Diani Days, Kenya

Kenyan Coast

14th October – 14th November 2014

Che Shale, North Coast – Kenya

Following my little jaunt around Tanzania, I flew from Nairobi to Malindi to meet up with Boris for a short holiday on the North Coast. Boris had been on a week long fishing expedition with his good friend Justin Aniere and a client Eric d’Echallens, north off the Lamu archipelago. Justin’s family bought a stretch of land just north of Malindi in the 70s (I think) and have run Che Shale as a beach resort for many years. Set in a coconut grove, this awesome place is filled with island style charm. In short, it’s a little piece of paradise! Coconut trees plus Boris Polo’s reversing = hazard… just saying.

After their week at sea, the boys arrived back bearded, tanned and smelling of fish. They’d had such a successful run and once boys catch good fish, you don’t hear the end of it. Check out their video here. We stayed in a little grass hut on the beach and had a completely relaxing 3 days in the company of Justin and his wonderful lady Isabelle. This is a great spot for kite surfing (which I still can’t do!) and so we surfed sans kite on the small waves coming into the bay. Andy Belcher and his family came up for the day – his daughter, Emily, is a PE teacher’s dream kid when it comes to all things water, and we couldn’t get her or Eric out the waves.

On our way back down south, we stopped in Malindi and Watamu, both cute coastal towns with a spice trade feel – the Arabic influence is strong here, with lots of Swahili architecture, and we popped into some fabric shops to purchase beautiful kikoys.

Diani, Kenya

Back in Diani, day to day life continued – reading on the veranda, swimming in the pool and sea, taking Pluto and Scooby for walks along the beach, spending time at Kenyaways for Friday BBQs and Sunday curries, seeing Reed for tea and meeting friends for lunch. Hard life…

I spent a couple of evenings down at the Tiwi River mouth, surfing with Boris, Bruce, Monique and Luke. I can hold my own on the small to medium size stuff now but can’t read the waves yet and need surf boss Boris to tell me when to start paddling. Bruce, I’m still better than you! Monique brought along a friend one day – a Zimbo from Shamba called Lesanne Dunlop. This resourceful young lady was backpacking round East Africa, making her way from resort to resort in exchange for taking fresh photos of their places for marketing purposes. Blady smart if you ask me! Chatted to Lesanne on the waves before I realised all of this. She was staying at Kenyaways and was photographing the place for Lindsay. We kept in touch with each other. [More to come regarding Lesanne joining me later on the trip for the Tanzania stretch]

Amongst other evenings at Kenyaways, Alex had a party which he had to be dragged along to – but at 4am, and after two bottles of whiskey between him and Boris, he wasn’t complaining.

Boris’ twin friends Max & Alex came down for a few days with their lovely girlfriends Janina and Ale, and two friends from the UK, who had just got engaged. We had a brilliant few days together, sundowners on Tiwi Beach (which, after one too many Jelzin vodka coconuts, sent Ale pole vaulting into the lagoon), sunsets with Ale and Alex on the jetty, octopus braais and nights out at 40 Thieves. Just so happened that my good old friend Luke Davey was in town round this time too and it was great catching up late into the night over one too many at 40s. Best comment of the week: Boris, “We’re having Dorado tonight for the BBQ”; Janina, “Who’s Dorado? I haven’t met him yet”.

Dodson’s Wedding in Tsavo

Early November, Boris and I jumped in the truck, followed by Dan Floren and Jo-Jo, and off we went to Tsavo for Rob and Lore Dodson’s wedding. If you’ve ever wondered what a real bush wedding is like, then this is the prime example. Everyone in tents (ours in the baking sun, rookie error), a massive bar built especially for the occasion, pre-wedding party till 3am, riding flip flop lions, waking up with a hangover in a tent oven, red stained feet, food being cooked round the clock on outside braais, wedding attire with flip flops (nice shoes get ruined), wedding in the middle of the bush with rain falling – nobody cares, speeches that last way too long but nobody cares, post-wedding party till 4am (with a little sleep in between), miraa shots to see you through a few more hours, the green hat, everyone’s a friend after enough rum (enter the Wildlife Works girls) Cara, Joyce, Yugala & Christina, Danny the broom boy, Fleur and Andy bush party, hangover in tent oven, more food, chatting on rugs, pillows and hammocks with Lindsay, Dave, Andrew, Eddie, Sue, Mikey, Tash, Hugo, Andy, Fleur, Harm & Selina. And so the weekend drew to a close. Boris and I headed back to Diani via the beautiful Shimba Hills and were treated to a partial solar eclipse that afternoon.

