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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Big Face

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Like most tourist-ridden, tropical locations, there is never a shortage of excursions available. As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are a sufficient number of beach boys, scouring the beaches, desperate to sell everyone and anyone a day's adventure.


Sunset cruises.

Boat tours to sandbars.

Stonetown visits.

Spice Farm tours.

Swimming with the dolphins.

The list goes on, and for every "no, thank you," they have another option for you.

I read a few online articles on the best ways to go about booking activities during my stay. Although booking through the Beach Boys is somewhat supporting local, the probability of being overcharged or cheated is high. Viator bookings seemed foolishly pricey in comparison with the regular costs of being a tourist, but my 'Hill'-house activities pamphlet took outrageous to a whole new level.

Leafing through the pages of tours, numbers that were jumping out at me ranged between $130 and $300 - US DOLLARS - for the day! That was a harsh NO for me.

When the guesthouse gentleman brought up the possibility of booking an excursion through him, I immediately declined.

"Why you say no?"

"It's much too expensive for me. I'm poor."


We sat there, in awkward silence, for about 3 minutes...

And just like that... the price dropped to $30.

I was booked.

So I signed myself up for a day of snorkeling and whatever else. His English wasn't up to the caliber of expanding on what my tour would entail, and my patience wasn't up for English-Swahili translation question & answer period. I decided to throw caution to the wind and agreed to be ready to go at 8m the following morning.

Wolfgang decided to tag along. He too, had been hesitant about booking anything due to the steepness of the fee, but had a change of heart when I told him about my $30 deal.

As promised, at exactly 8am, we were 'picked up' by another gentleman, who led us down to the Kendwa beach and pointed us in the direction of a small shuttle boat. "Get on."

Get on, we did, along with about 4 other participants.

The commuter craft delivered us to Nungwi, where we all disembarked. It was here that we met a few other guests and loaded up on supplies.

Single file, we were all hereded into a small room to collect our snorkeling equipment. As we reached the front of the line, one man would inquire as to our shoe size and then toss a pair of flippers at us. Another man came along behind him, clutching a full bag of masks & snorkels. He took out one pair... scanned the crowd, obviously seeking out the perfect candidate for the gear he held in his hand... and then he stopped right in front of me.

"YOU," he said, holding out the mask, indicating for me to take it. "Big face."

The positivity-boosting was inexplicable.

As far as compliments go, it was definitely a climatic moment.

Big Face.

I smiled generously, and repeated it right back to him, with enthusiastic affirmation. "Big Face", I declared, and took the mask.

From here, we boarded the bigger wooden ship, or dhow as it's traditionally called, The Serengeti II. These dhows, two-masted Arab sailing vessels, are normally made from mango or mahogany wood. I think at the height of our speed, we were going about 13km per hour. In sailing terms, I believe that's about 7 knots. It was quite the experience being in the dhow, but I'll admit, I was a bit anxious when they started a fire for our lunch BBQ.

An open fire... in a wooden boat... in the middle of the ocean.

My inner "50+ years conditioned to Canadian safety regulations" screamed out in horror.

I have never seen water so incredibly beautiful.

One minute, it was an emerald crystal, then a sparkling teal... and then a deeper baby blue... Not once did the water not have a magical and enticing appearance.

Our trip to Mnemba Island took a couple hours, due to the exceptionally slow speed, but the unforgettable experience of this traditional ocean exploration provided more of a connected-to-nature feeling. Our dolphin viewing took the dhow past the reefs and further out into the ocean, and the waves made the adventure slightly rockier. I was grateful I hadn't indulged in the guest house omelette that morning.

At Mnemba Island, we anchored along with a multitude of other sightseeing vessels and we all jumped off to snorkel for an hour. As much as I enjoyed seeing the colourful marine life, I was perfectly content to just bob along. I was like a big, white floatation device adrift on the ocean surface. I felt more buoyant in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps due to the increase of salt? I don't know.

For the first time IN MY LIFE, I was not afraid of sharks. Everyone assured me there would be no hideous carnivores in the vicinity... and I honestly believed them. True to their word, and great relief for me, nary a shark in sight.

Lunch was tuna... I think. I'm pretty sure.

It tasted like tuna... but honestly, I could be wrong. It was dry, chewy and flakey, as tends to happen to tuna when it's overcooked. One of the staff members gutted the enormous fish right in front of us, and then threw the fleshy chunks right into the open flame. It was served with white rice, a garlic tomato sauce and a tray of fresh pineapple and watermelon.

There were 14 of us on the boat ~ as tourists. There were 7 staff.

SEVEN staff on the boat. Of course, there was nothing really for them to do most of the time, but look at us and ride the waves.

I can't begin to understand the reason behind the overstaffing here in Zanzibar, but it appears to be like this wherever I go. Rooftop bars in Stonetown, beach bars in Kendwa, hotel personnel and now, dhow excursions. I will not attempt to comprehend, nor will I pretend I'm intelligent enough to fix the Tanzanian economy, but I often question their spending in regards to priorities and resources. On my way to Kendwa, my taxi must have passed 1000 Presidential signs... yet, there are no generators in the hospitals for the frequent power outages.


We ate. We swam. We snorkelled. We saw dolphins and other assorted fish. We frolicked in the sun and in the sea. We sailed on a breeze on a crystal clear ocean.

We survived an open fire in a wooden ship...

A little bit of danger / A little bit of delight.

Well worth the $30, if you ask me.

And... no sharks...

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