We still had two weeks of traveling to do before our big Kili hike and safari, so we decided we would make our way to the islands for some R&R. We left Loshoto after a short two-night stay (we were tired of the haggling and hiking was only so/so) and caught a shuttle to Tanga, a town along the coast of Tanzania. The shuttle ride was another interesting experience-a small van with about 50 unwashed passengers, some chickens, couple of baskets of fruit, etc. We were shoved into the very back row of seats with about four other people, one of them just so happen to be car sick and vomited the entire three hours. Luckily he had a plastic bag, but as he hopped off of the shuttle at his designated stop, he threw the bag of vomit on the floor which of course spilled opened and splattered all over the bottom of Christy’s back pack. Oh, the joys of public transportation in Africa.
From Tanga, an uneventful town, we booked a flight on a teeny tiny ten passenger plane to the island of Pemba. We arrived of course without any hotel reservations, etc., just a plan for scuba diving and beach relaxing. We were quickly informed that scuba diving was very costly and there weren’t many beaches on the island of Pemba, let alone resorts to stay in. There are a few shoddy guest houses and two really swank hotels that we could not afford, but Steve had done some research and found a promising scuba diving outfit that also had just built a “new resort” on one of the only stretches of beach in Pemba. So, we set off for the place known as Swahili Divers, which of course was on the complete opposite side of the island from the airport and would cost us half of the very small amount of money we brought with us just to pay the taxi. There are no ATM’s on Pemba…and no electricity for that matter, those who have it run off of generators…so we prayed Swahili Divers would take credit cards! Our taxi driver was a sweet old man who had lived on the island most of his 60 plus years and had only been off the island to visit the neighboring island of Zanzibar. That’s it. He’s never been anywhere else. Anyway, we were only a few minutes into the drive when pieces of his car, which was a decent car, started falling off. No bother, he would stop the car, throw it reverse, pick up the part, put it back on and off we went. This happened a few times with the headlight cover and finally he pounded it on so hard that the thing dented and stuck into place. The drive across the island was beautiful and all in all took around an hour and a half. We passed through one “town” along the way, which was considered the capital and that’s it. Not much happening on Pemba. Our driver had never been to Swahili Diver’s new beach location so of course didn’t know the road very well. Needless to say, he was driving entirely too fast down a dirt road and didn’t notice the huge ruts in the road, so the car essentially bottomed out and we were stuck. We then spent the next 20 minutes digging and pushing the car to get it unstuck. That’s first class traveling when you have to dig out your own hired taxi.
Swahili Divers turned out to be a God-send. We arrived without reservations which was a huge risk since accommodation on Pemba is slim to none. But, they had room for us and put us up in our own huge bungalow. The place was brand new and still being built, so not all of the kinks were worked out just yet, but it didn’t matter to us. We had a huge bed, a cool looking outdoor shower, and dinner on the table. Emma, the manager, was extremely good to us and helped us settle in nicely. She introduced us to her companion Stuart who would be our dive master for our scuba diving. Both are originally from Zimbabwe and we had some amazing and very educating discussions with both of them about their homeland. It’s incredibly sad to hear what has happened to a country that was once one of the most thriving countries in Africa.
As for the scuba diving, all I have to say is AMAZING! Probably some of the best scuba diving we have ever done. Visibility was fantastic, the coral so beautiful and bright and the numerous fish…just awesome! Swahili Divers had their very own Dhow boat, so we were never crowded or diving with people we didn’t know. It was like having an ocean all to ourselves. The only down side would be the amount of sea urchins. We always had to walk across the coral in the morning to board the boat because of the low tide, which meant stepping over sea urchins. Sometimes if the water is a little deep it’s hard to see exactly where the urchins are-they appear to be all around you since water tends to magnify things. At one point while crossing the water, Christy froze in place and shouted that she didn’t want to move because she couldn’t tell where the sea urchins where. So, I impatiently told her to hold on to my shoulder an I would guide her and I groveled that there were no sea urchins where we were walking…then I immediately stepped on one. I had about five or six quills sting the side of my ankle. Christy, however escaped unharmed and she loves to make fun of me.
Our stay on Pemba just happened to be during the Thanksgiving holiday and so we were feeling a little homesick. The staff found out that we were missing a huge turkey dinner and though they didn’t have turkeys on Pemba, they had chickens. So, for dinner, we had fried chicken and french fries. That was close enough for Steve and I, so we chowed down our “African” Thanksgiving feast. A few hours later, Christy woke up with a terrible stomach ache. She made a bee line for the bathroom where the lovely African Thanksgiving dinner decided to come back up. She was sick for hours and continued having terrible stomach cramps into the next day. There were a few other guests who also got sick…must have been the chicken. She didn’t eat much for days, even after we left Pemba and headed for Zanzibar. Still, she was able to ralley and enjoy some great scuba diving over the next couple of days.
We had a great time on Pemba, mostly due to the staff of Swahili Divers. They made us feel like we were old friends and we have some great memories thanks to them!