15.09.2010 30 °C
There was an uneasy feel about ‘paradise’. Em and I were in a village called Watamu (which means sweet people in Swahili) on the coastline north of Mombasa, a stunning tourist haven where white beaches stretch for miles and the shallow water shimmers turquoise.
We were there because Em’s sister Lucy and her husband Jon were visiting us in Kenya and wanted to spend some time at the sea. Reluctantly, we obliged them, staying with them in a quiet guesthouse where we were the only guests.
Despite the area’s natural beauty and popularity with honeymooners, we noticed some strange and disturbing things. Weirdly, the place is full of Italians, which makes for a complete confusion of cultural experiences. It is so weird to be greeted by ‘Ciao’ or ‘Buon giorno’ by little African kids while walking around town. It is odd to see shop fronts with Italian writing where you can buy brioche or imported Italian pasta.
It doesn’t take much imagination to believe the rumours of these places being mafia hang-outs, where fugitive criminals hide under-the-radar, or where retired mafia bosses spend their last days incognito. Here, so many businesses seem too quiet, hotels and cafes don’t seem to have many customers, potential customers such as us even seemed discouraged. We have heard that some Italian-run businesses are just fronts for money laundering, maybe it is really true…
It was also bizarre to see old Italian men looking like Danny DeVito strolling round with glamorous, young Kenyan women, though even more out of place to see older white-haired ladies and their African toy-boys hand- in- hand!
The beach could have been blissful but for the fact that there were countless beach boys prowling around for foreigners. These dread-locked hunters would come after you trying to coax you (quite aggressively), into taking a boat-trip with them, going spear-fishing, snorkelling or some other trip. They were also very keen for you to buy hasheesh or ganja from them, even bringing it out for you for a sniff-test.
The whole experience was somewhat sinister.
Despite these interesting experiences, the setting was incredible and we managed (with difficulty) to have a relaxing and enjoyable time. Visiting the beaches at low tide meant you could hang out in your own God-made shallow pool. We were also able to snorkel in Malindi Marine National Park a little ways up the coastline, not far from Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s chain of stunning hotels. We saw some beautiful dainty fish swimming among the coral reef.
We also visited an interesting ruins in a place called Gede. The ruins were of an old Arabic city abandoned, it is thought, because their well-water became salty. The tour guide had very high hopes for the tour and kept promising that his tour would be informative, enjoyable, wonderful and interesting.
The Swahili coast which stretches down the east of Africa is definitely a place full of history and stories. I may bring a bodyguard next time I come, though.