Toward the end of my two weeks of travel in Tanzania, I spent three nights at Peponi Beach Resort on the Indian Ocean, arriving on the back of a motorcycle after a long day on the bus. The first morning, sails moved slowly across the horizon, but not the pleasure boats I’m used to from the U.S. These were real fishing boats, either dhows or small canoe-like boats with outriggers made of rough-hewn boards. I walked down the beach and talked to some of the fishermen who were lounging on the sand, but I couldn’t understand most of what they said.
The afternoon I arrived, I met an English guy who was driving from Egypt to Capetown. At supper that night, I met two Dutch doctors who had taken six months off to drive through Africa. I ate fresh fish caught in the Indian Ocean that day, and swam in 90-degree water, warmed by the sun. The highlight came the next day, when I sailed on a dhow for snorkeling, with a stop for lunch on a sand island exposed at low tide.
Even though I was in need of a day of rest, I signed up for the trip, for fear that it wouldn’t go the next day. It turned out to be as relaxing as a hammock would’ve been.
We left at low tide and had to walk a few hundred yards to where the boat was anchored. A dozen white folks slathered in sun screen climbed aboard with our gear, and the crew of three Africans motored into deep water while hoisting the sail. We motored and sailed to the first reef, where I wandered far from the boat because I thought that was where the captain was telling us to go. When no one followed, I headed back, where everyone else was kicking around within a few yards of the boat. There weren’t a lot of fish, but the corals were varied in shape, size, and color, although not as bright as other places I’ve been. The second reef had more fish and equally nice coral. I was first in the water and last out.
From there we sailed to the island, without the help of the motor, and the silence and the power of the wind reminded me why I love to sail. I sailed a lot as a kid, but it was always a mixed experience, because Captain Dad could always make a day at the lake into a stressful situation. Still, some of my favorite childhood memories are of catching a good wind on White Bear Lake.
We past a few other dhows, mostly smaller, some under sail, some not. At the sand island, the crew took the awning off the boat and set it up on shore for shade. It was probably close to 100 degrees, and I floated in the shallows most of the time we were there.
On the way back, we all climbed aboard, but the crew didn’t set up the awning, so I was anticipating a hot ride back. When they raised the sail, and it filled with air, we were all in the shade for the long, peaceful trip to the mainland.
My room was a tent under a thatch roof (16.50 a night). Outside was a plastic chair where I spent hours reading a detective novel from the 1950s. At poolside was a hammock where I napped. At the bar were cold Kilimanjaros, and even bags of Lay’s potato chips.
The staff, mostly Africans, were polite and friendly. The manager, an English woman who’d spent most of her life in Africa, was cheerful and helpful. Her father, the owner, had a welcoming smile and remembered my name.
Day 2 was the lazy day I’d been looking forward to. I read my book, wrote on the slow resort computer, ate a crab focaccia for lunch, and ate fried fresh fish and chips for supper. The manager arranged a boat trip to the north end of Zanzibar and assured us it would be safe.
Six a.m. came too soon, and we were off in a cab and on the water in a wooden boat with a small outboard (and a spare) at Pangani at 6:30. A half hour into it, I was looking back wondering if I could swim to shore if we went down. Two hours of rocking and splashing later, I could see Zanzibar, and I wondered if I could swim to shore if we went down. Two hours after that, we were cruising into the beach, with a pod of dolphins swimming past.