Rio’s African Adventure|Honeymoon Special – Part 3
Rio’s African Adventure – Honeymoon Special
Zanzibar – Matemwe Retreat
Following our bush plane flight with Regional Air to Zanzibar (Adam got front passenger seat, because it was his birthday), we were met by a representative from Island Express for our transfer to Matemwe Retreat. Upon landing, I was excited to see the aqua blue ocean and beaches below me, in contrast to the Serengeti – both individually beautiful in their own ways.
We embarked on a fairly long drive along extremely bumpy village ‘roads’, feeling tired from our plane journey and a little stressed because we’d just found out that one of our return flights to Dubai had been changed. On our arrival, our personal butler, Adil, and the reception manager, Marco, greeted us with cold towels and fresh coconut juice, and our stress quickly melted away.
After our warm welcome, we were shown to our self-contained private villa, Villa Leila, which offered uninterrupted views of the turquoise Indian Ocean. Our villa included our own plunge pool on the roof and a large sunken bathtub looking out onto the ocean. It was superb!
We had an array of books to keep us company during down time and a huge hammock to laze on in the midafternoons. The décor was stunning, with a tasteful mix of blues, whites and rustic sandy colours. The villas cater for those looking for pure escapism and total privacy, with in-house dining and private butler service. We felt completely spoilt and impressed.
Our first night at Matemwe was Adam’s birthday so Adil arranged an intimate dinner in our villa, along with a delicious cake. Two of the retreat’s chefs also serenaded Adam, much to his embarrassment! It was awesome. Over the next four days, Adil treated us like royalty, ensuring our villa was always clean and tidy, taking our requests for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and generally checking on us to ensure all was to our satisfaction. I’m not used to such attentive service and relished it for the first few days, before feeling the need to take a break from the villa and mingle with the other guests in the main bar/restaurant area.
Among the blissful, endless hours spent sunbathing on our private rooftop and lazing in the plunge pool, we also really enjoyed a village walk, although it was at times hard to see the locals living in relative poverty. Regardless of their situation, they still beamed huge smiles and I took comfort in knowing that Asilia (the hotel chain that manages Matemwe) works closely with the local villages to support trade, employment and education.
Adam and I also purchased lots of colourful pens and small toys from Dragon Mart in Dubai and brought these with us to Africa. We handed them out to the local children, who were delighted with their gifts, and we recommend doing the same if you get the chance or giving them to the hotel directly who will dispatch to the children.
A personal highlight for me during our Matemwe stay was snorkeling off the shores of Nemba, a private island situated opposite our resort. Accompanying us on our trip was the retreat’s manager Ross, originally from South Africa and extremely entertaining and knowledgeable about marine life and local customs in Zanzibar. As we approached Nemba Island, we were warned not to venture too close, to avoid the $1,500 fine for standing on the sand bank…ouch!
We jumped in and began to explore the ocean bed and marine life beneath us. It was so serene, peaceful and full of colour. Wearing hot pink flippers myself, I was transfixed by the schools of black fish, zebra fish, solitary sea snakes, stone fish, puffa fish, star fish, barracuda and sea urchins. We even saw a very well camouflaged, enormous octopus. It was an amazing experience, and one I would not hesitate to do again in a heartbeat.
To end our Matemwe experience, Adam and I booked a massage at the retreat’s Sea and Spice spa. I also treated myself to a coffee body scrub. Our massages took place in a spa hut situated very close to the beach, and as our knots were eased, the sound of the waves sent us drifting off into a deep sleep.
For our final dinner, we were led to a small private enclave by the hotel’s pool. Adil and fellow staff members had decked the surrounding area with lots of small candles. Adil was dressed in traditional Zanzibar attire and we dined on Swahili cuisine as we toasted our last evening at Matemwe. It was romantic indeed and a fine end to our Matemwe honeymoon experience.
Due to our original flight back to Dubai being changed, we ended up with an extra day in Zanzibar, and got the chance to experience Stone Town, known by many as the birthplace of Queen legend Freddy Mercury and also famous for its flourishing spice trade, as well as the slave trade in the 19th century.
We stayed at the Dhow Palace Hotel, set among cobbled streets and close to cafes, shops, galleries and restaurants. The hotel had its charm and location-wise it was perfect, but I’m pretty sure I got bitten by bed bugs during our short stay.
Most of the houses in Stone Town are adorned with interesting architectural features, including grand Indian and Omani Arab-style doors, and the town is punctuated with major historical buildings, several of which are found on the seafront. These include former palaces lived in by sultans, fortifications, churches, mosques and other institutional buildings.
Adam and I made the most of our time in Stone Town, venturing out to buy gifts and memorabilia. We haggled with market traders and bought spices, jewellery and ornaments.
We also enjoyed some of the best coffee in Zanzibar (according to TripAdvisor reviewers and locals) at a run down but endearing coffee shop called Msumbi Coffee. I can vouch for the reviews: the coffee was more than delicious.
We then took a tour of the former slave trade market. It was intense, I won’t lie; we had a full and graphic briefing on how the slaves were treated during the 1800s, toured the chambers, and learnt that following the closure of the Slave Market by Sultan Barghash in 1873, missionaries bought the site and built the Anglican Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Christ) on this location.
Freed slaves helped with its construction under the guidance of Bishop Edward Steere. The altar of the cathedral stands on the spot of the whipping tree, and a window is dedicated to Dr David Livingstone, the initiator of the abolition of slavery. It was an emotional tour, but a fascinating insight into history.
If you find yourself in Stone Town and want some authentic Tanz/Zanzibar food, I highly recommend eating at Lukmaam, a small, no-frills restaurant popular with locals, and incredibly cheap and delicious.
Once our appetite was satisfied, we headed off to a bar recommended by many a seasoned Stone Town visitor, the Sunset Bar at Africa House, where we sampled the local shisha while watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Our route home involved a 13-hour layover in Kenya, and due to recent news reports of unrest, we were not too enamored with the idea of having a stopover there. My first impression of Kenya was busy: people were out in full force; guards and soldiers with guns roamed around and it was all a bit overwhelming, especially as we hadn’t had much sleep and were exhausted. My tip: ensure you have the correct change in dollars handy when paying visa costs. I had to wait patiently with airport staff while Adam was escorted to a currency exchange.
Our layover hotel provided by Kenya Airways, Hillpark hotel, was basic but clean and the staff were incredibly friendly and hospitable. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore our immediate surroundings, but one thing that did blow me away were the epic birds close to the airport. They were like something out of the dinosaur era – huge with imposing wings and long beaks. Upon doing further research, I now know these gigantic birds are called Marabou storks.
Despite a few hiccups on the way home, our trip to Africa was everything we expected and more. It was indeed our holiday of a lifetime and the perfect honeymoon, encompassing adventure, romance, beach, culture, nature, great food and more. We are yearning to go back to explore Africa further, so next on our agenda is South Africa, to stay at Adam’s uncle’s new venture, Makanyi Lodge. I now have memories that will last me a lifetime, all shared with my darling husband. Africa, we love you!
Our Travel Agency
Planet Africa Safaris, a small safari company specialising in tailor made itineraries that are carefully designed to offer the best of East Africa, offered us a top-notch, personalised service. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having to plan our honeymoon adventure and Planet Africa Safaris took all that stress away. I’d highly recommend them to anyone looking for an African honeymoon travel agency/consultant. You can visit their website www.planetafricasafaris.com for more information.