When we first started looking at honeymoon locations, I wanted to know all about the romance. I wanted bathtubs full of flower petals and breakfasts served in bed. These are all of the things that Chem Chem was full of. Perhaps the reason Chem Chem so enchanted and surprised us, is because we were not expecting any of those things on our honeymoon.
We were never supposed to go to Chem Chem. When we finally honeymoon in Africa, we booked all of the details with the Manta Resort– not Chem Chem. And Manta was very clear with us that if luxury was what we were looking for… we should look elsewhere.
The Manta Resort is a beautiful resort located on the northernmost tip of Pemba Island, a small island off the coast of Zanzibar. When they tell you that it is as far from civilization as you are likely to ever be– they are not lying. Manta is not Chem Chem. Manta is fantastic, but in a completely different way.
After one of my first emails inquiring about details, I got a reply that read, and I quote, “The Manta Resort is certainly different to what you might find on other tropical islands. If you’re expecting bling bling, you will be disappointed.” I was surprised. The Manta Resort is the home of the famous “Underwater Room” that circulates travel blogs everywhere, and somehow that had kind of screamed “bling” to me. But apparently over-the-top luxury was not to be expected. I was impressed by their candor. And I was sold. I told my husband that night, “I think this is the place for us.”
A few weeks later we booked 9 days at Manta, and Dane surprised me by adding on the safari portion of the trip. Turns out the safari part (which we’d thought we might be roughing it on) had all the bling of Camelot. As we flew to Pemba, we reminded ourselves if we were expecting bling, bling… we’d be disappointed. Probably no more coffee delivered to our room as a wake up call. Probably no more hand picked wine list. That was okay. We were headed to one of the most beautiful beaches in Africa. Who needs bling?!
Both flights were take-your-breath-away beautiful. Nice bonus: they were also beautifully short, less than an hour each. Thank heavens, because the road to Manta after you land in Pemba is not so short!
We flew first from Arusha to Zanzibar. The Arusha airport is small, and I’m just going to go ahead and say it’s also corrupt. We got scammed hard, which often leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth for an entire population, but I have had to learn over the years that it’s not fair to generalize. Of course there are honest and dishonest people everywhere you go. Most are honest. You have to focus on those.
We landed in Zanizbar (an equally small airport with no aircon and limited seating) for a 2+ hour layover before finally boarding our last plane of the day to Pemba.
After our luggage was wheeled in on that yellow cart you see, we could collect it at the “baggage claim” which is a counter. Outside stood a man with a sign that read “Manta”. He took our bags and before saying Jambo or Karibou (which we’d gotten so used to hearing) he said, “I don’t speak any English,” in flawless English. Good to know.
It became increasingly evident that he did not want to chat throughout our drive. They call the route from Chake Chake Airport to the Manta Resort, the “Manta Safari”. It’s a two hour drive down some paved (and some not-so-paved) roads. Our driver expertly swerved around potholes and ditches, waving at people as he went. Every bump reminded me that my bladder was full, but the view… oh the view. I will not say that it was exactly a pleasant drive. Miss Daisy would not have been a fan. But the road to Manta had it’s own charm, like so many pieces of Africa.
We landed a few hours before sunset, so the whole palm tree-covered island seemed to glow for our drive. We rolled all the windows down and cruised. I couldn’t resist holding our go-pro out the window, hoping to capture even a little bit of the magic of Pemba during golden hour.
School-aged children were walking home in their purple and white uniforms. The younger ones were dressed to the nines in party dresses and collared shirts. The dress code of the youth was vastly different than the t-shirt-clad babes we’d met in Arusha.
They all waved wildly as we drove by. “Bye! Bye!” they shouted, running alongside the vehicle. “Hi!” we smiled and waved back.
(Sidenote: one of the hardest transitions coming back to Japan is that absolutely no one seems delighted to see me drive by… I had really gotten used to parade-level excitement when I passed people on the streets and wouldn’t mind a dose of that in my every day life.)
“Is it a holiday?” I asked, interested to know why all the ruffles.
“No English,” he reminded me. Right.
After about an hour and a half we entered the Ngezi Forest Reserve. The palm trees were replaced by mangroves and the children were replaced by monkeys. A few men rode by on their bikes, but for the most part we were alone in this beautiful tropical forest. Unfortunately, the go-pro could no longer capture the beauty for me. Darn it’s low-light capabilities!
With ever turn and every bump, I kept thinking, “It can’t be much farther!” But it was. It was so, sooo far. And then we arrived.
And it was so, sooo worth it.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
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