Pemba Island (Sept. 2011)
Qatar Airways brought me via Doha and Nairobi safely into Dar Es Salaam. Visa I already obtained from the embassy at home, so I was lucky to be the first guy, who got through customs and immigration. For safety reasons I had taken a yellow fever inoculation at home too, it's not mandatory for T., if you not travel through some other African country. Sometimes however Dar immigration does not ask for it, but Zanzibar officials do. From the international airport you can easily reach the domestic area with shuttle from Coastal Aviation, who are one provider for the island and safari flights. It's only a 10 min. ride just round the corner, they use the same runaway as the International. It's mostly 16 seater small one engine planes. Coastal has a baggage allowance of 15 kilo and ask you to bring soft luggage no hard case. With carry on I had 28 kilo altogether, on check in this was no problem at all. Only the luggage handling locals later insisted on 1 US $ for every kilo above 15. I paid to make sure, my suitcase is going into the right plane, better even watch, where it's going. On all the other connecting flights they never asked for a baggage surcharge. Make sure your schedule is not too tight with connecting flights, as Coastal is never on time. I nearly missed my Qatar back home, when they were 45 min. late. Via Zanzibar we flew to Pemba, approximately half an hour each leg. From Pemba Airport it's another 1.5 hours transfer up into the northern part of the island, through the town Chaka Chaka and some small villages. While Zanzibar is rather flat, Pemba has a lovely hilly landscape. We passed through Ngezi Rainforest, which is a nature park and shortly after reached Kervan Saray Beach Resort. They have 6 spacious double bungalows, one is a dorm for 6. It's a modest but very nice resort, run by “Raf” and Cisca, the owners. They have a lovely family atmosphere, all meals are held together at one big table, so it's easy to get to know your fellow divers and have a nice chat. The bungalow might be simple but is huge, the bed is on a concrete pedestal of 3 x 3 m meter with mosquito net above, bathroom outside with the sky above you. I need gluten free meals and from the start, they had a smiley face next to each “good meal” for me on the menu, very considerate of them I found. They even prepared pancakes made out of corn instead of flour for me in the morning. You can choose from two starters, often soup or salad and a main course with fish, meat, rice, pasta. mashed potatoes and vegetable, plus dessert. There is a nice area around the bar and some sort of lounge area right over the beach where you can enjoy beautiful sunsets. Malaria is not a serious problem on the islands, I just took insect repellent but no prophylaxes there. A lovely beach which stretches way down south and north is right next to the resort. On low tide you need reef shoes to get out into deep water. We had sun only partly clouded every day, water was 26 degrees C, good enough with a 5 mil. Normally they do a two tank in the morning, if you like you can do a third and even night dive. Surface interval is spent on some lovely beach with tea and fruits. Reefs are similar to those of the Maldives of the 80 ´s, a good mixture of hard and soft coral, beautiful sea mountains, bommeys, boulders, overhangs, crevices, some awesome coral gardens, vis is 40 m plus nearly endless, stunning for me to find. My favourite was Slobadans Bunker, you best ask Raf where that name comes from. I love walls, where it's tempting to go deep, hit some shelf and another wall reaching down into the deep blue. In between smaller islands you have gaps, where drift dives and encounters with pelagics are possible. We often had a big school of barracuda cruising past. They let me run on rather long leash, when they noticed, I show half a tank after 45 min of deep diving nearly running into deco – a divemasters nightmare they called me. Don't miss a trip to Masali Island, a marine protected area where you will find healthy coral reefs and good fishlife. On our way back, we had dolphins and whales on the surface. Swahili Divers use a big Zodiac with two strong engines, so you reach the dive sites in around 20 min. Besides diving it's a good idea to hike around the village, rain forest and to an old light house, you will find endemic birds, chameleon, monkeys and plenty of colourful flowers. Pemba I would visit again any time, the diving on long leash, the awesome vis, the friendly staff I enjoyed very much.
