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Malindi: A Place of Deep Water
Nathan Adams
June 17, 1963
Just off the coast of East Africa, long famed for its landbound big-game safaris, lies a deep oceanic trough. There lurk giant marlin and sleek sailfish, and schools of fast-swimming tuna strike by the hundreds
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June 17, 1963

Malindi: A Place Of Deep Water

Just off the coast of East Africa, long famed for its landbound big-game safaris, lies a deep oceanic trough. There lurk giant marlin and sleek sailfish, and schools of fast-swimming tuna strike by the hundreds

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We left Mombasa on an October day, driving north in the afternoon sun up Kenya's coastal road to Malindi; the four of us and the African driver were in the buglike Fiat, with the tackle, the big rods, tied to the carryall on the roof.

To the right, between the hills, there were glimpses of the Indian Ocean spreading empty and green to the horizon; beyond that were the Seychelles and the western coast of India. On the left, wide fields of sisal plant grew in even rows.

The Africans on the roadside stood in the dust and stared after us, only their heads turning, the women beaded and proudly naked from the waist up. They balanced baskets on closely shaven heads. The men, walking always ahead of their women, carried nothing. They wore half-sarongs, kikois, wound about their hips, and their shoulders and bicepses were powerful, starkly veined and satin-black.

We were driving to Malindi for the big-game fishing sweepstakes on the weekend of Uganda's independence, which was a holiday even in Kenya. That it was not the season did not matter, as there were reports that the big fish, the black marlin, striped marlin and sailfish had been seen finning off the coast, having moved nearer shore from the Aden Current that, normally, would not swing in until late November. It held firmly there, from 10 to 20 miles offshore, up to June, and then it undulated out, far out, once more.

Now the Fiat was not climbing anymore but coasting and sluing through the dust, down the hills to the tidal river at Kilifi and the ferry, a wooden barge that takes one car at a time, pulled by means of man-hauled chains.

As the small car was loaded the barge surged, then swung out and into the current, guided by chains stretched over the water. As we crossed, the pilot sang a wavering, high-pitched cadence to his crew, two rows of Africans who hauled on the chains and answered with a loud chant of their own. It was dark when the barge nosed into the gravel and sand of the opposite bank and the car bumped and thumped down the loose ramp onto the road.

We entered Malindi, passing first the dirt road that leads off toward the sea and the ruins of Gedi—those wonderfully constructed but age-crumpled stone buildings built centuries before by the Arabs who had settled there and then left, seemingly for no reason at all. The buildings stand muted in the bush as if listening to the sea behind them.

The streets of Malindi are narrow Arab streets, lined by the perennial tea stalls and dukas, the small general stores that one sees in East Africa and India. Each stall is its own little world, lit by lanterns, spheres of light in the darkness. There are a few radios that pick up the twanging of Asian and Arabic music from the big station at Mombasa, 65 miles down the coast.

One must pass through these streets by the quay and continue out along the beach road to reach the four hotels that face the sea. The hotels are almost equidistant from one another; Lawford's with its Malindi Fishing Club is nearest the quay, then the Blue Marlin and, farther, the Sinbad and, finally, the fourth, the Eden Roc, a discouragingly Miami-sounding name.

We turned off the road and into the circular drive that leads, eventually, to the Sinbad, which is not a single structure but rather a low group of buildings constructed in Arabic style with pink battlements and small minarets, the rooms opening onto the sea and equipped with great, slowly revolving fans in high tropical ceilings. We registered and then went into the bar, taking the rods and gear with us.

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