Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mozambique continued

At the last count we had driven 19 hours from Kruger National park to Inhambane and beyond, a couple of hundred miles north of Maputo, tackling potholes, dirt tracks, border police, drunken revelers, a confused GPS, local buses and a rat (the rat didn't come off very well) before collapsing in a beach hut with a few friends.

The next morning we woke early, despite the exhaustion from the day before and gorged ourselves on local avocados, similar in size and shape to an American football, bananas, croissant and coffee and took stock of the situation.

We quickly discerned that the situation we found ourselves in was not far from paradise, with a 30 second walk into the warmest sea I've ever swum in, baking sands and stunning seafood aplenty.

I shan't go through a blow by blow account of our 4 days on the beach but will mention a couple of highlights.

One of the most fantastic moments came on the second night, when we headed to the beach, the almost full moon lighting the scene, guitar and gin to accompany us and the gentle crashing of waves sending us into a relaxed delirium. As if this were not enough, we were treated for the next couple of hours to a wonderful lunar halo display, the likes of which I'd not seen before. These photos were taken at around midnight:

lunar halo 1
lunar halo on the beach
Other highlights from the stay were a trip out to sea as we attempted to go swimming with the largest fish in the world, the whale shark. We spent a couple of hours in rather choppy seas searching for the telltale shadow of this beast, jumping into the water occasionally to cool off. After an hour or so we had pretty much given up hope when we found a pod of dolphins and dove in with them. They were playing hard to get, so Ben headed off on his own, splashing around in the water to get the attention of any animal which may have been around. Sure enough after a couple of minutes he called over to his spot in the water where a whale shark had passed right underneath him. Sadly none of the rest of us saw it, as the animal quickly dived down out of reach of us and our snorkel gear.

Ben, Ryan and I decided to swim back to shore (a little less than a kilometer), and as the others disappeared in front of me I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable, not because of anything that may have been lurking in the water, but through my own lack of swimming experience. I was a couple of hundred meters off the shore line, and beginning to flounder when the boat with the others pulled along beside me and I dragged myself into the boat, feeling rather ashamed at having bitten off more than I could chew. It was only later that I discovered that Ben had played for some time on the South African national waterpolo team and so my attempts to keep up with him had been so futile.

Since this incident I've made it a new resolution to improve my swimming fitness, and after a disastrous couple of attempts at swimming a kilometer in the pool here in Santiago, managing 50 meters at a time with coughing and spluttering, one week in I can quite happily go for the kilometer with just a single break in the middle. Some time ago I mentioned about the total immersion swimming technique which I read about in this book a couple of years back. The technique seems very intelligent to someone who is a physicist but not a natural swimmer, the idea being that to propel yourself through the water your arms are actually a pretty rubbish form of propulsion, but the twisting of your body, to push water down its length is a lot more efficient. This video gives an example of this technique and is frankly about the most beautiful swim stroke I've ever seen:

The four days on the beach passed all too quickly but it was the first time that I had truly relaxed for a long long time and there were moments where I didn't think about work at all - an enjoyable and unusual luxury.

Anyway, given that I'm back in Santiago now I have a great deal of work to be doing, getting ready for a talk here, and a trip to Cape Town next month where I hope to start a new collaboration...better get back to it for now.

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