I had read a lot about swimming with dolphins and the best way seemed to be to organise a trip on your arrival. This was easy to do as Goasis arranged it for us. After a healthy breakfast of eggs and fruit, we were on the road by 6am. We arrived at Kizimkazi beach at 8am but that was cutting it fine. One man gave us flippers and goggles (and I requested a life jacket) and then we headed to the boats in the sea.
The fishing boat was tiny, fairly rusty with a detachable motor. I don’t normally get sea sick, in fact I’ve never been sea sick, but my god did I feel rough on that boat! It was an old fishing boat, with thin wooden planks nailed across it for seats. We sailed for what felt like an hour towards a group of boats in the middle of the sea.
My only other experience of seeing dolphins in the wild is when I visited my best friend from school who moved to Ireland. Hannah lives in Kerry, just a short drive to Dingle and the lovely Funghi the dolphin. Funghi swam into Dingle Harbour about 30 years ago and has never left. I have visited Dingle (and Funghi) twice and both times, the dolphin swam happily alongside the boats. In Zanzibar, it was quite different.
One minute we were clinging on to our wooden plank benches to prevent being flung overboard and the next our guide yelled, “Get your flippers, go, go, go!”. The first few times this was quite shocking, but we eventually got used to the sudden shouts telling us to get in the sea by leaping over the side of the boat and floating around not really sure what was going on! We heard yells to look down. The first few jumps, we saw nothing. On one occasion, my flipper got stuck and I was separated from the other girls. Although I was hugely irritated at the time, especially as the boat almost sailed off without me, I later felt very glad of this as the other girls were all stung by jellyfish. The climb back on to the boat was exhausting; you have to yank off your flippers whilst still in the sea and climb a very rusty ladder with the help of one of the men on the boat pulling you up.
Vicky described Africa as a place that exhausts you and takes every ounce of energy from you, and then it rewards you with something so breathtakingly wonderful that all is forgiven and you remember how beautiful the continent is. This was one of these moments.
By now, many people on the boat had abandoned their flippers that got stuck on the boats on your way out, the snorkels that filled with water as the sea was so choppy and the life jackets that didn’t do up and obscured your vision as they floated around you. Incidentally, I insisted on keeping the latter on! Still, one more shuffle to the edge of the boat, one more dive into the sea and one more deep breath to look down…
There they were.
Not more than five metres below me in the misty sea, was a pod of six silvery bottle-nosed dolphins swimming together through the waves. They swam beautifully along and I remember one spinning around looking up at me as he glided towards the bottom of the sea and out of sight. I snapped away on my ActiveCam without so much as aiming or thinking. I watched them for as long as my breath would allow until I had to take another gulp of air. When I looked back down, they were gone.
It was a strange experience as it was exhausting, filled with jellyfish stings and scratches from the rusty ladder. The boat ride back to shore was worse than the one there; my stomach was tense, my vision blurred and my hands cold and clammy. But the sight of those dolphins frolicking around in the deep blue sea, streaming effortlessly through the deep has remained a vivid, unforgettable image in the pictures of my mind.
Unfortunately I have no photos of the dolphins as I managed to format my camera. Three times. For anyone who doesn’t know, format means delete. I learnt this the hard way!!!