Posts Tagged With: Kilifi



“It’s been four years,” Paolo reflects in the talking circle on the balcony of the Musafir house. “I’d really like for us to push to set sail in the kaskazi winds (the trade winds that blow south) and head to Mozambique by the end of March.”

We all nod in agreement, charged with renewed energy after surviving the hectic festivities of the New Year’s celebrations. Musafir, the 70-foot traditional dhow, was turned into a floatel (check out The Tripping Lass post) to raise funds to sustain the continuous construction of the boat.

Musafir is a word shared in several languages. In Farsi, Hindu, Urdu, Arabic and Ki-Swahili it means ‘a traveller’. In Romanian and Turkish it means ‘a guest’. It’s an old word that refers to travellers that would exchange goods, knowledge, culture and art and pass on that knowledge to their next destination. Like Marco Polo bringing pasta to Italy from China.

The project’s humble beginnings began in November of 2011 in the tiny inlet village of Kipini, just off Kenya’s northern coastline. Known for its traditional boat-building community it was here that Paolo, along with various travellers from all backgrounds, began to design and build the vision he had.

Photo credit unknown

“I wanted to build a boat to have a platform that is open to everyone as an alternative community,” he explains. “The mission is to sail around the world and interact with local, remote coastal communities. Stay for a few months, learn their ways, see how we can assist in developing a sustainable project. Spread environmental awareness, exchange culture and music. To survive on barter and to use as little money as possible.”

This sounded familiar.

Over the four years it has taken to manifest one man’s vision, more than 50 travellers and a handful of local paid fundies (labourers) have passed through Kipini and now Kilifi, where the boat is anchored in the creek.

P1040049“We had to move it from Kipini,” Paolo says. “The nearest ATM was six hours away. There was no internet. Once it was able to float, it was sailed down to here, in Kilifi.”

The small town of Kilifi is just an hour and a half north of the major port city of Mombasa. The nearest ATM is a five minute boda ride (motorbike taxi) or, if you can take the heat, an hour’s walk. Up on the hill sits the Distant Relatives Eco-lodge and Backpackers which has wifi access.

To build a traditional Swahili dhow one must use a lot of wood. Wood comes from trees. “To give back to nature, we help out with tree-planting projects in the communities that have hosted us,” Paolo says. “Before Musafir was sailed to Kilifi, we built a playground from the left over wood for the community of Kipini and planted trees.”


Photo credit unknown


Photo credit unknown

In the first week of my arrival I took part in tree-planting at a local school organised by a Musafir volunteer, planting 108 saplings.

Nothing gets wasted and with every new traveller that volunteers on the project, fresh ideas are brought to the table on how to recycle materials, how to market the project online, sustainable projects. Ideas that are hoped to be passed on to the remote coastal communities that the boat will sail too. Hence the talking circle held once a week to brainstorm and discuss what is needed and if any, what changes need to be made.


The To-do List Photo credit unknown

I joined the project in May of 2015 with the idea that I would stay for two weeks and then move on. But something about this project grabbed me. The feeling of being accepted into a community – a family – without judgement, with open arms and being back on a boat was tickling my fancy.

And I didn’t even know I had a fancy.

Well, it’s now January, 2016 and I’m still on the project, jumping ship for the occasional hitch hiking adventure.

The dhow is almost ready to take advantage of the upcoming kaskazi winds. It won’t be completely finished but construction will be ongoing as it sails.

As it stands now (or anchored), the two-rigger boat (meaning two masts) now has a deck (recently completed), a main hatch, a cargo bay, a temporary toilet and a sundeck for fishing or sunning (and once reinforced, jumping). To set sail at the end of March, work on the stern cabin and lower deck must be completed, and a trustworthy captain and some crew who know how to sail such a boat need to be found.

More information can be found on the website, and progress of the project can be followed on the facebook page.

Musafir is in the heart of each and every one of us. It drives (or sails) us forward and pushes the limits of global human interaction. I reflect on this as I sit in the talking circle surrounded by a rainbow of people from various backgrounds. Like-minded folks that see people for what they are – just people.

And the circle can always be more round.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Kenya, Sailing, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment



When I first aimed for Kenya it was going to be an in ‘n’ out operation. Find information about visas to Ethiopia, South Sudan and North Sudan (at the time, the two Sudans were in a brief honeymoon period that lasted for about an hour before the civil war resumed) and then get out.

Kenya was in a bit of strife as well. The recent Garrisa University attacks had the Western world warn its population against travelling to the East African nation so I was a bit nervous.

But The Universe has ways to provide signs:

Kenya was country number 16 that I would visit.

The visa sticker was placed on page 16 of my passport.

