This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Do not panic

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0369.JPGThe first time I dove I felt a tinge of panic: “what if I would just lose my head right now, remove the regulator, breathe in a gulp of water, and die? It would be so easy to die.” Indeed it would. And I am still trying to get used to the idea of the PADI buddy system: you travel anywhere on the planet, seek out a reputable dive center, get paired up with a stranger you’ve never met in your life and will probably never meet again, and then place your trust in this person; that he or she is going to stick nearby you during the entire dive and is willing to give you his/her alternate regulator should your air supply fail. And that he or she will stick with you and leave the beautiful scenery behind, should you need to return to the surface, far away from the boat.

Sometimes smaller things go wrong. Travel blogs describing the beauty of diving do not describe what it is like to feel sick and vomit into your regulator, but it happens. So far not to me, thank goodness. But it looks awful: fighting the urge of shooting up to the surface if you are too deep, and to just vomit into your air supply, trying to save air in your lungs so you can then try to purge your regulator. Or, like a kid did the other day, on his first dive ever: forget about safety, shoot up to the surface, remove your regulator, and throw up.

Diving is total surrender to both our ocean planet and to the people who inhabit it. This may sound beautiful but it also means confidence is a key factor when assessing a dive guest’s capability and readiness to dive. The worst that can happen is not equipment failure but panic.

The oceans are the last unexplored frontier of our planet. Even the high mountains and the polar regions have been explored, whereas there is so much unknown under the sea. And our planet is mostly underwater. Ten years ago, very few dove with an alternate regulator for back-up, which today sounds insane. And the first divers wore glass dome helmets and dry suits. They would have thought divers today were crazy. With modern equipment diving has become so safe and easy that even a 10-year-old can get certified. I can’t wait to see what new advances technology will keep bringing, to help us explore the  home of the fish, the dolphins, and the seahorses.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0463.JPG(Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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Mastering the pressure

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0384.JPGI have a love-hate relationship with diving underwater. On the one hand I love the sea and looking at the underwater world. On the other hand, my ear canals are small and I have problems flying with the smallest symptoms of cold, or freediving deeper than 3 meager meters. But together with an instructor from Buccaneer Diving, a divemaster friend, and a lot of technique rehearsing, in Paje I found a way to equalize my ears. My goodness. I also found a way to work with my sinuses pre-emptively so that my ears would also not crackle and pop the next day after the dive.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0440.JPGHello fish, here I come. Even if I now go through the following routine every single minute: equalize by blowing against my nose, get water in mask so I can’t see, stop to clear water from mask by blowing bubbles. Hence, I need to become masterful in buoyancy control and level-diving to minimize pressure changes and the need to equalize. But hello fish, here I come!
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0245.JPG(Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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Under the sea, part II

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0274.JPGIt turned out that the beach hut in Paje was next door to a 5-star PADI dive center. And on Paje beach, every 200 meters there is either a kitesurfing school or dive center. Not going out and underneath the waves was obviously out of the question. And what an amazing reef, outside of the lagoon.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0252.JPGPaje is a windsurfing hotspot because of the wind, of course. This means that getting into the dive boat (and changing air cylinders) was – well, choppy, to say the least. On some days, positively “swell”.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0285.JPG(Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)


Exploring hidden coral caves

coralcaveUnderneath the surface, Zanzibar is a maze of coral rock caves. We stood on the beach near the Fukuchani ruins and felt the hollow ground shake beneath our feet: the waves crashed into subsurface holes in the coral rock. Oh the joy of baby fish, to play hide-and-seek in such a labyrinth!

Further down the road from Kidoti toward Mkwajuni there is a hidden coral rock cave, a short forest hike away. It is just one of the numerous known caves – and it is said to have a passage all the way to the sea. That must be true, as fish were swimming in the dark waters. And the water was crystal clear: everything grayish green on the photo above is underwater.

The cave was nearly impossible to find without the help of a local who knew, a badly placed sign, and some kids by the side of the road. They urged us to leave our expensive rental bikes and hike up. Because this is a locally maintained cave, not one of those famous slave caves that receive busloads of visitors every day. Here you can enjoy the silence and swim a few laps in the freezing cold, clear water without being photographed. Just like other cave explorers before have done, for hundreds of years.

(Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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Maiden voyage of the mangowood boat

boat-1Our boat was freshly made, out of mangowood. The finishing touch was given by a fire just the night before. Burning the surface with a hay fire made it more seaworthy. I was glad it floated.

Zanzibari fishing boats are very narrow and deep, like deep kayaks with wooden side floaters and a sail. My bum was not much smaller than the width of the boat, but for the quite petite locals I am sure the size works much better. The sail is rigged with two ropes so it can be used by one single person – which is the case most of the time anyway. The floaters make the boat very stable, so a solo sailer can focus on working instead on staying afloat.

The fishermen often go out at night. There are very few lights by the shore, and some decades ago there was no electricity at all. The fishermen still know how to navigate using the stars and the wind, avoiding sand banks and coral rock in the dark. boat-3Our fisherman guide said he would not normally take his own daughters or wife out in the boat. It is not done. Women are considered to be too weak to manage the seas. He laughed when I said I pretty much grew up spending my summers on boats, home-made rafts, and other floaters. Local women do fish, but from the shore, wading in the water. Honoring the women, a boat may be named by other villagers after a man’s daughter. This boat was only proving to be seaworthy on this very voyage, so it had not yet earned a name.

Only one experienced boatmaker and sailor would take two tourists onboard for a maiden voyage. I was glad we stayed dry.
boat-2(Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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Under the sea

snorkelingThe reef around Pemba island is in bad shape. I thought it was because of us tourists, but apparently the water has been unseasonably warm for too long. The fish were plentiful though – and so were the jellyfish! I felt many baby jellyfish sting me, and kept looking around for the grown ones but never saw any. Later I met a girl who had been stung so badly her entire skin was prickled red like a fit of hives. Holiday experiences can be rough.

Fortunately, on my outing I could focus on tailing a beautiful dark purple pufferfish with pearly white dots. As it was so beautiful we forgot to photograph it. But here is another pufferfish, almost equally pretty.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0395.JPG(Pemba Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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Namibia on wheels

caretoshaThe Etosha campsites are busy villages: busloads of campers dine and sleep in tents and make incredible noise both late at night as well as at dawn. I had never seen so many cars so close to each other at a campsite where people usually seek privacy. No such concept at Etosha Halali Camp, which is not even the busiest campsite.

The road to and from Etosha is long and straight and busy (and paved!!). Fortunately none of the warthogs and guinea fowls scattered around the banksides made an attempt to cross. Overtaking was tough enough on a narrow, shoulderless, single-lane road, at 120 km/hour. In most other countries this would have been considered dangerous, but in Namibia it is standard practice.

I drove our Land Cruiser most of the 5-hour-drive to Etosha, and back down to Windhoek. It was a struggle to keep the car on the road due to the wind which kept pushing us into the ditch the moment I let my full attention go. The Land Cruiser was a fabulous thing on bad roads and off-roads, but it did not do well on a tar road at 100+ km/hour. The huge, profiled, broad tires were almost impossible to keep in a straight line, and even without wind the car needed constant correction. Overtaking was not really practical in 5th gear and nearly impossible uphill. The poor car would not even make it up the hill in 5th gear at any speed lower than 100 km/h. The gear box was like that of a cargo truck, and I would often end up in 4th gear when aiming for 2nd gear. Getting the car in reverse required two hands and often a few tries, in-between which the car made sounds like it was being tortured miserably.

The indicator light was on the right and the windshield wipers to the left, which meant that if I was not consciously paying attention I turned on the windshield wipers when making a turn. The handbrake was difficult to release, as it often appeared released but got stuck and frightened us with the warning sound when I tried to drive off.

In general, everything linked to driving was on the wrong side, as in Namibia everybody drives on the wrong side of the road. And so I often tried to not only indicate my turns with the windshield wipers, but also tried to shift gears with my right hand, groping empty air or the door of the car. Thank goodness that the clutch, brake, and gas pedal were the right way around. Otherwise I would have been a hazard on wheels. etosha-1(Etosha, Namibia; July 2017)