As promised, below follows an account of our Eid Al Adha trip to Zanzibar:
The flight time from Dubai to Zanzibar is over 5½ hours so Brigitte and I were badly in need of stretching some legs when we arrived, albeit after a comfortable journey. We got our wish as you have to walk across the apron from the aircraft to the terminal – no buses here. The airport is a bit primitive and the immigration procedures were slightly chaotic as there were no clear directions on what to do. We had to work out which pieces of paper we had to fill in and which window to present them to. Still, with only one 737 arriving at a time, the place wasn’t overwhelmed and having acquired our visas and picked our cases out of the pile, we found our driver fairly quickly and we were on our way.
After the heat and humidity of the UAE, the more moderate climate was a welcome relief and the car’s natural air conditioning wasn’t a problem. The journey of about 90 minutes also gave us our first look at Zanzibar, at least as long as it stayed daylight. The lush greenery was wonderful to see with coconut palms, banana trees and much else. The lifestyle around us was also a stark contrast to Dubai with the ramshackle huts, carts towed by the local variety of oxen and small motorbikes everywhere. The Omanis once ruled the island and a lot of locals still dress in the Omani style. The pace of life is obviously slow.
The accommodation was at Amaan Bungalows in Nungwi and we met up with Geoff almost as soon as we arrived. After checking in and dumping suitcases we headed down for something to eat and drink. The drink turned out to be the local brew, Tusker, but the hotel menu was an uninspiring mixture of burgers and pizzas. There was one interesting exception – what would you think of “Octopus Balls”? Instead we walked 50m down the road out of the Amaan complex and found another restaurant, Langi Langi, which looked more promising. Indeed, we had an excellent grilled fish but even here the menu wasn’t without its oddities – Buddhist Pizza anyone? We had another couple for the road and went to bed.
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. In contrast to previous trips, Day 1 was not to be a diving day. Instead, we checked in at the dive centre, Spanish Dancer Divers (“we’re flexible – be here tomorrow at 8.45 or quarter to nine – your choice”), had lunch at Mama Mia (Food, Sea and Happiness), sorted our kit out and generally chilled out. There were a number of “Masai Warriors” wandering around on the beach. We later discovered they were imported from Tanzania for the season and worked 8-hour shifts trying to look authentic.
We had our evening meal at Langi Langi again. The food was again excellent but seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to arrive (poli poli is the local phrase). This was to be a feature of the trip with occasionally interesting results but on this occasion, it didn’t bother us unduly. We met the owner who turned out to be a fervent West Ham fan which makes him OK in my book though I concede, this might not be a universal view. Passing reception on the way back we chanced upon Allen and Cara who had just arrived. Their journey had taken about 4½ hours due to a diversion to one of the local bars on the way and at this point the veil will be drawn.
On Monday we got to go diving. After a breakfast at the Amaan restaurant that one might charitably describe as “spartan”, we reported to Spanish Dancers at 8.45 or quarter to nine according to choice, collected our gear and jumped on the dhow, “Kidude”. The journey out to the first dive-site, Leven Bank, took about 45 minutes. The boat captain, Agip, found the target without any assistance from GPS or echo-sounders and I’m not even sure there was a compass on board. How he manages to do this I have no idea.
Leven Bank was potentially the deepest of the dives we were to do, reaching down to 30m although in the event we went no deeper than 25m. The dive guide, Tsuma, led us around the reef which was a series of coral heads in excellent visibility, a welcome change from standard Arabian Gulf conditions. The water temperature was around 25°C which meant 3mm wetsuits for most of us. There was a great deal of biodiversity: triggerfish, filefish, butterflyfish, angelfish, damselfish to name only a few. What the dive perhaps lacked was something stand-out like a shark, a ray or a turtle. As diverse as the fish life was, it was all relatively small.
We came inshore for the second dive, “Kichafi”, on the east side of the island. This was shallower than Leven Bank and due to the tidal conditions, the visibility was extremely poor. So bad in fact, that Tsuma didn’t even find the reef straight away and we had ten minutes swimming on sandy bottom. Again, there were a lot of fish on the reef when we found it, although not as many as Leven Bank. This was a bit concerning as a lot of the dive sites were in the same vicinity as Kichafi and would they all be like this?
While we exploring the underwater world, Brigitte was investigating the locality;
Walking down the beach in Nungwi you experience the white sand, the blue sea interesting rock formations washed out by the waves, beautiful clouds, local fisherman maintaining and using their wooden boats, and of course the omnipresent beach boys trying to sell you one thing or another.