I then recalled a conversation I had with Irish Dave whom I met in Livingstone, Zambia. “If you go to Kenya you gotta visit Distant Relatives,” he said in his mixed Irish-American-Kiwi accent (he’d been around). “It’s on the coast but be careful,” he warned. “You might get stuck there. I was only going to spend a few days. I stayed three weeks.”

It was the same warning Danny heeded when he had picked me up hitch hiking from Nakuru to Nairboi.

“You’ll love it there,” he said. “You’ll never want to leave.”

I had pffft at both men’s comments as I made my way to Mombasa, Kenya’s port city where I spent a week before continuing an hour and a half up the coast to the county of Kilifi and down to Kilifi Creek where Distant Relatives is located. I figured I’d stay for two weeks, volunteering on the boat-building project, Musafir and then continue to explore the coastline, mainly hunting my first wave in over a year.

It seemed fitting that I arrived on the eve of the day I set out on my travels two years ago (which also happened to be Irish Dave’s same travel date – May 13th, 2013. Yet, another universal sign).


I walked through the herb gardens along the mulch paths, by the beach volleyball court and swimming pool and failed to realise that The Universe had cunningly disguised itself as Distant Relatives Backpackers and Eco Lodge.

It seduced me with the freshest free oysters on Friday’s pizza night, the amazing vibes and friendly locals, the 400-year-old Baobab tree with hanging light-bulbs, shaped as the very fruit the tree bears. At night, the lights are visible from the middle of Kilifi Creek, just a 3-minute walk down the hill.

The creek is home to the Musafir project and some local residents. At night the bio-luminescence comes out to play a light show that will blow your mind. The old jetty ready (though, not quite sure if its willing) to have you sit on its end for sundowners. Later on, after you’ve had dinner from the tasty kitchen or cooked your own in the communal, head back down and stare at the Milky Way while you wait for a shooting star to zip across.



Aside from the main building that houses the communal kitchen, restaurant\bar\indoor dancefloor and reception, the place is built almost out of everything recyclable including glass bottles and used tires. Cement makes up just 10% of the building materials used to create the bandas. The pigs in the sty take care of all the biodegradable rubbish. The chickens in the chicken coup provide fresh eggs, and grey water is recycled to water the lush gardens.


But the gem of the place aside from the vibrant energy?

The compost toilets.

I’ve come across a few of these in my day but none as eloquently designed as here – complete with an informative booklet to keep you occupied while you occupy one of the three public stalls (each banda has its own private stall and shower).



Tucked away among giant green and yellow bamboo that speaks in windy creaks, two communal showers await to cleanse your mind and body. Refreshing your soul in the middle of the mini-bamboo forest, the swaying shoots add a soothing tone to the natural soundtrack.


The same energy forces that suck you in also attracts yoga instructors that come to spend a few weeks teaching classes once a week out in nature. There’s a choice of either utilising the stage (built for live gigs) or a quiet corner where the wind whispers through the trees, gently floating the leaves as they swing around you while you engage in contorting poses.

Does it stop there? Oh, no. You cannot stay at Distant Relatives without visiting Bofa Beach. Picture white sandy beaches on which the Indian Ocean laps on too. Coconut palms swaying in the monsoon winds. If you dare, you can kayak or swim out to the reef channel and snorkel.

Too save you picturing, here’s a picture:


Or book a boat to take you.

It had been ten months since Irish Dave first brought this area to my attention on the eve of my personal New Year, May 12th. Sitting by the bonfire on the beach, ripping out tunes on Ol’ Red with the Musafir crew, I could see why he struggled to leave this corner of the world.

And now, four months after I initially arrived, I’m still here, wondering how to extend my Kenyan visa.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya, Reviews, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments


P1040154“Another swimmer washed on our shores?” Rohini, sitting in the shade of the beach house stitching a long stretch of fabric, greeted me alongside another girl, Fabienne.

“Yeah, it was a long swim,” I bantered, introducing myself.

My guide, Dario, led me up the outside stairs to show me around the beach house, about twenty-steps from the waters of the Indian Ocean (50 steps at low tide).

“This is the living space, that’s the kitchen, shower and here is the balcony,” he pointed out.

The day started with patches of blue-sky peaking through London-grey clouds, some hanging low as I set out on an 8-K hike through Mombasa to reach Kilifi Bay, just off the B8 highway. Drizzles of rain escorted me as I tripped along the broken footpaths, almost breaking the record for long-distance face-plant as I collided with the tip of a rock of the genus pinkietoe stubberous.

