My week has been completely railroaded by work projects I’m afraid. I had to go down to London and then over to Newcastle for meetings which means I haven’t had time to put the cornucopia together that I wanted to do. I had two choices – I could either not post at all or show you the photos from our final week in Kenya. I’m hoping it might help you to get into the mood for sunnier days and times away – as I type it’s 10 degrees in Newcastle – boo! So join me for a few edited highlights and let me show you how I packed light for a week on Kenya’s coast.
As you’ll remember, for our first week in Kenya we were invited to go on a safari by Titan Travel. It seemed crazy to fly all the way to Africa and then back again in a week so we asked if we could delay the return flights and carry on travelling at our own cost. So, we made a few plans, left our safari friends at Nairobi’s International airport and headed for the domestic terminal. If you watched my Instagram Stories you’ll know that I was somewhat bowled over to find myself standing in a queue for a coffee next to Dominic West. Mal knows he’s probably my only celebrity crush and he spotted him before I did so he enjoyed watching me trying to stay cool… which I did… even when he spoke to me (nothing exciting, just a question about the queue but a proper encounter nevertheless). Sadly he didn’t go on to board our plane, he had a private one waiting so let’s move on. Here’s that lovely moment when you’re heading off on a complete adventure.
A few hours later we’d flown to Mombasa and then travelled towards Tanzania a couple of hours south, past the big resort of Diani Beach to a quiet spot called Mwabungu. I’d booked us into a small boutique hotel called Eleven Pearl. There are just twenty rooms which are actually individual bungalows, each with a view of the sea. The prices are reasonable and it’s a lovely place to stay because you can step straight out onto the beach. The sprawling resort of Diani is a fifteen minute tuk tuk ride away if you’re in the mood for bright lights but we spent most of our time just where we were.
So this was our view for the next couple of hours while our room was being prepared…
… after a week of safari it was fantastic to feel the warm waves of the Indian Ocean…
…and the sand was the talcum powder kind that you read about in books but can never quite imagine.
How I packed light for a week on Kenya’s coast
You may remember that we’d travelled with only a rucksack between us and because we’d needed to layer up for the hills, we’d hardly packed anything for the beach, banking on the fact that we’d be able to buy something there. I’d managed to buy this one skirt in lovely waxed Ankara fabric at a street stall on our safari travels but otherwise the only beach stuff I had other than bikinis was a dress, two pairs of trousers, a few t-shirts, a short jumpsuit and a dressy skirt.
And so, the following day we headed out in a tuk tuk to the market in the nearest town, Ukunda, to see if we could have a couple more skirts made. This is Jumo our driver who adopted us for the rest of the week, popping up like Mr Ben any time we wanted to go anywhere. People earn so little in Kenya that it’s humbling, he only charged us £11 to drive us around in his tuk tuk for half a day. He told us that was more than he usually earned in a week and the fact that we’d made him ‘our’ driver while we were there meant he could afford to have a skirt made for his wife too. You can see from the smile on his face that he was really looking forward to going home that night.
I suspect I was trying to get Mal to stop taking photos and help me choose which length of fabric to buy here – the serious matter of shopping! When I realised that the skirts were going to cost less than £8 each for the fabric and the tailoring, I bought all three. Jumo was annoyed with us for not haggling but it didn’t feel right and we told him to use any leeway it might give him on the skirt for his wife.
Here’s the tailor working hard on his old fashioned Singer sewing machine – it was one with a treadle, just like our grandmothers used.
And here we are back again the following morning for a trying on session. Everything fitted perfectly so I was equipped for the week so buying locally was how I packed light for a week on Kenya’s coast. If you’re travelling with limits on your baggage it’s worth doing a little research before you go to see if it’s something you’ll be able to do. Obviously it’s a great way of supporting the local economy and if you find your bag is overweight at the end of it, you can donate whatever you don’t need to a local charity – I knew I was never going to be sorry to say goodbye to some of my safari khaki!
Otherwise we spent a lot of our time just ‘being’. After our action packed safari we weren’t keen to go on any of the organised tours, even though a visit to the caves where the slaves were chained before being transported would have been powerful. As always we had work to keep up with but it wasn’t a bad office set up.