But I was also lucky to meet one of the less "commercial" locals: on my way down the beach towards the light house and the turtle conservatory I met Juma who greeted me with a friendly "Jambo", insisted to show me around and gave me a briefing on how the Zanzibar villages work. He showed me the school, explaining that it is mandatory for kids to attend until the age of 16, showed me their houses, markets, the local hospital and several small independent projects emphasizing how important it is not to be depending on the big boys in Tanzania (no love for them on the island ...). He answered all my endless questions about religion, family rules, lifestyle, tourism and trade patiently and even recommended a nice beach restaurant for dinner. Definitely an interesting afternoon :-) Thank you Brigitte for the above report.
We had a post-dive drink at Nungwi Inn, next to the dive centre, where the team was completed by the arrival of Peter and Connie, newly arrived in Nungwi. In fact, they had been in Zanzibar longer than any of us:
Connie and I arrived in Stone Town on 17th August, to look at the architecture in particular reference to one of my projects. There was absolutely no intention to enjoy ourselves [of course not, Peter😊]– though I had wanted to see Stone Town for the last forty years! Unfortunately, it all turned out to be extremely pleasurable, including a trip to the Jozani Forest to see its unique species of red colobus monkey, and a wonderful boardwalk through the mangroves (again purely for references for other Sharjah projects). We stayed in Tembo Hotel, overlooking the bay, in the same room as Mahatma Ghandi had stayed after being expelled from South Africa in the 1950’s. Thank you Peter for the above account.
After some evening cocktails at the Rooftops Z Bar, we headed for Langi Langi for dinner. Unfortunately, this wasn’t so good. Again, the food took an eternity to arrive and varied in quality from reasonable to mediocre to ‘sent back’. Quite a difference in three days. In football terms, this would be a good start, loss of concentration around half-time and ultimately a bad defeat. Coincidentally, West Ham were playing at home to Bournemouth that weekend and yes – you guessed.
On Tuesday, the first dive of the day was “Nyumba ya Kasa” which means “House of Turtles”. In fact, turtles were conspicuous only by their absence but there was a lot else: crocodile fish, various trumpet fish, cat eels, tobys, cowfish and a lot of smaller fish. There was also a blue-spotted ray on the seabed. Peter marked his arrival by being adopted by a remora. It had presumably recognized him as that rare pelagic species, Underwaterus Architectori. Fears about the visibility proved unfounded – although not as clear as Leven Bank, it was significantly better than yesterday’s dive on Kichafi.
The second dive was on Magic Reef which was very close to the dive centre, giving us a short ride home afterwards. In some ways, this was the most interesting so far. As well as the fish species previously seen, there was a frogfish, some leaf fish, scorpion fish, moorish idols, a big eye bream and a large octopus. Mike spotted another blue-spotted ray hiding under a rock.
Lunch was at the Nungwi Inn, though this was a strange experience. The staff seemed actively hostile to anyone who wanted serving and again the food was incredibly slow to arrive. Can it take 90 minutes to produce a plate of chips and a bowl of soup? Having waited patiently, Mike observed that his soup, when it finally arrived, didn’t contain the advertised noodles. His bowl was promptly whipped away, only to return a short time later with some dry noodles having been dropped in. They softened slowly in the soup while he ate. There were a number of other people in the restaurant who were equally unimpressed with the service.
Another cocktail or two at Rooftops was followed by an evening meal at Baraka Beach Restaurant, a short walk down the road. The food was excellent but yet again, very slow to arrive. By now we had concluded that this was to be the way of it around here and we might as well live with it.
On Wednesday, we swapped boats (to a fibre-glass fast boat, “Explorer”), swapped dive guides from Tsuma to a French lady, Margaux, and headed for Mnemba Atoll, a marine reserve on the south-east side of the island. This was to be the best yet in terms of visibility (amazing) and biodiversity (immense). We did two dives, one called “Kichuani” and the other called “Wattaboni”. Both were similar being coral reefs in around 15m with a drop-off to greater depths to one side. We stayed mainly shallow which was where the fish life was. The coral head that finished the first dive and started the second was particularly attractive and we stayed some time, finding all sorts of morays, leaf fish, frog fish and other exotica. The most memorable encounter was with a pod of dolphins that swam past us for a brief but exciting moment or two.
