Waking up every morning to the sounds of crashing waves might be one of our favorite things. Brian, not being a morning person AT ALL, woke up with such ease in our sun-lit, sea-breezed room. I was loving it! We even woke up to catch a couple sunrises (video below). Our daily routines were simple but glorious. We would wake up, inhaling the beautiful salty air, walk down to our breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs (we are so tired of eggs), take a morning stroll along the powder white beaches while watching the locals collect their seaweed (we think?) from their seaweed farms growing on the ocean floor, find a place for lunch (which was always fresh seafood), retire to our bungalow porch to enjoy an early sundowner of Safari beer from our homemade cooler, and then head out on the beach again in search of dinner, racing to reach our destination before the beach disappeared wth high tide.
The last excursion we had planned was our snorkeling trip. Mago, who you remember from the scooter extravaganza, picked us up the island way, the only way, via boat right in front of our front porch. We hadn't planned on a morning dip, but the short swim to the boat was a refreshing start to the day! The boat ride to Mnemba Island was an adventure. The wind was strong and the waves even stronger. I had to close my eyes and hold on a couple times, trying not to imagine myself flying through the air before plunging deep into the Indian Ocean. Thankfully, neither Brian or I get seasick! At one point I noticed we were headed directly towards another boat, this one filled with tourists. As we approached it, we finally slowed down just enough to pass a container of petrol to what turned out to be a stranded boat! THANK GOODNESS we were the ones saving them and not vice versa.
Everyone from all over Zanzibar snorkels at Mnemba Island. It's stunning, and also a tease since you aren't allowed ON the island, as it's privately owned with one resort on it (costing close to $1K a night I believe). Visitors of the resort include the likes of Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson (and I'm sure Jay-Z and Beyoncé because they take all the best vacations). There is a rumor that Bill Gates owns the island, but we never got to the bottom of it.
We anchored the boat and got suited up to jump in. I, of course, decided to wear a life vest, and ended up being the only one snorkeling with the bright orange flotation device. Whatever! I didn't care. What I did care about though were jelly fish, sharks, sting rays, or basically any sea creature large or small for that matter. I confirmed several times with Mago and the driver that there wasn't anything that could hurt me, specifically jelly fish and sting rays. They both said, "no." Actually they went as far as to claim there were, "no jelly fish in Zanzibar." Before jumping in I confirmed one last time and they said there wasn't anything that could sting me and definitely no sharks. Okay, I guess I can get on board with this!
Within five minutes of jumping in, I was screaming in pain as both my thighs were on FIRE. I kept telling Brian to check and he, of course, brushed it off and said it was just because I shaved my legs (OHHH right! Because Brian has spent the last 20 years shaving his legs). Frustrated, I shrugged my shoulders and figured he was right and waited for the pain to ease. Then again, a slow trickle of needles brushing over my left calf. HOLY CRAP! This ISN'T from shaving I kept telling him. Still, Brian couldn't be bothered. I'm just overreacting of course. For some reason, I kept listening to him (must have been the heat). Then...as if on cue, karma came to bite Brian in the ass. Literally (almost). I heard Brian yelling, "something stung me!!" Of course now that Brian felt it, it was something real. "Oh my god! Something stung me!" He kept screaming. I looked at him, not even trying to hide my smile, and told him, "it was most likely from shaving." Hey, misery loves company right?
As we both swam back to the boat, the attacks didn't stop. We climbed out and scanned our bodies. We had raised red rashes everywhere! They told us it was algae and that there was a lot in this area. WTF! Was I not speaking English before? I asked if ANYTHING could sting me in the water! As for this, algae, I think we can toss it up to a lost in translation issue because we searched and searched for anything related to stinging algae when we got back, and nothing exists. They were definitely jelly fish, and they were evil. Other than that, the snorkeling was nice, nothing great. But, I never think snorkeling is great to begin with, so I'm not the best judge. I just wanted to go on the boat ride. It ended up being a fun day out and made for a funny story later. The scars, that lasted several weeks, on the other hand, were not so fun.
As if the day didn't have enough excitement, Brian and I decided to take a stroll through the village for a change of scenery (and because we ran out of toothpaste). We were walking and chatting, minding our own business, responding with, "jambo" ("hi") and, "poa" ("it's cool") whenever prompted when all of these young school girls started running towards us. This wasn't that unusual really as it's been happening a lot during our time in Africa, until they didn't stop. They formed a circle around us and began aggressively jumping up trying to grab our sunglasses (I think?) straight off our faces! Not knowing what to do, we kindly asked them to slow down (pole! pole!) as we picked up the pace a little, and it seemed to be working. Until out of nowhere, one of the girls, no more than eight years old I'm sure, ran up and PUNCHED me in the back knocking me forward a little. Stunned, I turned around to see what was going on. She just stood there, stared me down for a second, and then turned around and ran off as if I just banished her to her room. Brian, not able to hold his laughter, didn't know what to make of it either. It was totally not poa!
Our last adventure, a brief moment of bravery or better yet, most likely the two Kilis I had to wash away the pain from the jelly fish, was when I agreed to walk out to the reef with Brian. We put on our fashion forward Chocos and Tevas and began our walk out during low tide. At first it was easy, and beautiful, I should add. We saw the most colorful starfish I've ever seen, but unfortunately, we also saw thousands of giant sea urchins. It felt like playing Minesweeper except in real life, and in the ocean. The reef also seemed to have the Las Vegas Effect. The more we walked, the more the reef kept moving further in the distance. It felt unreachable. We were so close, SO close, when Brian started getting nervous and said we needed to head back. Of all people, I wanted to keep going. We were SO close. The tide really started coming in and the wind was picking up. The water rose to our chests where it was barely waist deep before. The current was working in our favor, so getting rushed out to sea wasn't my concern. It was waves that were picking up rapidly and the sea urchins! The current was so strong and the visibility was so low, it made it impossible to step in the strategic way necessary to avoid these spiky terrors. I started to panic (of course). It didn't help that Brian kept repeating that the slower I moved, the higher the water was going to get. HELP!!!! Finally we decided the best decision was to have me float on the surface while Brian dragged me out to shore, quite the pathetic site for anyone watching safely from land I'm sure. That was the last time I got in the water at Matemwe.
When we weren't getting arrested, stranded, or attacked by jelly fish and eight year old girls, we were mostly enjoying an incredible dinner at the old Matemwe Bandas, now called Zanzibar Bandas. Just a short walk from Panga Chumvi, the setting was romantic and the food was the best on the island. It was as if they knew it was our last night because they brought in a live acoustic reggae band to send us off. The new owners, a couple of friends from Poland, would eat and drink with everyone all night long. One night when Brian wasn't feeling 100%, they insisted he take a vodka shot with pepper, because that was the Polish way. I'm not sure if it did anything, but it was fun to watch. On that last night, we ate, drank, and danced to the sounds of reggae as the sun slipped into the horizon and the stars lit the dark sky. We took our final stroll along the beach, desperately trying not to step on crabs (they are everywhere) and said goodbye to this beautiful island and it's wonderful people. Asante Sana (squash banana!) Zanzibar! Oh yeah, we totally watched Lion King one night.
Tomorrow we head back to Dar Es Salaam to take on the Tazara train! Zambia, here we come!