Life in the slow lane has almost come to a stand still this week as we spend the second half of our holiday at Diani Beach on the east coast of Kenya. The Kenyan government has been telling Brits that geographically they are closer to the Ebola virus in the UK than they would be in Kenya to try and encourage tourism, (something they’ve never really had to do) but the message clearly isn’t getting through as our camp in the Maasai Mara and this resort are both quiet. The threat of Somali pirates off the coast and terrorist attacks in Mombassa and Nairobi are also having an effect on a country that has been a tourist destination for Brits and many other countries for years. I remember being jealous of a classmate going on holiday to Kenya in the ’70’s when everyone else including me was going to Wales. We didn’t know where it was, we just knew it wasn’t in Wales….
So the lack of Kindle and other guests and the fabulous weather means a glorious cycle of eat, sleep, read, repeat, and a lot of daydreaming. It started with me pondering what I would do with the decor if I owned the place. The reason being the current decor is a strange mixture of African, Indian, Moorish and Persian. The accommodation is made up of 6 small cottages, half of which are thatched African style, as is the small hut occupied by the beauty therapist Alice.
The thatched roof spa next to the beautiful (and empty) white sandy beach
Inside ours is furnished with ornate carved wooden furniture, Moroccan style lanterns, and Persian rugs. But the day bed, ceiling fan and tent like mosquito nets are more reminiscent of India. The open air vaulted entrance is safari-lodge-like but is decorated with ceramics and ornaments that could have come from North African souks.
Vaulted ceiling, ornate wooden doors and fountain in the entrance
Four poster bed with mosquito nets and Morrocan lanterns. Each cottage had an Arabic name, ours was Assama
The food served is equally varied with bruschetta, lamb tagine, octopus curry and beef and ginger stir fry all featuring on the menu which changes daily. At first I was a little perplexed, thinking perhaps it was the result of a series of owners making minor changes and a chef that had travelled extensively. A little more research into Kenya’s history showed me that this is actually a true reflection of the diversity of Kenya.
Arab traders first arrived in Kenya around the 1st Century, they were followed by Greek traders from Egypt, and then from 500 AD traders from Persia, India and Indonesia arrived. The East African Swahili Coast became a wealthy and advanced region consisting of many autonomous merchant cities. The Africans acting as intermediaries and facilitators between Arab, Persian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, African and Indian merchants. The Portuguese first explored the area in 1498, they didn’t want to settle, they just wanted to establish naval bases that would give them control of the Indian Ocean. Their presence here only lasted until 1730 when the Arabs finally evicted them. The Brits didn’t get a look in until the late 1800’s – it was 1895 when the British Empire formed the East Africa Protectorate, known after 1920 as the Kenya Colony, with British rule lasting until 1963.
The British presence remains, everyone speaks perfect English and the owner of our home this week is a Kenyan but sounds more British than I do. But I think it is the earlier visitors that have most influenced and enriched Swahili culture, making Kenya what it is today, a multi-ethnic and diverse country. And you know what it works. Who says things can only have one style to be stylish. We’ve been combining flavours in our cooking for years. Diani Blue (formerly Asha Cottage) is a real find. It’s advertised as a B&B but they serve fabulous food all day to residents and non-residents. The ginger beef stir fry on Monday night was one of the tastiest dishes I have ever eaten. The rooms are large, beautifully decorated, spotlessly clean, cool and quiet. The pool and gardens are lovely. Alice the beauty therapist gives a mean massage, and the view of the ocean from the beach side terrace, what can I say…
But the best thing about this place is the staff, who mostly have very English names. Stanley, Lawrence, Willy, Peter and Seth (I kid you not) are the friendliest most eager to please genuinely nice bunch of barman and waiters I’ve ever come across. So apologies for the history lesson/travel guide but Kenya and Diani Blue were both worth a few hundred words before I head back to cold wet Cumbria brrrrr….