The forest dream in Diani
Posted On 19th November 2017
Human beings are their own worst enemies. The need for comfort is more often than not accompanied by an ironic sacrifice of the chief spine and sustainer of life; the environment. The best getaway destinations sadly are most guilty of this crime. The ruthless clearing of flora to create space for lifeless structures to house guests inadvertently followed by unbearable weight as the incessant traffic pounds on while gasping for air through the thick murk is what the martyr Environment endures silently.
Diani on Kenya’s South Coast is arguably one of the most popular holiday get-away the country has to offer with innumerable accommodation facilities to boot. However, very few first time visitors from world over who flock around it for a taste of paradise notice the lurking curse even as the environment groans as she struggles with continued battering.
A glimmer of hope, as I would find out, that not all establishments have turned a blind eye to the destruction. Working with the environment rather than against it while still running business is a possibility as one establishment proved. Forest dream Resort on Diani Beach Road as its name suggests has successfully managed to co-exist with nature; giving back more that it takes.
A ferry sail from mainland Mombasa over to Likoni followed by a thirty minute mini-van drive led me to Ukunda Post Office from where I would be transferred to Forest Dream. A few minutes later, one Tim van Velzen picked me up for a ten minute drive that gave more than I had bargained for. Through Tim’s eyes, mine were opened to the danger human influence poses to the environment. A pale shadow is what remains of Diani Beach Road which was at one time a plush boulevard. Developers keen to capitalise on the imminent tourist gains Diani has to offer fall indigenous forest without batting an eye-lit.
As we engaged in a discussion on the threat this precedence posed, we drove past a signboard depicting a monkey which I was informed is the resort’s trademark before branching off onto a dirt road with heavy bush. After a short stretch, a protective wall with the characteristic monkey imprint ushered us into Forest dream and as the manned gates closed behind us, a friendly yet fierce looking Rottweiler welcomed us.
As we stepped into the lobby, my contact, the resort’s marketing manager Nicoline Banvick took over from Tim; acquainting me with the dream as I savoured the quaint charm this boutique churns. We walked over, drink in hand, to the adjoining restaurant set in close proximity to a giant pool complete with a bar and an adult size water slide. My appetite was ravenous, probably triggered by the fact that it was way past lunch time could not be restrained any longer as I opted to dine before the tour. An extremely courteous waitress added to the delight that was the Pasta Sugo she served. As we ate, Nicoline shared what Tim’s modest nature did not allow. Forest Dream, a family run enterprise was a dream gradually actualised Kees van Velzen, Tim’s father for more than twenty years.
After falling in love with Kenya, the Dutch nature loving national purchased a twenty acre piece of bare shrub land. With a hotel and forest in mind, Mr Kees embarked on an ambitious project to create the two. This he achieved with all the help he could get deliberately introducing and giving most of the land to indigenous vegetation as the hotel took the remaining part. Soon enough wildlife escaping persecution from their natural habitats which was being invaded, found sanctuary at the hotel. Dik dik, the elusive bush baby as well as different species of birds and monkeys now call the Forest dream home.
Accommodation is also an experience worth trying out with an impressive variety to choose from; each tailored to cater to different needs. All the Suites, cottages and Villas are all designed to embrace natural shapes, tones and textures of the surroundings to further enhance the forest feel. All the erected structures are made of eco-friendly materials and are all solar energy powered.
'Makuti' is the roofing material of choice as recycled glass adds a glossy finish to the walls. Three structures really grabbed my attention. Closest to the common pool, is a lounge christened Leopard. Special handcrafted wooden fittings that include carved support beams, winding steps, low hanging bamboo held lampshades and assorted furniture give the lounge a calming ambience making it ideal for meditation.
The detail is simply commendable and could only be the hand of a passionate yet patient hand. The other was the fish eagle cottage a true embodiment of Swahili style with what both Nicoline and I agreed is a thrilling concept, an open shower in one of the attic rooms where nature enthusiasts can enjoy a shower with a close view of the forest and its residents. If uttermost privacy is your concern then a North African influenced villa would most likely be your preference.
Fashioned to mimic a sultan’s palace, the swanky villa also includes a private pool and a guest house among other feature that would without doubt give one a taste of royalty. Astoundingly, the booking rate for the Sultan villa is the same as any other accommodation with the same number of rooms. Unlike most hotels that choose not display their charges their websites, Forest Dream does to deter unscrupulous agents from ripping off guests.
A blot to this beauty lurks in the form of adjoining developers who insist on putting up multi storey buildings. To shield their guests from the eyesore, the management grow more trees on the hotel’s boundary thus protecting the ‘Dream’ especially after cordial means of imposing their vision on the culprit fail. Not letting the fact that the establishment is on the wrong side, being not on the beach front, of Diani Beach Road be a dampener, the Forest Dream maintains, at their own expense the dirt road leading to the beach whilst encouraging guests to walk or cycle to the ocean which is indeed a healthier option.
The green dream drags on to the dining table as all meals prepared are whipped from fruits and vegetables obtained from the hotel’s own eco-farm even as the local fishermen ensure that only the freshest catch is delivered. As the tour ends, Nicoline tells of their recent acquisition; more land at the back of the property which selflessly has been grown into a forest with no intention of building so that guests can enjoy nature walks.
With glee, she expresses her admiration at the cultural taboos, the Mijikenda hold so dear, that have bogged the complete decimation of South Coast’s forest cover. The Kayas, sacred forests, which dot the landscape, will for the time being live to see another day. In their support, the hotel encourages their existence by organising excursions to Kaya Kinondo, Shimba forest and the Colobus Trust alongside what Diani is famous for: water based activities, quadding and of course a vibrant night life.