8/27/09 - 8/31/09
"Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get."
I know what you are thinking...when is this trip ever going to end and will she ever shut up? It has been quite a journey but it is almost over and I am really sad. However, I don't think I've ever been so inactive in my life. From day to day, we sat in a car and just watched animals. More exciting than the National Geographic Channel but strangely just as sedentary. So I am very eager to head back to the islands. Being in a national park definitely takes away from the experience of the true African culture. We are certainly glad we visited the Masai boma to give us a taste of their life. But on the islands, you are among people who live there day to day and you see what their normal, daily routine is without having to take a tour. Pemba is a remote island in the archipelago of Zanzibar. There are only two major lodges and we will be staying at both. There is a little trepidation about the places we are staying at (the first place is a luxury tent that cost an arm and a leg and I read so-so reviews on tripadvisor, and I know that the last place won't be nice just because it was 1/3 the cost of Fundu) but really, we have no choice. The island mostly attracts divers.
There is some confusion on flights and we keep getting delayed but we finally make it to Pemba via Zanzibar, just one hour late. The flight over the islands is beautiful. Here's the eastern coastline of Zanzibar:
Here's the western coastline of Zanzibar where you can see the reefline.
Pemba is very lush with wild beaches.
As we walked from the plane to the terminal, I stopped dead in my tracks and screamed, "What in the world is that?" The woman behind me laughed and said, "that's just a millipede, you've never seen one before? They are all over the island." Uh, that would be no. It is big, fat and creepy. Oh no...I thought spiders were scary.
It is now Ramadan so we will be experiencing people who observe this ritual. We are picked up by the hotel van and our driver, dressed head to toe in Muslim garb, starts to give us a tour of the island as we make our way over to Fundu Lagoon. He explains the different crops and trees and sites. This island produces most of the cloves and you can see a bunch of them drying out on the road. Our driver has so much energy and manages to joke with us as well (even though he hasn't eaten since 5am). We go through the center of the major town and it is like Zanzibar...poor. But the homes in the outskirts don't seem so bad...like a lower middle class neighborhood. We are dropped off at the pier so that we can take a boat over to the lodge. There are no roads that can take you there directly. There is a boat captain and an assistant that meets us for the 15-20 minute ride. It is raining right now and it reminds me of our nasty experience on Bora Bora...rain, wind and an open boat=soaking wet luggage. Thankfully I did learn from that incident and managed to buy water resistant luggage; however, it is not coming down super hard and it ends up to be rather short-lived. We get a glimpse of the sunset.
While it did warm up somewhat after the rain, it was still a little chilly. But as we head toward the hotel's dock, we could see people still swimming in the ocean, a couple learning to windsurf and some boys jumping off the pier. Brrrr. We are met at the jetty by the manager, Matt. We get the usual "Karibu" and welcome drink. He gives us a tour and then walks us over to our tented bungalow. It seems really far away but then he finally turns right. At first I thought we were entering an area with several bungalows but then I realize this is all ours for the next two days! They upgraded us to the next level which is their superior beach suite. If I would have known that, I would have stayed here all four days! There is a large deck, a plunge pool, outdoor shower, a private beach area with loungers, the tented bedroom and a two-story cabana. We have three fully stocked refrigerators...two inside the tent (one for alcohol and one for water and soft drinks) and one upstairs in the cabana. Wow, this by far is the coolest place we've stayed. We did hear that there were some renovations which would explain why I thought this place was stunning and the tripadvisor review couldn't be more wrong!
It's already late so we shower and unpack. Matt's ankle/feet are totally bit up by the tse tse flies from the safari. It is actually really puffy and he is a little worried it's infected. But I told him it's just a reaction from getting bit so much. I have a lot of experience in this area and it happened to me all the time when I lived in Florida. Check this out.
We start our long walk over to the main beach as they are serving dinner there tonight.
