Sweet delights of Kenya's Watamu

Sunday March 4 2018

The golden-orange sunset was spectacular from the dhow at Kenya's Watamu. PHOTO | SUSAN MUUMBI | NMG

The golden-orange sunset was spectacular from the dhow at Kenya's Watamu. PHOTO | SUSAN MUUMBI | NMG 

By KARI MUTU
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By SUSAN MUUMBI
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Watamu, on Kenya’s coast, is a small town about 15km south of Malindi. In addition to pristine beaches, the town is rich in history, glorious sunsets, and is engaged in eco-tourism. On your next visit, be sure to catch:

Mida Creek: The creek is the heart of the Watamu Marine National Park. Thick woods of mangrove trees line the banks and channels of the 32km2 creek that is rich in marine life.

The creek stretches inland from the Indian Ocean to the Arabuko-Sokoke coastal forest and together they form a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. We took a late afternoon cruise on a traditional sailing dhow decorated in bouquets of bougainvillea flowers.

The excursion was organised by Hemingways Watamu hotel. They pampered us with drinks and bitings as the dhow cruised through the calm waters. In moments of silence you can hear the sea turtles popping up through the surface to take a breath.

The golden-orange sunset was spectacular from the dhow. When night fell, the dark sky, unpolluted by artificial lights, was filled with hundreds of stars.

Great seafood: The Crab Shack began as a community initiative to conserve the wetlands and breed crabs. It then grew into a bird watching spot serving light snacks and is now a seafood restaurant. The Crab Shack is built on a raised wooden platform under a makuti (palm) thatched roof in the facing Mida Creek.

We started lunch on crab samosas with a drizzle of lemon and side of mango salsa. The home-style coconut rice is delectable and there are chicken dishes for non-seafood eaters. This low-key restaurant is a fun for families, groups of friends or a romantic evening.

Eco-tourism: At Ecoworld Recycling Centre in Watamu visitors can learn about the ways in which the local community is reusing rubbish collected from the beach to earn a living.

Ecoworld is a collection of cottage industries using sustainable waste management and recycling technology to benefit the local community. The centre recycles 70 per cent of the plastic waste collected, employing 40 women and youth weekly.

The walls and floors of the building are decorated with recycled plastic and glass bottles. In one area, a group of women were making colourful keyrings, crafts and toys of rubber cut out of discarded flip-flops. In the gift shop are art pieces and functional items made from local resources, like coconut oil and neem soap.

Wildlife: Jackson Mwamure once spent several days in hospital after being bitten by a snake, but he continues to work with them every day. Taking us around the Sita Snake Park, we could tell that he really loves the snakes, tortoises and other assorted reptiles.

He jumped into an enclosure to show us the occupants: A hinge-back tortoise, leopard tortoise, a side-necked terrapin and a pair of monitor lizards.

An African cobra raises its head and follows the movement of his hand. The short, thick puff adder lies unmoving in its glass cage.

With Jackson’s guidance, you can hold some of the non-venomous ones like a house snake, rufous beaked snake or a spotted bush snake.

It took several of us to hold a five-metre African rock python, and we could feel its strong muscles rippling through its body.

Historical site: Gedi is one of many medieval Swahili-Arab coastal settlements along the East African coast. The ruins, dating back to the 12 century were rediscovered by colonialists the 1920s, and, as our guide informed us, include mosques, tombs, a palace, narrow “roads” and “offices” for the king, queen and the government.

The site is still being excavated. In 1999, Stephan Pradine, a French archaeologist uncovered the Great mosque from the 14th century, and in 2001, he found two others dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.