Monkeys in Mombasa, Kenya. Escape to Mombasa & Time for Reflecti

Escape to Mombasa & Time for Reflection on our Diani Beach Stay

We’d only been back at our cottage at Shambani at Diani Beach from our safari for a day when the Internet ground to a halt. It had been operating at a snail’s pace since we arrived almost two weeks earlier and we’d been constantly shifting between the Internet line installed at the property the day we arrived and the USB modems that were meant to serve as our back-ups.

When both stopped working – copper thieves had stolen the Internet and phone lines the previous night and Safaricom was having its usual problems – we knew it was time to move on. A night in Mombasa made sense.

We were due to fly out of Mombasa for Nairobi the next afternoon, then from Nairobi to Dubai that night, and from Dubai onto Istanbul the next day. I was dreading the travel time – around 24 hours in total – but to be honest I was actually looking forward to the flights for the opportunity to do nothing but catch up on trashy Hollywood movies.

We’d driven through Mombasa a handful of times over the last two weeks – to and from the airport twice after Kenya Airways lost our luggage, and to and from safari – and were eager to have a little look around. We phoned Paul, the excellent driver who had taken us up to Voi, and booked an apartment at Tamarind Village.

Two hours later we were saying goodbye to sweet Emily and the staff at Shambani (and I was giving the manager a piece of my mind for not explaining or apologizing for the Internet going dead), and leaving Diani Beach and the beautiful Colobus monkeys behind. Although not before Terence promised the furry family of four who’d spent the morning hanging out with us that we’d be back one day to help save them…

One last time we drove through the lively villages that line the road from Diani to Mombasa with their brightly painted buildings plastered with Coca Cola, Safaricom and Zain logos (courtesy of the sponsors of their paint jobs) and the ramshackle tin sheds that serve as shops with names like London Paints, Emirates Barber Shop, Miami Butchery, and Netherlands Stores (courtesy of their Kenyan owners who’ve made their riches working overseas).

And we took the car ferry, one last time, crowded with the most diverse group of people we’d seen since we left Dubai early in the year, wearing every kind, cut and style of dress and headwear imaginable, from the colourful khangas that Kenya women artfully wrap around their bodies and the black bui bui that’s like the abaya and shayla of the Arabian Peninsula that the Muslim women wear, to the red-checked shuka of the Maasai and the Bob Marley t-shirts, faded jeans and dreadlocks of the Rasta guys.

In Mombasa, Paul drove through the old centre’s traffic-clogged streets, muddy with rain, by the elegant art deco buildings dappled with black mould, to the affluent northern suburb of Nyali and Tamarind Village. Set right on Mombasa’s old harbour with palm-shaded swimming pools and lush gardens, Tamarind turned out to be a lovely white stucco complex of super-spacious, clean, serviced apartments with big covered balconies and terraces, dripping with bougainvillea.

The conservative 1980s décor may have lacked personality but after sweltering in our windowless cottage at Shambani for two weeks, where we continually battled mosquitoes and lost our war against the Internet, Tamarind’s air-conditioning and fast Internet access were welcome. As were Tamarind’s two excellent restaurants with water views serving tasty food, and the monkeys that came to play on our balcony that afternoon, and attempted to invite themselves in the next morning. Tamarind was definitely a place we could have stayed a while.

Our tour of Mombasa was too brief, little more than a two-hour drive around town with Paul the next day that took in the highlights of the old city on our way to the airport. It gave us a taste of Mombasa despite it being exactly the kind of travelling we don’t like to do. But then our stay at Diani Beach wasn’t something we’d choose to repeat either…

Manned with too many staff and hidden behind high walls, Shambani didn’t offer the sorts of local experiences that we’ve been having this year, that are not always possible in hotels, that are the very reason we love holiday rentals. But then we appreciate that those experiences – shopping the local markets, cooking the food we’ve bought, pottering about the place, and cleaning up after ourselves – are not things that everyone wants when they go on holidays, even when they stay in a rental. All some people want is hotel-like accommodation with a kitchen and more space, and that’s fine too.

