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Chole Mjini is managed by Jean, the owner.
$176.5 - $864.5/night
Suitable for 2-4 people

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Chole Mjini treehouse - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
— Anne and Jean: “When we were kids, we knew we were on holiday when we reached the place where there wasn’t a flushing toilet and there weren’t electric lights. You go. ‘Ah! We’re in the middle of nowhere!’”
Interview By:

— Just tell me a little bit about life on the island. How did it all start and how did you end up there?

Anne and Jean: “Well, it happened quite by accident, actually. My wife worked in agricultural aid and was posted to Zanzibar. I went on a fishing and diving trip to Mafia and just happened to be taking a little tour of Chole Island and saw the boats they build and I decided to commission one to take to Zanzibar. In the process, I got to know the island very well. I came to Mafia several times and the district officials started meeting me at the airport when I arrived in a charter airplane, taking me around and showing me properties where they thought I should build a hotel.

We had no intention of ever living there or running a hotel, but it happened because the person who got us into it pulled out after we’d already raised money to start building a primary school and a little clinic. We had raised so many expectations and talked so much to people about what they want to do with their lives, we just didn’t feel that we could stop. So we were stuck, in a way.”
Chole Mjini treehouse - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
— Chole Mjini treehouse

— It was quite a long way building everything. What is the biggest reward for you?

Anne and Jean: “Well, I think for me the biggest reward is where we’re starting to be now. Just this week I got an email from one of these kids who just passed first year at university. He actually did very well. You can’t really explain that to his parents who didn’t go to school. But he’s so excited about it he emailed us. That’s so amazing.

We built the place entirely by hand with no electricity, no electrical tools. There are fantastic artisans who build boats, but in boats you don’t have any level surfaces. You don’t have parallel surfaces. You don’t need things to be perfectly upright. But for tree houses, you need all of these things. And the Swahili language doesn’t have words for them. In fact, there’s one word that describes everything that’s really geometric, at right angles, parallel, square, vertical, perpendicular, horizontal. The words is ‘sawa’. Unfortunately, ‘sawa’ is also the way that you would respond to say, ‘Okay, right.’ They can have a whole discussion with one word.”
Chole Mjini - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
— Chole Mjini

— Tell me about Chole Mjini itself, the different tree houses, the facilities.

Anne and Jean: “Chole-Mjini is not for people who want resorts, that’s for sure. We have no electricity in the rooms. The lighting for the tree houses is all with kerosene lamps. But we have ice-cold drinks in both bars. We have hot water available instantly when you want it. You can charge your batteries, iPods and all that stuff in the office, so you don’t need electricity.

The toilets are composting toilets because we can’t actually put a lot of dirty sewage water into the ground. The drinking water level is too close to the surface. 

Look, I’m 57. I’m too old to be uncomfortable, so... we have extra-size mattresses that are sprung. We have percale sheets so that I can sleep like a baby, and I need a hot shower after I’ve been diving. Those are essentials for me — they are non-negotiable.”
 - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania

— What sort of feedback do you get from the guests that stay with you?

Anne and Jean: “Go look on TripAdvisor. You’ll see that we either get a 5 stars or 1 — nothing in between. We’re not mediocre (laughs). We’re totally crap or we’re great.

We’ve never had a marketing budget before. We don’t go out and sell our product to wholesale distributers who then send people here based on their commission. We’ve always worked with just a few operators who really give out a lot of information and deal very closely and directly with their clients. So people get enough information from that kind of operator to make up their own mind whether they want to come or not.

People who tend to come to Chole Mjini are a little bit different. We like to think of them as travellers with money rather than tourists. Because they’re actually interested to eat local food, meet local people and see how local people live, rather than do what they want to do. These people love Chole Mjini. Less than 1% of our guests don’t like it.”
Chole Mjini treehouse view - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
— Chole Mjini treehouse view

— What sort of food do you serve at Chole Mjini? What’s typical for Tanzania?

Anne and Jean: “What’s typical for Tanzania... there’s meat, meat and more meat. But Mafia is famous for seafood. It’s famous all over Africa for it. We happen to be in the middle of a fantastic marine park where local people are still allowed to fish by traditional methods and we are the closest to the fishing grounds of all the hotels. So all the old men in their little dugout canoes come to us first to sell us what they’ve caught. We eat fresh seafood all the time and we fly in a lot of salads and vegetables. We also grow some ourselves. There’s lots of fruit on Chole but we fly in more.

We’ve retained some traditional Chole dishes and actually, they’re the favourites on the menu. We’ve introduced things that are completely off the wall like Japanes Sashimi or Turkish mandarin and radish salad. The food’s relatively simple but it’s fresh. It gets cooked and we can’t store it until next meal. If we don’t eat it, the staff eats it. You can’t beat really fresh food, it tastes so good.”
Chole Mjini treehouse - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
— Chole Mjini treehouse

— Do people change while they stay at Chole Mjini? When you look at them when they arrive and once they leave...

Anne and Jean: “Oh yeah, that’s one of the wonderful things. My wife’s more sensitive than I, she picks it up. My daughter, as well. I mean, people change physically as they relax, but also their behaviour changes. Chole Mjini is a very small place so it’s very intimate. Some people tell us that it’s a life-changing experience for them. We have a number of people who have come back many times – and the most unlikely people.

We once had two Danish professors and their wives. They just looked so old, fragile and grey. We thought this is just not going to work. Well, they’ve been back three or four times. They just love it, they change completely. They leave bright pink and happy.

I’ve learnt a lot about how we tend to judge people and see them, and how wrong we can be.”
 - Chole Mjini, in Mafia Island, Tanzania
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