Swimming with dolphins is one of those activities that tops many a bucket list. Coming face to face with some of the most beautiful, intelligent and dignified creatures that planet earth possesses. This post is to encapsulate my first encounter with them and to make sure that as I continue to tell this story in the future I don’t lose the actual events amongst exaggeration and hyperbole.
When I mention “we” in this story, these are the beautiful bunch to whom I refer (I’m the one in the melons T-shirt).
After a long and eventful journey we made it to Zanzibar. What a place. Every single view that it presented to us was like a reward for putting up with all of the delays and an infuriating bulbous woman at the airport (some of us put up with her better than others). I loved it, we had what seemed like our own little undisturbed portion of paradise. This is all extremely high praise because I’m not really a beachy kind of guy.
The full narrative of whilst we were there escapes me; I remember we arrived just in time to watch England lose to Italy on penalties (Euro 2012) then it all merges into a lovely blur of barbecued food in Stone Town, lots of exploring, fresh fruit, volleyball , sunshine and… Konyagi.
Konyagi is the local firewater. I’d describe the taste as the sweet spot between gin and vodka. It sounds foul but trust me, this stuff is great! It comes in pouches (as above) and what you can do is either decant it nicely from the pouch into some fruit juice or just do what we did and shoot from the bag.
Anyway, let me tell you about the dolphin boat trip. I don’t know exactly how the opportunity came along but one morning I was swept up from my lazy slumber and into the frenzy of “let’s go swimming with dolphins!! It’s less than £20”. Why not?
Skip to the beach. After what seemed like a short van journey we walked from the road, passed a little building, down through some trees and into the sand. Sat near the edge of the water was the boat. Up to this point I had imagined that the whole situation was going to be very easy, perhaps we’d be in one of those big glass bottomed boats that you see in cruise adverts, sailing elegantly through mirror calm water. Instead, the boat was just what looked to my eyes like a series of gammy planks all nailed and lashed together like a rushed art project made on the bus on the way to school. Above the sketchy base there was a spindly frame that I remember looking like the beginnings of a chicken hutch or a washing line.
“Can I have a life jacket please?”.
I ran back to the little building, picked up a life jacket and then whilst we waited to board I stood staring out to sea like “how the hell did this even happen?”. I remember thinking “if this thing sinks, this is it, there’s no life brigade, this thing probably is the life brigade”. Everyone else was absolutely fine, to the point where there was actual smiles and chatter. It was way too late to turn back now.
We got on the boat and I remember clocking that the driver (pilot? captain?…admiral?) of the craft had a really weird looking pendant hanging from a necklace around his neck. I thought nothing much of it at this point and sat down.
The sea was rough, it looked okay before we were on the boat however, once we had gone out a bit it really started to lurch around in the water. I was trying to use my car journey technique to avoid sea sickness, facing as best as I could in the direction of travel and looking to the horizon. This might have helped a bit but the battle was futile, the sickness was winning. We swayed in all directions, up, down, left right all whilst pushing on forwards.
After a short while the skipper’s pendant began to make noises and vibrate. He pulled it from his chest and up to his ear. It wasn’t just a wacky trinket, it was his phone, concealed inside a condom! Tied around his neck with string! What a champ!! I hadn’t seen that much ingenuity with a condom since the balloon animal incident of 2010.
He pulled the condom away from his ear (sorry for those that have just tuned in) and pointed with a full stretched arm. “Dolphins this way!”
The boat rocked more than ever, my stomach was not in a good way whatsoever. All I could hear clearly was the thrashing of the little motor, the sea crashing all around and the excited yelps of everyone else on the boat. It was a false alarm. There were no dolphins. Again, the condom phone raised to the ear of the captain and we started making waves for a new spot.
After trying a few places to no avail things were not looking good. The constant motion and sporadic seesaws in all directions had pushed me to the edge. I couldn’t hold on anymore, my face had turned a mixture of white and green, we all knew what was coming. I turned around so that my head was facing into the water and I just waited. It was dreadful, truly dreadful, and there was nothing I could do about it.
“How many minutes until we’re back on land Bailey?”, of course he didn’t know, how would he? All we knew at this point was that dolphins were potentially close and that there was absolutely no way that we were going to return without having seen them.
It’s at this point in the story that I usually get carried away, it’s the good bit that involves actual puke and dolphins all at the same time. One time I even went as far as to say that a dolphin rose from the water just as I was being sick and there was a slow motion vomit to face moment resulting in the dolphin staring solemnly at me with judging eyes. The real story is that I was sick into the water, a lot, to the point where I felt like I was inside out, my eyes bulged red and tears spilled down my dopey face. Then, whilst the sick was still fresh in the water a dolphin swam through it. Not as cool a story but still catastrophic for human-dolphin relations.
I maneuvered myself back to face into the boat. Instead of being strong and sitting for the journey back I opted to lie fetal on the floor (poop deck?) in all of the gunk; I imagine that to everyone around me I looked like one of those alien toys that people used to try and breed… or a silly hot mess that was quite literally way out of his depth.
We made it back to land, what a feeling! I paced off down the beach a little, vomited again, scooped some sand over the mess and then passed out. After a couple of minutes everything was okay, my stomach felt better and the fact that I’d just seen dolphins in the wild just started to sink in.
Despite the sea sickness and being apprehensive at first I look back on this moment really fondly and would recommend it in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t swim with the dolphins (I’ll save that story for another time), just to see such beautiful animals in the wild is an experience that will stay with me forever. Take my advice however, when you go, take sea sickness pills (I didn’t know that they existed at this point) and no matter how bad it gets, don’t let pictures like this one below (me at my finest) leak out on the internet…