It is the afternoon of Friday the 12th a few minutes past noon. And I am stressed. I am meant to travel, I don't have my debit card, it was due to be ready by today 10am at the least and in the late afternoon, I will be so far from my branch. I cannot pick it up. The customer care rep has already told me that the card is not yet ready. Yet the bank had promised it would be ready by earliest Thursday, latest Friday if I applied for it on Monday morning.
"This cannot be happening right now."
That is all I can think. The customer care rep calls me back. The card is ready at the branch. I now have to skip my lunch. But I need to get this card today.
How I lost my previous card is an intrigue. In between paying for the last drink on a Saturday night, the last time I removed my wallet, and getting home a few minutes later, I had lost my card. But I only realised that on Sunday afternoon when I went shopping.
I hop onto a bodaboda and within twenty minutes, I am at my domicile branch. Strut up confidently to the customer care officer there telling them I have been informed that the card is ready. He gets to work looking for the card. Seconds turn into minutes. Cabinets are opened and closed. Books are checked and rechecked. Now I have a mild sweat trickling behind my back. Someone lied to me that the card was ready so that I get off their back.
It is not that I am travelling far. An over the counter cash withdrawal even by cheque is KES 300.00 exclusive of the 10% excise duty. The bank can dispatch the card to the nearest branch to where I will be travelling but I don't want to deal with a new branch that has no idea who I am.
Luckily, the card is among the new ones that just arrived. Not even unwrapped yet. Or recorded in the books. My guardian angel is working overtime for me.
Another bodaboda ride and I am back in the office. It is now 2pm but I need to leave at 3pm for the Deadpool screening at 4pm in the CBD. I cannot deal with traffic today. Leave form has been approved and I am going away for a week.
Sun, sand, sea & sandals.
I have been looking forward to a solo trip for a while. I think the last one I did must have been more than three years ago.
This year was my big chance. February was the best time; my birthday and it is already low season. So why not?
By the start of February, I have booked my bus tickets, identified where I will be staying and the kind of activities I will be getting up to. The card was the only thing that was standing between me and 7 days of pure fun. Only two other people have known about this plan all along. They know even the most minute of details.
The bus arrives promptly at 10pm. Granted that is when we are meant to be leaving, I know it will be a while before we are off. Twenty minutes later, we are off. We have to head down to Mombasa Road and pick up the rest of the passengers. Mbagathi Way has traffic but we soon clear that. We pick up everyone else on Mombasa Road and I am joined by a bulky dude who is sipping froma 250ml bottle of Smirnoff vodka. Neat. The bus has no rocks.
Expected arrival in Mombasa is supposed to be 6:30am and we are there minutes just after that. Uneventful ride through the night. I only manage to catch bits and pieces of sleep.
I am meant to meet Curlycheeks this morning. I haven't seen her in ages. And it would be great to catch up. But first, I need breakfast.
A tuktuk driver directs me to Riyadh restaurant. It is half-full by the time I get there. Mahamri & tea will do fine for me. I am not too hungry.
Then the most shocking thing happens. A woman is attacked in the alley right behind me. I turn around and two hoodlums are grabbing her handbag. One men comes to her rescue a tad bit too late but then she is hit with an iron bar on the forehead before the hoodlums run deep into the alley. She is taken to a health centre.
First hour is barely over and this is how Mombasa is treating me? I might not be ready for this city, yet.
As I wait for people to stir awake, a visit to Fort Jesus wouldn't hurt. But the tuk tuk ride is a tad bit too expensive even for me and my cheapskate ways. I have been to the great Portuguese-built fort that is carved right out of one piece of coral but I don't know anywhere else I can wait.
The entrance charges are KES 200.00 for Kenyan citizens. I am an early bird so I even get somewhere I can place my bag next to the ticketing office. I pay and with another couple, we get one guide. A young man who has a thick accent which is not coastal. But he knows his stuff.
I am more interested in taking photos of the great fort. It is a pity that people have taken to sketching their names on the walls. This leaves very ugly markings.
