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Monday, February 27, 2012

From Door to Diani: it’s just a four hour flight

My weekend in Diani (Kenya) was one that will probably etch itself out in my memory, and every time I think about it, I’ll smile just a little, enough to remember.

Our 1Time flight left J’burg at 7: 45 on Friday morning, and four hours later we landed on a runway boarded by African shrub. The point of this weekend was essentially to celebrate the launch of 1Times inaugural flight from J’burg direct to Mombasa, with its first commercial flight scheduled to take off on the 5th March 2012. To celebrate our arrival then, a fire-engine sprayed a forceful plume of water onto our plane as we taxied to a halt, and people clapped as we exited the plane. Whilst cameras and press stood at a slight distance and airport staff handed us our coconut milk-based drinks, I vainly thought of a scene in La Dolce Vita. Honestly though, it couldn’t be helped. I suspect the moment had taken us all by surprise.

This trip marked my third to Kenya, and not only am I beginning to love it, but I’m even starting to recognise roads, even traffic circles and the odd advert at the side of the road. One large billboard advertised a phone, from which you could (even) update your Facebook status. Seeing the large blue ‘f’ logo shrouded by dust in the middle of an unkempt plot of vacant land though was jarring. On yet another billboard, a fat couple smiled back and beneath them was written: ‘Get tested now’. I thought it ironic that the pair looked so healthy. Side of the road observation really…
Soon enough we had reached the ferry, which would take us away from the island on which Mombasa is located, and onto mainland Kenya. To hasten our 40km drive to our Planhotel resorts (which can sometimes take up to 2hours) we had been allocated a police escort. It was a first for me, and I suddenly wondered how politicians don’t get embarrassed by the hullabaloo. Short of doing a royal wave though, I wasn’t so sure what expression to portray to the locals (walking far beneath our bus windows). Do you look down in pity, or enjoy the moment. I somehow decided to try combine both of these. 

In our last edition, I wrote about the Planhotel resorts in Malindi and Masai Mara. As it turns out, the Neptune Resorts in Diani to which we were heading are now also owned (and managed) by the same group. All I can say is: long live Planhotel. Firstly, they’re organised and no matter how large or small the group is, their food is always outstanding. And let’s be honest, bad food on a holiday can make for a grumpy constitution. Another point worth highlighting is the fact that the Swiss (Italians) in charge of these resorts always know how to include excellence and class to any environment. For example, all three evenings of our stay were marked by vibrant local entertainment and well run moments, the fluidity of which could have failed at any point given the magnitude of the group. But it didn’t. We were 120 people in total but at some points in the evening, it felt like I was alone with the moon and the saxophonist, as his music gently changed the atmosphere into a reality so charming, it seemed unbelievable at the time. Then on the second evening (and to add to the whole ‘Africa’ experience), we had all been given a piece of shweshwe
cloth with which to fashion an outfit from. The best dressed would receive a prize, and so it was that the day-time practicality of shorts and unflattering t-shirts blossomed into self-designed African dresses and garments. Yes you might be situated in the bush, but I’m a believer that you don’t have to look like a bug as a result. It’s a wonder; the Italians surely know how to introduce La Bella Vita into any ‘rugga-muffin’ context.  

I’ve been going through a swimming phase of late, and so every spare moment of the weekend was spent doing breaststroke
in the resort pool, in the middle of which was situated a pool bar. Happiness came in the form of a gin and tonic (my usual African drink), and so it was that I would take a sip (avoiding the lime), work-out a few complimentary strokes and then find my way back to the tonic for two more sips. If relaxation were to be defined by an action, this would be it.  Another though, would be lying in a hammock (as I’m sure you’ll agree).

The hammock moment came on day two. We had been taken on a private excursion to Wasini Island, about an hour’s boat-ride off the Diani coastline. Just before lunch we snorkeled, and whilst we had to negotiate our way through the seaweed and past a small drifting jelly-fish, the under-water panorama was (as always) a treat. Fish darted below us, and coral left a souvenir on my leg. 

Wasini is a primarily Muslim island, which meant that lunch-time alcohol was banned. Arriving at the jagged shoreline, we snaked our way up a dirty little path to a rustic restaurant, which looked as if it had grown out of the earth itself, completely accepted by its surroundings. In art, we used to learn about ‘landscape architecture’; a term which basically explained the way in which man-made structures ‘gave themselves’ in to their environment. And this ramshackle of a structure reminded me of the phenomenon; where the land adopts that which man has made, seemingly created by nature itself.

