Friday, 25 November 2016

Visiting Diani Beach, Kenya

You think of paradise and images are conjured in your head of the Caribbean, the Maldives, maybe even Bali or Bora Bora. A place that almost certainly doesn't get put on the list is Kenya yet with it’s white sanded beaches, crystal blue waters and perhaps some of the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet, it really is a crying shame that their coastline is almost empty.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of us made the journey from Nairobi to Diani Beach, which, if you didn’t know, is a monster of a journey. Taking a night bus from Nairobi, we settled in for what was eventually, not too painful a ride as previously anticipated (although I could really have done without sitting in front of the only child on the entire coach who apparently, in his spare time enjoys kicking seats and pulling hair..) and 10 whole hours later, we arrived in Mombasa. Despite having a talent of being able to sleep anywhere and having perhaps gotten around 5/6 hours sleep, it’s safe to say it’s not the freshest I’ve ever felt…but the journey was not yet over.

To get to Diani Beach from Mombasa city centre, we caught another coach, which you have to dismount when you get to the ferry crossing as you must go over on foot. We then had the pleasure of walking through a fish market to find our coach which as you can imagine at 7am, smelt great and even though after another 20 minute ride, you’d think we had gotten there, you would be incorrect. To get to our hostel, we took a tuk tuk which is the cheapest and most popular way of getting round in the area and finally, after around 12 hours of travelling, we made it!

We decided to stay at Diani Backpackers after reading great reviews online and they really, truly were not wrong. Pretty much as soon as we arrived, we put our bags in our room and headed straight for the bar first, and then the pool. After six months of travelling, it’s safe to say that facility wise, this is by far the best hostel Rosie and I have stayed at, with a bar almost open 24 hours a day (although don’t worry, it’s quiet time after 12am), a great pool and outdoor area, extremely cheap restaurant options and clean dormitory rooms with a private bathroom and individual mosquito nets. The only downside would be the lack of air conditioning therefore it gets very warm at night however with the windows open, there’s a light breeze and it isn’t too much of an issue.

Diani Beach itself, is one of the most stunning coastlines I’ve ever seen, with the only beaches it compares to for me, being Barbados. With warm crystal blue waters, beautiful white sands and palm trees flowing in the (very much needed) breeze, it really is the most idyllic setting…and yet it was practically deserted. We heard so many stories from a range of people including Kenyans visiting the coast, business owners and those who live there, about the continuing struggle over the past few years of hotels and general tourism businesses to try and stay open due to the rapid decline of tourists in the wake of terrorism fears. It’s hard to believe that such a stunning place is pretty much deserted of visitors because whilst it is utter paradise, it is also a place that I felt completely safe in, with people always looking to help out, to offer advice or just simply want to chat.

From watching the sunset on the beach with a cider in hand and cooling off in the clear, luke warm sea to eating deliciously fresh seafood looking out over the white sands of Diani and perusing the beautiful local craft stalls, my time in Diani Beach was short but very, very sweet.

Key information: -

- We travelled from Nairobi to Mombasa with a company called Mombasa Raha. It cost 1000 shillings (approx £8/$10) and would highly recommend. Plenty of leg room, all seats reclined and pretty well organised. 

- We stayed at Diani Backpackers for 4 nights. In an eight bed dorm, it cost 1300 shillings per night (approx £10/$13) and the fourth night’s stay, you get for free. (I believe you also receive the 7th night free also). Could not recommend strongly enough, we loved it. 

- If you are staying at Diani Backpackers:

- There is a fresh seafood restaurant on the beach front which take 200 shillings off every main meal due to a partnership with the hostel.

- Forty Thieves is an infamous bar and restaurant and is mere minutes from the hostel - on a tuk tuk, it should cost 50 shillings and absolutely no more than 100.

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Monday, 14 November 2016

Kenya diaries #2 - Working, walking and lots of drinking

This time last year, this trip was just beginning to be planned and yet now, as I sit and write this, I really am the furthest away from where I thought I would be…but I’m completely okay with it. I should be three months into my working holiday visa in Australia and whilst I enjoyed much of my time Down Under, it just wasn’t particularly what I wanted from this year away - so much so that I’ll probably be sacrificing at least a few months of the trip in order to be where I really want to be.

