Ever since being a child, the underwater world has fascinated me, I have only ever been as deep as my snorkel would allow me so the thought of diving to 30m sounded not only appealing but thrilling. Learning to dive on a small African Island, interacting with the local people, participating in scientific work and leaving Europe for the first time in my life were all factors which drew me to choose marine conservation in the Mafia Islands. In terms of activities, I was genuinely amazed. I had not expected to participate and experience the things I did. For example, one Sunday we embarked on a morning boat ride to Juani Island and followed a tour guid across the island to a beautiful open but rough sea. We were quickly greeted with squeals as baby turtles started to poke their heads out of the sand and scramble, one by one, down the runway (which had been cleared by the organisation that led our tip). It amazed me how each of them instinctively knew they must make a wild dash for the sea. They had only just been born! We watched some turtles struggle and fall into sand craters but finally each little soft grey turtle made it into the sea. 100% success rate. It was easy to be carried away by such an experience, when the last turtles arrived at the breaking waves, it was only natural to follow them into the water; still fully clothed and in possession of my digital camera! Almost everyone was in the water, and having lost sight of the last turtle we ventured to steep, foamy waves that were breaking on a coral bar further out to sea. It was immense fun being thrown around by the waves and jumping to greet each one. The entertainment continues, on another Sunday a group of us hired motorbikes and took a spectacularly beautiful journey across the island. Utende is essentially a dead end at the south east tip of the Island and as a passenger I marveled as the island unfolded beneath my eyes. We crossed the whole Island, passing through villages, each one completely unique in their infrastructure and character. Vibrant patches of colours from a distance would turn into communities joining for either prayers of form groups of children walking from school. We had to leave our paved road early on in the journey, the only tarmac road on the island was the one which linked Utende to Kilindoni (the main city of the island where our internal flight landed), and take to the dirt tracks. It was an adventure in itself, exploring different areas of our island and being thrown around at each bump and tossed upwards when hitting a ditch! I almost couldn't believe it was real when we heard monkeys calling in the trees. We parked our bikes and after frantically searching the tree tops, our gaze met a small monkey peering down at us. We concluded our outbound journey when we reached the lighthouse in the north. Our group were so excited by this sight, after hours of biking on sandy, rocky terrain, we had traversed our island.
Generally, the locals in the nearby village were warm and welcoming, when we told them we were part of Frontier, they nodded in approval and I felt a sense of pride. It was evident Frontier has worked hard over the years to maintain a strong relationship with the local people. This had been achieved through conservation measures, primary, secondary and adult teaching and above all respecting muslim traditions and rituals. I was lucky to have experienced the delights of the Mafia Island with the people I did alongside the wonderful memories we share.I absolutely loved my time in Africa, I cannot comment on other Frontier projects but it was really quite unique the way in which we had such a strong bond with the local community. I believe over the years Frontier have made a real effort to maintain such a strong relationship. The lady who cooked our meals and the two men who operated the boat were all locals. We were delivered rice, beans and flour in huge sacks from local villagers. I felt that the camp I lived in was not at all an imposition on the local community but rather an friendly interaction. There was something strangely satisfying about sorting through beans in the morning and throwing away the ones with holes as opposed to supermarket GM products packed in layers of packing. Without a doubt, I recommend to anyone looking for an adventure and a break from western society to seriously consider doing a Frontier project on your own. Discover yourself and a remarkable area of the world.