How I ended up in Mombasa for a weekend

Dan dressed up all snazzy for church

Dan dressed up all snazzy for church

Sunday school kids singing for the 16 year anniversary of the church

Sunday school kids singing for the 16 year anniversary of the church

On Sunday, we were expected to attend church with our host family. We all dressed up in our Sunday best and dropped by the centre to pick up a few of the kids for church. We walked around 2 kilometres down dusty roads in the late-morning heat with kids in tow. It just so happened to be the church’s 16 year anniversary and it was certainly an experience never to be forgotten. We walked into loud drums and soulful singing of hymns, we found a place and stayed standing to clap and sway to the hymns, which went on forever and ever and ever. After about half an hour, we took a seat while various members of the church came up to say a prayer. One man of note was extremely vibrant, with hands raised, screaming to the heavens with all his might, and then breaking out into song - whatever he was saying he was extremely passionate. Finally the minister came out, and to our surprise he was a smiley Chinese man! He delivered the sermon in English apparently, though I could only make out every fifth word and also had a Swahili translator. He yelled as passionately as the previous man, though what the lesson was I have no idea, he was too difficult to make out. The service went on for a hot 2 hours, ending in the Sunday school kids telling a story from the bible and singing a hymn. It didn’t end there though, oh no. We were herded outside for “20 minutes” so about an hour Kenyan time to hang out in the sun and partake in some games before heading back inside where lunch and a drink would be supplied before one last prayer and a raffle. The youth leaders came outside with hula hoops, skipping ropes and other long ropes. We found ourselves in a tournament of tug-of-war: women vs. men, then youth girls vs. youth boys, and then a championship round. The tribe of African women + 2 Mzungus surprisingly beat the men, the youth boys beat the girls, but in the end the youth boys won out against the strong women! It was ridiculously funny! We were exhausted from the games and decided to sneak out before they served lunch, and ended up down at the local bar for a drink with the boys. 

Vickie pretending to be 'Queen Irene'

Vickie pretending to be 'Queen Irene'

Zak wanted to show us his friends zoo, so after downing my first Tusker beer quickly, we jumped in a cab (all the matatus were too packed with people coming back from church) and headed off. Zak told us that the zoo had a floating bar, but we really had no idea what to expect. When we drove through the entrance, the hedges were perfectly manicured to read ‘Stedmak Gardens’. We were ushered down to the lake where indeed there were floating barges covered by tents. One was set out like a restaurant with many tables and chairs, while some were more like a bar with stools and chairs. We kept walking down to the very end one, where we waddled across the bridge and were greeted by a very well-off looking man in a gold chain, white pants and very smart button up shirt. Behind him (Joe), a large African woman (Irene) was lounging over the beautiful leather sofas, ripping into a whole chicken. Turns out we had been invited to the VIP tent to sit with the owners. The tent was incredible, it had a sofa that lined the entire circumference, a private waiter and was decked out with a TV and full sound system. Straight away by their body language, I could tell that the wife, Irene, pulled all the strings in the marriage. She reminded me of a cross between the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland that sits atop the mushroom smoking a shisha, and Ursula from The Little Mermaid gluttonously lounging about in the cave… a total queen! All that was missing was a tanned, shirtless toy-boy feeding her grapes. 

alice in wonderland caterpillar

After ordering our drinks, Joe lead us into the ‘zoo’ section which was really a grand collection of birds, one llama, a tortoise & a croc. Even though the entrance would’ve only cost $4 per person, I was relieved that we were given a complimentary tour as guests, as to call it a zoo was a total over exaggeration! Although they were in construction for building the largest snake enclosure in Kenya, and are apparently receiving a cheetah and some lions within the next few weeks, however I’m not sure how comfortable I would’ve felt contributing to such a run-down zoo if they had’ve already been there so I’m glad they weren’t. It really seemed as though most of the locals and tourists collectively came to the gardens to drink the afternoon away. 

