Scuba diving, mangroves, and a midnight beach visit – all squished into 24 hours

Jelly, my scuba diver trainer and general looker-afterter at Machangulo
Jelly, my scuba diver trainer and general companion at Machangulo

I only had one day really at Machangulo Beach Lodge, but their manager Jelly (is this his real name? I don’t know) made sure it was a good one.

After the first lie-in I’d had in weeks, and a spot of tappety-tap-tap on my laptop, he dunked me into the pool for a private refresher PADI scuba diving session.

Jelly, like most South Africans I have met, has blonde hair, abnormally bright blue eyes (he insists they are green, but I can tell you they are blue), and says ‘hectic’ a lot.

He also says ‘in essence’ every time he’s explaining something, which is often, and at one point, he referred to a drunk person as being ‘thrashed out of their bracket’ – which I thought was marvellous.

Getting ready to plop ourselves 10 feet under water
Getting ready to plop ourselves 10 feet under water
And down we go...
And down we go…

Jelly is ravishingly handsome and seems to know everything there is to know about anything to do with the sea (he insists he doesn’t, but I can tell you that he does). Basically, a pretty perfect teacher-manager-guide person.

So I got myself reacquainted with the feeling of bobbing around in water, a giant tank strapped to my back and a Darth Vadar breathing apparatus wedged into my mouth, and then it was out of the pool and onto a little motorboat, off to the real ocean.

I was surprised by how easily it all came back to me. I’ve only been scuba diving once before, when I was 19 and in Thailand, but turns out it really is like riding a bike.

Brain cells, long-term muscle memory, I salute you.

The sea guru, fixing something to do with my kit
The sea guru, fixing something to do with my kit
Yes thank you, it's ok now
Yes thank you, it’s ok now

Our hour-ish-long-10-metre-ish-dive was magical.

Jelly led me through a wonderworld of protected coral and spurts of brightly-coloured fishies, and I flounced around breathing my air (chooook, chooook, choook, bubble, bubble, bubble) pretending to be the Little Mermaid.

Jelly, much like Brian from Singita, who you can read about here, is one of those rare strangers with whom you feel you can trust your life.

Look, a thing that is not a shark!
Look, a thing that is not a shark!

I didn’t even think about sharks once while I was down there (most unlike me), because I was too busy following his flippers and admiring all the things he was animatedly pointing out.

As I washed up on the shore at the end of the dive and stood up all wobbly and blinky, I spun around to see the hot pink sun just melting down behind the ocean horizon.

That was nice.

Emerging from the depths
Emerging from the depths
... to this sunset
… to this sunset

Jelly then whizzed me over to the mangroves as the sharp slice of moon poked its way through the darkening skies, and there we floated through the corridor of trees for a while, our boat chased by tiny explosions of green bioluminescence.

That was really, really nice.

Mangroves are amazing (by the way) because they can throw roots down into salt water and still survive, which, for a normal tree, is impossible.

Mangroves, which are very special and unusual trees
Mangroves, which are very special and unusual trees

After a lengthy dinner, neither of us were quite ready for bed so we pottered down to the beach and chucked ourselves onto the sand to look at the stars. Also nice.

I got all panicky about the legions of crabs that were scuttling up and down (“but it’s dark Jelly, I can’t see them. I’m not scared in the daytime, honest. It’s just the not-seeing-them bit that I don’t like. What if I step on one and it bites my toe?! etc.”)

Other than the scuttling crabs though, it was enjoyable.

Machangulo beach, which we collapsed on after dinner until gone midnight
Machangulo beach, which we collapsed on after dinner until gone midnight

Jelly told me facts about nature and I told him stories about horrid boys (“I mean, can you believe he did that?! That’s so weird isn’t it?! Why would a boy do that for fuck’s sake etc.”)

Suffice to say, it was another sad, mopey farewell this morning.

This one’s for you, Jelly.

*Disclaimer – this whole post, pictorially, looks like one big creepy shrine to Jelly but that’s only because all I have is shots from my GoPro, which was strapped to my chest, and he was the only person I hung out with, so of course all the pictures are of him*


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