DISCOVER - EXPLORE - EXPERIENCE
VOL.8 FREE COPY
BEACH LIFE EXPLORING KENYAâ€™S SOUTH COAST
AN ISLAND IDYLL ON FUNZI
FIGHTING FOR GARAMBA
WEEKEND AWAY IN LAKE MAGADI
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have a confession to make. When last in Diani a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was. Mid-morning, I felt like I was the only person on that broad expanse of beach. And, ahem, I rather liked it. But my bubble quickly burst as I fell into conversation with shopkeepers, and others dependent on tourism. For them, of course, things are not looking so good. Since August, Kenya has been wracked by political turmoil, and tourism, along with other industries, has taken a hit. That it comes on the back of a difficult five years - driven chiefly by security concerns - makes it all the harder to bear, particularly as tourism in the first eight months of this year was already up by 10 percent. But for the year overall, the tourism ministry predicts a decline. Nevertheless, it was uplifting to see that Diani, Kenya’s best-known beach, is proving in some ways quite resilient. Hotels that have adapted to the new conditions - whether it’s by dropping their prices, marketing more to the domestic market, or offering a distinct product - are not doing so badly. “Only the hotels that can adjust will survive,” one Diani hotelier told me. Go north, though, and the picture is arguably more troubled. Malindi, for instance, which has traditionally appealed to a well-heeled Italian crowd, is particularly quiet, many Europeans opting instead for in vogue destinations such as Zanzibar or the Seychelles which share many of the attractions, but (for now) none of the political woes. Never has there been a better time to escape the crowds at the Kenyan coast, and in this issue, we highlight some more reasons to head south. Katy Fentress, while a party girl at heart, seeks refuge from the beats of Diani, and finds it on beautiful Funzi Island to the south. Meanwhile, we scour the coast for places to stay, whether it’s chilling on Galu beach, or a family villa in Msambweni. We also bring our walkthrough series to Mombasa with a tour of the Old City. Away from the coast, Morris Kiruga is frustrated that he can’t travel more, and finds that any green space does the trick. Meanwhile, Samantha du Toit finds herself giving her daughter a lesson in life that takes her truly out of the classroom. Guest contributor Isaac Stone Simonelli lets us into the excitement of travelling at the throw of the dice - literally. Well, it’s certainly one way to make decisions… Finally, we head south this month for a weekend getaway in Lake Magadi, and Kes Hillman Smith, who spent 22 years working in conservation in Democratic Republic of Congo, gives us a fascinating insight into the challenges of working in a country wracked by conflict. So, if you’re wondering where to spend your Christmas hols, the Kenyan coast is beckoning - and you might just beat the crowds.
Isaac Stone Simonelli Let the Dice Decide, Page 38 Why Dice Travels? I went through a pretty brutal breakup about five years before the trip and felt like none of my decisions at that moment in my life really mattered, which is what turned me onto the idea of using dice to make them. Would you do it this way again? Now that Dice Travels is wrapped up, I would consider travelling other ways. You can’t always count on travel buddies wanting to let the dice tell them what to do. However, dice are without a doubt my preferred method of managing decisions -- and travel. Moses Obanda Top Shots, Page 8 How did you get into photography? I started photography back when I was a second-year student at Africa Nazarene University and enjoyed just visually illustrating stories from the day I picked up the camera for the first time. I chose to settle for landscape and travel photography because of my love for adventure. My kind of travel: My favourite kind of travel is usually camping and hiking. I have been to most parts of the country except the Northeast, and Samburu, and I plan to visit these next. I have a couple of friends who like travelling so we usually plan trips and go together, making it more affordable. Samantha du Toit A River Runs Through It, Page 21 Bush or City? Bush (of course!). It offers open space, beautiful views, wildlife, fresh air, a certain kind of peace... I also hate shopping so out here I don’t have to worry about that! My kind of travel: I do love travelling abroad to see different places but don’t get the chance much. But within Kenya, I love actually going in the car, with the kids, Johann and the dog and setting off somewhere all together. But probably my favourite mode of travel is by train, and I used to love travelling as a child to the coast by the train. Slow, safe, rhythmic and scenic.
NOMAD VOL. 8 · NOVEMBER 2017 · PUBLISHED BY WEBSIMBA LIMITED, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. MANAGING DIRECTOR MIKUL SHAH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF CATRINA STEWART DESIGN BRIAN SIAMBI DIGITAL FRED MWITHIGA SALES, MARKETING & OPERATIONS GILBERT CHEGE, YANIV GELNIK, WAHIDA GIDALI, NJERI GATHARA, DANIEL MUTHIANI, SEINA NAIMASIAH, JANE NAITORI, MICHELLE SLATER, DEVNA VADGAMA, JOY WAIRIMU, RUTH WAIRIMU, WINNIE WANGUI, VANESSA WANJIKU CONTRIBUTORS TAMARA BRITTEN, KATY FENTRESS, MORRIS KIRUGA, ISAAC STONE SIMONELLI, SAMANTHA DU TOIT, WANJA WOHORO, FRANCES WOODHAMS CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS NAUDE HEUNIS, KILIFI NEW YEAR, JOSH KISAMWA, MOSES OKUYU, BRIAN SIAMBI, SALES ENQUIRIES CALL NOMAD 0711 22 22 22 EMAIL EDITOR@NOMADMAGAZINE.CO
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COVER PHOTO: Swimming in the Indian Ocean off Vipingo by filmmaker Josh Kisamwa. INSTAGRAM @joshkisamwa
10 8. TOP SHOTS It’s that classic Maasai jumping shot - but there’s more to it than that - while snapper Naude Heunis lets us into some of his photography secrets. 12. NEWS Follow the team of adventurers tackling seven summits in East Africa back to back in seven weeks to highlight a lesser-known side of Africa. Meanwhile, Hemingways Watamu gets a facelift after months of major works on the hotel, while the SGR introduces its new county train service. 12. WHAT’S ON Quite a lot, that’s what - from a triathlon down at Diani to a cycling challenge on Mfagano Island on Lake Victoria, run by the guys at Governors. But for the less serious among you, there’s a colour run up in Nanyuki, where you’ll be literally bombarded with clouds of colour - as if getting sweaty wasn’t enough.
21 GLOBETROTTERS 21. INTERVIEW WITH WANURI KAHIU It’s hard to pin down the award-winning filmmaker, who’s constantly on the road. But when we did, she talked about the challenges of combining a travel-intensive job with bringing up kids, and how, despite all her successes, her family is still waiting for her to find a ‘regular’ job. 46. WHAT I PACK … FOR MY TRAVELS Suzie Wokabi, founder of SuzieBeauty, gives us the low-down on what’s in her bag from a ‘Tankini’ to the ultimate beauty and fashion accessories.
DISCOVER EXPLORE EXPERIENCE
COAST SPECIAL FEATURES 26-35. SOUTH COAST SPECIAL It’s all very well getting to the coast, but sometimes it is just, well, hectic. Katy Fentress decides to get away from it all on Funzi, an island in the south. Meanwhile, how do you choose where to stay when there’s so much on offer? We attempt to narrow it down. We also take our walk through this month to Mombasa Town for a feel of the historic Old City.
38. LET THE DICE DECIDE Isaac Stone Simonelli was tired of making travel decisions. Why not, he thought, let the dice make it for him? So he did - and was propelled into all sorts of adventures he could scarcely have imagined. 40. IN WAR, FIGHTING FOR WILDLIFE Kes Hillman Smith spent more than two decades in DRC’s Garamba park, working in rhino and elephant conservation. But when the country was plunged into conflict in the mid-1990s, everything got a little more complicated. 42. WEEKEND AWAY IN LAKE MAGADI A new road makes this beautiful lake a whole lot more accessible. What’s there to go for? Well, the flamingos for one, and the stunning hues that you won’t see anywhere else. We check out places to stay. And if you don’t fancy driving, there’s always the train…
COLUMNS 18. THE ENDLESS PURSUIT OF CHILDHOOD Sometimes life catches up with you, and the best-laid plans to travel just don’t pan out. Morris Kiruga disappears into his hidden treasures in Nairobi instead to get his wanderlust fix. 21. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT With the Shompole area hit by drought again, Samantha du Toit gives her daughter a lesson on the life-giving properties of water. But it’s no ordinary lesson... 48. BUDGET PICK This month, the ladies investigate a tented bush camp on the fringes of Amboseli National Park, and find a classic safari camp for a fraction of the price with one of Kenya’s more iconic parks only a few kilometres away. 50. RETROSPECTIVE We revisit a shot by the late photographer Mo Amin of Queen Elizabeth II’s poignant visit to Treetops in the 1980s, three decades after the Kenya visit during which her father, King George VI, died, thrusting her onto the throne. 52. THE LAST WORD Jetradar, Skyscanner … there are still months to go before the Turkish trip, but Mary is on it. Meanwhile, Maina, her long-suffering partner, starts to wonder if it’s all worth it.
