Monday, November 2, 2009

Jambo Mambo

After an uncomfortable overnight ferry ride we disembark in the small port town of Mkoani on the northern island of Pemba. Immediately we feel we are in a different world. Gone are the tourists, hawkers, and crowded streets. We are the only wazungu here and are thankful not to hear any yells for "taxi! hotel! boat ride!". When a man approaches us and says he'll walk us to the Jondeni Guesthouse we are grateful since our guidebook only states it is "on the main road". At the small hostel the kind and helpful manager greets us as if we are the first guests in weeks.

We walk into town along a tarred road which seems out of place for a town where most people travel on foot. We pass the fish market area near the port where in low tide people linger long after the main catch has arrived, digging for clams or cleaning boats. I am especially careful to wear a long skirt and long sleeves here as not a strand of hair or even an elbow is revealed from the local women. We walk down the shoreline in front of small huts where everyone waves, especially children who stare and yell "Jambo!" We return the hello and wave. We walk past a couple's house where the wife is cooking on an open fire and the husband joins us on the beach to practice his English. Walking back through the market area I suddenly hear "Temple!". No, that can't be, I think, and then recognize our hotel manager Mzee. He is likely picking out our dinner for that evening. Knowing we are interested in a beach he tells us to follow the main road past the hotel, down the hill then up and down another, take a left at the soccer pitch and we'll find a nice one. We thank him and quickly set out.

We pass by many houses made of mud and sticks where women dressed in colorful patterns and men in modern clothing keep busy in the afternoon heat. They stare at us suspiciously before we say "Jambo" and they smile and greet us. "Karibu." Welcome. "Mambo?" How are you? "Poa" Good. We continuously exchange these greetings during the walk. The kids scream in excitement at the sight of us and at one point a group follows us down the street laughing and yelling.

Soon we are greeted by Juma, a young local boy who speaks some English. We ask if we we're going in the right direction for the beach. He says yes and begins to lead us. He points out a short cut and suddenly we're off the main road, walking through thick lush jungle with clove farms interspersed. Cloves are the primary industry on Pemba island. Since I have no idea what a clove plant looks like, I'm glad when Juma hands me a bloom and says "clove". He points to other plants and tells us which ones to smell, just like a pro. It starts to rain after ten minutes and Juma points to a cement shelter rather randomly sitting in the middle of someone's farm. "Wait or beach?" he asks. For the camera's sake we decide to wait and the peaceful downpour ends as quickly as it began. Only a few steps further and we are at a small sliver of a beach in the lagoon with not a soul in sight. A rickety dhow sits in the turquoise water and we enjoy the reward of our long hot trek. On the way back we thank Juma and return to Jondeni. That night we eat fresh fish and watch from the porch as the sun sets in the bay.

The following day it's go time once again. Our first hour or so is spent in a minibus to Chake Chake, the main town of Pemba Island. In the dusty square of Chake Chake you can get to most towns on the island by dalaa dalaas which are pick up trucks with benches lining the bed and a makeshift roof for cargo. Drivers wait until people are packed in like sardines before heading off. Soon enough the 602 dalaa dalaa to Konde shows and we are some of the first in. We sit in the front of the flat bed pressed against the cabin. Our packs are tied on top along with bicycles, huge bags of wheat and other luggage. Another fifteen people join us before we set off and at lest ten more passengers are picked up along the way. Babies and old women squeeze in close while some of the men stand on the back bumper holding on. People engage in pleasant conversation, I coo at the adorable baby to my left and, somehow, Clay takes a nap. An hour and a half later we arrive in Konde. It's the smallest town we've seen yet and we find a ride through the Ngezi Forest Reserve on a five kilometer mud road with small lakes in the middle of it. We arrive 20 minutes later at the Kervan Saray Beach, home of Swahili Divers.

The place is secluded on an incredible beach just minutes from some of the most pristine diving in the world. This place was on my list early on but Clay never thought he'd try scuba diving. With no convincing from me, he figured if he ever tries it this is the place. He signs up for a discovery dive which is done in close proximity to a Dive Master and requires no certification. I am excited and nervous for him. The next morning, watching him practice the skills in the pool with a Brit couple who were also discover divers, I remember the unnatural and scary feeling of breathing underwater for the first time. I am very proud of his courage to try something that he had said from the beginning did not appeal to him.

Clay goes with the discover divers and I, reluctant to leave him, go down with another group. The views are incredible. We don't see the sharks or dolphins of South Africa but the colors and varieties of coral are astounding. Our first dive is along a wall of coral that falls incredibly deep. There are beautiful parrot fish, puffer fish, anemone fish, lion fish, starfish, sea cucumbers and moray eels. On the second dive at Manta Point we see more beautiful coral and when the sun breaks through the water everything glows.

After the excitement of diving, we get a ride to Konde and take a minibus instead of the dalaa dalaa back to Chake Chake. The next day we take a flight back to the Tanzanian mainland, another thrill. We take off from the small Pemba airport in an 12 seat airplane from which we see the beautiful green island surrounded by thick coral reef stretch out below us.

1 comment:

foster said...

This is my new favorite - so many beautiful boats! and the one with the colorful nets!! You really captured the people and daily life, too. I just wonder if they know their island looks like an electric guitar...