I love Diani because it’s where I first fell in love. Returning to Diani over the past weekend for a work trip was amazing! I was tasked by my new clients, Hillpark hotels and resorts, to organize a short media trip with a couple of food, lifestyle and travel journalists and bloggers to the hotel’s new establishment – Amare Resort in Tiwi beach, north of Diani.
We leave Nairobi on Friday at noon to arrive at the new Amare resort – a love-themed destination, with three detached honeymoon cottages and ten beach suites. As Mr. Richard Kimenyi of the Hillpark hotels and resorts shows us around their wedding pavilion overlooking the Indian Ocean and the private beach – I can’t help but think how cool it is that I am still discovering awesome dream destinations in Kenya.
“It’s funny how many dope places you could get away to and be completely hidden from the world but still be in Kenya,” I mention to Joy as we depart on Sunday. She adds, “And it’s even funnier that you’d still be just an hour from Nairobi.”
Now onto other the travel tales …
On Saturday morning we rise early for a close to two-hour ride to Wasini Island to visit the Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park. After the bumpy ride through a tarmac and rough road, we have arrived at Shimoni, where we take a boat to the island. Before that, we enjoy a descent Swahili breakfast at a little green-housed walled open restaurant near the sea show. The restaurant is almost surrounded by as many baboons as trees with hugging branches and leaves.
There are two Omars among the staff in the boat which takes us to Marine Park. They are very kind – to explain at every interval where we are, what to expect and the history of the area. Wasini is divided into two villages – Mwkiro and Nyuma Maji. The villagers here, like in many coastal settlements in Kenya, solely rely on tourism and fishing. As we pass the last village, we see a boat offloading several water jericans at the shore. One Omar explains, “There is currently a water shortage at the villages so men have to travel to Shimoni’s wells to bring water for the island’s use every day,” adding, “The villages also don’t have electricity. They only use solar panels and generators usually between 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.”
It’s about an hour to the Marine Park, and when we finally arrive it’s a desperate thirty minutes of trying to see the dolphins who refuse to come play. We only see two and they don’t really flaunt much or dance in the air like they are exulted to. The guides say that on a good day we could have seen up to twenty dolphins coming out. But we only see two for a brief moment. But the water is so beautiful and light blue, like I’ve never seen before.
A few people dive into the water to snorkel. I pass, as I nearly drowned in a mishap two weeks ago in Kipungani Explorer in Lamu island (another story for another day). I hear life-changing testimonies as to what the snorkelers see at snorkeling. Hillpark Tiwi’s manager tells me, “I have seen such amazing things like I’ve never seen before.” I wonder, “Like what?” He says, “All sorts of beautiful things like colourful fish, and turtles moving in all directions. That and the coral is just amazing! Anyiko you must go down there.” I don’t. I need another reason to come back to Wasini – dolphins and snorkeling.
We then sail over to a part of Wasini Island, and we have lunch at Kaole – the most lovely little restaurant. It wasn’t its aesthetic or decor but the warmth with which the staff at the restaurant served us, and talked to us. Our only waiter is almost like a caring spouse. “Enjoy your food please. Anything you want or need please let me know.” Their sea weed, Coconut Rice, Boiled Casava in Sauce, Coconut Sauce, Grilled Fish, Crab and the Wasini Cocktail blended in melon, passion and lemon, is a combo to reckon! Slurrrrp! If you ever go to Wasini Island, do pay them a visit.
Back at Shimoni after the fun sailing, I take a little historical walk back into the Shimoni Slave Caves, just a stone throw away from where ships dock into the sea. According to the guide, there were only four of such main slave caves in Kenya with three conjoined to this cave by underground tunnels. This area was named Shimoni (a place of a hole or inside the whole) because of the existence of caves by the seashore that were formed naturally. Slave traders turned that to their advantage, transforming the caves into a confinement for captured slaves who would later be shipped to the slave market in Zanzibar.
Starting in the 1750s, Shimoni, was among coastal cities and towns that were considered as ‘slave holding ports’ for east Africa’s coastal slave trade that spanned across South Africa to the Middle East.
It’s a literal freak show. From the ground area, spiral steps lead us into what used to be a slaves “Godown” – the tour guide calls it. He takes us through a cave area with chains still attached to its walls. He walks us deep into the dungeon explaining how and where slaves would be fitted in like cargo waiting to be exported. He expounds on how a slave would be tied around the chain area, a central location,to be whipped in punishment, and how all other slaves would watch the ordeal.
I walked into the caves, free and brave but prematurely run out scared and claustrophobic. I need to recover and soak into the and beauty of liberation. No other place to finish it than in my sweet cottage at Amare Resort …
BONUS: Thank you Caroline Mutoko. Thank you Hillpark Beach hotel Amare resort and Fly Sax Airline for the collaboration and entrusting me with the job of putting together and managing the media trip.
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All pictures are by Donald Gregory of www.behance.net/Gregoh