Mafia Island (Sept. 2011)
My flight schedule showed a flight via Zanzibar straight to Mafia. I was lucky, the pilot learned of this and informed me, I had to go via Dar again. It seems they only do direct flights in high season with lots of travellers going there. Mafia Lodge is inside a marine park, where they charge 20 US $ for every night/person you spend there. You need cash, which tore a considerable hole into my budget with 11 nights, no info of my travel agent on this. Mafia Lodge is a nearly luxurious resort inside a nice park and sandy beach area in the south near Utende. They offer superior or standard rooms, each overlooking the bay, fan, AC and warm water is available. A large open space with restaurant, bar and lounge invite to spend you leisure time in. As single traveller you get your own lonely table, which often is surprising me in resorts of that size and standard. What are you supposed to do while waiting for meals, write postcards, read, not exactly polite to do so. They took good care of my gluten problem and even advised which meals I could not eat. Weather was nice nice all through my stay, only one rainy day but most times a bit windy. Sea Point Divers have their center next to the beautiful beach. They use a traditional Dhow with a 40 horse power outborder as dive boat. It's a unique experience and where else in the world will you still get the chance to dive from a Dhow they told me. On the other hand it's an environmental effort, to reduce use of gas and thereby pollute with less exhaust. Thus however you need sometimes up to 45 min to dive sites inside Chole Bay which you would reach with Zodiac two engines in about 1o – 15 min. Going outside of the bay so proved to be a big problem. Choppy seas with a propeller sometimes coming above water made this nearly impossible with such a boat. Only once when it calmed down could we dive outside. I'm not quite sure if this was a real problem or manmade and some excuse to save gas. So I ended up with many dives in the bay and they soon ran out of different places to show me. One day they allowed me to guide and do some exploratory dive, where I did a triangle course finding a new small reef. Only once could we do a drift dive, which ended with 10 min. in 1.5 m shallow sea grass area. Most times they only went out, when the tide was coming in. Outgoing time would mean the risk of divers being pushed outside the bay, impossible to reach and recover with Dhow. This however meant always following the time of tide which often made us get up at 6 or even earlier to reach the place in good condition. Vis was the big disappointment on Mafia, often it was less than 5 m with lots of plankton (?) and some green yellow algae stuff floating into the bay, an environmental problem, nobody could say. Only very early in the morning we sometimes had rather good vis. Sea Point has a strange policy with their dive guides, they insist on thorough buddy check before each dive, it was rather strict and conservative briefing "don't touch, one warning, second you are out of the water”. Each had his own ideas, so no common policy with Sea Point. One guide told us never to pass him, he wanted to see half tank shown with fingers 100 bar = 10 fingers or signing 100 but not the international acknowledged sign. Another guide was happy with o.k. sign as long as you were above 100. Even a reverse profile (first one shallow, second deeper) seemed to be a problem. For me a bit of kindergarten, odd to find this with an Italian manager Laura, who are “famous” for their way of deep diving against all rules. Their rental equipment seems to be faulty, we had one woman who often complained about leaking pressure and inflator gauges and to her dismay got a different BC nearly every other day. One guy lost his regulator in 6 m, only the mouthpiece remained between his teeth, which made him abort the dive going to the surface. When his buddy pointed that fact out to the guide, he too surfaced and checked the problem. Then the whole group of experienced divers had to surface so that he can solve the problem. He would not allow us to stay in 12 m on a beautiful reef with no current waiting for him and the other guy. All the time they carried and pulled a dive buoy to the surface along with them. Most sites in the bay offer nice coral gardens with plenty of good fishlife, in between however you find big areas with rubble, purple anemones and/or sea grass. These places reach down to 16 m, most of the time you cruise around 8 to 12 m and could be fun in good vis. A good excursion they offer is Mange Reef and island, where they do a picnic on a beautiful sandy patch, no trees there at all, stunning colours inside the lagoon. With Dhow that takes 1.5 to 2 hours one way, with wind and spray sometimes a wet and cold experience. Diving there shows you how much better it's outside the bay. Healthy coral reefs with an abundance of fishlife small and medium sized in good vis are waiting for you there. Only one shark was cruising by. Once only could we go outside the bay to Dini Wall. The wall down to 26 m with canyons and crevices itself does not show much coral growth, all around however you find big stuff. We had huge groupers, napoleon wrasse, a big bunch of batfish, some tuna and jacks, 7 turtles all in great vis. Above us passing by we encountered 9 blue marlin, swimming in a row, for me and the dive guide a once in a lifetime experience. The next day we again tried to get outside, no chance however with choppy seas and a strong wind blowing. So we choose the edge of the bay with Pinnacle and Kinasi Wall, which both proved to be superb sites, good vis, awesome topography, ideal to cruise up and down into. So make sure, you choose the right season for this adventure and insist on a good mixture of outer bay and inside dives, then Mafia is a worthwhile dive destination if you prefer shallow dives to deep blue ones.