It had been three years since I’d been to Diani but this time, I was nervous and anxious about the trip. My uncertain feelings weren’t due to the destination but the fact that this was the first domestic tour trip I’d ever organized. My travel company was practically a baby and it felt like I was about to make my first steps. I was mentally prepared for Twende Na Mwende to wobble and fall but stand up again and take new steps towards success; realistically no-one can ever prepare you for the hurdles along the way. Three of my customers had cancelled last-minute cutting down my attendance from nine to six, seven if I included myself. The show had to move on, I had to cut my losses and roll with the punches.
After months of planning, it was finally D-Day! I had woken up at 5:00am and called all my clients to prepare themselves for the trip. I was good to go at 6:00am. I’d called a taxi and waited for thirty minutes because the cab guy got lost. We stopped to pick my boyfriend, Jazz. We made the mistake of taking the Kibera route hoping we’d avoid traffic but shock on us it was a standstill. We moved like tortoises; one agonizing inch at a time. It was a true test of patience and positive thinking. I had to keep my cool and pray for the traffic jam to open up so that we could speed on to the train.
The one form of transportation that defies the law of African timing, the SGR. Thousands of people have been left by the SGR and we wouldn’t be the first ones. By 7:52 am, Oscar and Michelle were blowing up my phone asking where we were. At that point, if we could put wings on the cab and make it fly, we would. Our car was 7 minutes away, but it felt like the wheels were stuck in the mud and we weren’t moving fast enough. At 7:59 am, we’d gotten to the station. The guards were rushing us through security and towards the terminal. I met my clients in person for the first time and quickly gave everyone their tickets as we ran against the clock.
With 5 minutes to spare, we made it to the train! I was so happy because my first trip wouldn’t be cancelled, all the wild thoughts in my head had grown silent. The seven of us weren’t allowed to sit close to each other; we have scattered apart in the busy bustling coach. The chairs were like an iron board; straight and stiff. This made it hard to sleep and adjust your body to comfortability. It made the journey more tedious; people became restless quickly, hovering from one seat to another and making small talk with strangers. Four of my clients; Frank, Oscar, Alex and Kevin began to play flowers which shortly turned into street poker. The boys were fascinated with the concept of my business. They gushed about how their passion for adventure and travel. They seemed like a fun group of guys who laughed easily and genuinely wanted to have a good time. The long train ride seemed like a never-ending journey to oblivion.
Finally, we arrived at our coastal destination! I was ready for some sun, sand and relaxation. The train came to a stop and we all stood to stretch and exit our vessel. As passengers, it felt like we were confused cattle being herded into the pen of the SGR station. As we were all making our way towards the exits, it became a sea of humanity violently pushing and shouting. Everyone was inconsiderate of the other and each man wanted to pave their way making the process much slower. Eventually, my travel tribe and I strayed away from the herd, manoeuvring our way to the car park to find our driver John.
John was a complicated man who had overpromised and under-delivered. He had conned me that he was unable to get one car to fit us. I had realized this at the station and unveiled his notorious scheme to overcharge us. Instead of losing my cool, we go into the cars and head on our way. What choice did we have? It was too late to back out now. Jazz tried to neutralize the situation by talking to John in a friendly manner. Soon, the two became fast friends. John even bought us coffee and cake at the ferry, chatting the two and a half drive from the SGR terminal in Mombasa to Diani Backpackers away.
Diani Backpackers felt like the perfect weekend getaway that we had been yearning for. A hostel, not a hotel which meant that the rules were relaxed. As the youth, we could practically do anything we wanted. The main building was a big bungalow designed in the shape of a coastal hut with a thatched roof and orange walls along a rocky surface; the dorms and kitchen lay inside. The hostel had a self-service element to it, there were no waiters. Instead, you place your order at the kitchen and come and collect it, the same thing went at the bar. The bar was also the reception area, decorated with flags from various countries and an assorted range of drinks. There were lounge areas for guests to relax; both had thatched roofs. Nearby, there was another dorm which looked like a thatched hut. The private rooms were scattered around the vicinity which was available as either singles or doubles.
We were the only Africans at the hotel, the rest of the guests were Europeans who were backpacking across Kenya. The reason why a lot of young people flocked to such an accommodation in the South Coast is that a bed per day went for Ksh 1300 in a dorm and Ksh 2500 in a private room, there was also the option to camp for Ksh 600. The food was quite affordable ranging from Ksh 200-600 per meal. Cocktails went for Ksh 300 at the bar.
People were extremely tired and took the opportunity to settle in and freshen up for the night’s activities. Two hours later, we gathered by the pool table to play Get-To-Know-You games so that strangers could get familiar with one another. The night started with fun facts about each person which included their names and hobbies. This was followed by three rounds of an intense poker match and was finished by a round of cards against humanity. At this point, we were all famished and decided to get dinner before the evening festivities could commence. The highlight of the night was “Jimmy-Jimmy” which was introduced to us by Oscar. A roar of laughter and an atmosphere of relaxation and friendly fun arose in the atmosphere. The light-hearted humour and inoffensive insults were riddled at each opponent.
