WORDS AND IMAGES: Submerged

Trip Start Aug 18, 2005
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Trip End Feb 20, 2006


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Friday, December 30, 2005

Bobbing up and down in warm turquoise, I am lost at sea.

About a kilometer away from shore, it suddenly seems that I can't spot any of the group with whom I had been snorkelling.

Now, for company I have only the roughly 370 species of fish in this coral reef. In fact, I've misplaced the school of people because I was so captivated with the abundance and exquisiteness of these sea creatures.

Through the prism of clear blue-green, every shape and colour emerges. Fish, like silver, gold, emerald and sapphire rockets, dart between and among coral, which resemble bulbs, globes and brains among other forms.

On this western side of Chumbe Island, they thrive in the reef sanctuary, which is up to 10-feet deep in some parts and plays host to 90 percent of all the species in the region. Its uniqueness has landed it on the UN's list of protected areas.

The small island itself is also a magnificent refuge.

Upon the fossilised coral floor, which formed after the Ice Age sea receded, grows a flourishing forest of fascinating vegetation. Only two species of animals-both shy-live here: the Ader's duiker, the world's rarest antelope, and the nocturnal coconut crab, known for climbing up trees and plummeting coconuts to the ground.

A limited number of humans at a given time are also allowed to visit the island, transported here in a one-hour choppy ride in a rickety boat. For a hefty price, they may even stay overnight in one of the seven environmentally-friendly bungalows, complete with compost toilets and rainwater showers heated by solar panels.

But all that is still a long swim away from where I am keeping afloat. I silently curse at my ineptitude for not paying more attention, especially since I have never gone snorkeling before.

With the taste of salt drying out my mouth and my desire to suppress any panic, I tell myself that I can swim to dry land if I have to.

Embarrassingly but fortunately, one of the guides sends a boat a short while later to find me before returning to pick up the others.

"You kicked too much and went too fast," he tells me after hoisting himself into the boat.

So much for my perfect first time.

Still, despite all the trouble, I secretly harbour a bout of delight from having witnessed such sanctuary in solitude.
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