There is a couple arguing about 10 feet away. She seems anxious about the storms that are over Chumbe island, our destination for the day. Indeed, they look dark and one can see the rain falling. I hope that her anxiety doesn’t transfer to Lily, or even Trish, both of whom can have panic reactions on boats.
Trish and Lily are cut from the same cloth in that respect. Water anxiety is unpredictable for both. But water is alluring and exciting at the same time it’s scary. They both love to be in and on the ocean.
Lily was the only crazy kid to go in the pool at Shindzela when it was 50 degrees, and the Fairview Nairobi pool when it was 60. Trish has always loved the sound of the ocean, and is comforted by its sounds and environment. She could live on the beach.
But the fish frighten Lily to bits, as you read from her stay on the Zanzibar beach a few days ago. (Something she shares with her grandpa, Big Daddy. Hi Big Daddy!)
Trish isn’t afraid of fish, but rough water is scary. I remember Trish wanting to scuba dive so badly, but panicking uncontrollably at the high seas and murky water.
Trish has gotten over a lot of her fear, and Lily will too. But a stormy boat ride in a nearly flat-bottomed boat in the rain is not the way any of us want to start a day of snorkeling on Chumbe island, about 3 miles off the West shore of Zanzibar.
And on the 60 minute ride over, I wonder if I’ll regret my choice because it isn’t great weather. They roll down the plastic sides of the boat and we huddle out of the rain spray, which is at least, warm.
But as we dock on the island, the sun comes out and the skies clear like a Disney movie and my thoughts of a ruined day go with them.
Chumbe Island is a rare gem of conservation goodness in Zanzibar’s rubble heap of polluted coral and wastewater runoff. Like many developing countries, the ocean is more valuable as a trash bin than as a beautiful marine ecosystem. There is no judgment from me, I get it. It’s a difficult issue. But as an avid diver, I know coral is dying worldwide.
Until recently Chumbe was known best for housing the area’s light house, a square Arabic design unlike our cylindrical type. It began with a pretty good reef because the island was never inhabited and waste water hadn’t killed the coral, although half the island is still allowed to be fished, which keeps the mature fish count low.
Today it’s run by a non-profit that has set up a few eco-lodge bungalows you can get for the day or stay over for the night. I considered staying here, but we only have 2 and a half days in Stonetown and I want to be in the city.
But for a day trip, Chumbe is delightful. They give us a briefing about the island, and the Creekmore’s get their own bungalow. Lily falls in love with it instantly. I drag Emma straight to the beach for one of our best tutu shots. The sea is gorgeous here, and I spotted a huge gnarled piece of driftwood worth a photo session.
The tutu idea is growing in my head as a project. At first I was dared to do something like this guy does. He also has a wife with breast cancer, and seems to be a pro photographer. I like his stuff, but we wouldn’t ever do anything so refined and reflective. As Betty Chu says, ‘Your tutu pics are much better – in a Psycho-Shining-Creekmore way.’
On our Middle East trip, our project was the ‘kid reporter’ news series. I filmed them most days doing a spontaneous ‘live’ news report about what they experienced. Some of them were hilarious including this famous ‘side monkey’ – as Lily was named – one from Luxor, Egypt.
This trip it’s the pink tutu. I carry it everywhere in a blue pouch along with the black speedo I was made to buy in order to enter a Parisian public pool. (I kid you not.) Every corner I turn yields another opportunity for pulling out the tutu and designing a photograph.
In my head a tutu story is evolving, but I don’t have it together quite yet. I also don’t know what I will do with the pictures even if I have a story.
We brought our snorkel masks and tubes with us because those are the most important gear to have underwater. If your mask doesn’t fit, you will have a crappy experience. After scuba diving yesterday, Emma is excited to jump back in the water even if only with a snorkel. Lily also is excited, but she knows there may be rough spots for her, so she’s a little more subdued.
