So remember when I said I’m so glad I went caving even though I felt really quite sick? Well, I still stand by that, but sadly, starting just a day after our glorious caving adventure, my exhaustion finally caught up with me, leaving me feverish, nauseous, and unable to hold down either food or water.
It’s actually been kind of scary.
It all started to set in on our drive from the beautiful Kingdom of Swaziland to our current destination: Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. (I’m honestly pretty impressed I made it across the border without being quarantined or something.)
I’m only joking. It wasn’t that bad, and getting out into the cool air at the border was actually good for me, but the fact of the matter is that my plans of swimming with dolphins, of possibly seeing some whales, of learning to surf, and of lounging on the pristine white sands with my friends while enjoying traditional local cuisine have sadly been cancelled.
Despite how crushed I am to have missed this, though, I have been able to live vicariously through my friends and they’ve told me that it has been unreal.
The dolphins they swam with were wild (unlike many places around the world, like SeaWorld, that’ll make you want to cry once you watch The Cove and Blackfish). The way they got to swim—ethically—with these wild dolphins is by taking a little boat out into the ocean, plopping into the water right in the middle of these animals’ daily migratory route, and watching them swim past. Since dolphins are the sweetest aquatic mammals basically ever, they apparently just eye you curiously, swim around you, and otherwise just make your day (and life) complete. Not everyone got to see the dolphins, since these extraordinary little cetaceans do as they please, so if I was feeling well enough to get out of bed, I might not have seen them anyway. In fact, the dolphin interaction group I was scheduled to go with didn’t actually see any dolphins, so no harm, I suppose (though they did get to see some humpback whales breaching).
I am bummed to have not spent any time outside in the sun and surf, though. Lucky for me, Jill is a hero and let me steal all of her Imodium and I am now feeling much better. I already ate the PB&J that Ali made for me when the Masebe Squad came in to check on me for like the tenth time (they really are the best), and I’m finally getting some water and Gatorade into my system.
I’ll be damned if I don’t hit the beach before we have to leave. And so, with today being our very last day in Mozambique, I slip on my swimsuit (which fits much better than I expected…thanks, stomach flu?), throw on a cover-up, and head down to the beach, camera phone in hand.
The beach is absolutely breathtaking—like something out of a tourist brochure. The sand is a gleaming golden color and feels softer than flour. The water is a pristine, baby blue, turning darker blue as it deepens and tinged with turquoise where the waves crash over the sand. The sky has only a few clouds, and with the coast curving around the area where I stand, the whole beach feel like it’s just mine. A few people are scattered along the coast, and to my surprise (and excitement), dogs trot around on the beach, greeting tourists and locals happily and lounging in the warmth of the sun.
I strip off my cover up and sprint down to the perfect water, giggling uncontrollably at the unbelievable clarity of the water, wriggling my toes and watching my legs move beneath the waves. I dive under a wave even though I know I’ll probably be cold when I get out, since the few clouds in the sky seem determined to keep the sunlight all to themselves. The water is perfect: clean and cool and calm. The waves tumble softly over my shoulders and back, and the breeze sweeps the sea spray into the air as the palms down the coast sway softly. Everything about this place is unbelievable—it’s like walking through paradise.
After a bit of splashing around, I make me way out of the water, realizing too late that I forgot a towel. It’s sunny enough—with a nice breeze too—so I just sit on the beach and breath in the soft scent of brine and let myself air dry.
I’m sitting watching the view and thinking about how lucky I am, even after two days of queasiness, to be able to experience this at all, when a lithe, multicolored hound sprints down the beach at full speed, ears flying back in the wind and the biggest smile on its face.
Now that…that is the life. I think to myself.
Seconds later, Beach Dog is back, sprinting the opposite way, same huge smile, same wagging tail, and still no discernible reason for running other than the fact that when the sky is clear and the weather is perfect like it is, what else do you do?
I watch Beach Dog, smiling as widely as she does because her excitement over the beauty of this place mirrors my own. After about a hundred meters or so, she slows to a stop and heads back the way she came, this time at a trot, stopping at each group of tourists along the way for pats and cuddles.
Much to my excitement, she eventually makes her way to me, and I greet her ecstatically, rubbing her belly, chest, back, and, of course, behind the ears. She’s so sweet, and after a pleasant initial greeting, we sit together side-by-side, and I scratch behind her ears as we watch the waves crash onto the shore.
