Getting PADI Certified: Scuba Diving at Paje Beach, Zanzibar
After my epic scuba diving fail earlier this year in Roatan, Honduras, where I had unknowingly let my referral expire (yes, it expires after one year!), I decided to try again to get PADI open water certified in Zanzibar at Paje beach. I wanted to go with Buccaneer Diving because I had heard good things about them through the blogging community and was intrigued to explore Paje beach, where the dive shop is located.
Paje beach is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes from Stone Town, where the ferry from Dar es Salaam ports. As I was staying in Stone Town, I took a direct taxi the first day for 50,000 TS one way (approx. 25 USD), and a dala dala (local bus) the second day for 2000 TS one way (approx. 1 USD). For quite a drastic difference in price, the dala dala was definitely worth it, though it could be confusing to communicate where you need to go if your Swahili skills aren’t up to snuff. Though the hour plus journey may seem long, it was 100% worth it for views like this:
Paje is the water sport hub of the island, offering low tides and high winds perfect for wind surfing. As you can see, there was a lot of action going on out there, so it wasn’t the most leisurely beach for swimming – but it didn’t bother me at all. I was under water for most of the two days I spent there.
On the first day, I met my instructor Arnold, a laid back local guy with a big smile. Since I completed my pool component in Canada, but with SDI (Scuba Diving International), PADI required me to do some pool skills (again) in order to be sure I was trained up to their standards. I ended up spending that first morning in the pool completing the equivalent to a refresher course to satisfy Arnold that I wasn’t going to freak out in the reef and bolt to the surface. We practiced assembling the equipment, emergency skills and buoyancy skills.
Once we finished, we made a game plan for our dive sites for the next two days:
1. Lagoon Mounding (12 metres)
2. Stingray City (12 metres)
3. Sau Inn Garden (18 metres)
4. Jambiani Lagoon (15 metres).
Then, it was time to play the waiting game for high tide so we could depart for the reef.
The Buccaneer dive shop is attached to the gorgeous Arabian Nights Hotel, where there is a chill beach front bar equipped with plush outdoor décor and a hammock.
As we waited, I relaxed in the lounge and enjoyed a Zanzibar spiced coffee until it was go time.
Once we were out on the boat, we bounced over the waves as we made our way to reef. I suited up, did final checks on my BCD, and did the ‘roll of faith’ backwards off the boat. Once I hit the water, I knew the next two days would be an amazing adventure!
There is something funny about being 50 feet deep in the ocean: it feels so natural, despite how unnatural it actually is. All you can hear is the sound of your breath, as a slowness settles in and the current gently rocks you. When the heavy current slowed down and there wasn’t as much sand sifting around the water, it became clear just how pristine the water was.Unfortunately the GoPro SD card malfunctioned and the amazing photos I took were lost, so I will try to describe it as vividly as I can.
Amongst the towering crater-like reefs of coral, electric coloured urchins billowed back and forth in the current. The marine life began to come alive before my eyes as we navigated through the dive sites. Every now and then, a blue spotted stingray stealthily hidden on the bottom, would panic as we neared and bolt, creating an explosion of sand. Arnold carried a metal keychain that he tapped to alert me when he wanted to show me something – which was often: he has an eye for spotting sea creatures! In a cave-like overhang of coral, Arnold pointed out the infamous moray eel which poked its head out at us, baring its serrated teeth. Adjacent to the moray, we found nemo: we identified a clown fish hovering inside a neon ananemone. Throughout the rest of the dives, we saw tons of varieties of butterfly fish, delicate seahorses, a lionfish, the eery stone fish, blue skinny starfish and fat white starfish, creepy spotted snake eels slithering on the bottom of the ocean floor, and many more fish and coral species that I couldn’t identify.
Of course the dives weren’t all fun and games! Arnold had me complete some skills at the surface and at the bottom. I needed to show him that I could control my buoyancy – which is important for divers, so we do not accidentally kick or rub up against fragile coral species, or rise to the surface too quickly. I had to demonstrate that I could take my mask on and off and clear it of water, that I could recover my regulator (air line) if it fell out and signal if I was out of air to make an emergency ascent. At the surface, I practiced taking off and on my BCD and weight belt (which proved difficult with the choppy waves) and towing a sick diver to safety (basically pulling Arnold’s dead weight over the waves back to the boat). I must have done okay, because I passed!
Once back on the boat, we had ginger tea and biscuits to warm up and I practiced my Swahili with Arnold. We headed back for Paje beach – and as they say, the rest is history!
* A big thanks to the team at Buccaneer Diving for helping me cross this off my bucket list! *
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