Following Flipper (without flippers)

It had all sounded very promising during the sales pitch.. “Come let us take you swimming with our magnificent gentle dolphins in the calm spectacular beauty of their natural Indian Ocean habitat” Mr Seleem had urged. “Be awed by their beauty and agility. You will never forget this unique Zanzibar experience. Limited space available. Only $US25 including transportation and lunch. Alcohol extra.”

Hmm. That had been yesterday. Fifty kilometres away in his office in the capital, Stone Town. On dry land.

The morning drive down the west coast of Zanzibar, the original ‘Spice Island’ had been sublime, bucket-sized potholes and dodgy suspension in Mr Seleem’s ancient minibus notwithstanding. When the bus finally belched to a stop it pulled up at a dazzling white beach of fine powder sand, lapped by turquoise waters and framed by swaying palm trees so green as to be almost a cliché . So far so good.

It was when we rounded the headland and headed out into the open ocean that the mood changed and now, peering anxiously over the undulating side of the decrepid wooden boat as it shuddered violently whilst being hit broadside by yet another jarring wave, it didn’t seem nearly so promising.

However Jamal the boatman was adamant. “Come on, Jump in, Meester. Jump! There’s a dolphin. See? And another. And another! There's dolphins everywhere! Queek, Meester, Jump!” And so I found myself in the deep. And pretty soon after that in deep trouble.

The ‘gentle dolphins’ today were anything but gentle and their natural Indian Ocean habitat was far from calm. In fact it was rough as hell and the dolphins were in a feeding frenzy. Apparently a large shoal of fish had (foolishly) swum by about five minutes before our leaky tub had arrived and the last thing the dolphins wanted to do was ‘frolic and tease’,two other words Mr Seleem had used as he closed the sale. All these creatures wanted to do was eat, right now, and no foolish floundering Australian tourist was going to get in the way of their quarry. Particularily one who'd foolishly forgotten to put on flippers before he'd taken his leap of faith into the briney, and who could at this stage only vaguely see them as quick flashes of grey through his ill-fitting mask before they vanished in the direction of Madagascar.

But, hey, where was the boat going? Chasing the dolphins through the crashing waves, that’s where. There were still other paying customers aboard who hadn’t been suckered into jumping into the foaming sea and Jamal wasn’t going to wait around. “Here, Meester. Grab on to this. We’ll come back soon” and with that he was gone, chucking out an obviously well used old speckled red & white flotation ring which came to rest about 10 metres away from me, a not inconsiderable distance to swim under the circumstances, but which I grabbed hold of gratefully as if my life depended on it, which in retrospect perhaps it actually did. Visions of Rose and Jack in ‘Titanic’ came to mind as I bobbed there, cold and unamused, and it crossed my mind as I veered from anxiety to sheer panic that I was not at all sure if I’d know the difference between a dolphin or a shark’s fin if I saw one coming towards me either!

To give him his due, Jamal was indeed back to collect me about 10 minutes later, positively flushed with excitement as the people aboard his battered old vessel had apparently got fabulous photos when the shoal of fish had swum right under the boat and the diving and splashing of the dolphins was by all accounts a sight to behold.

“Frolicking and teasing, I suppose?” I enquired between gritted and chattering teeth

“Just like Flipper’ he grinned, gold tooth glinting in the sun. ‘’You should have seen it!”
“Tomorrow Mr Seleem has organised a shark fishing trip. Maybe you’d like to join us?”

S Poole

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