Kenya Update #10 – Mombasa and Home!

So this will be my last update from Kenya! I’m still in Mombasa and am flying home, beginning at 8pm tonight. It’s going to be a miserably long travel day for me. Worse than when I came back from India (which included not sleeping for ~36 hours and a 16 hour flight from Mumbai to Newark). How miserable will this be, you ask?

Mombasa to Nairobi: 45 min flight, 2.25 hr layover
Nairobi to Zurich: 8 hr flight, 1.5 hr layover
Zurich to Frankfurt: 1.25 hr flight, 2 hr layover
Frankfurt to Chicago: 9 hr flight, 1.75 hr layover
Chicago to Birmingham: 1.5 hr flight

…groan. Why I didn’t plan this better, I don’t know. But I do konw it will be a full 41 hours of travel plus 5 flights between showers. Thank goodness I learned how to take an airport shower and remembered to pack a full change of clothes in my carry-on baggage. I hopefully won’t smell too horrible when I arrive. Man I can’t wait to take a shower in MY shower. And hug my friends. And watch some baseball. And eat some belgian waffles. And a salad. And strawberries…. ok I’m salivating. Moving on.

So yesterday afternoon I managed to wander around town for awhile, taking in the sights. Mombasa is a much more laid back city compared to Nairobi, and I’m back in my groove of just generally ignoring people yelling. When taking tuk-tuk rides around, I’ve developed a new habit of sort of testing drivers. I flag them down with the typical African hand-wave that means “come here” (palm open towards the person, flap your 4 fingers down to the palm a few times) and say “how much to this place” and they say “oh only 200 bop” (bop is the less formal word for money, kind of the way American’s say bucks instead of dollars). And I give them the look meant to convey “I know you’re screwing me over” and say “no, only 50 bop”. They say okay and I hop right in. Only once has a tuk-tuk driver given me the proper price right off the bat, but every mutatu driver has been super open and honest and fair.

Another thing I’ve noticed here are the little street-side vendors selling used clothing. I remember seeing a piece on some news station – it might have been CNN or Nova – that talked about what happens when you donate cloting to places like Goodwill or Salvation Army. The donation warehouses sort through and separate the things that will sell to American markets and package the other stuff up. They package it into huge bundles – maybe 50 to 100lbs each – and ship it off to countries like Kenya. When it gets there, one of these street vendors goes to a certain place, purchases a bundle for a reasonably low price, and sells each item at their little stand on the street. It’s the reason why you see photos from places like the slums of Nairobi with kids wearing Michael Jordan jerseys and US Sorority/Fraternity date party t-shirts. My friend Meshark was telling me that shops that sell new clothing in Kenya are very angry about this process. They feel that because people have the option to buy used clothing from America, they don’t want to buy new, more expensive, clothing that was made here in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa. There are some political grumblings about the process too, but Meshark doesn’t think it will ever will amount to anything. Kenyans are a penny-pinching people, constantly panicked about never having enough money (hence the scamming and corruption) and will always spend thriftily. Other people just can’t afford new clothing.

After wandering about, past blankets spread out on the city streets of slightly used tennis shoes, packages of gum and other sweets, new underwear and socks and the oddest collections of used clothes that always make me smile to myself, I headed off to Nakumatt to see if I could buy a really cheap bathing suit for my day at the beach. They had only one two-piece bathing suit that was cheaper and crappier than the worst of the Walmart bathing suits that was priced at about $90! I decided that was ridiculous and headed back to my hotel for a hot shower, a tasty dinner, and a few beers, and have a pleasant nice relaxing dinner like I’d had the night before.

Well… I only thought I was going to have a nice relaxing evening. I hopped in the shower right at 7pm and took a ridiculously long hot shower. Then I grabbed my bird book (to do my bird list) and my notebook and headed down to the restaurant/bar downstairs. As I walked down the 3 flights of stairs to the lobby, I start to hear the most ridiculously loud music. Unfortunately, this was the worst “house band” I’ve ever heard. Drunks at karaoke bars sing better than this woman. She was, and this is as nicely as I can state it, shrieking at the top of her lungs, attempting to sing Gloria Gaynors “I Wil Survive”. It was bad. Superbly bad. The loud+bad+shreiking combination gave me an instant headache, so I ordered some food and beers to be sent to my room, telling them that I was paying restaurant charges, not room service charges, since I would not be forced to listen to that horrible woman scream during dinner. Thankfully they agreed, and I spent the night watching episodes of Psych on my iPhone and hit the hay early.

Yesterday was my relaxing beach day, and wow was it a wonderful day. I think Kenya was trying to get back in my good graces at the last possible minute. I woke up late, grabbed a shower and breakfast (including a delicious Spanish Omlette) and made my way via public transport to the beach: Tuk-tuk to the ferry, pedestrian ferry, mutatu to Ukanda junction, mutatu to the beach. It took about an hour and a half to get there. The mutatu driver dropped me off at this kind of non-descript gate on a mostly deserted (but not scary) road. Across the street was a little shop marked “boutique” to which I ventured in, and found a $18 black speedo two-piece. Score!

