Cameron, Yael, Des and I walked up Diani beach to the restaurant Nomads, where we were going to have some sundowners. We had driven down to the south coast for a conference on Locally Managed Marine Areas and once it was finished we’d had some time to explore so had come to Diani for the night. The beach was huge and white with sand that was softer than any I’ve ever known and it was just so empty.
No packs of garish umbrellas leaning drunkenly in the sand. No squabbling children crying about broken sandcastles. Just a few dog walkers and much further along we could see the silhouettes of kite-surfers dancing across the water.
We walked up to the bar and ordered some drinks to have looking out over the sea. A soft breeze drifted in off the water as we sat and chatted.
It was impossibly calm and the boats moored in the shallows drifted gently from side to side. Des also called up his sister-in-law Suzie, who lives in Diani, and asked if she wanted to come and join us. We were slightly hoping that she would also be able to help us out with a place to stay, as darkness was creeping in and we still didn’t have anywhere to go.
About half an hour later Suzie arrived with another couple and an older woman so we sat and had drinks with them for a while. They told us about a fantastic seafood restaurant just further along the beach that they would be going to have supper at and invited us to join them. Given we had no plans we found ourselves to be very much available and so followed their car a few minutes up the road. The restaurant was definitely a little bit haphazard, with white neon lights illuminating the brightly patterned tablecloths and plastic chairs.
I was a touch disappointed that we weren’t nearer the sea, because from where the restaurant was we couldn’t see the water, but at least we had the cold, velvety sand underneath our feet. I spent most of the time we were there piling it up onto my toes and sifting it through them.
We had a very jolly meal, and they managed to drum up some vegetables for Yael and I to have instead of the platters of seafood that the others tucked into. After supper Suzie had asked where we were staying the night and when Des told her that we still didn’t have anywhere she came to our rescue.
“Some friends of ours that live on our plot are away at the moment and I’ve been feeding their pets. I’m sure you could stay there if you need,” We jumped at the chance.
“Thank you so much Suzie, that would be fantastic,” Des said.
“What pets do they have?” Yael asked and I saw her eyes light up.
“They have three dogs, two cats and a parrot,” Suzie replied.
“A parrot?” Cameron asked, “That’s so cool,”
“Yes, well I’ll come and let you in and show you where everything is. Tomorrow we’ll go for an early morning walk on the beach before breakfast if you’re keen.” Suzie said.
“Yes that would be lovely,” Des said and we thanked the restaurant for our dinner and went over to our cars. We followed them back to the plot and Suzie unlocked the gate, releasing three very excited dogs that bounded around our ankles. She gave us a quick tour of the house. There was a tiny swimming pool outside, two double rooms, a sitting room with a rather talkative parrot that had a tendency to wolf-whistle when anyone walked past and a kitchen. The house was spacious but very cluttered and would suit us perfectly.
“Thank you. Really this is exactly what we needed,” Des said to Suzie and we all chimed in too, thanking her for letting us stay.
“Not to worry.” She said brightly, “We’ll see you at seven for the walk,” and she let herself out of the house. We took a moment to bring our bags inside and unpack the things we had bought for breakfast the next day. Yael had practically fallen asleep at the table and we had all talked about how tired we were so I was a little bit surprised when Des walked past me and said,
“We were thinking of going to go back to Nomads – do you want to come?” He must have seen the confusion on my face so he added, “It’s too early to call it a night just yet,” I glanced down at my watch and saw that it was only ten thirty.
“Yeah sure. Why not,” I said and we all got back into the car to drive the few minutes it took to get back to Nomads. When we reached the beach again I was so glad that we had come. Sleep was no where near as picturesque as this. The bar was nearly closing by the time we arrived so we managed to sneak in one round of drinks that we lingered over, looking out at the sea. Yael and I ordered Dawas, the most delicious cocktail that you can find all over Kenya, which literally means ‘medicine’ in Swahili so it’s not really a drink as much as a necessary healer. After our drinks we drove home. We missed the turning a couple of times but we got there in the end and went to sleep.
Six forty five came pretty quickly and we tore ourselves out of bed to get dressed. We stumbled down the driveway to wait for Suzie and her dogs. It seemed we wouldn’t be taking the three weird dogs from our own house because they were too crazy for the beach. We squeezed the four of us in to the back of Suzie’s Land Rover and drove back past the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before to get to the beach.
As it was still early the sun was low in the sky and hung like a pendulum over the water. The glow it cast on the sea was blinding and the bright early morning light shone off the pale sand.
Suzie released her two dogs and they bounded off into the distance with a level of energy that, at that time of the morning, I found quite incomprehensible. We started walking along, our thoughts not quite fully formed in our heads and our surroundings too beautiful for much talking. The beach was nearly empty apart from a few joggers and another couple walking a dog. The sand was delicious to walk on. Supple and silky beneath our toes and compacted, unlike the beach back at Kuruwitu where your sinking footsteps made walking anywhere a challenge.
