Soggy dollars

An unmade road south of Stone Town on Zanzibar leads to the village of Fumbe. The road seems to go on for ever, gradually getting narrower and narrower. Driving down it we were surrounded by dense bush and really couldn’t gauge where we were. Occasionally a path crossed our track or someone would cycle across the road in front of us. Eventually as the road seemed to be petering out we turned off and down a short slope.

The mangrove lined beach at Fumbe was the starting point for today’s safari. We were off to a desert island and coral reef. A number of dhows were moored offshore and another boat was being loaded with supplies. We met Eleanor who runs SafariBlue and were introduced to her team. Once everyone else had arrived we were given a briefing and then told to board the dhows.

The dhows were at the end of a submerged rocky outcrop. So we walked out to sea. I had my swimming trunks on under my shorts and was barefoot. I hadn’t thought to take my shorts off so my wallet got very wet.. Most of the way I found sandy patches, but there was an occasional ooh or aaagh as I stumbled on rough rock. We were soon on our way and halfway to the sandbank we passed a pod of dolphins and watched them swimming around us.

When we reached the sandbank we leapt over the side into the water.  It was time to try snorkelling. I explained that I was not a good swimmer and had never snorkelled before so we were given lightly inflated life jackets to swim in. We were taken in hand by Assad who explained how to fit a snorkel into our mouths and to breathe through our mouths rather than our noses which are covered by the face mask.

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Next step was to bend down, put our faces into the water and  practice breathing. Once we had got the hang of it, it was time to try swimming a few yards. I was swimming along with my face in the water concentrating on breathing through my mouth when I suddenly realised that I was swimming over a coral reef and that a shoal of brightly coloured fish had just swum past me. I then changed from focussing on breathing to enjoying this amazing experience, although I had to pause a couple of times when water got round my gum shield and burned the back of my throat.

The water was beautifully clear and we saw coral, a trumpeter fish and many other shoals. There were sea urchins which are great black spiky balls and not something to tread on.  A group of six squid came into view They were each about six inches long and swimming in a line beside each other. Their size was a surprise because when I think of squid, images of ocean giants come to mind. They are quite colourful with a hint of purple.  Assad guides us and we eventually make it back to the shore. It has been a breathtaking experience (although taking breath through a snorkel takes a bit of getting used to).

After we got our snorkelling gear off I noticed that I have blood on my ankle, probably a graze from a piece of coral. I rinsed it with bottled water. Assad also noticed and came over and sprayed it with antiseptic. On the sandbank we were handed a fresh coconut which had had its top sliced off. What better than a drink of fresh coconut milk?

Next we were had a short trip in a ngwala – a native trimaran which has been cut out of a single log. The outriggers were smaller logs and it had a single sail. We waded out to it and were amazed to find how deep it is. There was less than a foot freeboard but when we climbed in it was waist deep but only a little wider than us. We headed out to sea and after a short while turn and head back to land. It sailed well in both directions.

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We then left the sandbank and its coral reef and headed to another island for lunch. With our after lunch coffees we were introduced to Amarula, the tipple of elephants and monkeys. When the fruit of the marula tree falls to the ground it ferments. Elephants and monkeys then eat the fruit and have a fair old party. Later we headed back to the mainland under full sail, the dhow slicing though the water at a rakish angle. Back on shore I took out my soggy dollars and handed them over to Eleanor.  Our driver was waiting for us. It had been an excellent day.

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