There is a skeleton of a blue whale in the fort right next to where the Portuguese had dug a fresh water whale. The skeleton was found abandoned right next to the Old Port, adjacent to the Old Town, and is believed to be of a one-year old whale. But it already weighed a freaking ton.
By the time we are done, curlycheeks tells me it will take her an hour to get into the Mombasa CBD. I have an hour to kill.
Right next to Fort Jesus, is a butterfly centre. Always wanted to visit one but all the one in Nairobi was closed a while back.
Charges are just KES 100.00 for Kenyan citizens. I decided to pay it a visit. The entrance is to your immediate left before the Fort Jesus Square where there stands a monument. Take the winding road to the far endd. Don't make any turnings to get there. It shares the same Fort Jesus Museum grounds as the Fort Jesus Archaeology Store, the Swahili Box (Mombasa's equivalent of the iHub) and the Seacom Fiber Landing Point.
I pay and I am given a guide to take me around. I am surprised that it is smaller than I thought it would be.
The butterflies are fenced inside a building-like structure with green netting where the windows are supposed to be and the starting point of this tour is where the "gross parts" of the life of a butterfly are in display; the chrysalis and the caterpillars can be seen. The eggs of a butterfly are laid on shrubs which after a while will hatch to give us caterpillars which will then eat before they become chrysalis/pupae before finally morphing into a beautiful butterfly. Lesson number one, pay maximum attention during your biological lessons kids.
A butterfly will undergo all those life stages in a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 14 days. 10 days to just spread all that beauty. Lesson number two, make the most out of your life kids.
It is still early morning so I am informed that not so many butterflies are around. They come out when it is hotter. But the few that are available are looking great. There are two main kinds of butterflies; ones that will primarily feed on nectar and the ones that will now eat all manner of gross; human sweat, mud and faeces. Yes, some of those beautiful creatures will be eating faeces. But you can never tell, can you?
I attempt to hold some but I cannot. They are too fast for me. Or am I the slow one? Word of advice, don't go there in shorts. There are these harmless mosquitoes (the ones with white and black stripes) because of stagnant water which is meant for the butterflies (they also get thirsty and butterflies don't have a bar). They make a feast of my legs. I have to keep on swatting them away.
The guide informs me that they buy the chrysalis of the butterflies from the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest which is about 40km away from Mombasa. Some of the chrysalis can fetch up to KES 75.00 per chrysalis.
Just a day before Valentine's and these beautiful insects are getting their groove on. I applaud them slowly as I walk out fascinated to have learnt about these insects. We need to conserve our forests.
I meet up with Curlycheeks and we head out to Jahazi Coffehouse that is within The Old Town about 15 minutes walk away from the fort.
Right next to Fort Jesus is the Mazrui family graveyard. The Mazrui family was (or is it is?) an Omani Arab family that ruled most of the Kenyan Coast between the 18th and 20th centuries. Their most famous scion is the late Prof. Ali Al'Amin Mazrui who was a noted scholar on African & Islamic studies and at the time I was graduating, the chancellor of my alumni. The family graveyard is kept under lock and key.
Jahazi CoffeHouse offers an authentic Swahili dining experience; mahamris, vitumbua, samosas, different types of tea, biryani, kahawa tsungu and many others. The prices are affordable and the service is friendly. The only downside is that being before 12 noon, we cannot get the biryani. I swear I am not gutted. Instead, we settle for a 10am snack; mahamris, samosas and fresh fruit juice.
Within the past few years, Old Town has become quite unsafe such that photographers who have to venture in with their gear have to get armed police escort. The youth are becoming a menace. Unemployment and persistent drug usage have turned them into a life of crime. Sad that it has had to come to this because the Old Town should be Kenya's foremost historical site.
Our catch-up session done, I grab a matatu from Buxton stage that will drop me off in Kilifi where I am staying for the first 4 nights.
Kilifi is the main town in Kilifi County. It is located just about an hour's drive from Mombasa Town and it borders the Kilifi Creek; the estuary of the Voi River/Goshi River.
