THE #KENYA COAST – THE JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY MOVES TO MALINDI (Part 2 of four)
(Posted 16th August 2018)
(Kenya’s first ‘Grander‘ caught off Malindi and now on display at the Malindi Sea Fishing Club)
In part one of this series I set the tone and direction of these articles, discussing in some detail the challenges the Kenya coast faces in the absence of the Mombasa skies being opened to international scheduled airlines to bring in much needed ‘wagenis‘ in the absence of – probably never again – seeing the charters of the olden days return to the Kenyan shores in similar and even greater numbers.
A series of TripAdvisor reviews of my stays in hotels and resorts, from the ‘Grand ol’ Dame’ of hotelkeeping in Mombasa, the Nyali Beach Hotel, where I started my coastal journey this time and on to the Serena Beach Hotel & Spa in Shanzu, allowed readers the insight of what I experienced and it also shares, in particular with the Serena Beach, the fact that top quality, in global comparison, still very much exists in Kenya.
In the final part of the series, already titled ‘THE #KENYA COAST – A STORY OF BOTH ROT AND RENEWAL (Part 4 of four)‘ will I in greater details share my experiences and the soundbites I got from leading industry stakeholders how THEY see their short and medium term future, sparing you however the platitudes of those in government and working in government institutions.
After all, what matters here are the opinions of those on the ground, those who make the industry tick and not of some who by the look of it sit in a different sphere with their heads in the clouds.
From the Serena Beach I moved on to Malindi, and after researching public transport options decided to hail a ride share from Mondo Ride. Though not the cheapest, if only by two hundred plus bob or so, did they respond most promptly, putting the big names to shame – one of which responded AFTER I had arrived at the Driftwood Club in Malindi.
The drive to Malindi along the coastal road from Shanzu via Mtwapa, Kikambala and Kilifi was uneventful and with the road in reasonably good shape did I soon reach the outskirts of Malindi.
The entrance to the more recently built airport terminal to the left did a plane take off over us as we passed the runway centreline and then did the driver slow down sharply, as we began to hit pothole after pothole.
Upon making enquiries was I told that the roads within Malindi town are the responsibility of the Kilifi county government, which is clearly dragging its feet with road repairs, as I could over the next few days see across most of the town.
My recollection of the Driftwood location served me right and soon we had reached the main gate of the resort, after passing quite a few others which were either boarded up or showed no sign of activity at all.
After checking my name on the arrival board did the askari open the gate, with a broad smile, and hey presto I had arrived – but more of that later to first conclude my general overview and feedback received from hospitality and tourism stakeholders.
A tour across Malindi on the second day of my stay revealed just how many resorts within and outside Malindi were closed, including the famous awardwinning Lion in the Sun by Flavio Briatore and although the nearby Billionaires Club, also by Flavio Briatore, was open – the condominium property simply cannot close down, whether owners or their guests are on site or not – it showed little sign of worthwhile occupancy and activity.
Malindi is linked to Nairobi with several flight pairs every day, from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and from Wilson Airport and while national airline Kenya Airways no longer serves MYD has subsidiary Jambojet stepped in.
Notably absent are scheduled flights between Malindi and Mombasa and one of the newer players on the routes from Nairobi to both MBA and MYD may see an opportunity there to offer a morning and afternoon flight pair, perhaps in conjunction with Lamu, given how many of Malindi’s business people have to go to Mombasa everyday and how many people would happily pay 40 or 50 Dollars to escape the road transfer, which, depending on traffic, can take three hours or more from the Mombasa airport to the Malindi resorts.
Most notably absent though were any international flights to Malindi, and given the state of the hotel industry it is mind boggling how the Kenyan government could have denied Ethiopian Airlines landing rights in Malindi, which can easily be served with a Bombardier Q400 and could provide global connectivity for Malindi. This would include key gateways in Italy, Germany and Britain, besides the airline’s US gateways from where keen fishermen could reach Malindi’s famous ocean fishing playgrounds with but one stop enroute in Addis Ababa.
Everyone in Malindi blamed the denial of traffic rights on the national airline – as mentioned they are not even flying to MYD – and bemoaned their lack of clients who, when they do come arrive by and large by road after landing at Mombasa’s international airport.