We walked until the sea was simply too enticing to ignore and we all pulled off our outer clothes to reveal our swim suits. The water was turquoise and calm, with tiny waves that lapped the skin around our ankles as we waded in. Cameron, Des and Yael stayed in the shallow water but I simply had to go a bit further. I swam out, keeping my head above the water so I could enjoy the tranquility of the open sea. It was totally quiet. I turned over to float with my belly facing the sky and just drifted for a little while. There were no clouds in the sky and despite the early hour I could feel the heat of the sun on my skin.
I stayed out in the deeper water until the others summoned me back and reluctantly I swam back to shore. We walked along the beach dripping wet and squeezed back into the car to drive back to the house. We had a quick breakfast and showered before going back over to Suzie’s for a coffee and to say a big thank you and goodbye. Des had managed to call the woman in charge of the local Marine Education Centre, which was actually in the same plot as Nomads, and even though it wasn’t technically open she said she would show us around.
The centre was lovely and clean, everything a shade of white or blue. The roof was high so the air felt spacious and there were blue patterned kangas strung across the whole ceiling that billowed like sails.
A smiling woman appeared from behind the main desk and said,
“Hi, I’m Kelly it’s lovely to meet you,” She shook all of our hands and I noticed her tattoo of a chain of Colobus monkeys cascading down the nape of her neck. I liked her immediately.
“Where are you guys from?” she asked and Des explained the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association to her and the work that it does and how we were helping out as volunteers. I took this time to have a little look around. There was information everywhere and I’m such a nerd I absolutely loved it. They even had one of the coral trees from the REEFolution project that we had heard about at the conference the day before. It was covered in laminated pictures of corals with their species written on the back. We joked that next year it should be their Christmas tree.
It was clearly a space designed mostly for children but there was still so much information I hadn’t known. We found out about a whole species of turtle that none of us had ever even heard of, the flatback turtle which is only found in waters around Australia. They also had some posters on the turtle tracking and identification that they were doing, using photos of each side of the turtle’s face. This is because the markings on the face of a turtle are unique to each individual, so they can be recognised and recorded whenever they’re seen. This is great because it can utilise civilian science, whereby you don’t need a PhD to take some pictures of a turtle you see on a snorkel. Then people can send in their photos along with where they took them and it opens up a whole new set of data for the scientists. Win win.
There was, however, one room in the education centre that was by far my favourite. It was just off to the side of the main area and had a life-sized whale shark painted onto the floor. The walls were covered in facts and posters, but at first I didn’t even see them. All I could do was stare at the impossibly large fish painted beneath my feet. I decided that majestic is the only word that can describe such an animal. Oh I wanted to see one so badly! I had to placate myself with just lying on top of the painting instead.
After about an hour of enjoying the open airiness of the Marine Education Centre we did have to get back to Kuruwitu as Des had a friend coming over. We exchanged email addresses and said a warm goodbye to lovely Kelly, thanking her for showing us around. Then we all clambered back into the car and drove home.
Some more cool photos of the centre:
- Drinks at Nomads with Suzie and her friends
- Dinner at Colobus Shade, just further along the beach
- Back to our house to drop off our stuff
- One last drink at Nomads
- Early morning dog walk and swim on Diani beach
- Quick coffee with Suzie and her friends
- Visit the Marine Education Centre
- Drive back to Kuruwitu
- Painting the wall
- TaeKwanDo lesson with Bavel
- Snorkel (another one… just in case)
- Brainstorming signs and posters to put up in the volunteer house
- Final dive 😦
- We drove out to Vuma Cliffs and the first site we tried was awful, there was huge swell and nothing underneath us except sand and sea grass
- We surfaced and moved a little bit further along and tried again and had the most beautiful dive over an incredible reef
- There were soft corals as far as the eye could see and even underwater the colours were insane
- Labelling the snorkelling equipment in the store at the landing site
- Painting the wall
- Our final Thumping Thursday (the one day of the week that the beach bar stays open in the evening) with Chris Groom, who lives on the next beach along
- It was a really great night with delicious food, lovely drinks and funny conversations
- We then went back up to the volunteer house and played Shark Top Trumps (as any good marine biologists would)
- Editing the content of the new Volunteer Guide
- Snorkel to take pictures of the species inside the reef for presentations
- Planning the Standard Operating Procedures of the project
- Painting the wall
- Drink at the beach bar with Cam’s friend Tom and his girlfriend Lisa
- Our final supper with all three of us at the volunteer house
- Started watching Moneyball – withstanding the baseball jargon for Brad Pitt