The amazing rains at sunset

The amazing rains at sunset

Once we returned to the tent, our barge was let go to float in the middle of the river - it was quite astounding that they had working electricity in the middle of the river. Almost instantly, it began to rain… it truly felt like a Hollywood moment, afloat in a VIP tent, drinking wine watching the rains pour down in Africa while the sun set on the river. We got to talking with Irene and learned that she has 3 daughters in American universities, owns hotel chains around Kenya, and has plans to establish a 100-acre orphanage half-way between Nairobi and Mombasa . We told her about our plans to go to the beach in Mombasa the following weekend, when she mentioned that she had a guesthouse that she would be happy to rent to us, it seemed too good to be true and we immediately took her up on the offer! At the end of the night after we had docked back at the bridge, Irene left us to Close up for the night and we hung back for Zak to give us the gossip about this wealthy woman. The story was that the gardens were actually a front for a gold smuggling operation at the back of the property, and that Irene had bribed the local police to keep quiet about the gold. Also dabbling in hotels, and many other businesses (legit or not) it was clear that we had spent the evening with a much more powerful woman than we’d realised. 

Vickie & I knew of 5 other girls from our orientations that wanted to go to Mombasa bringing our total to a weekend getaway of 7 girls and Zak as our driver. When we told our house-mum, Diana of our plans she revealed that she had dreamed of going to Mombasa and had never left Nairobi in her life. We were adamant that she had to come with us, however she needed to get permission from Henry. The next day she told us dismayed, that Henry wouldn’t allow it. Although still excited for our girls weekend away, it was slightly dampened by the realisation of the cultural differences here and that Diana wouldn’t be joining us. On Wednesday night just after dinner, Henry came home and pulled Diana aside, not 5 minutes later she came bounding into the room crying.. SHE WAS COMING TO MOMBASA. It was monumentally exciting that we had broken a cultural stigma here… we were taking a woman travelling without her husband, a woman who has never been swimming or even seen the beach… and we couldn’t wait to see little Dan in some togs! 

Diana, Ciao, Angel, Rebecca and Nanami

Diana, Ciao, Angel, Rebecca and Nanami

The first hour into the long drive - still all smiles

The first hour into the long drive - still all smiles

On the road again

On the road again

On Thursday morning we had the van packed and were out of there by 10am. We also picked up Angela, the other other house girl on the way, now bringing our total to 9 women, one driver and a baby… we knew we were in for a cramped and long drive! The other girls were almost 2 hours away on the other side of Nairobi. By the time we had stopped for snacks, petrol, picked up the other girls and then stopped for lunch, we were not officially on the road heading back in the direction we’d left from until about 3:30pm. We certainly looked a sight to passers by, 2 Americans, 2 Australians, 2 Irish, 2 Kenyans, 1 Japanese woman and an African man and baby crammed into a safari van on the road to Mombasa. As a child, my parents and I drove from one end of Australia to the other, sometimes in the middle of the night, but this drive was definitely the most interesting and terrifying I have had in my life! We passed many a goat and cow on the way, however even saw zebra and a giraffe off in the distance, my first proper wildlife spotting! Vendors stood in the middle of the road trying to sell us anything from bottles of water, to cashews, bags of tomatoes, necklaces and even knives. The traffic was insane, as the route is a heavily driven trucker route. The sun set as we passed the most magnificent valley and hills… I was absolutely in awe!

Sunset over the valley... I couldn't capture a photo well enough in the moving van to truly do this moment justice

Sunset over the valley... I couldn't capture a photo well enough in the moving van to truly do this moment justice

The dirt road from hell - even Hades himself wouldn't travel (taken in the daylight on the journey back to Nairobi)

The dirt road from hell - even Hades himself wouldn't travel (taken in the daylight on the journey back to Nairobi)

Then it got scary. As it got darker, it seemed as though people began to drive even more dangerously than I had experienced so far in Kenya. Here, overtaking a truck at top speed, heading straight into oncoming traffic isn’t uncommon at all, however in the pitch black, with no street lights and many vehicles lacking headlights and brake lights, it was excruciating for any western driver to watch. I tried closing my eyes and getting some shut-eye, knowing that the drive was out of my control. Occasionally after getting a 15-20 minute nap I’d be woken by swerving, beeping or driving over bumps. I couldn’t help but watch straight ahead, head-check and all of those other natural driver instincts. The traffic didn’t even die down, it was still bumper to bumper until at least 11pm, when a lot of truckers pulled over at the markets for a nap and to buy food off the street vendors. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I woke up when the tarmac ended, and became a dirt road with 3 lanes of oncoming traffic coming straight at us, we seemed to create our own lane heading to Mombasa on the dirt. The bumps were painful, and when it began to rain we discovered our window-wipers didn’t work. We were now driving on a dirt track, in pitch black, rain drops pounding the windscreen, but it was dead silent. Everybody was exhausted, and just holding our breath till the moment we would arrive at the house. The dirt road lasted almost an hour, and after 8 hours on the road, Zak was getting tired and disoriented, but the danger of pulling over and falling asleep at the side of the road in Africa is just too great, we had to make it to the house.

