Where peace lies...

Would you fancy some holiday in Tana River? “Who does that,” you may ask. All you may have heard about Tana River are stories of community conflicts and hunger. Yet, at the delta of Kenya’s largest river lies one of country’s best hidden secrets. Not anymore. Delta Dunes has existed for over 30 years and has hosted the high and mighty. How did I get to discover this gem?

In its quest to encourage domestic tourism, Kenya Tourism Board put together a team of scribes to discover some of Kenya’s hidden gems. Starting with Ol Donyo Sabuk, we scoured the eastern part of the country including Kitui, Taita, and finally the coastal region. On Sunday morning, we left Voi for the coast, driving through Tsavo East National Park. Julius, our affable driver gave a small but sober brief of what lay ahead.

“This is going to be one of the longest drives in the trip. The road through the park is unpaved but in good condition. The road outside the park is partly dusty though there were plans to pave it last time I was here. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.” Julius has this calming voice that can convince you to jump over the fire and come out unscathed. And so we drove, and drove, and drove some more. Kip, a TV cameraman forced us to listen to a tribute to the late Avicii but he could as well have played the musician’s other signature song with the lyrics, ‘Hey brother, there is an endless road to rediscover….’ Still, optimism and I were born twins.

Five hours later, we arrived at Malindi where a decision to skip lunch was made, and for good reasons. We still had a long stretch to cover. We passed the town of Malindi past one o’clock. The region is still reeling under the ongoing heat. Would Tana River be any better? The question ran through my mind as Julius turned off the main road and took yet another dusty path. By this time, dust and I had become close companions.

We passed the sleepy Orma and Pokomo homesteads. Like the Maasai, Orma are pastoralists while the Pokomo have taken up some farming. The two lifestyles have been sources of conflicts in the past but the two former antagonists have since kissed and made up. A small airstrip gave us hope that the seemingly forlorn and windswept landscape harboured good tidings.

The road came to an abrupt end just after Marafa village. It was time to try out the canoe to Delta Dunes. Kazungu, the lodge manager helped the two skippers load the luggage. We weaved our way around the delta, an area rich with bird life though it was a nearby school of hippos that all were wary about. These behemoths have been known to overturn canoes and small boats. On this Sunday, however, they didn’t seem to have such evil designs.

Upon docking, we were met by Kazungu’s team with the customary wet towels to wipe our hands and faces. I wonder why they do this knowing that the towels quickly turn brown.

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Delta Dunes is built on top of…well…sand dunes and surrounded by a watery world. On one side is the Tana River delta while the Indian Ocean lies on the other. The main hospitality banda lies on the topmost part of the property where one has a bird’s eye view of Tana River’s vaunted serenity. If the scenery fails to take you in (if you are that hard-hearted), then the rooms will.

I use the word rooms loosely for the sleeping quarters are nothing more than beautifully crafted spaces with no walls! The developer has made use of rusty logs, old canoes and drift wood to create the magical enclave the Fred Flintstone would be proud of. Yes, here you sleep under the stars with only the mosquito net separating you from the bed and the wide world outside. I was booked in Anasa, a cottage from where I could take a picture of the sunrise without throwing away the beddings. A few in the group had some difficulties taking a shower as monkeys watched. But that is what adventure is made of.

The team at the dunes made sure the one night spent here was memorable. Daniel and his kitchen team went all out to create tantalising dishes using fresh produce from the delta and beyond. Daniel honed his skills working for a prominent Kenyan politician in Nairobi with his unique creativity at the kitchen to show for it. Daniel is at home with Italian cuisine as he is with ugali and manage. And oh, his banana smoothie rocked!

Early Monday morning and it was time to take a walk along the unspoilt beach. The receding tide had left its mark on the soft sands. I cannot recall a time when I was just alone on a long stretch of a beach by myself (and my thoughts). Save for the crab ‘tracks’ and the pug marks of small animals, the whole world was my playground. I brought out the kid in me and played with sand, challenged Kip to a run that I lost, and howled at the rising sun. I could do it because this is the delta where tranquility lives.

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Delta DunesTana RiverOl Donyo SabukTsavo East National Park