“Island?” I grumbled through crackin’ eyes. “Yeah, sure.”
I rose slowly to my feet, completed the morning’s regular routine and we headed out in the cab he had arranged along with Stephi, a marine biologist by trade.
We reached Menai Bay, a marine conservation park without any resort hotels destroying the beach views. The hour-long drive through torrential rains had us in a sleepy fishing village just as the rain stopped. Even the sun came out to greet us.
It seemed that Africa’s rainy season was chasing me through each country, starting from Zambia. I didn’t mind. Saved me showering.
We hopped on a motorised dhow that chugged us towards Nyememve Island where Rahim had been contracted to build a restaurant. The island was a mini jungle of small trails, coconut crabs, sand crabs, some birds and thick shrubbery – a rock out in the bay surrounded by reef.
The dhow dropped us off on the island’s sandbank and continued to other islands where the Minister for Land Survey went to conduct his surveys (as in, collect bribe money). We explored the jungle but the heat of the day was getting to me. After walking for about half an hour through the shaded jungle, I was ready to hit the water.
We suited up with fins and masks and swam out. I came across some sea grass and a blanket of sea urchins. Visibility wasn’t at its best as I dived down a bit and suddenly, there in the grassy bed, a snowflake moray eel was hunting the crab holes. I froze, floating, watching at a respectful distance as it slid through the grass and attacked into the holes until it found one and eventually disappeared through it. It had either taken on a crab that had other plans rather than being eaten or it had found a new home.
I snorkeled on, noticing small clutters of reef spread along the grass. Within a hundred years it’ll be providing life for the abundance of tropical fish, starfish and anemones that were already claiming real estate.
The water was warm and after about an hour, I swam back to the island, spotting two cuttle fish flashing colours as they swam a mating ritual. Along with Stephie we had a snack and went off to explore the other side. A large storm brewed and coloured the horizon grey over Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island.
I was surprised to discover that the water was much colder on this side. Visibility seemed to be cloudier. I dived down and found more fields of sea grass and sea urchins until I came across a 200-year-old yellow porites which is a genus of stony coral, characterised by a finger-like morphology.
On its top was a large hole blocked by a giant moray eel. I couldn’t see the head as I dived down and swam carefully around as morays are notoriously aggressive, territorial and have teeth that would make a vampire jealous.
With the water becoming murkier I decided to head back to the sand bank just as the dhow appeared and picked us up. We returned to Unguja to try and get some octopus for dinner at the local fish market which is auction based but we missed out.
I noticed a local scrubbing three small octopi in the sand.
“What are you doing that for?” I asked curiously.
“It softens the flesh,” he answered, allowing me to take a photo.
Huh, maybe I should try it on my sunbaked flesh.