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Living in Paradise: Distant Relatives

Guest Contribution by Babalwa Tom

Arriving in Nairobi, I had no plan or schedule other than to get to Kilifi and to the coast, not realising that Kilifi was a 7 hour drive away - this added to the 13 hours it had already taken me to journey to Kenya.

My decision to come had been spontaneous and impulsive - I’d been longing to go for some time and I just decided to pack my bags, buy a flight ticket with my savings and jet off to paradise. It was early morning and on our drive to Kilifi I could not believe where we were. The most beautiful vistas left me breathless as the sun lit up the surrounding darkness.

Driving to the backpackers (or taking a piki piki which is a scooter or a Tuk Tuk), one has to turn onto a dirt road. Past a couple of traditional Kenyan huts in the village, you drive up a hill (where you have a panoramic view of the village) and turn off to Distant Relatives.

On arrival at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge and Backpackers I received a humble welcome: “Karibu sana, we know you have been travelling for some time, would you like some breakfast and after we can show you straight to your Safari Tent” - which was located amidst the beautiful recently- cultivated vegetable and fruit garden.

Volunteer in garden

All images © Distant Relatives and Babalwa Tom (scroll over images to read captions)

The Safari tent is an amazing space for weary travellers to arrive to. Set up under trees, away from the main backpacker areas, the me shed and netted parts of the tent allow you to lie in your bed with non-stop views of the treetops and sky. The wooden bases of each bed, side tables and woven mats, among other elements, were hand-made by the Distant Relatives staff.

I also went to check out the private rooms and a dormitory - built around a baobab tree, the dorm is a beautiful place to stay with minimal impact on the environment.

baobab tree dorm

After breakfast on the terrace overlooking the pool and beautiful plantation surrounding me, I took a walk to the highest point on the hill at the backpackers, inhaled deeply of the fresh air and took a moment to be grateful for where I was.

Inspired by Eco

Later that day I took a walk around to explore the lodge, discovering that Distant Relatives is a really inspiring example of sustainable living:

Shower areas are built within and around the bamboo forest area. All materials in the shower (Stone flooring, a wooden shower base, and all materials to hold your shower elements) are designed, created and up cycled by the Distant Relatives staff (except for the shower head). The water is then distributed to the garden via a piping system.

Sitting areas keep cool with trees, scrap materials never go to waste. There is always something else to build always an option to up-cycle.

Dorm exterior

The bathroom system is a simple, yet genius non-flushing system.

Furniture and decor is all made on-site by the Distant Relatives staff. Materials are from the surrounding area and made into  couches, beds, side tables, bar counters and even hand  railings, while all inks used for colour (eg pillow case textile painting), and even the glues used, come from plants.


One of the family

I was lucky to know the one of the owners of Distant Relatives, as we were housemates in Cape Town a few years back. Though I didn’t spend much time with him, I was with his amazing staff most of the time, who quickly made me feel like family.

The staff is a family unit from Kenya and the rest of the world (Cape Town, Zimbabwe, USA, Italy, France, UK). All are connected by Kilifi and the holistic outlook that the backpackers and the Kilifi community practice and teach.

I was also lucky to benefit from great timing. My friend (one of the backpacker owners) had purchased a vehicle (mini bus) within the first few days that I was there. There was talk of a small road trip to Dihani, which is a coastal county 2 hours away from Kilifi.


There was enough seating for anyone who would like to come along (saving money, saving fuel, saving carbon). The road trip was a marketing trip for my friend to promote his backpackers and to liaise with other backpacker owners (sharing and exchanging ideas) - so we were able to stop at a number of backpackers along the route.


Once back, we were invited to Market Day, joining the staff and locals for a really fun, traditional market experience. Merchants grow mostly all their own crops, so buying at the market also means supporting local industry.

Villager with fresh fruit and vegetables at market

Backpacker Facilities and Activities

The number of enjoyable experiences I had at Distant Relatives were too many to count, but one that really stands out was the traditional Kenyan buffet in the village.

The women in the village will start preparations a few hours before sunset, gathering ingredients and teaching us how to cook the food. All ingredients used are grown at home or sourced within the community itself. For example, both coconut and moringa, which are predominant ingredients in Kenyan meals, can be picked off the tree.

The visitors and the family all sit together to have the meal when it’s ready, chatting about where we are from and the history and current situation of the village. We discussed food, different plants, vegetables and fruits, learning a lot about Kenyan culture.

Village Dinner

Walking back to the backpackers (less than 10 minutes away), the night is completely dark - there are no lights except for natural light. Walking below a full night sky, drooping with stars tummy full and heart open, is cause for beautiful reflection and an exceptional experience to add to your trip.

