MALINDI, September 30 – Malindi sits pretty along the edge of the Kenyan coastline and is home to as many Italians and Italian speakers as you could imagine.
The air is fresh; the dress code is linen, and the attitude is relaxed – so on your first visit there you know you will be going back pretty soon.
It was a Saturday afternoon when I got there. I could feel the ‘northern winds’ ruffling through my hair (it’s permed), blowing through my clothes, and softening the impact of the sun’s rays on my skin.
The roads were well paved with speed bumps here and there and a lot of human traffic. There were tuk tuks, motorcycles, bicycles, matatus and pedestrians almost everywhere, but I felt as if I was in a zone of my own.
You know, when life happens but stands still at the same time and makes you painfully aware of how relaxed you are? I felt cool, calm and collected, so to speak.
As you enter the town, the first thing you notice is the sign pointing you to the Malindi Airport. Further down is a petrol station which reveals that fuel prices are high there – between 108.9 and 109.9 for a litre of Unleaded Premium – owing to all the foreigners the tourist town attracts. It strikes you that the streets are clean and everybody looks squeaky as well.
I headed on to Coral Key Hotel, which is a four minute drive east of the Malindi town centre. The hotel is inviting, though apart from the weather and the beach-front facing a big part of the structure, you would think you were in a game park. It has the same circular hut style structure with high ceilings and grass thatch roofs.
However, with six swimming pools and about 150 rooms including suites and superior rooms, the hotel is indeed expansive and stunning. White stucco walls, brown roofs, maroon floors and blue waters tantalise the visitor’s eye.
Coral Key is about one kilometre from the White Elephant Hotel, where Vincenzo Bonomi and Lillian Odongo were tying the knot that Saturday evening. This was the main reason for my visit. I was scared that I wouldn’t know many of the guests, but the number of people I met there affirmed to me that Nairobians can’t keep away from the relaxation Malindi offers.
White Elephant is closed to the general public, but is hired out for private functions as the owner’s transformation energies focus on constructing villas for future use. There is rich greenery on either side of the cement pathway that leads in from a massive oak gate. A host of wooden sculptures face you as you go up the walkway as if taunting you to dare defy their beauty.
Somewhere at the back of the ‘sculpture hall’, a wooden horse with its forelimbs raised and head turned to one side was by far the most spectacular. Its windswept mane was made of natural wood-rot formations that skilfully complemented its chisel-muscled frame.
Walking farther down to the bar, I was enchanted by about three slightly larger-than life wooden frames of naked women with heads bent forward and lights placed at the back of their heads, lighting the well stocked bar (which by night time the guests had managed to deplete)!
That evening, for the wedding after party, we went to Melinda’s Place. This is a small bar right by the beach with lots of feet-enveloping sand in between cylindrical grass thatched huts and a sand dance floor to match. It had red, yellow, and blue lights; a bit like this bar I know in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market!
It was late and the party troupe moved on – after a few drinks – to Stardust. It is a discotheque with dark grey walls that I’m certain looks hideous during the day, but the DJ knows how to keep people from leaving!
I had hired a car in Mombasa and driven down the smooth 120-kilometre road northeast to Malindi in the company of a Mr Nasser Sultan – who diligently and enthusiastically showed me the sights.
There were the thousands of acres of sisal plantations owned by Rea Vipingo and a luxurious golf course that is being constructed nearby. We even passed through the Kilifi Boat Yard where I unsuccessfully masked my little knowledge of boats and the sea, but made up for it by clearing my plate of scrumptious spicy crab samosas.
I made a mental note to pass by the boat-yard for longer next time, and hopefully rent the floating wood-house that bobbed at the bay. I even had visions of swimming from the buoyed structure to the main restaurant or using the top deck of the house for a barbecue and mini party. Sigh.
Let me break it down for you; in Malindi the weather is simply warm and breezy, the houses and establishments are simply built with basic structures and painted mostly white, the people have simple money, earned through simple jobs, they are dressed casually in simple colours – mainly white – with simple sandals on their feet. They also simply know Italian cause of all the European country’s nationals that simply love to frequent the place.
What I probably may never understand though, is why establishments there go to great lengths to paint palm trees on the walls and yet there are thousands right outside their doors! I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.