Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ups and Downs in Paradise

Day 42: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Yesterday was our first full day on Zanzibar, and we all split up to do separate activities. I decided to go snorkeling with green sea turtles in a natural lagoon with my tent buddy, Tom, a guy named Olly, and a girl named Jess. The four of us were apprehensive about plunging into the water with such huge creatures, but our guide assured us the turtles would not bite. It was amazing to be surrounded by these majestic animals, but it was startling when a turtle would swim up underneath me so that I was standing on its slick shell. The turtles also seemed fond of swimming towards me underwater and then suddenly sticking their heads out to look me directly in the eyes just inches from my face. Despite our guide's insistence on the turtles being "vegetarian," both Jess and Tom managed to receive innocent nips from one of the friskier turtles.

Snorkeling with green sea turtles, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Snorkeling with green sea turtles at the Baraka Natural Aquarium, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Sunset cruise, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Emily, Alex, Tom, and me on a sunset cruise off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania
In the afternoon, about ten of us opted to go on a sunset "booze cruise." To get on the boat, we had to wade out into the sea and climb a ladder onto the deck. The crew unfurled the sail and the wind carried us swiftly through the deep turquiose waves. Every time the boat turned, the strong wind tipped us sideways so far that the low side almost dipped below the waterline – one time, we actually did, and water sloshed over the side until we tipped back upright. The crew kept instructing us where to sit to best balance the boat. The drinks were strong – practically half vodka – so I only had a couple, but the whole experience was a lot of fun. Upon returning to shore, I spent the rest of the evening at the beach bar, enjoying cocktails with my friends and amusedly watching the drunken dancing that lasted into the night.

This morning I walked down to the beach, waded out into the water, and climbed into the same boat from the cruise yesterday. This time, I was going on a snorkeling trip to an area near Mnemba Atoll off the east coast of Zanzibar. The ocean was quite choppy, and we were headed directly into the swelling waves. As we climbed to the top of each wave, it was reminiscent of a theme park ride as we edged over the peak and splashed with full force into the valley of water below, repeating the undulation again and again with the relentless onslaught of surging waves. It was fun at first, but after a while the endless swaying and rocking caused most people on the boat to feel seasick. It took over two hours to finally reach our snorkeling site, and it was to everyone's dismay that the crew informed us that we could not land on the nearby beach due to the rough water. At least it was still calmer than it had been in deeper water. We headed for a group of other dive boats in the crystal clear sea near Mnemba Atoll and dropped anchor. This was the spot.

Resort near Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania © Matt Prater
A resort near Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Boat near Mnemba Atoll, Zanzibar, Tanzania © Matt Prater
A boat near Mnemba Atoll off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania

Snorkeling near Mnemba Atoll, Zanzibar, Tanzania © Matt Prater
Snorkeling near Mnemba Atoll off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania
Mostly recovered from my queasy stomach, I prepared my mask, snorkel, and flippers and jumped into the refreshing swimming-pool-colored water. I was immediately shocked by the strong current. The waves, although they appeared gentle from the boat, surged continuously into my snorkel. My shoddy mask also did little to keep the water out. I managed to spot a few fish but quickly became concerned by the potential danger of the situation and swam back. Luckily there was a rope that I could use to pull myself against the current back to the boat. Most people were back in the boat within ten minutes, quite upset by the fact that we were not warned about the unfavorable conditions. A few people who had been pulled by the current towards the deep blue ocean were thrown life preservers and reeled back in. At this point, everyone was feeling like the day was completely wasted, and we just wanted to return to our hotel. Because of the choppy conditions, we were served lunch on the boat instead of the island beach, which was tantalizingly close. We were all dreading the two hour return journey, and I was lucky enough to sleep through most of it. In the late afternoon, we finally reached dry land. We later complained about our experience and were able to compromise on a price of $15 each for the trip. Of course, I am not happy about paying anything at all for five hours of feeling seasick and two dreadful minutes snorkeling, but I suppose the captain and crew had to be reimbursed for the equipment rental and food. Nevertheless, the trip should have just been cancelled if the conditions were bad.

After resting for a bit after such an arduous experience, I slowly regained my appetite, and dinner made my lingering disappointment fade away. Pumpkin coconut soup, Indonesian noodles with prawns, and Zanzibar spice cake with a cream sauce proved to be an exquisite end to a mostly lousy day.

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