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Snorkel, Sea and Smörgåsbord (Day Three - Part V)

(Me holding starfish) Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar @kibuukaphotography for Travel Noire

That sandbank layover helped tremendously. I was feeling much better and no longer felt that this outing was doomed. Our remaining time to get to the island for lunch was easier to handle. When we arrived, we knew we would spend the rest of our day out here, and it was a nice reprieve. No different from when passengers unload from a plane, we all gathered our belongings and slumped off the dhow, but in much better shape than the last time. It was nice to have my feet once again on solid ground as we headed for the shore. Right before we were completely out of the water, two starfish had already been found and quickly excavated from their watery home, and in human hands for a closer examination. Being the aquatic nerd that I am, I had seen and held a starfish here and there, but these were different. They didn’t look real, and I think someone even said it out loud. The outstanding feature on these Indian Ocean starfish was their Crayola bright red high contrast of dots. We all had a chance to hold them, as they went from person to person and eventually back to their home.

Carla Joelle Brown Everyone But Two Snorkel

Images I took with Fujifil Instax camera

Too distracted by the starfish, I had not really taken a look at the full landscape. The tide was out as evidenced by the surface we were walking on resembling the moon more than an island. The further we walked away from the dhow, the harder it became to see the water’s edge; everything was an ash white rocky floor. Surrounding the lower level of the topography of the beach was a natural bridge/arch formation that we walked past, through, around, and eventually took pictures under. Its features served as perfect framing. How bizarre.

Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar @kibuukaphotography for Travel Noire

We were lead directly to our area for lunch. It was a slight distance. The meal awaited us on top of the crest of the island, tables shaded under a white-pitched top tent, with long wooden poles making poking points. There were several rows of at least 3-4 picnic tables, covered in tablecloths, arranged end to end to form one long row. Multiply that by 4-5 rows, and you had our alfresco restaurant for the day. First things first, we sat our belongings at the row of tables for our group. Next up, we were told where to find the restrooms. While both sitting and walking was going on, there was already a bustle from the other groups of tourists already seated, eating and wandering about. There was also a doubling of the Safari Blue staff; more men in bright yellow shirts and blue shorts. I took the time to use the restroom before things got going. I didn’t know what to expect bathroom wise, but I happily followed the signs posted in the sand. The restrooms were pretty reasonable - a mix between an upgraded porta-potty and a park restroom, nowhere close to glamorous, but clean and bearable. In place of plumbed sinks, there were two stations outside with a long handled coconut shell ladle that you used to scoop fresh water to wash the soap from your hands. When I returned, the staff was in swift movement. Here, the setup was almost cafeteria style. Sitting at the head of all the tables was a station fashioned from a handmade canoe shaped boat. Cleverly, the staff had created a food prep and serving area on top for a counter. Cool and unexpected, pretty similar to youth beds that looked like cars my generation all envied from the tv show, “Silver Spoons.”

Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar @kibuukaphotography for Travel Noire

Here was the best part about this eating experience - all of the staff were men. Cooking, serving, etc. With only one slight exception of two women in charge of coffee, who by the way were sitting down comfortably, it was an all manly affair. I found great pleasure in this. I went to the station and got started. There was a lot of food, and not the kind of food I get to see all the time, especially not prepared like this, or this fresh. Repeat disclaimer: I am not a huge buffet person. I enjoy a great meal experience, but I can only eat a certain amount in one sitting. While I stood with my plate extended out, the offerings were plenty. Before me was a sea-foodies dream buffet. There was grilled slipper lobster, yellow tuna, prawns (we call them shrimp), calamari, chicken, and rice with that tasty tomato curry sauce. From that moment, I said yes to whatever would fit on my plate. I carefully sat down and eyed my food all at the same time. Beer, soda and water were endless as our cooler from the dhow was parked next to us. Silence fell mostly on the table as we all began to chow down. Oh my goodness… Best seafood meal to date. You could really taste how fresh the food was and how the use of the spices from this Spice Island is perfectly infused into the cooking. I admit I eat slowly like a grandma. I notice it more and more during any social meal. I’m normally the last one to finish. My plate was still half full by the time the Safari Blue staff started coming directly to our table with helpings more of everything on plates. It was Fogo de Chão, albeit Zanzibar style. Round after round. We joked about dismissing anyone coming by asking if we wanted more lobster. I mean who really has had that issue before, “Please go away sir with your perfectly deliciously grilled mound of lobster.”

Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar @kibuukaphotography for Travel Noire

But wait, there is more. After I stuffed all the fish and lobster into my body as humanly possible, I thought I would have a chance to catch my breath. Wrong! One of the Safari Blue staff came to the end of our table with a bin. Guess what was in it? MORE FOOD. This time however, it was fresh fruit, resplendent from Zanzibar. He chopped, peeled, cut, and explained to us with great knowledge and precision at least 15 different kinds of fruit. All had a unique smell, texture, color and taste. There was star fruit, red bananas, passion fruit, jackfruit, durian, mango, pineapple, watermelon, rambutan, soursap, guava, coconut, tangerine, dates and coated baobab seeds that tasted like candy but you only suck on it and spit the seed out. I am not even sure that I remembered all of them, and there was no way I could eat it all. And to top it off, there was Zanzibar coffee and a sweet treat at the end if you were interested. That’s where the two women came in. Apparently, the custom in Zanzibar is to drink your coffee black, perhaps with the addition of Amarula (cream liqueur). They were kindly there to prepare and serve you.

Images I took with Fujifil Instax camera

If it was possible for me to fall off the saddle, I was extremely close. Sadly for me, I didn’t even have room for the coffee. I was officially done. Considering how I felt on the boat ride out, I didn’t want to take the chance of being gluttonous and having an upset stomach, when not losing my guts was already a sheer miracle. Getting up and walking around sounded like a good idea. Our meal had officially concluded, and we were going to take a quick walk to see one of the oldest baobab trees on the island. The path was narrow as we walked into the forested part of the island. We walked mostly in a single file line, passing the other tourists. Behold the baobab tree. If you remember the Tree of Life from the movie, “The Lion King,” that’s a baobab tree. Sprouting a hulking trunk, and large and contorted limbs and branches, stood the monarch of the island. I walked around it and marveled its size. The tree was so large that you could not see all the people that were climbing or sitting; they all disappeared after you or they went around a corner. I declined to make the climb because my stomach was forcefully anchoring my feet to the ground. We waited while some of our travel mates took a go of exploring and climbing the tree.

Images I took with Fujifil Instax camera

After everyone was done, our ED gave us our tick down for the remaining time on the island. Right before the food tent, there were several wooden stalls that had vendors selling their goods. For some reason, I was not that interested in seeing what they had. I think I figured they were going to hose you on the price since you were a captive audience. Back at the hotel, I had an entire street of vendors, sitting door to door that I assumed would provide more of a variety and a competitive price. The group splintered as those that wanted to browse wondered off, some reclined in the shade, and some strolled about. I took the time to take a closer examination of a boat that was originally dry docked when we arrived. Eventually, the word was given that the Safari Blue crew was ready for us, and we started making the walk to the dhow. Because the tide was starting to come back in, it was a still quite a walk out, but now we were gradually starting to walk in much higher water since the larger boat had to stay anchored in deeper water further out.

The remaining Safari Blue guests on the island had already loaded onto their dhows, but their captains were using their sails. They were lined up all in a line like a war of boats, as if there was a military invasion with all of their sails, diagonally billowing in the wind. Our dhow was still using the motor to save out sailing experience for another day, but they weren’t that far behind. We came to shore in a straight (perpendicular from the island). The others went parallel to the shore and then cut towards the beach. Luckily, the ride back was much smoother for everyone. I had a beer, the sun was warm, and we couldn’t have been any more American in Africa with the musical selection; Nicki Minaj, Drake, Kendrick. Naturally, we arrived at the beach first. When the others anchored, we heard a lot commotion. Even in Swahili, you could tell they were arguing. Tones are universal. Hands and arms and voices were raised. Our ED translated for us, and apparently there was a race between the dhows, and there was a major discrepancy on who won. It went on the entire time we were getting ourselves together, placing our fins back in the buckets. At the shuttle van, voices still carried from the ocean in dispute.

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