I’ve been having a lot of fun with a couple of Italian girls who arrived at the resort this week, Valeria and Francesca. It’s wonderful to have some girlie company after meeting so many honeymooners. The girls are reporters and work for RAI (Italy’s BBC) in Rome so we’ve been swapping stories on the perils and pleasures of working in television. They managed to persuade me to do something I have been avoiding all these months due to my dislike of ‘group activities’ – to come with them on Safari Blue and I couldn’t resist their charms. Hotel management joked with me they would have a good chance of meeting a beau on Safari Blue as plenty of young tourists sign up – especially Italians!
We set off in the morning from the beach at Fumba village, 30 minutes drive from Stone Town. Sure enough, groups of pretty young things in trendy swimwear were hanging around, waiting for the tour and Valeria and Francesca were soon spotted by two handsome Italian guys who peeled off from their pack and began making a bee-line for us. I quickly explained to the girls I wouldn’t be offended if they left me out of the matter and moved away to talk to the guide.
He explained we would set off by dhow to a sandbank were we could take our time snorkelling and soaking up the sun. Then we would walk along the reef to the desert island of Kwale for a buffet lunch and return at sunset to Fumba.
As we waded out to the large dhows waiting for us in the bay, carrying our rucksacks high, the girls turned to me and winked to let me know they were happy with their catch. I too was happy to slip into my own world again. We divided into three groups and guides helped us clamber on the dhows and find a place to sit on on the deck. Then we set off towards the Menai Bay Conservation area, the waves slapping at the side of the boat and covering us with cooling spray. When we were out to sea our guides turned off the motors and explained that if we were lucky we might catch site of either the humpback or bottlenose dolphins. We peered anxiously over the sides of the dhows into the turquoise waters but nothing happened. The guides started up the engines again with the aim of moving us to a different spot but then, as soon as they did so, two fins in perfect harmony lifted out of the water in front of us and slide back in again. There was a frenzied rush to rescue cameras, which we had already packed away but, probably like most people, I only managed to capture two small pools of froth on the waves after the creatures had long gone. There is something so special about sighting dolphins but I wasn’t so sure the dolphins would have been as enthralled with 30 odd cameras pointed at them.
By the time we arrived at the gleaming white sand bank it was close to midday and as soon as we splashed our way up onto the beach from the boats, crew who had travelled ahead of us were waiting to hand us refreshing coconuts to drink from and the chance to sit under some temporary awnings. We were invited to pick out snorkelling equipment, flippers and a mask, and left to explore. I felt a little apprehensive about going in to the sea alone, the girls were nowhere to be seen, but I waded in nevertheless and to my delight the reef around the sandbank never dipped deeper than around 15 feet so I felt quite safe. Suddenly travelling with a large group of strangers seemed worth it as an underwater world of exquisite beauty opened up in front of me. Better than any snorkelling experience I had had before, I felt utterly relaxed as I gently glided between coral outcrops marvelling at the multitude of multicoloured fish, shells and wriggly things. I only had one panicky moment when I spotted a translucent jellyfish hanging beneath the surface like a little plastic bag and I had to quickly change direction. It was only when I remembered that I’d forgotten to apply sun cream to my back that I decided to leave the coral playground and clamber awkwardly up onto the beach in my large back flippers.
The sun was blisteringly hot and I felt quite dizzy so I sat in the shade for a while almost everyone else turned their bodies on the beach barbecue. After what seemed like an eternity we were summoned to return our snorkelling equipment and instructed that as the tide was out we could walk along the green and crusty reef to Kwale Island for lunch. Any tourists with trouble walking were taken in a dhow. The rest of us had to walk.
I can tell you, walking across coral is not easy. It’s slimy, slippy and can hurt the soles of your feet through your flip flops. It took a good twenty minutes to get to the island and by the time I arrived I was starving. We were ushered up the beach to toilet facilities and a lunch area with long trestle benches next to a steaming grill. The guides handed out iced drinks and we queued up to pile our plates with fish, slipper lobster, calamari, rice, chicken tamarind and coconut sauces. Nothing had ever tasted so good! The lobster was out of this world. After lunch the guides cut up a selection of local fruits for us to taste and a shot of amarula and coffee to help us digest everything. We lazed around chatting after lunch – I was sitting with a couple who owned a safari lodge on the mainland – but soon the Italian girls came and grabbed me to take me for a whirlwind spin on a catamaran.
About ten of us squashed onto the two floats to balance it out and our guide took us out to sea and back in a 15 minute round trip. We spluttered with laughter as the waves drenched us and the boat rocked dangerously from side to side. By the time we were back on firm ground I had to take a quick nap on the beach to get over it all!
At about 4pm we packed up out things and plied in the dhows again to set off back to Fumba. We were taken on a tour of a Mangrove forest on the way back. The tide was high and the guide said it would be wonderful to swim in the waters but I suppose everyone was exhausted by the sun, snorkelling and food as I was because no one volunteered.
The guides put the sails up for the way home as the sun began to sink in the sky. It was a very soothing and mesmerizing experience to glide over the waves. Even Francesca, Valeria and their two Italian stallions had fallen silent. The golden light of the sun held us in a trance until we came in to shore where our driver was waiting to take us back to Pongwe.