Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Welcome to Little Zanzibar; EAST AFRICA Pemba, off the Coast of Tanzania, Is Laidback and Traditional -- and One of the World's Great Dive Spots, Says Graeme Green

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Welcome to Little Zanzibar; EAST AFRICA Pemba, off the Coast of Tanzania, Is Laidback and Traditional -- and One of the World's Great Dive Spots, Says Graeme Green

Article excerpt

Byline: Graeme Green

THE tail disappeared into the blue. Its owner had only been with us a few moments before gracefully gliding away but it was unmistakable: a manta ray. Dive instructors Glenn Campbell and Alla Druzhynina performed a delighted little "victory" dance under the water.

Later, back on the dive boat, the celebrations continued. "Wow, a manta. A manta hasn't been seen under the water here for four years," Campbell explained. "People thought they'd all disappeared. To see mantas returning is so exciting for Pemba."

It's an exciting time overall for Pemba, a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania. There's the arrival of a luxurious hotel (one of just a handful on the island), Pemba Marine Reserve's pristine dive sites are starting to earn an international reputation and the island itself is emerging as a less developed, more laid-back alternative to Zanzibar. Indeed, Pemba had been described to me as "like Zanzibar 30 years ago". It was easy to see why as our little plane from Dar Es Salaam came in to land. Whereas Zanzibar's coast is busy with resorts and the heavily populated area near the airport is a sea of shining metal roofs, Pemba's is emptier, still deserving of its "Green Island" nickname.

We saw a glimpse of island life as we drove south from the airport, passing villages where children in blue-andwhite uniforms rode bikes or walked home from school, the girls on this mostly Muslim island wearing white headdresses. The fertile land on each side of the road was being used to produce mango, papaya and the spices these islands are renowned for: cloves, vanilla, ginger, black pepper From Nkoani port we took a speedboat out to Fundu Lagoon, a secluded beach hangout on the south-west coast.

Wooden buildings with thatched roofs faced out onto the ocean, decorated inside with African masks, shields and drums. In the mornings we watched from our spacious safari-style tent as local women in colourful robes walked along the beach to collect shellfish, while monkeys played on the sand.

Continued on Page 49 Continued from Page 47 In the morning, I boarded a yellow speedboat for Misali Island, across from Fundu. "The coral here is so pristine, so healthy, and there's a lot of fish," Medi Hamis, instructor with Dive 710 (Fundu's in-house dive centre) told me. "Zanzibar and other places are not so pristine, and the dive sites there can have a lot of other dive boats. Here, it's just us."

We geared up, rolled backwards from the boat and descended to explore "Coral Mountain". Large tuna and jacks swam together in squads. A behemoth Napoleon wrasse hovered. Medi picked out a stingray, camouflaged in the sand. Thousands of tiny silver and gold fish glistened as we swam over fan and brain coral.

Later, at the Wowowo dive site, we saw shoals of masked bannerfish, a torpedo ray resting on corals and a massive potato grouper. "Wow, did you see how busy it was down there?" Medi asked, excitedly, as we hit the surface.

The next day we drove north, past Chake-Chake, the island's capital, and up through the island's sweet potato and cassava farms and rice fields. At Mtambwe we stopped at 1001 Organic Zanj Spice, where Mwubwa Shaib led us proudly around his plantation, picking cinnamon, vanilla ("king of the spices"), lemongrass, turmeric, cloves (the "black gold of Zanzibar") and more for us to inspect, smell and taste.

Spices and trade are central to the history of these islands. Zanzibar was previously a Portuguese colony, then a Sultanate of Oman and, later, a British Protectorate, before gaining independence in 1963. …

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