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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shimoni - a lost treasure or a hidden gem ?

Update 8 March 2018

A reader and fellow traveller has commented on this article and offers another article for travellers considering the Kenyan Coastline for their next African Adventure. Please click on link below



 Shimoni village overlooking Wasini Island


Whilst recently visiting Kenya as part of a familiarisation trip to the country as guests of the Kenyan Tourism Board (KTB), our intrepid host took us on a journey of discovery to the Southern Coastal town of Shimoni which is abutted by an equally alluring island named Wasini. Shimoni is an adventure tourism treasure chest just waiting to be explored either by land or sea.

On first impression, it is clear that this part of Kenya is impoverished with the classic interpretation coming to mind of how poor rural settlements exist. Shimoni has a small working port that relies on ancient wooden Dhow transport ships to ferry goods to Zanzibar.

Unlike Zanzibar that has capitalised on their history of the African slave trade ….Shimoni has a dark past, a story which one does not hear much about. I had never heard of this place or its horrific history revolving around the early Arab slave trade in Africa but….. I am referring to the Shimoni Slave Caves (pictured right).
  

The Shimoni Slavery Museum is a historic site that is located in the small village of Shimoni on the south coast of Kenya. The name "Shimoni" is a Swahili word that means " place of a hole" or “Inside the hole". It derived this name due to the existence of a complex network of caves along the seashore that were formed as a result of natural forces. 

These underground caves resemble an octopus tentacle that snakes through 5 kilometres of hard coral ground under the village of Shimoni. There is a complex of tunnels that was used during the lucrative slave trade period to confine captured slaves before shipment to the slave market in Zanzibar. 

Slave traders from Asia settled in Shimoni as the area was strategically placed on the East African Coast and it was conveniently close to the to the Zanzibar slave market. 

Taking a walk through the caves, is an overwhelming experience where one will find chains that are still embedded in the walls, which were used to secure and torture the slaves. 

The conditions in the caves are beyond comprehension. The stifling heat is the first thing you feel and one can only imagine what the thousands of slaves must have gone through, confined in the heat, without any fresh water, relying on a trough of sea water which ebbed and flowed with the tide and which posed an additional threat of drowning. Tragically thousands of slaves died in these bat infested caves. What unthinkable atrocities too place...

The local village council has opened the caves to the public in order to fund their restoration and to aid students to further their studies, to purchase medicines for the community, to buy food for the deaf community and for other programs that assist the local population.

Shimoni has grown over the years and today one can find other unique attractions and places of interest to visit. These include the Colonial Cemetery, The British Administrative Building, The Colonial District Commissioners Residence, the Old Jetty Bridge, Kichangani Old Residence, beautiful tropical rainforests, a breath-taking view of the Indian Ocean and marine parks, as well as the Wasini Islands.

Shimoni was also of historic importance to the British during World War One, as it was home to a naval base, a Governor’s office as well as a prison. The Garrison  room was bombed by the Germans and the ruins are visible to this day.

Shimoni definitely has potential…it borders Wasini Island and a whole network of smaller islands which are laden with reefs, abundant sea and plant life. It is protected and is a diving and snorkelling treasure trove. The area, home to a Kenyan Naval Base, is not only beautiful but one does feel safe walking the cobbled and sandy streets. 

A walking tour around the village reveals historical sights which are slowly decaying and modern shack dwellings that are encroaching on these sites…it makes one think that a bit of investment and effort by the local community to protect and maintain these sights is all that is needed to preserve these attractions which are so essential to attract tourists to this village.

We snorkelled the Mpunguti Island reefs that are approximately 10 kms from Wasini in a southerly direction and in view of Tanzania. The ocean has a myriad of different hues of blue denoting the depths and reflecting the raw natural beauty of the area. The abundant sea and plant life on this reef is astounding and one feels perfectly safe. Despite its location in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are no major predators and the locals comically describe the small reef sharks as vegetarians. One is likely to see bottle nose and humpback dolphins as well as swim with whale sharks. An outing to the reefs requires an entire day and the experience of being transported on a 20 year old Dhow is absolutely worth it.

A late lunch on Wasini Island with excellent sea food, chicken and curries as well as very cold beer wraps up the day…we visited local accommodations and chatted to the local tribal leaders before heading to our comfortable hotel in Diani Beach for the night 

Visit Kenya, you will not regret it.





Words and images Paul Godwin 

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