A comprehensive list of what we saw is beyond me but fortunately not beyond Cara so with a deep breath:
Morays - Mantis - Shrimp - Indian Ocean Walkman - Scorpion Fish - Stone Fish - Trumpet Fish - Dolphins - Octopus - Snake Eel - 7 Dragon Morays - 4 Geometric Morays - 3 Giant Morays - Toby's - Large shoal of Snappers - 1 pair of Goat Fish (having a fight) - Cleaner Wrasse - Large Stonefish - Nudibranches - Emperor Angel with juvenile - Semicircle Angel - Old Woman Angel - Butterflies - Threadfire Saddledlined Vagabond - Damsels - Cardinals - Moorish Idols - Triggerfish - Blackspotted Puffers - Unicornfish - Parrotfish - Porcupine Fish - Lion Fish - Ornamental & Blackspotted Sweetlips - Birdfish - Trunkfish -African Coris - Clownfish - White-Bellied Dory - Lizardfish - Soldierfish - Sergeant Majors - Yellow Trumpets - Yellow Trumpets - Giant Triggerfish - Peacock Sole - 2 White Steenbras Bream. Mantis Shrimp.
The Indian ocean walkmen are particularly interesting. They seem to be a throwback to prehistoric times as they are a fish that walks over the seabed, perhaps an indication of how life first moved on to the land.
Unlike the other dive sites which we largely had to ourselves, Mnemba is renowned as the best diving on Zanzibar and as a result, there were a large number of other boats. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself but it was a bit concerning to see the fast boats weaving around divers that were popping out of the water all over the place in singles, pairs and groups. It looked like an accident waiting to happen. One or two of the divers we encountered looked out of their depth as well. Mike and Margaux between them had to rescue one guy who was losing both buddies and fins and looked in some distress.
Post-dive was at Mangi’s Bar, next to Nungwi Inn and the evening meal was at Le Macis, a 10-minute walk outside the Amaan Bungalow complex. Both come recommended. Le Macis in particular served excellent food in reasonable time too which shows it can be done. It was also busy despite being slightly off the beaten track so we weren’t the only ones to make this discovery. For some reason Geoff became “Papa” for the evening (maybe because he was sitting head of the table) and Connie became “Mama”. This oddity aside, it was a very good evening.
Thursday was the final diving day and the party split in two. Peter and Connie requested and got a return trip to Mnemba Atoll and set off early on Explorer with their dive guide, Laurie. They saw a couple of rays, a turtle, a large pod of dolphins on the way out and a German opera singer, who I presume was a fellow diver.
The rest of us were on Kidude for a journey to Tumbatu Island on the north-west side of Zanzibar. The first dive was called “Shetani” and started almost as a wall dive before we settled down on to the reef. We saw some small sea horses, scorpion fish, damselfish, trumpetfish, angelfish and a blue spotted ribbon tail ray.
The second dive was on a smaller island north of Tumbatu called “Mwana wa mwana” meaning “baby of the baby” (look at the map). As well as most of the same fish as at Shetani, there was also some ribbon eels poking out of the sand and in the sand just off the reef, a 15cm sea horse. There was also a batfish that followed us for a little while and stared nibbling my finger at one point. Clearly, batfish are the same the world over.
What was memorable about these dives was the coral which was easily the most spectacular we had seen so far and seemed untouched by tsunamis, cyclones, global warming or anything else. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast, muting the colours somewhat but it was still a fabulous sight.
Post-dive at Mangi’s and meal at Le Macis again. Why look for anything else at this point? Afterwards Geoff, Mike, Allen and Cara headed off to investigate a local bar but no-one stayed that long.
On Friday morning, we started to go our separate ways. Brigitte and I had time to have a walk down the beach, seeing along the way a few sailfish being brought ashore from an overnight fishing trip and an interesting method of boat maintenance, basically they surround the wooden boat in palm fronds which they then set on fire. Once the fire is out, the hull has been cleaned of any barnacles or other growth.After that we took a taxi to Stone Town and had a wander round before meeting Peter and Connie for a meal at a rooftop restaurant and finally heading to the airport.
Mike, leaving early the following morning had a different experience. Mike reports;
I was at reception at 5am for the pre-booked taxi to turn up on Saturday morning. No sign of anybody and no taxi. I went looking for the gate man. Another man came out of the bushes and this time he banged on doors and woke up the night shift reception man who then called the taxi. By 5.35am I was on my way on empty roads to the airport arriving there at 7am for the 08.30 flight. Whilst queuing for security I caught sight of Peter. Upon reaching the check-in desk I was told that the flight was overbooked and there was no seat. Some protestations later and stabbing of keys got a boarding card for seat 32A which is in the last row of the plane. Upon reaching this seat it said crew seat only!
