When I was met with a cool face cloth, fresh lime juice, and someone taking away my shoes, any lingering city stress I’d been holding on to vanished into the Indian Ocean.
Peter - one of the managers of the amazing Mnemba staff
I’d arrived at Mnemba Island, a private island off the east coast of Zanzibar.
Over my three nights at Mnemba I indulged in lobster, sashimi, crab, king fish and all manner of sorbets (including fennel which I wasn’t expecting to like, but discovered was incredibly tasty).
During my welcome briefing, manager Peter showed me where the daily menu was displayed and let me know that if there was anything I particularly fancied just to ask… from simple spaghetti to an indian curry, nothing would be too difficult.
Each morning I looked at the menu and considered asking for vegemite toast just to see if it was possible! Knowing I had a tube of vegemite in my bag, I kept with the daily specials and was never disappointed.
Banda #2 - my home on Mnemba
The only decisions you have to make on Mnemba are:
- What time to have tea/coffee brought to your room in the morning,
- What sort of cocktail you’d like delivered to the beach in front of your banda for 6pm sundowners
- If and when you’d like a massage or to go snorkelling/scuba diving….
I think the world would be a much happier place if these were the only decisions we ever had to make!
My days on Mnemba started with tea looking out over the Indian Ocean, followed by a morning swim and breakfast of homemade granola, fresh fruit and the most delicious passionfruit butter I’ve ever tasted. I exercised by walking around the island, jumping into the ocean whenever I got hot on the 20min trip.
By mid-morning it was time to snorkel and try to find the dolphins… yep, I managed to swim with them twice on two separate days! They are such beautiful creatures and they come so close to you, literally surfacing from below and looking me in the eye before swimming off at an incredible speed to join the rest of their pod.
Afternoons were spent snorkeling on the home reef (a 5min swim from my ‘front door’), working on my tan and doing another lap of the island.
Yesterday I got slightly more energetic and decided to challenge the island’s ocean swimming record… circumnavigating the island at high tide, the women’s record came tumbling down when I finished in 35min! Not bad for what I think is about a 1.5km swim.
After such strenuous days I highly recommend a massage. Mnemba has a full-time therapist on staff. Claire looks like a South African angel but she has hands of a demon… amazing, and my mountain climbing, weary legs felt kilos lighter after she’d worked her magic.
First night sundowner in front of #2
Evenings on Mnemba start with sundowner drinks watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean and then continue in the lounge, where the guests are hosted by two of the staff. Casual, friendly and completely relaxed, drinks are an opportunity to chat to other guests and pick the brains of the staff about which fish you’d seen snorkeling earlier in the day.
If I’d wanted a romantic dinner for two, it would have been all too easy to stay in my banda and have dinner brought to me. Then I could have eaten under the stars by the light of a small bonfire and hurricane lamps.
Being here on my own I always opted to eat with the hosting staff and other guests, still under the stars but happily in the company of others. One of the couples chose the romantic option and so I at least got to hear about the experience… they loved it!
Just as I was finishing my poached mango and vanilla ice-cream last night one of the other guests came up to Peter and offered him his baseball cap.
baby turtle like the ones we saw last night (photo from Mnemba)
Inside was a tiny green sea turtle they’d found wandering towards their bedroom. Excited it might be a nest hatching we grabbed torches and headed to their room.
Strangely it wasn’t a “hatching” but we did find one other misguided baby turtle also travelling in the wrong direction. We turned both turtles around and set them in the right direction. Watching them swim frantically in the shallows and then being swept away by the tide.
Turtle’s lay around 100 eggs in a nest and they typically hatch all at once, creating mass movement of babies towards the sea. These two individual hatchings were very out of the ordinary and I was incredibly lucky to have seen them.
My luck continued on Mnemba when at 2am this morning I was woken by dive master Jason saying a female green sea turtle have come up to lay her eggs. Grabbing my torch
turtle tracks to her nest
and heading down the beach again I got to see her lay the last eggs, fill in the burrow with her rear flippers and then bury her nest with powerful strokes of her front flippers.
The whole process takes around 2hrs (I didn’t stay for it all) and the turtles are measured and tagged on their way back to the sea as part of the conservation program. This lady was 109cm long and 102cm wide… a fairly large female according to Jason. It was an amazing sight to see.
So after four days of this stressful existence I’m back wearing shoes in the real world. I didn’t have windows or doors, a key or a phone on Mnemba and I didn’t miss any of them.
Back in Stone Town for another two nights reviewing different hotels and restaurants it’s going to be a tough call for anywhere to come close to Mnemba.