Kenya: On the Beach in Diani and Safari in Nakuru with Krista Brown
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Originally published May 2011
Words and photos by Krista Brown
If my most trusted friend had approached me six months ago, dressed as a storybook fortune-teller, and predicted that my brand new dream job at Sunowould send me to Kenya a mere three weeks after my start date to stay at two of the most incredible places I have ever had the privilege of laying my head, I would need to be shaken, not stirred from whatever deep chasm of Dreamland I had stumbled into. And I might need Fox Mulder himself to convince me to believe.
I was waiting for my suitcase at the Nairobi airport baggage claim before I even realized I was actually in Africa. The previous day, I had only been home for a few hours after a long weekend in Los Angeles, and a week before that, I didn’t even have a plane ticket to Kenya. I felt like I was standing knee deep in the rabbit hole.
Our first mission was to get to a tiny speck of a beach town, called Diani, on the Southeast coast of Kenya. This required an entirely different airport and a very small plane – a plane small enough for eight passengers and zero intercom systems. We were on our way to meet an amazing woman named Joanna, who relocated to Diani with her painter husband from London’s fashion community to build Soko, a business that trains and employs local Kenyan tailors and artisans to make beautiful garments for the global fashion industry.
We stayed at Water Lovers, a small, tranquil dream of a beach resort that was above and beyond my wildest business trip expectations. Built and owned by Italian ex-pats Riccardo & Valentina, the resort is comprised of six spacious guest cottages, each with its own totem animal (I stayed in the Leopard Cottage) and each with a spectacular ocean view. (There is also a deluxe private villa that has a full kitchen and can accommodate up to eight guests.) Their attentive and beyond-friendly staff made sure we were taken great care of from start to finish, serving great drinks and cuisine that uniquely conflated the flavors of Kenyan beach fare with those of their Mediterranean home. Oh, and Water Lovers is full of monkeys. They play in all of the trees, they try to steal your welcome cocktail, and they scare the crap out of you when they unexpectedly play on your roof at 4am the first night you’re there. (They also totally rule.)
Riccardo also personally booked me an amazing two-tank dive session with Diving the Crab, located just down the road. On my morning dive I saw octopus, eels, stingrays, and sea turtles, and they even sent a driver to pick me up and drop me off at Water Lovers.
Diani felt, in every way, like a barely discovered paradise; a secret you can’t help but blurt out to a few close friends, all the while hoping it doesn’t reach a wider audience and come back to bite you squarely in the ass. There are no mega-resorts, no cruise ships, no marinas. There is only one airstrip, and only one trashy ex-pat bar full of way-too-wasted college students. I never wanted to leave.
Kicking and screaming, I found myself back on the plane anyway, headed for another week of work at Suno’s workshop in Nakuru, a small town about two hours Northwest of Nairobi by car, in Kenya’s high lake country. I had been told that the Suno crew usually stays at a safari camp (as in tents), and I had absolutely no idea what I was in for, other than the fact that I’d probably need extra bug spray. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we drove into Lake Nakuru National Park and turned off onto a clunky, rock-strewn dirt road, only to find the car surrounded by massive herds of water buffalo and gazelles. Flamingo Hill proved to be less than a camp and more of a sweepingly romantic tent resort, and I feel like the luckiest person alive to have had a chance to stay there. The tents are massive, and each one has a full, modern, beautiful bathroom attached. There is electrical power to charge cameras, laptops, and phones, and a gorgeous netted bed, complete with heated water pad under the covers at night. Every morning, you unzip your tent and emerge to stunning landscape views, beautiful flowers, and lots of animals. (Don’t worry, there’s a game warden on site to prevent middle-of-the-night lion tent attacks.)
The staff arranged for three of us to take a morning game drive, even accommodating our request for a packed picnic breakfast. Our smiling, traditionally-garbed Maasai driver spent several hours with us in a Land Rover Defender (mandatory safari chariot), cruising all over Lake Nakuru National Park. We saw storks, impalas, hyenas, jackals, rhinos, giraffes, waterbucks, hyraxes, flamingos, an ostrich, warthogs, and baboons all before 9am. The food at Flamingo Hill was lovely and full of traditional Kenyan items like chapati bread and stewed mutton, and the staff is about as hospitable and attentive as you can get.
If life has taught me anything lately, it’s that you never know where it will take you. So if you should find yourself in Kenya among the beautiful, smiling residents, consider these fantastic experiences for yourself, and remember… hakuna matata.
For more photos of Krista’s trip to Kenya, check out her Flickr.
Krista Brown is a designer for the clothing line Suno and the excellent chef and owner of Brooklyn Cookworks. She also has a delicious food blog with recipes called Radio Gastronomy. Krista also likes to occasionally blast off to space disco and get weird.