African Paradise Found

We have come to the serene Diani Beach, on Kenya's south coast, near the border with Tanzania. Lions and elephants roamed here only a few decades ago when it had been mostly bush and undeveloped land.

Silky, turquoise water runs up to the powdery white sand in small bursts of salty, foam covered waves. Palm trees stand tall, looking out to sea, as trade winds blow. Colobus monkeys rustle the leaves of coconut trees while fishermen steer old wooden dhows along pristine clear lagoons, as the sun rises high in the Midday sky.

This, says R, is paradise.

We have come to the serene Diani Beach, on Kenya's south coast, near the border with Tanzania. Lions and elephants roamed here only a few decades ago when it had been mostly bush and undeveloped land. Since then, hotels, houses, cottages and backpacker lodges have sprouted along the beach, petering out the further south you go. The more rustic ones have nestled themselves into the bush, on the edge of the Diani forest.

It is the place to come for water sports, horse riding, Ali Barbour's 180,000 year-old coral cave restaurant and for those in search of an oasis away from the hustle and bustle and relentless treadmill of city life.

Diani, which is shielded by a coral reef some 500 metres away from the shore, feels in some ways like a separate entity. It is the jewel in Kenya's coastal crown, separated from Mombasa Island by the Likoni ferry and accessible otherwise by flying into its own airstrip, from Tanzania or by a long and winding murrum road that takes you through remote villages and past the stunning Shimba Hills National Reserve after leaving the death-defying Nairobi-Mombasa Road.

R, who built and raced cars for 10 years, used this route, off-the-beaten track, to demonstrate his skills as a rally car driver.

Our reasons for being here, however, are more prosaic. My passport was stolen. Along with my phone, purse and the bag they were in with a silver elephant embroidered on it.

R and I had been attending a function at a hotel in Kisumu when someone had taken it from under the table.

I let my guard down on this one night in part because of the nature of the event. It seemed unlikely that company directors would be moved to steal someone's bag.

Godfrey, whom I had met as a volunteer teacher in the highlands, used to shake his head at the way I kept my luggage so close. Even if that meant he had to carry on holding half of it because I couldn't.

'I thought,' he said once, 'that it might be okay to leave it by the door, seeing as we are in a bank with armed security.'

'I know. But the entire contents of my life are in these bags.'

My new passport application had to be seconded by someone who had known me for at least five years and who was, preferably, according to the British Embassy, a British national. This left only one option in the whole of Kenya: my friend Charles.

Charles had set-up a charity in a remote, largely internet-free area of south east Kenya, building schools and libraries.

But getting hold of him turned into a mini-operation involving an email to the UK to retrieve his phone number, as my contacts had been lost along with my phone, and a 14 hour drive across the country.

Charles was overseeing the building of a school in Kasigau, a few hours outside of Mombasa, and there was a small window of time in which to submit my application if I was to have a passport before the end of the year.

After stopping off to meet Charles, we would need to stay somewhere overnight and R thought of Diani, which he had never been to. R grew up on South Africa's east coast and so, for him, to be by the ocean is to feel at home in his soul.

We knew, too, that the coast, like the rest of Kenya, was suffering post-Westgate. Foreign travel advisories, though they would get worse and exacerbate those who live here and tend to know about isolated attacks only because someone overseas spots it on the BBC, had started to affect tourism.

Perhaps more than anywhere else, tourism is the lifeblood of the Kenyan coast, from the fishermen to the dhow riders, the local artisans who struggle to ply their wares, the hoteliers and the countless thousands whose livelihoods depend on it and whose jobs are either axed or under threat.

We were in Nairobi, about half way to the coast, when Charles called to say he was stuck with a broken down car in the middle of Tsavo West National Park.

'But don't feel too sorry for me,' he said.

He had broken down on his way out of Kasigau near to the Kenya Wildlife Service camp. He had food and a place to stay and, he added, someone had just gone off to find some beers.

No-one had any idea of when he'd be able to leave the park, one of the largest game reserves in the world, known for its red elephants which are the colour of the distinctive red soil they roll around in. A matatu had been called from Mombasa and was apparently on its way, but with no estimated arrival time.

TIA, as we were all only too aware: This Is Africa.