When we were fighting the coronavirus ravaging our bodies back in July, we said (it’s us, ladies and gentlemen), things have to change to enjoy life more. Because, as they say, life is for the living and you can’t enjoy life in the coffin, donge?
That called for some new, different things.
Like traveling to places we’ve never gone to, such as Gachie, Dandora, Embakasi, Marsabit… and South Coast.
We did go to Gachie, but that was barely monumental – you know what I’m saying? South Coast was the real deal in this list. Marsabit sounds plausible too, although a story huko Wanderlust of people being carjacked and stripped by muggers didn’t sound fun.
So, we decided to DRIVE ourselves to the Coast.
It would be my longest drive (so far) and would be more convenient for the trip we had in mind – hopping from one place to another like backpackers.
The adventure sounded like a thrill too – the entire route was newish. The last time I was on the road to Mombasa was 2010 on a night college trip – others have been on SGR or flight. Then, we didn’t know any of these places – for that, we had Google Maps. We also don’t typically plan for accommodation ahead, so we hired Booking.com and Airbnb for that. God bless the internet.
And we left. Just like that. We didn’t even know what our itinerary was. We didn’t know what activities we would be doing, or even when we would travel to and fro.
The first semblance of a plan we had was to stop at Mtito Andei for lunch and spend the night at Voi. But we were already too hungry before we even reached Athi River! So we bought food at Total Sabaki and drove eating, stopping under a tree in the middle of nowhere after Mtito to rest and finish our food. It was like a picnic, but inside the car with doors open, because the place looked like it was crawling with animals (or humans) that could make us lunch.
We did go into Voi (first time there), but we went around it and found ourselves back on Mombasa Road and decided to just continue and find a place to sleep on the way.
Only that our hire Booking.com did not find a place along that stretch, so we had to reach either Mombasa, or Diani via the alternative route through Shimba Hills. It was getting quite late by the time we got to the junction for the latter (and I had read stories of bad things happening on the deserted, rough road), so, Mombasa seemed more plausible.
Sisi hao, Mombasa.
We missed a turn into town and found ourselves in the mother of all trailer-and-tuk-tuk traffic jam in a bumpy earth road, keeping us on the road till the cusp of the 9:00 pm curfew when we checked into a cheap hotel called Rembo Hotel, with giant mosquitoes.
Day 2: Destination Diani
Many mosquito songs later, we woke up to a not-so-appetizing breakfast and set about Mombasa CBD to look at car deals – a subplot (call it a daydream) was to trade in our aging car and continue the journey with a newer car. Jokes on us. Guess we’re stuck with the good old jalopy because we’re too poor and nothing was forthcoming by the time Calla announced that she wanted to go to the beach we had promised her. 🙂
We drove up to the ferry without knowing that we needed to pay cash to use the ferry, even buying apples with the last cash we had in the traffic to the payment booth. The attendant simply looked at us, shook his head, took the coins we had, and told us to proceed – we can be persuasive and Mombasa people are not as volatile as Githurai makangas.
The road to Diani is a pleasant one with lots of tuk-tuks (with decorum). I think those who built the road had the tuk-tuks in mind because it’s wide enough to overtake them safely. So barely an hour later, we were driving along Diani Beach Road scouring for a hotel for the night on a combination of Booking.com and Google Maps – and getting lost a couple of times driving to a nonexistent Google Locations. I think my previous company, Africa 118, needs to camp in Diani to set them up properly on Maps. 🙂
Anyway, we got a huge hotel (not really a hotel but a conglomeration of villas, hotel rooms, and apartments) called Coral Beach Resort. We chose a self-catering apartment just because hotel breakfast is too overrated when you’re on a budget and went to hang out by their pool next to their amazing seafront.
MILESTONE: Remember I can’t swim and the only water I play with is basin water? Well, I guess Corona changed that because we got the lifeguard to train us how to swim. I left that pool swimming laps under water! Kumbe swimming is as simple as holding your breath and releasing yourself?
A guy also came and sold us an idea to go to Kisite Marine Park for snorkeling and some island life. It sounded fun. It’s not every day that you go swimming with the dolphins, right? So we agreed.
Day 3: Swimming with the dolphins in Kisite Marine Park.
The following morning, we woke up earlier than you want to wake up during a vacation – it was a whole day trip starting at 7:30 am and drove 60 km towards Tanzania to Kisite Mpungute National Park.
It’s a normal park except the real park is far away from the supposed gate. The tour operator had sorted everything except the fact that Calla is over 3 years which meant they were supposed to pay half the park fees for her. Not our fault, and not the operator’s fault, so we all agreed to let you taxpayers handle that amount – si kuna watu wanaiba billions? What’s 150bob, anyway. 🙂
Oh, the vendors convinced us to buy plastic shoes and sandals because “you need them to walk on the sharp coral” – which we later learned it was a rip-off. You don’t exactly need them.
So, off we went into the open sea via a jetty and boarded a rickety handmade (rather roughly) boat with a rather loud engine hooked at the back. The kind that makes you remember all the boats that capsize every now and then. But then, what’s an adventure without the risk of death?
We swished and plowed our way into the open sea, pausing briefly to be informed in some variant of English about the trip and what to expect, and again to watch the dolphins swimming by the side of the boat. Ah, those graceful creatures! Only that they were not as dramatic as you would have imagined. I doubt if those particular wild dolphins cared about our presence. Had anyone fallen overboard, I don’t think they would have saved him as the books say.