Wasini Island, Kenya

My last excursion was spent down at Wasini for the day (Harm and Selina’s Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris). From Shimoni we took a dhow out to the Wasini area where we spent the day snorkeling with GoPros. We got to see schools of dolphin and Boris was down in the water when a couple of them passed by! What a way to end my stay here on the Diani coast!

So long Diani Friends!

Saying goodbye to the Diani crowd was a long and drawn out process. Everyone has brought something unique to my short life here on the coast and it’s only on leaving that I realised how much I had grown to love this place.

Ric, Vale, Sara & Sole – keep living the dream – you’ve done wonders with Water Lovers, it’s possible to continue this idillic life I know you can make it work, Ballito is calling, come and see for yourself!

The Waterlovers Family, Diani Beach Kenya

Filip & Ida – you’ll be pleased to hear I still do yoga as much as I can Ida (on my mat in the middle of nowhere!), best of luck with Kinondo Kwetu and Malaika Cotton. Pity I didn’t get to experience the rush of the skate park but please just watch Filip and Lova, worried they might be ramping over the roof soon.

Kinondo Kwetu Family, Diani Beach Kenya

Lindsay & Dave – keep Kenyaways going strong!  Exciting times ahead with the expectant Irish water baby in a few months. You’ll be back on the waves sooner than you think Linz!

Last Night Out with Reed, Lindsay and Dave

Reed & Monique – will miss our chats, you’re both such awesome girls and I’ve loved getting to know you better! Follow your dreams (whatever they may be and wherever they take you!) Keep Diani tidy and in check for us please – it needs a sensible few to keep that crowd in line.

Monique and Reed, Madafoos Diani Beach

Danny – my first Diani friend, did you kick my dog? Enjoy life out in the Shimbas – couldn’t ask for a more beautiful spot to raise your new livestock family!

Anina, Claudia & Gabriele – lovely meeting you ladies and best of luck with the businesses – may tourism in Diani continue to thrive!!

Alex & Petra – good luck with the safaris and the little bush baby, no more whiskey benders for a while now Alex…

Brucey Baby – cheer up bugger and stop stressing, may Madafoos continue to thrive in the company of tourists and Diani’s finest people. Surf more, kite more and when in need of a cuddle, Boris will always be there.

Bruce and Boris, Kenyaways Diani Beach Kenya

Chief – from Mombasa parties, helping me get expedition ready, Naivasha festivals, days up on the Shimba ridge and sunsets at Tiwi – it’s been a memorable few months to say the least. I don’t know what I would have done without your kindness and generosity after the crash. Thanks for opening your beautiful home to me and for allowing me to share Pluto and Scooby as pets for a few months. Wishing you windy and wavey seas, continued flip flop fetishes and a steady stream of tourists hungry for adventure – so much to look forward to!

Saying goodbye to my paradise beach

The Beast is ready. It’s time to set the compass south and leave my home of three months.

Onwards and downwards!

Route Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya

Mombasa (blue) to Diani Beach (red) – 23 miles (1 hour due to Likoni Ferry) – see post here

Diani Beach to Tsavo East (green) – 144 miles (5 hours through the Shimba Hills) – see post here

Tsavo East to Tsavo West (yellow) – 83 miles (4 hours pole pole game drive) – see post here

Tsavo West to Amboseli (purple) – 82 miles (5 hours – horrendous road!) – see post here

Amboseli to Nairobi (blue) – 141 miles (5ish hours – horrible road to tar, dangerous road thereafter!) – see post here

Declining Escorts in Tsavo, Kenya

2nd – 3rd August 2013

See more photos on Facebook here.

The next morning Dan, Ivan, Anneloes and Fay went off for an early game drive and I stayed behind to sorted out a few bits and pieces not quite right with the packing arrangement in the Beast. (It would take me almost a week of fiddling with the boxes and equipment, moving things around so that the most used things got priority at the top of boxes and easily accessible places – clearly remnant of some childhood tetris addiction).

