From acrobats to askari – the faces of coastal Kenya

I’ve spent the past week relaxing at my friend’s coastal beach house, Jinchini, in Msambweni south of Mombasa, Kenya, as I prepare for my trip to Samburu and Namibia.

It’s my fourth visit to Jinchini and the pace of life is still as it was when I first visited ten years ago. The toughest decisions here are what to eat, whether to lie by the beach or by the pool and which way to walk along the beach.

Despite the fact there are two large hotels at either end of the beach and an enormous compound for a thriving moringa business, it’s still relatively quiet here. Unlike Diani, about half an hour’s drive away, with its beachfront Ibiza-style cafes, glass-bottom boat trips to the coral reefs, kite surfing lessons, acrobatic shows and tourists as far as the eye can see, Msambweni is thankfully relatively untouched by tourism although the costs of food and transport are now almost as expensive as London thanks to the drop in the English pound.

Regardless of cost, Jinchini is an absolute paradise with the lukewarm Indian Ocean at its front door and flanked by palm tree-lined white sandy beaches.  It’s superbly managed by the brilliant staff – Kassim the manager, Omari the cook and Ali the gardener and you’ll be bowled over by the friendly, warm hospitality of the local people of coastal Kenya.

I’ve been fortunate to photograph some of them the past week and here are their stories . . . .

Acrobatic boys of Diani

These boys are superb acrobats and have been practising their art for about ten years performing for tourists in Diani and at the local Nakumatt (supermarket). They were happy to let me photograph them (for a small fee of course) on the white sands outside the Nomad hotel which involved me lying on the ground and shooting upwards as they did their ‘tower’ pose. Thankfully they were strong enough not to collapse in a heap and squash me at the bottom! I took this photo with a Tokina wide angle.



Peter and the abandoned hotel

Peter is the manager/guard of an abandoned hotel on the main road at Ukunda. He tells me that the luxury hotel, complete with life-size elephant replica and curved pools surrounding the entire building, was burnt in a fire in 2007 and has remained abandoned and empty since. In its hey-day, the building was owned by an Italian and was a popular spot with Italian tourists. It’s a fascinating place to visit. The elephant still stands, missing a few tusks, and you can still see the large sweeping staircase inside the shell of the building inside and what’s left of the pools – a small pond of stagnant green water.


Kassim the manager

Kassim has worked at Jinchini for more than ten years and took over as manager from Patrick a few years ago.  Together with Omari the cook, the two run a tight ship at Jinchini. Whether it’s ordering fresh fish, trying to find a printer in the small village of Msambweni or wanting to know what type of crabs, birds or monkeys live in the compound, Kassim is a source of all local knowledge.  His patience and kindness, despite being asked thousands of questions a day by guests, is truly admirable.


Kinanasi the massage therapist

Kinanasi is one of the best massage therapists in Msambweni. She will come to your hotel or compound and iron out all the aches and pains collected during a day of doing pretty much absolutely nothing. I’ve visited her house in the nearby village and met all her family, children and daughters and was even treated to a fresh coconut. Kinanasi has one of the biggest smiles in Msambweni.


Juma and the Rhodesian ridgeback puppies

Juma guards one of the compounds at the end of the beach and is the proud owner of these two adorable rhodesian ridgebacks. Despite their size, you could tell these tiny puppies were going to be fearsome guard dogs with the biggest one growling and barking at us non stop. Try as he might though, it was kind of hard for us to take such a roly poly ball of fluff seriously. Quite a few Askari (night watchmen) now have dogs on leads and keep them as pets which is a welcome site after seeing so many emaciated and stray dogs roaming around Kenya in the past.


Children in Ukunda

Everywhere we go, whether it’s walking down the beach or driving past in a car, the locals wave and shout ‘Jambo’ to us. I spotted these four children all trying to ride the same bike as we drove past a village near Ukunda airport on the way back from Diani. The whole village was preparing for a wedding ceremony and were all outside in different groups preparing food and washing clothes as the children played.



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