We flew from Livingston back to Johannesburg for a night. Stayed once again at the D'Oreale Grande Hotel, had another great meal and picked up the extra bag containing snorkeling gear and beach attire that we had stored at the hotel. We also checked in with South African airlines about Dale's $75/day refund for the tardy arrival of his luggage. We were pleasantly surprised to be helped by a very friendly and efficient woman who added up Dale's receipts and handed over the full amount owed in cash! Try getting that kind of response from Air Canada!
The following day we flew from Johannesburg to Vilanculos on the coast of Mozambique. We were met by staff from Marlin Lodge and driven through the town to the beach. We had been a bit worried about this last part of our trip because this area of Mozambique was hit by a devastating cyclone in Feb 2007. Monique had assured us that the lodge we were going to had been rebuilt from scratch, had just reopened and was a beautiful spot to relax and do some snorkeling or diving. We could see the signs of the cyclone as we drove through the town. The people were slowly rebuilding but there were many temporary buildings and lots of topless palm trees. We waded out to a motor boat and the lodge staff loaded up our bags before setting out for a 30 minute ride to Benguerra Island.
This island is located in the Bazaruto Archipelago, a marine park in the Indian Ocean. We passed small islands and lots of fishermen in their traditional "dhow" boats before pulling up to the island. We could tell right away that this was going to be a special place. There were 14 individual "cabins" spread along the beach, each with a ramp leading from the private deck to the beach. We were met by the manager Kelly and led to the dining room/bar area of the lodge for a short briefing before being shown to our rooms. Wow! They were beautiful, large rooms with sitting area, huge bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, private deck and as we learned later, were perfectly situated to watch the sun set and the moon rise. The rooms and the common areas were decorated with interesting art and local crafts and the staff at the lodge were very friendly and efficient. Our stay included all meals and we soon discovered that the lodge had hired an excellent chef named Patrick. This was definitely the best food we had on our trip, freshly caught fish offered for lunch and dinner everyday (plus another option for non-fish eaters).
We spent the next 4 days relaxing, reading, running on the beach and even got in a couple of snorkeling trips and one dive. The weather was pleasant, not really hot but a nice change from the winter weather in Botswana. Unfortunately it was quite windy which made the visibility for diving not so good. We did try one dive and saw a few fish and a turtle but it was pretty murky. Dale had a lot of problems with his ears on the way down and even more problems on the way up. By the time we got back in the boat one of his ears was bleeding and we found out after getting home that the ear drum had ruptured. Luckily it wasn't a serious rupture and it didn't affect the rest of the trip. While the diving hadn't been so good, the snorkeling was amazing. There was a shallow, enclosed area of the reef called "The Aquarium" that was protected from the wind and the coral and fish were incredible! We'd brought along an underwater housing for our point and shoot camera and were able to get some good photos and videos.
Benguerra Island is 11km long and 5km wide and there are 2 other lodges on the island in addition to a village. The local people who live in the village are traditionally fishermen but many of them are now employed by the lodges. They are apparently very happy with this arrangement because they earn much more money working at a lodge than they would selling fish. One of the lodge staff took us on a tour of the village and we were able to meet some of the local people and learn about their way of life. The village was flattened by the cyclone in 2007 and is still being rebuilt. The people live in thatch roof houses with no electricity or running water (there is a central well). We gave pens, pads of paper, postcards and balloons to the children we met and were rewarded with big smiles. We asked permission to take photos of people and all of them were happy to pose for us. They were also very excited to see the photos of themselves on the camera LCD screen and we promised to mail prints to them.
Our stay at Marlin Lodge was the perfect way to end our perfect trip to Africa! The only downside to the entire trip was the 45 hours of boats, planes, airports and cars it took to get home.....
Thanks to Monique and to the staff and guides at all of the lodges we stayed at, we had a trip of a lifetime! And yes, it was worth every penny.