Saturday, September 04, 2010

What’s with all the Italians in the Mafia?

Mafia Island is about 130 miles southeast of Dar es Salaam (or about 35 minutes in a single engine prop).  It is part of the Zanzibar archipelago, sharing with it the tropical climes, beautiful reef, ancient culture, incredible cuisine, and a shit ton of Italian tourists.  I don’t know what it is about this handful of dots in the Indian Ocean that attracts them in droves, but hotel managers, dive shop operators and the like, all Italian.  They seem particularly well adapted to the “third class service, first class price” mantra of the leisure industry in Africa.
In any case, this was my first weekend off in three months and I was determined to enjoy it.  And as my 5 passenger flight touched down on the sand and shell runway, and I looked out over the small island and big reef, I knew I was right to leave my laptop locked in a desk drawer.  (I take sand and shell runways to be a good omen – like men with good jobs and large tattoos – it just shows a healthy sense of priorities.)  The guy that picked us up was driving a hot-wired 70s vintage Range Rover.  An hour later I was standing on a white sand beach with my book and an ice cold Kilimanjaro. 

Rather unfortunately for me, one of the quirks of diving Mafia is that the viz is crystal clear during high tide, and total murk at low tide.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal had high tide not been at 6 am that weekend – half hour before sunrise.  So each morning of my weekend started off with shivering on the beach at 5:45, watching the sky turn grey and waiting for the crew to finish loading the gear on the wooden dhow that would take us out to the reef.  The good thing was it doubled my time there, because I would be done a full day’s diving by lunch, leaving the afternoon to sleep on the beach and explore the coastal mangrove forest. 

Diving itself was pretty good – particularly on the early morning dives.  There were lots of little things (nudi-branches and colorful flat worms) and big things (like huge sting rays and giant grouper) and all their cousins in between.  My dive camera finally wheezed its last on this trip so the pictures aren’t great, but a new one is on the way next month should be a bit better. 

The off-gas day (you can’t dive then fly within 24 hours) was spent poking around ruins, teasing the huge numbers of fruit bats that live in the trees, and sleeping on the beach.  And arguing with Mafia’s Mafia - the over-chargin’ Italians at Mafia Island Lodge.


Tara said...

Amazing nudibranches! We saw a couple in our dive off Zanzibar as well. And we giggle whenever we say the name. =)

AfriBats said...

Would you add your bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

Many thanks!

PS: these are Seychelles flying foxes, Pteropus seychellensis comorensis