Above: Coconut trees in the lawns by the Indian Ocean – picture copyright Rupi Mangat
An osprey soars over the jagged tooth of the cliff, on the lookout for a fish from the ocean. I take off from my perch at the sunken bar facing the blue ocean to follow its course but the raptor has vanished into thin air.
It’s late afternoon, the perfect time to stroll on the lavish grounds of Amare Resort dedicated to love for in the lingo of the Italians that’s what it means. Perched on Tiwi Beach on Kenya’s famed sparkling South Coast, it’s a nice, big place for a big fat ‘Kenyan’ wedding – for the sunken amphitheatre is also dedicated to weddings – and taking into account how big our weddings can be, Amare can take in the whole clan and friends.
A troop of vervet monkeys surface, running the gardens and swinging from the trees. I reach the furthest end where a sunken cave is blocked with palm fronds to stop people from wandering in. A spot under the makuti banda is perfect to soak in the tranquillity of the ocean and l hope to catch site of a humpback whale or pods of dolphins or the whale-shark, the biggest fish on the planet passing through about this time. But it’s quiet.
Past Angelina’s the rustic beach house on the grounds and quaint old fashioned cottages with the traditional baraza by the doorway, stands a gigantic baobab with a fig tree that’s wrapped itself around it, I reach a tangle of trees and scrub.
“It’s the forest,” tells the guard.
“Super. Let’s go in.”
“No,” she replies startled. “There are wild pigs and big snakes in there.”
She’s really in no mood for this little escapade and l’m really wanting to go in. Walking along the disused road, there is no path into the dryland forest to enter. I hear sounds in the thickets, stop and look but the forest creatures stay shy of me.
Behind me l hear hurried footsteps. This time, it’s the man-guard.
“Madam, why are you walking here?” he asks. “There’s nothing in the forest to see.”
When l tell him l’d like to see some forest birds, rare monkeys like the Angolan colobus, the wild pigs wandering around – and well – if a snake happens to go by, l’ll just step back – he’s at pain.
“Madam, nobody comes here. It’s not safe and there’s no security.”
By this time l’ve decided that since there is no trail to wander through like at Colobus Conservation at Diani or at Mwamba Field Study Centre in Watamu with its amazing collection of coastal trees and wildlife, l’ll wait for the establishment to open some trails.
The guard is visibly relieved.
Back at Amare, the bartender cum mixologist serves a mean mojito – “Bacardi is the best rum for a mojito,” tells Leonard Lombard. He sets to work on the mint, the quintessential ingredient to a decent mojito. “If you want the essence squeeze the mint; for expression steam the leaves and for deco, throw them in.”
I’m having a great time at the bar – just me and the ocean breeze – with a sea-food platter on the counter.
At this point the stars have started to sparkle – a little bit brighter than usual – it could be the effect of the ocean breeze when he suddenly exclaims. “That’ the biggest rat l’ve ever seen.”
Turning around, the ‘biggest rat’ turns out to be a shrew complete with its snout and tail scuffling through the garden looking for insects and forest litter to snack on. It’s a good time to laugh because a shrew is not a rodent. I call it a night as a sea gull flies by the night.
The honeymoon suite – and l have no one to share it with – is exquisite, white-washed with the zidaka – decorative wall niches that double up as the bed board, traditionally a feature of Arab and Swahili houses.
The morning brings out the waves and the beach. Fishermen walk to the reef to look for octopus and wait for the tide to flow in to sail past the reef for a catch from the deep sea.
Meantime the Silvery cheeked hornbills emerge from the forest that nobody goes into and send out loud notes while tiny sunbirds flit around sipping nectar from the orange splashed flamboyant trees. Driving out of the resort, past the local homesteads of the Digo – one of the nine Mijikenda groups – the women prepare for the day amidst the coconut and mango plantations.
Hillpark Tiwi Beach Hotel’s new Amare Resort www.hillparktiwibeach.com . Land at Ukunda, Kenya’s famed South Coast with Fly Sax Airline.
Loads to do around Tiwi – visit Shimba Hills National Park, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park and the sacred forests of the Mijikenda, the kaya. Check Kenya Wildlife Service www.kws.go.ke