‘Snorkeling’ in Sodwana Bay
Snorkelling, especially in tropical locations filled with colourful and interesting fish and other varied sealife, can be a wonderfully calming and enjoyable experience. That’s why Claire and I had decided to go snorkelling at Sodwana Bay – one of the world’s best SCUBA diving spots. We had made our way to the beach filled with anticipation of what we might see as we gently floated above the coral reef. Forty five minutes later I was in the water. The waves were huge. The boat kept disappearing and reappearing once again on the horizon. Claire was on the boat. She hadn’t got into the water for the second swim. God I wished that I was in the boat with her. Instead I was in the water, attempting to snorkel amongst giant waves. I am sure that the coral reef below looked lovely, but it was almost impossible to get a good view of it before swallowing mouthful after mouthful of water as it cascaded down my snorkel. The large man in our group, which consisted of a number of Spanish people, was enjoying it less than me. He was struggling to stay on the surface and was clinging for life to our instructor’s float. I was so embarrassed for him, a middle aged man relying on a children’s buoyancy aid to stay afloat. To be fair the water was crazy.
Twenty minutes earlier we were heading out to sea. The boat was dealing rather well with the gigantic surf which was actually making the trip more exciting, like a theme park ride. We were speeding out to sea crashing over, around and through gigantic waves. Everyone was clinging to the boat for their lives, screaming as the water came up over the side drenching everyone. It was great fun bouncing up and down furiously trying not to be thrown off into the sea. As soon as we’d made it past the surf we started making our way down the coast in search of dolphins. And, luckily for us, it wasn’t long before we came across some swimming around in the open ocean. We were pottering along at a fair speed and pairs of dolphins kept appearing as they popped up and down swimming beside the boat.
After we’d spent some time with the dolphins we made our way to the coral reef where we’d be able to do some snorkelling. As soon as we arrived everyone looked a bit shocked. ‘This is where we are snorkelling?’ everyone seemed to be asking with the looks on their faces. The boat was rocking back and forward amongst the giant waves. It was not going to be a gentle float staring at the fish below, that was certain. We all jumped in and spent the next ten to fifteen minutes trying to get a good look at the reef that was sitting beneath us. It was rather beautiful, it must be said, though the visibility was pretty poor, most probably due to the weather condition. We then all heaved ourselves back into the boat before making our way to the second spot where we’d get even closer to the more shallow coral. This was the time when Claire decided that enough was enough and stayed in the boat. I felt that I ought to go in again and joined the Spanish group and our instructor Shane for the second dive. That was when the waves came. Even bigger than the first dive, the waves were huge. We did manage to get a great view of some colourful fish of different shapes and sizes and I was also lucky enough to swim over the top of a giant sea turtle that was down by the coral – I guess it was trying to avoid the surface where all the waves were. Where we were! But the rough sea meant that we ended up struggling to make it back onto the boat as the ocean tossed us all over the place.
After getting back onto the boat, and catching my breath, I looked to Claire. She shouted something. I didn’t quite hear. The sea was pretty loud and my ears were full of water. I asked her to repeat herself. “We saw whales!” she said. Whilst I was out floundering in the waves, swallowing more than a daily dose of sea water, clinging to my mask and snorkel so they didn’t come flying off each time a wave pummelled me in the face, she had seen whales. I tried to hide my sadness at missing the sighting, but was pleased for Claire. She’d made the executive decision to stay in the boat and had been rewarded for her sensible choice. I had gone back into the carnage, partly to save face, and whilst I did see some cool fish and a sea turtle, I had missed the whales. ‘Always go with your instincts’ I told myself as we motored back to the shore.
Sodwana Bay had one huge beautiful beach. Claire and I had not seen the sea since Tanzania, so were ecstatic to be back on the sand once again. We spent two days in the seaside village, enjoying reading on the large sand dunes and drinking in local bars watching snippets of the Olympics where and when we could. We camped at a lovely little place called Natural World Backpackers, where the friendly owner called Tracey offered us plenty of advice for things to do along the coast. She’d also spent plenty of time in Brighton, which was nice and gave us plenty to talk about.
During our time at the lodge we also got chatting to plenty of South Africans. It turns out that Women’s Day is a public holiday in South Africa, which meant that many South Africans were on holiday in the region. We spoke to plenty of lovely people, however, as always; its the controversial, or less polite people that stick out the most. In this case it was the racist Afrikaans speaking people who we chatted to for half an hour or so, who stick out the most. We were told that if we go to the city it’s the ‘coloureds’ – the South African word for mixed race people – who are most likely to stab us. “The whites and blacks” one of them said, “we like to fight and throw punches. But the coloureds will stab you”. We were too tired to get into an argument, and they seemed perfectly friendly up until that point, meaning his statement sort of hit us out of the blue. So we said nothing, nodding nervously. One of them was huge. Not fat, just built. He clearly enjoyed working out. He was a giant of man, with huge arms and seemed rather simple – like Lenny from Of Mice and Men perhaps. He spent the entirety of our conversation asking us questions about England and how people saw South Africa. He was like a big scary looking child, asking wide eyed questions over and over. When he asked us which South Africans we’d heard of we listed a few sports people, Le Clos their Olympic swimmer, Steven Pienaar a footballer who used to play for Everton, and a few rugby players. I added Desmond Tutu to the list, to which they all laughed loudly. I wasn’t sure what was so funny. Desmond Tutu is pretty famous, and is South African. In the end I wagered that perhaps they didn’t know who Desmond Tutu was and were laughing at his odd surname.
We’ve had a few conversations with people here that have started off nice and then Claire and I have been thrown by a racist comment. It seems that some of the people here are more casual and comfortable saying certain things than people back home are. It always catches us off guard. We’ll be talking to someone about going to the city, like in this instance, before being told that ‘coloureds’ may stab us. Or a few days previous when we were talking to a nice seeming young girl about Johannesburg before she started telling us that black jobs were easier than white jobs and the ‘blacks who beg in the street’ were just lazy. I wanted to tell her that there were no such thing as black jobs and white jobs, and that those jobs that are usually done by the poorest in society (more often than not the black people in South Africa) were hardly ‘easier’ than those carried out by the richest. I wanted to say to her that whilst it may take less qualifications or book learning to do physical labour and menial jobs, that in no way makes them ‘easier’. As with the group in Sodwana, Claire and I cursed ourselves later for not correcting her statements. Especially when she said that she always feels sorry for a white person when she sees them on a crowded minibus full of black people. But when you’re in a busy room and everyone is having fun it can be hard to suddenly get into an argument with someone, especially when these comments come so out of the blue. We brushed what she said aside and moved onto other subjects. Though next time, it will be hard to hold our tongue.