Katy Fentress

Observing, Understanding, Exploring, Eating, Drinking

Escape to Funzi Island

I lie awake in the Lamu bed; outside in the darkness, the coastal night orchestra is in full swing. The cricket string quartet is competing with the monkey chorus to drown out the clashing cymbals of the night birds and the blaring bush baby horn ensemble.

A mosquito’s high-pitch hum searches for an entry through my net and onto my sunburned skin. I feel lulled by the unfiltered sounds of nature.

Flashback to Nairobi and it’s late afternoon on Wednesday. I am in a taxi, sitting in traffic. As I stare at the sheets of rain coursing down my window, I think how much nicer it would be to spend a healthy three-day weekend by the coast, instead of a Saturday evening straining to hear what people are trying to say over the grating beats of whatever passes for electronic music these days. Before I know it, my finger is on my phone screen and I am checking out flight prices to Diani. By the time I get home, I have booked a flight and found a deal on a great hotel to stay.

“Cancel your plans,” I yell into the kitchen where my boyfriend is whipping up a butternut squash and lentil curry, “We’re headed to the beach tomorrow!”


The next morning we disembark from our flight to Ukunda and I smile as the hot humid air hits me. I wait for our bags to be unloaded and feel warmth towards the other people on the flight. Everyone seems Nairobian except for the family of three who, in their “I flew straight from the Mara and jumped onto this flight for the last lap of my African holiday” matching khaki outfits, stand out like the last packet of sugar on an empty Nakumatt shelf. From the fashionable young Indian family taking selfies with their toddler, to the mother with her chubby child whimpering as he follows her suitcase, to the expats headed for a weekend skydive, the people that surround me make me feel at home.

Unfortunately this “Nairobi by the sea” feel-good sensation is short-lived. I settle into our digs, change into something lighter and head down to the pool only to find it full of French and Russian holiday-makers thrashing
about to a loud Swahili version of Despacito. So I head to the oceanfront but a couple of beach boys approach like vultures, staring at me unwaveringly for the entire seven minutes I spend in the surf. Annoyed, I decide to take a trip to Forty Thieves, the most renowned beach bar on the strip, only to find out that everyone there is shouting loudly while downing Jägerbombs to blaring Naija hits from 2011 in the middle of the afternoon.


This is around the time when I consider whether it might be worth getting away from the getting
away. Then I remember I have an invitation from an ecolodge on Funzi, a small island off Kenya’s south coast, to come and visit. So it is that the next morning we jump on a taxi and head 30 kilometres south towards the
Tanzanian border. My boyfriend and I arrive at the village of Bodo, just opposite Funzi island, where we are met by Captain Abbas who throws our bags onto his motorboat canoe and whisks us away to Mikoko Cove Ecolodge, a secluded little establishment nestled deep within the maze of the Funzi mangrove waterways.


Lamu beds always seem to hide the promise of enchanting romance. I love them so much, I often overlook the fact that the creators must be rather diminutive in size. What for them passes for a double bed, for me is not enough surface area to stretch out and search out the cool corners of the mattress without punching the sleeping figure next to me in the jaw. It is our second and last night at Mikoko Cove and we have an early start in the morning as all flights out of Ukunda leave at midday. As I lie listening to the nocturnal symphony, I am mentally going over the last 48 hours, ticking off the activities’ checklist as I go.

Check one: do something cultural. On our first day on Funzi, we have a walk through the main island village. Akika, our guide, tells us how the Baobab tree towering over the mud huts was once used by the British during the Second World War to scan the horizon looking out for any pesky Germans that might have been flying in from Tanzania. At the far end of this fishing village, we are shown an old cave where in a corner, small bottles are filled with a clear liquid and tied up in red string. “This is where women who are having problems conceiving come and pray to the shetani,” Akika informs us, underlining that this is a pagan practice that no one engages in anymore. I raise my eyebrow instead and ask him if all shetani are female. He confidently tells me: “Yes, most evil shetani are female but there are some exceptions.”

“Good to know,” I mutter loudly.

Check two: beach time. The second day turns out to be one of those classic “pole pole” days in which people just want to relax. Unfortunately, the activity monster in me cannot make peace with just lying on the sandbank all day and insists that what we really want to be doing is looking for crocodiles and foraging for oysters. I love the beach, don’t get me wrong, but Kenyans take to beer on the beach the way Italians take to the sun: obsessively and unrepentantly.

I finally get what I want. As the shadows lengthen and it grows dark, we lug back a haul of oysters plucked straight out of the mud of the Ramisi river and a couple of prized snaps of the top of a crocodile’s head, I feel happy in the knowledge that sometimes it pays off to be a bit of a nag. Check three: water-based activity, done.


Food at the Mikoko Cove is a fairly simple affair. I ask Jesse DuBois, who took over the the lodge six months ago with his wife, Sophia Murage, how they went about planning the menu and he confesses that the cooks are inherited from the previous management. “They seem to know what they are doing so we haven’t really interfered,” says DuBois. Murage says that the huge boiled crab which I am at that moment attacking with a wooden hammer is a favourite with guests coming from Diani for a day trip and a “Funzi Special” lunch.

Check four: seafood dinner, done. Sunday morning and I scarf down the last of my avocado on toast. The one item on my checklist that I have failed to accomplish is physical activity but I promise myself many trips to the gym once I get back to Nairobi and the air gets cooler. “You can’t have it all,” I remind myself as we board our flight home. True, I might not have fit in all the activities I wanted into my “healthy weekend” but the Indian Ocean isn’t going anywhere and Kenyan summer is just around the corner.

Currently, the only hotel on Funzi Island is Mikoko Cove, a recently redeveloped ecolodge with a small pool, private and shared makuti bandas and a large communal area in which to eat, read and relax with friends. Camping from Ksh 600 pp; a dormitory from Ksh 1,500 pp B&B; and a private banda for Ksh 5,000 per person B&B, or Ksh 6,000 for two. www.mikokocove.com


The writer was a guest of Mikoko Cove.

This article was originally featured in Nomad Magazine November 2018

Categories: Lifestyle, Travel, Uncategorized

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