My tuk tuk was definitely not built for a two hour journey along a dirt track. It lurched from pothole to pothole spending most of the trip mid-air, jumping around the road to avoid dead animals and small children.
"Do you mind if I have a smoke?" My driver, Abdul, pulled in an hour into the trip, and lit a Marlboro Light with trembling fingers. The route to Shimoni, the jumping off point for Wasini Island, is notoriously challenging for local drivers owing to the pock-marked road surface.
But the jewel at the end of the ochre road is worth it. Wasini Island is completely off the grid and offers the harassed visitor a chance to reconnect with nature: if they can do without air-con and hot showers that is. It's not big at 5km long. One of the attractions of the island is that there is very little to do. No cars, no public transport. Walking around the mangroves is probably the most active thing here.
There's no pier either, so I waded towards the island from the shallow bottomed boat anchored 30 metres off shore with my trousers rolled up to my knees. The boatman took my elbow and reassured me that: "This is a place of pure relax. No cars, no hassle, no trouble."
I rented a snorkel from a local school teacher and paddled out to sea, enjoying the flip-flip sound of waves splashing against the wooden dhows.The water wasn't lukewarm, or even left-out tea warm, but black-coffee burning hot. At one point I wondered if I'd be stranded in the water forever because it was too hot to swim. Flashes of coloured coral appeared under the surface: tangerine, red and vivid blue. Shoals of silver fish danced along the seabed, pushed and pulled by the currents that run round the island.
Ashore, school children in beautifully clean uniforms - remarkable because of the thick orange dust that hangs above the ground - call out: "Jambo! Jambo!" Their elder siblings scurry past, scowling at passing visitors. Hassim Akmal, a guide on Wasini Island, confirmed my suspicions: "The younger children all want sweets or pens or toys so they'll shout to you. The older ones are more cynical of tourists."
In the evening, before daylight disappeared, I sat by the waterside listening to the call to prayer. The low grumble of the muezzin from the smallest mosque in Kenya sounded out over the isolated island. The sun set orange and purple over the clear sea, which turned blacker as the globe sank behind the horizon. Children screamed to each other and belly-flopped off fishing boats into the water, the village relaxing now the worst of the heat had abated.
What future do children aspire to on Wasini, I'd asked Hassim.
"To be healthy, and happy. That's the truth."Suggest a correction