Surprise...it is a Swahili buffet dinner. But the food is scrumptious. Since we are back on the islands, seafood is abundant. There is lobster, octopus, fish, etc. We also have sausage, beef and vegetarian dishes. Everything we tried was superb.
At dinner, we talked to the dive outfitter and signed up for the AM scuba excursion.
So I promised you I would talk about bush babies. They are primates but nocturnal. So, as soon as the sky darkens, they immediately become active until the first light of day. I don't have any photos because they are a bit elusive (very keen sense of sight and sound), pretty small and they just hang out in the trees. I told you earlier that they look a little like gremlins. And when we first heard them, we couldn't stop laughing. It was so cute. They literally sound like "ha ha ha ha ha, hahaha." I didn't think it sounded anything like a human baby cry but that is why it got its name. But imagine this sound all night long. And Fundu Lagoon is FULL of bush babies. It soon annoyed Matt to tears. When we asked the staff about them, they told us a story of one of the guests who woke up the next day and demanded that they hunt down and shoot all of them...after all, he had paid tons of money to stay here to get some peace and quiet. Now how can you fight nature?
August 28, 2009
We pack up stuff for our morning dive and decide to take the beach route to the restaurant. At this hour, the vervet monkeys are lively in the sand and bushes.
We have been dying to have bungo juice as we heard they are all from Pemba. But we find out that they are out of season and they have none! We are so sad. But we enjoy a wonderful, fancy breakfast and then make our way over to the dive center. After getting our gear, a group of us are ready to head over to Misali Island, a marine sanctuary, for premier diving. We are paired with Fil, who is a renown Tanzanian divemaster.
It is a 15 minute boat ride to the island. We have two boats with about 5 people each. They are super fast, modern, speed boats...the wetsuits keep us warm. We disembark on the island first. And I misjudge the height from the bow of the boat to the beach and end up rehurting my sprained ankle as I jumped off (no way I would have lasted any longer without an injury anyway). It looked so low but water can be misleading. There is an area for the resort that has tables, lounge chairs and umbrellas. The staff unloads drinks, we drop off our beach gear and I make a quick pitstop at the toilet (I really do hate those floor contraptions and with a wetsuit...nearly impossible). The divers get back onto the boat, leaving the snorkellers on the island and we head out to our site. The three of us are going to Coral Mountain. We wanted an easy dive so we opted not to do a drift dive (which dominates the sites). We have a boat captain and an assistant. They prepare all of our equipment and do a thorough job of rubbing in toothpaste in our masks and giving it a good rinse. They are all about service here and do everything for me. This is my first time diving with steel tanks and it is super heavy. It doesn't take much for me to roll backwards into the water.
Our favorite diving without question has been French Polynesia and no place has come close. We now finally found a place that rivals the Tuamotus/Bora Bora. Immediately you are surrounded by sea life in all colors. So you rarely have to go deeper than 30 feet. There are fish in every direction and you can't avoid running into them. Fil knows what to look for and goes to his usual spots, whether he is tricking an eel to come out of its hole by spraying him with his regulator or pointing out the nudibranches. It's absolutely breathtaking. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.
Each dive session is just a one-tank dive. So after 55 minutes bottomtime, we surface and get back onto the boat. Here's my technique: take off the BCD and tank in the water and have the staff grab it, hand them my weight belt, hoist my body up to the side of the boat, swivel my legs into the boat...a little like a seal.
They all laughed at me but it's faster than the ladder and having to hoist that heavy tank on my own weight. I have to say, I really loved the steel tanks though; because they are very compact, it wasn't hitting my tailbone AND, I really didn't need any weights. I had a bit difficulty with my weights today as I had to keep putting more air into my BCD so tomorrow I'm ditching them!
