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Watamu After the Whales

Published: The East African Nation 17 November 2018

With the Humpback whales now on their way back to the Antarctica with their babies in tow, my bucket list still has room for the gentle giants of the ocean because l missed seeing them. For decades nobody saw the whales on our side of the Kenyan coast since they had been hunted close to extinction.

Then one fine day in 2011 people out sailing beyond the reef in Watamu thought they were seeing things when they saw gigantic whales leaping out of the water and reported the sightings to Watamu Marine Association.  It was the start of whale-watching safaris organized by the Hemingways Hotel, a staunch supporter of the whale conservation. The whales only began to recover after the international ban on whaling in 1979.

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Humpback whale in Watamu, Kenya coast, Indian Ocean, doing its back flip Copyright Jane Spilsbury/Watamu Marine Association

So with the whales now past our shores after spending the warm summer months here from June to September – as Jane Spilsbury of WMA puts it – for sea, sun and sex –the females give birth and return to the cold south pole ravenously hungry. While in the East African coastal waters they do not feed for the water is too warm for the krill, which is their main food. Instead they live off their fat stores. Hence, next year l’m off to Watamu as soon as the whales arrive.

So with the whales away, l’m on to my next favourite pastime – snorkelling around the colour-filled magical coral reef gardens. In these color-filled animated gardens of the underwater there are stingrays hidden in the sand with just the tip of the venomous tail showing while l swim with the bejewelled coral fish around the massif coral heads. At least the spinner and humpback dolphins are around but l only catch a fleeting glimpse of one leaping out in a jaw-dropping spin.

An hour speeds by and l drift with the current to the sand bar that’s popped up in the low tide. Basking on the bar under the sun, it’s deliciously inviting to stretch and limber with some yoga.

“I got married on this sand bar,” tells Melissa Rees of Hemingways Watamu as we dine at Garoda Resort on a platter of kingfish while surfers ride the waves. Watamu’s a Mecca for surfers thanks to the wide open bay protected by the reef.

Restaurant at Hemingways with life size caste models of deep-sea fish and aquarium with coral fish. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Restaurant at Hemingways with life size caste models of deep-sea fish and aquarium with coral fish. Copyright Rupi Mangat

In the late afternoon after the stingrays and sand bars, l’m at Sita Snake Farm on the shores of Mida Creek. It belongs to the local Giriama community. The rain pelts us and a single droplet hangs on the chin of the Rufous-beaked snake on my wrist. Watamu has an incredible snake collection and respect for this much-maligned serpent. “This is my favourite snake,” tells me a 7-year-old who has no qualms with snakes. The cell phone rings and the snake handler answers. From the conversation, it’s a mamba on a neighbouring farm and the farmer’s called the snake charmers to take it away. Five minutes later the farmer calls again. This time he says, don’t bother, the snake’s gone away. I love the respect.

The sun begins to set and a stop at Crabshack is in order. The community-owned restaurant that’s only accessible through the dense mangrove forest on Mida Creek and on a wooden boardwalk is a must-to-do. With the rain now pounding l have to save a canoe ride in the creek for another time – it’s a nursery for the turtles and little fish and a great place for birding on the boat.

With a day to laze around, the night owls hit the night clubs in town while the rest of us rise the following morning for stroll along the famed street for restaurants, night clubs and shopping ending with mouth-watering Italian home-made ice-cream to cool us down.

When in Watamu

Log on to Watamu Marine Association for updates.

It’s a busy place. Here’s a checklist for where else to go:

DSC05897 (800x600)EcoWorld Watamu that is Kenya’s answer to recycling waste, promoting health and community wealth. It has fantastic recycled art and a must see is the Bottlenose dolphin made from a thousand wine bottles that is part of the main wall.

The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest for its amazing bird life, the Golden-rumped shrew which is only found here, forest elephants and plants some that have been there since the time of the dinosaurs like the cycads. There are walking, jogging, biking trails. Log on to Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest for more.

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The Sultanate of Gedi Copyright Rupi Mangat

The Gedi ruins once a thriving sultanate of the medieval time.

Kipepeo Butterfly Farm to be enchanted by coastal beauties

Malindi that’s a 30-minute drive away with its wide bay and historical sites thanks to Vasco da Gama stopping here in the 15th century where a Malindi lad showed him the searoute to India – an epic moment in history for it was the first time.

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