We sight the blue ocean from the heights of Shimba Hills as we drive to Diani, the seaside haven that is world famous for its powdered white beach and luxuriant warm waters. Sandwiched between the hills and the beach strip are the inland forests that once served the Mijikenda as fortresses when fleeing from the Galla from the Horn of Africa around the 9th Century.
In time, these forested ‘fortresses’ called ‘kaya’ became the Mijikenda’s sacred haven, complete with the ‘fighi’ where the talisman from the homeland is buried.
“This, Kaya Matengo was once part of Kaya Kinondo,” says Caleb Mutai of Bora Bora Wildlife Sanctuary, the energetic young guide taking visitors around the nature trail full of exciting stuff. As time passed, the Kayas became fragmented and what remains is an ancient repository of plants and animals, many found nowhere else, except in the kayas.
Our first encounter in the kaya is a pair of Maasai giraffes aptly named Kwale and Taita after the two coastal counties. Both are males and happy to chew on the pellets offered by the school children having their first encounter with wild creatures. The giraffes are not part of the indigenous scene but have found a safe refuge to be nurtured. The team at the nature conservancy hopes that females will be found soon for the males.
Giraffes aren’t new to the coast. In the 15th century, Zheng He the famous Chinese sailor met envoys from Malindi in Bengal who had brought as tribute to the Maharajas wild animals including giraffes. They presented one to Zheng He who sailed back with it to China and presented it to the Emperor. The Emperor was so enamoured with this strange creature that he believed was a qiln, a mythical creature that has been compared to a unicorn in Western mythology, that he had a portrait of it painted – and a poem dedicated to it.
Everything quiets inside the sacred forest except for the leaves rustling with the ocean breeze. As if to lead us along the path are dazzling butterflies, the Monarchs. I have my first encounter with the Bell’s hinge-back tortoise that grows up to 22 cm. On the back of its shell, the tortoise has a 90-degree hinge which, when closed, can protect its rear legs and tail from predators.
It’s energising strolling through the ancient towering trees that have anchored their roots in the coral rag which was once part of the ocean. Two hours later we’re out in the open where the crocodiles are lounging.
The gigantic scaly-armoured pre-historic creature isn’t interested in us. Mutai enters the nursery to retrieve a baby croc newly hatched to place on my hand. It’s sheer steel force as the tiny reptile opens its jaws to reveal the minute jaws which in time to come will become the killer jaws that the crocodile is so infamous for.
I stroll back to my tented abode by the great big pond where the zebras frolic. A new foal is born and stays close to its mother suckling while l settle on the verandah of my tent. The birds are getting active as the day cools, especially the weavers that are busy weaving their nests in the middle of the pond.
While they raise a racket, a pair of Grey cranes and a snow-white Greater egret grace the pond. Around the rim, it’s the Water thick-knees coming to sip water. Nicely rested with a cuppa tea, a short drive away and we’re on the beach.
The tide has receded leaving the broken shells from the reek scattered on the beach. The fishermen’s wooden boats have been anchored for the day waiting for them to return to sail up to the reef where the fish traps will be laid for the night.
As the day turns to night, we walk past the massage hut where we’re invited for an invigorating massage. It’s getting late and we settle for the morrow. Under the stars, settling back into my tented abode, the night jars call as the weavers quieten down and the ocean breeze lulls us to sleep. At the crack of dawn, we awaken to the chorus of bird songs to spend a day on the beach.
Discover the Bush & Beach with a stay at Bora Bora Wildlife Sanctuaryon the South Coast which has en suite bathrooms and is value for your money. The restaurant serves a-la-carte by the big bird pond and on the raised deck where you get an eyeball encounter with the giraffes.