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MOSES OBANDA Instagram @mosesobanda How did you get this shot? We were a group of friends camping and hiking in the interior of Kajiado for seven days, setting out from Amboseli National Park. These Maasai warriors were our guides. I took this photo between 6.30 and 6.40 pm using a Nikon D5300 with an 18-55 mm kit lens. My ISO was 200, my F-stop 8.0 and speed 1/500 seconds. I took the image lying flat on the ground. By standing up, I would have captured another perspective entirely.
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NAUDE HEUNIS Instagram @naudewashere I got this shot as we were on our way to the open plains in the Mara Triangle. We were driving past the elephant as the sun started to set and the rays were so beautiful that I had to stop and get a shot. Luckily, the elephant was walking in our direction and I lined him up with the rays in the background. I shot it at f/5.6 so that the background wasnâ€™t too out of focus and the rays and sky had some detail to it. I used a Canon 1 DX Mii with a 70-200 mm lens, a shutter speed of 1/2000, and an ISO of 400. When it comes to wildlife photography, there is no point in just taking a million photos and hoping for the best. Look at your surroundings and how you can use it to make your image better. Is the light looking good or should I wait? If you spend enough time out there, you can predict where the animal will move, enabling you to ready yourself for the shot you have in mind.
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SEVEN SUMMITS IN SEVEN WEEKS
That’s the challenge for a group of climbers and adventurers, seeking to highlight the more technical climbing challenges that East African mountains have to offer. Over seven weeks, the group will tackle Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru in Tanzania, Mt Kenya in Kenya, Mt Stanley and Mt Speke in Uganda’s Rwenzori range, Mt Karasimbi in Rwanda and Mt Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s all part of a bid to showcase East Africa as an adventure destination, albeit one that can be combined with safari. “Most mountains are a journey that starts long before the peak. And Africa definitely delivers every single time,” said expedition leader Ake Lindstrom. Joining them on the Kenya leg earlier this month was Najib Balala, Kenya’s tourism minister. The climbs will raise money for seven causes from mountain gorillas to melting glaciers, and will be broadcast live on YouTube and FacebookLive. www.greatmigrationcamps.com
PHOTO: KENYA TOURSIM BOARD
PHOTO: HARRIET CONSTABLE
HEMINGWAYS WATAMU REOPENS
Hemingways Hotel in Watamu is to reopen next month after a multimillion-dollar facelift. The hotel, which first opened its doors in 1988, has been transformed into a boutique hotel with 39 ocean-view rooms with balconies, down from 74, as well as 21 private residences available for purchase. Plantation shutters and “diaphanous-draped four-poster beds” will be major features of the new-look hotel, giving it what the owners describe as a “laid-back coastal vibe.” The pool areas have also been redesigned - and a second pool in landscaped gardens built - and a new gym and spa added. Rooms, based on two sharing, start from $250, B&B. www.hemingways-collection.com
TRAIN TO THE COUNTIES
Good news for train travellers. Kenya’s SGR train, which slashed the journey time between Nairobi and Mombasa by several hours when it launched earlier this year, has introduced a new inter-county service, departing both cities at 8 am. It has moved its express service between the two cities to 3.30 pm (arriving 8.20 pm). The county train will make seven stops, including at Mtito Andei and Voi, and take roughly six hours. In another bit of good news, it’s now easier to buy train tickets, with travellers able to dial *639# or call 0709 388 888 to pay via Mpesa up to 14 days before departure. www.krc.co.ke
MOUNTAIN BIKE CHALLENGE
KENYA WILDLIFE TRUST FUNDRAISER
If you’re a cycling enthusiast, why not try something a bit different for the long Jamhuri weekend. The guys at Mfangano Island Camp, part of the Governors group, on Lake Victoria are organising a mountain bike challenge on the island. Competitors, although the organisers like to emphasise it’s less about the competition than the taking part, can choose from two 30 km routes, one an easy circumnavigation of the island, the other a more challenging bruiser over hilly terrain, with great prizes up for grabs. Ksh 9,000 entrance fee. Contact the lodge regarding camping and lodge availability. www.governorscamp.com
The Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT), set up in 2007 by leading figures in Kenya’s safari industry, is marking its 10th anniversary with a cocktail party and fundraiser at Hemingways Hotel in Nairobi from 6 pm. The event will include bitings, an auction and raffle with lots of great prizes, and live classical music. Tickets cost Ksh 3,000. Among the trust’s flagship projects are those focused on predator conservation, including the Mara lion and cheetah projects, the first to monitor predator dynamics in the Mara ecosystem. To obtain tickets for the fundraiser, visit www.kenyawildlifetrust.org or call 020 585 481.
December 9-12, Mfangano Island, Lake Victoria
November 30, Hemingways, Nairobi
COLOUR FUN RUN
Like it says on the box, it involves colour. During this 5 km run, prepare to be bombarded by bystanders with coloured corn starch, so leave your favourite T-shirt at home. To get you in the mood, the event kicks off with a zumba warm-up before runners head out on the trail that meanders through countryside and town. The colour theme has a message too - it represents Kenya’s tribal diversity, and is aimed at promoting peace in the Laikipia region. Ksh 1,500 entry fee, Ksh 500 for 6-12s. www.kenyacolourrun.com
Triathlons are gaining in popularity in Kenya, with the coast offering unique swimming challenges. The third in Team Tri Fit’s triathlon series this year will take place at Diani Beach from Leisure Lodge Resort, with participants able to choose from the Olympic-style competition (a 10-km run, 1.5-km swim and 40-km cycle) or a shorter Sprint triathlon. There’s also a 21 km trail run for the keen runners among you. Other Tri fit triathlons include Kericho and Ruiru races. Entries cost Ksh 3,000 for individuals, and Ksh 5,000 for teams. Email email@example.com for more information.
December 9, Nanyuki Sports Club
December 3, Leisure Lodge Resort, Diani
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WANURI KAHIU The award-winning Kenyan filmmaker describes herself as an Afrobubblegumist, a believer in “fun, fierce and frivolous African art.” Her 2009 film, From a Whisper, scooped five awards at the 5th Africa Movie Academy Awards. She talks to Nomad about gaining acceptance in her family for what she does, travelling to reaffirm her belief in her work, and encountering bedbugs definitely pan-African. Everytime I go to a new African country, I swear I learn more about myself.
What is your experience being a filmmaker in Kenya? I love working at home. Kenya is my muse, it’s where I get my inspiration and my characters from. The people and places in my films are based on my context and the things that I know. There is a really great collaborative film community within Kenya. I do wish there was more work, because the way that one learns within the film industry is by working on lots of different projects. I also wish there was more involvement with international projects. You have to be aiming to work with the best to become better yourself.
What have been your favourite holiday destinations? People just don’t know how many places there are to travel to in Kenya. I’m a serious traveller. I do months of research and have a ‘hit-list’ of lodges in every part of Kenya that I want to go to. Top of my list are places that are environmentallyfriendly, community- friendly and sustainable. My most recent trip with my husband and kids, which I dubbed our ‘family-moon,’ was to Elsa’s Kopje, a beautiful lodge within Meru National Park. It was a fantastic trip for the kids and they got to go on safari. I have to say, though, one of my favourite holidays ever was at Ol Donyo Lodge in Chyulu Hills. It had the most amazing, simple, delicious vegan food and the lodge itself was so beautiful and peaceful.
How does your family respond to your chosen career path? I still feel as though they are trying to figure it out. Any Kenyan parent who has an artist as a child goes through confusion and doubt over their child’s choices in career. I don’t think they have seen enough artists be successful in their lifetime to believe that it is possible. They have seen artists and writers of their generation in Kenya thrown into jail or persecuted for their craft. It is still seen as quite a niche and potentially dangerous field of work. I still feel as though my family wants me to get a ‘regular’ job. However, they have still given me space to figure out my own path and life. Where does your work take you? Film makes you travel more than you would imagine. Once a film is released, you get to travel with [it] to different festivals across the globe. It can be challenging to juggle travel with family and other work commitments but I am so fortunate to have an incredible partner to support me. He not only encourages me and pushes me in my work but is also willing to hold the fort with my two kids when I can’t be there. We make our decisions together about my projects and how we will manage our time and schedules during those projects. I also have an incredible support system of friends. I can honestly say that I am only able to do what I do because of the amazing people around me.
