Apparently the mermaid myth was spawned by sailors, no doubt lonely for female companionship after long spells at sea, who mistook dugong sea mammals as comely fish-tailed ladies.
Their vision was probably “enhanced” by the intake of significant amounts of rum, as dugongs are quite portly creatures that look almost like hippos with fins instead of legs – and nothing like the dishy Daryl Hannah who played a mermaid in the movie Splash.
Still, I’ve never seen a dugong in the wild and I was pretty keen on spotting one when visiting the creature’s namesake Dugong Beach Lodge in Mozambique. Perhaps after a few Mozambican 2M beers swirling through my system they’d even start to look like Daryl.
But no, except for a bronze statue in the lobby a living, breathing version of the notoriously elusive creature remained well, notoriously elusive.
However, I did get up close and personal with some other sea creatures, notably a dolphin that swam less than 10 metres away from us while we were snorkelling, as well as large numbers of pretty significant fish. The snorkelling was among the best I’ve ever experienced anywhere.
The water’s very calm, warm and relatively clear in this neck of the Indian Ocean, and although there’s no reef, numerous species of large fish congregate around the legs of the lodge’s wooden jetty.
You can spend hours swimming among them and it was the first time, for instance, that I’d seen a large potato bass (the fat fish with the Mick Jagger lips) in such shallow waters.
Apart from swimming with the local fauna, Dugong Beach Lodge has numerous watersport activities for energetic aqua lovers, including sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and fishing. For extra cost there are also boat excursions to nearby islands, as well as water skiing and diving.
Or you can simply chill on the lodge’s sea-overlooking deck in a hammock with an umbrella-garnished cocktail in your hand, if that’s more your speed.
For me the lodge’s biggest appeals were its remoteness and compact size.
Seaside holidays can often be more stressful than planned, especially during peak seasons when much of the “holiday” is simply having a nicer view than usual while you’re stuck in traffic en route to the beach.
But Dugong’s a barefoot paradise far away from mad crowds and traffic jams. Located about 700km north of Maputo on a remote peninsula within the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary, it has an island feel to it. Part of the Legend group of hotels, it’s an upmarket resort with 12 luxuriously-appointed chalets.
They’re all air-conditioned units, some with their own private plunge pools, and all are directly on the beachfront for uninterrupted ocean views.
The lodge has a sea-overlooking communal deck with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant and shop, and a large lobby with games and puzzles to cater for those rainy days. During my three-day stay I found the food to be a particular highlight, with a good choice catering for most palates and very tastily prepared.
It’s warm all year round and the average daytime temperature from April through to September is 25°C. The summer months of November through to February can be extremely hot, reaching 30°C.
Rates, which include three meals a day (including local beer and wine by the glass), and non-motorised water sports, are listed in US dollars and start at $390 (R3 040 at the current exchange rate) per person sharing and $195 for children under 12 in low season. In peak season there’s an extra surcharge of $100 per night for adults and $50 for children.
If money’s not an issue and you’re a discerning tourist looking for five-star luxury and cuisine in a location as beautiful as Daryl Hannah herself, Dugong Beach Lodge offers a dream holiday.