I continued on along to Voi gate where I added some more money to my safari card and bumped into Dan and Ivan, back from their early morning drive and attempting to do the same. Amazing what a process it is adding money to these cards.  It’s a bit like having an Oyster Card in the UK, but not as swift.  We we were all there almost a full hour… You can’t enter the parks without enough credit on your card – supposedly to reduce the accepting of hard cash at the gates (it’s reasonable to assume the KWS cottoned onto the fact that the number of visitors didn’t add up to the amount of cash in the till at the end of each month…)

I took the scenic route, a stretch of road heading north, parallel with the main road, up toward Mudanda Rock. A 1.6km single hunk of rock, it which acts as a water catchment and has an enormous dam below it. I and stopped to take a look. One single giraffe stood splayed legged at the distant edge with it’s head dipped in the water. The lack of animals didn’t detract from the view though and I took a few selfies (one drawback to traveling solo). The road down to Manyani Gate
was awesome, with the earth dropping away to a vast plain of yellow grassland, and opening itself up to tons of wildlife. I joined the main road and entered Tsavo West at Tsavo Gate a little further down the road.

KWS lady at the Tsavo West gate, “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder (again), ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug, “I guess so”.  Eish her bosom bounced up and down as she laughed in disbelief and waved me through…

Tsavo West is dense in bush and shrub so animals are a lot more difficult to spot. The scenery however, changes every five minutes and is completely different and dramatic. I found myself resisting the urge to take photos around almost every bend. Sadly, I have completely mistimed this day. My accommodation for the night was right over the other side of the park and I had planned a route passed some significant points of interest along the way, which followed a slightly less direct route, past a massive waterhole (nothing) and up to Roaring Rocks lookout which was almost a 360 degree view of the land below. I drove on past the usual suspects, antelope, zebra and a few elephant but the land is just so think with bush. Probably find I drove past tons of herds and troops who all spotted me and the Beast instead – game viewing in reverse.

With dusk drawing closer, I had one spot I wanted to see before heading to my room for the night Mzima Springs – a small oasis of perfectly clear water that rises up from the Chyulu Hills and produces 250 million litres of water per day, most of which heads downstream to Mombasa. My run with crappy animal spotting didn’t change much and I failed to see one of the many hippos or crocs that reside in this spring…  I did sit and look at some fish in the underwater viewing chamber which was quite cool.

Kitani Bandas, Tsavo West

My room for the night was a cute rondavel at Kitani Bandas, a more affordable little camp a stone’s throw from it’s the luxurious counterpart, Severin Lodge. My ‘room steward’ Alex showed me the ins and outs briefly, mentioning that I should let the water in the shower run for a bit as it needs time to warm up. Well I stood naked and goose-bumpy in that shower for a good 8 minutes before giving up on the hot water and taking a quick 2 minute scrub down under cold water… Africa’s not for sissies.

Severin Lodge, Tsavo West

I decided to dine at Severin Lodge to indulge in the luxury of wifi, good food and wine. Drove down the road in the dark and on pulling into the car park, a fair distance from reception  (bare in mind these camps are unfenced), was greeted by a Masaai who suddenly materialised from the dark of night, teeth was all I saw. He was in full get-up, spear and all, and his sudden manifestation scared the living shite out of me. He laughed, apologised and made polite small talk before walking me by torch light to the reception area  (personally, I think he gets a kick out of that and does it to all new guests, ensuring that his tribal stalking through stealth abilities are still in tact).   I went back the next morning for a cup of coffee and heard that during the night, lions had snuck into camp and completely torn apart one of the loungers outside a luxury hut – justifying my freakout with the Masaai man.  Africa’s not for scardy cats…

The staff at Severin were amazing, their English impeccable and their manner with guests incredible. I went back the next day and was greeted by name at least two of the staff – that’s touching. Dinner was a four course menu of the finest foods – the small but delicious kind. Dining by myself, I do feel a bit spare at times but the Planet often feels Lonely too, so this resourceful book accompanies me to dinner at times.  As I’m driving much of the day, I don’t get to research for the day ahead and so dinner’s often a good time to get stuck in. This night I ate under the stars, with my flickering candle, seat facing bush-ward towards the spot lit area. The chef even came over for a little chat to see how I’d enjoyed his food – top service!

3rd to 4th August 2013

Tsavo West waiting for convoy to Amboseli

The plan was to go to bed fairly early and wake up before sparrows to do a quick game drive and then join the 10am Amboseli convoy from Chyulu Gate. Well it seems my phone battery died sometime during the night and I woke up 10 minutes to the 10am checkout / convoy time!  I’d slept for almost 11 hours straight!  Clearly wasn’t going to make the 10am convoy then, and would join the next one at 2pm… I took a lengthy game drive and made my way over to Chyulu for 2pm to join the last convoy of the day only to be told that there weren’t any other cars going.  I would be a convoy of one, and would I like an escort?  Shame man, now this escort (AK47 accessorized) would come all the way to Amboseli only to have to mission the way back again (how, I don’t know.  There are no busses really so I guess he’d have to wait to come back the other way with someone else in my situation and heaven knows how long he’d be waiting at the other end – I didn’t pass a SINGLE vehicle going my way or the other way to Amboseli!).  So I politely refused on pity grounds.  AK47 man was also very short on English, and in response, my Swahili is woeful at the best of times, so can you imagine the 2-3 hour silence – no thanks… I love to sing, at full throttle whilst driving and his presence would rob me of this vocal freedom.