What has been your worst travel experience? I was once staying at a place by the coast and it turned out that they had bed bugs. I woke up with a rash and I had no idea where it had come from. I went to the hospital and the doctor was completely unsympathetic. He asked where I was staying and how much I was paying and then simply said, “You sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” What style of travel do you most enjoy? I have had to travel a lot for work, therefore my travel has largely involved meeting people within the film and creative industry. When I travel, I have been very deliberate about pursuing like-minded people and friendships in different cities. It’s like dating, I ask people out on friend-dates. Also high on my list is to visit every vegetarian and vegan restaurant I can find. I am a vegan and I love vegan food. When I’m travelling for leisure, I am a complete beach-bum. My partner, however, loves to travel to the bush so we divide our family holidays between his preferences and mine. My favourite kind of international travel is
How has all the travel you’ve done impacted your artistic projects? I need to travel for so many reasons. Sometimes [those] from outside your cultural context are the only ones who will take your ideas seriously and invest in them. My work is in the niche genre of Afrofuturist / African science fiction, [and] I find having those personal connections helps me remember that my work is not that strange nor that obscure. It also reminds me that it is important, necessary and valid. I don’t get to see that perspective unless I travel. Travel reaffirms the work that I do. As told to Wanja Wohoro
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A KENYAN TRAVELLER
THE ENDLESS PURSUIT OF CHILDHOOD
haven’t travelled in a while, and it’s beginning to show. A few years ago, I set a personal challenge to travel at least once a month. It didn’t have to be for work or holiday. It didn’t even have to be far out of town. But it needed to be mostly random, and to a place I’d never been before. It has been just a little over six weeks since my last trip, a single night in Machakos, and I am feeling the wear and tear. There’s one BandAid for this, and that’s finding green spaces around Nairobi. When I was a kid, I had a secret hideout in my neighbour’s forest. It wasn’t a big forest, just large enough to hide within it a child with a budding wanderlust. Every once in a while, I would walk through my parents’ coffee plantation, cross the old fence, and then the next one, and I would disappear for hours. Forests are not quiet. Not if you listen. There’s the chirping of birds, the sound of leaves falling, the water flowing in the distance, and, every now and again, the sound of a tree falling. There’s the crackle as you walk through dried leaves, and the sound of an animal you can’t quite place. It hit me that I spend my withdrawal months trying to recapture these scenes. My first hideout, just a five-minute drive from the house, is a park called Paradise Lost. There’s a forest, a cave behind a waterfall, and most importantly, a lake. Now and then, I will place the dog and a cold beer in the boat with me. Then we will row to the middle of the lake and just let the boat drift. We will try to ignore the kids happily swimming on the other side, or even the women doing their laundry on the very edge. I wish I could say the Furry
One helps me with the rowing, but she mostly just stares into the water. Then there’s the walk to a little enclave I even named, where the only path is treacherous, and the only other route is by boat. Once, I dragged two friends there and we might have hijacked a pastor’s surprise proposal. Or rather we became the extras in the life-changing decision. Perhaps the best part of being freelance writer is that I can do this on a weekday. Most places around Nairobi, like Paradise Lost and Karura Forest, are quiet on weekdays. But go at the weekend, and you will find yourself standing in what feels like that area around the Tom Mboya statue on Moi Avenue. Try a Wednesday though, and everything is as Wangari Maathai intended. Lately, I’ve replaced these with sitting on the balcony and watching the rain. It reminds me of Mrs. Dorothy, my primary-school teacher. Whenever it rained, she would make us leave our bags in class. That meant no homework, and no books to worry about for the walk home. Which, if you grew up in shagz, was code for fun. We would walk home in that rain, fast enough to get home before dusk, but slow enough to wade through rivers and skid down hills. More than once, my mother made me strip at the front door before she hosed me down and then guided me, like I had leprosy, to the bathroom. If you live in an urban centre, then the hunt for green, quiet spaces is often more of a feeling than a decision. If you find a corner, like me, you treat it almost like a bunker. You feel jealous if you find anyone else there, although they paid the same entrance fee as you. You introduce your friends to it like it
is some kind of contraband, and they have to pass the ‘peace and quiet’ test to be trusted. It helps if they are furry and are more interested in sniffing rocks and pissing on trees. I know at least one person who walks for 10 minutes to have his lunch in Uhuru Park. He says it calms him down and helps him forget, if only for an hour, how he would really rather be anywhere else but work. I know another whose favourite watering hole overlooks Karura, and he sits there for hours as his beer warms. Is it an endless pursuit of a place we can never go back to? A wanderlust inbuilt in us from our hunter-gatherer days? Because there are few things more calming, in the middle of a withdrawal month or a tough week at work, than nature. Once, when I was in Loiyangalani, we drove for hours to get to an oasis. It’s a slice of green in the rocky nothingness that is Turkana, and there is even a crocodile. Because it’s in a valley, it is hard to see. Add to the fact that moving over a rocky terrain will do a number on your back, and it is too dusty for comfort, and you can imagine the joy of finding some green again. I think about these places a lot, and sometimes even scroll through my Instagram to just feed the nostalgia. It might be unhealthy to feed my addiction, but if there was a monster I didn’t mind having, it is the desire to be on the road. Wait, an email just came in. Kampala is calling! Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com
PHOTO: BRIAN SIAMBI
Morris Kiruga is getting cabin fever. As he writes in the rain, he harks back with nostalgia to his childhood, and wonders if he can ever recapture that simplicity of nature.
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 19
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NOTES FROM THE BUSH
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT A six-year-old’s question triggers a lesson on water. A trip down the river reinforces it, Samantha du Toit writes.
ater is life, they say. And never more so than now. The rains are failing once again and the situation is desperate. Livestock is dying, as is wildlife. Even the resilient Grant’s gazelle and the tough zebras are dying. Seeking relief from the intense midday heat, I sit with Seyia, our sixyear-old, on our cottage veranda overlooking the Ewaso Ng’iro river. “Where does the water in this river come from?” she asks. What a perfect time to grab the marker pen and draw out the water cycle on the children’s white board. That will be our lesson for the day, home-school style. The next question is easier to answer: “Mum, please can we go tubing in the river this afternoon?” Guests have left, work is done, so we load up the pick-up with the tubes for Johann and the children and a kayak for me, then drive up-river through gullies of soft, deep dust. We marvel at the fact that there is still water in the river, thanks to rain in the Mau and in the hills upstream. Seyia can now tell you that. We stop at our unloading tree and pile out of the car into the dust. Two Maasai women are just coming up from washing clothes and fetching water. They stop and stare in wonder at our troop as we head down to the river with kayak and tubes in tow. They giggle at the sight of Taru, our almost three-year-old, struggling to carry a tube which is larger than him, insisting on practising his latest and favourite words ‘by myself’. Their curiosity leads them to put down their heavy loads and follow us back to the river to watch as we try to place the children in tubes before they float away, Diesel, the Jack Russell terrier, on the front of the kayak and then my trying to get onto the kayak without tipping both myself and the dog into the surprisingly cold water. All of this finally achieved, we are waved off by the women, whose faces bear a look of mixed fascination and disbelief. As we round the first bend, we see a fish eagle perched in the trees above us. Signalling
to each other to be quiet, we drift beneath her, waiting to see if she will notice us. As I pass under with Diesel, the bird cocks her head in curiosity before launching off the branch and gliding to a perch further down the river. A few minutes later, we hear splashing and laughter. Schools have closed early because of the election re-run and we see many more children than usual washing and playing while their donkeys, sheep and goats drink. Cows are noticeably absent, having been taken further afield in search of any remaining pasture. Women wash themselves and their clothes at the same time. The sight of us sets off further shrieks of laughter and we practise greetings in each other’s native languages. Many of the children recognise Seyia and Taru and questions are volleyed back and forth until we are out of sight. We glide on. A monitor lizard watches us from his sunbathing spot in tangled fig tree roots. More birds are spotted, including the rare Narina Trogon and resident Goliath Heron. “Colobus, colobus,” shouts Seyia. We see the native troop leaping through the trees, still shy of us. By contrast, the baboons sit like old men watching us drift past with a kind of bored fascination and the vervet monkeys chatter warning calls to each other when they spot Diesel. Too soon it is time to stop and get out. Our shoes and towels await us, and cups of tea and freshly baked camp cake are handed out. The river drifts on to the swamp, and then on to its end in Lake Natron, giving life support to all creatures on its journey. And long may it do so. Water is life, after all.
The baboons sit like old men watching us drift past with a kind of bored fascination, and vervets chatter warning calls. Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 21
NASERIAN COTTAGE MAASAI MARA Treat yourself to a safari this christmas Naserian Cottage is a 3 bedroom set in a private 2000 acre protected area bordering Maasai Mara. Ksh 20,000 per night for the whole cottage self-catering basis
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COAST FOR CHRISTMAS?
KAZI MINGI, WATAMU Run from the cold to the beautiful Kenyan coast - Kazi Mingi is a 4 bedoom house with a 1 bedroom cottage just a stone throw away from the beach. Rates Ksh 16,000 per night self catering.
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This Christmas Make it Your Own... Make your dreams come true this Christmas and buy a home. This 6 bedroom property has views over Mida Creek whilst sitting just 5 minutes from Watamu Beach. The creek can be accessed via the 1 acre mature garden, which hosts a pool, bar, verandah and open pool terrace.
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Mida Creek, Watamu
ESCAPING THE CROWDS Katy Fentress is looking for a healthy, relaxing weekend on the beach. But it’s party time in Diani, and she just can’t unwind. Perhaps it’s time to get away from it all on Funzi Island.
PHOTO JOSH KISAMWA
lie awake in the Lamu bed; outside in the darkness, the coastal night orchestra is in full swing. The cricket string quartet is competing with the monkey chorus to drown out the clashing cymbals of the night birds and the blaring bush baby horn ensemble. A mosquito’s high-pitch hum searches for an entry through my net and onto my sunburned skin. I feel lulled by the unfiltered sounds of nature. Flashback to Nairobi and it’s late afternoon on Wednesday. I am in a taxi, sitting in traffic. As I stare at the sheets of rain coursing down my window, I think how much nicer it would be to spend a healthy three-day weekend by the coast, instead of a Saturday evening straining to hear what people are trying to say over the grating beats of whatever passes for electronic music these days. Before I know it, my finger is on my phone screen and I am checking out flight prices to Diani. By the time I get home, I have booked a flight and found a deal on a great hotel to stay. “Cancel your plans,” I yell into the kitchen where my boyfriend is whipping up a butternut squash and lentil curry, “We’re headed to the beach tomorrow!”
