Back on the home continent for the first time

Kenya March 2012


If you took away all other senses, the humidity could be anywhere – Washington DC, Kuala Lumpur, or Durban.


But it is the smell, that unique humid-dusty smell of Africa that gives it away – that you are on my home continent.


It is a fragrance that you don’t get in most parts of South Africa – but certainly in most other countries I have visited here. And it made me feel at home very quickly – putting a smile on my face.


I was excited about this visit to my 51st country – one that I had been told is very very friendly. And I was immensely proud that using my South African passport meant I didn’t need a visa, one of those beautiful moments when the previously blacklisted passport was the better one to put on the counter.


We were disappointed by some of our fellow African – Kenyan “citizens” that felt they had a right to push in front of everyone else in the passport control queue. They only justified themselves once we challenged them – “we were told to come here, as this is normally the Kenyan queue”.


When I counter-challenged the one of them that had a German passport, she swore at me, using some choice German phrases that even I hadn’t used and justified her pushing in by claiming to be coming for a funeral, so “leck mich am Arsch”. OK…


The airport property is similar to many others I have seen on the continent – areas for the minibuses, grand buildings named after previous presidents. Large tracts of tarred areas and control booms exiting onto a dual carriageway that leads past colourful small business and homes into town.


Mombasa town is located on an island that is crossed by a large bridge – with a great view onto the largest port in East Africa (second only to Durban in all of Africa). The town clearly shows its multi-cultural heritage: Mosques and Catholic churches, KiSwahili and English as the main languages along side a total of 42 in Kenya. A port town clearly in Africa.


To the north (I am told) there is a bridge off the island back onto the mainland – but that we will see later.


To the south the entrance to the port prevents a bridge from being built, so the Lokoni ferry transfers passengers and vehicles from the island to the mainland. There are 4 ferries going to and fro at peak times, 2 to 3 in off-peak times, and 1 an hour in the dead of night. Needless to say, the high volumes of traffic sometime result in longer waiting periods. We were lucky and only waited about 10 minutes to get on to one, and then a 10 minute ride across. It was an incredible sight though, seeing a passenger-only ferry come to shore in front of us, and disgorge an estimated 2000 Kenyans on their way to work. A magnificent sight, all these people streaming onto shore and heading in different directions for the day’s work.


It is about a 90 minute drive in total to the hotels on the south coast, through bush, palms trees, baobabs and small villages and businesses on the way.


Once at our hotel – The Sands at Nomad (yep, we’re lucky!) we had breakfast with a view onto the long, endless white beach, and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. I had expected the long beaches, but for some reason not the paradise-blue colour of the water. And certainly not the 31C water temperature!


The beaches have a reputation of being the hassle ground of the “Beach boys” – who want to sell you anything from boat trips, curious in nearby shops to their sister (I’ve been told…). The hotel has controlled the situation somewhat by allowing only accredited ones on the beach, and then only in small numbers – so I was only spoken to 3 times, and managed to ward them off after a few minutes,.


Muriel and I took a walk down the beach after our post-contracting swim, and saw the remains of what was once Magnificent Mombasa in the 70s and 80s. There are at least 3 of 4 hotel ruins along this prime piece of land. Large hulks of greying building, attacked by the rain and humid air and lack of upkeep. If these walls could talk, they would tell grand stories of the good old days.


Now they wait to torn down and replaced – but even that will take a long time. Kenya is not seen as stable enough for such large investments right now. The political situation in the country itself, and particularly to the north has given tourism a massive knock.


The coast has mainly larger resort type hotels – the kind where the English or Germans will come and spend a week or 2 soaking up the sun and being treated like royalty by the waiters if they are regulars at the hotel, year after year. I’m sure that many of them don’t bother doing anything cultural outside of the Full Board or All Inclusive environment, where a German manager will ensure that the German chef bakes German pastries every morning for his clients. You know, those “travel around the world you know”, but demand the comforts of home at the destination…


We had dinner tonight in the open sided restaurant at our resort – a warmish breeze blowing in from the Indian Ocean, accompanied by a very tasty red snapper. And finished off with Dawa – a local cocktail made with rum, sugar and mint.


I’ve only been here a few hours, but it already feels like almost a week J

3 thoughts on “Back on the home continent for the first time

  1. haha… so true about the Germans only wanting German food and German-like service (and punctuality too)… why travel around the world only to stay where it’s “safe” inside the hotel?

  2. Welcome “home”, dear son! How I remember the smell of Mombasa, although 33(!??!) years ago. Fort Jesus apparently (and the old town) are said not to be half as nice (and safe … haha, we live in Cape Town) as way back then. Enjoy it! Except for the incredibly swift snakes crossing the road in their dozens, the car trip down to the hotels on the south-coast even then was wonderful! But our highlight, still, remains the train trip (in colonial style, we must admit) by train from Nairobi to Mombasa. Enjoy your trip. And you are both welcome here tomorrow (Human Rights Day) or next week. We keep the house open for you … 🙂

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