Kitesurfing in Kenya: an Untamed Kitesurfing Safari
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Africa. The black continent. Young, raw, wild, untamed, gushing, hissing thirst of blood and sweat awaits a traveller who sets foot on its scorching soil. The seductive charm of subsaharan Africa is undeniable, and everyone feels it. Whether you like it or not, depends on you, and the relationship you establish with it. Either it is that of passionate, lifelong affection; or that of an indifferent likeability, or perhaps even cold resentment. One thing is for sure: you will not forget it.
Our first destination was the island of Lamu, relatively close to the border with Somalia. A little less than a decade ago, Lamu was stricken attacks by Somali pirates: one french and one british tourist were kidnapped, which caused the ocrumbling of Lamu tourism. Visitors (which were not many to begin with) left overnight and it took Lamu several years to recover from the blow. Even now, when the situation is safe and there hadn't been any security issues in years, people are still vary of coming here. This is unfortunate, because Lamu is beautiful and has much to offer: the experience begins with an exquisite departure from the small airport to the wooden pier, where you can witness and enjoy a spectacular cacophonie of bartering and arguing between what must have been some 20 odd boat drivers, bickering among themselves loudly over who is going to drive who and where. Some order is finally imposed on the yelling bunch, by an older gentleman which apparently has some authority, and the voices quell to normal.
Lamu old town is a charismatic place with narrow streets and old houses where the muslim and swahili features are intertwined. Donkey traffic rules the streets and the locals smile and nod. There are only two cars in town: an ambulance vehicle, and a jeep owned by the mayor. Curious kids followed us around and waved at us, than ran away shyly when we said hello. Bustling town market sells all kinds of goodies and a tsunami of scents (good and yucky) overflow the air.
After a short boat ride alongside the shoreline, overgrown with a seemingly endless web of mangrove trees, we arrived at our destination: a lovely villa with a pool, the whole thing settled in an oasis of greenery. Owned and ran by a really cool and relaxed couple, and to our surprise the guy was actually the brother of one of the current world's top pro kitesurfers (the names will be kept confidential:)). Our stay in Lamu was pure bliss and relaxation. We had the whole villa to ourselves and no neighbours and the villa to ourselves. We had our own chef who spoiled us everyday with delicious foods all made with local, fresh ingredients. The maid kept our rooms clean and tidy, and a masseuse was available on request. First class treatment, and the luxury of being alone on the beach. To make it even better, we were more or less the only kitesurfers, thus we had the beach to ourselves and could shred the waters freely. The location was fantastic, with the tides constantly changing the shape of the small lagoons so you had plenty of butter flat water and small islets and peninsulas you could jump or slide over. The wind was constant, although not too strong - averaging about 15-18 knots. Bigger kites were in use. One day we took a boat ride back to Lamu and then downwinded back on the west side of Lamu back to our beach - it was great fun to play among the waves.
Tsavo East national park
When you are in Kenya for the first time, going on safari is a must-do adventure. For a short break between kitesurfing, we embarked to Tsavo East national park on a two day safari, spending the night in the fenced camp inside the park. Elephants, girraffes, buffalos, zebras, monkeys, impalas, lions, crocodiles and hippos - all up close and in person (well, except the hippos). Impressive and remarkable. In the evening when we were having dinner in the dining area of the camp, a herd of buffalo was stationed right on the other side of the fence, munching grass and curiously looking at us. Suddenly, I realized that, actually, we are the ones INSIDE the fence right now, like in a "human zoo" and the buffalo is observing us. Probably wondering what the fuck these funny ape-like creatures are doing, with weird pieces of cloth hung over their bodies, and rattling around with metal objects and ceramic plates, instead of just eating from the floor or a tree like normal animals. Duh. The next morning, we got up super early to see the lions. We were in for a real treat! We witnessed a proper lion date: some flirting, some playing hard to get, and finally some proper lion action, with growling and roaring included. If only we could transpose onto human dating this sort of quick transition from flirtatious eye contact to getting down (animal style). :))
After two days of hanging around with wild animals, we were hungry for some more wind and kitesurfing. Our next destination was a beach resort close to the town of Watamu. On the way, we drove through through several villages which were made of the most basic huts, just wooden poles, straw and dried mud. No running water, no electricity, no nothing. Kids were chasing after improvised footballs or teasing the dogs, there was laughter and a cheerful attitude. They went berserk when they saw us passing by, cheering, waving and calling to us. I am not sure whether they were genuinely happy or intrigued to see us foreigners, or were they taught to wave and smile at westerners for the increased posibillity of donations or something. Although, from the inside of our speeding jeeps, we could do little aside from waving back to them.
A beuatiful small resort close to Watamu was our home for the next week. White sandy beach, emerald green waters, and funky beach bars which served delicious drinks and treats. Bonfire on the beach and looking at the stars at night, while sipping mojitos. A refreshing swim in the pool in the morning. Lounging in a hammock in the meticulously maintained garden. Yup, we were (again) living the good life, and we were not ashamed to admit it.
One day we went to visit the ruins of an ancient temple nearby, now populated by giant trees and a horde of monkeys which harrass you for bananas. At one point I had four of them on me - two on my shoulders, one on my outstreched arm and one on my head, gripping and pulling on my hair for balance. Fun times.
The wind was side-shore and a sometimes bit on the weak side, so large kites were in use (12m for guys was adequate) and we could not kitesurf all day every day. Not a problem, as the place was perfect for just being lazy. We did not mind at all just to relax in beach beds, munching on local treats and sipping drinks while we waited for the afternoon/evening wind. A small stretch of sand protruded out into the sea, creating a flat water area - although it was quite shallow, so not perfect for learning new tricks or high jumps.
The local kids and their ingenuity was stunning. Every day, a bunch of them hung around at the beach, watching us assemble our gear and kitesurf. At first, we were a bit suspicious, thinking that they might steal something while we were out on the water, but nothing like this has happened. After a couple of days, however, they strolled proudly to the beach in the afternoon with their own, improvised kites: they used a wooden stick for a bar, some thin ropes and a plastic or paper bag attached to the end, flitting in the wind. Some have even fashioned harnesses from cardboard. I could not believe my eyes - these little fellas were like little fucking McGyvers.
To sum up: Kenya was pretty fucking amazing. A bit of a culture shock, of course, when you venture outside of your resort or villa. But this is an essential and necessary part of travelling. All in all: a great experience. Different people, different habits, different life. The Kenyans are friendly and good-natured towards foreigners, not pushy or intrusive. Of course they try to scam you a bit from time to time (as everywhere), but nothing too bad. Also, I did not see as much trash lying around as I am used to seeing in third world countries (Asia is especially guilty of this).
I admit I have succumbed to the charm of subsaharan Africa. I was pulled into the vortex of intrigue, of excitement, of scorching heat and jungle sounds, of black faces and ear-to-ear white smiles. And I cannot wait to return.