The next morning we disembark from our flight to Ukunda and I smile as the hot humid air hits me. I wait for our bags to be unloaded and feel warmth towards the other people on the flight. Everyone seems Nairobian except for the family of three who, in their “I flew straight from the Mara and jumped onto this flight for the last lap of my African holiday” matching khaki outfits, stand out like the last packet of sugar on an empty Nakumatt shelf. From the fashionable young Indian family taking selfies with their toddler, to the mother with her chubby child whimpering as he follows her suitcase, to the expats headed for a weekend skydive, the people that surround me make me feel at home. Unfortunately this “Nairobi by the sea” feel-good sensation is short-lived. I settle into our digs, change into something lighter and head down to the pool only to find it full of French and Russian holiday-makers thrashing about to a loud Swahili version of Despacito. So I head to the oceanfront but a couple of beach boys approach like vultures, staring at me unwaveringly for the entire seven minutes I spend in the surf. Annoyed, I decide to take a trip to Forty Thieves, the most renowned beach bar on the strip, only to find out that everyone there is shouting loudly while downing Jägerbombs to blaring Naija hits from 2011 in the middle of the afternoon.
GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL
This is around the time when I consider whether it might be worth getting away from the getting away. Then I remember I have an invitation from an ecolodge on Funzi, a small island off Kenya’s south coast, to come and visit. So it is that the next morning we jump on a taxi
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 25
Lamu beds always seem to hide the promise of enchanting romance. I love them so much, I often overlook the fact that the creators must be rather diminutive in size. What for them passes for a double bed, for me is not enough surface area to stretch out and search out the cool corners of the mattress without punching the sleeping figure next to me in the jaw. It is our second and last night at Mikoko Cove and we have an early start in the morning as all flights out of Ukunda leave at midday. As I lie listening to the nocturnal symphony, I am mentally going over the last 48 hours, ticking off the activities’ checklist as I go. Check one: do something cultural. On our first day on Funzi, we have a walk through the main island village. Akika, our guide, tells us how the Baobab tree towering over the mud huts was once used by the British during the Second World War to scan the horizon looking out for any pesky Germans that might have been flying in from Tanzania. At the far end of this fishing village, we are shown an old cave where in a corner, small bottles are
filled with a clear liquid and tied up in red string. “This is where women who are having problems conceiving come and pray to the shetani,” Akika informs us, underlining that this is a pagan practice that no one engages in anymore. I raise my eyebrow instead and ask him if all shetani are female. He confidently tells me: “Yes, most evil shetani are female but there are some exceptions.” “Good to know,” I mutter loudly. Check two: beach time. The second day turns out to be one of those classic “pole pole” days in which people just want to relax. Unfortunately, the activity monster in me cannot make peace with just lying on the sandbank all day and insists that what we really want to be doing is looking for crocodiles and foraging for oysters. I love the beach, don’t get me wrong, but Kenyans take to beer on the beach the way Italians take to the sun: obsessively and unrepentantly. I finally get what I want. As the shadows lengthen and it grows dark, we lug back a haul of oysters plucked straight out of the mud of the Ramisi river and a couple of prized snaps of the top of a crocodile’s head, I feel happy in the knowledge that sometimes it pays off to be a bit of a nag. Check three: water-based activity, done.
A SIMPLE AFFAIR
Food at the Mikoko Cove is a fairly simple affair. I ask Jesse DuBois, who took over the the lodge six months ago with his wife, Sophia
Murage, how they went about planning the menu and he confesses that the cooks are inherited from the previous management. “They seem to know what they are doing so we haven’t really interfered,” says DuBois. Murage says that the huge boiled crab which I am at that moment attacking with a wooden hammer is a favourite with guests coming from Diani for a day trip and a “Funzi Special” lunch. Check four: seafood dinner, done. Sunday morning and I scarf down the last of my avocado on toast. The one item on my checklist that I have failed to accomplish is physical activity but I promise myself many trips to the gym once I get back to Nairobi and the air gets cooler. “You can’t have it all,” I remind myself as we board our flight home. True, I might not have fit in all the activities I wanted into my “healthy weekend” but the Indian Ocean isn’t going anywhere and Kenyan summer is just around the corner. The writer was a guest of Mikoko Cove.
WHERE TO STAY:
Currently, the only hotel on Funzi Island is Mikoko Cove, a recently redeveloped ecolodge with a small pool, private and shared makuti bandas and a large communal area in which to eat, read and relax with friends. Camping from Ksh 600 pp; a dormitory from Ksh 1,500 pp B&B; and a private banda for Ksh 5,000 per person B&B, or Ksh 6,000 for two. www.mikokocove.com
PHOTOS: KATY FRNTRESS
and head 30 kilometres south towards the Tanzanian border. My boyfriend and I arrive at the village of Bodo, just opposite Funzi island, where we are met by Captain Abbas who throws our bags onto his motorboat canoe and whisks us away to Mikoko Cove Ecolodge, a secluded little establishment nestled deep within the maze of the Funzi mangrove waterways.
A Hidden Gem | Serenity | Privacy | Luxury | Spa Destination
Silver Palm Spa and Resort is a secluded beachfront luxury boutique hotel located in Kilifi, along the Kenyan coast. The property is ideally located with stunning turquoise blue ocean views, direct beach access and with only 38 rooms offers an ultimate privacy and luxury experience for all. ROOM AMENITIES
• 24 hour room service • Free wi-fi • Mini bar and coffee stations • Safe deposit box • Hair dryers . Iron boxes
• Luxurious Barizi spa with Theravine & Theranaka trained therapists, products and treatments • Health bar, Gym and Beauty Salon • Conference facility for 100 pax, with separate 30 pax meeting room and 10 pax boardroom • Tennis Court
Bofa Road, Kilifi P.O. Box 41247-80100, Mombasa NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 27 Tel: +254-780745837 / +254-707745837, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.silverpalmkilifi.co.ke
Ras Kitau Bay, Manda Island For reservations contact us on +254 20 712 3300/1/2 Email email@example.com www.majlisresorts.com
Where to Party at
After Christmas, ‘those in the know’ desert Nairobi for the Coast for some sun, sea and sand and, more importantly perhaps, to party. We’ve scoured the Kenyan coast for the best parties, whether it’s boogying on the beach at Diani, or seeing the New Year in at Kilifi’s two-day fiesta. Kilifi New Year,
December 30-January 2, 2018 One of the most established and popular New Year parties on the coast, Kilifi NY is back for its fifth year. As it grows in size, it’s taking the party to the Kilifi plantations, where revellers will booze and party for two days’ straight. It’s not your average party, though. Artistic minds will be introducing what they describe as a “radically-creative two-day explosion of music, arts and tropical beach culture,” which includes not only a top line-up of DJs and musicians, including South African DJ Da Capo, but the onsite creation of art installations. Think Burning Man festival in the desert, and you get the idea. www.kilifinewyear.com
PHOTO: KILIFI NEW YEAR
Diani Beach Festival
December 9-January 1, 2018 This European-style beach party (soft beats during the day, and a never-ending flow of alcohol) is a monthlong party, culminating in a big line-up for the 31st of December. Hundreds of professional skydivers will be heading to the festival for the skydiving “boogie,” a frenzy of jumps and tricks. By day, revellers can get active on the beach before dancing the evening away. The organisers have got a host of top names lined up to get you jiving into the early hours from international and Kenyan DJs to boy band Sauti Sol, with Tanzania’s Vanessa Mdee performing live on New Year’s Eve. www.dianibeachfestival.com
New Year’s at Ocean Sports Resort, Watamu
December 31-January 2, 2018 Ocean Sports is back with its two-day New Year’s celebration, with DJ Sumo driving the beats. This is a party catering as much to the foodies as to the revellers, with a seafood and roast meat buffet dinner served under the stars. Mixologists Roman and Vika will be taking charge of the cocktails, while a cooler box, on request, will be stashed under your table with your order to ensure you’re never kept waiting for your tipple. Take the hair of the dog to keep up the act for a second day of partying on the beach to the resident DJs. Visit their Facebook page for more details.
Forty Thieves, Diani
December 24-31, 2017 Diani’s party centre has its own line-up of activities, with a New Year’s beach party as the main event. But Forty Thieves has a few other events to tantalise, including a traditional turkey lunch on Christmas Day, followed by camel racing along the beach on Boxing Day, as well as a “disco” every night between Christmas Eve and New Year. Visit their Facebook page for more details.
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 29
WHERE TO STAY ON KENYA’S SOUTH COAST
South of Mombasa, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a place to stay, whether you’re looking for privacy, budget or rustic charm. We’ve attempted to narrow it down to six places that we think offer that little something extra.