Driving out the gate and on towards Amboseli you pass the Shetani lava flow, a 50km squared area of black volcanic rock – pretty awesome and very black.

The road up to Amboseli was hectic with corrugations, and took around 2 hours. With dust flying up behind me, I passed local Masaai villages and had to wait for dusty bovine trains to cross before I could continue on with my journey. At one village a boom halted my progress. I sat in the car not knowing what to expect when I saw an armed soldier beckon me over to a small wooden hut next to the side of the road. Hopped out the car and went over. Friendly greetings didn’t seem to be his cup of tea.

“You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug (yet again), “I guess so”.

“You can’t pass”, he informs me with eyes dark and yellow, “All vehicles must pass me by 2 o’clock and it’s 5 o’clock now”.
Well I laughed, and then quickly stopped when I realised he wasn’t the joking kind. My tone a little more serious now, “But the last convoy only leaves Amboseli 50kms down the road at 2 o’clock, and by the way, it’s only ten past four”.
“Where is your escort?”
“I don’t need an escort.”
This was his little window for a chance of me ‘parting with something’…
“Where do you come from?”
“Tsavo West” (thought we’d established this…)
“NO, which is your country?”
“South Africa.” (I’m positive they think people from the UK are all millionaires so I avoid telling them I’ve actually come in from England – South Africans are Africans and therefore must be slightly less well off)
“What have you brought me from South Africa?”
“Hmmm, nothing.” (honestly had nothing to give the man, other than the cash bribe he was after)
He kept me there, took my details and continued to ask what I had brought him from South Africa. I didn’t have a thing… After 5 minutes of being completely difficult and wasting my time…
“Go and buy something from those people there”
I looked around to the three local Masaai hanging around my drivers side door.
“But I don’t want anything today thanks”
“You go buy or you won’t pass”

So I purchased a KES2000 (£15!!) bracelet for KES500 from an old Masaai lady with stretched earlobes and the boom was finally lifted.

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

Kimana Campsite was where I was headed and I arrived at around 5pm, too late to enter Amboseli for the day, so I set up camp in this pretty stark campsite. I spent at good amount of time trying to clean the inch of dust the outside of the Beast and tent before opening it up. (When you’re the one washing your own clothes by hand, you do everything possible to try to keep the few items you have clean!). I even wiped down the inside dash and back-end boxes which, after 3 days of chasing round the bush, were all covered in a fine layer of dust. Leftover meat from the braai in Tsavo made for great steak and cheese sandwiches. and I hit the sack at 9pm, keen to get going early the following day and see Kili looming above in the morning light…

Broken Buckets and the Joy of Coincidental Reunions – Shimbas and Tsavo, Kenya

1st August 2013

Check out more photos on Facebook here.

After stocking up with last minute snacks and food at Nakumatt for my 4-5 day game drive, I headed down the long sultry coast road of Diani. Past the ladders above the road for the Colobus monkeys, the dreaded unannounced speed bumps, Shakatack and the sign down to Forty Thieves – how does one grow to love a place so much after such a short stay?

The earth up at Shimba Hills is a stunning red colour and the forest feels like it’s on top of you at times.  It’s just spectacular. Rolling along the red track, taking in the views as the road winds it’s way through the hills and villages, past some farmers fields and livestock along the way then CRACK… I nearly jumped out of my frikkin skin! It sounded like lightning, but the windscreen was suddenly covered in water (like he heavens had opened up, but just over my car, in one truckload of water). I realised my 50l shower bucket on top of the roof rack had come loose, fallen forward onto the windscreen and smashed. I’m so fortunate the steel tap didn’t shatter or even crack the windscreen (this Beast is a toughie).

My home-made shower kicked the bucket – Shimba Hills

I stopped the Beast and got out to check the damage… my shower had most definitely kicked the bucket… At this point, a truckload of locals pulls up over the horizon from behind. The driver starts shouting at me with his hands in the air, annoyed at having a vehicle in his path. I pointed slowly to my broken bucket, gave him sad eyes, and toed the area where the water had soaked into the earth (there was a full on river!). The driver’s tune changed when he saw my misfortune, and pitiful cries of “pole” were heard from the traveling onlookers as the truck rolled slowly by.

