Sunday, August 21, 2011

East Africa Day 97 (Thurs Aug 18): All Aboard for the Kenyan Coast!

As I mentioned in one of last week’s posts, I’ve been hoping to visit the Kenyan coast before I leave East Africa on Monday. Today was the day! I got up before the sun came up and power walked over to the area in town where the bus companies have their offices. Fortunately one of my first choice companies still had a spot on one of the buses that was leaving in about 30 minutes for Mombasa, the biggest Kenyan city on the coast. I purchased a ticket and sat down to wait for my bus to load. It was kind of like Greyhound, not that I really ride Greyhound in the USA:) Comfortable enough, though it was a long ride. We reached Mombasa a little after 4pm, with only one bathroom/food break at a gas station/rest stop.

I was not particularly impressed with the level of cleanliness and order that I found in Mombasa. The Rough Guide warned that it is dirtier than Nairobi. The sidewalks aren’t exactly there, and when they are, they were very crowded. I mainly walked in the street. This was one of those afternoons when I looked around, noticed that 99% of the time I was the only muzungu around in a not-so-great area where I had no idea where I was (though in broad daylight), and wondered if I am brave and particularly well-adjusted to East Africa travel, or if I might just be lacking some common sense. Well, it was another adventure that ended perfectly well!

I tried to navigate the busy, very dirty roads in a direction that I hoped led to a view of the ocean. Didn’t find that, but I did wind up in back alleys that were neighborhoods – ones that felt absolutely nothing like East Africa. I could have been on another continent entirely. It was amazing. Best I can say is that it was kind of like Venice, Italy. After a while of aimlessly wandering in what I suspected were circles, I sat down on some “nice” concrete steps in front of a bank, to read the novel I recently started “Love In A Time of Cholera”.

Another one of Sowmya’s friends, Wilson was meeting up with me at 5:30pm. Wilson is Kenyan, and teaches Peace Studies at Mombasa Polytechnic, one of Kenya’s public universities. He offered to meet up with me for dinner, and advise me on my research. This was one of the reasons I came to the coast. He found me on the steps before 5:30pm.

We jumped into a three-wheeled tin toy-looking car, and were taken to Fort Jesus, the main historic site in Mombasa.

It had just closed, but we walked around the outside and I saw my first glimpse of the ocean off of the Kenyan coast. Beautiful! Again, it reminded me of Venice.

We took a walk along the coastline, and then Wilson showed me the old part of the city. Again, it reminded me of Venice. (We also saw some wazungu tourists, which made me feel better:)

We then headed to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I got eggplant deep-fried with black bean sauce. Well-cooked (hopefully not contaminated) and delicious!

After dinner, Wilson walked me to my hotel and we parted ways. It was a bit of a loud night – with the call to prayer, the overnight buses departing for their long trips, and general street noise. (Muslims pray five times a day. Each prayer seems to be fully conducted over a loudspeaker system, with the loudspeaker set outside of the building so that the entire neighborhood can hear it. There are many Muslims in Mombasa.) My room had a TV that had Al Jazeera. I left it on all night – novelty of having a TV, (somewhat) drowned out the street noise, plus the first time I’ve watched Al Jazeera on a TV set:)

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