Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mafia Island

  What a wonderful place. This wild island (pronounced Ma-fee-a and having nothing to do with the Mafia) is one of those rare untouched places left in the world. Caitlin and I left the hustle and bustle of Zanzibar and flew to Mafia on a 10-person plane. Mangrove covered beaches met clear turquoise water. Undeveloped aside from a few resorts, Mafia felt natural. 

  We stayed in one of the only budget guesthouses on the beach in Chole Bay. Our cute little bungalow sat up on the hill with a view of the water through swaying palm trees. Four adorable little brown doggies greeted us and I can’t tell you how nice it was to pet a healthy, friendly dog. Our first evening we explored the beach and ended up climbing a huge Baobab tree. The bark was the color of sunset, grey and pink, and felt like elephant skin. Back at the lodge our server Modi, a student at the Mafia hospitality school, served us the most delicious fresh fish, rice with a light tomato sauce, smokey sautéed greens and a sweet crèpe with guava jam. 

  The next day after breakfast (another amazing meal) we went snorkeling. Our host Ali and Modi took us on a dhow boat (wooden sail boat) to the other end of Chole Bay. The ride was rocky and we giggled like schoolgirls every time a wave crashed in our faces. The coral was breathtaking. You could see damage from dynamite fishing – outlawed 30 years ago when the area became a marine park. Next we explored Chole Island. This tiny island inhabits 1,000 people, old ruins and a lot of fruit bats. The bats hang from the same two trees during the day and fly in search of food at dusk. We walked through the ruins of a slave market and prison from when the island was a large trading post.

 Modi fishing at the snorkel spot

 Chole ruins

 Ali pushing the dhow 

  Our last day I went diving and Caitlin saw baby turtles hatch on the beach at a turtle reserve near by. Being the only diver, it was just me and my two Italian guides Daniel and Alejandro. We did two dives in Chole Bay and they were beautiful. Although I’ve seen larger wildlife on other dives, this truly felt like I was in another world. The coral appeared as if made up by an imaginative child and the thousands of tiny fish came in all colors and designs.  

  The thing I’ll never forget however, were the stars. They enveloped you, feeling close enough to touch. The Milkyway floated above as shooting starts danced across the sky. We would lay on the beach each night mesmerized by the endlessness of them, while the dogs snuggled with us and the bats swooshed above.  Nature’s magic.

I’m working on a travel story about Mafia so stay tuned. Next post: Cairo, Egypt! 

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