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February 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 25, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Barra Lodge and Diving, Mozambique

put this African dive site on your bucket list

from the February, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

Now and then, Undercurrent reports on destinations far from those covered in American dive magazines. Mozambique, on Africas southeastern coast and bordered by Tanzania, Swaziland and South Africa, is worth a place on your bucket list, especially if youre planning an African safari. The rocky dive sites (not much in the way of colorful corals) are a bit stark, like Mexicos Sea of Cortez. But there are plenty of fish and in the African winter (June to November), humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to give birth.

Barra Lodge is on the spectacular and just-developing Punta Barra. Barra Diving has a PADI 5-Star rating and is well-equipped with top-notch rental gear, including ScubaPro 5-mm wetsuits, rinse tanks and gear storage. It offers two dives a day from its surf-launched, hard-bottom Zodiacs. The first trip leaves at 8 a.m. and returns about 10 a.m. You have time for a quick brunch before launching again at 11:30 a.m. Zodiac diving requires upper body strength (these rubber rafties are ladder-less so you must be able to arm-press and kick your way aboard), a strong stomach and a back that can take the pile-drive slamming of riding through the waves and onto the beach.

Barra’s Carnival-Ride Zodiacs

Barra’s Carnival-Ride Zodiacs

On my early November trip, my first dive was to a site called Sherwood Forest. The ride out was as exciting as any rolling and slamming carnival ride -- we went directly into the six-foot swells for 40 minutes. After that, I was happy to backroll into 60-foot visibility on this mushroom-shaped rock. We dived it as a drift dive, with a maximum depth of 90 feet. I saw a huge fantail ray, a seven-foot-long honeycomb eel, a stingray, a large octopus, several sizeable barracudas, lionfish and many reef fish. After 35 minutes down time, plus a five-minute safety stop, I rode back with the swell. To get the Zodiac far enough up the beach so the tractor can recover it, the captain idled outside the surf line while the divers brace for impact. That means feet stuffed into the foot straps, and hands grasping safety lines with a death grip. Then he punched the throttle and rocketed toward the beach. At the last second, he yanked up the twin outboards just before the boats slammed onto the sand and jerked violently to a stop. Yeehaw.

Barra Lodge and Diving, MozambiqueOnce a week, Barra Diving offers a snorkeling trip down the coast in search of whale sharks and, in the winter season, humpback whales. Our divemaster Mariano (an Argentine married to another divemaster, Ruth, a Brit) told us afterwards (he didnt want to jinx us with premature hubris) that they had spotted whale sharks on 13 of their last 15 safaris. On our trip, the captain spied a 12-footer, and we swam with her for 45 minutes, as she would drift down to 25 feet and then rise, nearly breaking the surface. While in the water, I also heard the unmistakable singing of humpback whales. Lots of exuberant flying fish rounded out our safari. Barra Diving staff was very safety-conscious without being overbearing, and they loaded and unloaded gear on the Zodiacs. Their dive briefings were some of the best, never mind that we were on a secluded African beach.

On the last day, I visited The Office, an offshore site 75 feet down on a rock wall with S-shaped penetrations. The ride out was a smooth 45-minute cruise, but the current was ripping. Since the reef is short, overflying it while riding with the current would have meant a five-minute tour, so I kicked into the current hard. But this site offered the best coral and sponges I saw, along with scorpionfish, octopus, large schools of reef fish, a swim-through cut and a seven-foot leopard shark on the sand. Some of the divers in my group didnt get to see the shark because they blew through their air fighting the current.

After brunch, we visited Mikes Cupboard nearer shore, which consists of eroded rock with multiple cut-outs varying in size from room for two cozy divers to room for six or eight. The surge was strong, so getting into a tight cut-out with another diver was tough. Peering into crevices at 50 feet depth, I saw tons of nudibranchs, scorpionfish, lobsters, puffers, crocodile fish and octopus. Four sociable cuttlefish hung out with me for a good 10 minutes, flashing an array of colors.

Barra Lodge is a well-run rustic lodge with 20 ocean-view casitas. Equipped with full bathrooms and electricity, they feature simple platform beds (one double and two singles), fans and mosquito nets. The resort has a few large casitas with kitchenettes, and a bunkhouse. Because they are thatch-walled and thatch-roofed, the casitas are not mosquito- or bug-proof. It was breezy and in the low 80s when we were there, so the mossies werent bad but on a calm, mid-summer day or a hot evening, the lack of penetration- proof walls would be problematic. Barra Lodge and Diving, MozambiqueMozambique does have a malaria problem, so you need to protect yourself as much as possible against the mosquitoes. I took malaria medication (Malarone), as is recommended, and used bug repellent at all times.

The lodge has a swimming pool, dining room and seaside bar and restaurant. The European-style meals were very good, plentiful and safe -- you can eat the veggies and drink the tap water. The seafood, particularly the giant local prawns, was outstanding. Some fish and chicken dishes were prepared with the spicy South African Peri Peri sauce, which I washed down with the delicious local beer, Laurentian Clara, at $2 a bottle. Most guests here were South Africans and Europeans in the Generation X age bracket.

Barra Lodge

Barra Lodge

Although Punta Barra is dubbed the Manta Coast, I didnt see any mantas. And although the lodges web site says visibility ranges up to 125 feet, I had 50 to 60 feet on my dives, which the staff considered quite good. Theres no decompression chamber nearby, so Barra Diving is conservative in its profiles. Water temps range from 71 degrees in their winter season (June to September) to 84 degrees in the summer wet season (December to March). In early November, it was in the mid-70s. Mozambique has a number of diving locations on its coast; Tofo (pronounced tofu) is one of the better known, as is the Pemba area. But if youre traveling all the way to Mozambique, youre already up for the beach less traveled, right? So, with the nitpicks aside, add Mozambique and Barra Diving Resort to your bucket list for a unique diving adventure.

-- Kathleen Doler

Barra Lodge and Diving, MozambiqueDivers Compass: Portuguese is the official language, but English is widely spoken and U.S. dollars are widely accepted . . . Prices for Barra Lodges regular casitas range from $120 to $140 per person, per night, including breakfast and dinner; the lodge can arrange sailing, fishing, horseback riding, quad tours and town excursions to Tofo or Inhambane (www.barraresorts.com) . . . Single tank dives with all gear are $58, $48 if you have toted your own, and multiple dives are discounted (www.barradiveresorts.com ) . . . Travel is easy via flights to nearby Inhambane from Johannesburg on LAM, Mozambiques national airline; the trip is about an hour and 40 minutes, then the drive on dirt roads to Barra Lodge is 30 minutes . . . My partners bag got lost but was delivered to Barra Lodge intact three days later . . . Before visiting, read the State Departments security warnings at http://travel.state.gov, but we had no security troubles whatsoever.

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