ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA / / It's 6 a.m., the sun is about to catapult above the horizon, and trays with the makings for coffee and tea, along with tins of sweet cookies, appear quietly and almost magically on the verandas of the thatched-roof Matemwe Bungalows on the northeast coast of Zanzibar.
A woman wades in the low tide water below, hunting for seaweed to sell. Fishing boats, some of them with sail -- called dhows -- and smaller ones called ngalawa, propelled by poles in the strong arms of fishermen, pass by, heading for the deeper waters beyond the reef.
If that sounds idyllic, it's because it is.
The Matemwe Bungalows, 12 sanctuaries of peace and luxury, are situated on a coral reef facing the Indian Ocean, about an hour's drive north of Stone Town, the legendary center of spices and one-time home of East Africa's slave trade.
After enduring the final 10 minutes of travel through the village of Matemwe -- a bone-jarring, dusty experience on the unpaved road -- one begins to relax the moment one hears the dulcet voice of Nigel Folker, the resort's collegial and gracious general manager.
"It's too late for breakfast, too early for lunch," he says. "So let's get over to the bar and get you a bungo juice to ease those parched throats." Folker, a native of Durban, South Africa, explains that the juice of the fruit from the bungo tree is quite delicious -- and he is correct.
Matemwe Bungalows is one of several resorts in the Zanzibar archipelago that strive to take care of the environment by building it into the facilities.
At Matemwe, the small chunks of soap in the bathroom are made by local women from lemon grass and lemon juice, and hand-
wrapped in brown paper and string made from leaves. The shower and tap water is saltwater heated by solar panels. For drinking, there are bottles of water.
The resort was started in 1989 by two sisters from Sweden and was targeted to backpackers whose idea of fun was scuba diving and snorkeling at the nearby Mnemba Atoll. Now, it is a place for all manner of tourists. Capacity is 24 people unless some are children. If they are, the hotel's workers can add beds.
The rates have risen above backpacker levels -- when my wife and I visited in October, a bungalow with breakfast, lunch and dinner included cost $230 per person double in low season.
Rightfully, the resort champions its food. The chef, Said Mohammed, learned his trade in India, where his father was a diplomat, and buys his fruit and vegetables from markets in Stone Town as well as from the gardens of local villagers. The seafood was swimming the day before and is purchased from the same fishermen who daily pass the bungalows headed to deeper water.
The rooms are spacious bungalows with ceiling fans, king beds (covered at night with a mosquito mesh tent), bathtubs big enough for two and a veranda complete with hammock and lounging couch. There are two saltwater pools surrounded by lounging chairs and a bar (which closes when the last customer leaves).
For those seeking an even more luxurious experience, the resort has opened three villas to the north of the bungalows. Each villa has a private bar and air-conditioned bedroom on the ground floor, and an upper-level terrace with a plunge pool.
But the real treat here is that each villa comes with its own personal chef.
a frequent stop for tourists who have gone on safari in Tanzania on the plains of Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. A walk through the labyrinthine section of Stone Town, with its winding alleys and bustling bazaars, is a unique experience. Hearing the call to prayer -- the island is more than 90 percent Muslim -- is a moment forever to be remembered.
While popularly thought of as a single exotic island, Zanzibar is actually made up of two main islands and numerous smaller islands.
A 15-minute boat ride from Stone Town lands us on Chapwani Island, a strip of land about 200 feet wide and less than a half-mile long. It has abundant wildlife -- hermit crabs, small antelope called dik-dik and a variety of birds.
There are only five guest cottages here, each with two rooms for two. With a maximum guest population of 20, there is almost a Robinson Crusoe feeling of intimacy, and the staff works hard to take care of all. Rates -- with all meals -- are $150 per person double occupancy during low season, $170 in high season. And if you're looking for that special place to take all your friends -- the entire island can be rented for $2,400 to $2,600 per night with a three-night minimum.
The electrical power on the island is supplied by a generator that is shut down from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and from midnight to 6 a.m. It's hardly noticeable unless the breeze dies at night. With no electricity to run the overhead fan, your options for staying cool are few. For those who would move outside to sleep, be aware of night noises, such as the flapping wings of the island's fruit-bat colony.