GOOD FOR … ROMANCE: The Maji Beach Boutique Hotel, Diani Imagine a beach hotel without the shriek of young children. If that sounds like music to your ears, the Maji might just be the place for you. With a strict ‘no under 12s’ policy, and the freedom to take your meals when and where you want them, this is a place that might particularly appeal to those seeking a romantic escape, or stressed parents looking for a real escape. The hotel’s 15 rooms are spread over a converted villa, surrounded by a moat-like pool. Superior garden-view rooms start from Ksh 16,685 pp full-board, although there’s one economy room available at Ksh 8,210 pp. www.the-maji.com
FAMILIES: Waterlovers, Diani Beach
Centered around the pool area in a fairly compact compound on the beach, this place gets consistently good feedback. It’s a popular choice for families, as besides its suites, it also offers the larger villa and penthouse (the latter available when the Italian owners aren’t there) that suits family-style living. It is a peaceful, tastefully-furnished hotel with good Italian food on offer, a superb pool, as well as a host of other freebies, such as iPads, suntan lotion and insect repellent. Resident rates start from Ksh 11,990 pp sharing, B&B, until Dec 16th. Rates go up to Ksh 13,198 pp next year. www.waterlovers.it
TRANQUILLITY: Flamboyant, Diani Beach Although technically beachfront, Flamboyant looks out onto a pool and landscaped gardens, giving it an air of elegance and peace that is absent from many other places on the coast. Considerable thought has gone into the fabric and furnishings, particularly in the common areas. The rooms, though, still lack that authentic Swahili feel but are due to undergo an upgrade before the year is out. The restaurant serves up good food, including eggs Benedict for breakfast, and the hotel is much more reasonably priced than many comparable small properties. Resident rates start from Ksh 11,000 for a double room, B&B. www.flamboyant.co
IT’S TIME FOR YOUR NEXT BEACH BREAK ZANZIBAR
Return flights inclusive of tax * T&C’s apply
+254 (0)20 669 0000 firstname.lastname@example.org
Also flying you to
DIANI, LAMU & VIPINGO
Opening this festive season after a mega makeover Hemingways Watamu is back and better than ever
OPEN FOR BOOKINGS FROM 15 DECEMBER 2017
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Forodhani House, Shella Beach, Lamu, Kenya www.forodhanihouse.com For reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org EXPERIENCE Tel : +254 718 407 480, +33 612 548 184
FOODIES: Sands at Nomad, Diani Beach
The hotel is becoming increasingly known for its restaurant, which easily rivals the best of the south coast’s eateries, and attracts a loyal crowd in the evenings. Sands is located at the quieter southern end of the beach, meaning fewer beach boys, and the chance of having the beach almost to yourself. The hotel is set in lovely grounds, and has several gorgeous, spacious seafront cottages and rooms, and it is for these that the hotel justifiably has a popular following. Cheaper but not nearly so nice are the forest-view rooms in the main block. Resident rates start from Ksh 5,900 pp B&B; Beach cottages from 13,100 pp. www.thesandskenya.com
YOUR BUDGET: Kenyaways, Galu
Further down the coast at Galu is this rustic little 10-bedroom hotel (five bedrooms with sea views), catering to a more chilled, barefoot kind of crowd. With the excellent Lymingtons bistro on site, guests don’t have to travel for good food. Bedrooms are pretty simple, but nicely done, and there’s a good watersports outlet on site, offering kite surfing and other activities. Galu, a large sweep of beach, is quieter than Diani, with a lower likelihood of beach-boy annoyances. Rooms are very reasonably priced, even those with a sea view. Rates start from $43 pp sharing a double, B&B. www.thekenyaway.com
GROUPS: Samawati, Msambweni
Little beats taking a villa when you’re with friends. Samawati is a beautiful Lamu-style property on one of Kenya’s most southerly beaches, and a good base for exploring the slave caves of Shimoni, and Wasini island. This elegant home is fully open to the sea breezes, with all four bedrooms on the upper floor. Downstairs is a pool and elegantly furnished living area. Fishermen come to the house with the catch of the day for the chef to whip up. Msambweni may lack the white sands of Diani, but it’s an attractive beach, and much quieter than those further north. The house is let for Ksh 25,000 a night. www.samawati.co.ke *Resident Rrates are based on low-season prices NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 33
Catrina Stewart plunges into an ancient forest to discover sacred rituals, medicinal plants and a way of life that couldn’t be further from beach-style living.
If it hadn’t been raining, I might have been on the beach. It hasn’t let up for most of the day, so instead I’m standing on sodden leaves in the middle of a forest, and Juma, my guide, asks me to take my trainers off. I give him a withering look as I stand in rapidly-dampening socks. Not to mention I’m wearing a black sack-like cloth around my waist. I’m dressed like this to appease the spirits for we are entering an area sacred to the Digo people. Kaya Kinondo is one of several makaya along Kenya’s coast, but the only one open to the public. The forests along this part of the coast have mostly disappeared to development, with those protected by the Mijikenda communities, of which the Digo is one, among the few surviving. As far back as the 16th Century, these forests protected communities at the very heart of them, but by early last century, they had all moved out. They are now protected by a council of elders, and revered as sacred sites for prayers and rituals, and a valuable source of medicinal plants. Eleven remaining have UNESCO World Heritage status (but not Kaya Kinondo because its land has been partially grabbed), with only members of the Mijikenda community
permitted to enter, and then only for sacred rituals. Before we enter the forest, Juma tells me the rules. “No screaming, no smoking, no drinking,” he says, “and no public displays of affection.” The last makes me smile, for, apart from Juma, I am quite alone. Different coloured cloths signify different things. Red is for sacrifice, white for peace. The black I’m wearing means simply that I will be recognised by the spirits. As we make our way into the forest, we step carefully over pieces of coral, a reminder that the sea once came much further inland. We stop at a tree - one of 187 species in this 30-acre forest - and Juma suggests I hug its broad trunk and make a wish. I feel slightly ridiculous doing so, but slip my arms around its trunk. It feels mildly comforting, but I’m glad there’s nobody around to see me. Meanwhile, Juma has plucked some leaves from another tree - a grey veyer - and he crushes the leaves togethers, and tells me to sniff them. I fling my head back in surprise so strong is the vapour. But at least it might sort my blocked sinuses out. Also within the forest is a ‘pimple’ tree that’s said to be a cure for acne, and the ‘viagra’ tree, which requires little explanation.
Finally, we arrive at the site that once housed four Digo villages. It wasn’t only their position at the heart of the forest that protected them, but also various enchantments or spells weaved around them with the purpose of deterring and confusing any potential aggressor. The villages have moved closer to the shore, and the clearing is now used for sacrifices. In wet socks, I pad over to a spot where Juma points to the evidence of a recent sacrifice involving a black chicken. The community comes together for rituals during times of hardship. It might be connected to election clashes, a dispute between members of the community, or a plea for abundant rain or fish. All around us, the forest is silent. It’s hard to imagine that only a few hundred metres from this site is glistening white beach, luxury developments lining the coastline. Kaya Kinondo, at least, is protected, but as development continues apace, I can only wonder how long such sacred sites can survive. Kaya Kinondo is a 20-minute drive from the main Diani beach. It costs Ksh 1,000 to enter, and a discretionary tip is advised for the guide. Tours include a walk in the forest, and an optional visit to a nearby village and medicine man. Opening hours are 8 am to 5 pm.
