The night before we were going to leave for Tsavo National Park, Cam, Yael and I decided to sleep down on the beach. We were planning on camping out on one of the giant floating sofas and watching the sun rise over the water (which would be totally safe as the beach was patrolled twenty four hours a day by guards with dogs). No one took a phone or a torch so we slowly and carefully picked our way down the dark rocky path from the house to the beach. I felt like a little kid again on a sleepover, as I clutched my sheet and pillow to my chest and walked along the sand. I also carried with me a swimsuit and a snorkel… you know… just in case. We threw our pillows on and turned this floating sofa into a giant bed. The flood lights around us in the beach bar were not very atmospheric but I decided to ignore them and look out at the water instead. We lay back and chatted until Cam had an idea.
“What if we slept on the boat?” He said, glancing at both of us in turn. It was definitely possible. The boat was moored just in the shallows of the lagoon and the tide was low enough to be able to reach it without needing to swim.
“Where would we all sleep?” Yael asked. “Is there enough space?”
“You guys slept at the front before right?” Cameron said, “Then I can just sleep on the bench in the middle. There’d be plenty of space.” I laughed at that but agreed to go. How many times was I going to sleep out under the stars, being gently rocked to sleep by the sea? So we scooped up our sheets and pillows and sent Cameron out first to see if the water was in fact shallow enough to enable us to get to the boat. He came back with only the hems of his shorts wet so I went out after, carefully bunching my shorts at my hip so that they wouldn’t trail in the water. I clambered up onto the boat and onto the cushioned area right at the front. I shoved the anchor, a big bag full of sand, into the top corner so it would take up as little space as possible and tried to arrange the rope so that it wouldn’t entangle us in the night.
Yael and I set up our little sleeping area with our heads to the front and our feet extending towards the back of the boat. Cameron cocooned himself in his kikoi and stretched out as best he could along the bench in the middle. I had a sudden and fleeting moment of panic. If something happened in the night we would be stuck on the boat. I mean, not very stuck, but the tide would come in and we would have to swim if we wanted to get off. I hoped I wouldn’t need the bathroom.
Once we were all settled we stared upwards at the sky, hoping for shooting stars. Both Yael and Cameron had seen loads of them since we’d been here but I had somehow missed all of them. The Milky Way extended out over our heads and we could see it incredibly clearly because there was almost no moonlight. We were all tired and the gentle rock of the boat was lulling us but we didn’t want to sleep. This was our last night all together at the coast and we didn’t want it to be over.
“How has it been two months since we arrived?” Yael asked the sky.
“I thought two months would feel like such a long time,” I replied, “And yet its suddenly all gone,”
There was a pause.
“I think I might actually miss you weirdos,” Cameron said. Yael and I laughed,
“We’re gonna miss you too Cam,” Yael said and we all gazed up at the sky. Quiet descended over us again as we contemplated the stars.
“What am I going to do without the sea?” I asked, breaking the silence. It was a genuine question. There hadn’t been a day since I arrived that I hadn’t been in and it was a bad day if I spent less than an hour in the water. Usually it was more like two.
“Fuck,” Cam said. “The sea,” I closed my eyes and felt it nudge the boat almost tenderly.
Leaving it behind would be heart wrenching for all of us.
“But don’t you think we’re so lucky to feel the way we do about the sea?” Cameron asked.
“What do you mean?” Yael said, shifting her pillow beneath her head to make herself more comfortable.
“So many people our age don’t actually know what they want to do with their lives. They don’t have something that they’re properly passionate about. They’ll probably end up doing a degree in a subject they don’t really care about and then work in an office somewhere.” He paused, “And I’m just assuming you guys are the same but the sea makes me happy in way that nothing else does.” His voice trailed off and for a little while the only sound was the waves against the boat.
“Definitely the same,” Yael agreed “Because you can go there and just exist for a little while.”
