I can’t believe I’ve been here for nearly 4 weeks. Like, WTF. (If you’re a Phil Dunphy fan, I hope you chuckle at that.) Time is going very fast, as I knew it would, and for someone like me (a big introvert who hates fun and is the antithesis of carpe diem) it’s almost a struggle to make sure I’m making the most of my time out here in Mozambique.
To say that Mozambique is a beautiful, vibrant country doesn’t really do it justice. Every day I see something new that makes me catch my breath – from a blood red sunset to a palm tree framed against a bright blue sky or a perfect crescent moon in a sky full of golden stars, it all adds up to a series of unique and special moments that I will treasure forever.
Can you tell I’ve had a few beers?
The activity I was most looking forward to in Mozambique was scuba diving. I’ve never dived before, but I had read lots of articles and reviews about Tofo being a diving paradise, with more whale sharks, manta rays and turtles than you can shake a stick at. I was nervous about seeing sharks on my dives, but other than that, felt fairly relaxed about it.
In order to dive here, you pretty much have to have your Open Water diving qualification. You can do “discovery dives” but that means being babysat and paying more, so I really wanted to get my Open Water. Nearly everyone here has plenty of diving experience, so I felt slightly pressurised to get it as soon as possible. Caty (my roommate) had about 30 dives under her belt, but couldn’t find her qualification certificate so she had to retake her Open Water – I was very pleased to have company!
We had theory to do first, which we did while getting ready for a night out at the local bar, Mozambeats, so had downed a fair amount of gin while trying to calculate air pressure versus water depth. At 7:30 the following morning we rolled up to Peri Peri Diving, slightly regretting the gin, beer and cocktails of the previous night, but excited for the day’s training.
We started off by going through our theory homework. Being a natural swot and teacher’s pet I quickly earned the nickname ‘Hermione’ (which obviously delighted me) and I felt quite confident about the afternoon’s pool diving. We put all our gear together, learning how to assemble tanks, regulators, BCDs, DIN and Yoke valves, gauges and all the rest of the essential stuff you need as a diver.
We trekked off to the 4m deep pool and did our first physical test – treading water for TEN MINUTES. Somehow the other two (Caty and an Underwater Africa volunteer called Raphael) kept up a steady stream of conversation while I concentrated on not drowning, completely out of breath about 30 seconds in. I’m pretty sure we were treading water for about three hours, but eventually our trainer called time, and I hauled myself out of the pool.
Then it was time to get all the gear on. Flippers, mask and snorkel, BCD, oxygen tank, regulator and weight belt – I could hardly move! We entered the water and I took my first ever breath under water. It was pretty cool, and I felt a bit like an astronaut.
We learned various underwater and surface skills, such as neutral buoyancy (I was hopeless), flooding and then clearing our masks (UNDER WATER), taking out our regulators and then retrieving it (also UNDER WATER) and using our “buddy’s” alternate air source, so that if you run out of air during a dive, you can share your buddy’s air safely – pretty much my worst nightmare.
My first setback came with my weight belt. I had 5kg of lead weight strapped to me, and it meant that for the first 30 minutes I was flat on my back under 2m of water, like an incompetent turtle. Finally my instructor managed to haul me and my dead weight around sufficiently so that I could roll on to my front, and get some air into my BCD to get off the bottom of the pool. Success! We spent about 4 hours in the pool, so I was absolutely bloody knackered by the end of it.
The next step was to dive in the sea the following day. I thought this seemed a bit rushed, thinking there would be several pool sessions before maybe going for a paddle in the ocean. But no, I found myself on a speedboat zooming out to Clownfish Reef, to dive 14m below the surface. To say I was bricking it would be a HUGE understatement. My hands were shaking, I hadn’t eaten since the previous evening for worrying about it and I felt sick with nerves. Everyone was super supportive and told me I’d be fine, but being me, I was 100% confident I was about to die.
