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Sea and Swahili

Beach, please…

At The Sands at Nomad Hotel, we’re shown to our beautiful room with whitewashed walls, a high thatched ceiling, mahogany furniture, and cerulean blue accents. He warns us to shut our room door or ‘monkey make party’. I assume he’s referring to the wildlife.

There’s a fancy basket bag for use on the beach, and gorgeous spacious bathroom - no bathroom door, but the crashing waves drown out any noises. The roaring sound of the ocean envelops the room and shushes you to sleep on the high four-poster bed. The bed is my waist height and I have to clamber on. Perhaps that’s why there’s a ladder feature outside on the verandah.

Photos @CrystalMcClory

Friday 5th August

Wake up to glorious sunshine, blue skies, and azure sea, on a private beachfront lawn. The palm thatch ‘makuti’ roof of our traditional Beach Cottage creates a pointed dome.

At the beachfront restaurant, Nomad, we enjoy a fresh fruit platter overlooking a stunning view of powder white sand and palm trees. Traditional ​​’mahamri’ doughnuts are served in an African print napkin. A white wooden fish mobile sways from the ceiling.

Camels stroll down Diani Beach, one of Africa's best beaches, which meets the Indian Ocean on Kenya's south coastline. Diani Beach is best for water sports all year round and you can see dolphins, sea turtles, whale sharks and humpback whales.

A lazy afternoon is spent lazing on sunloungers, catching up on sleep, and catching the rays. A baboon wanders past, its baby clinging to it tightly.

Lunch is a tasty tuna salad. Fresh vegetables, herbs, spices and eggs have all been harvested on Nomad’s organic farm. We love drinking from the chunky glasses made from recycled cut-down bottles.

This evening, once the monkeys have gone to bed, we get to feed a cute wide-eyed bushbaby delicately accepting banana from its perch on top of the poolside parasol.

We venture out for dinner to Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant set in a natural coral cove, with white tablecloths and red roses under twinkly lights. A hole in the ceiling shows the stars and the moon. It's worth a visit for the atmosphere rather than the service. The food is delicious (limited vegetarian options) and the staff are friendly enough. Flames light up the delighted diners' faces as they fry Crêpes at their table. The pick-up/drop-off service takes us back to our hotel. Greeted on our return from the balcony of guest relations… by a bushbaby bounding down the stairs.

Saturday 6th August

Leisurely breakfast with the most delicious poached egg, spinach and grilled tomatoes

I let out an involuntary scream as a monkey takes advantage of us having our noses in the guidebook and swipes the banana left on our fruit platter. Cheeky monkey.

Walking down a deserted white beach for some obligatory haggling and a satisfying shop at sandy-floored Silent boutique. A sunny beach stroll, stopping for a cold elderflower spritz at vibe-y The Salty Squid. Wicker basket lampshades swing in the breeze as we sit on peach and peppermint wooden chairs, served by staff in peach uniform.

Hot and windswept, enjoying the salty sea breeze, we pop next door to Sails restaurant. It feels formal for lunch in our beach attire, especially having come from the buzzy bar next door. We casually head back to The Salty Squid for lunch of tasty fish tacos and chips, delicious coconut chicken curry and rice washed down with a great gin cocktail and a White Cap sugar-free beer.

Sunday 7th August

Sunrise streams through the conch shells hanging in the bedroom window, as a monkey strolls past. We’re picked up at 7.10 am, just in time to grab bananas from the restaurant - wrapped in foil against the thieving primates.

Driving into the lush gardens of Baobab Beach Resort to collect more tourists, we’re thrilled to see a dik-dik up close. It’s hanging out in the hotel grounds in this morning glory sunshine. The African Baobab is a tree known as the upside-down tree because their branches resemble roots. The hotel has high thatched roofs: the more peaked the roof, the quicker the rain falls off. They remind me of Kent's Oast houses.

On the road to the Tanzania border, Lungo Longo, driving past stone houses with corrugated iron roofs, cockerels, and tethered goats, a titanium mine, mud huts with thatched roofs and a coconut farm. Through the ramshackle town, the landscape opens up to vast sugar cane fields. Palm trees flank the road on the horizon.