“The sea has become my daily form of meditation.” I said, “Whenever I need to work something out in my head I just go in and snorkel it out,” I laughed quietly, “Everything just feels simpler under water,”
We drifted along, the boat slowly moving around its mooring. One by one we nodded off, rocked to sleep by protective arms of the sea. I woke up a lot in the night, moving in and out of consciousness, checking for the sunrise and looking up at the stars.
At around six fifteen the sunlight woke me. The water was totally placid and the sky was flooded with pale pink. I blinked my bleary eyes open and looked around me. Cam’s eyes slowly opened too and for a moment we just looked at each other, both of us still wrapped up in the comforting blanket of sleep and not ready to fracture the silence of the morning. To me it seemed too light and I assumed we must have missed the actual rising of the sun. I was a little disappointed, having been looking forward to it, but decided that I could at least go for my snorkel. I clambered off the boat with my swimsuit and mask, trying to make as little noise as possible, and walked up to the beach bar to use their bathroom.
I walked back down to the water’s edge, fiddling with the plastic strap of my mask. I looked up.
I had never seen anything like it. The sky was totally clear as I watched the lip of the sun start to crest the horizon. It was like burnished gold set on fire and the water was alight. The hushed silence felt like the morning was holding its breath, waiting for this moment to pass before the day could begin. The sun seemed to move impossibly quickly, sliding over the line of the horizon before my very eyes. Molten orange streaks radiated out into the sky and over the sea, bathing us in light. The fierce and fiery brightness of the sun and the calm tranquility of the water, so different yet existing together in a seamless symbiosis.
Once the sun had cleared the horizon I watched for just a little while longer. The flaming tangerine colour began to mellow out, turning the light blond. I pressed my mask into my face and waded out into the cool water. Having spent all night outside on the boat I was already a little cold from the dew so walked slowly, cringing as the lacey coolness of the water crept up my bare stomach. Then I jumped in.
Yael once pointed something out to me and I took a moment to notice it again now. You could look at the horizon and the vast expanse of water that stretched out before you and see nothing but sky and sea. Then you submerged your face and suddenly there was a whole world of life down there.
It was like a city. Bustling with schools of fish that all had places to go. Blue streak cleaner wrasse danced jerkily amongst the fingers of the branching corals, signalling that they were open for business. Large parrotfish came and swam with their heads to the sky and their tails to the sand, exposing their bellies to show they were ready for their turn.
Shoals of juvenile humbug dascyllus sought refuge between the interlocking pieces of foliose coral if you came to close. They were miniatures of their parents, tiny and perfectly formed. They were shy and tentative, retreating to the safety of their home like children burying their faces in their mothers skirts.
Mature Allard’s anemone-fish boldly swam right to your mask if you were to swim over their property. They guarded their anemones fiercely, chasing you off like an angry old man waving a walking stick, surprisingly bold for something so small.
Patches of bare rock and rubble, populated by rogue sea urchins were the abandoned alleyways. Slightly dodgy areas covered in graffiti and littered with broken spines. The only fish that came here were always swimming through, never sticking around for very long.
But then there were huge areas of life, with highways of fish swimming over and under the bulbous shapes of the massive corals. The bright colours of their markings were vibrant in the slanting light of the early morning.
I swam through them, watching them scatter and reform as I came past. This underwater metropolis that was so alien to most had become familiar to me. I recognised corals and the fish that lived in them and wondered what they thought of me, a giant shape looming over them.
Eventually I dragged my goose-bump prickled body out of the sea because I knew we needed to get ready for our drive to Tsavo. I knew that Yael and I would be coming back to the coast on the train after Cam and Des drove on from Tsavo to Nairobi, but still I didn’t want to leave the sea behind. Suddenly I could feel a finality in the air. A sense that our ‘lasts’ were about to come thick and fast. Our last night all together. Our last drink at the beach bar. Our last time in the boat.
At least it wasn’t my last snorkel.
Sadly no one had a phone or camera with them when we watched the sunrise but here is the sunrise on another day to give you a flavour of what it looks like: