pole, pole

Hit refresh. Breathe in, breathe out.

Katarina Rylander was in the middle of selling her online fashion store when it all got to hectic and her hometown, Stockholm, seemed to never, ever stop moving. She needed a place to reboot and Kenya became the perfect choice. Sometimes, all you need is blue water, a shining sun, a couple of Madafoos and some roaring elephants. Maybe this should be my next escape?

You just went to Kenya for the second time in six months! What is it that you love?

The mentality! The people. The animals. The nature! The way of living that differs so much from my own. It was what I needed at the time; I needed to get away from all the stress at home. The Internet rarely works there – nothing actually works compared to at home – and you can’t be in a hurry because everything moves slowly. There’s a Kenyan saying: “Pole, Pole”, which means something like “slow down” or “slowly, slowly”. There’s just no use in planning, it won’t be the way you intended anyway. But everything works out ok, nevertheless.

Where did you stay?

We flew to Mombasa and took a 45 minutes taxi drive to Diani Beach. We stayed at a friends beach villa and were thrilled when we discovered  wild monkeys playing in the garden!

During the days, we hung out at the Kenyaways Hotel & Kite Village where you’ll find Madafoo’s Beach Bar. They also arrange these spectacular safaris and fishing trips, and they took us out on boat trips, in dhows.

Anyway, if you ever go to Diani Beach, you have to go to Madafoo’s Beach Bar. It’s the best hang-out!

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Out and away in a dhow. Photo by Katarina Rylander

Safari, you say?

During our first stay, we had a personal guide who took us out on a safari to Nairobi and the two national parks Amboseli and Tsavo. In Tsavo we stayed at Lions Bluff lodge, in bungalows that hangs out from a mountain. Around you are nothing but the Savannah and during the night you hear the elephants roar (no, not trumpet, ROAR!). We had weak stomachs during this stay and woke up in the night, asking each other “Was that your stomach or mine?” But it was the elephants. They roar a lot during the nights… (Laughter.)

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Lions Bluff Lodge, where the elephants roar. Photo by Lions Bluff Lodge

We went private, and I recommend it. Nothing wrong with tourist buses and packages, but sharing these moments with only your friends is just something extra. You can do whatever you feel like in that moment. Something we missed, but that you have to see if you are in Kenya in July – October, is The Wildebeest Migration. During this time zebras, gazelles and wildebeests migrate to and from Maasai Mara and Serengeti. It’s supposed to be a remarkable vision!

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Hard not to enjoy life. Photo by Katarina Rylander

And on the second one?

Then went to Lamu Island. If going, make sure you bring a guide or a local; it can be a rather unsafe road to take on your own. But Lamu Island is worth a trip, and from Diani Beach you just follow the coastline. Lamu Island has only two cars, but 3000 donkeys! Our house had four levels with a bedroom and terrace on each. There was a pool, and an almost private beach since no other tourists were there at the time. And listen to this: we had a private chef included in our 28 euro per night, and I especially remember the crab he made for us. Delicious. The place is called Lamu House, and a must go if you’re ever in Kenya and Lamu Island. But be safe when going from place to place. And please tip those who help you, a little goes a long way. Nothing will really cost you, anyway.

On our way up to Lamu Island we passed by Che Shale Beach. It’s a couple that owns this secluded, organic resort where you stay in basic, but beautifully crafted, bungalows. The restaurant’s dishes are made with their homegrown vegetables together with what the ocean offers. The beach is striped with black sand and makes your body glitter. We got up early in the morning to see the sunrise. Everything was so quiet and still, besides some fishermen coming home (or were they going away?) in their dhows.

kattis3 (Che Shale Beach)
An early morning dip at Che Shale Beach. Photo by Katarina Rylander

Then there must have been plenty of food from the sea. What did you eat?

Shellfish, and a lot of it. The lobster is really cheap, and so is the crab. A common dish is rice with curry and shrimp; if you go to Kenyaways Hotel, make sure you visit Madafoo’s Beach and have a shrimp curry. And say hi from me!

At Diani Beach there’s a restaurant called Sails where we had a magnificent Tuna Carpaccio and then Baked Crab. Of course accompanied by some Dawas (vodka, honey, sugar, lime and crushed ice) and some Kenyan beer–Tusker.

One tip is to cook your own food at least one time during your stay. You will find fruit and vegetables at the markets that are out of this world. Not to mention all of these mango- and cashew nut trees that you pass by all of the time. And the macadamia nuts! Don’t even get me started on those…

And of course, there are the Madafoos – virgin coconuts – that you drink from through a straw.

kattis1 (Madafoos Beach Club)
Drinking virgin coconut – Madafoo. Photo by Katarina Rylander

What is your top memory from Kenya?

I had one of my best experiences during a road trip we did. The car was without air condition so we left the windows down and the Kenyan air blew in our hair while the red sandy, and bumpy, roads took us through the landscape. We drove through the jungle, on savannas, and through small villages; you could literally travel for hours and see nothing but some elephants. We drove past huts where children were playing and women were sitting together. Some were out on the field, working. There is a lot of poverty in Kenya, and people living in slums. Although this can’t be denied, we really got to see the beautiful parts of this country, parts that tourism hasn’t affected yet.

My boyfriend got tired of all the luxurious places we saw and we decided to do something else. Early in the morning, we took a mc-cab to Ukunda, which is near Diani beach. The difference is striking, and the segregation between black and white people… what can I say?

Our driver took us through the city but when there was really nothing left to see, my boyfriend asked if he couldn’t show us where he lived. So off we went, out into the bush, away from Ukunda village, and where no cars can drive. We stopped by four huts located under a mango tree, where his family lives. Since this meant he got to spend time with his family during daytime, rarely happens, they invited us to lunch. We all had cassava in coconut cream that we ate with our fingers, which was divine! We stayed there all day, playing with the children and talking to the old women. Back at the hotel we gave the driver what was left of our change money – how can you put a price on such a day? – and when we got home to Sweden we sent a MMS of us. His children were wild about it and couldn’t stop smiling! Definitely the best memory from the trip!

(Cover photo in this story by Lions Bluff Lodge.)

by Catharina Holm

Destinations: Africa, Kenya

Escapes: Beach, Coast, Hotel, Safari, Summer