On Wednesday, Cam, Yael and I decided to go out on the boat with Khamisi. Cam had spent the previous day looking out at the water desperate to get on it. From the house we could see the expanse of blissfully calm sea that lay beyond the lagoon. We could even the gentle shadow of the second reef, which Cam said they could never normally spot, especially not in the afternoon when it was usually much more choppy.
“You could water ski on that!” Cam exclaimed, trying to will the tide come back in so we could get out there on the boat. Sadly, as it was there was no chance of getting out there so we agreed to go the next morning. Cam also wanted to do a bit of fishing and we needed mark some points on the GPS database we were building up. And, who could say no to a boat trip?
We packed our stuff together, making sure we had binoculars, cameras, snorkels and fins (in case of dolphins or other exciting sitings), sun cream, fishing rods and a two litre bottle of Coca Cola. You know, the essentials. It was already shaping up to be a hot day and the sun shone down fiercely onto our backs as we carried everything down to the boat. Khamisi was already on board and waved amiably at us as we approached. He was wearing a fluorescent orange life jacket, which was a touch too small, buckled tightly all the way up. On the back he had used Yael’s paints from the wall to paint a fishing boat with an anchor and some rods. Yael saw it and a smile lit up her face.
“Wow, Khamisi,” Yael said, “Your drawing, I like it very much,”
“Asante sana,” Khamisi said with a laugh that showed off his white teeth, ‘Thank you very much’
Once we had everything on board we set off.
It was a beautiful day and we had made sure to time it well with the tide so the water was deep even in the lagoon. We skimmed over the dappled colours of the corals and as we drove I watched the fish scattering beneath us. The sandy patches of sea floor shone out bright turquoise against the darker blues of the seagrass. The water was flat as a pancake, which was a bit of a relief after last time, and once we were out of the Marine Protected Area Cam turned up the speed. I scanned the water, shielding my eyes from the vibrant gold light that scattered in every direction. I saw a black shape above the water.
“A fin!” I called out, “I just saw a fin,” Cameron slowed down and suddenly everyone’s eyes were on the water, searching for signs of life. My sight played tricks on me and every cresting wave became a dolphin.
“Are you sure?” Yael asked after a minute of looking. Cam cut the engine and we drifted for a moment or two.
“I’m totally certain,” I said. Then a little way off in front a head popped up; a spear-fisherman. “Ah, it was a fisherman.” I called back. “Never mind,”
Cam started the engine back up again and we continued, following the coast along while Khamisi fished.
“Do either of you want to have a go with a rod?” Cam asked, nodding towards one of the four we had on the boat.
“No I think I’m fine thanks,” I said.
“I feel like fishing isn’t the best activity for your marine conservation volunteers, no?” Yael said with a laugh. Cam shrugged,
“Up to you,” he said. We drove along parallel to the amazing cliffs of Vuma.
They were dark and sheer and looked volcanic, but were actually fossilised corals, forced upwards from the seabed. Despite the calm waters we made sure not to get too close, as the rocks were sharp and lethal. We had come here by car in the first week of the expedition for sundowners overlooking the sea. It was an exquisite part of the world. You did have to be careful though, as we had our drinks Des told us that if you fell in and tried to climb back out the rocks would shred your fingers, and that’s only if you manage to actually get to the rocks without being squished against them by waves. Failing that you’d have to swim around to another beach, nearly a kilometre away. It was a pretty rugged spot.
The only thing that slightly marred the beautiful view was the large cement factory you could see on the cliffs a bit further along. Industrial and ugly, it squatted over a large chunk of the land, belching out smoke and steam. Cam carefully steered us a little bit inland so we could mark the spot we’d had sundowners on the GPS. He spotted something in the water.
“What’s that?” He called out, craning his neck to try and see past the front of the boat. I leant over the side and saw the pathetically flailing shape of a fully inflated black spotted pufferfish.
“Pufferfish,” I called back. This one wasn’t one of the stereotypically spikey ones, those are technically porcupine fish, so we could see the smoothness of its white belly as it desperately paddled its fins in an attempt to right itself. The boat was churning up water which sent it careering off in different directions.
“Aw damn. There’s not really anything we can do to help it,” Cam said. “If it’s overinflated itself or has a lot of air trapped inside it, it can’t control its swimming,”
“What a shame,” I said, “The poor bastard,” We all watched it for a bit longer. It was a really beautiful fish, despite its bloated and distended belly, with an intricate pattern of black spots along the sleek greyness of its back. It was sad to see it struggling so much.