I am too tired since I have not had much sleep on the overnight bus and the hour drive feels further to me. I alight at Tuskys Kilifi and take a KES 100.00 tuk tuk to where I will be staying; Distant Relatives Eco-lodge and Backpackers. The ride takes about 15 minutes through a meandering, dusty road.
At check-in, I notice a familiar name on the register for the people who got in today. But I could be mistaken. It is a popular name. A quick 5-minute check-in and I am settled in. A quick shower freshens me up and now the proper holiday mood can begin.
I order lunch (buttered and garlic fried baby calamari with fries - KES 800.00) and settle in with the book below.
Distant Relatives is located right next to Kilifi Creek although it is a 5-minute walk to the beach from the main house. The main house hosts the bar/reception and the common areas. It is fitted with a pool upfront and an outside seating area split into two; below the verandah and garden shaded seating. To the left of the house is a beach volleyball area plus performance stage that offers a view of the creek.
Accommodation is split from bring your own tent all the way to private rooms. Your own tent will cost you KES 500.00 to camp with while a private banda will set you back KES 3,000.00 per night during the low season and in the high season, KES 4,000.00. I had booked a tad bit late and missed out on the private room. So I have to settle in for a safari tent. It costs me KES 1,500.00 per night.
The tent is comfy and has a double bed. I couldn't ask for more. Unfortunately, no charging ports.
Below are the accommodation areas (my tent is to the lower left & to the right is one of the dorms), the shower (you look up while showering and all you can see are the bamboo trees plus angels peering at you) and the swimming pool in front of the main house.
Network connectivity is pathetic in the general area. I suspect the house is jammed so that you pay KES 200.00 for the WiFi usage. But I am a conspiracy theorist. At least in the tent, I can get patchy 3G connection enough to just tweet out blurb.
At the beach by the creek, that is where they hold barbecues in the evenings. And there are dhows that for KES 1,500, will take you for a sunset cruise round to the edge of the creek and get you back to the beach. An extra KES 1,000 will see you eat traditional Giriama cuisine at the nearby village of Fumbini. Occasionally, there will be an arts festival held on one of the dhows.
I finally meet up with Mbugua and he informs me that he got here at about the same time I was having breakfast in Mombasa. The easiest option to get to Kilifi, it seems is to take a Nairobi - Malindi bus then alight at Tuskys Kilifi. By 7am, you will be in Kilifi.
Day 2 and I start off with a dip in the swimming pool. Calamity strikes again. This time, it is my toe. It gets caught in the edge of one of the pool lights. Nothing serious that a little Elastoplast, from the first aid kit, won't do. I finish up on my book and then I decide to take a stroll into Kilifi Town itself.
I ask around and I am told the closest beach to visit would be Baobab Beach. I try walking but it seems I am not getting there. Halfway through, I take a boda boda. It costs me KES 50.00 to the beach itself. One of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. Considering it is the 14th of February, the beach should be fuller. What with love being in the air? But I could be mistaken. There is none of that here.
I walk for what must be an hour and I only meet a sprinkling of people. I guess most people don't come here because there is nothing to do apart from walk or swim. You cannot find anywhere to sit & cool down with a drink. Or even order a biting. I suspect the private residencies around here don't want the beach to be "commercialised".
I decide to have a pizza at Makuti Villas which is right opposite Tuskys Kilifi. A friend highly recommended them. The pizzas are oven-baked with the oven situated at the most weird of places; right next to the main entrance. The seafood salad sets me back KES 800.00 but I am not complaining. Finger-licking all the way.
I spend the rest of the evening at the main house in Distant Relatives. I meet Ewan who drove from Nairobi to Kilifi but took a detour to visit the Sikh Temple in Makindu followed by another detour at Kaloleni, Mombasa to drive straight through to Kilifi. Not a bad idea. Maybe it is something I should consider the next time I go to the North Coast.
