A Change of Pace
A thin film of rain had begun to fall over the city of Nairobi, the kind of rain that doesn’t fall hard, but covers you quick. The sharp edges that made up the tall buildings had blurred into a hazy smog.
I had been lingering in Nairobi for a week now, and the rainy morning signalled to me that it was time to move on. I didn’t have long left in Kenya, and I felt myself pulled eastwards, towards the ocean.
I was heading to Diani Beach via plane from Nairobi Wilson Airport to Ukunda Airstrip. From the airstrip, it was a short taxi ride to the beach. The shift from air to road was disorienting. I had not expected the heat, and as the road shimmered before me, my eyes wanted to close.
Before long, the coast unfolded before me, and Diani Beach marked the border between land and sea. A stretch of white sand punctuated by ancient baobab trees, the warm Indian Ocean lapping idly at the shore, the water a glassy mirage.
Had I really been intent on ‘just being’, I might have stayed at the southern end of the beach, amongst the bars and sun loungers. I would have already settled into my lodge, fruity cocktail in one hand, a book in the other.
Instead, I had made my way to the northern stretch of Diani Beach. Here, the population of sunbathers was thinner and the Kongo River met the sea. This pool seemed still as estuary’s go, held in some strange limbo between land and open water. The depth of the water here varied. I watched it manoeuvre and trickle over the sandbanks. In some places it was a distinctive lapis lazuli, in others, it was a light wash of blue watercolour paint.
It had the effect of a child’s tie-dye kit. I found myself mesmerised by it for some time, watching the pulls and pushes of the currents.
The afternoon sun was high in the sky, and I longed for shade or a swim in a cool pool. Walking into the line of forest that bordered the beach, I headed in the vague direction that I knew my resort to be. Almost immediately, I was faced with the ruins of an old building, and I wondered how I had not seen it sooner. Despite its derelict appearance, it was not an unpleasant place. Flowers climbed up one side of the structure. Beaming orange and yellow in the summer heat, calling out to be looked at closer.
I did a circle around the building. A weathered plaque read that it was a 16th-century mosque, long out of use. One wall was almost completely gone, halved by some unseen force. The walls themselves were thick, made with an array of stones and an unidentifiable cement concoction.
The original roof seemed to be gone for the most part. Instead, it had domed supports, installed in the last couple of decades to help keep the remaining walls upright. All that was left of the original roof were soft arches that sat above the doorways into the mosque. The doors were made from thick wood and locked tight. The green paint of the frame around them flaking off in sharp leaves under the African sun.
Continuing around the mosque, I saw that scaffolding had been set up. An extension, something that looked like a terrace, was being added to the building. The mosque and its circumstances unfolded itself as a mystery to me. I looked around for someone who might be able to shed some light on it, but I found no one that could.
The resort was by no means the largest or most luxurious along the beach, but it was lovely and cool. A real find for such short notice. Perched on a mound of land among palm trees, the resort sat white as snow. It had a broad veranda running along one side, where a couple were lounging. A thick pelmet of vines grew in an arch above them. Out front, the resort had a garden the size of a picnic blanket, walled with trellis’ and dominated by a solid tangle of wildflowers. The whole property was overshadowed by an immense baobab tree, its glossy dark leaves cast long shadows.
The walls of my room were painted with a wash of blue that reminded me of the shallow pools of the estuary. The shutters were a contrasting dark wood, the table in the centre of the room was adorned with handpainted Morrocan-esque tiles. As I opened the windows, the muslin curtains shifted around the wide window frame. The sea breeze met me once again like an old friend.
I had decided to spend the rest of the day around the pool after all. Palm trees grew from small beds around the swimming pool. Drinks with a slice of lemon floating in them always appeared at my side as if by magic. I lay in the hammock for some time, listening to the fountains and the sea, letting the world pass me by.
I did this for three days. I walked up and down the beach. Revisited the mosque, swam in the ocean during the day and the pool in the evening. I ate well and went to bed early. Once, I took a paddleboard out when I had overheard turtles were swimming in the area. I felt happily lazy and switched off, completely relaxed. The action-packed safaris I had ventured on seemed a lifetime ago now. My only regret was that I had to leave Diani Beach soon, and finally go home.