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Diving Zanzibar – my first sharks!

19 February 2012

On our Africa Overlander trip with Acacia we had three nights to ourselves in Zanzibar. Happy with the group we had fallen in with we opted to stay in the accommodation organised by Jay, our tourleader. This comprised a large double room top floor bungalow at Sunset Bungalows for a steal at group booking prices, a lovely place but made even more amazing by the recent tenting.

As Anna had visited Zanzibar only the year before and stayed in Stone Town, we headed straight to the beach with several other couples while those less travelled-out/singles opted for a spice tour and a night in Stone Town. Perhaps I should one day learn more about spices but as we sank into the warm, clear, azure blue sea after an hour in the minibus we felt a degree of smugness about our ignorance.

Still, two days on a beach would require activities. We booked onto a group snorkelling trip, a booze cruise for Jay’s birthday, played volleyball, frisbee and took advantage of the $10 beach massages, but I also decided to take the chance to dive. As we were on a longer trip I had really dallied over the idea of diving in Zanzibar but had heard such great things and thought there was little chance of me returning imminently so I should take the opportunity.

Sunset Bungalows has a resident PADI centre (Scuba Do) and so I thought to use them rather than the “local” option through which we booked the snorkelling.

It had been almost 18 months since my last dive and I was slightly nervous about diving without my established buddy so I accepted that I had to do a refresher for $50 without question and also booked on a two dive trip to Mnemba island, renowned worldwide for its diving, for $130, completely blowing my budget concerns! Now, the refresher course is indeed something for divers who haven’t dived for a while and want to practice their basics before going on a group dive. It involves redoing the openwater skills and then paddling around the shallows with an instructor. I have since spoken to divers who have dived after long breaks without doing refreshers and realise now that it is a personal question for comfort. Whilst my instructor was perfectly lovely, gave me a good first impression of Scuba Do and going through the skills was pleasant, I had only agreed to do so on the understanding that this was a safety requirement and feel that I could have coped perfectly well without it, particularly given my budgetary constraints and the fact that I am pretty confident at the underwater basics. I wonder how many holidaymakers incur this cost without full consideration.

On the dive boat next day I was even less impressed with Scuba Do. The dive instructor on the trip barely spoke a word to me and paired me up with a French lady who had literally just passed her open water (her husband was an advanced diver and paired with a friend, a strange disregard to his wife’s concerns). My buddy spoke little English but I could tell that she was nervous. As my first real trip out without my regular buddy (my early 4m rescue dive in Malta hardly counted) I was uncertain as to the dive etiquette of asking to switch dive buddies and so I stiffened my upper lip and tried to make small talk to put her at ease (this mainly consisted of her “joking” that I would have to look after her as her husband needed her). I wish I had said something as she constantly swam above the dive instructor who repeatedly berated me for not sticking with her, although I was simply trying to maintain a constant depth and enjoy the dive.

The two dives on Mnemba were actually great, wonderful visibility with great shoals of fish and then, with a thrill, I spotted a murky shape in the gloom below me. Excitedly, I made ineffective shark gestures to my buddy and then just realised I had to savour the moment in my own world. I spotted several black tipped reef sharks patrolling the depths on that dive, the first time I have seen sharks on a dive.  It was surreal seeing their dark shapes patrolling in the murk but a thrill all the same!

A decent snack was provided onboard between dives but we were whizzed back to the resort by midday and I seemed to be the only person ready to disembark. Apparently the rest of the group were booked for three dives, I have no idea where the last dive was although I would probably have happily booked onto it in advance but following the morning I was quite happy to shake the instructor’s hand goodbye.

Later, when I popped in to have my log book signed he seemed a little more cheerful and said that the last dive was much more colourful. He also noted with apparent surprise that I was an advanced diver (although this was clearly on the booking form).

I thought the sealife and diving conditions in Zanzibar were great but would certainly shop around to spend my money next time.  I didn’t have an underwater camera on the Africa trip and didn’t think I could justify the $50 hire charge but I wish I had some pictures of those sharks!

Note, I apologise for the slightly negative note to this entry. Generally, the sea conditions and visibility in Zanzibar from both the snorkelling trip and the actual dives were great, with a really good diversity of fish life (and I am very chuffed with the Sharks), I was just a little disappointed with the dive organisation, which is probably mainly due to my own budget issues!

From → Diving, Travel

6 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Red Square Pools…….. (702) 530-7331 and commented:
    Great read if your into scuba diving. I wonder how many of our readers actually are certified? Do you have experiences you’d like to share with us on our blog? I am always looking for writers that would like to add some color to our blog. If your interested, send me an email to get conversations rolling. Vaughn Berger

  2. I’ve had to do one of the refresher dives before, I felt like it was an excuse to charge more money. Not a fan. Diving is a bit like riding a bike really, if the person can get their gear together themselves then I think they know what they’re doing.

    I share what you mean about buddies. I’m always nervy about who I get paired up with, I like it know they can look after me if anything unexpected happens!

    Zanzibar sounds like a great place for diving, it’s certainly on my ‘to dive’ list!

    http://michaelpalinsfault.wordpress.com/

  3. I got my divemaster certification a while back, and I run refreshers for friends all the time; generally I’ve found that most people are fine even after an extended time out of water. All you really have to do is watch them for the first few minutes of a dive for buoyancy and comfort; charging $50 for a pool session is a bit ridiculous, especially for an advanced diver. My instructors taught me the first question you ask is “What level are you and how many dives do you have?”, followed by “How comfortable are you with your skills?”.

    Too bad about the dive group, a good warning though for other travellers!

  4. Cool post! I’m living in Ethiopia but I recently got back from Egypt where I just did my Open Water Course. Even though I’m a mega beginner I love it, I feel like I’ve discovered another super-cool world!! Great to hear of another awesome diving spot in Africa that’s just a short plane trip away. Sharks though! Super scary, I wonder how I’d fare if I saw them. Thanks for the words of advice/warning, too!!

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