Monday 30 May 2011

Ras Mbisi - go for it!

Sometimes you have to let the winds of Fate blow you, like dandelion seeds.  Sometimes Fate gives you no choice – it knows where you’re going. I’m a great believer in trying to live lightly; trying to get with the Tao; practicing wu wei. My mother always said that if you push things too hard, you can force them to happen, but at a price.  You can exert your will but it may backfire.  It’s the difference between Magic and Mysticism (if you want to be esoteric about it).
But sometimes… Maybe.  If you know – if you really know – what you want (and that it is the right thing), then maybe you have to fight, to give it all you’ve got.  What do you think?  I do admire people who get this idea, this vision, and then just pursue it, hell for leather.  Like Michelle.  
I met Michelle on Twitter (yes, another one) – thanks to Sam Baker (who, incidentally, always goes for it 100% - check out her new book).  Anyhow, here’s an abbreviated version of Michelle’s story – of how she gave up life in cold boring Ramsgate and bought a beach in Tanzania!

It all started in 2005 on a cold winter’s day.  The rain was lashing down and Michelle was idly browsing the web while her two young daughters watched TV.  She stumbled upon a website called, listing beaches and properties for sale around Tanzania and within a few clicks, she had started hatching a plan.  By the time her husband Jon came home from work, the idea for Ras Mbisi, an eco-lodge on a stretch of pristine sand, had formed.
With a feeling of wild impetuousness, they booked a flight to Dar es Salaam and they found “their” beach.  ‘It was love at first sight,’ recalls Michelle.  ‘We just looked at each other and said, “God, it’s gorgeous.”  There was pure white sand – that actually squeaked when you walked on it.  Clear blue sea and no neighbours for miles either way.’  It may have been beautiful but there was no accommodation other than ‘a subsiding, bat, rat and hornet-infested pit’ of a house.  If they wanted to make a go of it, they would have to start from scratch.
They sold up their house and hawked nearly all their worldly belongings.  Money was going to be incredibly tight and so everything that wasn’t totally essential, had to go.  Jon even auctioned his vast LP collection on eBay. ‘The proceeds bought us a Land Rover,’ he says ruefully. 

They left the UK on a rainy August afternoon in 2006 and arrived in Tanzania to bright morning sunshine. ‘We just ran to the sea and plunged in,’ says Michelle.  ‘The girls were so excited – it was a huge adventure.’  But reality quickly kicked in.  The house on the beach was uninhabitable and for three months the Vickers had to rent a run-down cottage 18 kilometres away down a pot-holed road while they rebuilt it. 
They dug their own bore hole (and learned how to use the various pumps required), constructed a solar system and built a biomass gasifier (running on waste) to power the Lodge as there is no mains power in this part of the island.  They employed over forty local people to build the lodge (which is all made from sustainable cocowood from the plantations that back onto the beach).  Most of them were then retrained as cooks, waiters and gardeners for the Lodge.  Digging and planting a large vegetable garden was a must as part of Michelle’s dream was to provide the most delicious, fresh, seasonal food possible.  Everything had to be local and eco-friendly – even the soap is made locally from virgin coconut oil.
To cut a very long story very short, Jon and Michelle finally saw their vision become reality: nine open-tented thatched bandas (simple yet sophisticated rooms with balconies and ensuite bathrooms) sitting just metres from the beach, looking out over the aquamarine water.  They are cleverly planned to benefit from the cooling sea breeze as does the restaurant and raised sundowner bar which overlooks both the beach and the swimming pool. 
Food is cooked simply using a combination of traditional Swahili recipes with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours (reflecting the old trade routes).  The menu changes daily, depending on what the local fishermen catch or what Michelle and Jon have found at market.  Vegetables often come from their own garden and your breakfast egg will have been laid by one of the Vickers’ own pampered hens. Fresh fruit literally falls from the trees and, given the Lodge backs onto a coconut plantation, it’s small surprise that the exotic nut features heavily.
When guests aren’t eating, they can be as active or leisurely as they desire.  You could swim with the Whale sharks or watch the Humpbacks make their way past during their biannual migration.  Or visit one of the uninhabited offshore islands for a fish barbecue and snorkel one of the many reefs. 

Michelle’s next project is to add a small spa offering a simple menu of massages and scrubs, based around the local coconut oil.  No overegged ‘rituals’ or gimmicks – just good bodywork to relax guests into ‘swahili time’.  There are still so many things I want to do but it all takes time,’ says Michelle.  ‘We’ve learnt to walk; running comes next.’

Fancy a serious chillout break? It's actually damn good value: check it out.  Or read the blog (with delicious recipes and more pics). I tell you, I am SO going there when funds allow. 

NOTE TO EDITORS: This is a much abbreviated version of a longer lifestyle feature I wrote.  If any mags or papers fancy the whole thing (2K words), let me know.


Unknown said...

Omg... I want to go now! And stay. What a wonderful and inspiring story.

Rob-bear said...

Sounds so delightful, so adventuresome.

sally said...

To persue your dream takes courage, it sounds divine !

Exmoorjane said...

Yeah...takes some guts to make that kind of shift eh? And I am SO going to go to meet Michelle...and throw me in that ocean!

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an inspirational story! Now where's the nearest tropical beach....?

Posie said...

Ooh sand that is pure white and squeaks underfoot sounds bliss. No mean feat all of the building work and building a dream on fresh air, reminded me of the various projects ongoing up here, but must be so much harder when you are miles from home immersed in another culture, the results look fantastic and I am sure they are living the dream.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Sounds wonderful ! Perhaps I should buy Lottery tickets after all ?

K.C. Woolf said...

Oh wow. I can barely imagine how much work it has taken them to get this far, but the result is amazing.

I love their focus on local building materials, food, jobs, ...

citybushisland said...

Just to add, we now have both a mini spa and a dive centre on-site, and we are about to launch Yoga breaks with a wonderful teacher - Megan from Butterfly Yoga -