Oh Kenya Where Art Thou?

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , ,

The exit from Moshi summed up our disdain for bus journeys. We arrived at the Raqib office as instructed at 08.00 for the alleged 08.30 departure. Bien sur mes amis the bus was not in sight at 08.30 and we stood there shivering in the cold, cold rain. Just before 09.00 a rickety old shack stuttered up to the stop, looking nothing like the pristine vehicle the manager had pointed out in the photo above his desk when we bought the tickets. Oh the shameless rascal.

Anyway, we wanted to get to Kenya so hopped on and eventually about 09.20 the rusty engine broke into song. The journey to the border was surprisingly quick, just over 1hr and we got off and did the usual immigration chores. The pleasant surprise that the Kenyan visa cost only $25 each was tempered by Muneeza’s discovery that one of the Raqib baggage handlers had tried to get into our big bags and had stolen Muneeza’s handbag. Luckily there was nothing in the bag as all our vitals are kept on us at all times but the rudeness of the theft irked us majorly.

The faded glory of East Africa

And so on to our first stretch of Kenyan highway. And what a shock. I had expected Kenya to be one of the more reliable countries for infrastructure given its past as part of British East Africa and its place as a tourist and safari haven. However, the road from the Kenya border post was a shabby mud track followed by the most pot-holed excuse for tarmac we’ve ever seen. It took 2hrs to go little over 50kms and it felt like my back had been split in two by a Bolo Yeung special.

Anyway, you’ve heard enough of my bus moaning, so I’ll skip to the arrival in Mombasa on Friday 12th November late afternoon. Mombasa is where Muneeza’s Dad went to school so we were intrigued to see the place of his childhood. The modern Mombasa is busy. It’s like London without any of the control. The traffic is insane – roundabouts are a free for all and crossing the street requires a leap of faith. Pollution is off the scale – each step consumes a hearty meal of smog and gasoline. We headed straight to the New Palm Tree Hotel that had reasonable online reviews and found the place to be friendly and welcoming.

After a quick refresh we took the hotel’s recommended taxi driver, Osman, and went to the station to book our tickets for the overnight train to Nairobi on Tuesday (apparently it gets booked up well in advance). Osman tried to persuade us that we needed to use his services to go everywhere in Kenya because it was dangerous and the matatus (local shuttle buses) were unreliable. Sales pitch over, we arranged for him to take us to a local street-side BBQ restaurant he knew to avoid the over-priced tourist fare.

To be fair to Osman, the food we ate was amazing, some of the best we’ve had in Africa. The restaurant was an outdoor BBQ run by local Muslims next to a mosque. There were long benches by the pavement on which we all sat and ordered direct from the grill. I think a few of the locals were surprised to see a muzungo (white boy) at a local shack though Muneeza blended in well as Mombasa has a large Indian population, throw back to the old colonial days.

Malindi bound

Early Saturday morning Osman dropped us off at the bus stop to pick up the matatu to Malindi, a beach haven up the coast midway between Mombasa and Lamu. Having been warned that the buses are painful and we’d wait for hours, within 15mins the bus left and it was good quality for once. We put it down to the fact the driver was female and her driving skills were much more reliable than the kamikaze men.

We got to Malindi and hopped on a tuk tuk to our hotel, the African Pearl. Although it sounds like a location for an adult film, it’s actually a gem. Run by Jeff, a chilled and muscle ripped Kenyan dude, the place is huge. Sprawling grounds full of palm trees give shade to the outdoor bar and sitting area. There’s a decent size pool with awesome spring loaded diving board (I got obsessed with it). The rooms are huge with large beds and big balconies overlooking the gardens. At only $40 per night it was a bargain.

Our time in Malindi was super chilled. The first night we got battered watching the football with Jeff and his mates. They then took us out to a local club, though we didn’t last long as we were both in a mess. The next day, me with blinding hangover, Jeff organized a snorkeling trip for us in the Malindi National Park. Thought the coral reef was hugely disappointing, the location was stunning – endless sandy beaches and clear water of the Indian Ocean. We also found a cool Italian run restaurant (the mafia have taken over a large part of Malindi) to enjoy fresh fish and eat healthily.

We left Malindi Monday morning sad to leave the beach but ready to get to Nairobi and start the tedious process of applying for an Indian visa.

All aboard the night train

Ah the infamous Mombasa-Nairobi night train, much beguiled. The old station in Mombasa looks like it is a graveyard to the past. The buildings barely stand and nothing moves, not even the wind. We checked in at the crumbling ticket office and one of the baggage handlers helped us to our seats. Even though we booked 1st Class I was expected rubbish old seats and little comfort. I was pleasantly surprised to discover we had our own cabin with two beds, a small sink and storage cupboard. Granted it was no dream but it was enough to keep us comfortable for the 14hr journey.

We met some lovely German people on the train, one couple we sat opposite at breakfast and they have been taking this train for 20yrs. It used to much nicer apparently. The couple we sat with for dinner were locals but one of the men used to be a woman and looked a bit odd. His/her hands freaked me out, I was glad to get back to the cabin.

After a disrupted night’s sleep (every bump on the line can be felt in your bed) we arrived safely in Nairobi only 20mins later than planned. We were met at the station by the hotel driver and set off to start our Indian visa odyssey.

The next blog picks up the Nairobi story.

Love james & muneeza x

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