Day 3. It is my birthday & I wake up to nary the usual HBD/Happy Birthday/Wapi cake? messages. The adage proves to be true; out of sight, out of mind. I am content with that arrangement. Another dip in the pool (not skinny as some of you would do it on your birthdays) and I am ready to visit the Gede Ruins and Watamu.
Gede is about another hour's drive from Kilifi and the fare can be bargained to KES 100.00 by matatu. If using private means, just drive as if you are heading towards Malindi. You cannot miss Gede. All the signs shout at you that this road leads to Watamu. To get to Gede Ruins, take the road heading to Watamu then an immediate left following the signs. By boda boda, it costs me KES 50.
Gede was a coastal town that thrived between the 13th and the 17th centuries. It was a cosmpolitan town with more than 2,500 residents at its peak. The population was Muslims and they had settled in the area because it was well protected by the sea and the forest. The sea then was much further inland and they could get fresh water via wells. As the sea retreated, the wells dried up and with it the town was abandoned.
At least 5 mosques, identified by the mihrab which are semi-circular corniches where the imam stands while preaching, can be seen. The Grand Mosque is mostly intact. The town was ruled by a king and the palace is pretty much evident with presence of the court, private offices and private quarters. Some of the artifacts found here include Chinese coins and Chinese porcelain wares indicating that the people of Gede traded with the Chinese.
There is also a museum that displays these artifacts. Charges into Gede Ruins are KES 200 for Kenyan citizens with an additional KES 100 each for the butterfly farm and the snake park.
For my afternoon, I visit Watamu. Watamu is rumoured to have the most beautiful beach in the North Coast. A boda boda ride from Gede to Watamu is KES 100.00. My rider recommends I check out the roadside eateries. A meal of fried fish, coconut rice with some coconut curry sets me back KES 200. I am a happy man.
But alas, the beach I am recommended to visit is only accessible through a gate which seems can only be opened on the whims of a gateman. Oh well...I turn back. Disappointed, I am.
I ask a random boda boda rider where I can get a good beach that serves at least a cold drink.
"In fact, I work for one."
"How far is it?"
"Just hop onto the bike. The ride will only cost you KES 50.00."
I need no further prompting. I hop onto the bike, and off we go.
He lives up to his word. The beach is further away from Watamu Town, the sands are whiter (than the Oscars?) and they have bandas that serve cold drinks.
The beach is adjacent to a resort named Seven Islands Resorts which my host informs me is what delivers the most visitors to their particular banda. In front of the bandas, are two coral islands. Fret not. They don't obstruct the view of the ocean.
You can climb up the islands and even walk around them. I do just that. In the late evening, you may get fishermen who are bringing in fresh catch which will include squid, octopus, red snapper, white snapper and others. This can be prepared for you while you sip on the cold beer and let the sun soak you up. The bandas have their own sunbeds for that perfect tan.
Behind the coral islands, there are some holes in the ocean deep enough for someone to swim in and relax. Too bad I didn't carry my swimming trunks. I am in love already.
Back to Distant Relatives and I meet someone who says they are leaving for Diani on the same day that I am.
"Can I hitch a ride?"
"Oh sure. We are only two. The more, the merrier."
Sweet. This is turning out better than I expected.
Day 3. I decide against going to Malindi. Instead, I walk down to the creek and take a walk along the beach. This side of Kilifi had a hotel that was named Seahorse hotel. apparently, competition from Distant Relatives brought the hotel to its knees and all that is left is now a shell of the same. I decide to check that out.
It is a solitary walk along a slight cliff that terminates at a rocky edge of the beach. Followed by a sand bar which is full of crabs. The Seahorse hotel looks to have been a mighty fine establishment. Too bad it ran aground.
Just after the hotel, a boat drops off someone. I enquire if I can get a ride to the boatyard. Which is right across from where I am. Ideally, one should walk or take public means to the main entrance of the boat yard. Then they can get a boat ride from there after paying. I convince the boatman to take me across. He agrees. The charge is KES 500.
The wind is blowing just right and the water is calm enough. This was a good idea though it was just my luck that a boat could pick me up on the opposite side.
