Extreme Dolphin Viewing in Zanzibar

As I frantically kicked my flipper-covered feet below me in the open ocean I looked over to Erin and announced the obvious: “This is, in part, my worst nightmare.”

We’d been relaxing in the small beach town of Jambiani, Zanzibar where the water is crystal clear and the locals mercilessly hound you to eat at their restaurant, get a massage, buy a piece of jewelry, go out on their boat, etc. Honestly, it’s exhausting. After two full days of “no, thank yous”, Erin and I had been successfully beaten down and accepted an offer to go swimming with dolphins on the southern tip of the island. Our friend Sasha had recommended it, and we got a decent price of $30 each, so we had nothing to lose.

At 6am we took a short drive to “Dolphin Bay” where we were hurriedly handed snorkel equipment before piling into a small motorboat. Visions of swimming gracefully alongside the beautiful creatures of the sea in a quiet cove were immediately dispelled as we powered straight into the open ocean. Just three minutes in, our driver announced, “One minute ‘til you get in the water. Be ready!” Um, what?! I’m quite uncomfortable in open water and often take 10+ minutes to psych myself up for the first entrance into the abyss. As I looked out at the other boats, it was obvious that an eligible pod of dolphins had been spotted and the time was now. Before my nerves had a chance to kick in the yelling began: “Go! Jump! Look down! Now! Look down!” In an overly dramatic Austin Powers-esque move I put my back to the side of the boat, looked Erin straight in the eyes, and leaned back. I always seem to forget that ocean is salty, so once I recovered from that surprise, I put my head down and there they were—approximately 15 dolphins of varying sizes, cruising along within feet of us. I kicked along for a few seconds, and as quickly as the moment had approached, it was gone as they propelled onwards. Now what?

“Back in the boat!” Erin and I gaped at each other, wondering silently if we’d be able to muscle our way approximately 3’ out of the water. “I just hope my bottoms come with me,” I said and up I went—in quite possibly the least athletic feat I’ve ever accomplished. Once we were all “safely” (read, 1/2 of our bodies) back on board, forward we went to the next spot where the pod would breach. As we approached the group of boats again, you guessed it: “Go! Jump! Look down! Now! Look down!” And so it continued eight more times until the thrill of seeing the animals subsided along with my ability to keep my bottoms up upon reentry to the boat.

On the tenth, and final trip into the water, my sunburned stomach burned after being used as my personal boat deck, my nose was full of salt water, and there were no dolphins in sight—just choppy ocean. While I always enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, and this adventure surely gave us a good laugh and story, I don’t think that “High-Speed Early-Morning Dolphin Stalking” will become a permanent pastime of mine. There are a lot of things that can only be experienced while traveling, and this certainly seems to be one of them. I’m glad that we took the leap, but plan to keep my feet firmly planted on land for the next few days.


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    • Paula on August 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm
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    Hi Ali, We’ve loved reading your blogs and looking at your photos. Showed everything to Grandma and she is happy Papa is on the mountaintop and you are having a memorable trip. Well done! Too bad “hounding” tourists is such a worldwide phenomenon. Stalking dolphins looked pretty intense! xox, Paula

  1. No thanks, as Papa always said,” Theres real big teeth down there!” Glad you survived and a forever great bar stool story. Love you. Dad

    • Mom on August 13, 2012 at 12:18 am
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    Hey Baby –

    What a wild ride! Reminds me of the “swimming with jelly fish in Australia” story. Just remember, it’s ok to say no if you’re not comfortable – especially at a point before you jump in for the 10th time. Go back to the beach and wear earplugs 😉

    Your mama loves you!

    • Sunaina on August 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm
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    Awesome visuals with this posting my friend! Literally felt like I was right there with you girls. Try a sunset cruise on a dow (sp?) boat – much more mellow.

    • Leighanna on August 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm
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    Did sasha wanna play a joke on you two 🙂 ? haha love the stories and reading about your trip! Tell Erin HI!!!!!!

    • Patty Constant on August 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm
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    great to hear you stories, miss Ali–I am proud of you!!!–love, Aunt Patty

    • Patty Constant on August 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm
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    way to go Miss Ali, I’m proud of you–love, Aunt Patty

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