We drove back out to sea, away from the cliffs, so that we could find a place to swim. It was hot and I was practically salivating at the thought of the lusciously cool water below us.
“How deep is it?” I asked Cameron who glanced down at the depth sounder.
“We’re at twenty metres. We’ll go in a bit closer to the reef and find somewhere to swim and Khamisi can do some bottom fishing,” I nodded and swivelled myself back around to face the open sea, hoping to spot some dolphins.
“I think the dolphins just don’t like me,” Yael said with a laugh. “Or I’m just really unlucky,” It was true. On both occasions we’d seen dolphins Yael hadn’t been on the boat with us and we had been out on the water plenty of times besides. I laughed too,
“Maybe not,” I said.
“Five metres,” Cam said, “Hapa?” He asked Khamisi, ‘Here?’
“Mzuri sana,” Khamisi replied, ‘Very good’. Cam cut the engine and I grabbed my snorkel and fins, jammed my mask over my face and jumped in. It was delicious. Once in the water I could put on my fins and mask properly and Cam and Yael hopped in soon after me. There wasn’t a lot to see but it was fun being outside the reef so we could dive down into the water. I was used to being inside the lagoon where it could only ever get a couple of metres deep even at the highest tides. I felt fluid and strong underwater, diving down and swimming along the bottom, knowing that I could go quite far before needing to surface for a breath. There wasn’t a huge number of fish around, a few wrasse here and there, but I was just enjoying swimming along the bottom, pretending to be one myself.
The visibility wasn’t amazing and there were these floating plankton at the surface that we’d seen when we went diving. I hadn’t noticed before, as we were wearing shorty wetsuits and didn’t stay at the surface for long, but they stung. I could feel their little zaps all over my body. They were actually quite painful. They probably would have been fine in isolation but this onslaught of them was not pleasant. They were on my ears and face and arms and even in my bikini. Not nice. We were in the water for five or ten minutes before I saw Yael clamber up back onto the boat. Cam followed suit.
“Are we going?” I called out.
“Yeah, Khamisi says there aren’t many fish here,” Cam replied, pulling off his fins.
“Is it just me,” I asked, pulling myself aboard. “Or are there a lot of stingers around?” Yael shot me a look,
“So. Many.” She said emphatically and checked her shoulders and arms for marks. She was covered in little bumps and her skin was angry and red. We tried a new spot a little bit further on, hoping that there would be both more fish and fewer stingers, whatever they were. We all jumped in.
If anything the stingers were even worse. They were on my stomach and legs and neck and just about everywhere in between. But at least there were some awesome corals here too, and some archways in the rock which we dove down to have a look at. We stayed in for another ten or so minutes but it really was too painful to stay in for long. Cam had a go fishing and he caught one gold bar wrasse, about 10cm long, our only catch of the day which he dutifully put back.
We started the drive back into the lagoon. I was still feeling a bit deprived of a snorkel I looked longingly into the water. As we approached the reef we slowed down because it was much shallower here, only a metre or two deep. I could see the intricate outlines of foliose corals, the hump like shape of massive corals and the delicate fingers of branching corals. They were calling to me.
“Oh it looks so nice,” I said, dangling my hand over the side of the boat and feebly trailing my fingers in the water.
“Do you want to swim in to the house from here?” Cam offered. I sprang up, suddenly revived.
“Are you sure? Can you guys manage the stuff back up to the house?” There wasn’t much to take but I felt bad leaving them with it all.
“We’ll be fine,” Cam said and I didn’t wait to be told twice.
“Thank you!” I called, leaping into the water with my fins and snorkel. The water was crystal clear. It was incredible, even better than I’d thought.
I made my way back towards the house. There were no stingers here (thank God) so I took my time meandering across the reef.
God, it’s a hard life isn’t it.
- Second dive with Simon to finish our Emergency Rescue Course
- A day of resting and relaxing and reading a lot of Daphne Sheldrick’s book Love, Life and Elephants
- Beginning the organising of Shwari house
- Working on the Ocean’s Alive website
- More organising of Shwari house
- Boat trip to mark the perimeter of the Marine Protected Area
Organising Shwari house (it nearly killed me but I did it)
- Quote from Cameron “I don’t think I’ve seen it this tidy since we moved in”
Working on the Ocean’s Alive website