I am no sucker for luxury, but like most people, it occasionally blows me away. Especially if it comes in the form of wonderful acts of nature. I’d opt for a chance to own Ol Jogi ranch, for instance, to, let’s say, owning a Gulfstream jet. Or, I’d rather spend a get away in Lamu as opposed to taking a Lamborghini for a spin on the eastern bypass. Imagine, giving up all that exhilaration for some time spent walking along the beach, watching sunsets kissing silent waves.
That is why, the first sight I saw when I walked through the doors of Shwari Watamu is, and will, for a long time, be etched in my mind. Not the sunset kissing the silent waves, it was not evening yet, but the blue swimming pool, and the bluer ocean a few hundred metres away, the few palm trees, the wonderfully set posterior of the house, and the rustic furniture. For a moment, the side of the house that I had left behind me fell away. It may sound a tad bit dramatic, because it is. All beautiful things have an alluring sense of charm about them.
Walking through the front doors creates a sense of stepping into a new element. The foyer, which is lightly occupied by hardwood furniture gives way to sliding glass doors which open to the swimming pool, an al fresco dining area, and a fancy outdoor shed that looks like the ideal nest for a chain smoking coffee addicted bibliophile. Beyond that lies the beach and the ocean.
Shwari Watamu sits on a stretch of privately owned coastline. The beaches are eternally underpopulated. Private residences seem to outnumber hotels along this stretch. The villa, which is family run, was conceived and built as a family home. Which explains the level of care, detail and sheer devotion put into almost every aspect of the house.
The rooms are quite spacious. Whomever designed the building was generous on that end. They seemed to build on on the carefree and laid back coastal vibe. The six or so bedrooms can comfortably accommodate twelve people.
The only element in the rooms that says timber are some of the beds. Everything else is made of dried and cured unaltered tree parts, probably taken from the mangroves that line the beach. These are built into beautifully finished concrete slabs.
There are separate rooms you can use as chill spots. The extra spaces are complemented by the balconies on the first and second floors. The one on the second floor is for a stand alone room.
Exclusivity aside, the mere location of the house in Watamu already puts it in an attractive position. Watamu is a beautiful place. It has been invariably referred to as the Mombasa of 20 years back. It can cater both for the luxury and the frugal traveller, and in some cases provide the same experiences to the two.
If you approach Watamu by road through Kilifi, you will see a forest on the left side of the road, Arabuko Sokoke. It is considered the second most important sanctuary for birds in Africa, after the Congo forest. It is also home to elephants, buffaloes and other endangered animals and birds.
Watamu is home to the famous Gede ruins, the Watamu Marine Park where you can snorkel, view the coral reefs, engage in stand up paddle boarding, kite and windsurfing, scuba diving, and water-skiing, or big game sportfishing. Watamu’s shoreline was voted one of the best ten beaches in Africa.You can also try sunset dhow cruises and fishing in Mida Creek. And, if you get to be in Watamu in February, then you may get a chance of seeing turtle hatchlings make a dash for the water.
For a life outside the water, the right move is to step into the small town. It looks like an Italian archipelago. Public insignia is in Italian. Coffee bars are all over, pizzeria, ristorante, gelato parlours dot the town. So do clubs and bars. It also carries the potential for some memorable moments.
One late evening, we decide to venture into town for a few beers. The night Watamu presents an interesting life. You will have to take off your shirt while in the car because it is still hot and humid. Well, you won’t have to, but I did. As the car drives down the stretch towards town, you will bathe in the evening breeze, take in the scents of the ocean, and the Coast .The coast smells like an undecided emotion. Like the feel of a confident psychie that is headed somewhere, sure of the journey but clueless of the destination.
As we park, I see this girl. I see the smoke first, and the long wavy hair, but, it is the book that reels me in. She is seated on a couch made from bamboo, a half way read book lying in the middle of a triangle formed by a folded right leg resting on the left one, a burning cigarette held firmly between the middle and index fingers of her right hand. In the brightly lit patio of the bar, a few metres away from a group loudly conversing in Italian, she seems invisible, and comfortable. I imagine that is how freedom looks like. You will certainly see a number of people like her in a place like Watamu, versions of her to be specific.
Earlier on, I had been asked by a local if we had explored. I didn’t know then what she meant. However, after grasping the depth of Watamu, that question made sense. At that time, Shwari was my highlight,at the point of departure, it hadn’t ceded the spot. It just shared it with other many things. Like the girl reading a book in a bar.