For almost 3 weeks I am instructing freediving courses for Extreme Blue Water Freediving in Nungwi, a small, cozy village at the Northern Cape of Zanzibar, The kilometer-long beach, which almost surrounds the whole north of the islands enabling endless walks or runs or visits in the neighbor village of Kendwa, is full of life during the day. As far as the eyes goes you see fishermen bringing in the catch of the day, hectic ambitious football games, people enjoying the sunlight, always active volleyball courts, art traders and lively bars and restaurant with delicious smelling local specialties or imported dishes for those appetites suffering from homesickness. During the night the human life is moving slightly more inwards the island, apart from the several beach parties, allowing the night crabs to come out of their holes to conquer the beach.
As much as Zanzibar has to offer on Land, I think I am allowed to say, that most of the life is happening in the blue, endless depth of the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar’s marine life has got it all. Sailfish, dolphins, humpback whales, giant tuna, swarms of barracuda, wahoo and rainbow runners. Giant trevallies, groupers, job fish, turtles, lobster, the list is endless… So no matter whether you like freediving in crystal clear water, shooting big fish, or swimming around just watching the mentioned diversity of beautiful sea creatures, Zanzibar is definitely the place on earth you want to be.
Most of the time of the year the waters of the Indian Ocean in front of Zanzibar are crystal clear, and even if the bottom-weight is down to 40 meters, you can still see a shimmer of it coming through. Whether you are a recreational freediver going on a trip to Mnemba Island to enjoy the big wall, the last stop before the open ocean, a giant drop- off to up to 60 meters or a competitive Freediver who is chasing depth on drift dives with water deeper than 100 meters, Zanzibar is not leaving many wishes unfulfilled, and all that in reachable range.
Tumbatu Island for example, is a long, outstretched island on the west coast of northern Zanzibar, inhabited by only 5000 natives. Once you are on its west side you will be able to find over 50 meters of depth just 200 meters off shore. That makes the short swim after the session back to the reef on its coast almost obligatory.
Freedivers, who from time to time also like hunting underwater or enjoying well-prepared fish will be spoiled endlessly. Actually, Zanzibar made me go from two years of being vegetarian to a two-times-a-day-fish-eater within not even a single day! David the spearfishing guide of Extreme Blue Water Spearfishing and person mainly responsible for making our shared houses smelling like fresh fish every day, just recently showed me some video footage of his four days charter to Latham Island, in the South of Zanzibar. It showed huge swarms of massive yellow fin and dog tooth tunas, loads of wahoos and also some emperors. Bullsharks, dolphins, humpback wales and a marlin was just an extra to the anyway awesome trip. No wonder the world record dog tooth tuna weighting proud 109 kg was caught there on spearfishing.
Only on my second day, David took me out for my first time ever of diving with a gun. We got up at first light in the morning to spend as much time in the water as possible. Our captain drove our boat out to Leven Bank, a reef only 4 km north of Zanzibar. That day we had good 25m visibility in nice and blue water. It took us only about 5 minutes until David impaled his spear on a rainbow runner which we were then using for chum. And the fish came! After a few drifts it was already on me to catch my first one. I have fired a good few shots before, all for nothing. But on the next dive I saw a big school of evil- looking barracuda swimming close to me at about 17 meters. I saw my chance, took my time, but in the end actually didn’t even have to aim for a particular fish, fired my gun and impaled it in a barracuda of a reasonable size.
Satisfied enough I took a break on the boat and enjoyed the warm sunlight skipping the next drift. Slowly dozing away I suddenly woke to the good news of a new catch. Jonas, a good friend, also working as Freediving Instructor for the same company caught his first fish as well, a good 15 kilogram wahoo. Reportedly he got an excellent shot and the fish dropped dead immediately not giving him a single chance to fight.
Already on our way out to Leven Bank I continuously kept noticing unusual water movements in near distance. But not until we were heading back the movement finally revealed itself as being a humpback whale performing a couple of 360 degree loops congratulating us to our first catches. As this would not be enough for someone who never spearfished or saw a whale in his life, we got a group of about 15 dolphins accompanying us for a good few hundreds of meters of our way back, jumping and swimming around the boat. And it hasn’t been a one-time experience. Every longer trip we took ever since was sooner or later enriched by the presence of dolphins.
As soon as we got solid ground under our feet it was time to fillet the catch. Of course it is not possible, even for three hungry mouths like ours, to eat that much fish on our own, so the company has a perfect agreement with the locals from the village selling the fish to the restaurants and donating the proceeds to the village fund. Jonas’ wahoo got on our plates and the rest got sold. Already on our way home from the center I saw my barracuda lying on a table in front of one of the beach restaurants easily identified by a mysterious hole in its flank. Funny enough a few days later I got told by a befriended Freediver, who was making holiday on the island, that he had a delicious barracuda at that exact same date in the exact same restaurant.
Already after three weeks being on Zanzibar I cannot see a good reason to leave the island in near future. Instead I will use any minute I got for training freediving, enjoying or catching fish, visiting the numerous reefs or playing football with the locals on the beach. That is why I am finishing this article now and on the way exploring the new and enjoying the known.
By Benjamin Boehme
Blogger and instructor at Freedive International