Sunrise over sea, snorkelling with lions & Maasai hosts

Life really has been a beach of late. We arrived in Zanzibar intending to stay five days; two weeks later we finally dragged ourselves away. It is an island that can quite simply be described as paradise and I loved every minute of our white sand, palm fringed, tropical breeze existence. After wandering the streets of Stone Town, we made our way to the east coast to a beach called Matemwe where the waves crashed on the outer coral reef and the sand was so white it was like talcum powder. We met up with new-found friends from our safari and headed out on a dug-out canoe to go snorkelling on the reef. The colours were spectacular, the water so turquoise it was almost luminous.

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We were joined by a couple of English friends we’d picked up along the way for Kirsty’s final night – a giant punch party complete with tropical juices and local gin. The tiny restaurant that was hosting us soon cleared out as we moved back the tables and danced to the ‘Jambo Jambo’ CD Kirsty had bought in Dar. We danced and drank our punch under the stars and it was a wonderful farewell to an amazing friend. We tearfully put Kirsty on the ferry the next day, trying to get our heads around the fact that the three musketeers were now down to two.

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More time in paradise was urgently needed.

We spent most of our time at a spectacular beach further down the coast called Paje – aka Paradise. I’m not sure it means that but it should. I’ve never been anywhere so breathtaking and lying under palm fringed umbrellas on the beach having massages from local women and sipping gin and tonics with the sweetest Zanzibari limes I’ve ever tasted was heaven. I managed to find a guitar from the local Rasta guys and sat on the beach writing a song as the local children came and danced before me, swaying in the sand. I couldn’t help but smile.

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Our final morning in paradise we dragged ourselves out of bed to watch our final sunrise over sea. The horizon was cloudy but the sun broke through and it was a fitting end to our time on Zanzibar. I realised, yet again, that as much as I love to travel to new and different places, I really am a beach girl at heart and our time along the coast, swimming in the Indian Ocean was where my soul felt at peace. However, we tore ourselves away from water, jumped on a ferry back to the mainland, crashing over giant waves through the afternoon storm that hit.

Yet another day-long bus trip brought us from Dar es Salaam to Mombasa on the south east coast of Kenya. Which, I found out as we were driving onto the car ferry, is an island. Mombasa is the main port for East Africa and I’ve since found out why – the island of Mombasa serves as a natural harbour, sheltering the ships that come from far and wide, bringing goods from around the world to eastern Africa. Most of Uganda’s imports used to come from Mombasa until an argument over the fishing rights of a tiny island in Lake Victoria caused a falling out and now Uganda’s imports travel miles across bumpy roads from Dar. Hard to get your head around the logistics of being a land-locked country in the middle of Africa!

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Straight away, I loved Mombasa. Most of the coast here is Muslim so the women are covered and despite the insane heat and humidity, we tried to do the same. There is a giant fortress on the waterfront made of coral, built by the Portuguese in the late 1500s and we spent yesterday morning wandering around the waterfront. A guy we met on the Ssese Islands in Uganda had given us the number of his friend who lives an hour north of here – a Peace Corps volunteer who, by some stroke of luck, ended up being sent to a spectacular stretch of coastline to help set up snorkelling trips with the local fishermen in a newly-declared marine reserve. So Ari was our guide for the day, showing us the real Mombasa, jumping on and off tuk-tuks (yes, they’re not just in Thailand!), weaving through back streets and ultimately heading up the coast to his beach. We wandered along sandy paths through thousands of palm trees and thatched mud huts until we hit the coastline where the juxtaposition is intense; small huts sit alongside giant mansions of westerners who come to enjoy their strip of the Kenyan coastline.

Despite the tropical storm that chose that moment to hit, the howling wind and rain and the dark grey skies that followed, Ari rang his local fisherman who came (in a ‘few minutes’ which ended up being over an hour sitting in the rain waiting!) to take me snorkelling. I had my own private guide in a marine reserve that is known pretty much only to those that live there and have declared it so. Incredible. The water was no more than three feet deep and I tried desperately to suck my stomach in as we swam over giant sea urchins with spikes reaching out for my bare skin. John, my guide, put on an incredible show, playing with beautiful lion fish (which I later found out were so deadly poisonous that if you stood on one you would lose your leg!!), stroking some kind of strange fish that puffs up when you touch it (apparently that makes them happy), red wrinkly eels, all kinds of colourful fish and then, the most impressive of all, the octopus. John asked if I’d like to see it – it was hiding in the coral. Unthinkingly, I said sure. A 10 minute wrestle ensued with John swatting a deadly lion fish out of the way with a shoe and fighting to bring out this octopus for my viewing pleasure. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified when he finally emerged, tentacles stuck to his face and body, ink spurting everywhere and this octopus violently trying to escape. The guys here are so at one with their marine backyard, he wasn’t in the least bit worried. I kept my distance… It was an amazing day and felt good to be supporting such a local grass-roots project. There was a moment when Cherie and I looked at each other and asked why we weren’t volunteering somewhere coastal but that soon passed. KAASO is still our home.

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Tomorrow we’re off on what will no doubt be the greatest adventure of all – we’re going to spend 5 days living with a Maasai tribe in their village in the middle of nowhere. Ivan and Miral, the volunteers who spent a month with us at KAASO, introduced us to Tumaina, a Maasai warrior who we have been in touch with and will join tomorrow in his village. Apparently it makes Kabira, our village in Uganda, look like the big city. Considering Kabira consists of three shops and KAASO, I’m curious to see! Will no doubt come away with plenty of stories to tell…

We have been in touch with Dominic and KAASO is eagerly awaiting our return at the end of next week. Construction is going well – the roof is now finished and the doors, windows and flooring underway. Dominic says it will be by far the most impressive building at KAASO and they are incredibly proud of it. We can’t wait to see it!

So I will go and lose myself in the streets of Mombasa, take one final glimpse at the ocean and then begin the long journey inland to where Maasai warriors, rural life, Nairobi, Kampala and ultimately KAASO await…

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