“Pole pole” is the Swahili word used for “slow”, but at this moment in time I realised that “pole” (in singular form) must be the term used for “ag shame”.

The drive through the Shimba Hills was magnificent, it’s so lush and beautiful. I carried on through a couple of small villages, waved at the passers by, old men on bikes, children walking along in groups, herdsman… but no one waved back. Then it dawned on me that my side windows were tinted and that they couldn’t see my enthusiastic greeting. I made a mental note to wave from the windscreen area in future.

Villages on the way to Tsavo

I turned left at the end of the dirt road and made my way up onto the Mombasa-Nairboi road (the section on driving this road just about needs an entire post for itself). The driving in Kenya (as mentioned previously) is pretty horrendous and this road, in particular, serves as the only route for ALL import and export for the whole of East Africa. The railway line for cargo is just about non-existent so everything arrives and leaves by truck – every single goddamn container-baring one of them, heading up and down this road…

Driving this road takes nerves of steel, eyes in the back of your head, timing, advanced driving skills and a massive helping of pure luck. It really is a matter of leap frogging your way around the caravan of trucks, with each overtaking opportunity resembling something like this…

  • drive at 50km/h (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, pull back sharply to the left as oncoming trucks approach,
  • repeat x20,
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, see a 100m strip of clear tarmac ahead,
  • check wing mirror and blind spot just in case you missed a sneaky matatu (taxi) and to ensure you’re not being overtaken from five cars behind,
  • foot flat and turbo boost to 100km/h,
  • eyes wide, heart pounding as truck bares down lights flashing (even though a reasonable distance away),
  • hard left quickly back into the 7m gap left between the next two trucks,
  • rapid deceleration to 50km/h again (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • continue to repeat the process whilst witnessing the most horrendous driving in your life; trucks overtaking cars, the slow overtaking the even slower, the fast overtaking anything and everything… on blind rises, over solid lines, on the dirt next to the road, five cars in a row past seven trucks in a row – I could go on and on.

Talk about a crash course (!!) in East African driving…

I turned off the road at Buchuma Gate at the southern point of Tsavo East. A buffalo skull welcomed me at the gate and the lady behind the counter took some time to absorb the fact that I was indeed on my own and wasn’t hiding a small companion in my cruiser.  Maybe they get lots of cheapskates trying to get into the parks for free (which isn’t without just cause at $65-$80 per person per day).

I have had this many times over since… “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten, and shrug, “I guess so”.

Dry and parched landscape of Tsavo East

I drove up the hot and dusty track towards Aruba Dam with not much game on the way. I did spot some elephant in the distance and, as you tend to do when on your first game drive after a leave of absence, shot around 20 photos of the reddy grey lumps in the distance. Aruba Dam was dry which was a bit of a disappointment as the guide book had really bigged it up. I took a smaller road down next to a river and saw more elephant, a little closer this time (cue another 30 snaps of distant reddy grey lumps). The sun was hanging low in the sky so I pressed on to the public campsite for my first real night of camping. Stoked to finally have the opportunity to camp out in the bush with no one about (I didn’t pass a single car the whole day!), I drove into the almost desolate (but for one other bakkie) campsite.  I was leaning, elbow out my window, reading the do’s and don’ts on a signboard when from the bush I heard my name being yelled. Could this be the sad deluded voice of loneliness calling me in my head? I turned to where I thought the voice had come from, lifted my sunnies and squinted to get a better look.  Running towards my car is none other than Dan Sorrell (my fellow Saffa and total trouble maker from Mombasa Backpackers)!

Sundowners with friends in Tsavo East

TTC 5: I had no idea Dan was planning on coming to Tsavo, he had no idea I was either.  We had said our tearful goodbyes days earlier in Mombasa… I was there for one night and one night only, and we were the only two cars in the campsite.

Dan was camping with Ivan, Anneloes and Fay so I came over and set up camp near them. We had sundowners in a dry river bed accompanied by a guide who Ivan chatted away to happily in Swahili.  Watching the sun dip below the horizon whilst sipping on Patron – what a way to end the day! We had a braai in the presence of the Captain until the early hours of the morning. Awesome first night!  If only I could have a chance bumping into of friends every night on my travels, I’d be so chuffed!