Most evenings we stayed and ate at either the restaurant or more casually at the beach bar…
… this was Valentine’s Day when they’d gone to lots of effort to set up romantic beachside tables…
… and even Mal ventured into a local purchase for the night. It was a brilliant evening, we were serenaded by a local singer who had obviously learned the love songs he was performing by ear so we tried hard to keep a straight face as he instructed us repeatedly to “Cherith the love you have…” and later on livened it up with “Don’t step on my two two shoes.”
It was such a joy being in the sunshine in February. It never felt too hot because the brisk but warm Kaskazi trade winds were blowing constantly. They’re a sign that Kenya’s long rains were due to arrive soon after our departure. I believe they’ve been unusually heavy in some places but they just haven’t hit others. Like so many places Kenya is suffering with the extremes of both flooding and drought in a relatively small geography.
We loved having time to just relax and watch what was going on around us…
… the Colobus monkeys were endlessly entertaining as they darted like ninjas to complete food raids before the waiters could shoo them away with their catapults.
Mal couldn’t resist pitching in with the gardeners and learning how to make a palm arch – not a skill that I can imagine will come in very useful in our garden…
He went off scuba diving with a turtle conservationist…
… who apparently knew every single turtle on the seabed by name. He said there was more marine life than in the Caribbean but the underwater landscape wasn’t as beautiful.
In the meantime I didn’t do very much at all other than abandon myself to books and sunshine. We ventured out for an afternoon with one of the waiters when he’d finished his shift. He took us to the Congo river and we rowed through the mangrove on a boat hulled from mango wood. It was a privilege to see a more indigenous side of Kenya, he showed us village houses like this one with the fenced area at the back that hides the outdoor washing and toilet areas.
We saw a sacred cave – the local witch doctor visits twice a week making sacrifices of goats and chickens to keep the ancestors on side.
This father and son were out catching fish for the family supper.
And here’s our boat as it sailed back into the sunset, such a simple but beautiful construction.
The beach was so empty that we decided to stay for a while and watch the sun go down (what is it with men and their love of a time lapse sunset?)
This chap was selling fresh coconuts…
… and I’d gone past the stage of caring about the constant wind in my hair. We were just relaxed and happy with the simplicity of our week.
There’s a well known restaurant in Diani called Ali Barbour’s cave (that’s how they spell it) that everyone said we mustn’t miss so we dressed up a bit for that.
It was utterly stunning, you find it deep, deep down in a prehistoric cave. It was a shock to go back to having European voices all around us – after our week of simple living it felt ominously like a step towards home.
Before we knew it, we’d reached our last day with one last chance to support a Masai women’s collective.
At lunchtime the following day we set off back to Mombasa a little early so that we could have a look around the city before our flight. We’d booked a guide but he wasn’t the most enthusiastic of people, nevertheless he showed us around Fort Jesus, an ancient defence building originally erected by the Portuguese but variously owned by different nations as they took over the rule of such a strategic port. The British of course had their time, as you can see.
It was mostly military history so we didn’t stay too long but it was interesting to learn more about the trade winds and the massive impact such a natural phenomenon has had on the development of world trade relations, riches and politics.
And then we had a wander around Mombasa’s old town which is quiet but incredibly atmospheric. You can see the influence of the different trading partners in the architecture – this was Portuguese…
… and there’s also Indian…
…English of course and I nearly got arrested for taking photos here because it’s next to the port. I’d read a few books about colonialism before we came so I really wanted to see the old port of Mombasa which is captured so vividly in Out of Africa and other accounts of people arriving in Kenya for the first time. However it’s government owned and photography anywhere in the vicinity is strictly forbidden.
There’s such an evocative atmosphere in Mombasa old town, it feels as if only the ghosts remain.
Here you can see the old English club, there’s something very Ozymandias about it and the visible fall of empire.
We stopped for one last drink in the sunshine, aware that within hours we’d be back in the cold North of England. And it was an interesting cultural moment because our driver had told us to meet him here but he didn’t appear…
…so we headed back to the jeep. He arrived very flustered saying he couldn’t find us in the cafe (it hadn’t occurred to him that we’d sit outside in the sun!). And so, he said, he’d walked right through the town asking everyone if they’d seen two white people – and that just shows you how untouristy Mombasa is. We hadn’t noticed that we were the only white faces around until then but it was true.
There was a bit of a delay at Mombasa airport but the monkeys kept us entertained again as they worked on raiding the candy shop.
