I had truly left Moshi and the Kilimanjaro region with little in the way of expectations and our drive to the shore had been a real adventure for me, traversing regions of this wonderful country that I had never seen before. Our journey the evening before had also been a wonderful drive through an increasingly more tropical landscape that provided an excellent clue of our final destination for the sun had long since set by the time of our arrival. I had been given my own bungalow, or banda (not to be confused with the form of Mexican music but rather a thatched hut in Africa), for the night and had slept quite soundly with the gentle sound of the ocean and thankful lack of mosquitos that were fended off by the netting that hung over me. I had planned an early rising to check out the sunrise here and, given that I hadn’t even seen my surroundings yet, I arose with the anticipation of actually seeing where we had been deposited after our six plus hour trip the day prior.
My banda sat on the beach only yards from the water and though there was still plenty of time before sunrise, there was more than enough light for me to see and verify that we were actually on the Indian Ocean, with its broad expanse of bright blue water stretching far to the east. I had pictured this moment in my mind during the night, but stepping out onto the sand and having it right there in front of me was a sight to behold. I was on a lovely tropical beach with nary a soul to be seen and the soft sand felt quite cool between my toes in the waning hours of dawn. I was certain now that that we had truly arrived in paradise and the following days would only serve to further that conviction. I wandered down to the water with my camera (which took all of about 10 seconds or less) and watched as the soft glow of the rising sun first lit the horizon and the clouds above in wonderful muted hues of orange and yellow, while still not fully declaring itself to the world at hand. Almost reluctantly taking a peek from the distant lands it had brightened only moments earlier, it then began to slowly rise with a concert of colors and then an explosion of light in only a matter of minutes. It was a sight to behold.
With the gradual parade of daylight, I began to notice all of the small boats that were slowly coming home after their night at sea. These were the lights I had seen the night before that were far off in the distance scattered across the dark horizon that was only marked by their presence. I came to discover that these were the sardine fisherman who spend the entire night on the water in their rickety boats, illuminated by large lights hung over the sides to attract the tiny fish soon gathered up by their nets. I grabbed my camera and decided to stroll up the beach to where they were all coming ashore and the residents of the tiny town were meeting them to offload their silvery cargo. It seemed as though absolutely everyone was out on the beach that morning to claim their portion of the catch (which I later learned was purchased by the women who would cook and package the sardines for sale at the market) and numerous cooking pots were set up for them to cook the tiny fish after sorting the gigantic piles into the sardines and any other unfortunate critters that may have accidently been swept up in all the commotion. It was a family affair as children were there pitching in with the duties, that is, when they were not running around and playing with each other. I strolled amongst the groups, with mostly woman doing the work, all dressed in the marvelously colorful patterns that I have so come to love about Africa, for it almost defines a great part of the culture here.
I spent a good hour there just taking in all the sights of this incredible village and it’s lovely people, not once feeling as though I was an outsider, though knowing full well that I was. Thankfully, this is not a touristy place as there are few resorts here and most of them cater to the ex-pats living in Arusha or Moshi. This is not an easy place to find or to get too, so I was very comfortable knowing that we were well off the beaten track and that those who come here do so very intentionally just for that reason. I had Leonard to thank for introducing me to such a magical place and I looked forward to exploring more of it over the next several days for we had only just arrived.
The sun had now fully engaged with the coming day and its intensity was something to behold as it began its steady climb in the sky. As much as this natural clock had let me know that the day was now upon us, my own internal clock began to chime with hunger pangs and I was definitely ready for some breakfast, or at the very least, a good cup of coffee. The sun was now well into the sky, but the temperature remained incredibly delightful as I wondered over to the little restaurant/bar that would serve as our dining area for the next several days. It was a small, thatched roof building that was open on the ocean side (again, only yards away) and, in addition to the six or so small tables and accompanying chairs, there was a bar and a cooler packed with beers. As we had discovered the night before, the locals from the nearby village and homes would suddenly appear from the surrounding dark to enjoy the evening together and even some dancing. They also dropped in throughout the day to socialize and catch up on any local gossip or news.
I sat down at one of the tables with my book in hand and no real expectation of any service until the others had awakened, but as soon as I sat, both Enoch and Amina, our hosts, seemed to appear out of the shadows (in reality, they were in the little kitchen building next door) and ask me if I’d like some breakfast. As all who know me, that is not a question that needs to be asked of me more than once (as Jon Rosenberg will gladly attest too, I am certain). They took my order for eggs, brought me some coffee in a big thermos (the standard here) and went back to the kitchen to begin working on breakfast for me. What appeared after a short time was, in reality, a feast fit for a king that included eggs, toast, fresh juice, hot peppers (very hot!), and more fresh fruit than you can possibly imagine. It was all incredible and, after I had finished, I just sat and relaxed with my book (King Leopold’s Ghost – highly recommended book on the atrocities committed in the Congo by the King of Belgium at the turn of the century) and continued to work on the thermos of coffee that seemed to be calling my name. Pure, unadulterated bliss in paradise.
