Heading back from Shimoni after a magnificent day of dhow sailing, dolphin watching, swimming and snorkelling amongst the coral gardens and magical underwater world of Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park, a beautifully presented gourmet seafood lunch on Wasini Island and a tour around the ancient slave caves at Shimoni we spot a sign by the roadside proudly boasting: “Mwazaro Mangrove Lodge – Where God makes holiday”.
Of course we have to investigate what the reality of such a proud statement holds and turn into the narrow 1km dirt path leading away from the main track into the
verdant coastal jungle! And indeed we are not being disappointed. Built on the site of a sacred Baobab tree surrounded by lush mangrove swamps the German Hans von Loesch has created a stunning tiny resort of outstanding beauty and tranquillity.
Mwazaro means “Place of Prayer” and for generations the local Digo people have come here in order to celebrate their ceremonies of ancestor worship. The full congregation of tribal elders and the medicine man came together to decide whether it was permissible for Hans to built the lodge on this sacred beach and contrary to other places where tourist developments took over sacred Digo sited, in this case permission was granted by the ancestors. Even the slogan “Where God makes holiday” was suggested by the local witch doctor.
Now the lodge is situated on a tiny snow white, palm fringed, shell and other treasure littered beach flanked by mangroves on one and a river delta on the other side. There is no other human settlement in sight, no mains electricity (power comes from an impressive solar system) and water is drawn from a local well. In addition the place has acquired a somewhat legendary reputation for its exquisite Zanzibari cuisine. Accommodation is extremely comfortable. We intended to camp as usual which is well possible, but after some consideration of the cost involved we just can’t resist the temptation of sleeping in one of the “Palm Cottages”, a row of seven makuti bandas situated right on the beach front. Each of them is entirely made of cooling palm leaf thatch and woven mats, the latter being used both to make the walls as well as for ground cover as the banda is right on the powder fine sand. The one we choose is furnished with a magnificent king sized four-poster Lamu bed carved of dark wood and decorated with colourful stained glass ornaments.
Further accommodation on site is available in two Swahili style Coral Houses. We are allowed to freely wander around and have a look at all of them – rooms are beautifully furnished and decorated, very inviting indeed. A roof terrace is part of the upstairs rooms and there is a further roof terrace on the main building housing offices etc. which we are warmly invited to use for our sundowners. The indeed delightful meals are served in a spacious and airy lounge overlooking beach and sea. From here fish eagles and king fishers are spotted easily and frequently.
And of course there is Hans who has started to establish this place 16 years ago and lives here with a characterful congregation of four dogs and two parrots. Apart from a young British couple whose vehicle got delayed in Mombasa harbour we are the only ones around and as such we are treated as Hans’ personal guests. Having breakfast with him – his egg pizza invention is highly recommended! – we curiously ask, how on Earth he discovered such an incredible place. “Do you have a bit of time?” comes the return question.
Of course we have! What better in a timeless place like this to listen to some tales of adventure. Three hours later we got a most fascinating glimpse into Hans’ unbelievable life story. A true “Aussteiger”, his thriving career travelling world wide as a representative of the tobacco industry was suddenly cut short by the diagnosis that he had about 6 months left to live due to severe arteriosclerosis and beginning liver cirrhosis. But instead of embarking on the urgently suggested medical treatment and surgery all he wanted was to travel to the most beautiful country he’d gotten to know during his business travels, find a white sand beach with palm trees and some “Hula girls” and live out in peace whatever life still had to offer him.
Arriving in Shimoni after many an adventure and synchronistic event and wandering around in the jungle in search of his dream beach, he came across a local girl lethally injured while collecting herbs in the forest and saved her life only to find that she was the daughter of the local witch doctor. A deeply appreciative friendship to both developed. Hans stayed, even got apprenticed in some of the Digo herbal healing art, fell in love with his beautiful “forest find” – though they can’t stay together yet as after the father’s death she keeps being sold off by her brother to other husbands.
And there are so many more breathtaking stories of and about Hans, all written down now in his book “Afrikanisches Schach” (menaing “African Chess” but available so far in German only although Hans recently received an e-mail that by Obama’s decree all books written in or about Kenya have to be translated into English).
By Hans’ policy no radio or television spoils the peace of Mwazaro but to entertain himself and his guests there are various unique chess games around. One of them is giant with figures 1m high, another one is carved out of ebony and the teeth of a whale that sadly got stranded in Shimoni and was auctioned off by Kenya Wildlife Service!. Once more we are softly called for a delightful meal by Hans beautiful waitress Manaisha and Thomas finally puts his watch away. There is no need for time here, everything just happens. Incredibly pure sunrises over the sea, walks through the mangrove swamps with so many shells on the beach and all around Hans amazing stories and animals! Our favourites are Babu, the naughty Rottweiler puppy and the multilingual parrots calling out “Jambo”, “white wine”, “Hallo” (in German), “check mate” and some other randomly picked up linguistic oddity.
What a place to be!!!