After a while, she decides there’s much more beach to explore, and, much to my dismay, trots off. Before too long, though, she’s back and I greet her with the same enthusiasm as before and she lies down next to me, providing some much-appreciated warmth as the sun slips in and out of the clouds.
Eventually, one of Beach Dog’s friends decides to join in. He’s a big, mastiff-esque dog with a thick leather collar, so unlike Beach Dog, who appears to be a much-beloved stray on this beach, the big brown dog must have an owner. He nevertheless greets me happily, and then joins in on the cuddling, vying with Beach Dog for the most loving. The three of us sit together for a while, happy to enjoy the breeze and the soft sound of the surf.
I only have two hands, and both dogs want as many pats as possible, so I have to take turns petting each dog. Soon the big brown dog gets impatient with my inability to pet him the entire time, and jumps to his feet and lets out a big woof at me.
Now this is a big dog, and he and I are not as tight as Beach Dog and I are, so this freaks me out a little bit. I respond with what little dog-training technique I know and say No! to him. Unimpressed, he responds with a new and rather defiant-sounding set of deep, loud barks. Again, I’m alone on the beach with a strange dog and I can hear my mom’s voice in my head about petting strangers’ dogs without asking. So I decide that maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the beach dogs, and go get some much-needed food.
I stand and speak sternly to the big brown dog until he gets bored, and trots back down the beach. I say goodbye to Beach Dog, petting her and kissing her forehead and thanking her for making my sole afternoon of festivities in Mozambique worth it. She replies with puppy dog eyes and a wag of the tail, and then trots off down the beach to make more friends.
I head back to the main sand road that runs parallel to the coast and make my way down the street back towards our lodgments, looking for a place to eat. I’m not having much luck but thankfully, I soon run into Graeme. He seems just as relieved as I feel to see that I’m up and out of bed, and he gives me directions to a food stand just down the street. He says to look for the giant soda can turned on its side—that’ll be the place.
Sure enough, after a bit of wandering, I find it, and trade a few rand for what may be the most delicious sandwich (and fries) that I have ever had. It has some sort of crazy mixture of Cajun-esque spices and flavors mixed together and I am ecstatic to have—at last—some real food in my system. I just stand there in bliss for awhile on the sand road beside the stand, savoring the freedom to eat again and then start heading back towards the resort to see if I can find out where everyone is.
Eventually, I get back to our little cabin and find the rest of the gang there. We all go to dinner together and then later to a bar down the street, where I stick to water in the hopes of staying well for our travel day tomorrow. I’m really just happy to be out with everyone again. When we all finally head back towards our cabins, we’re greeted on the street by a whole pack of beach dogs, and the others tell me they’ve been around all week, playing and lounging around with everyone on the beach. As tough as being a stray dog is everywhere else, I get the feeling it’s a dog’s dream come true here.
Before bed, our Masebe Squad decides to get up tomorrow morning—our last morning in Africa—to watch the sun rise over the ocean. We all agree and I hit the sack early, preparing for what will inevitably be a bittersweet (and rather early) morning.
Alarms go off the next morning and we all hop out of bed and head to the beach in our sweatpants and pajamas just as the sun is starting to paint the gray-blue sky with slashes of orange and pink. We stand together just at the edge of where the water breaks, quietly enjoying each other’s company and the reflection of the sunrise on the surf.
When the sun finally breaks from behind the low lying clouds on the horizon, Daniel grabs a discarded plastic container from the beach and uses it as a tripod to catch one last shot of us all together. You can’t really see our faces, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think any of us need a picture to remember this morning—or each other.
We’re leaving early this morning as a group so we can get to Durban in time to catch our flights home, and so once the sun starts working its way skyward, we head back up the beach. As we turn our backs on the Indian Ocean and walk back together, I feel like laughing and crying all at once. These are some of the greatest people I have ever met and probably some of the best friends I’ll ever make.
I may not know if I’ll ever get to come back here, if I’ll ever have a better experience in Africa (or anywhere) as I’ve had these past four weeks here, but I do know that these friends are lifelong ones, and I wouldn’t trade these past four weeks for the world.