As we were on absolutely no timetable here, it mattered not when the others finally appeared, but they eventually did and made their way to breakfast for an equally filling feast as I had enjoyed while I continued to relax with my book. Not far off our beach was Maziwe Island Marine Preserve that is a popular snorkeling site as there is a reef that surrounds the island and no scuba diving is allowed to further protect the reef from becoming a popular dive site and risking damage. I had wanted to visit the preserve, so we had spoken the night prior with one of the local guides who had offered to take me snorkeling at the island and I was pretty certain he would be looking for me in the late morning once the temperature had climbed from pleasant to warm. As expected, he arrived sometime around 11 am looking for me so we could head out to the island with plenty of time to snorkel in the afternoon. I had anticipated that I would be going out on my own and was surprised when Leonard, Simon and Jones told me that they would be joining us for the trip to Maziwe as I knew that none of them could swim so they certainly wouldn’t be joining us in the water. The journey to the island was about 45 minutes and was delightful given the incredible panorama that lay before us heading out to sea. At one point, there was nice sized group of dolphin that cruising along behind us in the distance and as we swung around to follow them, they quickly disappeared and resurfaced some distance away. None of the others had ever seen anything like it, so it was surely a thrill for them to see these amazing creatures leaping out of the water even if it was not right in front of us.
Maziwe Island, a small speck of sand that barely peeked above the surface of the ocean, has been devoid of vegetation for many years, but could still be spotted many miles away and served as a beacon by which we could easily navigate. The closer we came, the more brilliant the color of the water surrounding the island became until we were upon it and in the middle of a turquoise sea all around. We beached our little boat and unloaded the water for the others along with a tarp that we set up for them to sit under while we were out snorkeling. By now, the sun was dead overhead and quite hot so it would only be safe for them to wait for us in this manner with plenty of fluids to drink. I loaded back into the boat with the guide and his assistant and we left to head to the reef which was only a short distance and surrounded us completely. The water was crystal clear with the bottom easily visible below us as I put on my fins and mask and dropped into the water rolling backwards while holding onto my mask as I had learned so many years ago. As I cleared my snorkel and took my first look down towards the reef, I could hardly believe my eyes at the hundreds and thousands of colorful fish that inhabited this reserve, many by themselves, some in pairs and some in larger schools, but all with the single mission of scouring the reef in search of food. The only regret that I had was that I didn’t have my underwater camera (that I had bought for the Galapagos Islands several years ago) so that I have no way of sharing with you the immense beauty of this place.
In addition to the fish, there were giant sea slugs lumbering along the bottom and giant clams that were nearly a foot across with the most iridescent of blue frills that guarded their rippled opening and would quickly close as I waved my hand above them. They were spectacular. I dove and dove, constantly looking for more unique specimens and finding them every time. On one dive, I found a very large stingray half buried in the sand and half hidden by some rocks, though his easily identifiable tail was more than enough to give him away. The countless species of fish were more than enough to overwhelm anyone for I had never seen so many in one place before even with many dives in the Caribbean. It was tiring to be out for so long bobbing on the surface, constantly dropping below the surface to every nook and cranny, and after more than an hour of doing so, I was pretty pooped and out and ready for a break. While lifting myself into the boat, though, as there was no ladder or steps for entry (this was a very rustic fishing boat and not a dive boat, mind you), I unfortunately slammed my ribs onto the gunwale. Not wanting to say anything as it was pretty darn embarrassing, I simply rode back to the island not entirely sure whether I had merely bruised my ribs or broken them, but when it came time to go out for more snorkeling, I politely said that I had seen enough (not true), was actually exhausted from the first dive (which was true), and didn’t want the others to have to wait any longer for me on the island (partly true). We packed up the tarp that the others had been sitting under and loaded all of the water back on the boat to start our journey home. I must admit that I wasn’t feeling quite as spry as I had been on our way out given even the subtle bouncing of the boat and the subsequent nights were a literal pain to get comfortable in bed as those of you who have injured your ribs in the past will recognize (I have done so skiing in the past), but it was still a great adventure to Maziwe, all the same, and a visit I won’t forget.
It was time to relax after we returned, but first it was time for a quick lunch of fresh fish cooked by our favorite cook, Enock. Later in the afternoon, the fisherman began to come by with their catches of the day and for us to pick out what we wanted to eat for dinner that night. One of the fish, which we all seemed to agree was a cobia, though I’m not entirely certain any of us knew for sure, was quite large, and Leonard decided to purchase the fish to bring home with us when we left which meant that we’d have to find an ice chest and then some ice before heading home in a few days. Then, to my heart’s desire, a fisherman came by with a number of spiny lobsters for sale. Needless to say, I absolutely love lobster! Leonard and Simon weren’t quite so sure they were willing to eat it as they had never tried it in the past and were quite suspicious of these strange looking creatures. Jones had tried it before and knew how good it was, so I purchased four of them to add to our fish and Enock agreed to cook them for us. For those who are familiar with spiny lobsters, they are missing the huge front claws we know so well on the Atlantic lobsters, but are what are found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Their tails, though, are just as tasty as their relatives.
Dinner was another feast of fish and lobster and Enock has outdone himself with the meal. The lobsters had been steamed perfectly and I think I ate 2 ½ of the tails to Jones’s 1 ½ while we did convince Leonard and Simon, who were quite happy with their fish, to try several bites, but neither would attack an entire tail on their own. It was a great end to an incredible day and we all looked forward to Monday.