Remember how I was really seasick on the ocean safari? Yeah. I was also really seasick diving. The boat arrived and the skipper cut the engine, so we were bobbing around for ages while we got our obscenely heavy gear on. I puked. Puking over the side of a boat without falling in is really hard to do when you have 5kg of lead weight around your waist, and a heavy tank strapped to your back. The fantastic instructor was very sweet and got me dressed, in between vomits, and then we were ready to get in the water. We did a positive entry, so rolled in backwards (as terrifying as it sounds, believe me) and floated on the surface. The water was very choppy, which did nothing for my seasickness, and I started puking again. I took out my regulator in order to vomit, which meant I kept swallowing sea water as it rolled over me, which made me even more sick. The “sweeper” (the diver who stays at the back of the dive group to make sure no one gets lost or eaten) kept telling me to put my reg back in, but I ignored him, not realising I could be sick into it.
I realise I’m talking about vomit a lot, but this was a significant part of my diving experience, so bear with.
We then deflated our BCDs and began to sink below the surface. I was shitting bricks by this point, absolutely terrified of drowning, sharks, jellyfish, drowning, eels, getting lost, drowning, getting left behind, etc. We reached the seabed and I was very excited to still be alive, and for my eardrums to not have imploded. We had to repeat some of the skills that we had learnt in the pool, so that was terrifying. I was rubbish at buoyancy, so from time to time the instructor would reach out and bring me back down to stop me just… floating away. After a while my ears started to hurt, so the sweeper patiently took me up and down, up and down, to equalise my air spaces. I felt like he was doing his best not to roll his eyes, which I was grateful for. The other two Open Water divers were doing brilliantly, and put me to shame.
We swam about for a bit on the reef, and I was vaguely aware that there were a lot of very cool fish down there, like clownfish, sturgeon fish, and lots of other fish that I can’t remember the names of, but I was mostly just screaming internally. When our instructor eventually gave the sign to head up to the surface I nearly wept with relief.
What a fool I am.
We had more skills to do on the surface, including doing the “tired diver” tow. I was bloody shattered, so to have to tow another diver around in the choppy sea was pretty much the hardest thing in the world, and I was terrible – I half drowned my “tired diver”. As soon as we stopped I started being sick again, and I sort of lost the plot. I couldn’t catch my breath and was starting to panic, so the amazing sweeper rolled me onto my back and towed me over to the rest of the group to regroup, do more skills and then go back down. But by this point I was so overcome with exhaustion, sickness and genuine fear that I was just a terrible diver that I said I couldn’t do the second dive. I just wanted to get back to dry land and forget the whole thing. My instructor was on the verge of saying no, but I guess I was sufficiently pathetic and she asked the skipper to take me back to the beach.
God knows how I even got back on the boat – it was probably not my most dignified moment. The skipper took me back but was obviously disgusted by my feebleness, and it was almost funny when we stopped about 20 yards from the beach and he said, “You swim from here.” I thought he was joking, but one look at his face told me he was completely serious. So I fell out of the boat, and basically got washed onto the beach. To feel dry land under my feet was bliss. I must have looked bizarre, just appearing out of the sea, clad in a wetsuit. It didn’t stop the beach hawkers approaching me offering their bracelets, coconuts, sarongs and massages, and I was like, where the hell do you think I keep my money in this thing?! They got the message.
By the time I got back to Peri Peri I was feeling a bit tearful and very miserable about how my first dive had gone. I felt like an utter failure, and so pathetic. The staff at the dive shop were lovely, and I was about 4 seconds away from bursting into tears so I hurried off and took half an hour to do some deep breathing before heading back to meet the successful divers coming back in. I bumped into my other roommate, a delightful Hungarian who has a wonderful way with words, and he gave me some very sound advice that I will try and keep with me for life.
So that was my first dive, and step one of my Open Water. Impressive, right? Stay tuned for the next epic instalment!