Kilifi Boatyard also serves as the local yachting club for Kilifi. Parked on the water's edges are boats of different size. Being a weekday, no one is out on the water but the boatman navigates expertly around the boats parked there. They serve meals that range in cost between KES 700 and KES 1200. I order the prawns piripiri served with rice. Beers and cocktails are also available.
This is the rest of my view for the afternoon before I pay an additional KES 500 for the ride back to the beach next to Distant Relatives.
Day 4. Time to leave for Diani. I clear my bills and meet up with my newly-acquired (conveniently?) friends Lee and Victor. The drive back to Mombasa is uneventful expect that at the ferry, Victor who is driving, doesn't have his driver's license and we have to do a quick U-turn so that Lee can take over. That wasn't even necessary. It is still mid-morning so no rush for the ferry. Which I believe is getting better organised. The last time I was there, it was sheer pandemonium to get on board.
Victor and Lee have no set accommodation for Diani even though one of their pal lives there. A quick call to South Coast Backpackers, where I am staying, sorts them out. They don't mind sleeping in the dorms.
We clear the ferry at Likoni and the usual chaos experienced with the North Coast (at least until just past Mtwapa), is gone as soon as we are past the ferry yard. It is my first time in the South Coast and I am awed by how calm it is. Getting to Diani should be a straight-forward route. Drive until you get to Ukunda, turn left, drive until Nakumatt Diani then turn right all the way until you see the sign for Diani Backpackers.
I consult Google Maps and it tells me the same. Victor and Lee were going to see a friend of theirs so I am trusting them. We drive way past Ukunda, past the turning in to the Kwale titanium mine. It is then that Lee realises we are way off. Lee has slept there once before. We make a quick U-turn and drive back to a dirt road that is supposed to run right outside Diani Backpackers. Lee is not too sure so we have to keep on checking where it is.
Diani Backpackers is in an unassuming bungalow with a high fence around it. It is a far departure from what Kilifi Backpackers if you are looking for a more natural and rustic place to stay. The bar still serves as the reception but this one is behind the main building. Accommodation is quickly sorted out for Victor and Lee. Mine is still not yet ready. In exchange, I will get Kevin's Cottage. This is a banda to one corner of the compound with a double bed and an L-shaped couch. Seems a bit extravagant if you ask me. It is what it is.
The pool is clear with enough seats around the pool. Both the bar and the pool are 24 hours of the day. The main building serves as the kitchen, the lounge area (fitted with a TV and DVD player) and one of the dorms. There are also two private rooms inside it.
I grab a quick meal; calamari curry. I notice that Diani Backpackers is cheaper when it comes to food compared to Kilifi; KES 500 vs. KES 800 on average. It is still early so I decide to check out the famous 40 Thieves Beach Bar. Perfect afternoon. There are just a few people around. This is where most of the Nairobi crowd will hang out but this time, I am sure I will barely bump into any.
I am somehow feeling hungry so I order a pizza to go along with my drink. A King of The Coast (king prawns and the usual toppings) pizza to be exact. Creamy and thin crust; just the way I like them. The pizza is KES 800. Beers are sold at KES 300 each.
Out in the sea, there are people who are kite-surfing. I wish I could join them but it is getting dark sooner rather than later. A few people join in at the bar but it never fills up.
I head back to Diani Backpackers and a boda-boda costs me KES 100 from 40 Thieves. At the Backpackers bar, I chat up the barman who is there. I casually mention that I would like to visit Wasini Island. Wasini Island is the southernmost island on Kenya's coast. A colleague had advised that I visit it. The barman dispenses his wisdom and lets me know the best way to get there. Which turns out to be the worst.
By the time I am going to sleep, the bar is just 5 people around. Most of them locals from Diani.
The barman has told me that for a fee, I can get a boda boda ride all the way to Wasini. What I don't know is that this is some 30-plus kilometres away from Diani. With the last 8 kilometres to be covered on rough tarmac. I am about to break my back and body.
