I’ve jumped off the wooden dhow and am fighting to stay afloat in the rough waters of the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Pemba, Zanzibar’s main island. It’s my 30th birthday and the skipper had promised me I would be able to swim with dolphins. I look around, there are two or three other dhows in our general area, but no one else had been brave enough to take the plunge yet. Where are they? I put my goggles back on and start floating. My stomach gives a lurch as I see a dark shadow pass beneath me. “Shark!” is my first instinct and a sharp stab of fear shoots through my heart. Then logic takes over: “You’re here to swim with dolphins, silly.” I look up from the water and my heart skips another beat. A school of dolphins are swimming past me, their beautiful silver bodies gliding effortlessly through the waves that are wearing me out with every kick against the current. I try to get closer, but these are not tame animals, and not in the mood for playing today it seems. An adult with two baby dolphins dive past me and I wonder if that’s perhaps the reason they’re not willing to come closer. Plop! Plop! Plop! Suddenly I’m not the only one in the water, as snorkelers from the other boats also decide to get in on the action. But the dolphins have moved on and it’s time I do to0. I struggle my way back into the boat and watch the magnificent mammals disappear into the distance as we head back to the island.
“What have I gotten myself into now?” I wonder as they strap me into the harness. “Running, running!” is all my handler has time to say as the boat suddenly starts pulling me off my feet. I run as fast as I can on the soft sand and then, with one sharp tug, the parachute catches the wind and I’m in the air! The handler unlatches himself and climbs nimbly along the ropes, but I hardly notice. I have the most wonderful view of the bay, sparkling sapphire blue below me, the people tiny dots on the sand in the distance. With the wind whipping my hair around my face and my toes dangling in the air, I feel exhilarated, liberated, and not at all scared. The 15 minutes is over too quickly and we descend, the sand suddenly getting closer at an alarming rate. “Running, running!” my handler shouts and before I know it we are back on terra firma. “How was it?” Claudette asks. “I want to do that again!” is my enthusiastic reply.
We wander the deserted streets of the little town of Paola in Malta, completely lost with no idea how to get to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. “You’d think a World Heritage site would be better signposted,” is Gareth’s complaint and I point towards a tip in my guidebook: “The entrance to the Hypogeum is difficult to find, but not to worry, the friendly locals are used to giving directions to lost tourists.” And then just such a friendly local comes walking towards us and before we have time to ask, he shouts from across the street: “Hal Saflieni?” We nod and smile at the irony as he points us in the right direction. It takes us another 20 or so minutes before we finally spot the unobtrusive entrance in a side street that we both maintain we had walked past at least twice now. We had booked this visit months ago, and now, two of only eighty people per day allowed to enter the deathly cold and pitch-black temple, we follow our guide deeper into the rock-carved subterranean tombs you would never have suspected exists while outside in the blistering heat and bright Mediterranean sunshine.
Labels: Africa, Asia, Europe, fond memories, Malta, Phuket, Thailand, Zanzibar