Seat uptake on the domestic airlines flying from Nairobi to Malindi was also described as far from optimal though package sales in Nairobi, not just for Malindi but also for Watamu hotels, have helped to boost flight occupancies.
Those arriving by car from upcountry can now take advantage of the new link road between Mariakani which joins the Mombasa to Malindi road, bypassing the port city entirely and saving a couple of hours extra driving in the process.
The Malindi airport terminal building, enlarged and facilitated for both customs and immigration a few years ago, would be quite capable to cater for one and even two daily flights with a Q400 from Addis, without having to wait for who knows how long until the runway of MYD has been extended to cater for larger jet aircraft.
Ethiopian now does fly twice a day to Mombasa using a B737-800 and at times even a B787-8, something which has truly benefited the tourism industry north and south of Mombasa and the same would happen if the Kenyan government could look beyond the needs of their struggling national carrier and for once consider the needs of the tourism industry, a key sector of the economy and still – and far too slowly – undergoing a recovery period.
Both central and county government have a case to answer when it comes to Malindi, vis a vis air traffic, vis a vis infrastructure but also vis a vis promotional activities to put the resort town into a more favourable light.
Because, and now finally I can come to the upsides of Malindi, there are plenty of things to do after one has checked in at a place like the Driftwood Club.
(The Driftwood Club reception is happy to arrange a golf outing to the local golf club)
Whether one is interested in watersports like fishing, snorkeling, diving, sailing and kite surfing, in golfing or maybe playing Blackjack or Roulette in one of the casinos, whether one wants to do a one day trip into Tsavo East – a new all tarmac road is finally under construction though a few years away from completion by the look of it – or visit the last remaining coastal rain forest Arabuko Sokoke, there is plenty to do to pass time beyond the pool and strolls along the wide endless beaches.
(The head of a 2.5 ton heavy and 7 metre long shark mounted at the Malindi Sea Fishing Club and one of the club’s boats, available for hire with a full crew)
The Gedi Ruins, and similar remnants of ruins of ages long gone, invite visitors to see and learn more about the trade history of this part of the Kenya coast, which dates back into ancient times.
The Malindi Museum gives a further insight into the life of generations ago as does the Portuguese chapel and the Vasco da Gama Pillar. Visiting one in fact entitles visits to the others with the same ticket, on the same day of course.
(Down history lane in Malindi)
Both golf club and sea fishing club do welcome visitors and for some very affordable daily temporary membership fees can one enjoy a chat with the locals, have a stomach filling square meal at very affordable prices, play a round of safari golf or set out for a half or full day of fishing – mostly done under Tag and Release rules for the big game fish to help preserve the species.
Many visitors use Tuk Tuk’s to get around Malindi and notably does the Driftwood Club include one such tour for each guest, on the house. Make sure you visit Shakir’s shop in the town centre, where excellent quality African fabrics, kangas, kikois, lessos, bags and more are on offer, at very fair prices and with a friendly staff ready to serve with a smile.
(There is nothing like a Tuk Tuk tour with a competent guide to see Malindi’s attractions)
Driftwood Club, there is that name again … decades of memories, when it comes to visits to Malindi, flood my mind and then, as today, is the Driftwood the one property in Malindi I always unreservedly recommend, and stay at whenever I am there. There are of course other resorts which are open for business but as far as I am concerned, the Driftwood is synonymous with Malindi for me as is Malindi with the Driftwood.
(Roger enjoying a late poolside breakfast)
Managed by Roger Sylvester, who single handedly – of late with some more determined support by other like minded individuals in Malindi – kept the resort town on the map, is this resort – as the title above suggests – the ultimate barefoot paradise at this part of the Kenya coast.
Elsewhere I said the Driftwood is a place where beers do not get warm and where tea does not get cold, a place where the phrase ‘No Shoes No Shirts No Service‘ has no place and where informality is key to having guests enjoy their vacation.
While breakfast and dinner times are set can one still order a breakfast a la carte at noon and enjoy snacks and more substantial meals throughout the day, in the restaurant, at the bar, in the lounge or at the poolside.
