On the isle of Manda, a beautiful life
Published 2 September 2017 Saturday magazine Nation newspaper
Above: Beautiful beach by Diamonds on Manda Island opposite Lamu island on Kenya coast. Copyright Rupi Mangat
The ocean tide flows in from the deep sea in the late afternoon putting aside any thought of visiting the little-known fort at the tip of the channel between the isles of Lamu and Manda – unless we want to battle the ocean current.
Instead just chilling at the rustic abode is a great idea on the swinging bed under the shade of the rustic makuti and makeka shack – it’s actually not a shack in the literal sense but an all hand-constructed ensuite room of palm leaves and twine.
“I love this place,” says Rachel Fesler. “It’s been a labour of love.”
Sailing in from across Shela, l’m a little lost looking for Diamonds until a boat-man points to a simple entrance at the beach.
It’s just so cool. Walking barefoot from the boat to the beach and into Diamonds, l’d imagined it as a flashy resort – but its simplicity is seductive.
“I come from a family of artists,” tells the tall beautiful woman leading us past the seafront bar and dining area complete with a pizza-oven to the large shed full of novels, easy beds and and yoga mats placed on woven makeka. I have to force myself away.
The plan is to spend the night in the gigantic baobab tree and of course l’m excited climbing up the ladder to the tree house. It’s so fun being in a baobab – my first time. The only issue is the thunderous rain the previous night that’s wrecked the thatched roof. It rarely rains on the isle but when it does, it makes up for lost time.
Manda the Island
It had its time in history – between the 9th and 10th century, as a wealthy trading centre with the Persian Gulf. Dhows sailed away full of elephant ivory, mangrove poles and more. Even the Chinese were trading here with a coin dating from the 14th century found on the isle.
With the wealth came the fine living. Wealthy Swahili merchants built lavish houses which according to historian-archaeologist Neville Chittick were built of square brick and stone and cemented with lime – unique to Kenya’s coastal lands and islands. The coral rag bricks are thought to have been ballast brought on dhow from Oman because they measure a uniform 18cm.
But sometime during the 19th century, the island was abandoned because it ran out of fresh water.
“There was no permanent settlement on the island,” tells Abu Bakar, a Bajuni fisher who farms on the island. “We settled on Shella but our farms were here.”
It’s a different story now. Multi-million dollar villas line the beach front interspersed with few groves of acacia and bush. In the eventide, the fishers make to their abode. A lone fisher by the edge of the ocean puts down his woven basket with the day’s catch and quietly kneels, facing Mecca and oblivious to the world, says his prayers as the sunk sinks over the dunes of Shella.
“People who come to stay here want to stay in a hut to experience the beach life,” continues Fesler as we feast on fresh crab and pizza from the oven.
“My being here is to do with lifestyle. Diamonds is a place for people who want a peaceful pace.”
“Why Diamonds?” l ask.
“Look out there,” she replies. It’s a night sky full of sparkling stars like diamonds in the sky.
Splashing about in the water after dinner – the water glows with phosphorescence of miniscule planktons that absorb sunlight during the day.
The night passes and at the crack of dawn we walk the beach to the abandoned fort on the coral rag – it’s tiny with a rusty cannon pointing at the channel and another lying inside. There’s nothing to tell who built it and when – no story to reveal the battles fought.
The tide is out and the stroll back hot until we pause at a natural pool by a coral rock that’s perfect to call a spa.
Secrets of the chef at Diamond Beach Village http://www.diamondbeachvillage.com/
Kazungu Mwarabu – 20 years as chef rolls out mouth-watering dishes at Diamonds – try his snappers – or any fish – marinate for half an hour and then lightly cook for the best taste in a hot oven – it must have its juices around. Overcook or leave it to marinate too long makes it lose its juicy taste.