Exploring Hotspots in Kilifi

Bigger isn’t always better, is it? Anyway, not when it is a big hotel at the Coast that has been depending on package holidaymakers from overseas – and then, when the news from Kenya turns nasty, the tourists stay home or go elsewhere.

We had a couple of days work in Kilifi and we decided to stay at the Mnarani Club – whose signboard we had often noticed but passed – just before the bridge over the creek, before the town, and along the road to Malindi. The club has a great site, with superb views over the creek and out to sea – and lots of amenities, such as boating, fishing, cycling, swimming, scuba diving and crazy golf.

The most striking feature is the expansive laptop pool, with sightlines from the lounges and restaurant that make it appear to flow straight into the waters of the creek…. But we arrived too late to see that – after an evening flight from Nairobi and a drive in the dark from Mombasa.

It must have been ten-ish when I was shown to my room. A large room. Nothing luxurious – but all the basics were there, in the way of a wide bed, wardrobe, worktop and convenient lights. The mosquito net was one of those generous ones that spread like a box over the bed and fall fully to the floor. Not the claustrophobic kind that you have to tuck under the mattress.

I was glad to see a fridge, a kettle and cups – but disappointed to find no bottled water in the fridge and no teabags, milk or sugar to make the kettle useful. So I asked reception, and I was told that I would have to buy those things from the shop.

Now I am not mean – but I do think a hotel of the Mnarani Club standard and price should not be what we used to call, in the Lincolnshire where I come from, ‘penny-pinching’. I guess it was a sign of the bad times that the club and all hotels along that Coast have gone through since the turn of the year. But this is not the way to win back favour, is it?

And another thing – there was no TV in the rooms. Now, maybe foreign tourists will have their minds set only on sunshine and sand for a while. But my Kenyan colleague is a real news-freak, and she was very put out to be without her night-cap and wake-up call of TV. Again, particularly if the club wants to attract local clients, it will need better to consider their wants.

As it was, last week, the club was hardly a quarter full. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to be drinking alone at a well-stocked bar or eating dinner with, say, twenty others in a restaurant set for more than a hundred. But the food was good, nevertheless. And the staff were friendly – a touch over so, perhaps. Maybe they have become too accustomed to the ‘Jambo Bwana!’ stuff of package tours.

I asked one of the staff if the hotel was a hotspot – and he thought I was asking if the place had a disco. In that sense, neither the Mnarani Club nor Kilifi Town could rival the hotspots of Mtwapa back down the road – or Malindi further on.

But there are other, more placid delights around Kilifi. There are plenty of chances to mess about the creek on boats, of course. Looking ahead, there will soon be a world class golf-course on Vipingo Ridge. We drove up there to see how the work is progressing. Some fairways have been cut and greens laid. The view from up there is quite spectacular – and the air is fresh.

And, looking back, there is a history to explore. We paid a visit to the Mnarani Ruins, across the road from the club and in the woods bordering the creek. The site may not be as grand as Gedi, further down the road at the Watamu turnoff, but the 15th century Great Mosque is quite impressive; the ancient Arabic inscriptions on the stones are intriguing because they are still to be deciphered – and there is a discernable spirit to the place.

Our guide, Gilbert Kassindi, was very enthusiastic and informative. He led us deeper into the woods, where there are other archaeological sites to be excavated – and some imposing baobabs. One of the huge baobabs, with a fissure in the trunk of a most obvious female shape, is still the place for traditional religious rituals involving, so we were made to understand, the sacrifice of chickens and goats…. Intriguing. Yet another kind of hotspot.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation