Chagua Magufuli, Chagua Mafia

The Mafia archipelago has a rather unusual and unfortunate name. ‘Mafia’ derives from the Arabic word ‘Morfiyeh’, meaning group. Although you won’t find any pistol wielding gangsters sporting Cordoba hats, the real criminal here is the marine park. Anyone diving, snorkelling, or even just staying within the marine park boundaries, which are all around the village of Utende – where all the resorts are, and Chole bay- where the dives sites are, must pay $20 marine fee per person per day. To put that into context, a couple on a fortnight’s holiday staying in a Utende lodge will have to dish out $560, even if they plan on doing nothing more than sitting on the beach. This is truly ridiculous, it’s not uncommon anywhere in the world to pay a one off fee when diving in a marine park, as most of the time the tourist dollar does go towards the marine conservation. By charging this amount it is only putting people off coming here and the annoying thing is that everybody knows that only a fraction of the money received is going back into the park, the majority is shared between the dirty hands involved with corrupt African politics. We stayed in the main town on Mafia island, Kilindoni, where the rooms are a fraction of the price and there’s more going on in terms of affordable food and drink. Kilindoni is outside the marine park so we only had to pay the fee on the days we travelled to Utende to dive, I ended up actually only paying $40 for the five days I entered, which I felt was fair. Where there’s a will there’s a way! 

Mafia is said to have some of the best diving in the West Indian Ocean. ‘Kinasi Pass’ is a sloping reef with a maximum depth of 23 metres. Lovely to just drift along the bottom of the slope and look up at the thousands common fish with the odd schools of needlefish and barracuda, just like swimming in the pre-title sequence of a 007 movie. 



On most of our dives we always seemed to come across at least one Nudibranch, a shell-less marine mollusc under the order of Nudibranchia aka a sea slug. It may not sound like much to a non-diver, but these tiny cartoony creatures come in a wide range of shapes and colours and are a favourite with many macro dive junkies. 


Makadoni outside of the bay, is a beautiful site with a lot of different corals, huge schools of snapper, sweet lips, morays, and turtles. Somehow the sight of a turtle gliding towards me is something I never get bored of, apart from the time when I was involved in a car crash at a junction in Ashington with a van transporting a load of those teenage mutants, that was turtle mayhem. 



We visited an unnamed site which I like to refer to as ‘we can’t get out of the bay so let’s just dive here’ and it was surprisingly good. Here we were followed by some giant napoleon wrasse’s, which is unusual as something with such a French sounding name you’d expect to run away from the English. There was also some nice topography when looking at the rock formations from below, proving that diving is not just about fish and coral. 



Seahorse City is done from the shore at Utende. At only 3m deep we were basically diving in the sand and weeds in search of unusual creatures that you wouldn’t normally find out at the other sites such as pipefish, razorfish, upside down jellyfish, pufferfish and after which this site is named, seahorses. These minute, prehistoric looking critters are difficult to spot and got me thinking about the two seahorses on Newcastle United’s crest. They’re taken from the city’s coat of arms which they were added to by William Flower, Norray King of Arms in 1575 as a reminder that Newcastle is a seaport. 



About a 20 minute drive from Kilindoni and outside the marine park is the peninsular of Kisimani Mafia. There was once an Arabic fort here and it is possible to still find some ancient Arabic coins in the sand. Now all you will find here is an amazing unspoiled beach, which at high tide, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. At the moment there’s no road leading to Kisimani, just a sand trail so you have to come by motorcycle. There’s a few half finished bungalows that a Russian investor started to build some years ago, which may be finished one day. I wonder if in 20 or 30 years time I’ll visit here again to find Kisimani developed into Mafia’s answer to Nungwi? 


Mange Island, is a sandbank a few hours from Mafia in the middle of the ocean, about a 50 metre stretch of permanent, pure white sand. A great way to spend Christmas Day having BBQ seafood for our dinner, minus the pigs in blankets. The reefs around here are not as good as those in Chole bay, but are apparently a good place to see reef sharks. Sadly there were no sharks out to play on this day, but plenty of blue spotted rays which take off like a rocket whenever they’re spooked.



Before I came to Mafia I had high expectations, I haven’t been disappointed. Beautiful diving, untouched beaches, friendly locals, and a much more low-key and less touristic alternative to Zanzibar. In the last few months Tanzania has voted a new president into government, John Magufuli. Magufuli’s campaign posters reading ‘Chagua Magafuli’ (choose Magafuli) are still plastered on every wall all over the country. He’s proven very popular with a lot of the people after he has sworn to rid his nation of all corruption which may hopefully introduce some more sensible rules in regards to the current marine fee in the near future. We all know that what politicians promise, and what politicians actually do are two different things. Only time will tell whether Magafuli goes down the same road as his predecessors, either way let’s hope that Mafia will remain the gem of the Indian Ocean that it truly is. 


Categories: Diving | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Should Be So Lucky Lucky, In Zanzibar

In Zanzibar the locals use Dala Dalas to commute around the island. A Dala Dala is basically a converted truck with two benches running along both sides of the back of the vehicle. So good they named it twice, on a Dala Dala there’s always room for one more person, 35 people I counted at one point, now I know what those slaves must’ve felt like whilst being shipped to Zanzibar.