In the morning, I try calling the boda boda rider but ako mteja. The barman explains that Eric, the boda boda rider was attacked the previous night and lost his phone. Diani has become a crime hotspot. The same previous evening, a guest mentions that her sister lost her handbag when someone on a boda boda cut the strap and took off with the bag. Backpackers also advises that after nightfall, travel only by a boda boda or taxi.
I cannot believe how far this place is. Take the Kwale-Lunga Lunga Road and ride past where they are setting up the Kwale International Sugar Company factory in Ramisi. A few metres ahead, you will see numerous signposts that lead to Shimoni and Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park. That is the start of the last 8 kilometres that were pure torture for me. I need to get there and pay all the fees before the guests leave by boat.
We make it with just a few minutes to spare. Shimoni is actually where the park offices are located and the jetty too. Entrance fees into the marine park are KES 250 for local citizens while residents will pay KES 350. Tourists will pay KES 650. Please note that these are just the park fees. If you have your own boat, you could get a ranger at an extra fee to guide you to the actual marine park. For the rest of us, you have to haggle for a dhow with some of the locals who are there. The whole dhow ride is quoted at KES 3,000 exclusive of lunch on Wasini Island. Lunch is an additional KES 1,000. There are some companies that will offer the same tours at pre-arranged packages.
You can always negotiate the dhow ride and it is advisable that you do it. I head to the jetty, present the ticket for park fees to the Kenya Wildlife Service officers who are there then head into the dhow that you had negotiated for. The dhows are no bigger than the size of 33-seater bus. Secure the best position for yourself. The best position would be at the bow but if you are late, anywhere else is fair game apart from the engine area which is reserved exclusively for your captain. I sit right next to the landing dock since I am one of the last people to get on board.
The trip from the jetty will head deeper into the ocean so as to go around Wasini Island. At the eastern end of the island, you normally have dolphins swimming alongside the dhows. We were not so lucky on the first try but we had to head back and pick up more snorkelling masks by which time the dolphins had resumed swimming. Then the dhow ride takes you around the island to the opposite side from Shimoni. There are two islands there which also give the marine park its name; Upper and Lower Mpunguti. You will then sail onwards towards the south-eastern direction to get to the actual snorkelling site. The site is right in front of Kisite island.
I am not a fan of water bodies larger than a puddle. And I was not planning to snorkel. Until we got to the snorkelling site and everyone on board got their masks, some got the paddles and people started diving overboard. That would mean I would be left with the captain on board for at least 30-minutes.
I decided to go for it. My mistake, as usual, was that I had not carried my swimming trunks. I strip down to my boxers, got a mask and joined the rest in the water. Brrr...water's cold and the waves are wild.
Best decision I have made in an impulse. Marine life is so beautiful. It is a pity that I didn't have a GoPro or an underwater camera with me. Despite the heavy waves, I enjoyed the dive.
I was surprised that whatever we see on TV has been really enhanced. The water was not as blue and neither were the colours underwater as vibrant as they seem on TV. Visibility was also limited plus there is also the effect of the refractive properties of water coupled with the mask which gives you more of spherical vision.
The journey back will lead you back in a north-western manner so as to approach Wasini Island from the front. Lunch is served at one of the restaurants on the island. Being a Muslim-inhabited island, no alcohol is allowed but soft drinks are welcome.
I opt for a seafood lunch. Chicken is also an option. They don't cater for vegetarians. The starters are these massive crabs that are captured in the mangrove forests behind the island. The crabs are fresh. I don't think there is anywhere else you can find fresher crabs. The main course is coconut rice, coconut curry, seaweed curry, chapatis (very soft and thin) and a choice of red snapper or white snapper. Dessert is fruit. Kahawa tsungu is available for anyone who wants. It is served in the original tiny cups that are more of thimbles than mugs.
