Dancing the Shangri La Shuffle

shangrila 1

shangrila 1

Things in Nairobi had gotten heavy for me and the sudden urge to flee became realized with a unexpected phone call from one of the Nairobi Underground editors. Much weirdness passed by in the next few days, but long story short I found myself chugging out of town shoeless on a Kilifi bound bus.

We got into town early and caught a tuk-tuk over the rain soaked roads to Distant Relatives. Our arrival was so early in fact that long distant memories of strange New Year’s came rushing back in abundance: the only reason I’d ever been up this early in Kilifi is that I’d stayed up too late.

The urge to question my life choices subsided after a shower. Now it was time to screw it on a bit, the cold rains and terminal problems of Nairobi at least 500 kilometers away.

I needed all of it, the wide beaches of Bofa, the characters who seem to occupy the seats of Distant Relatives and of course, at least several dawas to help myself get lost in the time fog that is the backpacker grounds.

Photo: Dylan Macadam

Photo: Dylan Macadam


If you haven’t been to the ‘backpackers’ as it’s known within Kilifi before, you’ve probably heard about it from some wide eyed and tanned soul fresh off the bus back from the coast. It isn’t too uncommon for people to be sucked into the vibes and come out the other side of it all several days later, feeling some semblance of being spiritually transformed. Such is the space and scene that lays out on the bluff deep in the Kilifi jungle.

It seems all too often that many go out to the Kenyan Coast for answers to problems but none are reflected once they get there. There are too many places that chew up and spit out visitors like a conveyor belt, all the time eyes looking to raise prices on unwary tourists.

When you go to Kilifi however the opposite is true, if your answers aren’t there (and often they’re not) it seems possible to center your spirit in a way, doing yoga on the beach, having sundowner drinks while vibing to live acoustic jams while drifting on the Musafir dhow,or merely sitting with friends by the pool talking of life and not mentioning whatever problems have arisen for you.


Photo: Anel Wessels

This is a creative space in its truest form; sparks seem to be struck wherever you go and ideas flow through conversation under a giant painted chicken wire and canvas fish that hangs from the trees on the path to the beach. It just can seem more possible to express yourself inside the gates of the backpackers; however you move your body to the music, everyone is doing the Shangri-La shuffle.


I found myself forgetting all things within a matter of hours, I utterly lost track of time somewhere around brunch on the first day. The rest of the weekend rings as a blur of laughter, music and connection; a rising feeling that all things were possible and that I should accept life as it comes.

That’s the problem with traditionally ‘reviewing’ Distant Relatives, while the banda rooms are gorgeous, the bamboo showers connect one with nature and the bar remains stocked; it truly is more about the scene.

This is more of a spiritual home than a backpacker’s, an escape for the creative or those who have felt walled in.

shangrli 5

Late in the evening Saturday I found myself out on a dhow in the creek down the stone and sand path from the backpackers, with the aviator wearing Captain Issa on his dhow the Lulu. He let out the sails and we drifted through sunset, sipping cold Nile beers and toasting the passerby. As we rounded the mangrove bend it occurred to me, that perhaps the best review of Distant Relative’s is this thought that popped up in my brain: the single biggest problem I faced the entire weekend was ‘does the cool-box have enough ice to last the sailing trip?’

That more than anything is why I’ll always  find my coast digs in backpackers, it is the welcome escape for all those who need it.

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Alex Roberts
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Alex Roberts is a Nairobi based freelance journalist who, when not writing rants, beautiful articles or screaming at Trump on Facebook is pursuing a masters degree at USIU