Miguel Willis: Kenya Trip
Article printed in kiteworldmag.com
Posted 5 May 2009
My life as a wind junkie began when I was eight and spent a year camping on Tiwi Beach in Kenya. My brother and I built a small boat from driftwood and inner tubes with an old awning for a sail. Although its seaworthiness was questionable, the days spent tacking back and forth over the crystal clear waters were addictive and I was quickly hooked. Years later I was now heading back to where it all began.
The last few months Kris Kinn and I had been travelling around Africa. After driving to Namibia and exploring the southern tip of Africa it was now time to start our return trip north, a 7,000km journey on pothole-ridden roads and tracks that would take us two weeks of driving.
Leaving South Africa we crossed into Mozambique, passing women precariously carrying enormous loads on their heads. After a full day of bumping through swampy bush it was night by the time we reached the decrepit ferry that was to take us across the river to the capital Maputo. As we waited an impromptu street party surrounded the car, distorted music blaring from small shacks and gyrating crowds swigging homemade brew from plastic jerry cans. It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and they were eager for us to join in. We encountered this chilled vibe in many places in Mozambique and it made travelling here easier.
Mozambique has some stunning beaches where we hoped to kite but the wind never came. Instead we scored some great surf on the reef break at Tofino where we could walk out on the point and paddle straight into the line up. On the busy day there was one other person out.
Our arrival in Malawi was less than graceful; our Mitsubishi had been misfiring and losing power for the last few days then it finally ground to a halt. Luckily we managed to get it going again and crawled into the next town where a group of bush mechanics were soon climbing all over it, enthusiastically ripping out parts of the engine. To our amazement they worked their magic and we were back on the road in no time.
We were travelling up the edge of Lake Malawi and that evening a wall of black clouds swept over the lake followed by spectacular fork lightning and waves of torrential rain. We soon gave up trying to keep dry in our tent and resigned ourselves to a sodden night. At least we weren’t as miserable as the campsite cat who had fallen into the cockroach-ridden pit toilet and couldn’t be rescued until the next day.
The next morning we woke to the sound of fishermen chanting and drumming on the side of their dugouts as they returned from the night’s fishing. It was a memorable way to leave Malawi. We pushed straight on through Tanzania, stopping only to sleep, eager to reach our destination.
“Jumbo bwana (hello friend), welcome to Kenya.” After almost five months we had arrived back in Kenya. We headed straight to Tiwi Beach, which was as idyllic as I remembered – blinding white sand, aquamarine water and coconut palms swaying in the breeze. It wasn’t long before we were skimming over the bath-warm water, washing off the dust from our travels.
Much of Kenya’s coastline has a barrier reef several hundred meters offshore that provides great flatwater riding. At low tide the reef was exposed at Tiwi so we walked to nearby Diani, a resort town that seemed to be full of older female tourists accompanied by strapping young local men.
Soon we headed north, kiting in Nyali for a few days, then continued on to Malindi where the wind was usually a few knots stronger. For centuries this was one of the main ports in East Africa where Arab merchant sailors traded Arabian dates and Indian cloth for ivory and slaves. Now it’s a mellow town full of Italians. Malindi was a good place to base ourselves for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately a nearby river turned the sea in Malindi an unappealing brown but we were in between two great kite spots, Che Shale to the north and Watamu to the south.
Che Shale was a laidback kite centre amongst coconuts groves run by Justin, one of the first kiters in East Africa. The wind blew across its large open bay and it was good to meet and ride with the kiters there before chilling out with a beer at the end of the day.
The deserted pristine white beach at Watamu was straight out of a dream holiday brochure. The wind was consistent, picking up around midday and I was usually on a 10-metre kite. As we shot across the water the reef was clearly visible beneath us and every now and then a turtle would break the surface. The reef formed small kickers on the outside and in the lagoon it remained perfectly flat. It was just what we were looking for.
Eating was always an adventure, as we would never quite know what we would find. On the drive up we lived off huge avocadoes and bags of cashew nuts bought from locals standing beside the road. Outside of the big towns food was basic, usually involving the staple Africa dish, ugale, which is made from maize and has the consistency of blu-tac. Although we found some great local restaurants it was wonderful to arrive in Malindi and eat real Italian pizza.
The kite centres and kiters were all very welcoming and it was great to see some locals kiting. As a destination Kenya offers immense diversity with fantastic kiting as well as scuba diving and some of the best game parks in the world. The main wave season is June to August, which gives me a perfect excuse to return. After covering over twenty thousand kilometres in five months it was time to bid farewell to Africa.
East Africa Travel Tips
In many countries we were often the only vehicle on the road – a litre of fuel is more than many people’s daily wage. Driving is frequently slow due to the roads and we averaged 60 to 70 km an hour.
Resort hotels are very expensive but there are cheaper options around.
Buses and minibuses are frequent but crowded and driven dangerously and it would be a headache carrying kite gear on them. Renting a vehicle gives you the freedom but is generally expensive.
Crime is an issue so watch your stuff, avoid walking alone at night and take the usual precautions. There is a high malaria risk and you need to ensure that all your immunisations are current. Kenya works on two main wind systems; the Northeast Monsoon winds blow from December to March and the Southeast Monsoon is June to September. Winds are usually 14 to 20 knots although it can be stronger. The Southeast Monsoon is better for waves. There are kite centres in Diani, Nyali, Malindi and Che Shale offering lessons, rental and storage.
Coke: 0.50 Euro
Beer: 1 Euro (I recommend Tusker in Kenya and avoid any local Malawian beer unless you like formaldehyde)
Basic accommodation (double room): 10 to 25 Euros
Camping (per person): 3 to 5 Euros
Eating out: 2 Euros (local food) to 8 Euros (pizza)
For more on Miguel, and to see all of his videos and read about all of the incredible places he's been, please visit his team page at http://www.bestkiteboarding.com/MiguelWillis