We are all sated after such a heavy meal. A light walk around the island to ensure the food settles well. Wasini Island is 7 kilometres long by 3 kilometres wide and is made up of two villages; Mkwiro and Wasini proper. Wasini was initially inhabited by people of Arabic origin before the Digo and the Vumba joined over. Paradise Beach is to the southern end of the island. The island has no electricity instead people rely on diesel-powered generators for power. One can spend the night in resorts located within the island with rooms going for between KES 2,000 per night to KES 5,000 per night.
The ride back to Shimoni is across not-so-calm waters of the channel between the island and the mainland. The boat crew sing songs on board to get people excited.
Eric is waiting for me at Shimoni to take me back to Diani Backpackers. The ride this time round will be slower. I get back to the hotel tired but the area around the bar is kicking. Instead, I dip into the pool to calm the body. This seems to work even if it is over short periods of about an hour after which I have to swim again. I pick up the darts that are lying around and I take aim. I am not bad at this game that my dad used to compete in a long time ago. The genes run along right.
The next day is a rainy morning. The plan today is to visit Chale Island. Chale Island is a private-owned island withs a resort on it. I am advised the easiest way to get there is to use a boda boda because of the road. The tarmac terminates somewhere about twenty minutes ride from Diani Backpackers and the rest is even worse than the road to Shimoni from Ramisi.
A fellow backpacker, Claire, agrees to join me. We agree to leave after lunch. I decide to keep myself busy with a book that I find on the shelves of the common area. Onesmus, one of the backpackers' worker, agrees to drive us there on his boda boda. The road is actually really bad. But we get there in one piece. Claire is on a two-week backpacking trip across the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts which will terminate in Zanzibar before she flies back.
After alighting at the mainland, you have to talk to a guard who will talk to the main reception on before you can go over to the island. A boat will pick you up from the jetty. What no one had told us is that the best time to visit is at 10am. It is already 3pm. Claire is the patient one between the two of us so she talks to one of the managers on the island and they let us through. Though highly suspect that they let us through because there are other guests who want to check-in for their stay at the same time. Bilha, at front-office, informs us that the time on the island is an hour ahead of East African time.
The island is just 5-minutes from the mainland by boat. It is U-shaped with a lagoon facing the mainland, a beach towards the ocean and cliffs on the third side. The full day tour of the island and use of the island's facilities will cost you KES 3,500 per person which is inclusive of an a la carte buffet for lunch plus one soft drink. Any other drinks will have to be bought with a beer costing KES 300 and a glass of house wine at KES 400. WiFi is free as long as you are on the island. No need for pesky passwords.
Claire and I get our fees waived by 30% though we will miss out on the lunch. We order for the grilled red snapper from the lunch menu of the restaurants which is KES 1,100. The waiter brings us our starters plus drinks. Before we dig into the starters, a monkey (with its baby hanging from the underbelly), rushes into the kitchen where it grabs a banana. It then rushes towards us. My initial thought is that it is coming for our drinks. Turns out it is more interested in the starters than any liquids. Funny incident but terrifying because who knows what a monkey will think?
The beach on the island is fitted with sunbeds and is ringed-off by cliffs on either side providing cover from powerful waves. The sands are white and all around are people who are sunbathing with a few of them in the ocean.
Paradise has a name and it is Chale Island.
Claire had planned to read this afternoon but we have just a few hours to see the island. The resort has three islands; two of the fresh water and one salty water. The salty water pool is right next to the lagoon and the beauty & spa center. The main pool is right next to the reception and the third pool rings over the Galana Bar which is overlooking the coral cliffs to the south-west of the island. This is the kind of beauty that one cannot take all in at once. A bugger that we have come too, too late for this.
Next to the Galana Bar is where there are apartments (complete with penthouses), hotel rooms and some bandas. On the lagoon-end of the island, there are much more private bandas. Your honeymoon idea that I will not charge for? Check out the resort's Suite on The Rocks.
The staff are helpful but before long, we need to get back to Diani Backpackers lest it is too late for our boda boda ride. Eric agrees to come for us.
