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Christmas time in Malindi

KENYA | Saturday, 28 December 2013 | Views [1656]

Stunning Watamu beach

Stunning Watamu beach

Everything seems so much more powerful here after the gentle nature of Asia. Bolder, brighter, bigger. It comes as a surprise that fitting back into life here requires some adjustment. I suppose I had assumed that I would automatically feel at home. What if one day the winds of Africa cease to call my name - a penance for staying away too long? Her progress and transitions a journey I did not share. A change of rhythm leaving me clumsy and out of time. And what was it that I loved so dearly? Can it still be found? Which of us has changed? I am still one of her children and yet our reacquaintance requires a little time. 

My friends arrive after their 7,000km road trip from Cape Town and the house is suddenly filled with laughter and excited chatter. Fifteen of us fit comfortably into the four bedrooms and huge mezzanine floor. The eight children and six adults have been travelling together for almost a month in three vehicles. What an epic journey and what a relief to unpack for ten days! I have already been here for three days being wonderfully looked after by the staff. Motorbikes and tuk tuk's give everyone a sense of freedom and the temporary membership kindly granted by the Driftwood Club gives us access to further facilities such as Wifi - crutial when some of the children received an iPad for Christmas!

Christmas here is very understated although given it's colonial past, there are traditions that remain, passed down through the numerous generations who call Kenya home. We spend Christmas Eve at the Driftwood Club for carols, mulled wine and mince pies. A small local choir lead the singing with harmonies that claim the hymns with a uniquely African flavour. Inevitably there is also dance and songs from their local church. Children join in as adults, who have dressed up for the occasion, look on remembering their own awkward teenage years of being dragged to such socially 'uncool' events and yet remembering them fondly now, as will their own teenagers. With changes afoot, each generation wonders whether circumstances will allow the following generations to belong to all of this. This evening personifies a colonial past where old traditions have merged with the present and the result is something beautifully unique, a Kenyan hallmark which is absorbed unconsciously into our roots. The evening Christmas meal at the Driftwood the following day is unexpectedly excellent despite being a buffet.

It has been decided that we will each buy a lucky dip Christmas gift costing no more than Kshs1,000 (£7). Setting off for the old town we go about searching, bargaining and being spoilt for choice. Souvenirs are plentiful - from the beautiful beaded flip flops, to kikoy towels (a heavy woven serong with towelling sewn in as a lining), t-shirts embroidered with clever slogans, serong-lined kikapus (baskets used as handbags), carvings, paintings - the list is endless. Dusty streets, dusty souvenirs, pigeon Swahili, a celebratory dance with market sellers, much laughter and a welcome cold drink afterwards at the Karen Blixen restaurant that has become our base in town. Nakumatt is a large local supermarket chain and has transformed braving shopping in several places in the high heat and humidity to a one-stop air conditioned pleasure. The lucky dip is a huge success and everyone has found some genuinely lovely items.

There is one shop that takes several visits before we arrive to find it open. Halwa is a dessert of Arabic extraction that was always a must whenever we visited the Coast. During my travels around the Middle East, I was never able to find anything that matched the quality found in Kenya. Those here in the know will tell you it is because all the ingredients are grown locally and their freshness contributes to its excellent quality. We join the queue that has been drawn by the wonderful spicy aroma coming from the huge freshly-cooked and still cooling trays. It is an instant hit with most of our group although none of us can find quite find the right words to adequately describe this gooey, sweet, perfumed delight.

With Christmas over, in Watamu we meet up with more friends from Nairobi. Looking around Ocean Sports I see some familiar faces as the fishing competition is in full progress and people are starting to arrive for New Year's Eve. Bizzarely I even spot the son (who I have never met) of an old friend but he bears such a resemblance that confirmation was unsurprising. We return the following day to go out snorkelling on a glass bottomed boat. Finding a boat becomes a lengthy process when we discover that the one we had booked has obviously been tempted out by the higher tourist price offers. By the time we get out the tide is starting to come in and the water is somewhat choppy. Visibility is quite good although I'm told the best time of year is June/July. The corals are not as vibrant as I remember them but fish are plentiful and damage to the coral is not extensive. Always wise to wear a t-shirt to avoid the fierce African sun and it's reflection off the sandy seabed.

Our days are spent walking on the soft cream sandy beaches, swimming in the warm naturally briny water that fills the swimming pool, taking short trips into town, buying up as much of the local crafts as our groaning luggage allowances permit, enjoying good company and eating well. We start a 2,000 piece puzzle much to the bemusement of the staff. I suppose when you look at it: breaking up pieces of a picture only to take days fitting them back together again, may be construed by some as a rather pointless excerise!

 

Tags: christmas, driftwood club, halwa, kenya, malindi, shopping, snorkelling, souvenirs, watamu

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