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"The tides were in our favor. In fact, there are no beaches on Wasini during high tide, but the morning lows revealed enchanting coves with beautiful stretches of pristine white sand, and tide pools teeming with life."
- Christina Jordan

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Kenya

Kenya's forgotten island
by Christina Jordan, Uganda
Mar 21, 2000

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The village of Wasini sits perched just on the edge of the cliff, and is fenced off all the way around to keep the goats out, and the children in. When you pass through the gate and enter the village, it's like stepping back in time. No cars. No roads. No electricity. No running water.

Footpaths lined with whitewashed stones from the sea. Spacious stone houses with palm thatched roofs. Sounds of groups of women praying -- heads covered, seated on woven mats on the floor, led by their Imam -- for hours every afternoon. Smells of fresh fish cooked in curry and coconut sauce. Children playing keram (a sort of table pool played with flat disks on a wooden board) under the shade of the baobab trees. Jambo! Karibu! Habari! Salama! (Hello! Welcome! How are you! Be in peace!) For the first few days, we were the ONLY resident tourists on the island.

The tides were in our favor. In fact, there are no beaches on Wasini during high tide, but the morning lows revealed enchanting coves with beautiful stretches of pristine white sand, and tide pools teeming with life. The sun-heated shallow pools were perfect for our little boys. We built castles and dug rivers, "shampooed" our hair with mud, buried each other's feet in the sand, and played water tag with buckets drawn from the warm salty sea.

We spent hours trying to lure crabs out of their holes, collecting empty seashells and observing the marine life. I was carried back to childhood trips with Grandpa to the rocky beach in San Pedro, California, before most of the wildlife was destroyed by pollution. We learned, we played, we rested. We had the beach all to ourselves -- except for the occasional islander passing by, who would invariably stop for a friendly, interested chat. Jambo! Karibu! Habari!

After the beach we'd head back to our two basic rooms -- each with a bed, a table and a small terrace overlooking the sea -- rinse off with a cold bucket shower (the only part of Wasini the children hated!) and gorge ourselves on beautiful Swahili food.

Rice cooked in coconut milk, or baked with tomatoes, cinnamon and cloves; fresh crabs as big as the plates they were served on; fried flat chapatti bread served with sea-grass chutney, and fresh mangos, bananas and pineapple. Tablecloths decorated with fresh bougainvilleas -- pinned on to keep from blowing off in the afternoon wind that raced off the sea.

Stomachs full, we'd rest or take a walk in the afternoons. One day we walked to a fishing village on the other side of the island. Even more remote and isolated than Wasini village, the 25 households there still live like they must have lived for the past 300 years. Beautiful, well-maintained stone and thatch houses. Sand swept clean on the walkways. A tunnel-like passage through thick mangroves -- passable only during low tide -- to the open sea, where pole-driven canoes go out daily to catch the family meal.

Coconut palms waved down at us in the wind. Village children rushed up to hold hands with our blond haired, blue-eyed boys. Jambo Toto! ("Hello Baby!") Karibu! Habari!

In the evenings, we'd feast by kerosene lamp-light, again in Swahili fashion with new specialties prepared just for us every night. A few locals would invariably come by with offers to take us here and there on their boats the next day for a fee. If we said no, it was ok. "Hakuna Matata" -- no worries, no hurries. And with business out of the way, there was time to chat, until the children fell asleep on our laps and the friendly, very hard-working hotel staff began to yawn.

And those hours in the lamplight glow..

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