My visit to Kenya last month was my fourth trip to the continent. What I have come to learn about Africa is however you measure adventure: awe-inspiring or breathtaking, this is the place where your expectations are always exceeded.
On this trip, I travelled to the more tranquil east coast of Kenya, away from the busyness of Nairobi-its capital. The small fishing villages of Malindi and Watamu with their palm-fringed beaches along the Indian Ocean is where I would be based. While the safari experience to Kenya’s world-renowned reserves, parks and conservancies is one of the main attraction for visitors; I would discover that Kenya, or this part of it, has so much more to offer.
Once I landed in Mombasa, the three-hour drive to the hotel was along some of the dustiest rural village roads I had ever been on. Collections of adobe mud houses, colourful market places, busy water depots and small parlour shops lined the streets. As noisy tok toks and overloaded passengered motorbikes whizzed past in a cloud of red dust, I found myself totally absorbed in every detail of what I was seeing. The no-frills reality of it all, made me check in on my expectations a bit as we got closer to the hotel.
Usually, I don’t mention the hotel when I write about my travels, but this time I will. Perhaps because it was so contrasting to its surroundings. After the last three hours I was satisfied with clean and comfortable, surprisingly what I got was spacious and luxurious. The hotel was jaw-droppingly beautiful, so much so, it became one of the highlights of my trip. I found myself actually mapping out time during the days activities to get back to my room just to sit, lounge and enjoy the warm afternoon breezes that soothingly visited in the afternoons. I had found my oasis.
The continent of Africa is often referred to as the “motherland.” Africa has cradled, sheltered and natured humans from our origin. It is also the Noah’s ark of the animal kingdom, home to over one million species of animals. Here you find the world’s fastest, tallest, and largest mammals roaming sprawling savannahs, feathery grasslands, inhabiting great lakes, deserts, mountains, plateaus, and rivers.
Kenya has some of the top natural animal reserves and wild life parks in Africa. One of the best parks, known for its wide expanses and free-roaming animals is Tsavo East National Park, which luckily for me was just about three hours away from the coast where I was based. I would stay in a handsome lodge nestled amongst the wild life where eager safarians like myself would be offered a few creature comforts.
There was a lot of dust, a lot of bumps, and a lot of driving, but once you spotted a herd of wild elephants meandering in front of you, or lazy lions taking a shady evening nap or a dazzle of round bellied zebras grazing in the savannah the trip became priceless. The second you sight these animals you forget about the heat, how sore your behind feels and how much red dirt you have crunched down on for the day. You can’t help but think how lucky you are to be witnessing these amazing animals in their natural environment.
To show how little I know, I thought that travellers to Kenya were only motivated by wildlife safaris or by a curiosity with its culture. One of the last things I expected from Kenya was white sand, crystal clear aquamarine blue waters where dolphins dart around. Almost tropical, if I didn’t know where I was.
On Watamu beach at low tide, sandy magical no man land islands would emerge out of the water. They are yours to claim until the sea does. The options and activities here are the same as almost anywhere in the Caribbean: dolphin watching, mangrove tours, seaside barbecues, snorkelling and coral reef diving, all of which the Kenyans call, “Safari blue.”
The Village and the people
At some point it became equally important for me to really get to know the real Kenya-the villages, the people-outside the comfortable lodges and plush hotels. So, I made it my business to visit schools, markets, local craft workshops, and small artisan areas. If I were to report on what I saw, I would say that despite all the modern advancements that have become part of our daily routine, life here has not kept pace.
In fact, in my opinion, life in these small fishing villages along the east coast has not changed significantly since maybe the past 80 years or more. Its common place to see small kids filing along the roads with dusty bare feet. On their way to or from schools whose structure is made of nothing more than sticks and mud, which by the way are the same materials used on many of the houses. Most homes have no electricity or pipe borne water. Women walk the hot roads mounted by yellow water containers on their heads and at times bundles of wood which they use for cooking.
Nothing here is wasted just transformed by the creativity and ingenuity of the people. From the Maasai slippers made out of used tires, or the coal pots I saw made from old tire rims. Fallen trees are carved into works of art in the community workshops. Even the drinking straws here are made from wood not plastic. Out of the simplicity of life here, there is a deliberateness and full consciousness of their community and world around them.
The spirit of these beautiful people lack and want for nothing. Children wave excitedly at passing cars, there are smiles on the faces of everyone you meet. Jambo will usually be the first greeting that comes your way-meaning hello in Swahili. Then somewhere within the conversation hakuna matata would roll out at you-which if you have not seen the Lion King movie means “no worries.”
Kenya is said to be a schoolroom for anyone who wants to learn about nature, beauty and the rhythm of life. As beautiful and wild as this land is, it is also harsh and untamed. Yet, it is a nurturing home to the most majestic creatures and some of the most resilient and innovative people on the planet. As a traveller Kenya is an unforgettable destination. It now sits at the top of my list and I can’t wait to set foot here again.
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