walls were crumbling; there were cigarette butts, plastic bags and other debris in the “front yard”, along with a box of beer and wine bottles left over from some previous tenant’s party. Though it was right on the sand I just couldn’t stay in the filthy room and I didn’t even want to imagine what the shared bathroom might look like. I certainly wasn’t going to pay $50 for it.
After moving our way along the beach, getting further and further from the lovely spot on interior bay, we finally had to take a room at a sort of backpackers dive camp. It was dark, we were tired and rates weren’t getting any cheaper. There was one “fancy” lodge (by Africa standards) off the beach but I’m sure it would have been more expensive despite its non-beach location. As it was we had to pay $75 for a 10 x 14 room with a peeling concrete floor, (no mat or rug), reed walls (which let in as many bugs as care to join you), thatch roof, and one of those stupid African doors that can’t be latched properly. From the inside you can only keep the door closed by propping something against it. There was one rickety chair in the room and a bit of bamboo hanging from strings to hang close on. The mosquito net over the bed was full of holes and we had to use our own bedding to make the bed clean enough to keep the nightmares and bed bugs away. There was one bathroom per gender in the whole complex with two toilets and two shower stalls for all 25 units in the place to share. There wasn’t a community kitchen so we had to make a special request to keep our cold food in their fridge so we could refreeze our ice for the night. The most challenging aspect of this, and every other place we checked out, is that everything is built in the sand and few have paved or wooden walkways. So, all the little alleys and paths leading to various rooms and facilities are sand. The threshold to our room, the bathroom, everything is sand; hence, there is sand in and on everything. I found a broom and swept our room before moving in but it proved fruitless. Every time one of us came in we tracked a pile of sand into the room. I know I’m whining and some people will think I’m a sissy or Prima Donna, but my point is that the value wasn’t there. The compound had its charms for sure: plastic bean bag chairs on a wooden deck with incense burning all around and the soft music of bamboo wind chimes, the ocean, and the vigorous wind. There were lots of philosophical and spiritual messages painted on plaques and signs, along with a good number of seashell art displays and dream-catchers. I would have thoroughly enjoyed staying in the rustic, hippie, sandy, facility if we were paying less than $20 a night. It is basically glorified camping. The yurts at a couple of campgrounds in Bend come to mind, except they are much cleaner and nicer, yet you pay maybe $25 a night for these, and you don’t have to put up with lukewarm water in the showers that are so filled with iron and sulfur that the orange-brown water stains your towel. And you can drink the water without ending up in the hospital. But $75 is ridiculous. Fortunately there were only a few others staying at Dolphin Lodge, as it is called, so there wasn’t a lot of noise or competition for the limited bathroom facilities. It was dark before 7 PM and there aren’t any street lights in town so we weren’t able to walk around much. The weird thing about this part of Africa is that the “soil” is sand for about 5 miles inland and the entire town is built on sand. All the roads are deep, thick sand, which is why only people with 4-wheel-drive vehicles can visit the area. The paths are all deep sand, there is sand on all the concrete floors of every cafÃƒ© or store, the school yards are sand, the soccer fields are sand, the local’s front yards are sand. It isn’t sand that compacts with use, it simply gets deeper. During the rainy season it gets a bit firmer, except the roads, which become impassable. I was so depressed about the whole affair that I went to bed at 8, skipping dinner. I guess Bob scrounged up something from our soft, plastic cooler of food. I read until the mosquitoes started coming out, then had to turn off the light to keep from tempting them to make their way beneath my net and infect with me with malaria.