There’s no better way to get around Kenya than from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. My one-and-a-half-hour flight to the coast is painless and speedy. And all the more delightful when I pick up Ndege, their in-flight magazine, to find a review of my book!
Son Colin meets me in his 4WD, and we crawl along the road leading to Diani Beach. Kenya speed limits in built up areas is 50 kph, and the coast road could be classified as such. But sometimes you can’t go at more than a walking pace.
Colin has to work, and leaves me with friends in their spacious house on the sea front. I brave the rocky coral below the sea wall; I don’t remember seeing so much coral on this beach in the distant past, but find a sandy pool revealed by the receding tide. Then, leaving my binoculars hidden under a wrap beside the steps, I walk along the wide white sands of Diani beach. It is as if I’ve never been away.
A beach boy irritatingly keeps pace with me about twenty feet away, despite my dismissive gestures; I about-turn quickly and stride in the opposite direction, which does the trick. The beach is practically deserted. Due to international bans on travel to the coast after Al Shabaab problems, there have been no tourists for months. The whole area has a dejected, stagnated air and hotels struggle to remain open.
“Why don’t they reduce their prices and target the local people?” I ask.
“Why indeed,” says more than one of my friends. Prices are still preposterous, and National Park fees way beyond the means of most Africans.
We drive to the Shimba Hills Reserve to spend the night with old Tigoni friends, Rosemary and Dick. I remember the view, unmistakeable after many years, and we enjoy hours and hours of interesting chat. Rosemary serves us Javanese chicken for dinner. The flavour is familiar – I used to serve this delicious dish to special guests in the past! And then I remember, it was Rosemary who gave me the recipe over forty years ago. Dick entertains us with many a tale of his escapades as a pilot in Africa.
Colin leaves for work in the morning, while Rosemary walks me round their “tree houses” erected to attract weekend visitors from Ukunda. They are now a little dilapidated because of the tourism downturn. Their isolated home has been on the market for quite a while.
Dick drives like a snail in their station-wagon along atrocious erosions down to Ukunda, the road winding through tiny deserted villages, passing small shambas of straggling maize and banana plantations. Half-finished buildings, crude shops and bars line the route, and we giggle at the grammar and miss-spelt signs. The occasional goat or cow is tethered in a field full of weeds; everywhere chickens cluck and scratch in the soil.
It is hot, but not unbearable, thanks to a faraway tornado over Madagascar, which produces a cover of thin cloud even this far north.