We finally boarded the connection to Nairobi a little anxiously because we had a very tight transfer window to catch our flight home. As we landed we could see our big BA plane right next to us but we were loaded onto a bus and driven in the other direction to the domestic terminal. So we ran and we ran as fast as we could through the terminal and three sets of security scanners (yes three – Kenya is the most rigid country I’ve ever been to in terms of security). There were other passengers running for the same flight too and we were glad we were fit as we pulled ahead. We got to the gate just in time and handed our passports over, they were checked but as we headed down the gangway we saw the doors closing in front of us. British Airways had decided not to wait! It was hard to believe but along with everyone else we went to the transit desk – and everyone was rebooked onto the next plane except us.
I’m not going to go into the saga too deeply, I know a lot of you lived it on Instagram with me (thank you for keeping me company). Suffice to say we sat for four hours until we were shipped on a bus into the back streets of Nairobi. They dropped us off at a pretty grotty backpackers hotel. We went to sleep at about 3.30am to be woken an hour later by someone hammering on the door saying we’d flooded the room below (we hadn’t). And then an hour later we were woken by construction which was happening on the building next door – it was so close we could reach out and touch it. We had clients with gritted teeth because we had to cancel our meetings after already having been away for nearly three weeks. We had no idea where on the journey our rucksack had ended up so we didn’t have any clean clothes or toiletries but luckily my dress from the day before was still in my backpack with my flipflops so at least there was that.
Anyway, despite feeling scruffy, we decided to make the most of a bonus day in the sunshine. We found a taxi and headed out to Karen Blixen’s home (Out Of Africa). I’ve read a few books about her and was really keen to see where she lived and get a feel for what her life was like. The house was much smaller than I’d imagined…
It’s amazing to think that she entertained the then King of England at this table as well as holding all of the other famous dinner parties of the Happy Valley set. You can see her paintings on the wall.
And here’s her bedroom. Her legacy in this part of Nairobi is everywhere. She set up her coffee farm which, after battling against fire, drought and famine for years, she had to let go. However she was also a great benefactor in both education and medicine; there are schools, colleges, universities and a hospital in the area all founded by her. In midlife she returned to Denmark to begin a whole new career as a writer – did you know she also wrote Babette’s Feast? If you’re looking for a good read, her Out of Africa book is great, it helps you to fall in love with Kenya – and it’s inspiring to learn about a woman who had to start all over again so many times. Anyway it ended up being a very cathartic day and we were lucky to have it.
There’s so much contrast in Nairobi – we left the very genteel district developed by the colonialists and within minutes were driving past this huge shanty town that just went on and on.
We still had quite a bit of time left before our flight but the hotel was too depressing to wait in so we headed out into the back streets and found a bar. As we walked in, it was like a scene from a Wild West saloon as everyone went quiet. But then a friendly waitress came over and took our order, we looked up and saw that a Newcastle match had just kicked off on the screens and all was well. It was yet another aspect of Kenyan life that we were lucky to experience.
So that was the end of our week, my gamble paid off and buying locally was how I packed light for a week on Kenya’s coast. We made it home the following day – and our bag joined us a week later having had an even more exciting global adventure than us. It’s apt that I’m looking back at all of this in the midst of a week that’s frantic with work and also overlaid with fretting about the middle one and the deadlines for his finals that are approaching next week… and of course wondering how the youngest is getting on in his first week in France. From the videos he’s sent his student room looks very basic and he doesn’t have any friends going with him but I keep reminding myself that he’s very self-sufficient and will make his way. Seeing how relaxed we were in these photos reminds me just how life twists and turns all of the time and how precious these escapes are, I’m so looking forward to the next adventure – whenever it may be. Have a lovely bank holiday weekend and fingers crossed, I’ll be back next Friday. If I’ve got you in the mood for holiday shopping, here are a few bank holiday offers for you:
Best bank holiday offers
Boden is offering 20% off everything here until Tuesday with code F3Q9
Hush is offering a very rare 15% off everything here
Nobody’s Child has 15% off new season here with code BANKHOL15
Jigsaw has 20% off everything here with code STYLIST20
Arket has 15% off everything here until Sunday
John Lewis women’s own brand 20% off here
Disclosure: ‘How I packed light for a week on Kenya’s coast’ is not a sponsored post
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