Come with me to the Coast 30 May 2011 | By Shamsa Mohamed
The first thing to remember when going to the coast is to leave your Nairobi fever behind. Here, everything is calm and easy; no one seems to be in a rush unlike Nairobi where people are busy as beavers, careening up and down the streets. In Mombasa, you can enjoy a walk without bumping into anyone. And because the town is not very big, you can actually get to places on your own two feet. Feeling tired? Take a matatu or a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk ride anywhere in town will only set you back KSH 50, while a trip across the bridge is KSH 300.
The second thing you simply must leave at home is your diet. Coastal cuisine is the food of gods. The women here really believe that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Very few women work outside the home and they go the extra mile to satisfy their husbands’ appetites. Let me tell you a little story to show you what I mean.
When President Jomo Kenyatta went to Lamu, he was, not surprisingly, greeted with a treasure-trove of tasty treats. He tried a dessert called kaimati, which is fried flour and yeast, dipped in syrup. He enjoyed it so much he asked, “What tree did this fruit come from? I want it planted at State House.”
But don’t just take our founding father’s word for it. Dig in yourself. And don’t even think of going to a fast food restaurant: such a transgression should really be punishable by law. There is no shortage of restaurants in different price ranges where you can enjoy scrumptious Swahili cuisine.
Don’t-miss dishes include biryani (coloured rice and thick gravy, usually prepared during celebrations), pilau (rice cooked with mutton), samaki wa kupaka (grilled fish with a coconut sauce), vitumbua (a fried, sweet bun made from rice), vibibi (a sister to vitumbua only flatter), wali wa nazi (coconut rice), ndizi za kiume (plantain cooked with coconut milk) and matobosha (a dessert especially made during Ramadan). These are my favorites but really the list is endless.
To get you started on your food odyssey, here are some restaurants in Mombasa’s Old Town where you can enjoy a luscious Swahili meal:
Jahazi Coffee House
Swahili Land Restaurant
. Prices range from between KSH 300 to KSH 500 for a meal and a juice/soda. If you fancy a barbeque, Island Barbeque is the place for you. The mishkaki and sheesh kebabs are to die for. It’s open from 6pm to 11pm.
Don’t worry if your tastes are more worldly. You can also enjoy Chinese, Japanese, Italian and African food in this port city. If you want to splash out, try
at the bridge. The place is beautiful, by the creek, with amazing décor and a cool breeze. The food is a hybrid of French cuisine and local spices. Your taste buds will thank you. The service is first class with well trained staff. You can book the upper level for private parties. Did I mention my birthday is coming up, friends? Hint, hint.
Feeling adventurous? Why not try the
Dinner? Savour your meal as you tour the city on a traditional Arab sailing boat. Cruise gently up the Tudor creek to the soft sound of waves, arriving at a quiet spot where the dhow moors. When you’ve finished eating, get down with the live band. The
in Mtwapa offers a similar boat-dinner. La Marina, also in Mtwapa, has a stunning sea view and you can also rent it for private events, like weddings and conferences.
If you’ve brought the children, don’t worry. There are plenty of family venues like the Wild Waters Amusement Park. The children can hurtle down the many slides while you relax and wonder what to order from the restaurant’s extensive menu. When the sun starts to fade, head down to Mama Ngina Drive, popularly known as the Lighthouse. You can park your car by the creek and watch the sun sink into the ocean, or peer at a ship disappearing over the horizon while you munch freshly made cassava crisps and sip madafu, the juice from a raw coconut which is known for cleansing the kidneys.
on Links Road has a bowling alley, pool tables, a movie theatre and a coffee shop with an assortment of pastries, juices, shakes and ice creams. You can also smoke a shisha pipe here for KSH 500. They have a range of tobaccos including apple, vanilla, strawberry and many others. Shisha has become very popular in Mombasa and there are many places to get it.
If Mombasa is sleepy during the day, when night falls, it’s a different story. Check out clubs like
. My personal favourite is Bellevista in Ganjoni. The crowd is young and enthusiastic. I danced the night away and just when I needed a boost in the wee hours, out came the nyama choma. What more could a girl ask for?
To chill out after a big night of dancing, head to the South Coast. The beaches here are the most beautiful in the area and the vibe is determinedly relaxed. Accommodation is mainly in large five-star hotels, and there are a few medium-sized cottages. There are plenty of restaurant and bars, including the renowned
Full Moon Night Club and Lounge
, which throws marvellous parties.
After rediscovering Mombasa and the coast, I headed to Lamu. There is a Swahili saying that goes Mombasa raha, Lamu tamu. It means Mombasa is fun, Lamu is sweet. And like most sayings, it’s no lie. I travelled by bus from Mombasa to Makowe, a six-hour journey, and then hopped on a speedboat for the 30-minute trip to Lamu Island, home of our most famous cultural festival. The island is very similar to Zanzibar and for a minute, I thought I had taken the wrong bus. But Lamu has its own charm and soon I was wandering along the only two streets in town: the sea front and Kenyatta Avenue. You cannot get lost in Lamu.
Because there are no roads, there are no cars. As I walked, I heard some men yell out, “Taxi, taxi!” I turned and, to my surprise, saw donkeys plodding behind me. I burst out laughing but maybe the joke was on me as I was too scared to take a ride. Lamu is the heartland of Swahili culture and so it is advisable to dress decently in order not to offend people. In town there is only one bar, but if you fancy a beer or something even stronger head to hotels like
. Lamu House is unique, and stepping inside feels like entering Caesar’s Palace. The individual cottages have pools and these resemble ancient Roman bathhouses. Shella Beach is just a 15-minute boat ride from Lamu and if you are fit, you can walk. It’s worth the effort: the beach is outstanding with cream-brown sand and many beautiful hotels in the area.
After Lamu, I headed to Kenya’s little Italy – Malindi, my favourite place on the coast. Just being here makes me happy: I imagine I am in Venice, the most beautiful place in the world in my opinion. At the
Coastal Paradise Inn
you can get bed-and-breakfast in spacious cottages with a pool for only KSH 2,000. There are loads of bars and restaurants, including the
Karen Blixen Coffee House
, Fermento, Stardust,
and Gelatti Ice Cream Parlour.
Nightlife here starts kicking after midnight: if you go to a club any earlier, you will be the only one there but the bar staff will keep you company. Stardust is my top venue: there is the disco (Stardust), a lounge (Vintage) and a restaurant (Putipu). Vintage is awesome with unique all-white décor and I have yet to see a more beautiful lounge in Kenya. You feel like you are in an exclusive celeb venue. Putipu serves a pizza that could make angels smile. And check out
, a bar and restaurant by the beach which hosts the legendary Malindi beach parties.
If you are looking for culture, there are several interesting ruins and forts along the coast, including Mombasa’s
Vasco da Gama Pillar
, the Lamu Donkey Sanctuary and the
. These are great places to visit if you want to appreciate how far we have come since colonization. Whether on vacation to relax or to explore, the coast will never disappoint.
As the Swahili saying goes, mwenda tezi na omo, marejeo ni ngamani — he who goes to the quarterdeck and forecastle will return to the hold eventually. Usually this saying is used to warn people not to forget where they’re from. In my case, it rings particularly true: I enjoyed my return home and developed a new respect and great appreciation for my native soil. Najivunia kuwa mpwani: I am proud to be from the Coast.
For information on the places mentioned in this article or other recommendations, visit our website
By Shamsa Mohamed