Pig Island Dhow Trip

As all travelers sometimes do, we also fell for a clever sales pitch that promised the world or in this case a dhow trip to Pig Island, flamingo watching, snorkeling and climbing coconut trees. Seeing that we have not done much since arriving in Tofo it sounded like the perfect day trip especially because it included breakfast, a seafood platter lunch and because it sounded like the perfect trip for people who did not want to do much. We took the bait, paid Mt3000 (R660) per person and booked the trip for the day that promised the best weather which was 2 days away.

The next day we got offered the exact same trip, same sales pitch using the same flyer for Mt2000 but when we confronted our guy he quickly discredited the other people with the biggest reason being safety. The others are mere teenage boys who will steal our possessions and basically leave us to fend for ourselves. Not really buying into his bullshit but also not in the mood to argue, we left it at that.

Not sure how if this bakkie was ever capable of going 100km/h…

The big day arrived and we were picked up by our guy in a bakkie that has seen better days. On our way to the dhow they stopped at the store to buy peanut butter, bananas and bread (which we later found out was to be our breakfast) as well as some cold drinks and fruit juice. We arrived at the dhow 20 minutes later, battered and bruised from the bumpy ride but relieved to see that the dhow was already there waiting just for us and the 4 random guys who lived on the island that wanted to hitch a ride.

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Our dhow/water taxi set off, gliding over the water with ease, the wind behind us and the sun shining on our happy, smiling faces. 10 Minutes into the trip we were handed the bananas, bread and peanut butter as well as a small panga-like knife that looked like they use it to cut rope, gut fish and who knows what else. Due to lack of alternative options we used the panga-knife to spread the peanut butter on the bread (despite the fact that it hardly fit into the jar) and to squash the banana on top of that. A very tasty breakfast surprisingly enough!

The gentle splashing of the water against the boat and its creaking response with the flapping sail was very soothing and we reached a whole new level of relaxation which we previously would have thought to be impossible. The water was crystal clear and every now and then we would spot a starfish below on the ocean floor.

45 minutes later we arrived at the 3x3km island that was home to about 900 people of which 450 were kids under the age of 12. The chief was an amiable fella that seemed quite chuffed with his little piece of paradise but even more so for having 2 wives. 3 were too many and 1 caused too much trouble according to him. With 2 wives he was free to go and jol on the main land without getting into trouble as the 1 wife would suspect that he was with the other and vice versa.

Sipping some coconut water (photo credit: Marcia Brunner)

Our guide Elias seemed to be on his first day on the job. Once we reached the island he did not quite know what to do with us and we sat drinking coconut water and chatting for a while in the village restaurant, wasting precious beach and sun tanning time. After a while he however seemed to remember the set itinerary and off we went.

Our trip through the village was pleasant and Clayton soon became the new walking jungle gym for the little kids. I was very much conscience of the hundreds of coconut trees on the island and made a point thereof to not walk or stand under them. For some reason a Chappie Did You Know fact made a very big impression on me because I clearly remember that quite a few people die annually from coconuts falling from trees.  

Elias again showed his inexperience by only giving basic info and answering our questions about the day-to-day activities of the island people with a shrug. We wandered aimlessly around the island for about an hour, going from one building to the next. Just before we head back to the restaurant on the island he showed us how to climb a coconut tree and Matt and Clayton took up the challenge.

The lunch… Our seafood platter for the four of us and the guide consisted out of the smallest fish with more bones than meat cut into 5 pieces; a couple of boiled, chewy white mussels with no sauce; a bowl of fried black mussels; 5 pieces of chicken; a massive pot of rice; a plate of chips and a pot of matapa (leaves from the matapa plant that is crushed along with peanuts and coconut). Try all you want but you would never be able to describe that spread as a seafood platter.

After the meal a plate was placed on the table and if we had any doubts as to what it was for the big piece of paper with TIPS written on it solved the mystery. Since we paid Mt3000 each and we know Mt200pp goes to the chief and Mt500pp goes towards the food we were not quite inclined into giving an additional tip but managed to scrap an additional Mt200 together. The chief however took this as an insult and the once amiable fella soon turned into an angry warlord. Not wanting to stay and feel the wrath of the chief we made our way towards the dhow..

island home

All we wanted to do was to just chill on the beach however our guide had an itinerary to follow and we were bundled into the dhow and taken to Pansy Island, a sand bank that makes its appearance only at low tide, to collect shells.

Pansy island was not more than 1km away from Pig island but it still took us 30 minutes to reach the exact spot where we had to disembark. Heaven only knows what difference it would’ve made if we anchored on the side nearest to Pig Island but we went with the captain’s instructions who now needed our help to steer the dhow. Our job was to make sure the dhow did not tip over when he would suddenly swing the sail in the other direction in order to navigate with the wind that was now blowing in the wrong direction. On the word GO! we would all launch ourselves from the one side of the boat to the other side, repeating this when necessary every couple of minutes until we finally reached Pansy island.

After about 20 minutes of walking around on the sand bank Marcia and Matt decided that they have had enough and found themselves a dry spot to lie down on. Elias soon received the message that we were not into shell collection. We all agreed that we would very much like to go back to Tofo. 

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Matt and Marcia collecting shells

Despite conveying our request to go back Elias still stopped so that we can snorkel. At this stage the wind was blowing unpleasantly and getting into the water was not too appealing. Since it looked like we would not move until someone goes snorkeling, Clayton took one for the team and jump in, only to return a couple of minutes later – confirming our concern that the snorkeling was not good enough to brave the cold.

After what seemed like an eternity we finally set sail in the direction of the bay to wait for the bakkie to come and get us. However, when we got there we were informed that the bakkie lost a wheel (yes, lost a wheel, not a mere flat tyre) so we would have to wait while they fix this.

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Pansy Island

Our lift arrived 30 minutes later and after we all scrambled onto the back of the bakkie the driver set of at an alarmingly fast pace considering that he lost a wheel not more than an hour ago. Every now and then he would slam on the breaks, dangerously veer of the road in order to pick up random people, then speed off again only to stop a couple of minutes later to either pick up or drop off people.

Despite his driving we made it safely back to the backpackers where we had a brief altercation with Elias as to who owns the peanut butter (in the end Marcia got it for us) before heading off in search of our guy. To say that we were not pleased with the day would have been an understatement. 

Knowing myself all too well I kept out of the conversation and let Clayton and Marcia do the talking. It did not take too long for them to get our guy to agree to a Mt500 refund per person. He took two Mt1000 notes from his pocket and handed it over. 

I do not think that these dhow trips are all terrible, some people have had great experiences but ours was just not up to scratch when we compare it against everybody else’s stories. This could easily have been avoided if our guide was a bit more experienced as he would have clearly picked up on our displeasure and would then have had time to rectify things. A tip for others: do very good research by asking others who went with the same company and try to meet your guide before the time. 

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