They ride us out a short ways. You can only snorkel at mid-tide. Like most of the Indian ocean shore of East Africa, the tide goes way out, even exposing coral for a while. When it’s high, it’s too deep. The boat takes about 10 of us a half mile north, against the current so we can float back to the dock.
Everyone is in the water but Lily, who is already hyperventilating. I can see Trish hanging off the side of the skiff, calming her down. Emma and I already started the trip as buddies. I’m so excited to be free diving with my daughter – it’s the next best thing to scuba diving with her.
The reef is pretty nice, only small fish, but some bright coral. Trish says the coral on the East side where they were at Michemvi resort included blazing, saturated colors like she had never seen. These aren’t quite as good, but it’s still pretty beautiful here and I haven’t seen coral in a long time.
Lily is, however, having trouble. First they forgot to bring a life jacket for her, which they had to go retrieve from the dock. With the life jacket on, she stayed on an inner tube they bring for tired snorkelers.
She seemed to be having fun – until the boat left. Scared of being without a boat to pick her up if something happened (even though she was on an inner tube with a life vest, a snorkel guide and Trish) Lily had a DefCon 5 meltdown on the warm water, as she floated gently down reef.
When Lily panics, she gets hysterical. There is no comforting her, and it’s very distressing, frightening and heartbreaking as a parent. It happens a few times a year (the last one was in Tahoe skiing last spring.) Eventually they signal for the boat to come back and she gets in, exhausted and screaming.
Trish floated toward Emma and me and said ‘Lily had a bad panic attack’ from about 20 feet away. Emma and I were unaware of the hysteria and fear Lily had gone through because we had been snorkeling. Closer up, I could see Trish crying as she herself hung on to the inner tube weak of strength.
It’s impossible to be a mom and not be deeply affected by your child screaming in fear. And you’d feel guity as a parent if we made her do it, but we don’t. She could have stayed back and played at the reef center, but she really wanted to go.
Just a few days ago she was snorkeling happily over on the east side of Zanzibar. She is compelled to confront this fear, but it beat her today.
I looked afar, and Lily was happily talking to the boat driver, chatting away and smiling in the reef skimmer. She gets over it fast. It took Trish a little longer, but she got to enjoy half the snorkel dive.
The clams were the best part of this dive – very colorful and strange. A scrawled filefish, one of our favorites from the Caribbean was here too around 30 feet. My lungs could only do a few of those deep dives but I got some pics.
The lunch was really, really good for an eco resort. It made me wish I could stay here overnight. Chumbe is a nicely run place.
In the afternoon we explored the old lighthouse and took some more goofy tutu photos including one where I am standing on the second rail of the railing 200 feet in the air. Later it gives me the chills to look at it, but somehow I wasn’t afraid at the time.
It’s over all too soon, and we head back to Oldtown (locals call Stonetown, ‘Oldtown’) on the same boat. Everyone’s had a great day on Chumbe reef, a little sun exhausted and tired. We wake up our driver, who is napping in the car while waiting for us and off we go.
Chut, chut, chut, the motor dies, and the van rolls a few feet more as the driver guides it to the side of the road. ‘Oh we need more fuel’ he groans and dials his mobile phone. In Swahili he talks quickly and hangs up. ‘The owner promised me it would have enough fuel for this ride.’
Trish might lose her cool here. Her back continues to ache, and the bumpy boat trip made it hurt worse. Plus, it’s too hot in the van and we’ve parked right next to a smelly sewer from which a huge swarm of mosquitos emerges as the sun sets. ‘I’ll be right back’ he says, and runs off.
I cover up in mosquito repellent. They come for me first usually, but no one is spared the mosquito swarms here. Everyone is putting it on shortly. I’m worried about the look on Trish’s face. It’s half rage and half despair.
He brings back 2 quarts of fuel in a plastic can. Fuel is about $6 a gallon. Most people don’t ‘fill it up’ they just add a half gallon at a time because it’s so expensive. The van starts and we’re home shortly enough, with plenty of time for dinner and early to bed.