Located 40km off the coast of Tanzania and also known as the Spice Island, the isle is bursting with culture and history seemingly at odds with its idyllic white-sand beaches —a fabulous place to explore, relax and unwind
There’s an old Kiswahili saying, “Chokochoko mchokoe pweza, binadamu hutamweza”. Loosely translated, it says “If you want to poke (provoke) someone, then poke an octopus; you will fail with a human being. In Kiswahili, chokochoko means ‘provocation’ but it comes from ‘chokoa’ which connotes to poke or to fork.
Seeing Zanzibari women digging out the pweza (octopus) from their mud-holes on the shores of the Indian Ocean with sharpened, wooden sticks made me appreciate pweza meals even more.After fishing, the women decide which ones to sell and which ones to keep.
I was taking a guided ‘reef walk’ at Matemwe, a fishing village that lies in the north-east part of Zanzibar. While fishing is the major economic activity here, tourism thrives here. The isle is famous for its fine white, sandy beaches, contrasting colours of the sea and the beautiful coral reefs of Mnemba Island.
I had flown to Zanzibar on Fly 540, which has two flights daily from Nairobi to Zanzibar. Captain Imran Ahmed gave us an amazing flight experience. On my right, a Swahili woman was reciting her dua (a Muslim prayer) as my other seatmate slept her jetlag away. Earlier, she had confessed to me how she desperately desired to return to Kenya to tour more breathtaking tourist attractioon.
Nearly two hours after lifting off from Nairobi, the airhostess told us to prepare for landing at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. An archipelago, Zanzibar comprises of two main islands, Pemba and Unguja and a couple of smaller islands. While many people often tour the southern beaches such as Nungwi for their holidays, I had discovered a secluded beach where one can have a quiet and relaxed vacation.
Due to its northern location, Matemwe beach is suitable for guests who enjoy relaxing on sandy beaches. Those who love entertainment should not feel locked out as they can drive to a nearby town for fun and later on drive back to the village for peace and quiet.
One of the resorts where one can have a great tropical experience is the vibrant yet laid-back Matemwe Lodge. Perched on an outcrop overlooking a shallow, coral-fringed lagoon on the quiet northeastern Coast of Zanzibar Island, the lodge has a relaxed atmosphere that makes it the ideal place to unwind. Lazing around on a hammock, diving and snorkelling is your choice.
Here, you can marvel at the abundance of exotic marine life comprising of turtles, colourful reef fish, as well as dolphins. The tides govern the rhythm of the day in the village. During high tide, the fisherman stream across the lagoon in their billowing dhows, while at low tide, the sea ebbs right out, revealing a charming reef you can explore for hours.
A guided walk in Matemwe village by Mmadi Makame, a resident who works at the lodge, opened my eyes to the various projects that the lodge is involved in to support the locals. Every Us$5 (Sh510) per bed night is pulled together to support a project in the village annually. Their latest project is constructing houses for doctors and teachers.
Matemwe is a 90-minute drive from Stone Town (now a World Heritage site), which makes it easy for guest to have easy day trips and excursions. For this to happen, one needs a qualified tour guide like I had in Mussa Juma .
Zanzibar was at the forefront of the slave trade during its peak in the 19th century. Those are the years the famous Sultan (King) Seyid Said of Oman and his later dynasty ruled Oman and the entire East African coast from Zanzibar.
Later, I got a chance to visit Changuu or ‘Prison Island,’ which is home to dozens of giant tortoises, some of which are over 200 years old. I enjoyed its sandy white beaches and crystal clear water, which makes it an awesome place for swimming and snorkelling.
History buffs can also visit some of the former cells that housed prisoners in the 19th century. I would recommend a spice tour trip, as the Islands are famous for their spices, producing cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and many others.