I arrived in Zanzibar after backpacking my way through Malawi and Tanzania, largely undecided as to where I was heading next. During a walk on the beach close to where I was staying in Nungwi, the northernmost village on the island, I stumbled upon Mnarani Turtle Conservation Pond – a natural lagoon stretching over a hundred metres inland, lined with coral rock and mangrove trees. I met two women outside the aquarium, both volunteers who had organised their experience through Global Vision International (GVI), a UK-based organisation with volunteer projects all over the globe.
After being introduced to a few of the locaIs who manage the aquarium, I offered my physical assistance and little understanding of marine ecology in exchange for a place to stay. They put me up in a banda (hut) right outside the aquarium, only a few metres from the beach.
For the first few days I gobbled up turtle facts so that I could act as a guide for any tourists that visited. The rest of my tasks involved feeding the turtles, collecting seaweed and changing the water in the smaller tanks that housed the hatchlings. Every day was educational: whether it was learning facts about turtles, the political history of Zanzibar or basic Swahili.
The incredible beauty of my environment also made every day a pleasure; the sand was a powdery white and the water an ethereal shade of turquoise. In the evenings the sun would disappear behind a line of palms on the other end of the beach, leaking reds, oranges and pinks into the sky. Joyous shouts and fits of laughter rang from the beach daily as kids played soccer and swam until the stars twinkled.
By living and working with the locals, I became part of the community and didn’t feel like a tourist. During my two months at the aquarium I was able to explore some of the other joys Zanzibar had to offer. I snorkelled above the psychedelic reefs of Mnemba Atoll, walked beneath the towering trees of Jozani forest, rode a bicycle through the narrow streets of Stonetown and danced the night away at full-moon parties in Kendwa. Do something productive and play - that to me is what travel should be all about.
Check out the article in the Getaway magazine.