I professionally regained my balance and continued to navigate my way around puddles of mud that seem deep enough to house hippos. Gazelle-jumping over the larger ones to escape trucks too large to be barreling down a too-small-of-a-road, covering split-making distances, my packs building an alliance with gravity as – mid-air – I wave off the tuk-tuk drivers zipping up to see if I’d hire them. Rightfully assuming, as I had clearly demonstrated that I haven’t quite mastered the walk.

About 2 K’s in, a yellow tuk-tuk sidled up to me and after explaining my ways to Denis, the driver, he laughed and said my three favourite words,

“OK, let’s go.”

“Serious? No money?”

“Yes, I’ll help you.”

I hopped in, grateful to be off my left knee that seemed to be daring me to test it to the limit.

Put some more weight on me, why don’tchya. See what’ll happen cause if I don’t go, pal, nobody goes!

“You take ganja?” Denis asked as he zipped skilfully through and around Mombasa’s heavy traffic.

I laughed, grinning. “Yeah, when it’s offered.”

“You want to go somewhere? I take one for you?” he offered.

For the first time in a long time I politely declined. Even though Kilifi Bay was just an hour away, I just wanted to arrive and set myself up with the crew of Musafir (from the Arabic meaning traveller), a community-based boat-building project that I had found through Distant Relatives Eco Lodge.

As I watched the scenery go by I began to scout for potential hitching areas. Like a speed hump. I’ve found that speed humps are the best. In Africa they’re in that exclusive club of man-made objects visible from space. Even the wildlife slows down to climb over these concrete masses.

Hiking a few hundred meters from where Denis dropped me off, taking me for what must have been at least 20 K’s through Mombasa to its outskirts, I set up just past the off-ramp of a service station where a speed hump brought traffic to a crawl.

Eying the passing vehicles as they slowed down, I stuck my arm out to flag them down. Within half an hour a small hatchback with three guys pulled over.

“Where are you going?” asked me Passenger Side.

“Kilifi,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“We are going to Kilifi.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Of course. Put your things in the back.”

“I don’t have money,” I added, explaining my travel method and philosophy.

“No problem,” the passenger said. I loaded up and sat in the back with Salim. “He fixes fridges and air conditioners,” explained Junior, twisting in the front seat to introduce himself.

The driver presented himself as, “King George.”

“Where in Kilifi do you need?” Junior asked.

“A place called Distant Relatives,” I said, explaining about the eco lodge on the beach of the creek that leads out to the Indian Ocean. On its beach, the crew of Musafir reside. In exchange for food and board I’d be helping out on various building projects on the 70-foot traditionally-built jahazee (Swahili sailing boat).

“I think the plan is to help out coastal communities around the world,” I did my best to explain what I had gathered about the project through their website, “But maybe come down on Friday, I might be playing at the lodge.”

Passing a large prison by the road side, Junior turned in his seat and said, “You know, god provides. There is a reason why he chose us to collect you.”

I was in no mood to discuss religion so, slightly twisting the words to avoid a lengthy debate on theology, I said, “I believe in Karma, you know, do good things and good things happen to you.”

“Yes, because of god,” he preached.

Sure. “There’s always a reason why you meet the people you meet in your life,” I philosophised. “Whatever the reason, you are fated to encounter that person whether it’s for a single minute out of your entire lifetime or making a life-long friend.”

“Yes, it is the power of god,” Junior grinned as King George nodded to his sermon. “This is all farm land,” he pointed at the sisal plantations, stretching as far as a good eye could see. The aloe vera-shaped plant is used to make material from its fibers.

Glad for the change of subject I asked Junior about his project.

“I’m looking at buying a plot of land,” he said. “This is why we are going to Kilifi. We need to make a short stop at the offices of the Ministry of Land, if you don’t mind.”

“Hakuna matata,” I said, settling back into the backseat. “Pole-pole,” Slowly-slowly. “Take your time” (which is dangerous to offer as five African minutes equal to three rest-of-the-world hours).

An hour later we chilled in the shade of a large tree in the garden of the Ministry of Land before Junior was done and the boys took me directly to the lodge.

I was referred to Distant Relatives Eco Lodge by Irish Dave who I shared a grassy lawn back in August, 2014, at Grubby’s Grotto in Livingstone, Zambia. A few other travellers whose paths I’ve interacted with have also suggested the place, saying how it was a great space but they never mentioned the welcoming, homely vibe that lures you in through its well-maintained gardens. Stepping on soft, mulch pathways leading to the main building situated by the beach volleyball section and the outdoor stage.

In the communal area, where the bar was located by the swimming pool, I found Steve, the bar tender who phoned one of Musafir’s crew to start heading up to collect me. Junior and company were exploring the lodge, completely in awe by the beauty of the place.

