Zanzibar: Jambo Safari Blue

I’m not a particularly strong swimmer. And I like having control of a situation. No surprise then that snorkelling isn’t high on my list of thing to do. But I’ll admit to being the victim of the modern-day curse: FOMO – fear of missing out. We got the hard sell. GG’s childhood friend Bulu suggested we do Safari Blue. I was less than enthusiastic. I remembering DF putting the heart crossways in me years ago in Hawaii. Snorkelling for the first time and holding my own, I’d just seen a gigantic eel, no doubt magnified by my goggles (something I only found out happens on this trip). Not sure I’d seen the beast, she came up behind me and tapped me on the leg. I gave the dolphins some competition that day – though admittedly my leap from the water wasn’t nearly as graceful.

I wear prescription glasses. Without them, life is a little hazy. Adding poor sight to the mix really doesn’t bode well for snorkelling, but I was tempted by the thoughts of sailing on a dhow and the promise of a  fish lunch to fry for.

We went with Safari Blue, the oldest company offering such trips around the islands. They’ve been in operation since 1995/1996 and many others have copied their formula (to be expected). If you want the real thing, you’ll know them by their distinctive yellow and blue t-shirts.

Fourteen of us boarded the motorboat out to the dhow: Russian, French, Goan, and Irish. I was amused  to see some in full make-up (?)  and impressed by their tireless dedication to getting the best selfie possible. Our crew of four could tell some stories!

They were very patient with me. One of them stayed with me all the time I was in the water even though I had both a lifejacket and a ring. It really was magical. Not so much the fish as the underwater garden full of coral and plants – that I could have wandered through all day.

Lunch on a sandbar was a buffet with prawns, slipper lobster, and tuna paired with roast chicken, lentils, and coconut curry. All you could eat, and more. This was followed by a lovely introduction to local fruit. It was my first time eating jackfruit and my last time sucking on sugarcane. I think it was a first time for fresh coconut, too.

The traders had set up shop and not for the first time I wondered why more emphasis isn’t placed on difference. Everything is the same. Nothing new. If you’ve seen one shop, you’ve seen them all. Everyone misses out. When in Stone Town we only bought from those supporting local initiatives for women and young girls. That somehow justified the spend. Even the Masai shops were more of the same. It was a bit surreal to see Masai checking on his cattle using his smartphone. But I digress.

After lunch, we visited a lagoon to see the coral reefs and then anchored by another sandbar for a swim. On the way back, we got word that dolphins had been sighted, so all the Safari Blue boats in the ‘hood made a beeline for the same spot and the dolphins, like the tortoise on Prison Island and the monkeys in Jozani Park, played to the gallery.

I’ve been on and seen more boats in the last five days than in the last five years. All sorts of shapes and sizes. They add hugely to the horizon and are very creative with their names.

Two things struck me each time we were on the water. The first was the number of plastic bottles we had tracking our path. In what world is it ever right to toss empty bottles overboard? Or leave them on the beach to be washed out to sea?

Alongside the bottles came the lost shoes and sandals. Check out what Ocean Sole is doing with these flip-flops:

Bottom line is though, people need to cop on and stop throwing stuff in the water or leaving stuff behind them on the beach. It just ain’t right. But to change people’s behaviour might well take a miracle, and a miracle was what I thought I saw more than once.

The waters are deceptively shallow around Zanzibar. The tides ebb and flow quickly this time of year. Hundreds of metres from land I saw people who looked from a distance as if they were walking on water when what they were really doing was picking mussels.

It was a long day, but a good one. The sun was hot and the water was bath-warm at times. The food was excellent; I’m a jackfruit convert. The fish and the dolphins played along, too. Everything co-operated.

I’m sure you can find plenty of people offering such excursions, but if you want the original, you want Safari Blue. $70 per head. It’s worth it for the lunch alone.

PS Jambo is Swahili for Hello – not to be confused, I’m told, with Jamba – Swahili for fart.


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