The Kikambala beach was once a bustling and popular vacation spot on the Kenyan coast. I remember the beach vividly and having a blast of a time on New Years’ Eve, 2005. It was just after the Asian tsunami and while skeptical Nairobians were avoiding the coast, I ventured out to find the beach was packed with holiday makers both local and foreign and crackling with activity.
On this mid-morning walk, an entire 10km stretch of sandy white beach on the North Coast resembled the Thika Super highway during the Obama visit. Deserted. I should have been thankful for the solitude but instead I was overcome by nostalgia. I walked past the occasional fishermen. Wiry characters with sinewy muscles, hauling tattered nets headed to the reef to fish. They rarely made eye contact to acknowledge the friendly nod of a stranger passing by. Two beach men, spotting dreadlocks, popped up at spaced intervals, selling shells and star fishes. Their sales pitch was weighed down by blue tales of the prevailing tough times. Coast tourism is crawling on its knees and it was self-evident. Former hotel workers had given up hope and escaped in search of greener pastures. Those left behind, bore a hollow look of apathy. Life used to revolve around utalii and the repercussions of the decline have been felt far beyond the beach.
The few functioning hotels on the stretch were experiencing an all-time low occupancy. The rest were abandoned or in ruins, all but empty, except for the conspicuous presence of a watchman guarding the grounds. Mostly seated on a plastic chair, looking out to the sea or chatting into a mobile phone.