In the middle of the table, a light-skinned local then placed a wooden bowl of crabs, which had to be beaten with a pestle and mortar looking implement before the succulent meat could be gnawed at. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I had to work so hard for it, but that juicy crab was the best I’ve tasted. After this simple meal we then had about half- an-hours worth of island style…which meant ‘hammocking’ the moments away. The breeze was warm, and patches of sunlight streamed through the leaves above.

It took us an hour to sail back from Wasini and after a long day out at sea, I felt as if I knew the Kenyan waters intimately. Our bodies were tanned, and it was with a contented feeling that we returned to our Neptune Paradise Resort. 

The next morning (this being Sunday) allowed for a small lie-in, as our appointment on the golf-course was only scheduled for 10:30am. Throughout the weekend, 1Time had dangled amazing prizes (come juicy carrots), and the prize on this particular morning were two return flights to any 1Time destination of choice. All we had to do was whak the ball over the 100metre lake, landing it not only on the green but obviously as close to the flag-pole as possible. I’ve always assumed that I have a natural talent for sport, and here was my moment to prove not only beginner’s luck, but a swing of pure talent. I was told to ‘keep my eye on the ball’, and so I didn’t even lift my gaze to see where the ball finally assumed its resting place. I brimmed with excitement, but only up until the point when I was told that all three had gone scuba-diving. It appears as if I’ve taken after my dad. 

Kenyan holidays are renowned not only for their game-viewing and water sports, but so too for their golf, which has actually been described as one of Kenya's ‘best kept secrets’. Tourism boards market this feature enthusiastically, and so they should. We had a perfect morning and although the golf house looked slightly colonial in appearance, the course itself was well manicured, reminding me slightly of one you would find along Durban’s South Coast (without as much red sand). Regarding golf-safaris though, you would obviously have to select your months of travel though because during summer, the heat can become oppressive. The annual rainfall is then heaviest during the months of April and May, however the rainfall generally occurs before 10am and then again after 5pm, therefore ensuring ample hours of play. I would therefore recommend travelling between the months of June to October, as this marks the cool, dry season.

Back to the itinerary though and after spending ‘Sunday afternoon at leisure’, which meant pooling with intermittent sips of Gin, it was finally time to borrow a navy-blue polka dot dress from my roommate, and walk across to the adjoining Neptune Palm Beach resort for dinner, the facilities and layout of which were only slightly more luxurious than ours.

Surrounding the pool, tables of 12 had been set for the entire group. Despite the numbers though, no delicacy had been spared as tables lay heavy laden with both variety and a quality combination of foods which included crayfish, my personal favourite of the weekend.
This though marked our final night, and I actively avoided thinking about having to leave this weekend of alternate reality. I had embraced the weekend as a holiday. I hardly asked any questions, took only about seven photos in total and did almost zero networking. It was pure luxury, and I simply appreciated each moment that came my way, and so dived into the beauty within which I found myself. 

On the way home, I was paging through the 1Time magazine during the two hour flight from J’burg to Cape Town, and in it was an advert which cut sharp as a knife. There, on a comfortable looking couch was the dark silhouette of a person, an ashy remain of what once was a homebody. The slogan read something like: ‘book before its too late’. So if this article doesn’t do anything else, I hope it encourages you just to pack your bags, book and change that which you thought was unchanging namely: the routine of your existence. Be open to the people you meet, and the experiences you have and realise that watching TV never made for a memory. What makes memories is the heightened sense of being alive, and with that the feelings, the exotic smells and tastes with which you will associate and then remember those moments later on in life.  Ultimately, it’s not about how much money we saved, but rather about the moment we said ‘yes’.


Donna said...

Many people think that the grasslands and the safari are the only tourist spots in Kenya. Now, even beautiful beach resorts such as this one can be a nice itinerary for visitors. Believe it or not, even camels like to hang out there. =)

Donna Parsley

Juan Nel said...

@Donna. That is so true. A lot of people think Kenya is just a safari destination, but once you see the beaches...you will wonder why this secret beach destination hasnt been discovered by most.