Too close for comfort in a Dala Dala

The tiny village of Pongwe on the East Coast of Zanzibar is the place I’ve been looking for to get away from the crowds and do nothing for a few days. Only eating octopus, sitting in the sun and writing this godforsaken blog, life can be so cruel sometimes. 


In a place as remote and off the map as this, it’s the last place you’d expect to see a toon fan. Well in Pongwe, Yonson assures me he is Zanzibar’s biggest “Newcastle Team” fan. He knows what he’s wearing and hasn’t mistaken the famous black and white stripes for a Juventus shirt, which is a good start, but the fact he thought I was Fabricio Collocini when I showed him a picture of me in the St James’ Park changing rooms is making me think he may have just liked the colours. 


Pongwe is primarily a fishing village but a lot of the coastal dwellers make their income from seaweed farming. The seaweed grows at a rate of 7% per day, increasing tenfold from its original weight in a fortnight. Most of it is sent abroad and used for its main extract, carrageenan, a natural gelling agent used for cosmetics, toothpaste and medicine. The farmers earn on average $60-100 per month, what can easily be blown on a night out in the town at home. 


Nungwi on the Northern tip of Zanzibar is admittedly a nicer beach. Go there at sunset to see some local guys practicing capoeira.



Nungwi is a lot more touristy than Pongwe and probably everywhere else on the island. The beach is lined with expensive hotels catering for package holiday makers and restaurants selling pretty much the same food as the next one. The most annoying thing is the amount of hassle you get from the hoards of local beach boys selling snorkelling trips, bus tickets, boat trips, crappy souvenirs and anything else you can think of to make some money. Then there’s the fake Masai selling fake sunglasses and fake Masai art, and not to forget the gigalos selling themselves to the Western women who want a bit of fun in the sun. The tourists I can deal with, but when you can’t walk down the beach in peace for a few minutes without being fist pumped and followed by a so called Rasta selling crap African ganja then there’s something seriously wrong, and quite how you can be the ‘brother from another mother’ of a guy you’ve just met I’ll never know. 


So the bottom line is, Nungwi isn’t my favourite place and needs sorting out fast as the hawkers are giving it a bad reputation. The only reason we came here though was to dive one of Zanzibar’s most famous site, Mnemba island. 


The tiny coral atoll is home to many deep drop off walls and small colourful reefs. It’s was nice for its large schools of fish and many moray eels. I was really amazed to see a school of rare ‘lucky lucky’ fish, who approached me from behind sporting Bob Marley hats trying to sell me ‘I love Zanzibar’ t-shirts, it seems even underwater you can’t escape the touts! 




Categories: Diving, Tanzania, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Minahasan Delights And Disasters

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Gorontalo ferry from the Togeans. It was only a week ago that the same voyage collided with a small fishing vessel, the real trouble started when the crew opened the main doors to rescue the fishermen and water began to flood into the hull, if there’s one way to sink a ferry, then that’s how it’s done. When we boarded I counted a grand total of six life jackets – there were at least one hundred passengers on board. That is just one of the reasons why Indonesia has a very poor record when it comes to transport disasters.

I couldn’t come to Indonesia and not trek up an active volcano. Since being put on ‘alert’ status two years ago, Gunung Lokon near Tomohon has erupted ten times, the last one back in March, can’t get more active than that. You’re not actually allowed to climb the volcano for safety reasons, but the security guards take the day off on a Sunday which is typically Indonesian. The guy at our hotel told us it was safe, so off we went…

Gunung Lokon

Hardened lava

A couple of hours hike took us to the crater where we had some nice views of the surrounding islands. A little bit of smoke was coming from the crater but no big deal, the main issue was the smell of sulphur AKA rotten eggs. As we began to climb to the peak an increasing amount of smoke started rising up from the crater and the views vanished, time to head back down. I guessed this was quite normal for a volcano of ‘alert’ status, but when I woke up on Monday morning and glanced over to Lokon I understood why you’re not meant to climb it.

V is for Volcano

The Crater

Time to move out

7am – Monday


The Minahasan people of North Sulawesi are well known for eating almost anything. Spicy bat can be found on the menu at some Tomohon warungs but if you want to taste rat, python or dog you’ll have to be invited along to a local party. We attended a seventy first birthday bash next to our hotel where I decided to reluctantly continue my culinary quest and taste a small portion of mongrel meat from the buffet. Dog, in my opinion, tastes very similar to lamb or mutton, it didn’t half make me have some weird dreams though. Those dreams turned to nightmares the following day when we popped into Tomohon’s daily meat market and saw the exotic food being prepared, then the dog taste from the previous evening seemed a whole lot worse. WARNING: Animal lovers might want to skip the next set of photos…

This little piggy went to market..

