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North Coast and The Dive

At the north tip of Zanzibar is where all the resorts lie, but if you’re thinking Sheraton and Hilton, you’d be mistaken. There are two small beaches and the “glitzy” one (Nungwi) has a few euro-owned resorts. Very nice looking indeed, but not in our budget range. We would make it out for a couple drinks at the nice bar that hovered over the crystal clear, turquoise waters, but that would be the extent of our stay.

We stayed a bit further west of the fancy resort in the town of Kendwa. We spent a couple hours trying to find a good deal on a hotel and ended up finding a pretty nice place for $70/night which we were able to haggle down to $60/night. The room was pretty nice. Big and airy and it seemed to have a pretty modern plumbing setup that couldn’t have been more than a year old – though we would later find out that it had almost no water pressure and nobody really sealed any of the pipes.

Oh well, This Is Africa.

Kendwa isn’t much more than a muddy stretch of road surrounded by shacks but the beach it connects to is one of the most beautiful we’ve been to. The sand is a very fine grain and white like the Caribbean islands. The beach itself is maybe the widest I’ve seen at a good 100ft. The water is crystal clear and perfect for diving.

With BJ around, we had a good 3rd person to go diving with and so we signed up at the “reputable” British run dive shop.

The next morning we got our gear which all seemed functional and in good condition. We’d be wearing shortie suits for the first time, which just mean that your arms and legs aren’t covered by the wet suit. The water was 28 degrees celsius so the full wet suit did not seem necessary.

Our divemaster was a local but his English was good and he seemed to know what he was doing. Being only 8 dives into scuba, K and I are still a bit nervous when we go, but more about being the last to get down or the first to run out of air more than nervous about anything safety related. Scuba seems to be an incredibly safe way to spend your free time.

We hopped on 12-14 passenger inflatable boats with 85 horsepower motors on the back and took off toward our destination. With each person sitting on the edge and barely enough room for us and the equipment (there were 10 others), it was probably the closest I’ll get to feeling like a Navy Seal as we bounced over the choppy water of the Indian Ocean. I kept telling BJ to lean back and dive in at speed but he didn’t listen.

Once we got to the dive site, we got our gear on and entered the water back-first, all at the same time. Another first for us. BJ, K and I were a buddy team, meaning that we were responsible for each other. The three of us released the air from our vests and started down. Surprisingly, we didn’t have any problems – usually K and I take a bit longer to equalize our ears but apparently we’ve gotten better at it.

Once down, we spent a few minutes swimming up current to meet up with the 6 others and then about 20 or 30 more minutes “drifting” across the side of a coral reef ledge. The viz was pretty good, but not great – we could see a good 10 meters – and we saw some interesting marine life, notably a giant moray eel hiding in some coral.

Everything was going pretty well when the divemaster pointed out something to me in the coral. I went in to take a closer look and when I did, my upper lip and right cheek started to sting. It felt like something had sprayed me with a stream of fire and I quickly jerked away. I looked around but didn’t see anything. I got very concerned but the stingy started to subside and I decided to wait it out. I looked for the divemaster but he had already moved on. It still stung but was quickly getting better and so I didn’t bother to try and tell anybody about it, which is awfully difficult to do when you can’t talk

A few minutes later I saw Kelly stop and start waving her hands around. I looked at her and she flapped her hand back and forth, which means there’s a problem. Usually all of our problems are around equalizing the air pressure in your ears and when you want to tell somebody this is the problem, you do that little hand gesture and point to your ears.

She did the gesture and then feeling her arms and head. At first I thought she was talking about her ears but when I asked her that slowly, she shook her head.

She continued doing these gestures over and over again and I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. She wasn’t doing the motion for no air or anything so I knew that wasn’t the issue, but clearly there was a problem and she was looking very stressed and frantic. I got very concerned.

When you’re down, you don’t want to accidentally surface because of a miss communication but at the same time you don’t want to risk any sort of injury because you want to finish your dive.

I asked Kelly if she wanted to surface and she shrugged and then went back to her gestures that made no sense to me and at this point I had given up on trying to figure them out.

It had been a couple minutes I’m sure at this point and she had gotten herself under a bit more control but she was still very uneasy. I decided that we should just surface to be on the safe side.

I looked around for the others and the only one I could see was BJ who luckily we were able to communicate to that he didn’t need to end his dive and we had the situation under control.

We swam up to 5 meters depth and did a 3 minute safety stop. I can’t tell you how many times I lost count during that stop as I had to do it in my head as neither one of us had a watch and I was still a bit worried about K, though if I had been super worried, we could have skipped the stop altogether. We hadn’t been that deep.

But she hung in there and when I knew we were “close” enough, we came up to the surface and motioned for the boat to come pick us up. When we got on the boat, Kelly told me she had been stung all over her exposed arms and legs by something that she never saw. We looked at her skin and she had red bumps everywhere. The stinging had mostly subsided but the physical damage was all over her arms and legs.

The driver of the boat said that it was a jellyfish and shrugged, not very concerned. We took that as meaning that she probably wouldn’t die and decided to wait for the others, who came up about 15 minutes later. We would later learn that when they surfaced, the divemaster would ask BJ “What happened to the other two?” apparently unaware that we had left the dive 15 minutes prior.

We got back OK and K decided to skip the next dive and BJ and I opted for full body wetsuits. Others had been stung as well but nobody had ever seen the jellyfish.

While K was sad that we had to end the dive early we were both happy that we had been through a crisis like that and handled it well together. We know that if something like that happens again that we can count on each other.

BJ and I did a dive in the afternoon and had a wonderful time, though BJ did get stung but the mysterious and invisible jellyfish but it wasn’t a big problem. It was a nice, relaxed dive and we saw some massive, beautiful fish and coral. No giant animals like sharks or anything, but one of the best dives I’ve done.

Two weeks later and after purchasing creams and lotions from the pharmacy, the bumps are mostly gone but still visible.

The next day we headed for the east coast…

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