When I first tried writing about &Beyond’s Mnemba Island, it was the day before we left and I told Jeremy that something in my writing was missing. It felt incomplete, uninspired, as though there were still stories to tell.
And I was correct.
Have you ever heard of a heart urchin? It’s a type of sea urchin. The heart shaped ones that kind of look like a pin cushion, just with the needles facing outward, so that it accomplishes the very opposite job of a pin cushion.
I hadn’t heard of it either, until I stepped on one an hour before departure.
Truth be told, I was secretly trying to bring a piece of Mnemba Island back with me, even if in the form of spines inhabiting my foot. I share this story with the disclaimer that I would voluntarily step on a sea urchin every single day if it meant getting to be at Mnemba Island, a private island paradise in the archipelago of Zanzibar.
Jeremy carried me out of the water like a romance novel and placed me safely on the beach, where I tried not to look at the hedgehog that had sprouted on the bottom of my foot. Over the past 14 days we’d been just feet away from hippos and lions and hyenas and of course a sea urchin is the one to do me in.
I was convinced that the poison was seeping through my bloodstream and that perhaps this would warrant wheelchair assistance through the airport later that day. Around that point, our new friend, Dave, from Mnemba informed us that they weren’t poisonous.
Then why does this feel like venom has been injected into the very bottom of my foot?! I wondered. Probably because my personal medical composition is equal parts hypochondriac, equal parts drama queen, with a 100% chance of doomsday forecasting. Lucky for me, the urchin surgery was a success story with very little pain – when all was said and done and my foot was still completely in tact, I was able to hobble away to enjoy the very last few moments of our time at Mnemba.
Out of all of the places we were in-the-moment present on our honeymoon, Mnemba takes the cake. I thought that this kind of mindset would be more important while cruising for animals on safari or jumping on the hot air balloon and that our beach time at the end of the trip would be more for zoning out. That was far from accurate – the spirit that is Mnemba Island makes you want to drink in and savor every single second.
Everything about Mnemba is perfection: the moment you board the short boat ride from the main island of Zanzibar, you take off your shoes – and leave them off for the entire trip. I never knew I would fall in love with the idea of a barefoot luxury retreat but it took no time to adjust to toes always in the sand, no fear of tracking it in the open air rooms thanks to the thatched flooring (for the record, I stepped on the urchin while in the water, which could happen anywhere in the world, so barefoot luxury is still safe luxury).
Despite the thousands of miles between myself and home, as we were sitting side by side in our Banda on the beach (a Banda is like a porch, but better), I couldn’t feel more at home. The large majority of this is thanks to the home that we’re building inside of our marriage, one that is portable and palpable and can be felt no matter on which continent. But, it certainly helps to have individuals around you who feel like family, which is exactly what I can say of the team at Mnemba.
Under the careful parenting of mama and papa birds, Scott and Andy, the entire staff put so much attention and care into each and every guest on property. Every moment was filled with the warmth of Mnemba’s people. Each meal was absolutely divine, thanks to the magic ingredient, Chef Stacey, and made even better under the service of Pandu, who always had a smile on his face and sang his hello’s and added a “y” to the end of each dish he brought out (Here is your toasty toasty! Your fruity fruity! Your yummy yummy!). Even the moments of my urchin surgery were made better thanks to the calming presence of Solern and Dave’s keen ability to share interesting facts about sea urchins as he removes their spines from a guest’s foot.
This series of blog posts might as well be a research paper on all that I read of Anne Lamott’s while on this trip, but I think she says it quite a bit better than I know how to say it:
“Maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real. They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know we were looking for. A map can change a god-awful day or month, ruin a rut, give us directions home and to everywhere else, near and far, to the golden past and today, to the center and then back to the periphery, to our true selves, our lost selves, the traveler, the mystic, the child, the artist. The point of life, a friend said, is not staying alive, but staying in love, and maps give us a shot at this, taking us to the wild brand-new, the old favorite, and back home.”
Once again, Africa has managed to take me both to the wild brand-new and the old favorite, and maybe even a little bit to the back home.