I have always loved the beach; there’s something remarkably special about spending time in the space between the land and the sea, no matter the topography. The smell, the sounds, the air, they all have an intoxicating effect on me. I admit to having selfishly dreamed of a vacation like this for years; what I’ve referred to often in conversation with Henry as the “white-sand beach vacation.”
I suppose these musings date back to my Tobago years, where I spent part of my youth. My family ventured often for family vacations to Pigeon Point. I remember going so often that once my mom forgot to tell me and I had to pack on the morning of our departure. I was mad! Or perhaps they started a few years later in Jamaica while still in college. I’d visit Jamaica regularly to join my dad and other members of the Jamaica Sub Aqua Club for dive trips to resorts along its north coast. These are some of my fondest childhood memories!
Fortunately for us the Kenyan coast is just an hour’s flight away from Nairobi along with dozens of resorts, hotels and rental houses vying for our business. It was my turn to plan the winter holidays and decided we were going to spend the entire three weeks on the coast.
We chose to rent a one-bedroom annex-apartment along Galu Beach, situated just five minutes south of Diani Beach and the local airstrip; directly in front of the best part of that stretch of white sand. With direct access to the beach and a fresh-water swimming pool this place was perfectly suited to our style; quiet, peaceful, uncrowded, not overly-developed, and a bit rustic.
Our apartment was spacious and included sleeping space for four, one bathroom, a stocked kitchen, two-burner stove, refrigerator and house help twice a day. The groundskeeper, Joseph, took care of our needs from sun-up to sun-down and had an endless store of energy – he was amazing. He improvised a step stool for me to use in the kitchen, brought a standing fan to supplement the ceiling fans, arranged for some deck chairs to be placed under the palm trees (on the edge of the property overlooking the ocean), and opened fresh coconut from their trees on request.
A fish monger came everyday on his motorbike offering reasonably priced red and yellow snapper, grouper, prawns, lobster and squid. For fresh vegetables we’d walk across the beach road to the local stand; while in Diani township there were two proper supermarkets for other staples like oil, cereal, shampoo, drinks etc.
A small stash of spices that I brought with me made cooking extra easy, delicious and enjoyable. We had grilled fish sandwiches, lobster curry, blackened grouper fillets, seafood cioppino, fresh tuna salad, fried calamari rings, and garlic shrimp all accompanied with different rice pilafs and fresh vegetables. Unbelievably, we ate out only twice, lunch at Sails Beach Bar and Restaurant and dinner on our last night at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant; both were delicious.
Two different day trips to Kitsite-Mpunguti National Marine Park for snorkeling and scuba diving helped to break up the monotony of our stay at Moringa House. Located an hour and half south of Galu Beach, followed by another hour long boat trip, which made for very long but worthwhile days. Described on the web as the “home of the dolphins” Kitsite is just 8km north of the Tanzanian border and was beautiful and unspoiled.
“Kisite Marine Park was established to protect the scenic islands and special habitats of a wide range of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds. It lies in the coral gardens south of Wasini Island and encompasses three small coral rag forest islands, each with considerable areas of fringing reef. Kisite is one of the most rewarding snorkelling locations at the coast. Visitors can also enjoy bird watching, diving and of course, sunbathing.” (http://www.kws.go.ke/content/kisite-mpunguti-marine-park-reserve)
Except for one day when Julie Mei and Henry went on a local safari to Shimba Hills National Reserve (came home very excited to have finally seen the Palm Nut Vulture), the rest of the time was spent at the house, on the deck chairs, walking the beach, eating, swimming, reading.
In order to combat Julie Mei’s utter boredom I signed both of us up for kite surfing lessons (D&D Kitetravel) located next door to our place. I lasted for one and half lessons, but Julie Mei went on to take 12-hours in total. That’s not saying I won’t ever give it a go again but there was too much information to take in all at once without having read about kite surfing or watched YouTube videos etc.
I woke up just after sunrise each day, made a cup of coffee, put on my swimsuit and went out to my lounge chair. So beautiful in the morning before others are up and moving about. The days just seemed to move along, breakfast time turned into nap time, which turned into lunch and so on and so forth for two solid weeks. I was the most relaxed I’ve been in years.
Of course all was not perfect; it was also very hot! Not during the day or at the beach, but the house was unbearably hot especially in the evenings. Worse, the water was brackish, slightly salty, so we never quite felt clean nor could we cook with the tap water.
In the end we were excited to move on, to Watamu another popular beach desitination along the Kenyan coast, to meet friends and scuba dive for the last full week of winter break. We’d arranged for private transport from Diani to Watamu, a three-hour drive up the coast, through Mombasa (one of Kenya’s oldest cities). In typical Messing fashion we left at 5:00am to beat the traffic and arrived at Turtle Bay Beach Club in time for breakfast and a morning dive!
We spent the next six nights at this all-inclusive resort that had an excellent diving facility. Right after breakfast, and before our room was ready, we’d arranged to go on a dive. Yahoo! My first time diving in a year-and-a-half. Only other avid divers get the intense yearning we experience and the euphoria afterwards; there’s really nothing else quite like it.
The diving here is not bad at all, in fact, I was very surprised to meet repeat divers who have been coming back to Watamu for over 15 years; albeit from London, but still they think the resort and the diving worth coming back year after year.
Not a bad fact to learn when we thought we’d be giving up diving, maybe for good, but too painful to admit aloud. We had all our scuba gear shipped back to Phoenix, all I grabbed on my way out the door this summer was my prescription dive mask. Which by the way I love because it has a bifocal lense in them so I can see all the really small stuff, just like I did when I was in my 20s.
Our good friends Greg, Malone and Maya come to Turtle Bay this particular week every winter and invited us to join them. It truly was an amazing week spent with good friends – all of us scuba diving together and eating together (without having to cook). The girls ran off on their own most of the day to the big pool; while us adults relaxed, swam and even played beach volleyball.
Henry went on a couple of birding excursions from Watamu, without us, and was thrilled with the birding but most especially for having sighted a couple of Golden-Rumped Elephant Shrews!
When we think back to our first few nights at Galu Beach to the end of the three weeks, it really does seem like time stood still. But we’re back in Nairobi, work has resumed (which continues to be fulfilling), there are conferences to attend and spring break in Hong Kong to look forward to.