Another great walk is to the Creek, only a 5-minute stroll away from the backpackers amidst a forest of baobabs. Plucking the fruit is a perfect snack while sitting on the warm, sandy white beach and enjoying the perfect temperature for a swim.

I met up with a local boy on this path and we walked together to the beach, and he told me the village is no more than 10 minutes away from the backpackers.

If going to the creek, which is over the bridge from Kilifi, check out the restaurant which serves reasonably priced meals with a beautiful view overlooking the coastline.

After lunch, one of the locals (living and working in Mombasa and in Kilifi for holiday), took myself and another traveller on a wonderful walk along the hill and in the ocean. The trail was a water trail, where we walked most of the route in water and under half fallen-over trees, a surreal experience.

Mangrove walk

At the backpackers itself, you can always keep yourself entertained, with amazing food, a lively and an entertaining communal area/lounge where the music ranges from groovy and relaxed to booty shaking tunes at times.

Sitting area, Distant Relatives

Aside from the outdoor pool, located in the middle of the outside entertainment area, there are daily volleyball games for those who want to keep active.

Sunset cruises and snorkelling trips are organised by the backpackers, which take guests on a traditional Swahili Doha (sailing boat). The experience of sailing along the unbelievably blue waters, with green plantation all around you and bluest of blue skies before the sun begins to set is simply indescribable.

Guests on a Swahili Doha, Distant Relatives

After an active day, you can even get a deep tissue massages by one of the most talented ladies in the country.

A major objective of this project is to act as an incubator (facilitating growth) for the creation of small local businesses by providing a market for the services they offer. These include village tours, dhow trips, horse riding, fishing trips, local restaurants, snorkelling, hiking and cycling tours, so by supporting them, you’re supporting local enterprise!

Musafir is a project that began in nearby Kipini 3 years ago. This project’s goal is to build the largest Swahili Dhow (Swahili Sailing Boat). Funding for this project came from individuals working at the backpackers and some of the backpackers staff will be members of this journey.

Swahili Dhow

The concept is a journey, a sailing of this boat across the world, stopping at communities and villages that need assistance and help and facilitating change. On board the boat will be a group of doctors, lawyers, permaculture experts, artists, carpenters etc, each professional adding their expertise and helping where they can.

The onboard crew’s legacy will have been to help and teach others, walking away enriched with shared knowledge and expertise (both from the communities they visit and each other).

Musafir will be moved to the creek in Kilifi, closer to Distant Relatives Backpackers for completion.

Permaculture at Distant Relatives

On my arrival, I had just missed the Permaculture Design Course. However, individuals that had travelled from different parts of the world for this course remained in Kilifi, putting their knowledge and skills to work - seeding, planting and working with the land.

Permaculture Distant Relatives

Permaculture Course Distant Relatives

Personally, this backpackers has inspired me to start a project of my own, an Open, Moving Studio. This moving music centre will incorporate permaculture teachings and practices - travelling Africa and possibly South Asia in future. Starting in Cape Town, myself (The Marketing Management & Production Manager) and a team (x2 Drivers, the Technical Manager and Permaculture Facilitator) will be working with African Artists/Musicians.

The idea behind this project is that the mobile studio will provide tourists and travellers with African music and raise funds for holistic projects by providing their music to communities for free.

We'll be working with communities, practicing and teaching permaculture and a holistic way of living because we believe that the earth provides what we need - and the future of Africa depends on its people being able to sustain themselves.

Permaculture at Distant Relatives

The Mobile Music Studio and Permaculture Training Centre will visit backpackers in every region who will provide us with information on what communities need. Working with passionate backpackers will ensure that communities can get involved with the project, sharing information on eco-friendly living or coming to workshops!

After all, music is a positive vibration, a cultural exchange. Musicians that travel take back what they learn and this influences their music, spreading positive messages through sound. This captures souls, more than a lecture could possibly do to raise awareness of sustainable living.


I walked away from Kilifi, Kenya which a completely new outlook on life. Core alignments that shifted in my life included a deeper insight into permaculture. I left passionate about sharing my knowledge, with a new desire to work with and empower African communities through their own knowledge of planting vegetables, fruit and trees, working with nature and what the earth provides.

Kilifi opened the gates to a journey of discovery into a more nutritional and holistic way of living. I was inspired by a group of strong individuals, with alternative ways of living and being. To see such connected teamwork, to gain knowledge and practical inspiration on 100% eco-friendly living and to gain this awareness of how it can be implemented in ones daily life - to me, this has been not only invaluable, but life-changing. I hope you will experience it too.


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