“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy”. Ernest Hemmingway.
Firstly a merry Christmas to all and all the best for the New Year, especially if you are planning an African adventure. We are especially thinking of our family and friends, who although on the same continent, seem oh so far away. Rest assured that we are not suffering here in the wilds of Africa! In fact we are continuing to have an experience of a lifetime.
We now wanted to spend time right on the beach and certainly Twiga Lodge ticked this box. After wide consultation with locals and other travelers we were still undecided whether it would be better to take the Likoma Ferry in Mombasa to the South Coast, or to take the more inland route from Mombasa. Some locals felt that there might be a considerable delay of a few hours at the ferry at this peak holiday time and that the Mombasa-Nairobi Road might in contrast be a little quieter at this time. T4A chose the inland route using the criteria of the quickest route. We initially were inclined to take the ferry just for the experience. However our GPS solved our dilemma. Arriving in Mombasa, close to the ferry, we entered Tiwi after initially having the ferry as our destination. By the time we realized what was happening we were on the outskirts of Mombasa on the road to Nairobi. As those that have travelled in Mombasa will know, it is no simple matter in the heavy traffic to turn around and retrace one’s route. We took the path of least resistance and stuck with T4A. In retrospect this was probably a pity as the inland route took us all of 6hr 30min for the 217km. Even with a delay of a few hr at the ferry, the ferry would have been quicker, no matter hakuna matata!
We specifically left Kalifi a little late, at 9H30 to avoid the morning traffic rush in Mombasa. At Twiga later, local Mombasa campers informed us that if one reaches the Likoma Ferry between 07H00 and 08H00 there is little delay and they had reached Twiga after only a couple of hours on the road. There is apparently little point in arriving at the ferry in the earlier hours of the morning as usually there will only be 1 ferry running, with consequent delays. The road south along the coast is apparently excellent. We went through the center of Mombasa at about 11H00 and the traffic is quite well organized and really not too bad. I think it would carry the early morning rush traffic rather well. Leaving Mombasa on the Nairobi Road is where most of the hold-up occurred. One passes through a long section of the industrial area and here the coming and going of long-haul trucks made the going very slow. The first 50km or so was on this busy road, which we had largely avoided until then. Take the ferry!
The route back to the coast is past Simba Hills National Reserve and for those so inclined there is a public campsite in the reserve near the main gate. This is lovely countryside, hilly and forested and apparently the best place in Kenya to see sable antelope.
Twiga Lodge and Campsite at Tiwi Beach is a few km north of the more acclaimed Diani Beach. Diani apparently has no campsite on the seashore. The only one we could obtain info on is a little distance from the ocean, in a forested area and was not what we were wanting (Diani Beach Campsite). Perhaps we should have gone more upmarket with a chalet or the like, however it was peak season and we felt our chances of searching out quality accommodation would be slim. As it was we were concerned that there would not be room at Twiga, but need not have worried. This campsite was nice enough and we certainly enjoyed it more than Kalifi’s Distant Relatives as it was right on the seashore.
Twiga Lodge has been there for generations and its facilities, although adequate, are somewhat faded. If looking to take a cottage or room apparently those at the immediately adjacent Coral Cove are a lot better. There are many large shade trees in this large campsite and we chose a great spot in the southern corner just on the beach sand with only coconut palms between us and the high water mark, less than 30m away. There must have been about 10 other campers here when we arrived, but it began filling up quite soon and was slightly congested later. Not surprising over the festive season holidays with the crowds from Mombasa pouring in. Unfortunately on our second day an extended Asian family (with servants) managed to squeeze in next to us. It seems all wanted to be near the water’s edge. The campers were mainly locals, mainly Indians or mixed race families. Just as in the rest of Africa, indigenous Africans have not really taken to camping. There was only 1 group of overland travelers in a large MAN truck who were not at all friendly. The local campers were by contrast very friendly and interested in these crazy people from Africa Kusini.
There are clean flush toilets (but without toilet seats) and cold showers, fine in the heat and humidity. Contrary to what we had read, the showers are not sea water, but slightly salty borehole water. There is no suitable drinking water available. Firewood is available at KSh300 for a wheelbarrow load and one can make fires on the sand of the campsites. The beach is long and the sand is snow white. Swimming at high tide is great but the extensive flat reef in front of the campsite and lodge was exposed for about 300m at low tide and swimming was not possible. It was full moon, beautiful but unfortunately meant spring tides. The snorkeling on the reef was disappointing and only possible when the tide was in. We did dive in some fairly large and deep natural rock pools a short walk to the north at low tide but even here there was not too much sea life. I think if decent snorkeling is sought, it would probably be best to drive the few km south to Diani and avail oneself of the numerous dhow trips out to snorkeling sites. We were too relaxed to bother with driving anywhere. There are plenty of wandering beach vendors selling anything from various curios such as beaded bracelets, Masaai blankets, kikois, colourful kangas and carvings. With international tourism in the doldrums along the coast, the prices were very reasonable. The vendors would want to show their goods but were not persistent or a nuisance. We did order a fish from one of them and he duly delivered, as ordered, a 3kg red snapper which we enjoyed on Christmas night, butterflied and roasted on coals, with a herb butter basting. Absolutely delicious fresh fish costing only KSh50 per kg. Also offered for sale are large crabs, lobster, prawns, calamari and even octopus. Unfortunately Anne has a severe shellfish allergy. When it comes to pricing in Africa we are not interested in bargaining bitterly until a rock-bottom price is reached. Make no mistake prices initially quoted are inflated and we were easily able to mostly halve these. Bargaining is expected but ultimately we were happy to pay what we felt was a reasonable price. We did not want to fall into the trap, witnessed all too often with other tourists, of taking advantage of local financial hard times. With the visitor numbers down these poor people are desperate. The other purchase we made were 2 large green coconuts. The enterprising vendor suggested we place them in our freezer to chill and true to his word he was back after a few hours to peel and chop the ends off so that we could drink the cool, refreshing coconut juice, a first for us. This has a slightly sweet coconut flavor and was most refreshing. I enjoyed the white coconut flesh a little less.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Twiga Beach, the setting on the beach suited our festive season traditions, but I must admit that we ached for the presence and company of our customary family and friends. Out of prime time others may consider more luxury accommodation perhaps even in Diani, a break from camping is often a good idea. We will indulge ourselves soon with more upmarket arrangements on Zanzibar. With the facilities becoming more crowded and more people arriving for the weekend, after 2 nights we decided to move further south, in fact to the coast of Tanzania not too far away. I would think that at a quieter time of the year we would have spent more time here, in particular we would have liked to have made more use of the facilities offered by Diani. The coast south of Mombasa also has some well-known places to camp.This tropical Swahili coastline is really beautiful. Be warned though that in December and January it is very hot and humid but this we find far easier to cope with than the cold we had occasionally experienced elsewhere.
Camping KSh400 pppd (US$4).
Sunrise on the Swahili coast at Tiwi Beach, with dhows.
1 and 2. The campsite on the beach amongst coconut palms at Twiga Lodge.
3 and 4. Another sunrise from the campsite.
5. Full moon.
6. Anne in Swahili kanga enjoying her green coconut juice.