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A walk through…
e start our walk at the imposing Fort Jesus, the plaza in front of which makes a good central meeting point (and a place to pick up a guide). Built by the Portuguese in 1953, the fort was held at different points by the Portuguese, the Omanis and the British, and given the travails it suffered, remains remarkably wellpreserved. Wander along the battlements, or head towards the building housing the drawings of Portuguese sailors in the early 17th Century, the most surprising thing, one guide book points out, being the absence of lewd etchings. Instead, the sailors drew lots of ships, swordsmen and fish. In the central exhibit hall, salvaged items from the Santo Antonio de Tanna shipwreck, sunk in 1697 during the siege of Portuguese-held Fort Jesus by Omani Arabs, are on display, ranging from ornate crockery to belt buckles and a fish-shaped pin case. Head to the far corner of the fort, next to the Oman House, to see a full-size skeleton of a humpback whale. Perhaps out of place in the museum, but an extraordinary sight nonetheless. Taking the path down the side of the fort, and turning left past the Mombasa Club (nonmembers not allowed), turn left up towards the Old City, coming onto Sir Mbarak Hinaway street. Drop into Safina Crafts for new and antique Lamu beds and chairs, nautical
memorabilia, and a chest with a secret drawer to stash away your secrets. Just along from Safina is the 16th-Century al-Mandhry Mosque, the oldest mosque in Mombasa. It’s a good example of mixed ArabAfrican design, but sadly its interior is closed to non-Muslim visitors. On from the mosque, you’ll notice some of the more typical Old City houses with covered fretwork balconies - to hide Muslim female inhabitants from outside view. One of these houses YA Gallery on the site of the first Post Office, built in 1899. Now it’s a veritable emporium presided over by Yusuf, and casual browsers can rifle through working accordions, West African masks, aged maps and samsonite suitcases. “This is a hunting place,” says Yusuf, a collector himself, who forced himself to give up his hoardings to the shop. Across the street from YA Gallery is Forodhani Restaurant, a waterfront spot that opened last year, and is ideal for a leisurely lunch. The dining terrace overlooks Mombasa’s northern channel - with trade ships from Zanzibar moored at the Old Port just a few metres away. It’s one of the more pocketfriendly places to eat lobster, served up for less than Ksh 1,500. Turning right out of Forodhani, wander through the square with the Old Port on your right. Opposite that is Old Port Souvenirs, a much-loved furniture carving showroom, where many departing expatriates buy their Lamustyle chairs. A carved and threaded dining-
room chair will set you back around Ksh 6,000 here, about half the price of what they are sold for in major Nairobi showrooms. Furniture can be made (and shipped) to order: it takes about one week to carve a Lamu bed; three to four days to make a chair. You’ll smell the Fish Market before you get there. It’s a short walk up the road from Old Port Souvenirs. Drop inside for a glimpse of the day’s catch, which could include - to name just a few octopus, snapper, kingfish, rockfish. After the market, start weaving to your left via Coast Sandals, which, as it name suggests, sells sandals. Pick them up here for the wholesale price of about Ksh 600 for the more basic designs. Come out the shop and turn right and right again onto a narrow alley, bringing you out onto the main Ndia Kuu Road. Turn left, and after a car park on your left, you’ll take another turn left to find the legendary Jahazi Coffee House (now in a new venue), a favourite meeting spot for Mombasa-ites. It’s furnished in classic coast style, with two rooms set aside for lounging at floor level. It only needs a shisha pipe... Back on the main street, turn left to find the Imani Collection, a women’s empowerment organisation, where disadvantaged ladies weave carpets, make pillows, kikoys, bags and more. Coming shortly is a new showroom for the products, which will be housed across the street in Jahazi’s old premises. Continue along this road to bring you back to the plaza outside Fort Jesus.
PHOTO: CATRINA STEWART
In keeping with our coastal theme, this month’s walk-through heads to Mombasa. Catrina Stewart takes a short tour of the city’s venerable Old City.
‘The Emakoko is a boutique home away from home run by Kenya born owners, Emma & Anthony Childs. The lodge has been built into the side of the Mbagathi George overlooking the river and the Nairobi National Park. Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s oldest national park and is also home to one of the largest Black Rhino breeding populations per square kilometer in East Africa. The park is without a doubt the best way to start and end any safari in East Africa and The Emakoko ofcourse is a great beginning and ending.’ In order to make a booking, please contact Emma & Anthony Childs on firstname.lastname@example.org
Ranch House Bistro is a boutique restaurant with amazing views over a wildlife waterhole and Lake Oloidien.. We offer a variety of freshly prepared dishes sourced locally and from our farm.
Open 7 days a week Moi South Lake Road, Kongoni, Naivasha, P.O. Box 210, For reservations: 20117 Tel: 0700 488 475 Email: email@example.com
LET THE DICE DECIDE
Tired of making travel decisions? Isaac Stone Simonelli was, so he allowed the dice to make the decisions for him.
die tumbles from my hand onto the green felt of a pool table in Thailand. If it’s an even number, I will depart for the frozen wastelands of Mongolia after a short jaunt through Vietnam; if it’s an odd number, I’m bound for Kenya. How did I come to this point? How did it happen that the friends I make, the women with whom I fall in love, the adventures I struggle through, and even the food I eat are being jostled by kinetic energy, gravity, torque, and friction as they manipulate a single tumbling cube? Mongolia versus Kenya wasn’t the first roll of the dice. I’d already been on the road with my dice and a Honda CB500X motorcycle for nearly five months. Unlike most trips, where we start with a budget and a time frame, my travels started with a premise, a simple premise: allow die rolls to determine the majority of decisions faced while motorbiking throughout the world with a limited budget for an entire year. It would be 365 days of testing fate, enticing
serendipity and letting go of free will – if such things exist at all. Every day we draw on limited decisionmaking resources. Apparently, we tend to make better decisions earlier in the day and shy away from difficult choices (or make poorer decisions) late at night. This journey was born out of this theory of decision fatigue, because what decision really matters in the long run? All of them? None of them? Maybe just some of them. So, what’s the difference between Mongolia and Kenya when it comes to the experience? The details, of course, are vastly different, but the reality of it is that travel always comes back to who we meet along the way. At this fundamental level, Mongolia and Kenya have equal value – who knows who I’ll meet? The die comes to a stop. It’s a “one”: Kenya it is. It’s a rough landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: after reaching an agreement with a Customs Officer not to confiscate my drone, I find myself at Sister Sarah’s orphanage in Kayole, which I had found through Couch Surfing, the online travel community.
I was fearful that the orphanage might end up being a trap, where they would expect me to give them money in exchange for hospitality. I had wavered on whether or not to allow the dice to decide where I slept when I landed in Kenya. During my layover in Doha, however, I give the decision to the die: a 66/33 weighted split in favour of the orphanage. All the fears that I was setting myself up to be scammed are washed away when I meet Sister Sarah. However, after a nap, I’m led to a supermarket, where she and two orphan boys start filling a shopping basket with a football and more than $60 worth of other bits and pieces. I put my foot down on buying cologne – I can’t even afford cologne for myself. Head swimming with frustration and anger, I cough up the cash and settle my bill at the front of the store. This is not what Couch Surfing is about. If I wanted to spend $60 when I landed, I would have booked a hotel. I sit down with Sister Sarah and explain. She’s distraught by how her actions are understood. It’s a healthy communion, and I leave the next morning. Though I can’t bag the dice for throwing me in the deep end, I need to find shallower water if
I’m going to last. The goal is to get back on the road immediately, but it takes nearly a month to secure a motorcycle - a 2006 Yamaha DT175, named Rafiki. By the Will of the Dice, we are headed to Mount Elgon. The night before we got on the road, an awkward list of destinations was drawn up: 1) Mountain lake near border of Ethiopia 2) Hell’s Gate 3) Place with Bees 4) Random map drawn by dude at Karen Camp 5) Mount Elgon – recommended 30 seconds before making the list 6) Lake Victoria 7) Nanyuki 8) Baringo. This time, an octahedron die (numbered one to eight) was cast - because sometimes you have more than six good options. With Rafiki, I work my way through the Tugen Hills of Baringo County. Up one final, gentle hill, I then begin descending into a valley on the far side. Beyond the valley, we gain altitude, there are fewer and fewer candelabra succulents, with their thick heads of cactus arms stretching up into the forever blue sky like an afro wig on a tree trunk. Instead, there are the sparsely distributed, yet ever-present acacia trees. The
Though I can’t bag the dice for throwing me in the deep end, I need to find shallower water if I’m going to last.
ridge peaks and then falls back down into a valley, hills standing like an ominous wall on the far side of the rest of the valley. And there, at the base of Mount Elgon, an old Kenyan man takes me in, feeds me in his small mud-brick house and provides a place to sleep at his neighbour’s after joining me on a hike to the Elephant Cave.
A week later, broken down on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park, a Maasai equipped with putty rescues Rafiki and me, patching up her oil pan. The following month, I’m out of fuel in an arid stretch of no-man’s land of Tanzania, with no Tanzanian shillings left in my pocket, as I race toward the Kenyan border. A local officer tucks Rafiki into the back of his sedan and takes us to Namanga. Day in day out, the dice and serendipity collude to bring me face to face with some of the most enchanting, kind-hearted people I could ever meet. Month after month, life moves this way for me - never knowing what’s next until it’s creeping over the horizon. Rarely are the planned aspects of a trip the highlight: it’s the chance sighting of a lioness taking down a gazelle or the friendship found in a local dive bar that we cling to years later. And though I am no longer on the road, no longer skating by thanks to the generosity of countless strangers, the dice continue to bend my life as they tumble from my hands. Isaac Stone Simonelli is writing a book about his dice-based adventures. Follow his adventures on www.dicetravels.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 39
IN WAR, A FIGHT FOR THE WILDLIFE Kes Hillman Smith spent 22 years in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working as a conservationist at the same time as raising a family. She talks to Tamara Britten about the extraordinary challenges of protecting wildlife in a country riven by conflict and competing interests.
