The Maldives can’t match it!
4 June 2021 | Renate
After a long and hectic year at work and due to corona, the first beautiful sunny days in April 2021 brought up the irrepressible need to escape for a while. Peace, space and other atmospheres were the words I had in mind when I contacted Marjolijn. Zanzibar had long been a wish somewhere at the top of my travel list, and this soon narrowed down to Pemba Island, the smaller of the two Zanzibar islands. At the very northern tip of the island you will find the Manta Resort, which only has positive reviews on Google and a website that will make you look good. Combined with their attention to conservation, sustainability, and community, I knew immediately that this had to be it.
No sooner said than done, and booking was arranged quickly. The change of president in Tanzania brought with it some uncertainty, what the new corona policy of this government would be, but it soon became clear that a negative PCR test and some other measures to follow (fortunately no quarantine period) were sufficient to prevent Tanzania. to get in. Marjolijn’s recent personal experiences in Tanzania reinforced my idea that I could actually be better there than here in NL when it comes to corona. After that it was only a matter of waiting for the departure date (and the negative result of my planned PCR test), and in the meantime making friends, family and colleagues happy with my travel plans. This extensively shared anticipation brought with it a lot of positive energy, which made the trip almost worth it alone.
An almost deserted Schiphol and an Emirates plane only filled for a fifth reinforced the surreal feeling of going on holiday in these times. The domestic terminal at Zanzibar airport and later the small 10-seater plane to Pemba brought back nostalgic memories of regular flights between South Sudan and Kenya, for a work situation years earlier. However, the view was unbeatable this time. Yes, the water really is such an amazing blue that there are not enough words to describe all the shades, the sandy beaches are really so white, and Pemba so amazingly green and hilly, that the Maldives can’t match it. An hour and a half by car with a calm, smiling driver pointing out all the trees and crops along the way, took me to the most remote part of the island.
“Karibu, we are very happy that you are here.” was the welcome I got from Juma, the manager, me being only the 7th guest since their recent reopening on June 1st, after the resort having been closed for 15 months due to the corona situation. And it was an auspicious start, since happy was what I was and kept on being during my stay there.
There are so many things I could tell you about my stay there, the resort, and the Manta family, but I will have lost you somewhere between the first and the third hour of my tale. The most important thing I can say, is that if you care about nature, sustainability, people, other cultures, connecting, then go see it for yourself. The resort website & YouTube have a 11 mins film, the Kwanini Manta movie
, that explains the philosophy behind the resort (kwanini literally meaning “why”). It lets the local staff tell their stories and gives a good impression and sense of what being there feels like.
In my week there I constantly over-ate, because the food is so tasty & fresh (seafood & fish! fruits! rice! spices!), and almost everything local, that there was always something else to want to have a taste of. I went diving for a few mornings, and snorkling, and Finding Nemo has nothing on the local Pemba reef. Clear waters, corals, fishes, more fishes, so so so many fishes, the schools were swimming past and alongside of us for most of my time underwater. The underwater room is a whole separate phenomenon again, out there on the sea anchored in a hole in the reef. The daily massages that are included in the price give your muscles a very welcome reprieve, the strong capable hands of the spa ladies working their wonders.
And I went walking & cycling with Haji, a service fundi the resort assigns to you, who you can go to with all your questions & wishes. Through the villages, to the lighthouse, the forest, a spice farm, the local schools, a football practice match. Jambo! Habari? Mzuri sana! That means nothing to all of the children running around falling over themselves and each other to see the first muzungu in over a year: “Hi hi!! Bye bye!!” If I had gotten a shilling for each one of them, replying, waving, smiling, I would have been a rich woman. Still felt on top of the world, I couldn’t stop smiling at the giddy craziness of it all. And using the local language does mean something to the adults. Asalam aleikum, kheifa halouk, afouan, you can see the closed up faces (especially of the women) change and open up, eyes start smiling, at this strange white lady who uses their language to try and connect.
The weather can and will change by the minute here, especially now in June, being winter and rainy season. But getting caught in a tropical rain storm while cycling, hiding out in a madrassa, and drying up again in the sun 5 mins later has completely different feels from the spring rains in chilly grey NL. It doesn’t ever get below 20 C, the seawater is warm, and on my last day there it meant that thundery dark grey skies were replaced with nothing but clear blue & sun, just in time to make my sunset cruise in a local dhow unforgettable. Hakuna matata, no worries.
That phrase could also be applied to getting my PCR test done in & on time before leaving for NL. It gave Juma quite some stress trying to get it all arranged for me. They get the doctor to come to the resort to take the test, so you don’t lose half a day getting to the test centre and back. The agreed time however went from 10h to 13h to 16h, and eventually became 17h when Juma sent the doctor out to the football field next to the local school, where I was watching the Manta staff play a pratice match. The test got done to all professional standards, in the back of a car next to the football field, under intense interest from all the local school kids. Manta went above and beyond, whatever works, to get it done for me. Shukran, asante sana, for that and so much more.
And then it was time to leave. To depart this little corner of peace on Earth, to immerse myself back into the hectic craziness that is corona-Western Europe at the moment. I still had a little bit of a reprieve, an afternoon in Stone Town inbetween flights. Under the expert guidance of Taib I was caught up about 300 years of history in a few hours. Elaborately carved doors with metal spikes to stop elephants crashing through, a rooftop lunch with the best view in town & the best milk-honey-date sherbet ever, the fishmarket, the old fort and House of Wonders, all finished off by some lush fresh streetfood and a flavoured coffee on the deck of the new harbour restaurant, while watching the sun set. All the smells, sights and sounds kept me company during the long travel home.
Asante sana, to all the people that made a difference to me. To Marjolijn & Paul from Explore Tanzania, for making the normal travel organizing hassle & stress non-existent, and for their knowledge of and love for this beautiful place. To Taib, for his knowledge of Stone Town, patience and positive nature. And last but certainly not least, to the Manta family. To Juma, for his quiet competence & motivational beliefs. To Mohammed and the diving & snorkling boys, Saidi, Mala, Cholo, Adi, captain Ali, Kombo, for embodying the peace, beauty and joy of the underwater world above water. To the spa ladies, groundskeepers, housekeeping staff, cooks, sometimes unheard but certainly not unseen. And to Haji K and his fellow fundi’s, Shaban, Rashid, Haji B, Iddi, Sele and all the rest, my gratitude and love.
Asante sana, and kwaheri for now. Inshallah we will meet again sometime.