Backpackers – Staying Up ‘Til Sunrise

After a particularly sweaty session of Taekwando Bavel, our teacher, dismissed us and we headed down to the beach for a much needed swim. Down on the beach we met Des, who had just returned from Nairobi earlier that day and had brought their two sausage dogs along with him. Des had definitely needed some convincing from Cameron, but the dogs seemed very happy in their new coastal environment. There was an older dog, Treacle, who was really quite blind, fat and demented and affectionately referred to by Cam’s mum as ‘Python Fodder’ and a younger dog, Kipling, Treacle’s daughter. They were snuffling around Des on the beach looking for crabs and sneezing when the sand went up their noses. It was very sweet to watch. Treacle could hardly walk up the beach her belly swung so low to the ground.

We ran down into the water, but the tide was still low so we basically lay down in one of the deeper patches of sand which were still only a foot and a half deep at best. We sat and cooled off for a little while, planning to go up to the house so we would be showered and ready by the time our taxi came at seven. As we got out we saw Des sitting on the sand with two beers and a bottle of wine he had bought for us.

“Aw Dessi,” Cam said affectionately as we walked out of the water. We sat on a big driftwood log and Des poured a glass of wine for Yael and handed Cam a beer. Sundowners was a part of the culture here that was really growing on me. The pinky sky reflected off the sea and the wind brushed the salty water from my face. It was so tranquil.

We caught up with Des on his trip to Nairobi and made plans for our Emergency Rescue Scuba Diving course the following week. Cam, Des and I would do Rescue and Yael was going to get her Advanced. We sat on the beach for a while and then dashed up to the house at ten to seven. We showered, packed bags and got into the taxi to drive to Backpackers, an eco lodge in Kilifi.

We arrived about forty minutes later and met Max, Yael’s friend from Watamu, in the bar. We checked in and paid for the night before being showed our room. The room was big and spacious, with four big sets of bunk beds made from huge smooth branches of driftwood. A girl was lying in one bunk and so we could pick with other beds we wanted. After we dropped off our bags we went to the bar to order drinks and pizza.

Backpackers had a very hippy-ish vibe with a communal kitchen area, lots of colourfully patterned weaved pillows and lots of paintings on the walls. There were no flushing toilets and to get to the shower you walked inside this incredible bamboo spiral where the bamboo must have reached at least four metres high. Also no one wore shoes. This was a very novel concept for me, never leaving the house without shoes in London (obviously) and now at the coast it was positively odd to be wearing even just flip-flops.

We took our drinks and sat by the small, brightly lit pool chatting. After our first round Max retrieved a bottle of vodka from his car, which I mixed with a bottle of tonic which the previous visitors had left on the table. Classy, I know. Once we were a little bit tipsy we decided to walk down to the beach. The moon nearly full so was bright enough to guide us to even cast shadows as we walked.

We jumped into the water and swam out, basking in the moonlight and drifting in the calm water. The bioluminescent phytoplankton came out in full display, so every stroke we took glowed in the soft darkness. Max and I floated out and he very kindly listened to me as I explained the evolutionary purposes of an animal being able to glow.

“It’s for one of three reasons.” I explained, “Either to attract food, dispel predators or find a mate. For example take an angler fish, you know the one in Finding Nemo with the torch above its head.” He nodded,

“Yeah the really ugly one.” I smiled,

“Yeah that’s the one. Well that’s a female and for a long time scientists were totally perplexed about where all the males actually were because no one could find them. Here are these females the size of footballs, but no one could find a male.”

“Okay.” He said, with what I hoped was curiosity edging his voice.

“The males are actually only about an inch or two inches long and once they find a female they latch onto her. The deep ocean is so vast and so dark that if a male is lucky enough to find a female he doesn’t want to let go. So he bites on and his bloodstream fuses with hers and he loses all of his internal organs apart from his testes.”

Max raises an eyebrow.

“The female is then fertilised intravenously by the male, but she can have as many males as she wants all connected to her and she can pick which one it is that fertilises her eggs. This is called sexual parasatism, because the male is literally a parasite,”

Max laughed, “I think I know a few guys like that,” he said. We drifted a bit closer to shore where Yael and Cam were lying on a Dhow, a traditional wooden boat that looks like this:

We lay with our heads on the outer plank and our feet against the main body of the boat. Cam’s speaker was playing music and we just floated, laughing and talking, trying not to upset the wobbly boat and get all of our stuff wet. We stared up at the stars listening to the song Shine on you crazy diamond and I’d never had an experience like it. We were mucking around and I swam underneath Yael and Max to scare them and they were so surprised they tipped the boat, sending Cam’s iPad, speaker and phone into the water. Oops. We rushed back up to the lodge and found a bag of rice in the ‘Free Food for Taking’ section (thank goodness) and put his phone in. The iPad seemed to be okay and the speaker was totally fine it was just the phone that was a worry.

We picked up another drink each and went back down to the sea, this time with Max’s phone and the speaker staying firmly on land. Cam and I didn’t get in the water straight away and instead sat on the branches of a tree growing on the beach. It must have been old because the branches were thick and I lay back along one, very tempted to go to sleep. I was a little bit drunk and surprisingly comfortable, but also very mistrusting of my own ability to balance so I kept myself awake. I decided a swim in the sea would wake me up and so Cam and I ventured into the water. I was about neck deep when I realised that I still had my money on me so dashed back out to hide my sodden bills in the rest of our stuff and went back in.