So we took off all our gear and the staff took care of everything. We returned to Misali Island to dry off and get refreshments. This time I dove into the water from the stern of the boat. Brrr... but it is nice and sunny and they have towels waiting for us on land. Fil goes right for the hot cocoa as he is shivering but I'm not as cold as he is. We relax for a while on the loungers and talk to the snorkellers about their ocean odyssey. Looking through a dive book, everyone points out what they saw. It's remarkable that within just a few feet of water, you can encounter lion fish, lobster and even wrasse, on top of the usual triggerfish. If only I had the courage to get back in the water without a wetsuit!
We pack up for the ride home. The wind does kick in later in the morning so it makes the boat ride back super bumpy, especially travelling at supersonic speed. We actually have to brace ourselves so we don't fall out of the boat. On top of that, we are getting dumped on by the waves. We loved the dive so much, there is no hesitation in booking another one for tomorrow morning. Fil was a bit surprised by me tipping him. He is actually the first person that didn't expect one...that's refreshing!
It's lunch time and we have two choices...the main restaurant or the pool bar. I've been enticed by their pool so I pick the pool bar. After a quick dip, we sit down and have a yummy fish salad and an ice cream dessert. The food at the hotel is first rate and everything we've had tastes great.
We returned to our bungalow to take advantage of our wonderful setting. We grab a book and head out to our private loungers on the beach to get some sun and relaxation.
I decide to go into the ocean which ends up to be a bit painful as the beach is filled with shells. But the water is warm.
Taking a walk on the beach, I notice a lot of tracks in the sand that look like it was made by a small moped. I wonder what that is. Guess what? They were tracks made by...MILLIPEDES! They must be huge here. I have been lucky that I haven't really seen any.
There is a sunset dhow cruise tonight so as we get close to the departure time, we head over to the pier bar. We get a couple of drinks from the bartenders. Matt loves their hat.
Departure time! We didn't reserve ahead so it was questionable on whether we'd make it on or not but they said they'd squeeze us in. We watch them put up the sails and then they pour us wine and beer. They hand out my favorites...fresh roasted cashews and taro chips. We sail around for a while waiting for the sunset.
In the meantime, we have conversations with the music conductor and English family. After sunset, we return in time for a shower before dinner.
It has become a ritual to enjoy cocktail hour before dinner. We head over to the bar and order some drinks. I dared try a bloodymary again...hey, it's free this time. They did make it with fresh squeezed tomatoes but they added a bunch of spices and it was delicious! We strike up a conversation with an English couple, Matt (yes, another Matt) and Kath. Kath mentions that their bungalow's bathroom is full of millipedes...ew...I guess I've been lucky. As we discuss British entertainment and culture, I can't resist but bring up the silly names of the Tube stations. Matt and Kath agree and tell us about a "Come As Your Favorite Tube Station" costume party they attended. Guess who won...you guessed it...Cockfosters. It's almost like the trip has come full circle. Before you knew it, we had a few drinks and a couple hours had passed.
Tonight's dining is in the restaurant and we have a choice of 3 different entrees. We have a great meal and head back to the cries of the bush babies to pack up for tomorrow. I try to record the bush babies' cries but it's not predictable as it isn't constant. Oh well. We had a big day and thoroughly enjoyed it here but I am ready to move on to a new experience.
We have all of our bags completely packed up. Because the dive boat doesn't return until noon and check out is before then, we have to have them ready for pick up. But rather than get on the 12:30 boat back to town, we reserved the 2:30 boat so that we could have lunch before leaving.
We enjoy another breakfast and kill some time checking our emails, looking through their stuff at the gift shop (surprisingly priced cheap) and marveling at the millipedes in the gardens.
The dive center is full today and the clouds are heavy. We're pretty sure it is going to rain. But the staff assures us that somehow it is ALWAYS sunny on Misali Island. I don't know how that can be.
We are paired up with Fil again and we will be diving Coral Gardens today. I told him that I wanted to see Napoleons. The boat ride was much colder today and it is sprinkling. But miraculously, as we get closer to the island, it is true that it is always sunny on Misali Island. Do you see that the clouds just part right above the island?
