Friday, August 25, 2017

"Little Italy" and White Sand Beaches

We took our first trip to Kenya's famous coast, known for its white sand beaches and unique Swahili culture that mixes European, Arab, and African influences. I needed to take a work trip to Malindi ("Little Italy" of Kenya) and decided to make it a long weekend for the two of us.

Needless to say, it was lovely. We stayed in a beachfront resort, and all of the prices were so much lower than what we've gotten used to in the States or even Nairobi. We took a private boat (pictured above) for the two of us snorkeling for $50 (including transportation, equipment rental, and local guides)! It was such a deal. For almost the whole time we were there, we were the only ones in the water. The fish swam right up against us, which was weird but fun.

We did have a few challenges. M got stung by a jellyfish (but was thankfully all better soon after). We were also culturally unprepared for the different experience of staying in a hotel here. In the U.S., hotel staff give you tons of information about how everything in the hotel works, what costs money, etc. - whether you want that information or not. Here, although the staff were kind and attentive, they just left us to kind of figure things out ourselves. We became confused with everything from tea time to returning our beach towels to whether there was a bill to sign depending on where we ate.

In the end, we found the "Little Italy" nickname to be very apt in the tourist-centered areas. The baggage claim (pictured below) and menus (pictured above) are perfect examples of how everything in Malindi was smaller and cozier than Nairobi, in that small-town way. The hotels were Italian, the restaurants were Italian, the other tourists we overheard were all speaking Italian (with the exception of one German family), and gelato abounded. As a result, it seemed like a lot of locals here were more out of practice with English than those in Nairobi, which makes sense if most of their clientele prefers Italian. Thankfully, with plenty of laughter and pantomiming, we were able to communicate enough to survive every situation.

The work portion of our trip gave us more of a taste of "real" Malindi (as locals experience it). We were still totally spoiled by everyone we met (see freshly chopped coconuts below), but we also left the comforts of our resort life for just a few days. Examples include enjoying proper Swahili food (think rice pilau, tamarind juice, coconut potatoes, mutton stew, octopus, etc.) but having to use a hole in the ground as a toilet (it's been a while since I've done that). Even the business side of things was a cultural experience, as our meetings lasted hours and everything ran late and nobody was stressed or freaking out about it. It was amazing! I'm sure it won't be our last visit to the Kenyan coast.

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