After an hour or so of swimming (or more accurately, drifting) I started to get cold, which I was immediately mocked for. Throughout my time here I’d made a point that Cam and Yael were ridiculous for how easily they got cold and for thinking that when the water dipped below 25 degrees it was too cold to go in. About half an hour later though we did get out, this was probably around 3am now, and went up to the lodge. I used the amazing shower and put on some dry clothes which felt fantastic after spending so long in my soaking wet underwear (I hadn’t brought a swimsuit because in the UK that’s not the sort of thing you take on a night out) and dress.

Cam went to bed, but security guard let me, Max and Yael into the kitchen to make ourselves cups of tea. We sat with the lodge’s dogs for about an hour on the kitchen sofas, eating hobnobs and warming up a bit. Max had even brought a few jumpers, something I never thought I’d be glad of, so we put on his sweatshirts. The feeling of being cold was almost enjoyable after all this time in the heat (only almost). Therefore I was a little bit dismayed when Yael and Max suggested we go back down to the beach. We walked down again, now knowing the pathway pretty well, and they got into the water. I refused, I couldn’t get cold again, and so precariously perched myself inside the fisherman’s Dhow while they drifted along in the water. By now the moonlight was nearly gone so the bioluminescence was incredible. You could almost pretend you were in a Harry Potter movie it felt so preposterously magical.

“Let’s stay out until sunrise!” Yael said. It was already about four thirty so it wouldn’t take much longer and we agreed that it would be very cool. I dismissed my worries of tiredness and the small bubble of anxiousness that rose in my throat. It had been sitting with me in this totally foreign (in all ways) environment, every now and then declaring that things would spontaneously go wrong. ‘Just let yourself have fun’ I said to myself. ‘Everything is going to be okay and how many times in your life have you watched the sunrise from the beach?’

I couldn’t argue with that.

So I clutched on to the mast of this tiny fishing boat and Yael spotted her third shooting star of the night. After a while though even they got cold so we pushed the boat back into shore and went on to the beach were someone had left the smouldering remains of a fire. We quickly built it back up with pieces of driftwood and we were cosy in no time. We talked about Max’s internship in Paris and how instead of going back to Nairobi the next day should stay out at the coast for longer.

“How many times are you going to be able to do this?” Yael declared, gesturing out to the beautifully calm water. ‘How many times indeed’ I thought. Sadly we couldn’t convince him as it had all been arranged, taxis had been booked and train tickets had been bought.

And there we sat, watching the pinky light filter in through the line of trees and letting our small fire fade away. The sun rose higher and the beach got brighter, the rays of light visible through the thinning clouds that hung suspended like a blanket.

A little side note:

As I write this I realise after that initial conversation with Max I haven’t put in any more conversation and it’s because I simply cannot remember. We stayed out drifting under the stars and sitting by the fire for hours and hours, yet I have no recollection of what we spoke about. It’s not because I was drunk, yes we’d had a few drinks but we’d been down at the sea for so long that we’d all sobered up. I asked Yael and Cameron if they could remember either and they looked at me with blank expressions,

“I think we talked about the stars at one point…” Cam ventured uncertainly.

It seems no one can remember which I kind of like. It was such a weird and magical evening that it seems to go beyond our recollection. Maybe we didn’t even talk at all but were just transfixed by the lights above and below us.

Who knows.

When it got to about six thirty we went back up to the lodge, because Max was desperately in need of rice cakes, and soon Cam was awake as well. We moved into the bar area to look for some breakfast, or at least some coffee. I saw all the bottles littering the tables from the night before and shuddered a little bit at the sight of them. I was very dehydrated, having drunk the only bottle of water I brought and I really didn’t want to buy a plastic bottle. I wasn’t actually very tired but I thought a little nap probably would be a good idea so I went back to the bunk beds for the couple of hours we had before the taxi came. I felt that I should use the bed for at least a bit given that I’d paid for it. The others woke me up when the taxi came and I stumbled out of bed, sleepy-eyed and dry-mouthed, into the car.

They woke me up when we arrived and I pressed the still soggy notes into the palm of the driver and I thought about what a cool thing it was we’d just done.

Swimming in a sea illuminated with bioluminescence.

Getting drunk floating on a fisherman’s boat.

Staying up until sunrise.

It was quite a night.



  • Swimming in the bioluminescence and watching the sun rise
  • Driving back from Backpackers
  • Chilling out at the house
  • Snorkelling
  • Unpacking the new stock for the KCWA beach side shop
  • Taekwando lesson with Bavel
  • Swim in the sea
  • To Des’s house for a drink and a swim in the pool
  • Back to the house for dinner

20/01/19 – Our day off!

  • Beachside relaxing (mostly balancing out my tanned back from all the snorkelling)
  • Reading my book in the shallows of the sea
  • Saying goodbye to Max
  • Lunch at the beach bar with Des and Cam’s aunt and uncle
  • Extra long snorkel

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