By the time we are leaving, the water has receded and the boat cannot cross over since it is low. The folks at Chale Island have a tractor to take the day-visitors back to the mainland. This is also the time that they take away the organic trash for disposal on the mainland. There is a separate tractor for this sort of thing. Since it is just Claire and I, we decide to hop onto the trash tractor. We sit on either side of the driver and the slow ride starts.
However short this ride may be, it is still an exhilarating ride. Said, our driver, tells us that even dignitaries get the same treatment. The water at that time is only ankle deep and is perfect for those who want to walk around the island and check out the coral. It will stay this way until about the morning after when the water will start coming back.
Eric delivers us safe and sound to Diani Backpackers. The same evening, there is a Uruguayan guy who is celebrating his birthday. There is cake and the bar even throws in free shots for those around. It is a festive night. Too bad they have mixed chemicals in the pool because a dip would have helped calm down my sore muscles.
We take a turn at the foosball table. Maybe it is the shots that we had earlier, but we are all clumsy on the table. A pair of Danish girls join in. Someone suggests that we have a two-on-two championship. People pair up. The Danish girls stick together. They proceed to roundly hand us all massive defeats. In some cases as bad as 10-2. Partnerships are broke up and re-formed but the Danish girls reign supreme.
The next day, I am starting my journey back to Nairobi but I have to go via Voi. Before I leave, I exchange my copy of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant with Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes that I had started on the day before. It is too engrossing. The bus ticket I had booked, will not pick me up in Voi. So I have to buy another bus ticket when I get to Voi. I am re-visiting my childhood but it is bad that I don't have time to visit the house where I spent three years or the schools I studied in. I promised myself I will do just that next time.
The bus picks me up from their Voi offices at midnight and I am back in Nairobi at 6am promptly.
That was my one week trip to Kilifi, Malindi and the South Coast. I enjoyed South Coast the most. Because I got to see the other world that we don't know much about and I also got to meet amazing people. There is still more that I have not done in the South Coast that I would love to do; jetskiing, kitesurfing and skydiving. All of which are offered from Diani Beach.
Backpacking was the best decision and while I have a few complaints about each place, I would ask that anyone visits those places. The main issue I had with Kilifi Backpackers is why take advantage of the lack of network connectivity to charge for WiFi? The guests at Diani Backpackers tend to leave their razors and other disposables in the bathrooms despite notices to the contrary. Power fluctuations also happened on two out of the three nights I was in Diani. At least Kilifi had an emergency generator.
At Diani, you can play music from your phone for everyone else so diverse music tastes are welcome whereas in Kilifi it seemed like it was being played by the barman. In Diani this is possible because there are extension sockets with chargers for iPhone and Android devices on the bar counter from where anyone can plug in their phone to charge.
In Kilifi, all games required a deposit of KES 500 while at Diani, they were freely available. A pity that Diani didn't have a chess board.
For those who are more adventurous, Esther at the Diani Backpackers front office, will help you make travel arrangements to any place around the Coast. Don't be like me and use a boda boda all the way to Shimoni. Esther will get you a nice price with the van picking you up from the main entrance of the Backpackers and it will drop you back there. Same case applies for Shimba Hills National Park and places as far as Tsavo National Parks. Esther uses part of the funds from these trips to help pay for school fees for the less-privileged kids through a foundation she has set up. She also sells little trinkets and other beach wear.
Diani Backpackers is also easily accessible via the Ukunda Airport (where JamboJet flies to at least once) and they can even arrange for pickup from there at an extra cost. Just make sure to mention to them when you expect to land whilst making the bookings.
Diani has another backpackers place referred to as Stilts Backpackers which happens to have a more nature feel. It is directly opposite the entrance leading to 40 Thieves Beach Bar.
But do you really trust someone who goes to the beach and forgets his swimming trunks? Plan your holiday to either place and experience for yourself.
All photos and videos shot on location by yours truly apart from the one of me looking over into the water (and contemplating my future). Shot (and not edited nor produced) on the trusty OnePlus One.
Special shoutouts to my friends who had to endure my awesome updates on Instagram and SnapChat during the making of this blogpost. And to you, for reading this far.