CONSERVATION What took you to Garamba? I was working with Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants on the first Africa-wide survey of the status of elephants and plan for their conservation, when the then New York Zoological Society (now WCS) asked me to do a similar survey and conservation plan for rhinos. In the 1970s and 1980s, poaching was heavy; our results showed that the populations of Northern White Rhinos had not only plummeted to seriously low numbers, but that they existed in little-known ecosystems with almost no protection, namely a few parts of southern Sudan and Garamba National Park in what was then Zaire. In 1983, with Fraser, my future husband, I did reconnaissance for the rhinos in Sudan and an aerial survey of Garamba – highly challenging in such remote regions. When war in Sudan re-started after a lull, the focus shifted to developing a project for Garamba. The Zaire Wildlife Division asked if I would come to Garamba and set up monitoring and research there, while continuing to raise support. I said: “Maybe for a year.” That was the start of my 22 years in Garamba. Tell me about the early days of the project. Fraser and I drove to Garamba with our dogs – mine was eaten shortly afterwards by a crocodile and Fraser’s died of a twisted gut. We built a mud hut with a thatched roof a couple of kilometres along the river from the headquarters in the Reserves. We were married at the Hippo Pools of the Dungu River and when our first child, Chyulu, was born in 1985, we were still living in the mud hut. When we started, there were no vehicles and no roads, and in the wet season the grass was two metres high. It was great in the early days. We were so isolated, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was hard work but we loved it. And later? Fraser’s work concerned the practical: infrastructure, roads, river crossings, patrol posts, radio systems, vehicles and airstrips, and he worked in partnership with the chief park warden to run anti-poaching. My job was to provide information for conservation and management, to establish and train a Research and Monitoring Unit, to write reports and to raise funding. The project produced one of the longest standardised aerial survey data sets on wildlife, rhinos, poaching, anti-poaching, and habitat change. There were 15 Northern White Rhinos when we came, but by 1995 there were 32. The population of elephants – which had dropped from over 20,000 in 1976 to about 5,000 in 1984 – also doubled, rising to over 11,000 by 1995. Poaching continued to be a problem. Many of the poachers came from Sudan, armed by the ongoing civil war there, and profiting commercially. We set up law enforcement monitoring to guide the anti-poaching teams. Maps and graphs monitored trends for longterm planning and helped raise support for the tough work of protection. Armed contacts flared frequently.
There was no national development in this part of the country. Missionaries had set up what were effectively banks and post offices, as well as a hospital. Aircraft were a vital tool: Garamba had a Cessna 206 and we had a Piper PA12. Tell me about the domesticated elephants. In an extraordinary echo of Belgium’s colonisation of the Congo, Garamba had a few domesticated elephants: the only ones in Africa. During the time of Leopold II, there had been over 50 trained African elephants doing logging, agriculture and transport like Asian elephants; four of these remained. We trained more young elephants and did elephant-back safaris. It was a way of making the place special, and funding its conservation: where else could you ride elephants to see Northern White Rhinos? The idea was to develop a tourism circuit: Garamba with domesticated elephants and Northern White Rhinos; Epulu, in the Ituri Forest, with okapis and Mbuti pygmies; and Virunga with gorillas. It would have been a wonderful circuit. But then war broke out. How did the war change things? In late 1996, Laurent Kabila, with the support of Rwanda, led his troops, the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), into the country to challenge the one-party state of Mobutu Sese Seko. The missionaries evacuated, and by the end of that year we were hiding things in our house and prioritising what to take with us: kids, computers, photographs. We were planning to spend Christmas in Kenya anyway, so we flew out in December. When Fraser returned in January, he found mercenaries working for Mobutu had taken over the park headquarters. Their leader, now living in our house, said: “Take your stuff and go. I’ve been promised Garamba as my hunting grounds.” When Kabila’s AFDL reached Garamba, they occupied the station, seized the vehicles and looted everything. This stopped all antipoaching patrols for three months and it took careful negotiation to re-establish them. By April, the AFDL reached Kinshasa, where they established a new government and renamed Zaire as the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was later part of a high-level mission to see Kabila [who] agreed to our request for clearance for a training support unit. Meanwhile, materials we’d bought in from South Africa to re-equip park rangers had been blocked from overland transport and were stuck in Nairobi. A Russian Antonov crew agreed to fly it in cheaply, as long as I went with them to be in radio contact with Fraser, who was monitoring the state of the runway for such a large plane. They spoke almost no English and had only a book of Shakespearean sayings. The plane landed safely, but – in a bizarre postscript to the journey – we had to use the domesticated elephants to carry people and equipment because all the vehicles had been looted.
Then the project started again? Yes – until August 1998, when the second war kicked off. Kabila tried to remove his former allies, the AFDL, who then rebelled. National radio was broadcasting orders to kill all Rwandan Tutsis in the country. Fraser flew to Ituri to rescue Rosmarie and Karl Ruf, who were running the Okapi Conservation Project. When Fraser and the Rufs landed, he told me some shocking news. The day before, the military had arrested Ali, the ranger in charge of Garamba’s domestic elephants and a key link in the negotiations with the AFDL to reinstate anti-poaching after their first invasion because, although he was Congolese, his background was Tutsi. That morning, he’d been executed. That changed everything: we took off for Nairobi. Even in war, did you still worry about the park? Especially during a war. That’s when the animals suffer most. All of us from the five World Heritage Sites in DRC were keen to keep our conservation work going. We developed a proposal, with both [the DRC wildlife authorities] and NGOs, for the UN Foundation; I became its coordinator. This was the first-ever project aimed at continuing conservation during armed conflict. And it worked. We minimised losses, successfully maintaining the animal populations through the war, upgraded training and, under the UNESCO umbrella, were able to unite authorities responsible for the environment in each of the three occupied parts of the country. It sounds like an incredible success story. It was a success during the war. But the aftermath of a war is often messier than during it; attitudes change and every man becomes a petty warlord. When there was a ceasefire in Sudan in 2004, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army were no longer holding the border, Janjaweed horsemen came in from Darfur, massacring elephants and rhinos. We held an emergency meeting and [decided to] move some of the Northern White Rhinos temporarily to safety; we settled on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The president agreed, but others blocked the proposal and the agreement collapsed. The long-term conservation of Garamba was compromised by internal strife and post-war attitudes. The donors withheld support and were finally forced to pull out. At this stage, we handed Garamba over to African Parks. They have a business approach to conservation, and plenty of financial support, aircraft, helicopters and currently extremely good people. They continue to have problems with the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda and the Janjaweed of Sudan, but it’s good that they’re there. Garamba: Conservation in Peace and War, edited by Kes Hillman Smith, chronicles decades of conservation in Garamba by those who lived and worked there. Kes will be signing the book at Authors’ Corner at Christmas fairs in Nairobi and Nanyuki.
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 41
Weekend away in PHOTO BRIAN SIAMBI
It makes for a magical weekend getaway, whatever the season. A new road has greatly improved its accessibility in the last couple of years, and the drive down from outer Nairobi takes around 90 minutes. Known as the pink lake for its rose hues, Lake Magadi remains one of the best places in Kenya to view flamingos up close, and is a photographersâ€™ playground.
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 43
Given the heat of this part of Kenya, you might wonder why you’d want to get any hotter. But head down to the hot springs (ideally in the cooler hours of the day), a 30-minute drive from Magadi town that winds along the shores of the lake, for a dip that reputedly comes with all manner of health benefits. As the notices warn, take lots of water with you into the bath-like pools. A guide, particularly during the wet season, is recommended, but not essential. There’s nothing at the springs themselves in terms of refreshments and ablutions, so take everything with you. Residents pay Ksh 500 to enter; Ksh 100 for private cars.
WALK WITH BABOONS
About an hour’s drive towards the Nguruman Escarpment is Lale’enok, a research centre that offers visitors a chance to get up close to baboons. It’s fascinating to learn about these creatures, which generally get a bad rep for aggressive behaviour. Not that this will necessarily disabuse you of that notion. They may not be aggressive towards observers, but woe betide the lowerranking baboon who forgets their place. Visits must be arranged in advance. Contact Sisco at Lale’enok on 070405834 to book.
THE JAZI TRAIN
On request, Lake Magadi Adventures, the tourism arm of Tata Chemicals, organises a one-way train ride from Kajiado to Lake Magadi. It’s a wonderful way to reach the lake, even if part of an all-included deal. A Ksh 9,700 fare (children for Ksh 7,200) covers your transport, including the drive back to Nairobi, game drives and other activities, and one night’s accommodation in Lake Magadi Tented Camp (see next page). The train requires a minimum of 15 people to depart. www.lakemagadiadventures.com
Nestled at the foot of the Nguruman Escarpment is this secluded lodge, where accommodation is in rooms (part tent, part villa), all with their own plunge pool, as well as an Italian-style pool for communal use. For romantics, consider the room with two baths adjacent to each other overlooking the Shompole plains. A recent addition is the animal blind next to the watering hole, where guests can lie in wait for arriving game, ranging from elephant to cats. Lentorre is offered on an exclusive basis, and sleeps a maximum of 16. Resident rates, inclusive of conservation fees, start from Ksh 13,700 pp, fullboard, excluding alcohol. 90 minutes from Lake Magadi. www.lentorre.com
An hour from the lake is this attractive little camp with just four tents on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River. Shompole Wilderness has 25,000 acres of conservancy at its disposal. The animals may not be as easy to spot as in the Mara but nor are the tourists. The camp is a particularly welcoming spot for kids with the croc-free river a playground in every sense. Resident rates from Ksh 15,000 pp FB. Conservation fees are Ksh 1,000 extra, Ksh 500 for children. www.shompolewilderness.com
LAKE MAGADI SPORTS CLUB AND TENTED CAMP In the town itself is Lake Magadi Sports Club, the entry point for the hot springs, but also one of the few places to get a sit-down meal. Ignore the notice saying “strictly no non-members allowed.” Visitors can make use of the restaurant, pool (Ksh 300 a day) and bar. They also offer decent rooms, starting from Ksh 8,000 for a double, B&B. The club has a tented camp nearby, 15 tents offering slightly cramped, but comfortable enough, accommodation. Doubles start at Ksh 7,000 B&B. www.lakemagadiadventures.com
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 45
What I pack … for my travels
Suzie Wokabi is the founder and chief creative of SuzieBeauty, Kenya’s very first make-up brand. She studied in the United States, and worked in the beauty industry there for several years, returning to Kenya in 2007. She initially worked as a media make-up artist before setting up her own beauty line. SuzieBeauty, which sells products throughout Nairobi, is now part of the Flame Tree Group. Instagram @suzybeautyke Twitter SuzieWokabi and @SuzieBeauty
Large Weekender bag Ksh21,900
Ray-Ban Sunglasses These are my new favourite pair. I went to Istanbul and was given them as a gift. I worked for designer eyewear companies when I was in the US, so I know good eyewear. Vaseline I have to sleep with a layer of Vaseline on my lips every night. It’s the best moisturiser ever.
