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Zen and the art of parasailing
I planned on investigating parasailing as a new and unique part of Zanzibar's adventure sports. My impression was that this ride above the island would hoist me into a harnessed adrenaline rush, but after the bumpy car ride I have getting to Nungwi, I am not really in the mood for another one. After meeting the Zanzibar Parasailing team and being assured a smooth ride in the clear afternoon sky, my mood is lifted and I am ready to sail.
Zanzibar Parasailing is Amin Rawji's brainchild. The Tanzanian-Canadian returned to Zanzibar in his retirement and wanted to start a project to keep him busy. A self-described 'adrenaline junkie', Rawji recounts the tale of his first bungee jump with affection, but parasailing he emphasises "is not an adrenaline rush. It's a Zen sport, if you like. You go up there to relax".
The captain is a Turkish master of parasailing. Amin chose him specifically "because he's been doing it for over 15 years". Safety really is the bottom line for Amin as he explains that they won't sail above 500 metres (some companies will let their rope out to 800) and high winds over 12 knots mean no sailing.
"Part of the reason we are now expanding the business to include wake boarding and jet ski safaris is to allow an alternative to really windy days. You cannot take people up in high winds or the cord snaps, and instead of just gently coming to land in the sea, the person get dragged off along the beach or even in the air. So we don't sail then."
High tide means the crew must drive a small dinghy out to their parasailing boat, but it adds a nice touch jumping in and out of the raft. I feel like we're embarking on a truly different experience of Zanzibar. Photographer Metin clings on to his equipment as we board the boat. She's a slick 400CC behemoth, capable of driving to Pemba in 25 minutes. The crew quickly wrap me up in harnesses and attach me to the parachute. They don't mess around at all; Metin takes a few 'on the ground' shots and they release the rope. Take off is smooth and effortless, and if you aren't concentrating you could miss your own levitation. The boat just seems to creep off from under you and then become a silent speck shooting over the reefs below.
Instantly Nungwi becomes the kind of postcard destination that honeymooners swoon over. The village's famous dhows dot the coastline and the corals stretch for miles. The parasail holds the harness securely and it barely moves, even when I try to swing my torso sidewards and get a shot of the Pemba channel. Bagamoyo is visible, as is the hillier region towards Mkokotoni and Mangapwani villages to the south.
Today the entire island is covered in the last showers of the mashariki rainy season. My only distraction is whether I should be giving a commentary for the sake of the microphone and camera Metin strapped to my forehead. It's a great way for parasailers to capture their experience without wrestling their own cameras, but the journalist in me feels compelled to report the ride. Aware that Metin is also taking photos of me talking to myself in the sky, I try to ignore the camera and stare out at the island below my dangling feet.
From the air, Nungwi reveals herself as a beautiful forested point, bordered by the makuti thatching of hotel rooftops and the occasional swimming pool carved into the lawns. But Nungwi's reputation as an 'over-developed tourist destination' has no basis in truth from this angle. Looking at other tropical coasts like the beaches of South East Thailand or Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Nungwi is almost naked in comparison.
Tumbatu island and the historic lighthouse appear only a stretch away from Kendwa's busy shoreline, daring us to step over to her unexplored reefs. And beyond Kendwa, there are only the scattering of village rooftops to break the green cloth covering the island. It's a defining glance at this piece of Zanzibar, that in my mind (until this parasail) remained fixed on the bars and construction lining the beach. Now I just see the expansive reefs and the lush interior that separates the North's coastlines.
After a dip into the deepest water I've ever hovered over, we end the cruise and the captain pulls me back down towards the boat. He's still learning English and not very chatty, but I happily trade conversation for his confidence - exactly why I let him hoist me into the air in the first place. Landing is even easier than lift off, and I'm soon out of the lifejacket and harness getting some extra sun as we drive back to the dinghy, feeling totally refreshed.
Parasailing is an anti-adrenaline rush; part oxygen bath, part mind massage or a mix of both. The only downside for me is returning to the shore. However if you're coming back to a cocktail or a swim and not your day job, that's hardly a bad thing. Parasailing promises an aerial revival for everyone, especially anybody who managed to forget Zanzibar's stunning scenery for a moment.