No one could explain it but they say the weather is always like this 11 months of the year. Same ritual as yesterday. My ankle is not too bad today but I can still feel that it is quite not right.
After dropping off the snorkellers, we head out to the dive site. Again, we are treated to a spectacular dive. It is much more comfortable without the weights today and I have no problem remaining neutral. Matt is diving below me which concerns me since he already sucks a lot of air. I try to motion to him to stay above me. Unlike Zanzibar, visibility here is unbelievable and it is rare to just see an expanse of blue so it is easy enough to split up somewhat and find each other again. Out in the distance I see a Napoleon and I am so excited. I try to get everyone's attention. Matt finally sees it. I just love their freakishly big, cartoonish features and they are so colorful for a wrasse. Not a good photo because it's a bit far away.
We see all sorts of fish and we are lucky that Fil likes to take pictures so we just hand him our camera and we don't have to worry about it.
We are down here for a long time enjoying the sea life. Even during the safety stop, you are just surrounded by fish.
Today's dive was a little over an hour. It helped tremendously that Matt floated above me so he'll just have to remember that trick. We are sad that today is our last dive...look at how happy we are!
Since we need to stay dive free for 48 hours before we get on a plane, we won't be able to dive when we go up north to Manta Reef. But I read that their diving is not as good and a lot of the reefs were destroyed in a storm a few years ago.
Today is a bit colder so upon our return to Misali Island, I am eager to have some hot chocolate.
Since we are somewhat in a rush today, we don't linger on the island too long and return back to the hotel jetty.
I grab our clothes bag and take a shower at the dive center. It's just as luxurious as our bungalow. We have fresh towels, robes, a mirror and even lots of room. We say goodbye to Fil and head over to the restaurant for our last meal here. Everything looks good so we order it all...beef steak salad, coconut veggie soup, fish salad with pineapple salsa, fruit crepe and coffee ice cream. Again, fantastic!
We say our goodbyes to the staff and Matt walks us to the boat. We will miss Fundu.
Our same driver picks us up but we have a full load of people this time. We are headed to the airport where they will hand us off to the Manta Reef driver. Upon arrival, we see a man who seems to be looking for us. Once we confirm who we are, he takes our luggage and we go to the car. I start to get nervous because we are in a jeep with a broken windshield, torn seats and the car won't start. I am thinking twice about my choice now. After a few locals help, we finally get started. It is about an hour and a half drive but it is very scenic. We go through a town where our driver stops. It is his village and his wife has packed him his dinner for after sundown, which will be soon. We pass the famous Ngezi Forest which is known for the flying foxes. I am fascinated with the rubber trees. It is for some reason stunning to me.
The staff at Manta Reef greets us and they invite us to the deck for our orientation. I love the rocking chairs. We get a cocktail and they explain all the details. The only direction I remember hearing was...don't forget to sign up for your free massage. Eventually, we are escorted to our room which overlooks the ocean. I was really hoping that it was going to be better than I thought. A little disappointing. It's clean but basic. I am a little worried as there are a lot of holes in the mosquito net and none of the windows are screened or close. I find that strange where malaria exists. All of a sudden Matt blurts out, "I would have gladly taken the loss on this place to stay another night at Fundu." These are the words out of the mouth of the man who thought this trip was too expensive and San Diego Wild Animal Park would have sufficed, who won't pay more than $30 for a pair of jeans, who makes me wear a jacket in the house in the winter because heating is expensive...stunned. But on the bright side, we both agree that we have a beautiful view and we watch the sunset.
Our butler serves us dinner on the hotel deck.
We enjoy a quiet meal and as the sky darkened, we could see a billion stars. Dinner time is when your butler and the service staff come by to see what you would like to do tomorrow. Matt hates massages so I book a time for myself tomorrow afternoon and we decide to take the excursion to what the staff calls the "James Bond beach" in the morning.
Diving makes me sleepy.