Panama Hat A hat is important. This is the one that covers my head nicely. You must protect yourself from the sun! But it can’t be just any hat. 46
Maasai scarf by Akinyi Odongo It’s a scarf and a blanket in one. The plane can be really uncomfortable if it gets too cold, and you want to travel light, so this is my perfect thing to take. It keeps me warm.
Pink ‘Tankini’ and Vivo Cover-all If I’m vacationing, my ideal is a beach. I just came back from Diani - I think for 36 hours I had this cover-all over my costume. I use it for walking along the beach. My costume is a bit revealing, so this helps conceal whatever insecurities I may have!
PHOTOS BRIAN SIAMBI
SuzieBeauty foundation and powder My foundation has an SPF, so that even if I don’t wear a sunscreen, I can put on my foundation and have protection from the sun. The powder just evens out the skin tone. On vacation, you don’t want to look overly made up.
NAIROBI: The Hub, Junction, Sarit Centre, Village Market, Yaya Centre, Westgate DAR ES SALAAM: Slipway
NOMAD MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2017 47
AMBOSELI BUSH CAMP WHERE: Amboseli Bush Camp is 229 kilometres from Nairobi (approximately a four-hour drive) and around 15 km from Kimana town. It’s pretty easy to find as the owners provide clear directions, and you can also find it on Google maps. It is around 10 km from Amboseli’s Kimana gate, but can feel slightly longer as the corrugation on that road is pretty bad. AMENITIES: The camp has three large rustic tents (one ensuite). Two of the tents have king beds, the third a queen bed. If you’re a big group, they can fit four floor mattresses into the lounge, allowing a maximum of 10 guests to stay at this property. There is a shared shower (where hot water is boiled for you on request) and a toilet. The lounge area is dotted with quirky artefacts and books, perfect for sitting back, enjoying the breeze and taking in the view of the watering hole. The kitchen contains a gas cooker, a fridge with a freezer (a real life-saver, considering how hot Amboseli is) and all the cooking utensils you need. The property is self-
catering, so bring your own food, but filtered drinking water is provided. If you love your pizza or roast, these guys have a wonderful wood-fired clay oven, and the camp attendants will even make the pizzas for you. They also have a small cast-iron barbecue. PROS: • A classic safari camp for a fraction of the cost. • A constant electricity connection to keep your phones and cameras charged, and the fridge cold. • The lounge deck is perfect for watching kudus and dik diks meander over for a drink at the water hole, or to just sit back and relax, or tuck into a delicious dinner. • It’s close enough to Amboseli national park for an easy full-day safari. • On a clear day, you have marvellous views of Mount Kilimanjaro from anywhere in the camp. CONS: • The ensuite tent has a bucket shower, which, if you’re not used to it, can be tricky to ensure you have enough water for your soap-down and rinse off. This tent is also a little further away from the camp so It can be scary walking to it on your own, especially with hyenas whooping not too far away. • If you’re a larger group, you may have to wait a little bit for the bathrooms and showers to free up.
WHAT TO DO: Take in the views of the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro or watch the animals come to the watering hole from the comfort of the lounge deck. Meanwhile, cook up a storm in the fullystocked kitchen or chill out and have a BBQ. Don’t miss a visit to Amboseli national park, one of the best parks in Kenya to see large herds of elephants. It’s a diverse park, from dried-up lake beds to wet marshlands. HOW TO BOOK: Book via Airbnb by searching for “Amboseli Bush Camp.” www.thetraveldote.com Facebook and Instagram @Thetraveldote This review is independent and unbiased. The authors of this piece pay for their own accommodation.
Starts from $95 for the whole property (prices vary on the weekends). Overall rating 9/10
Located near the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro, Amboseli Bush Camp is a private and rustic property located just a few kilometres outside Amboseli national park. Overlooking a watering hole, it also boasts panoramic views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Guests have exclusive use of the property.
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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are shown around the grounds of Kenya’s Treetops hotel in the Aberdares during a royal tour in 1983. Nearly two decades before in 1956, the royal couple were relaxing in a secluded treehouse cabin at the lodge when King George VI died in his sleep thousands of miles away. British hunter Jim Corbett, staying at Treetops, wrote the now-famous line in the visitor’s log book: “A young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and ... climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.” She knew nothing of her father’s death at the time, learning about it only later at a fishing lodge in Sagana. This photo forms part of a retrospective series celebrating the work of renowned Kenyan photographer Mohamed “Mo” Amin, who died in 1996 when his Ethiopian Airlines flight was hijacked and crashed into the Indian Ocean. Photograph courtesy of Salim Amin.
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HOLIDAY PLANNER By Frances Woodhams
ary has a dream holiday in mind and she’s not leaving anything to chance. She’s planning to travel in 2018 but flights have already ‘gone live’ on Skyscanner and JetRadar and, with the unparalleled efficiency of somebody suffering from severe OCD, Mary has swung into action. (After all, every fool knows that international flights are cheaper when booked 335 days before departure, right?) Mary’s partner, Maina, sighs. Multiple evenings stretch for months ahead, centred around Google research, with Mary’s face blinking back at a blue computer screen for hours on end, barking out questions for which she will not require answers. “What currency do they use in Turkey?” Maina opens his mouth to respond, “Don’t worry, scratch that, it’s Turkish Lira,” Mary interrupts, hands flying over computer keys faster than she can think. “Which suburb do you think we should stay in?” Maina picks up his phone to call a friend who visited Turkey last month but doesn’t get a chance to dial. “It’s okay, I’m going for Sultanahmet, it’s got 5 stars on TripAdvisor.” The hotel booking process takes an agonising month of obsessive refreshing of searches on Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia
and HotelBeds in the hunt for specials, while making the occasional extended foray into Airbnb. “This one has four stars but one reviewer said that there’s a chance that we’ll get lumped with a ‘town side’ room looking over a brick wall. And apparently the reception staff won’t help us with our bags.” Maina rolls his eyes while surfing sports channels. “This one sounds nice but the dining room has horrible yellow walls,” Mary muses. “Really?” Maina says incredulously (under his breath). If only he could be left in peace. One might think that after booking flights and accommodation, Mary could rest but she’s barely passed the start line. Now it’s the time for the itinerary to take shape. Planning excursions, looking into public transport options, discount passes and nailing down the cost of a kebab allows for the allimportant budget to be put together. The Excel spreadsheet is taking shape. Each day has been planned down to the last scoop of icecream and Mary has downloaded a map app to help her plan their route. “Do you think that $10 is excessive for two wraps and will one hour be enough to do the Dolmabahçe Palace?” After filling in the application forms for visas, Mary sets aside a day to visit the Turkish embassy. She has already learned some basic Turkish greetings and tries testing them out on
the consular staff who appear nonplussed, possibly because she’s stringing all the phrases she knows into one sentence. “Nasılsın? Tesekkür ederim. Merhaba!” Mary has taken over the living room wall with her ‘Turkey travel mood board.’ Maina peers at the ambitious five-day itinerary and emits an involuntary shudder. Whatever happened to kicking back on holiday? While Maina appreciates that Mary’s diligence doubtless saves them money and ensures they definitely don’t miss out, he does long for a less scripted experience. For the next few weeks, Mary obsessively follows Turkey-related Instagram accounts to get under the skin of the place and downloads budgeting and travel apps to use while they are there. She’s looking into the perfect day dress, footwear and smart casual evening wear. After some ‘drill down’ research on Pinterest, capsule wardrobe packing is the way she’s planning to go. A first aid kit has been assembled (you never know, right?) and just the right size of wheelie suitcase selected. Maina sighs as he lies in bed, desperate to switch off the light. “Come to bed now, Mary, honestly, the packing can wait. We still have six months to go.” Frances is author of blog www.africaexpatwivesclub.com
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Read all about Kenya's southern coast in our beach issue. Our writer escapes the beach crowds on Funzi Island, where you will probably find...
Published on Nov 21, 2017
Read all about Kenya's southern coast in our beach issue. Our writer escapes the beach crowds on Funzi Island, where you will probably find...