Above: Coral garden at low tide on Wasini – copyright Rupi Mangat
Published Saturday magazine Nation newspaper 25 March 2017
A dug-out canoe sails to the dhow anchored in Wasini Channel to paddle me to the shores of the island. In a few minutes we’re on the ancient island of fossilized coral. Wasini once a little village of makuti-thatched coral rag single-storey houses now has a few multi-floored brick buildings coming up. The century-old, ‘Arab’ houses are beginning to crumble and replaced with modern brick.
Our first port of call is to the island restaurant Kaole. Plate after plate of mouth-watering Swahili dishes waft out of the deceptively simple kitchen of the restaurant on coral rag floor and four walls with open frontage to the channel. We’re fed on crab delivered on wooden platters which Husni the waiter knocks the shell open to show diners how to tease the meat out. The table fills with spiced seaweed with chapatti, ‘wali’ and cassava cooked in coconut milk and more. We eat to our fill with the ocean breeze cooling the afternoon temperatures.
I opt for a stroll through the village after lunch through the narrow lanes passing by open doors of the houses to let the breeze in. Children play by the baraza and we reach the fat-old baobab that has stood sentinel over the village for many hundreds of years.
Wasini has been visited since antiquity by sailors in dhows and junks from the east using the monsoon winds to land on the east African shores to trade and set up home. By a crumbling ‘Arab’ house of coral rag, graves of buried ancestors lie with inscriptions barely legible in Arabic.
At the far end of the village the mangrove and coral gardens stretch to the sea. It’s low tide and awesome with the ancient coral sculpted by the waves and the winds amidst the mangrove forest.
At high tide all this would be invisible under the seawater. Wandering along the boardwalk through the mangrove forest we’re awed by the shapes of the coral.
It’s too late and too hot to walk to Mkwiro a smaller village that until recently housed Global Vision International that had an exciting research programme on the marine animals like dolphins, turtles, sharks and whales to establish a baseline of what was passing through our waters that connect with the deeper and larger Pemba channel in neighbouring Tanzania.
Back at Shimoni on the mainland, it’s cool and dinghy in the subterranean slave cave where the unfortunate victims of the horrendous trade in humans were horded before being shipped away. The guide points to the well in the cave, the holes above where fruit bats hang, and to the stalagmite rising from the floor of the cave to the stalactite hanging from the ceiling formed over many centuries. He spreads his arms open by the wall of the cave. “The slaves were bound with shackles here and flogged,” he tells. At the furthest end, the soggy earth shows signs of ocean water seeping in. “The slaves were taken out from here and into the dhows. The community wants to dredge the mud and open the entrance again.”
But this time, it will be for visitors to see.
When at Wasini
Wasini is steeped in legends. At Mkwiro is the story of the king’s daughter – around the 16th century who wanted to rule after her father’s death but was not allowed because she was a woman. She made a deal with the enemy but things did not work out. However when she died in unclear circumstances, it poured with rain after a long period of drought. It was her saving grace and villagers pay homage to her gravesite marked with a rock.
Really intrepid and want to get to Pemba island in Tanzania – it’s a six hour sail by dhow depending on the winds and two in powerful speedboat. Fare depends on who you negotiate with as regular services are not there. Remember to have all your documentation in order and Yellow Fever for Tanzania.
Check Kenya Wildlife Service www.kws.go.ke for updates on the marine park.
Lots of accommodation at Wasini and Shimoni from luxury to backpack.
New place for honeymooners and weddings – Amare Resort on Tiwi Beach www.hillparktiwibeach.com
Please remember: never touch coral or disturb wildlife.