After playing for several hours, Alex and Kevin, called it a night and went to bed. The rest of us decided to have a midnight swim in the pool. The weather in Diani was just right, it wasn’t humid, but it wasn’t cold either, the water was perfectly warm. The sky was filled with beautiful constellations. The stars were aligned with one another. There was a giant circle of stars overhead, it was simply spectacular; we were spectators witnessing natural beauty. My body felt as though it was floating, I was as light as a feather. No time, place or thing could distract my travel tribe from this sensational sight!
On Saturday morning, we went to the beach to snorkel. Kevin and Alex had gone to North Coast to see Old Town Mombasa. I’d never seen the beach so empty. It was low tide and the white sandy shores beamed with the brilliance of the sun. The ocean’s waves kissed the body with each welcoming step. We entered the small boat and were whisked into the ocean; salt-water splashing gently on our skin, the distinct smell of fish in the air, the dark blue waves rocking us gently to and fro on our merry way and the strong ocean breeze engulfing us on our odyssey. We stopped by a small deserted island in the middle of the ocean and went for a little walk. By this time, the sun was burning our bare backs and we went back into the boat to venture out for snorkelling. High tide had begun to settle in and the waves were more violent now. Only strong swimmers could risk it all. One of the beach boys dived into the water and went underneath the boat to the glass bottom. He lured in schools of fish to fill our see-through screen, tantalizing them with bread and they were lovely. He stayed underneath the boat for half a minute and I began to wonder how a person could hold their breath for so long?
Jazz and Frank leapt faith into the unfriendly waves, the momentum of the ocean took them aback. A safety ring was thrown into their proximity in case they needed to use it. The boat began to rock faster; water was seeping its way through. After ten minutes, the boys came back and exclaimed in joy at how much fun they had but confessed to the difficulty of staying afloat with massive waves slapping their fragile bodies. It was time to head back now. We had to return slowly because the waves had grown magnanimously and we were all drenched in water. The boys had climbed to the top of the boat for some summer sunshine while we were confined to the gully below.
The beach welcomed us with the refreshing solidity of land that is lost to castaways. We bought some made (coconut juice served inside a coconut), everyone except me hated the taste of coconuts. We began to walk on the south side of the beach; filled with seaweed, rocks and beachfront property. After thirty minutes of strolling, we saw a windsurfer with dreads glide on the waves. It looked like he was dancing with freedom; so elegantly his body turned and surfed along the wind-breaking waves. It was entertaining to see. We had accidentally stumbled into the windsurfing centre. There were hammock and beach chairs to gracefully watch the ocean. We decided to chill here for 2 hours, sun-basking and relaxing under the shade of the long and tall palm trees. Laughter and excitement grew within my travel tribe. People were truly enjoying themselves and I couldn’t believe that I had arranged all of this!
When you’re on holiday, it feels like time stands still and you’re in a cocoon transported away from your daily life. We lost track of time and had to head back to the hotel. The tide had begun to come in and collided with our feet as it pushed us to the rough rocky surface. It was a treacherous trek, but we made it back to “Four-Twenty South Beach” where we had originated from. Nearing sunset, we made our way back to the beach, it was low tide. We decided to play three-sticks, I’d grown accustomed to people’s competitive streaks coming out in such setups. My short legs got me out of the game faster than most, Oscar fell ecstatically into elimination and Jazz was the victor of the game, aided by his phenomenal Masai jumping genes. We went swimming in the ocean with the gentle light of the moon reflecting on us all. It was slowly dawning on us that it was our last night with our little slice of paradise.
Back at Diani Backpackers, we went to change for the last night. Everyone was so pumped and excited, wearing their Sunday best, waiting to have a good time! We were all sitting around a table when suddenly out of the blue, my boyfriend Jazz came with his laptop. It was a few days for my birthday. My closest friends and family wished me a Happy birthday on a birthday video that he had been secretly planning the entire time without my knowledge, it was incredible! I had no words and for once, I was speechless. It was the sweetest thing anybody had ever done for me and I was dumbstruck in awe. It was the perfect way to end the night. I wouldn’t have wanted to be with anyone else at any single time. It was the best surprise ever!
At the crack of dawn, my travel tribe and I headed to the beach for our last walk. We walked along with the coral and a beach boy explained to us the different species by the ocean. The ambience of the place was so calm and collected; a woman practising yoga, an elderly man on his morning run and his dog following quickly with eager little footsteps. We were at peace with ourselves and those around us. I didn’t want to miss this wonderful place goodbye, but we had a train to catch. With one last look over the horizon and sand kissing my feet, we were off. We headed back swiftly to the hotel to pay the bill and head out. Everyone looked so depressed with sadness in their eyes; like a child about to go to boarding school, regretting the departure.
The conman, John the driver, came to pick us from Diani Backpackers. We were all so tired and sad to be leaving. At the SGR Terminus, some of us were hungry. Oscar, Alex, Jazz and I head out to eat in a nearby banda with a very cheap food costing Ksh 100 per plate. It was boarding time once again on our metallic snake and that’s when I knew that our holiday was over. I looked across to each face that had chosen to take this odyssey and chance with my tour company, and I was grateful. I didn’t have such expectations on this trip, it had been an experience filled with stress and anxiety, but it was finally done. One of the best weekends of the year had come to an end and I oversaw that! I couldn’t have been prouder! It was phenomenal. I thanked every person for deciding to travel with Twende Na Mwende and gave them a wristband as a parting gift. It was the end of the first trip and the beginning of many more!
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