“Thanks so much, guys,” I shook their hands before hiking down. “Hope to see you on Friday.”

I hiked over the used tire stairs, down past the cobbled path running alongside the chicken coup, through the beach gate and down the dirt track until I encountered Goddie – of the Maasai tribe – and Dario – of a Sicilian tribe.

“Karibu,” they welcomed me.

Exchanging the usual pleasantries I trailed off as the sight of the beach-side mangroves, shading the white-sanded beaches, a low concrete wall separating the small section of grass from the water caught my eye. Musafir floated proudly, its bow thrust out with a proud chest.

“This is the house where we stay,” explained Dario, leading me past Rohini and Fabienne working on the stitching.

I had arrived, as my good-timing happened to be, just as lunch was served by Mzee Baraka, the old man that had adopted the Musafir crew. I met Paolo, project instigator along with Ivan, Juma, Mohammed and Rasta Man, the local fundies (workers) working on the boat.

“Karibu,” they greeted me, welcoming me to join the circle of food.

I sat around the large silver platters of rice and vegetables, each of us engaging on a patch of rice real estate, digging in with our fingers.

There’s something universally unifying about sharing food together from the same plate using your hands as utensils. There’s a ‘Welcome to the Tribe’ vibe to it.

Following a shot of percolated coffee, Paolo took me out to see the boat, about 50 meters off the beach. At low tide you can almost walk to the vessel which was complete on the outside. Paolo mapped out his vision that had begun as a dream in 2011.P1040128

“The cabins will be there,” he pointed at the empty space. “The galley over there, a cargo bay here and the navigation desk there.” He spoke seeing the finished outcome in his head as we stood on the small ledges, balancing so as not to fall into the pit of the empty hull.

“You can do some sanding if you want,” Paolo suggested, pointing at the side planks below us.

“Happy to,” I grinned.

It’d been a while since I’ve partaken in any physical labour and I was looking forward to getting back into physical activities that don’t always involve hiking for kilometres on end along the roadside.

That night we celebrated Fabienne‘s birthday along with my two-year celebration of non-stop travel with a beach party bonfire.

“Tonight’s my New Year’s Eve,” I explained to the crew as I whipped out Ol’ Red and jammed some tunes.

Ivan, another Italian, took a turn on the six-string, singing in a sultry Italian voice, of the kind that when you search through radio stations and you hear a song that seduces you to linger and eventually stay to listen.

The Milky Way was out in the clear sky above while the bio-luminescence glowed a neon-green in the water of which I entered knee-deep and splashed around, activating the tiny plankton, making psychedelic shapes in the water, jaw-dropping aweness, like a scene in a Dali painting. I looked around at the outline of Musafir on the gently-lapping waters, the hills and mangroves daring it to go in deeper in this naturally protected lagoon. I took in a deep breath of fresh, salty air.

I climbed to the balcony of the beach house on the outside stairs, missing the top fourth step on the first landing (part of the initiation). Limping the second case I strung up my hammock between the pillar and the security metal screen on the window, delicately testing my knotting skills I lay in it, feeling the light breeze play through the mosquito net. The girls, Fabienne and Rohini, also lay out their mattresses under mosquito nets.

Not long after we said, ‘Lala salama,’ meaning goodnight, Ivan lulled us to sleep playing an Italian lullaby on the guitar, the sounds softly floating up on the gentle breeze from the bonfire. He continued to play softly as he climbed up the stairs, ending the song on a sleep-inducing note with his husky voice and disappeared into the night.

P1040148I sucked in another lungful of fresh, salty air as I slapped at the mosquitoes that had snuck into my net. I cracked open an eye to take in the Milky Way creeping between the branches of the large baobab tree in front of the house, a row of kayaks and boats on the beach, safe from the incoming tide.

Yeah, I figured, good energy here.


Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments



I woke up, as usual, to the sounds of the fundies (tradies) arriving for work, birds and monkeys squalling in the baobab tree and the gentle lap of Kilifi Creek’s waters when I noticed the bite on my leg. Right there, on my left shin, just right of the bone.

The next day I woke up and the small mozzie-like bite had swollen. It looked as though a golf ball had been implanted in my leg. And it fuckin’ hurt. Just lookin’ at it shot a bolt of pain to my receptors. For whatever logical reason, I figured I’d leave it alone and let my body sort it out. Turns out that without some outside help, the body tends to struggle with these kinds of things.

A closer look had me concluding that it was a spider bite. Couldn’t be anything else.


“Looks like a boil,” said Louie.

“It’s not a boil,” I said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“Looks like a boil,” said Ibby.