This is a place where one can, no must take off the watch for the duration of one’s stay, where one need no suits or ties and can make do with a pair of shorts during the day and a pair of longies and a shirt for the evenings. Here do shoes make way for sandals though most will just enjoy being barefoot all day long. The Driftwood’s Zanzibar Fish Soup is legendary – though I keep telling them to rename it to ‘Malindi Fish Soup‘ instead. Their prawns are tasty and notably prepared home style cooking leaving the fancy shmancy miniature 5 star displays to others at three or more fold prices while giving guests a filling meal and not likely even thinking of a second helping, so substantial are the dishes served.
The catch of the day comes equally recommended, again served in classic home cooking style – and when the resort stages its regular quiz nights is classic pub grub served such as fish and chips.
(My cottage and bedroom at the Driftwood Club – what more does one really need?)
Accommodation at the Driftwood is simple but very clean and everything works, air condition included, just don’t expect a mini bar or a kettle in the room – though they do offer to place a flask of hot tea in the room for people like me who live on the stuff.
Those of us who have been coming to the Driftwood for long will know that, apart from a conference room, everything has remained where is was from decades ago, reception, offices, bar, lounge, restaurant, cottages – one must mention the private enclosure of two family or VIP cottages with a private pool for added privacy – and of course the pool itself, from where one can overlook the Indian Ocean.
A wide beach awaits guests right in front of the resort and at half tide is there plenty of space for the kids to play ball, build sand castles and for adults to take long walks.
(The Driftwood pool with sweeping views over the Indian Ocean)
WiFi of course is not missing, extending across the entire resort, allowing guests to become instant ambassadors of the Driftwood when posting their pictures and narrating their experience to their friends at home.
(Stripping the makuti roof and refitting a new one took just two days)
Roger has kept the place clean and well maintained, and during my stay was the makuti roof of one of the poolside buildings stripped off and a new one fitted, part of the regular maintenance which has kept the Driftwood in the good shape I found it, time and again.
A three star resort – going by official rankings – does the Driftwood give one that five star feeling of hospitality and the engaging nature of Roger who likes to stay in close contact with all his guests to keep his finger on the pulse of their experience, is a guarantee of a relaxing holiday, old style in this day and age.
It is no surprise that more than three quarters of the Driftwood guests are repeaters, who, when they come to Malindi, want to feel at home from the moment they walk up to the reception – and then probably on to the bar for a cold one, or a cup of tea, as one’s tastes dictate before they even go to their room – baggage long delivered there of course.
A chance meeting, while in Malindi, with a social media contact then gave me an opportunity to also see one of the nearby private villas and an what an eye opener that was. It goes to show that, resort or private villa, Malindi is quite able to meet the expectations of different clientele. Neem House presented itself equally from its sunniest side and – Roger may not like that of course – I am scheming to spend a couple of nights there when I next visit Malindi but frequenting the club as often as I then can to sneak in a few cold beers – Roger invoked the old ‘White Cap Safaris‘ rules on me which I accepted with a big grin on my face – or have an impromptu meal of prawns in case the fishermen did not deliver any to the Neem House door in the morning.
With a HUGE master bedroom, a rooftop bedroom for teenagers and two self-contained bedrooms in the house proper is Neem House capable of hosting as many as 12 people, though in my solo travel tradition I will aim at enjoying it, and the small sparkling clean pool, all by myself. Owner Karin Duthie told me all about the skills of their cook and I plan to share the kitchen with him, celebrating seafood cuisine at its Malindi best.
In conclusion, Malindi still has a lot going for itself but definitely could do better, should to better, if only the powers that be would do what is required of them, both at county and central government level.
But there lies the crux of the matter, they either do not know or do not want to know and in both cases shame on them, if at all those I have in mind do know the meaning of shame.
Malindi is a great place for a relaxing vacation, to get away from maddening crowds, leave the stress of the office behind and to spend quality time with oneself, with a partner or with an entire family.
No wonder has Roger created a series of hashtags he uses on his social media platform (https://www.facebook.com/Driftwoodmalindi/) and those of others and readers are free to check them out and use them of course.
#marvelsofmalindi was created by yours truly while visiting but gifted to Roger and the Malindi tourism community to help promote the destination some more.
Link to the first article in this series:
I traveled from Entebbe to Nairobi on RwandAir, took the Madaraka Express to the coast, used Mondo Ride for my trip from Shanzu to Malindi and returned from Vipingo Ridge on the daily Safarilink scheduled flight to Wilson Airport.
From Nairobi I again travelled with RwandAir to Entebbe.