But we have another issue with recommending Shambani and Diani beach, one that has had us continually conflicted during the course of our two week stay. While we recognize that tourism is a way for the largely poverty-stricken local population to get ahead, and that a period on the beach before or after a safari makes a lot of sense for those who want a holiday that combines wildlife spotting with R&R, we have an ethical problem…

We find it hard to encourage people to go to a destination where tourism development has resulted in the destruction of the habitat of local wildlife and the diminishing population of the Colobus monkey to a point where they’re now endangered. If Diani Beach can curb future development and help the Colobus Trust recover the monkeys’ natural habitat, then that would be a different story…

Having said that, we hope to return one day. Not to lie on a beach or even go on safari again, but to volunteer at the Colobus Trust. We appreciate that voluntourism doesn’t suit everyone either, but we think it makes up in some small way for the damage that’s been done. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Paul Mwai (our driver)
+254 720 55 7821
paurltours@yahoo.com

Tamarind Village & Restaurant
Nyali Beach, Mombasa
www.tamarind.co.ke




There are 9 comments

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  1. Sarah Chambers

    Having visited Diani Beach shortly after you guys, as you know, I agree I felt slightly conflicted during our stay and actually I commented to my partner that I would find it hard to go back to Africa unless I combined a stay with some ‘proper’ volunteering. We too visited the Colobus Trust and I also took some supplies to a local children’s home, but if I went again, I would definitely want to combine the trip with a longer stint of volunteering where I actually help out and work somewhere, and feel I’m making a difference, however small.

    In addition, it is indeed hard to meet and interact with locals in Diani if you’re just going about your ‘tourist’ business of walking down the beach/road etc… as here you will only encounter the beach boys or market vendors who, while all very friendly we found, at the end of the day just want to sell you something. But I do feel there are opportunities for people to have a more meaningful holiday here and connect with locals on a deeper level, if they research opportunities before they go and proactively decide to dedicate a part of their holiday to giving something back. And I feel it would be a shame not to recommend Diani for this type of holiday, as the local community does depend so much on tourism and overall, we were enchanted by the beauty of the country and the friendliness of those we did encounter. Hopefully with organisations such as the Colobus Trust, and the support of ‘voluntourists’, Diani can continue to develop, but in a sustainable and positive way.

    If anyone is interested in working in the children’s home I visited, as I know they take volunteers too, then you can find more information here: http://www.kenya-kids-support.org.

    Sarah

  2. Nicole

    I appreciate your honest recap of your experience at Diani Beach, but if you make it back someday, I’d love to hear from the beach peddlers, what their everyday life is like and their thoughts about the tourists staying in Diani Beach.

  3. Terence Carter

    Nicole, if we’re going to be investigative journalists, I’d rather look into the corruption that lead to the destruction of most of the habitat there rather than researching the beach boys and what it’s like to have sex with late middle-aged female tourists or pimping young girls out to creepy foreigners. In terms of people, there are many far more interesting – and positive – stories to tell, in my opinion.
    T

  4. Raul

    Dear Lara & Terence,

    Congratulations on your concept! I’d like to put an accent on concept since I would like to add a little constructive criticism on the actual product, specifically on your reports on Diani Beach. First at all your lack of sympathy towards shambani cottages has come across quite clearly, this is interesting for other travelers to know, it is also interesting that this accommodation seems to be the one selected by your sponsor Home Away, isn’t that a bit like biting the hand that’s feeding you? Nevertheless I appreciate your honest report and shambani shall not be on the list of accommodations I will recommend to anyone visiting diani. When you talk about internet connectivity and speed it may have bypassed your attention that you are visiting Kenya, a country were only a 15% of the population enjoys internet access at this stage, you may also have overlooked the construction sights along the entire road leading from diani to ukunda, where a brand new optic fiber cable is being dug into the ground so as foreign visitors like the two of you can sit on their laptops and and browse high speed and broadband without loosing their patience, but to realize this you may have had to get out and actually talk to the people instead of waiting for a connection and research this kind of topics online. And then last but not least, your support to the colobus, really heartwarming! In which aspect did corruption actually endanger this species? As far as I know the colobus and their their different subspecies have been hunted to the extend of near extermination in the colonial times as their were sought after for their fur, blaming the actual infrastructure in development on the kenyan coast( with accent on development!) is a wrong approach, thi9s infrastructure needs to be developed accordingly, we all agree, but please be realistic, the high numbers of volunteers coming here will not pay for the funds! This is anyway the beginning of all the problems, the western society believes to know all secrets for a balanced natural growth and development (obviously because they have yet successfully exterminated most of their wild animals) and will then come and volunteer to “help” africans instead of giving them the chance to independently grow and proudly succeed they will allways rather treat them like children who are not able to take care of them self! How do you qualify to be a volunteer and have knowledge to support some of the local monkeys? What gives you the right to negatively make inpression on millions online because you were not happy with your accommodation and the speed of your internet? What of all this you are doing does actually have anything in common with journalism? Thank you for your consideration!

    best regards from Diani Beach!

