Cold, suffocating and heavy, I could feel myself struggling as I took the first strokes off the shores of Changuu island (Prison Island) in Zanzibar. The ocean currents swayed me back and forth crushing on my body at every crest fall. I was just about 2 metres away from the shore but I could have sworn to have been at the centre of the ocean.
Bravely and proudly I have conquered the ocean waves a number of times during my weekend swims back in Daressalaam. I love the challenge of swimming in the ever changing waters, I enjoy the buoyancy effect and the occasional brush of seaweed. I am a decent ocean swimmer for the most part; good stamina, good form and some what of a showoff in water but this was the first time I felt so defeated. Here at Changuu island (Prison Island) about 3.5 miles north-west of Stone Town, Unguja, Zanzibar I had met my match, water against woman!
‘May be I am going to die out here!’
I got into this mess as a result of a challenge made by our tour guide. A few minutes earlier on that day of Wednesday 18th f September at around 16:00 hours I had requested him to take me to a point in the ocean where a a group of people were snorkelling. Reluctantly he challenged me to swim to a boat about 10 metres off the island’s shore.
‘If you can get to that boat over there, I will believe that you can swim and I’ll drive you to wherever you want to go,’ he told me with a certain indifferent look that really pissed me off.
‘Huh! I see, he thinks I can not swim? I’ll show him!’
Minutes later I was frantically trying to perfect my breast stroke with my head bobbing over the water (looking back it was not the best idea!). The tides were high and the wind was not forgiving. The ability to judge my form got worse as I neared my target which made controlling my strokes as profitless as climbing a slippery wall. Every time I propelled myself forward I was forced back. Before I knew it, I was close to the cliff edge of the island where the water felt much cooler and the sounds of the waves hitting it’s surface made for a good nightmare tale.
‘Oh great! As if drowning in a wall of waves was not enough, do I also have to worry about being splattered on the rocks?’
‘Hey, get back here! That is enough!’ I could hear our tour guide warning me. ‘Come on, I can swim. I am a swimmer.’ I thought to myself as I ignored the guide’s voice. I was getting used to the feel of the water, predicting the currents became easier and I was finally able to visualize my form. I decided to change my stroke to free style and before I knew it my hand was firmly holding one of the sides of my target boat.
‘Oh my God! Great, just great!’ There is no more words to describe it. I felt satisfied, invincible and the queen of the water once more.
‘I did it! Take me where I want to go now!’ I turned around and shouted back to our tour guide as I swam my way back to the shore.
In the end all the tour guides intervened against my decision to go to the deeper sea. They said I was being stubborn and not taking the risk into consideration. I resorted to swimming close to the shore and to be honest it was not a walk in the park, by the time I got home I could feel every muscles in my body. I was completely sore.
My Tourism Recommendations for Prison Island Enthusiast
My visit to Changuu island (Prison Island) coincided with the full moon and the high tides. Going to the island on boat felt like a roller coaster ride and swimming was at a whole new level of adventure for me. When in Zanzibar it is worth investing time to visit the island. It is a great choice for group traveling and would make an ideal location for a beach party. Go there early in the morning and bring all your pic nic items, snorkeling equipment or just goggles, ropes and any other games you enjoy as you may not want to leave so soon.
Accessing Prison island is not very complicated. You can rent a boat from Forodhani starting from TSH 35,000 to 50,000 depending on the size of the boat (non-residents may be charged up to $60 but the secret is in negotiations, the price can always go down!) In addition to the cost of renting the boat there is an entrance fee of TSH 2000 per person for residents and $4 for non-residents.
Other things to do at the island include; a visit to the giant tortoise, watching peacocks, eating at the cafe and learning the history of the Island.