Arriving at tiny coral reef islet: Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park. This small island in a protected area of coral gardens is home to colourful fish, sea turtles and dolphins.

We board the rickety traditional dhow boat at Shimoni’s floating jetty. Pilli Pipa is a small family-owned company that has been running dhow safaris since 1989.

Breakfast on the boat is triangles of dough ‘mandazi’ washed down with tea or coffee.

A pod of dolphins bob alongside the boat. We stop to snorkel, seeing a giant turtle, starfish and angel fish. The water is a little choppy and I’m thankful for the provided wetsuit after freediving in the sea. The divers are thrilled that the family of dolphins continued to play alongside them.

We stop at Wasini island for lunch of fish soup, crab, fish goujons, rice, chicken, and chapatis. A stray dog, Lucky, thumps its tail on the floor as we buy cool Pilli Pipa logo T-shirts. The dutch owner Harm tells us how a python ate his dog and has a photo to prove it. Ew! Not so lucky. I am grateful that of all the wildlife seen, I’ve been lucky enough not to see any snakes. Shudders. He teaches us the useful phrase in Swahili:

Na rafiki yangu atalipa’ - And my friend will pay.

REEFolution project was set up to restore and stimulate a more sustainable use of coral reefs. Increasing environmental awareness, and REEFolution Kenya conservation efforts include using artificial coral with incredible results so far.

The jeep rattles, giving us an ‘African massage’ on the rocky road ‘shortcut’ drive back, past the vibrant colours of the bustling Sunday market. Stopping to see the Slave Caves where they chained poor slaves up for three weeks before being taken to Zanzibar. The dank and gloomy cave is complete with bats and a coughing guide. I’m glad to be back up in the sunshine.

Once back at our hotel, we relax poolside with a Tusker beer, sat on turquoise African wax print cushions, as the sky turns pink and the sun sets.

Back at The Salty Squid, where the dinner is fit for a king. Traditional Swahili shelled prawn curry with rice kachumbari and chapati is my travel partner's favourite meal of the holiday. I devour grilled garlic butter prawns, salad and a satisfyingly large portion of chips with a local Dawa cocktail of vodka, sugar cane, lime, honey and ice. Dessert is delicious salted caramel ice cream that tastes like a Werther's Original.

I hug the baobab tree on my way out.

Monday 8th August

Awake for sunrise, to the sounds of the shushing of the sea, whistling bird song and something scratching on the high thatched roof. The shushing noise increases to the unfamiliar sound of heavy rain. We grab a brolly to dash to a superb breakfast of fresh fruit platter, poached eggs, avocado, tomato and mushrooms.

Taking a taxi, then a boat to The Sands at Chale Island entering via a wooden boardwalk over aqua water . A stunning white beach fringed by coral reefs and a tidal saltwater lake surrounded by a mangrove forest.

Eight colobus monkeys are lined up on a boat like they're at a meeting. A peacock struts along the weathered walls. Fabulous large white rooms and inviting swimming pools make us wish we could stay longer. African fabric-coloured parasols over sun loungers line up on the white sands of the private beach. Paradise.

Activities on the schedule, along with the tide times, are a Kayak Tour at the lagoon, island forest walks, and free diving trials in the pool. Or you can just recline on a comfy day bed outside the bedroom.

Walking around the island as the sun sets over the ridged wet sand. We watch a truck drive through the shallow water while the tide is out. See a stunning sunset in the rocky landscape. At dinner there are evocative photographs by Barry Koenecke in shades of black and blue on the restaurant walls. A large boat-shaped bar is on the beach. After drinks, I can’t resist posing Titanic-style on the bow, “I’m the king of the world”.

Photos @CrystalMcClory

Tuesday 9th August

Last breakfast of the holiday. We don’t want to leave just yet but are governed by the tides on our leaving time. They use a tractor for hotel guests when the boat is not an option. Driving to the airport past ‘matatus’ into the hustle and bustle of the city.

Goats feed in the middle of the highway. Little monkeys play on the side of the road on the way to the airport.

What an incredible and unforgettable holiday!

Written by Crystal McClory

Contact the team at Abbotts Travel for help and advice on booking your trip

In the Press:

Sea & Swahili, Kenya, Travel editorial in October issue of Absolutely magazine.


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