Much of my weekdays are currently spent working as a Marketing Volunteer for Marafiki Community International and Voluntours Adventures. Marafiki Community is an non-governmental organisation who aim to enhance lives through sustainable development. We’ve currently in the process of writing content for a website, creating a Christmas fundraising campaign and coming up with fun social media ideas. It’s my first time being involved working with a charity and it really is great to be able to meet and work with so many kind and incredible people along the way. It’s also been pretty nice to put my brain to use for the first time in six months because, as taxing as it is, the decision on where to eat that day isn't a particular work out for the old noggin and it was feared I could return to the UK with a brain drain all of my own.

Whilst brain drain has for now, been prevented, I’ve had this bizarre thing happen to me where I seem to be actually choosing to do real life exercise as a real life fun activity. After spending most of the week in front of a laptop screen, we decided to head to the Karura forest and hike to the waterfall. Now, navigating yourself around Kenya generally, is not the most straight forward at the best of times however you really can get yourself into a pickle when none of you fully know exactly which matatu to get from the bustling city centre. After a 2 hour walk around the inner city, 2 bus journeys and what was practically a pre-hike to the forest itself, it’s fair to say an ice cold full fat coke would’ve gone down an absolute treat…instead we were met with the beginning of the trail. We walked some, and moaned some, and walked a little longer and moaned a little louder until we reached the opening in the trees and were met by the stunning Karura waterfall. It’s safe to say it was worth it and hey, it’s the first time I’ve completed a hike without alcohol at the end so y’know, progress.

Now, you know alcohol is always around the corner at some point in the day week, and Artcaffe are really treating us well with their daily cocktail happy hours at the moment. Perhaps my favourite though, was the local classic, the ‘Dawa’ - a vodka cocktail which we first tried at the infamous restaurant, Carnivore, by Doctor Dawa himself. If you find yourself in Kenya, and happen to be a fan of meat, you absolutely have to get yourself to this all you can eat meat feast. At a set price of $30 (yay Brexit for continuing to make the pound/dollar conversion rate actually almost painful), you are served meat until you wave a white flag and surrender. From chicken legs and sausages, to ostrich meatballs and bull testicle, it certainly is an experience and one your tummy will not forget in a hurry.

Of course, I simply can’t write this post merely days after the US election results and not mention the T word. I woke up to the news that Donald Trump was in the lead to be elected President on the Kenyan coast with Rosie and our two American friends. The feeling was similar to the morning we left the EU but somehow, despite Brexit being for life, this felt worse. I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton and no, not just because she was a woman. Having read a lot of negative articles about her earlier in the year, I decided to find out more about the actual work she has done, instead of constantly reading about emails and her husband’s affair and more emails. I read a book about her work as Secretary of State, I read articles about her policies if she were to become President, I read blog posts about the terrible mistakes she has made along the way. I read all this and came to the conclusion that, whilst in her thirty year long career she made many a mistake along the way, the fact she was having to even stand alongside Donald Trump as her rival candidate was a disgrace. 

For me, it’s scary to see a man who has normalised such hateful and divisive language be accepted and legitimised in such a way. It’s scary that society can forgive a man who has openly admitted sexually assaulting women and was sued for child molestation yet can’t forgive a woman for sending emails. It’s scary to see the influence his fear mongering campaign has had on the world around him with racial hate crimes spiking merely hours after he was elected president and the anti-semitic, homophobic, sexist and racist politicians that he is now not only giving a louder voice, but more power too. (Just take a few minutes to read about Mike Pence and Steve Bannon...)

I am hopeful though. Because you have to be, because you have to remember that for the most part, people are good. People are kind. It just wasn't meant to be for Hillary Clinton, but one day, a woman out there will take to the stage as President of the USA and will have broken the hardest, thickest, most challenging glass ceiling that there is to break.

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