We had some deep-sea diving tourists amongst us and they shipped out (sounds right, this phrase) in the midst of the dolphins and disappeared into the water. We only reunited with them much much later when we were going back from our destination. When I grow up, I want to be like them, spending hours in the depths of the water and seeing all the good things.
Our destination turned out to be a tiny dry patch of sand less than a few meters wide left by the tides. We would step out of the boat and walk about 20 meters in the waist-deep water to the little island – about the longest distance I have ever been in water. I was also carrying Calla. Made me feel like a movie hero making a rescue.
We built castles in the sand and took turns snorkeling in the water. You would wear some giant glasses and lie on a floater, watching the amazing world of fish and coral below you. It’s infinitely more fulfilling than watching fish in a fish tank or even an aquarium.
By the time we were leaving, the little island had been submerged by the returning waters. For this particular trip, you need precision. No African timing. 🙂
Seafood at Wasini Island
I’m not a culinary connoisseur, but I can eat anything just for the kicks. That’s why, whenever I’m out of the country I seek out new things to trouble my (rather hardy) stomach with.
Wasini Island is a small 7 by 3 km island some kilometers from the mainland, and after such a long boat ride, it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s in Kenya. Wasini si Kenya. That’s where we went for lunch and beyond the usual lunch serving of rice, chapati, and things we can find in Nairobi like fish, chicken, and beef, we made an additional order of proper seafood. Lobsters, crabs, seaweeds, and calamari. Not your regular bara meal, unless you go to Ocean Basket a lot. The waiter smiled and told us “Leo usiku mtaona tofauti. Hii ni kama mchuzi wa pweza.” Never back down from a challenge, especially with mchuzi wa pweza things 😉
Seafood does look yucky like Calla says, but it tastes much different from regular food. Not more delicious than, say, mukimo and nseenga, just different. This was different. I think I’ll be looking for more kinds of seafood to know for sure.
Day 4: Chillax, Beach & Coast Dishes
We spent two more days in Diani and Ukunda doing what tourists do. Just lazing around and moving around aimlessly. Having the car was, indeed, a great idea. We ate in pure Swahili restaurants like Coast Dishes (the one in Nairobi is a sham, considering the food). Swahili Pot was a good one too. The purest pilau and biryani is to be found in coastal towns, ladies and gentlemen!
Day 5: Kwale
We then packed our stuff and drove to Kwale Town, thanks to our all trusty Google Maps, passing through the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and not even realizing it.
Kwale doesn’t look or feel like a coastal town. If someone dropped you in Kwale Town in your sleep, you would think it’s Maua, or Isiolo, only quieter and more polite. And smaller. Kwale is quite a small town – we went around it a couple of times looking for a place to spend the night.
We eventually spent the night at the pretty quaint Jumbo Hilltop Lodge. Relatively inexpensive, but with nice rooms and people. And a children’s playground which lit Calla’s life before she got irritated by the rather rusty swings and slides. Let’s blame corona for children not going to playgrounds.
Wonder why came to Kwale? It’s because we planned to go back the way we had planned to come in – through Shimba Hills. The waiter told us the road is untarmacked for quite a distance, and that got us startled. We had read that it wasn’t the safest road, with accounts upon accounts of people who had been done badly on the road. And now we’re learning that it’s not tarmacked?
That made us consider going all the way back to Mombasa. Until an old man we stopped on the road to ask for directions told us the road is not too bad to warrant traveling all those kilometers and hours to Mombasa.
“Haina lami lakini iko sawa sana. Mambo ya wizi ni ya kitambo. Mombasa ni mbali.”
We believed him. Maybe because he looked fatherly, like an Imam. By the way, do you also find Muslims more believable?
So we went on our way. It’s called Shimba Hills for a reason. That road is pure hills. Like the Meru road, but without tarmac. If it rained, there would be no saving us in our small car. But the road wasn’t bad – we did the 28 kilometers to Kinango where the tarmac starts in less than an hour with only the mishap of the boot opening now and then. We ignored it and let our bags soak in layers and layers of dust. I think the car even felt heavier with all the soil in the boot.
Kinango to Mombasa Highway was smooth sailing – newly tarmacked without any cars – just lots of cows and goats crossing the road now and then, and lots of bumps which were, thankfully, well marked.
Kwale to Mombasa Highway is such an easy, short route. I would recommend it if you are going to or from Diani by road. Just ensure it’s not raining and you’re not driving a powerless car carrying weighty people. Like a certain Nissan Note we found struggling to go up one of the hills, the mamas had to alight.
Day 6: Machakos
Imagine I had never been to Machakos in my life! Just like Umoja and Gachie and the lots of unbelievable places I’ve never set my foot on in the Nairobi Metropolis despite all my years being a Nairobian!
So we decided to make a stopover in Machakos and sample the town dubbed The Place to Be.
Machakos turned out to be a clean, green town. You guys have to stop making fun of Machakos not having water. All that green has to be powered by water. There’s even a dam by the People’s Park where we spent most of the next day – yes, we spent the night in Machakos.
The People’s Park is a large expanse of beautiful land that shames all other parks I have been to in Kenya. A fitting children’s playground, clean restaurants serving good food like the pork we ate, and activities like zip-lining and cycling (I cycled a couple of rounds). It was oh so impressive. I now understand why people go to the park this much.
A proper ending to a beautiful family road trip.