We were picked up at 7am this morning to drive down to the south end of the island to go swimming with dolphins. Assuming, that is, that the dolphins were in the mood. We were met by a group of three young lads, the oldest maybe 20 and the youngest about 14.
As the tide was out, we were taken part way out in a small boat, then we had to walk a little way through some very shallow water, over some sharp rocks and coral before reaching the boat that would take us out to the dolphins. One of our guides carried the boat’s engine with him, Mum and I were just concentrating on not falling (not entirely successfully – I sank suddenly into a small hole and scraped up my ankle, and Mum had to be grabbed by one of our guides at one point).
We set off and motored for quite a long way parallel to the shore. At a certain point, one of our companions, Rashie, pulled out a snorkel, a couple long sticks and a buoys and jumped overboard. Mum and I initially though that he was going to be accompanying us in the water, and was going to check out the area, but it turned out that he was going fishing. We never saw him again. Apparently he would fish for about 3 hours and then swim back to the shore.
We continued for quite a while, and saw another couple boats carrying hopeful dolphin swimmers. Ours was a traditional wooden boat – much nicer than the other modern boats that we saw.
The sea seemed pretty rough, with rather large waves. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but wonder how we were supposed to swim in it, snorkels or no. It also did cross my mind that this might be the sort of place where sharks like to hang out…
After sitting and sitting and no signs of dolphins, I had pretty much come to the conclusion that the dolphins weren’t going to show, and tried to reconcile myself to the fact that we’d had a nice boat ride in any case. Afterwards, Mum said that exactly the same though was going through her head.
Finally, just when we’d given up hope, our skipper called out to the young lad who was driving us and pointed to the horizon. I couldn’t see anything, but it appeared that the dolphins had shown themselves. We followed the direction he pointed, and were quickly joined with another 3 boats. Mum and I put on our flippers and masks, and, the skipper beckoning urgently and making swimming motions, I climbed over the side of the boat and jumped.
Used to swimming in the local pool, I threw myself full force into a front crawl, and then very quickly floundered… not used to flippers, my feet were doing nothing but dragging me down, and not used to a snorkel, I couldn’t catch my breath. After some pathetic gasping, and a small amount of panicking I hauled myself back to the boat and crawled back on again to get my breath back, Mum looking worriedly over the edge.
I sat for a few minutes and tried to get my breathing back under control. Our skipper suggested tightening the strap on the mask to get a better seal. I tried, only to have the strap pop out. By this point, the dolphins had moved on, so we followed them, and Mum went in. Finally, the skipper managed to fix the mask for me, and after sitting and breathing through it to get used to the sensation, I went in again.
This time was much more successful. I still found it hard breathing through the snorkel, but prepared for it, I didn’t try and expend any real energy, just moved my legs gently, floating… and there they were, right underneath me… DOLPHINS!
It was such an amazing experience. Sometimes they swam close to the bottom, which thanks to the clear water, we could see quite nicely, and sometimes right by use, usually in small groups. Each time they moved along, we climbed back into the boat and followed, before going back in again. In total, I think we went in about 10 times. The last time, I was able to count about 20 individuals swimming along beneath me.
All to soon it was time to leave the dolphins and head back towards the shore, with a stop to do some snorkeling closer to the shore. With hindsight, I wish we could have done that bit of snorkeling at the beginning, as it would have given an opportunity to get acquainted with the whole snorkeling concept in shallower, calmer waters, without the added excitement of trying to find the dolphins.
We saw lots of small colourful fish in that second snorkeling session. The most exciting, I think, was large angel fish.
Snorkeling over, we went back to shore, and were directed to a small outdoor restaurant for our lunch – fish, of course, along with rice, chapati and a coconut sauce, followed by fresh oranges and banana. As we ate, we watched the fishermen come into shore with their catch.
After lunch, we headed back in the direction of Stone Town, first making a stop at the Jozani Forest, renowned for its Colobus monkeys. Along with our guide, we walked through the forest, finding monkeys at every turn, not hard to spot at all! They’re funny looking fellows, with an electric shock hairdo! The monkeys weren’t shy, but the leaves made it hard to get a clear photo. The combination of dark face, light coloured fur and very contrasty light didn’t help matters either.
Once we had our fill of colobus monkeys, in part guided by the fact that we (or at least I), were struggling in the midday sun, we met up with our car and drove a short distance through the the forest to the mangroves. We followed a boardwalk through the mangrove, and I also walked a little through the mangrove, clambering root to root. Our guide gave us plenty of information about the different types of mangrove and also pointed out some fiddler crabs.
Finally, back at the hotel, we decided to take a swim and desalinify ourselves and then later took some photos of the sunset. We were hoping for some nice dhows to cross the sunset but unfortunately they never quite got their alignment right! We finished our day off with a long chat with 3 other guests and a late dinner up on the fancy seafood terrace, which only has about 5 tables. The food was great, and the atmosphere was lovely. A perfect last night, sitting out under the stars.