  5. Terence Carter

    Raul,
    You don’t state whether you’re working at Diani Beach in tourism or just visiting. That might help put your comments in some perspective. However:
    1. We wrote, in our opinion, a balanced review of the property. We highlight the things we loved about Shambani – the staff, gardens, swimming pool, monkeys – and we highlight the things that were broken or didn’t work. This is what a good reviewer does so guests know what they’re in for. The lack of internet and poor air-conditioning wouldn’t bother budget travellers happy to lie around and read books all day. It would bother someone who still needs to work while they’re away. You’ve already stated you’ve taken on board our criticisms of the property.
    2. We have editorial independence as our partners HomeAwayUK want honest, critical reviews. Was Shambani the best choice on Diani Beach? Judge for yourself. The first comment on this post is from HomeAwayUK’s PR manager who stayed at Shambani a couple of weeks after us. The “hand that feeds us” agrees with us. We’re not being paid to write marketing material for the destinations we visit. If you’re looking for that, you’ve come to the wrong site.
    3. The Internet situation in Kenya didn’t ‘bypass’ our attention. In fact, HomeAwayUK paid for the internet to be upgraded at Shambani – organized months in advance. We really wanted to come to Kenya but we need the internet 24/7 to do our jobs, which is why HomeAwayUK went to the trouble to organise it. We are not sitting around ‘browsing’ when we’re on the internet, we’re uploading stories like the one you just read and approving comments like the one that you just wrote. By the way, the internet line was physically stolen, but I guess we shouldn’t write about that either…
    4. In relation to the Colobus monkeys, as someone who has travelled to many of the world’s most popular tourist destinations in some 70 countries and been a travel writer and photographer for nearly ten years, it’s my personal opinion that the Colobus monkeys – in the long-term – are Diani Beach’s best asset as a tourism destination. Which is why I’d go back to help the Colobus Trust. That’s my decision and it doesn’t need qualification from you. Your opinion that Africans don’t need outside help wasn’t shared by any Africans we met in Kenya or South Africa.
    5. How do I qualify to volunteer? Being a volunteer means that you do whatever you’re asked to do, you don’t need to ‘qualify’, however, I think I have a wide range of skills that the Trust could utilise.
    6. Given that you say you’re at Diani Beach, I’d love to know what percentage of the destruction of the local primates’ forest is acceptable to you. Given that it is currently at 75% and your talking about further development, I’d be interested to hear what figure you’re comfortable with.

  6. Nicole

    Hi Terence, Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate that you search out locals and offer their recommendations and thoughts. I find great value in that. I think I’m just disappointed that you went to Diani Beach at all.

    Not many report on corruption, and the stories from the beach boys wouldn’t be positive, but you went there and put dollars into their development. Without the middle aged female tourists or creepy foreigners, the beach boys would have no one to sell to.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on my post about tourism & unsustainable development. http://nicoledurbin.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/an-interview-with-jamaican-environmentalist-diana-mccaulay/

  7. Terence Carter

    Hi Nicole,
    I’ll make one quick point. We’re not just ‘tourists’ putting money into a place. We write about what we see and are read by a pretty decent audience of well-educated people who can form their own opinions. If I was a tourist who rocked up to Diani Beach for a beach holiday and had a conscience and a pair of eyes, I’d probably be upset at the development, destruction of the habitat and the fact that Diani Beach is a tourism bubble. However, if you go to Tripadvisor, the biggest complaints about Diani Beach are about the food at some of the beach resorts.
    I guess Diani Beach doesn’t attract the kind of tourists who care about these issues or remain very blinkered while they’re there.
    Perhaps now if they Google it, people might be made aware of the real issues there – and I’m not talking about the cottages we stayed in or the lack of internet. They can make up their own minds.

    There are some real parallels between Diani Beach and your interview about Jamaican development. But I can’t really comment on Jamaica, I’ve never been there, but I have been to Diani Beach – and written about it.

  8. Lara Dunston

    Hi again Nicole

    In your interview with Diana McCaulay she talks about ‘leakage’ i.e. income from tourism not staying in and benefiting Jamaica, and we understand that’s a problem at Diani Beach also, as many of the properties are owned by European expats, many of who don’t re-invest money locally, although Sarah, above, gives an example of another property that does, which seems to be doing a terrific job of supporting a local school and their own staff.

    Scale is not such an issue at Diani in that there aren’t that many monster properties, and there are many smaller cottage more traditional-looking developments like the one we stayed at that are fairly eco-friendly. But the properties that are there have still destroyed the natural animal habitat regardless of their size.

    I guess what they could be doing at Diani is coming up with guidelines for future development that require a corridor of natural vegetation to be left so that they monkeys can pass through hotel/holiday rental grounds safely to eat, sleep, etc. That was one of the good things about Shambani, where we stayed, in that there was plenty of vegetation and the monkeys loved it there.

    Thanks for dropping by and for sharing that link!


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