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Chasing sunsets in a dhow

Among all the coastal towns where one can have a vacation, I discovered that Kilifi is a safe and charming abode to spend your beach holiday while at the coast. I know most people love going to Mombasa, but once you set your foot in Kilifi, you will never desire to spend your vacation in another place. 

Well, I also love the heritage in Lamu. I discovered that little is known about this town despite the fact that the construction of a bridge over Kilifi Creek has made access to this amazing town much easier.

With a small indigenous population comprising of the Giriamas, Kilifi has an intriguing “small town” feel, although you may once in a while come across other inland people who mingle with the Germans, British, Italians, and other nationals vacationing freely.

I love its gorgeous coral white sandy beaches, archaeological sites, and Kilifi Creek, which is the centrepiece of the town, and runs directly through the middle of the settlement.

Kilifi has two seashores. For the times when you feel like playing in the sand and surf on the ocean; Bofa Beach, recognised as one of the finest beaches, has few crowds unlike the other beaches in other coastal towns.

Giriama village dancers welcome us with song and dance.

Shauri Moyo Beach is the smaller one, and is situated on the south side of Kilifi Creek and is perfect for sunbathing and watersports.

While in Kilifi make a point of going for a dhow cruise, which for lack of a better word is simply magical.

While spending at Distant Relatives, I had the opportunity to go on a two-hour sundowner trip with a bubbly Captain called Issa, who not only showed me the amazing sights but also took me through some of the lessons that he has learnt in his 35 years of being in the ocean. 

One can also opt for a moonlight cruise when there is a full moon and have dinner on a secluded beach with your loved one, gazing upon the starry night sky.

However, if you are planning for a moonlight cruise, note that it only appears once a month for a few days hence it is always good to check with the hotel on the best day.

I had mixed feelings boarding the well-decorated dhow. On one hand I am water phobic and on the other hand, my heart was racing, excited about the looming adventure, just like in the Sinbad the Sailor movies that I had watched in my childhood.

The weather was temperamental though. Dark grey clouds were gathering and my only prayer was that the heavens would hold the rain until the end of the cruise and allow me to catch the sunset.

Dhows are beautifully hand-carved traditional wooden Swahili sailing boats, which are used primarily for fishing or transport. There are a variety of boats used at the coast. For instance, there is the Jahazi, the grand dhow of the Indian Ocean, weighing as much as 30 tons and is able to cross thousands of miles of open ocean.

The Ngalawa too is another kind of an unmistakable sailing canoe, plying lagoons, creeks as well as nearshore waters.

Mashua is a general name given to a variety of larger, ‘plank’ built traditional dhows with a square stern, often employed for cargo transport and fishing in the open waters. Traditional boats are intrinsically linked to the Swahili culture and the people who live here.

As we sailed around, our captain and crew told us about the goings-on in Kilifi -what kind of people visited what resort, the best time to snorkel, how the lack of tourists had affected Kilifi (very much, no tourists, no one to buy fish).

His brevity fascinated me as he managed to suspend and walk along the dhow’s sides as it swung side by side. I tried to do it but let out a loud cry just when I thought I was about to fall. 

We didn’t actually get out to the open ocean, instead of sailing around Kilifi Creek. The captain said it was getting too late to head out to the ocean and that the wind would be dying down soon. So we got a nice tour of Kilifi Creek and the boats moored there.

It was really enjoyable to hang out with locals and to learn about the area from the perspective of the dhow crew.

These trips can sometimes include a traditional grilled seafood, or Swahili meal on a beach and/or snorkelling and fishing if the weather permits, or if the guest requests. To get great rates and also a trusted captain, always use the hotel as it has experience with the locals around.

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