Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sailing the Indian Ocean off Zanzibar

We were picked up this morning at 8am from the resort with a new driver and after almost a full 2 hours of driving we arrived at a boat launch into Menai Bay Conservation Area just south of Stone Town in the off the small town of Fumba.  Interestingly, our driver had to “pay off” some officials that stopped us along the way (apparently, this corruption is quite common).  This area was known for it’s turquoise waters and abundant marine life. 

We had thought we were going with the official Safari Blue tour on the island but it turned out we were with a copy-cat one run by Eco & Culture tours.  Because of our past experience with their Stone Town guide this worried us a bit but thankfully we had a great time and our trip seemed indistinguishable from the official outfit we also saw throughout the day.

When we were dropped off we had to wait about 45 minutes to an hour for all the other guests to slowly arrive.  There were enough that we needed two dhow sailing boats to fit us all!  Once loaded up we were on our way across the very shallow bay out towards some islands.  It was a great way to end the trip being out sailing on the Indian Ocean.  Along the way, the very friendly crew cut coconuts for us to drink and then younger ones for us to chew on, as well as watermelon slices while we made our way out to Kwale Island.

On the way to the island we stopped for a bit of snorkeling which was great even though I clearly had chosen the wrong mask as it leaked constantly on me.  We were joined on the boat by an absolutely stunning European couple with the girl wearing a bathing suit that would enrage any orthodox muslim in the vicinity…. But, despite the good looks I had to chuckle when she needed to put on arm floaties to join us in the water… hehe  Saw some great coral and bright fish and even bumped into some harmless big jellyfish.  

We timed it right for high tide so we were able to pull into lagoon surrounded by a mangrove forest.  Other boats of similar tours joined us and it felt like we were in a scene from a Jonny Depp Pirates film.  There were very unique rock formations in the lagoon with narrow bases (looked like rock wine glasses) which had very sharp coral/rock bases to them.  Otherwise, the bottom was sandy and the three of us relaxed in the wonderfully warmer water of the lagoon before we were called back to the boat to continue on.  

We anchored the boat off a big beach on Kwale Island and joined our crew to investigate a huge fallen baobab tree down a short trail into the forest of the island.  It was hard to tell what it was because these trees are shaped so oddly and it wasn’t until I walked around one side of the huge square block of wood that I noticed a weather-worn root system where it toppled over.  But because it was dead and they are nicknamed “upside down tree” it was actually a little difficult to figure out which end the roots were!

The tour had promised a seafood buffet lunch and although we were a little worried, it far surpassed our expectations.  There was a tray of slipper lobster, prawns, fish, calamari, fruits, desert and best of all, a cooler of beers!  We were advised to go up as many times as we wanted and we obliged!  I think I ate 3-4 full slipper lobster, 20+ prawns, and several fish fillets before I threw in the towel.  This full day trip complete with sailing, snorkeling, seafood buffet, etc was $115/person.  Compare this to the 1/2 slipper lobster fish dinner we had at the resort that cost $40 alone… ha!  

We then stopped at a pretty cool sand spit that is linked to the island at low tide but it was still high tide so there wasn’t much but a small pinnacle of sand above water for us to stop at.  Half the boat again went snorkeling and this time our guide kept asking me for my GoPro which he took down 10-15 feet to capture the fish life up close.  I think he noticed I has having trouble with my mask.  

I dove a few times but it was too bothersome to do repeatedly.  We got some great footage underwater before heading into the sand island to relax in the water a bit.  Eventually, we were called back to the boat for a very pleasant ride back to Fumba to end the amazing day on the water.  Well done Eco & Culture.. you have redeemed yourself a bit.  

We had our final dinner at the resort, beef medallions for me which actually weren’t that bad or overpriced for a change, hung out by the pool with beers for a little bit then headed back to the room to pack up all our gear for the very long flight home.  We had learned during the day that sometimes the island cut power during peaks to conserve energy and the night before when our fans died wasn’t just us, it was the whole island apparently.   Thankfully, our last night we had full power and slept pretty well.

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