Sunday, August 21, 2011

East Africa Day 98 (Fri Aug 19): Diani Beach

I got up early this AM, took what is likely my last cold African shower for the summer, and checked out of the hotel shortly after the sun rose. Headed down to the Ferry, so that I could leave the island that is Mombasa, bound for the southern coast. I decided on Diani Beach because my friend Elissa had volunteered there with a sea turtle organization at the end of last year, and had good things to say about it. A fellow Daraja volunteer spent a week there this summer, before coming to Daraja and had liked it. Plus, it was a short matatu ride from Mombasa, which was key because I was very limited on time.

Even though I was doing the reverse commute – crossing the ferry heading out of the city in the AM, then south – it was still relatively crowded when I got to the ferry gates. There was a Kenyan in front of me carrying one of the bales of used clothing. It was a clear plastic bag (as usual) and had a label (as usual) on it that said “Bed Clothes”. I wondered where he was taking it, for re-sale, and where the clothes had come from. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of New York Yankees clothing on Kenyans … I think New York is calling me home:) I waited for maybe 10 minutes before the gates opened and we were all let down the ramp to board the ferry. Cars and bicycles joined us. Unfortunately no photos permitted. Interestingly there were only two other wazungu boarding the ferry with me – where are the other tourists? :)

Once we got to the other side (about a 10 minute ride) I followed the Kenyans up the hill, and found the matatu park. Jumped into a matatu that would be stopping off at Diani Beach. Unfortunately that matatu broke down somewhere enroute to Diani, and there was much discussion between the passengers and driver in Swahili. Uhh one of those times I mildly wished I could communicate in Swahili. Anyway, the broken down matatu put us on two other matatus that pulled up behind us minutes later, and paid for all of our fares. I was then on my way to Diani. It was a short trip – maybe 20 minutes.

When I got into town in Diani, I had to board another matatu to take me to the beach. When I got close to the beach I found it was a series of resorts on the left (coast side) and tourist-related business strip malls on the right-hand side of the road.
I exited the matatu in a random spot on the road that looked just as good as any other, and walked into a tourist center to ask for directions and advice. I was told to cross back to the coast side of the road, walk 100 yards down to a restaurant/resort called Two Thieves, and use it’s pathways to access the beach (which is entirely public).

I followed the road down to the coast, and walked through the dining area/ lounge/bar to get to the beach. It was beautiful – white sand, light blue water, all sunshine even though it wasn’t even 10am.

Having read that there are many “beach boys” on the coast, but that the hotel/resort askari’s are good at keeping them at bay, I walked down the beach to the first busy-looking beach-front resort, and laid down in the sand to read my book and relax. But not before encountering my first Beach Boy, who essentially escorted me to the resort and left me there. There were a lot of wazungus at the resort, and some in the warm water. It was very relaxing. A Kenyan walked by with a chain of four or five camels, outfitted I think for camel rides. I can’t remember the last time I saw a camel this close. They are beautiful animals, and so big and peaceful looking! It rained very lightly on and off. But who cares – we were all wearing bathing suits, anyway. First time I’d shown that much skin since … I don’t know when, given that it’s extremely inappropriate to even show your shoulders in East Africa. And here I was wearing a bikini. (Which is appropriate on the beach.) Was soooo nice! Even in the rain!

After maybe an hour of that, I started walking south along the coast to see what else there was to see. Not that much – more beach boys, some vendors, many resorts, some boats, some kite surfers, swimmers – and a lot of beautiful sand and OCEAN! :) I imagined the world map in front of me, and the coastline where I was walking – that kind of put it in perspective – walking along the coast in East Africa! I had so much fun splashing in the warm water, as I walked.

When I got quite a bit further down (maybe after walking 1.5 hours) I came to a sand bar that extended far out into the water. People had walked from the beach to the edge of the sandbar, pretty far out into the ocean. It was amazing!

Of course I had to head out there. I met some nice tourists and we switched out cameras. I got some pretty decent photos, I think:)

photo: on the sandbar, looking towards the shore.

From there I headed south for maybe another 30 minutes towards the Tanzanian border. I then decided that I really had to turn around, so that I could get back to Mombasa in time to catch my overnight bus back to Nairobi. I started walking up north, but first stopped to check out some of the resorts.

They were really beautiful – pools, beachfront bars, lots of lounge chairs, and music. I can see why people like to vacation here, though I think if all you do when you come to Kenya is visit a resort, then you are really missing out on the country.

On the way north I seemed to run into plastic waste along the water’s edge, where I hadn’t seen it on the way down south. (And some beautiful shells – but take only photographs, leave only footprints.)

I picked it all up and dropped it off at resorts along the way. One resort employee thanked me for taking care of the marine life, and another really didn’t want to bother with taking it from me. Most interesting were the two bits of brightly colored flip flop bottoms that I found in two different parts of the beach. They'd both been out there for ages - I could barely tell what they were. It was an interesting informal survey into Rise Above Plastics, I guess:) Speaking of, I was inspired to continue to pick up trash by the Surfrider kids who have campaigns encouraging people to pick up even three pieces of trash. At first, when I was seeing very little trash I thought maybe it's not worth picking it up, but then I thought - "no, the kids say that picking up even three pieces matters":)

After walking even further north (past the point where I’d first entered the beach) I exited through another resort back to the road, where I caught a matatu headed to the ferry.

Crossed the water on the ferry, and then walked back through town to the bus station. Waited in the lounge for my bus to board at almost 10pm, and then it was an overnight bus ride back to Nairobi that was due to arrive in Nairobi at 6am the next day. Just in time to visit the Centre for Tropical and Travel Medicine before they close!

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