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Bongoyo Island

Off the famed Swahili coast are a number of sand-swept islands and islets that provide the gorgeous, natural backdrop for so many adoring "Swahili Style" coffee table books. You'd know Swahili style if you saw it: rough-hewn furniture from dark woods like Moringa and ebony, a touch of safari in the canvas accoutrements, bits of colored glass, and a color scheme composed of whites, turqouise, and dark, wooden colors. And if you're spending your days at the business end of a computer in a modern, American office, the Swahili coast really is a change in lifestyle that can repair a bruised soul.

If you've been living in Africa for a decade though, Swahili style starts to seem a little put on, a little "created" a little "invented for the tourists".

Back to the islands, though. You have probably heard of Zanzibar. You have probably not heard of Pemba, it's untouristed little brother. But unless you're actually living in East Africa, I highly doubt you've herad of Bongoyo island at all. And neither had I, until I found myself in Dar es Salaam for a short week. Bongoyo lies just outside the harbor limit, a sort of breakwater for the Indian Ocean, and an easy getaway for the day tripper. Conveniently, it's not difficult to arrange for a charter boat to haul you out there, and (ideally) come back for you at day's end. So that's what we did.

Dar isn't a great city, other than the evocative name. But it's nice to see the Dar skyline from water level, and sure enough, as the skyline fades into the horizon the swell increases, and the Ocean looms. There before you, sits a little sliver of sand. I lounged for a while on the white sand before setting off on an adventure that turned out to be much more exciting: a traverse of the island that took me from the sandy lee shore across a small, sweltering coastal forest of coral outcrops to the far side.

There, the tide was out, and a broad coral platform stood before me. Stranded sea stars in outrageous colors like crimson lay under a cloudless sky. I thought of the shifting channels of Erskine Childer's Riddle of the Sands, still one of my favorite books. And I thought of the coral divers and rock fishermen of East Africa who still try to keep up a traditional lifestyle in seas that render each day a little less.

Rising sea levels will do Bongoyo in, of course, but they'll put a stop to places like Dar and Boston in equal measure. Ask the sea stars if they care.


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