“It’s not a boil,” I said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“Looks like a boil,” said Romain.

“It’s a spider bite,” I insisted. “I don’t get boils.”

“Gipu,” Mzee Baraka, the adoptive grandfather that takes care of the Musafir volunteers said.

“What’s a ‘gipu’?” I asked Ibby to translate.


“It’s a spider bite,” I repeated. “I don’t get boils.”

The next day my golf ball began to ooze pus and blood. I figured I’d assist it by pushing the muck out. The pain of squeezing the ball almost knocked me out. After two days the golf ball began to deflate but the skin had turned black. My thinking was that the wound was scabbing over but it continued to ooze and was still quite painful.

I decided to stay out of the water and do small jobs around the Musafir house. After a week and a half I was convinced by Rohini to go to the hospital. She was good enough to come with me for support. I entered the casualty ward (great name for a ward) and was taken in by Dr Jin of Indian heritage.

I joked with him for a bit, explaining how everyone had claimed it to be a boil.

“It’s definitely not a boil,” he said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“I knew it,” I grinned at Rohini. “I don’t get boils.”

“I’ll have to make a small incision to get the pus out,” he said.

“Do whatchya gotta do, Doc,” I grinned, staring at Rohini for refuge.

“This might hurt,” the doc leaned over and I almost broke the examining bed I was lying on from squeezing it so hard. After a few minutes of torture a conclusion was concluded:

A young Kenyan doctor stood beside me, watching the work done on my leg.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said with a smile.

“What doesn’t look good?” my eyebrow almost hitting the stratosphere.

“The black stuff is dead skin,” Dr Jin looked closer. “I’m going to have to cut it out, clean out the wound and then keep it covered. You’ll have to change the dressing every day. I’m going to give you local anesthetic.” The doc looked at me. “It doesn’t always work.”

“The anesthetic?” I asked.

“Yes, it doesn’t always work.”

Welcome to Africa. “Well, dead skin doesn’t sound very good so I’ll take the risk.” He injected me several times. Not wanting to watch folk digging into my leg I kept my eyes on Rohini who coached me and reminded me to breathe as my hold on the examining bed tightened to crushing point.

“Can you feel this?” asked the doc.

“Nope, you’re good,” I said without dropping my gaze from Ro.

The doc went in and I held on for the ride.

“It looks very bad,” the young Kenyan doctor commentated.

Can we remove this guy? I telepathically drilled to Rohini who seemed to understand my plight.

“Maybe avoid saying things like that at this current moment,” she said calmly to the intern who realised the point and shut up.

Meanwhile, Dr Jin dug out the skin, the pus and dead tissue and then covered the wound. I felt immensely better now that all that muck was out of my leg. But now I had a hole about an inch deep and big enough to house an Australian 50-cent coin. I know this cause I caught a glimpse in my peripheral. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the flesh that is usually covered by skin that was now taking in its new, exposed surroundings.

“You’re very lucky,” the doc said. “If it had reached the bone you would have been in trouble. This should heal in a few weeks time.”

“You’re very lucky,” concurred the young intern.

A small, online investigations leads me too believe that the bite was that of a recluse spider.

Told you it’s not a boil.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Kenya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments


P1040172P1040179After a year and a month I found myself staring at Animal and thinking, Looks like someone I know. I then looked in the mirror and realised why. I had begun to morph into my own mascot. A major sign for me to do away with the facial hair.

That and I felt like my skin needs some vitamin D. So here are my top ten

Pros And Cons To Having A Beard

By The Nomadic Diaries



At the five O’clock shadow stage, you come off lookin’ rugged and tough At the five O’clock shadow stage, you itch like a flea-bitten dog
As the heat sets in, you find that it keeps away flies and mosquitoes That’s because they get swallowed up by the beard, never to be heard of again
Whenever you eat, you collect food to save for an emergency This attracts all sorts of wildlife to your beard including a herd of buffalo
When you go swimming, your face remains cooler for longer due to the wetness of the beard When it dries out and you’re in tropical Africa you tend to pass out from heatstroke
It’s a great hit with the guys and a conversation starter Not such a great hit with the ladies and a conversation killer as the herd of buffalo now calling your beard ‘home’ ward them off
When it’s long enough, every time you stroke it you look like a wise man Sometimes other people feel inclined to stroke it to feel like a wise man
You can get your beard braided It fuckin’ hurts to unbraid it
You can tie it up to control it a bit better You can’t control a herd of buffalo
It scares little kids and old folk Moo-ha-ha
Depending on your hairstyle and location, you are called ‘Jesus’ and gather a following Depending on your hairstyle and location, you are called ‘Jesus’ and gather a following


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