This little piggy wished he’d stayed at home…



Rat skewers…


Before, and sadly…



Let’s not forget…


From the heights of Lokon, to the underwater world of Bunaken island in just a few hours. Bunaken has some of the most spectacular marine diversity I’ve seen in my short diving life. In our half a dozen dives we saw rare pygmy seahorses, napoleon fish, black/white tip reef sharks and eagle rays to name but a few. We saw plenty of shelled reptiles at a dive site quite fittingly named ‘turtle city’. Giant green turtles slept in the coral while the smaller ones swam along gracefully. Some decided to hide within the rocks, but you could still see a turtle’s head popping out. This was the most Chelonia Mydas I had seen in one dive and thought it was great, the bloke from Ashington on the dive boat said it was ‘turtally amazing!’

20130923-094358.jpgFinding Nemo

20130923-094351.jpgDive buddies

The barely recognisable Pygmy seahorse’s colour depends on the type of sea fan it lives on

Underwater photos courtesy of Leigh Taylor

As magnificent as the underwater neighbourhood around Bunaken may be, it is under threat from a Chinese mining company who are attempting to bleed the island of its natural resources. The people of Bunaken are doing their best to keep them at bay for now, but I can’t help but think that the chance of making some quick and easy cash will eventually turn their heads. Also, Bunaken’s proximity to Manado means that a lot of the rubbish floats over from the city, on one dive we done after a storm I saw more plastic bags floating around than big fish. A 150,000 Rupiah marine fee for divers is in place to preserve the waters around Bunaken, sometimes you won’t be asked to pay it by your resort, I wasn’t. The Lonely Planet claims it goes to a good cause but those books contain so much incorrect information, you’re better off just using it as toilet paper. So, if you’re not asked to pay this ‘marine fee’, then don’t, I have first hand information that the money simply filters through into the hands of the dirty government, corrupt pigs. This is no more apparent than the sorry sight of a pile of dirty nappies washed up on the Eastern side of the island. Bunaken is an amazing place for now, but if nothing is done very soon by the Indonesian government and its people, then eventually it will resemble somewhere from the darkest depths of Sunderland…

Dormant volcano ‘Old Manado’ at sunset, let’s hope it continues to look like this

Back on the mainland it was time to leave Sulawesi, it’s been a delight to visit such an interesting place where death and diving play an important role in keeping this part of the world unique. With Mount Lokon still smouldering in the backdrop, I realised that I hadn’t seen an eruption this big since Joe F******* Kinnear’s foul mouthed rant at the British press!


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My Big Fat Sea Gypsy Bomber

The Togean islands are in a giant bay between the metaphorical arms of Sulawesi, and are very difficult to reach. A few days of sitting on busses, bemos, ojeks and boats left me feeling travel sick (as in sick of travelling) and furious I didn’t pack any sudocrem, but all was forgotten when we finally arrived in this beautiful, undiscovered gem…



The Bajau sea gypsies are the people of the Togeans, they used to spend much of their lives living on boats travelling the Sulawesi seas whilst diving for pearls and other marine produce. Now the Bajau have settled down in some permanent villages around the Togeans. They still possess some of their gypsy nature though and can be found doing a spot of tarmacing on the mainland and taking part in bare knuckle fist fights…


Typical Bajau house

Once you get to the Togeans there’s no TV, phone signal or Internet, a perfect place to escape from the real world and for once, forget about waiting in vain to see who Newcastle would (or wouldn’t) sign this transfer window. On our island, Walea Kodi, there isn’t much to do bar borrow a wooden canoe and play Andy Cole and Barry Venison stranded on a desert island for a few hours but thankfully, I’m a diver now…


Bagsey Andy Cole!

Our beach

In a world of smartphones and tablets, these plastic clackers are just taking off in the Togeans

The Teluk Tomini sea was supposedly recovering from cyanide fishing, but at some of the sites we visited around Walea Kodi and Melange there was very little sign of this and I got to see some very healthy looking reefs with amazing visability. The most interesting dive was the American B-24 Bomber which can be found just off the coast of Palau Togean…


The consolidated B-24 liberator was on its way back from a mission around the Pacific in April 1945 when one of the engines started leaking oil after being hit by a Japanese bullet. Lt. Henry Etheridge realised the aircraft would never make it back to base, so ordered his men to wrap up in their parachutes for extra padding and then proceeded to crash land the plane into the shallow waters whilst listening to Flight of the Valkyries. All of the crew members survived and hid out with the villagers on the heavily forested island until they were rescued. The B-24 is now settled at a depth of 22 metres, covered with huge sponges, colourful corals and is the home to dozens of scorpion fish. Many parts of the plane are still intact such as the propellors, wheels, cockpit with instruments, gun turret and you can even pop into the fuselage to see the parachutes that saved the lives of Etheridge’s men.





(Wreck photos courtesy of Steven Greenstein)

Our other dive sites included Ales Rock, Reef 5, Chris Spot and Hotel California which were all unique in their own way. Getting away from the Togeans was just as tricky as getting there, but was all worth it, especially when I finally checked the Internet and realised this blog had reached almost 5000 views, cheers stalkers! That means one thing, it’s competition time at likethewheels, the first person to comment on this post will receive a special postcard from yours truly, signed with a kiss…
(Previous winners are exempt, sorry!)

Sunset on Walea Kodi

‘Hotel California’ where the local fisherman escape from the rain and sing…Welcome to the Hotel California…

Categories: Diving, Indonesia | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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