I headed into the gates to the Diani Reef Beach Resort (a $300+/night resort) hoping they would let me use their private beach for a bit and eat at their restaurants. They were wonderfully accommodating and let me come right in with no problem. Holy crap that place was beautiful. Right as you walk in, the entire lobby floor is made of glass and you can see down to a pod full of fish. You walk a little farther in and there is a huge baobob tree decked out with fairy lights. Again, beautiful.

The Diani Beach Resort

I borrowed a lounge chair and camped out for the morning, basking in the warm equatorial sunshine, the refreshing salty wind off the ocean – one of my favorite things in the world – and taking a few little dips into the warm and clear blue waters of the Indian ocean. I remembered to put sunblock on the top half of my body, but forgot to get my legs until noon. They’re a little red and sore, but I consider it an acceptable cost for a beautiful morning. Although I am a little worried about them and the marathon travel I have rapidly approaching…

Camels! On the beach!

Around 1pm I headed into the open-air beach front restaurant/bar to have a little lunch and sit in the shade for a bit. I ordered a little pasta, but got a whole spectacularly delicious meal of a salad, a basket of bread and a very large plate of pasta in the most fresh and amazing sauce I’ve had in quite some time. I devoured the salad and all but one piece of the bread the second they showed up, but I took my time with the pasta. Partly because I was getting full, and partly because I was tired.

So there I was, sitting, enjoying my pasta, and I look up and see two little hands on the chair across from me. It was a vervet monkey who had apparently been eyeing that last piece of bread for quite some time. She sat there timidly for a second, while I sat there completely stunned and laughing. And then wickedly fast, she grabbed the last piece of bread, stuck it in her mouth and grabbed my camera and ran up into the rafters of the restaurant!! Yes! I was robbed by a monkey again! The last one took my food, but this one took food and my camera! Granted, once the monkey figured out it had no use for the camera, she dropped it (no damage), but you better believe she kept the bread.

The monkey that stole my bread and camera.

The whole 30 minutes after that I was more or less stalked by vervet monkeys. They’d sneak up on me from behind me and I’d turn and they’d look, unsure what I was going to do and then run off. There was a palm tree right behind me that they had been using as one avenue to the roof; a palm tree they enjoyed running up and down when I wasn’t looking.

There was another moment with the theiving monkeys that put a huge smile on my face and still does now. I was sitting there eating and I heard this “shhhhhp” sound. I quickly turned around and it was one of the littler monkeys sliding down the palm tree. She had gotten maybe 1/4 of the way down and froze in her tracks when I flipped around to look at her. I laughed, turned back to my food, and heard the “shhhhhp” sound again, and turned back around. Again, she froze – staring at me. We played like this twice more before she made it down to the ground – Her sliding down the tree trunk – “shhhhhp” – me flipping around to look at her and freezing dead in her tracks. Such a wonderful little moment. It was play time for me, I wonder if it was for her too.

So after lunch it was back to the beach, but this time I sat under an umbrella to save my poor sunburned body. I read a magazine, took a nap, took another swim or two. Such a wonderful afternoon. At around 3, a couple of guys (Norwegian maybe?) showed up with a soccer ball and invited me to play a little beach soccer. We coerced another couple (German man & wife), another pair of guys (gay American couple?) and two teenagers (Swiss?) desperate to escape their parents to join as well. The definition of a motley crew to play soccer at least, and we all know soccer is not anywhere close to my wheelhouse, but I held my own and even scored a goal!

At 4:30 I packed up my things, threw on my clothes and headed back to Mombasa. I arrived back at the hotel at 6:45, fully determined to gobble up some dinner and head upstairs before the shrieking woman came back out, but, this being the day Kenya decided to suck up to me, I was pleasantly surprised. I sat at a table next to a fellow Texan, here on business. We chatted a bit while we drank our Tusker beers. Then the music started – not horrible yelling but mellow and pleasing not-too-loud covers of cheesy 80s and 90s soft rock! And we all know how much I love cheesy music! All in all, a very pleasant evening. I drank my 3 beers, ate my dinner and headed up to grab a shower before they turned the hot water off.

So now its Saturday afternoon, and I depart tonight. And just a side note I’ve heard the song “What is Love” by Haddaway every time I’ve been in this internet cafe.  How strange.

Speaking of strange – a weird thing happened over lunch. I was sitting at my little restaurant and a Hare Krishna parade went by! I went over and saw the sights and even danced with some of the gals in the parade.

The Hare Krishna Parade

Another one of those neat moments in life.

The ladies I danced with in the parade.

So I’m off to the airport in a bit. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it’s a quick and easy trip home. 🙂

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