Well if you didn’t know that I can see beauty in buildings, you would definitely know it now. Mombasa, an absolutely beautiful port city with architecture so distinctive you can read it, was the highlight of my mini-vacation to the coast. That’s right, what is a perfectly endless, gorgeous, naturally white sand beach, when you can walk history? The city is a puzzle of traditional and modern African styled buildings, mixed with Colonial and Arabic influences. A coastal town, with beautiful views of the Indian Ocean, Mombasa hosts the largest port in East Africa. It feels more laid back than busy and impersonal Nairobi, a 7 hour bus ride North-West, and I like it.
One thing did remind me of Nairobi though, or its nickname Nairobbery to be more exact. During our briefing months ago, we were warned about those who would try and steal necklaces as you walk down the street or from an open car window. Well, I forgot to take mine off one day and we three of us were walking down the street single-file, trying to avoid a garbage truck, when all of a sudden, a strong pressure took me from the side – the back of my shoulder and neck – in such a way I felt certain I was being guided, taken somewhere I knew I didn’t want to go. My initial reaction, most of you can probably guess, was to make a lot of noise and throw my arms defensively up and at the back of my head. I guess it worked (thanks to fencing where one is trained to respond quickly, or more likely to the football tackles of a brother) and I managed to keep my necklace. It was a little frightening how fast it all happened, and how quickly the perpetrator got away. Perhaps this is the one time I could be thankful for the high humidity. It may likely have been that my neck too slippery for the thin chain to be grasped. Did I mention Mombasa is humid? I meant it. Thank you sultry, muggy, oh-too-humid Mombasa climate.
That being said, most people are kind and take the time to share their stories and teach about what crazy fruit you’re looking at and how to eat it.Jack fruit is the watermelon looking shape with spikes behind where this man is sitting. I have never seen jack fruit other than from a can (and no, definitely not from my mother – we don’t eat canned fruit at home). This spikey watermelon? Not at all how I imagined the fruit to grow.
In the spice market, which I loved, not only did they teach us about the spices and how they are processed, but we learned to compare Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian passion fruit.
Passion fruit is fun to eat. When opening passion fruit, you have to squeeze until the outer shell just starts to snap, and then you pull it open into two halves. A word to the wise, don’t squeeze the passion fruit in the direction of someone else. They may not appreciate wearing fruit the rest of the day, not that I did this to anyone, on purpose.
Walking through Fort Jesus, an old Portuguese fort to facilitate the transport of spices on their ships, instead of paying the middlemen in the trade route through the Middle East and Mediterranean, was quite the experience. Over the history of the Fort, it also transported slaves and served as a jail. Hands down the best tour guide I will find in Africa! A living fact-book, he walked us through the Fort, revealing the ways in which you can see the imprint of different controlling powers. The Fort changed hands at least nine times, including those of the Portuguese sailors, Omani soldiers and Sawhili rebellions, before ending up in the power of the British.
Passing some of the Arabic editions to the Fort we see the most beautifully detailed doors decorated in symbols harmony and peace among others, and were given some jasmine flowers. Their scent was much nicer than I anticipated; not too sweet.
Another great thing about Mombasa? Tuk tuks are everywhere! While they may not particularly be the safest, they are just so cheap, fun and likeable that you can’t not take one.
With 3 wheels they have a 3 passengers maximum and wind in and out of the traffic where the can. This sign serves to remind that while at shopping malls, tuk tuks cannot go where shopping carts are meant to be.
It was nice to get out of Nairobi. I went with a Canadian, German, Swede and some Italians and French. Nairobi really is the hub of expatriates. Sometimes it seems quite unusual because I have met more expats from other countries than Kenyans. I suppose it also has to do with the areas we are living in, where we eat, and work, etc. That being said, this weekend we embraced our identity as true foreigners and spent most of the time on Diani beach, in the Indian Ocean, on a day trip to Wasini Island where we watched dolphins, snorkeled (the stingrays were my favourite part), saw a really interesting coral and mangrove park that only gets flooded during half and full moons, and had to crack open our own crabs for dinner. Of course I would have photos of the time we spent at Ali Barbour’s and then at the 40 Thieves (great restaurant names) and all the camels that parade by on the beach but my camera had stopped working. So sad, but much to my surprise, it decided to work perfectly again after being back in Nairobi for a day. So happy! Also, let me just say, I was the only one who managed 4 days in the intense tropical sun without getting a burn! I do believe I have finally mastered the trick of sunscreen.
Returning to Nairobi was bittersweet. While most people mourned that the sand was far behind us, I rejoiced in returning to a climate much more to my taste. Less sticky.
Nairobi was bustling with activity when our bus arrived. Quite unexpected for a Sunday, especially when security had stepped up all around the city. You can ask any Kenyan their perspective about what is happening on the Kenya-Somalia border; everyone has an opinion. Every time I see the newspapers I am reminded that it’s quite an interesting time to be here. However, even in light of this, I was still glad to come back to Nairobi, higher elevation, and cooler temperatures. I can only handle the humidity – constant stickiness, continuous utilization of my handkerchief, sand in my hair, and salt water showers for so long. I can’t help but acknowledge, when in relation to other African experiences, Nairobi has spoiled me.
PS. Meet one of our hotel neighbours. They always managed to find a way to invite themselves to our meals, somehow or another. Don’t let them deceive you – they can be quite vicious!