A peace of glass

| March 1, 2013 - 12.44UTC

With floors made of beer bottles and a bed that dangles in the sky, the Eco-Tower at Watamu is no ordinary beach-house hideaway, as Jackson Biko discovers.

The normal Nairobian subscribes to a tried and tested, traditional sort of travel regimen: don’t plan, just go. We wake up two weeks before a holiday, look at our bank balance and decide to take a trip. This is mostly to somewhere near home, such as Naivasha or Nanyuki. We are largely averse to trying out stuff that isn’t within our comfort zone. We hate to experiment. We hate even more to explore. We hate to push the envelope and see our gorgeous country in a way that foreigners do.

So when a friend told me about the Eco-Tower, a curious holiday house near Malindi, I checked it out online and thought: umm, not for me. It seemed very – how do I say this? – white. A year passed.

I eventually ended up there thanks to a friend and his girlfriend – both foreigners. They were visiting the country and their instructions were clear: they wanted a small, affordable beach lodge devoid of loud holidayers and dogs. They wanted peace and quiet. Eco-Tower immediately came to mind.

Eco-Tower is the work of Nani Croze of Kitengela Glass – known for her creative skills working with the material. Nani has always experimented with glass, and has created laudable pieces of artwork by blowing, slumping and blending it with wood and beads.

Where Eco-Tower now stands was previously a square, colonial-style beach-house that Nani bought and banged into shape. She incorporated murals and smoothed the rough edges, but she wasn’t happy with the end result. So what did she do? She did what not many would: she built a tower.

True to her pedigree, the tower – which is build around a doum palm – incorporates glass in unique ways: floors are embedded with colourful bottle bottoms; stained glass of all colours dots the walls; glass ornaments dangle from the ceiling. The house has three floors: the ground floor is the kitchen, which also has a fishpond, a bathroom and a composting toilet. The second floor has another self-contained room, and a view. The top floor is the clincher – a spacious loft that also offers a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Watamu and its environs.

The lovebirds took this loft because the lady fell in love with the lookout, the breeze and the ‘sky bed’. It’s a James-Bond-esque crib that you push out of the room on a railing, so it’s suspended outside the house, over the trees. It has a translucent canopy (great for sunbathing) and a beautiful view of the coastline, Dongo Kundu village and Mwangea Hills beyond.

Eco-Tower sits about 100m from wonderful beaches, clean and deserted – just what my friends needed. Because it lies within the Marine Park, there is amazing coral-life to see, and local dhow-owners willing to help you see them. So we hired a boat and spent an afternoon snorkelling. When we were done, we cast some lines and caught a few fishes, which our skipper roasted for us on a stick by the beach.

There was always something refreshing to do in Watamu. Mida Creek, just to the south, is known for its birdlife, from malachite kingfishers to African fish eagles. Then there was the sumptuous seafood at the adjacent restaurant.

Watamu is known for having one of Africa’s finest beaches, white and clean. It would be a waste if you didn’t spend as much time on it as possible; perhaps try some scuba diving. You could visit nearby villages and learn about local cooking or culture. Talking of culture, make time to visit the Gedi Ruins in Malindi, the remains of an old Swahili town that dates back to the 13th century.

The whole point of Eco-Tower, though, is complete relaxation without any distractions. The fact that it doesn’t have walls or windows (ideal for the hot, humid conditions of Watamu) is great for those who want to experience nature in its rawest form. And since it’s built deep in the thick of the doum palms, you always get a sense of being removed from everything, which is great for people who hate human interactions during holidays. Like my friends.

Suffice it to say, they were happy. And so was I.

Need to know
Getting there Eco-Tower is on the main Watamu Road, 45 minutes from Malindi.
Practicalities Eco-Tower sleeps eight. It is self-catering – there’s a supermarket nearby, and you can get fresh seafood from the fishermen. There is a housekeeper who can take care of your domestic needs, for a fee. Pack mosquito repellent.
The bottom line Ksh 13,000 a day for the first two adults, Ksh 2,000 for each extra adult.

3 more beautiful beach escapes
1 Amani Beach House, Watamu 
This Lamu-style home is available as a two-bedroom lodge, and there’s a further bedroom in the outer cottage. The beauty of the place? Since it sits at the mouth of Mida Creek, the view is to die for. The beach isn’t far, either.  Ksh 16,000/night. www.discoverwatamu.com/amani.html
2 Kilili Baharini Resort & Spa, Malindi 
Nestling amid flowers and plants, this lodge is the ideal place for those seeking silence. Guests can walk to the nearest Swahili village and have meals prepared under coconut trees. Ksh 6,000/night. www.kililibaharini.com
3 Dolly House, Diani 
Sometimes all you need is simplicity – frills complicate life. If you agree, you’ll love Dolly House, a one-room studio with a king-size four-poster bed, cooker for self-catering and a two-minute stroll to the beach. Ksh 6,500/night. www.watanohouse.com

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