Friday, 24 February 2012

Diving Ponta Do Ouro, Mozambique

I'm not the biggest fan of open water - don't ask me why I signed up to learn to scuba dive. In the movies it looks so calm and exotic - where we went it was anything but calm! Here's my account of a one-week, learn-to-dive stay in Ponta Do Ouro, Mozambique.

The plan was to fly to Joburg, stay over at a friend's house one night and then hit the road first thing in the morning. There were four of us (one lives in Joburg so we crashed there).

The players: Fatima, Amien, Faaiq, Traci
The next day we had what seemed like a 12-hour drive to the Kosi Bay border (to get into Mozambique). We took about 8 hours - there were lots of road blocks but we had a kick-ass game of Noot-Vir-Noot for at least half of the drive - thanks to Faaiq's playlist.

On the way to the border
That's kinda what I looked like throughout the drive
After a million potholes and maybe half a million cows and roadblocks...we got to the border.

This is what the border looks like. Check out of SA on the left, check into Moz on the right
The Moz flag
The company we were doing the dives with is called DevOcean Diving. We parked our car at the border and they collected us (you need a 4x4 to drive into Ponta Do Ouro - or a 4x2 with diff lock). It was a bumpy ride...and halfway there I lost reception.

So our programme went something like this:

Day 1: Welcome drink, chill, get to know the people, get shown to our tents (yes, tents) and hang out. Our tents were on platforms and had two single beds in each (some have double beds) and there's a fan, bedside lamp and shelving. Very basic but clean and sufficient. The communal ladies toilets and showers were also basic but clean and fine for even the fussiest female. If, like me, you're not crazy about bugs, frogs and other weird creatures, you may take a while to adapt. They're not scary though - most of them, especially the geckos were cute. It's camping...there's no time to freak out about bugs.
One of the tented camps
My tent (Anchor). All tents are named after reefs in Ponta

Inside the tent
The beach at Ponta was a bit windy when we got there so I just walked around and dipped my toes into the lukewarm water.


Hot stuff!

Supper that night was chicken kebabs with satay sauce and coconut rice. Marijke is the resident chef and she makes the most amazing dishes.
Chicken kebabs the DevOcean way
Day 2: Started with rusks and coffee then brunch when the other (experienced) divers get back from their early dive. Brunch (2-course) was yoghurt, muesli and fruit followed by some sort of eggs Benedict variant: two poached eggs on toasted bread with spinach and sauce was some kind of Hollandaise sauce with mustard seeds. 

Brunch, day 2
OK, enough of the food talk. We spent most of the rest of the day watching five DVDs each covering different aspects of diving, water conditions, and some physics in the mix. It wasn't the most exciting day - very informative - but not exciting. After the draining couple of hours of movie-watching, we had to write an exam about what we learnt. Bleh...

That took up most of our day and then we headed out for a bit of exploring, had supper (we braaied) and went to bed (it was a tiring day!).

Shopping at Magenta Moon

The sign Faaiq didn't see before he opened the fridge while barefeet
Day 3: Off to the pool we go! We learnt how to prepare and check your scuba gear before a dive. Our first dive is a confined water dive so we started off in a swimming pool. I hated it. It took a while for me to adjust to breathing through a regulator. Everyone else seemed calm - I was a nervous wreck who wanted to bail out of the whole scuba diving idea. Our instructor, Lea, was very patient and wouldn't have me chickening out. So back underwater I went. 

We learnt how to breathe through the regulator, how to switch to your buddy's alternative air source, underwater signalling, mask removal and clearing, equalising and the most scary exercise: removing the regulator and only breathing the air it shoots out.

After the two-hour lesson I was a bit unsettled and still wasn't sure if I was going to continue. That night I had to take more Rescue pills to calm me down. I wasn't feeling great. Amien, Faaiq and Traci were awesome though - real gees-stokers. 
The equipment and changing 'room'
Learning the ropes
Our first confined water dive
Day 4: Time for the second confined water dive! We used a deeper pool and I was more settled this time around. We completed the rest of the practicals including removing your mask and swimming without it; the procedure for when you run out of air (eek!); removing your scuba gear underwater and on the surface; buoyancy control and of course, mask clearing (again). After that we had a lunch break and the lessons were done for the day. 

Supper that night was Mozambican prawns....mmmm

Day 5: And finally the day arrives when we do our first open water dive. The day is broken up into two parts: one early morning dive after a rusk and coffee then return for breakfast/brunch, rest a bit then go out for a late morning dive. Once the second dive is done you're free for the rest of the day. We were working towards our open water diver certification so we needed at least four open water dives under our belt to qualify.

So we kit up, head for the beach and launch the boat. The weather wasn't great so it was a bit of a bumpy ride to get behind the surf. Once we got past it, I started asking myself, 'Fatima, what the hell are you doing here?' The nerves started tingling and boom...I was officially a nervous wreck. Mallie, our skipper was awesome so I felt a bit at ease but the minute we got to the drop off spot I was back to being my ridiculous self. 

'Everybody into the water on THREE....TWO....ONE....#$@%^&&....' 

We all plunged backwards into the open ocean, huddled around our instructor for a quick briefing...then down we went. 

Our our first dive was at a reef called Creche which is a 12-metre spot and we stayed under for about 40 minutes. There was some hectic surge and we (the trainees) were being shoved all over the place ...but it was fun. I can't tell you the names of the fish I saw, because I honestly don't know. I was too busy stressing that a shark might appear. It didn't. 

Dive two was at Drop Zone. Also a fairly shallow reef but the visibility was much better here than at Creche the morning. The rest of the day we were stukkened and took long naps then walked around some more.

Day 6:

Today we did a reef called Steps and this one's boat ride made everyone seasick. It was gross. The second dive was Doodles - definitely the favourite spot for us. Our cameraman saw a leatherback turtle (we didn't see it though) and we saw potato bass and other fun-looking fish, stingrays and a barracuda. 

The dive board.

Supper at Fishmonger

Day 7: We did our fifth and final dive Saturday morning and chose to go to Doodles again...and then the final exam. The dive was good and I was sort of relieved that we finished the four and got one extra. 

 And then....

Day 8: After breakfast we paid our bills and said our goodbyes. 

Now: I'm a certified Open Water Diver...and I haven't dived since...ha ha. I'm hoping to add another dive to my log book soon. I didn't pop that many nerve-calming pills to end up a non-diver!

Us and the DevOcean staff and two other divers

Amien, Traci, Lea (instructor), me, Faaiq, Chadre (Dive master)

The market

Pics by Amien Phillips, Fatima Jakoet and open water shots are video stills.