So, it was a near thing. When you have another flight to catch, being late at Dubai is not a good thing. So, in the event all went well and I was able to join Marc, Brian, Ian and Brigitte in the Wanderers for dinner and a midnight return to T3 for the London flight. The mainline trains to Norwich tend to get disrupted on a Sunday due to engineering works and this Sunday was no exception. The usual 3-hour journey took more than 5 hours and involved a bus through darkest Essex. The whole journey took 34 hours and was a tad exhausting! Thank you Mike for the above account.
And finally, from Allen and Cara (bearing in mind Allen’s day job at Qassimi Hospital):
So, it was our last day in Zanzibar, or so we thought, we decided to have a relaxing walk up the beach, few beers and a bite to eat. First two done we were about to pay bill and head for food elsewhere when Cara noticed a woman at another table being “cared for” by her friends. After some persuasion I went to see if I could offer some assistance to which I was told “no, she’s just drunk”. No sooner had I sat down to be summoned back. After a quick look, she was dragged to the sand (at which point a couple of lads thought she was being assaulted) and after a pulse check CPR commenced. Luckily, she started making some movement after 90 seconds.
After putting into the recovery position, we looked for O2 from one of the many dive operations. The first effort was a salt encrusted rusty mess. Eventually we were presented with a 6-foot O2 tank with no regulator! We got it going and then after some discussion put her on a flatbed police truck and dropped her at the local “hospital”. Let’s all be glad we didn’t need medical attention!
After giving handover, wishing her well and giving my details we headed back to Cholo’s to pay the bill, collected our bags and headed for the airport. We ate outside airport and 1 hour and 45 mins before our flight went to check in. Alas, FlyDubai had overbooked our flights. The expression “no good deed goes unpunished” immediately sprang to mind. It being Eid what should have been a 12-15 minute trip to a hotel took an hour and 15 mins not including the walk when the taxi driver gave up!
So, after a brief 7 hours in Dhow Palace hotel we were back in airport. Ironically, we were on the flight we had originally booked but had to change due to work commitments at an exceptionally high cost! So much for the chill day we had planned, but things could have been much worse. Thank you Allen and Cara for your report.
And so ends another Eid trip. Despite its occasional frustrations, we all enjoyed ourselves immensely and I’d be happy to go back. Whether we do Zanzibar again as a club is another matter. Good though the diving was at times, I think we’ve now seen most of it and somewhere fresh next year might be a better idea. Still you never know.
Thanks are due to Peter who set the whole thing up, to David and his team at Spanish Dancer Divers, in particular Shee (pronounced “Shay”) on reception, dive guides Tsuma, Margaux and Laurie, and boat captains Agip, Juma and Idi. A “Spanish Dancer” incidentally, is a type of nudibranch.
This year’s party consisted of; Mike Anthony - Cara Black - Allen Doyle - Ian Hussey - Connie Jackson - Peter Jackson - Brigitte Kerler and Geoff Patch.
Thinking of going to Nungwi? A few facts:
Getting there: From the UAE, FlyDubai is the best option although Etihad also has a flight with a stop at either Nairobi or Dar Al Salaam. From elsewhere, Qatar Airways via Doha or Oman Air via Muscat are options.
Accommodation: We stayed at Amaan Bungalows which is comfortable for the most part and with a little bit more investment and attention to detail might be a lot better. They could start with a more appealing restaurant menu. Other cheap options are available and also a couple of upmarket places such as the Hilton. Amaan is locally owned whereas the Hilton is foreign owned. The perception of at least one local man is that Amaan profits stay local whereas Hilton profits end up in Switzerland. In whose bank account he didn’t specify.
Diving: Spanish Dancer Divers come highly recommended. I can’t vouch for the quality of the other operations but there’s a lot of them, all within a short distance. Nitrox seems to be virtually unobtainable. Shee told us that even emergency oxygen can be difficult to get.
Money: Tanzanian Shillings are the local folding stuff but US Dollars are accepted at varying exchange rates. There are no ATM’s in Nungwi.
DAN insurance website: https://www.daneurope.org/home
The Dive Club meets every Tuesday night in the Dive Bar.
See you there!
Ian Hussey and Dive Club writers.