The beautiful doors to the holiday home entrance

The beautiful doors to the holiday home entrance

Morale rose again when we hit the bridge, knowing that the island of Mombasa lay on the other side, however Zak didn’t even have an official address for the house. He made calls, and stopped along the way to keep asking locals for directions. What should’ve been an hour drive through the city traffic ended up taking almost 2 with all of the disruptions, and the house turned out to be more north than Mombasa than we’d been lead to believe. Finally, a piki driver lead us from the main road to the house, and we all jumped out, complained about the state of our asses, and stumbled into the house just before 3am. The house had 3 bedrooms, many large sitting areas and a pool, along with a house-mama to clean up and care for the property. After all the beds had been claimed, a few people ended up on couches, and I ended up on a mattress on the floor, too exhausted to care. 

The holiday home

The holiday home

Mombasa Sand

Mombasa Sand

 Vickie and Melissa cooked us a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausages and Spanish potatoes on Friday morning before we all idly marched back into the van and headed to the local shopping centre to pick up last minute towels and things that people had forgotten to bring. We also stopped at a local market where I picked up a beautiful scarf for $4.50. Then it was finally beach time! We were all excited to be heading down to Pirate’s Beach until men started to swarm our van. As soon as we got out we were instantly harassed - ‘buy my necklaces, help my family’, ‘you want snorkel’, ‘what you do today? You come on my boat’ and it continued on as our obviously strange multicultural group of 10 grew to more than 20 as we walked down towards the beach, with more and more vendors swarming us, getting way too close for comfort.

Jamal

Jamal

Meeting Jamal

Meeting Jamal

We took a quick camel ride for $5 as it was on our to-do-list, and my god I did not realise how huge those creatures are! My stomach did flips when we got on, but especially when we got off and the camel dropped to its knees. With the harassment getting quickly exhausting, five of us girls broke off and walked down the beach to a more secluded area. We spent the day lounging on the sand, and wading through the shallow sea and coral at low tide, dreading the thought of walking back to get to the van. We eventually trekked back up the sand and stopped at the main restaurant to order lunch, where again, vendors walking past the table would just not take NO for an answer. We quickly devised a plan to hang all of our towels over the rope bordering the table to block us off from the passers-by, which worked relatively well. Once the other half of our group returned, the drama followed them. They had spent the day on a boat which they had been way overcharged for, but then were harassed by every worker on the boat, from the cleaner, to the photographer to also give them ridiculous amounts of money! It soon got out of hand and as soon as everybody had finished their meal, we hustled back to the van sick of men yelling at us in Swahili that we owed them hundreds of dollars. After the exhaustion of the day, our plan of going out to a local bar had been foiled, and instead we picked up pizzas and beers (cider for me) to devour back at the house. To take it one step further, most of the drinks ended up back in the fridge while one of the girls made cups of tea by 9:30pm and we all retired not long after. Vickie, ironically the oldest of the bunch, ditched the nanas with Zak and 2 of the girls to go out. I woke up countless times during the night to cloud myself in bug spray, and without any cooling I was sweating buckets. 

As soon as I woke on Saturday I jumped in the pool to rid myself of the disgusting clammy sweating feeling. That morning, it was a unanimous decision to get the hell away from Mombasa and head down to Diani, reputable for its pristine beaches and chill vibes. We drove through Mombasa, and drove the car onto the ferry to cross over to the mainland. It was a real sight, with hundreds of people walking amongst the traffic carting and carrying large sacks and objects on their back to be transported on the ferry. It was about a 2 hour drive and was quite difficult to find where we could drive down, as the beach was totally bordered by private resorts and hotels making it almost impossible for the general public to access. Finally we snuck down a dirt road and caught our first glimpse of the exquisite blue waters.

Diani Beach

Diani Beach

Myself, Nanami, Rebecca, Ciara and Ciao at Diani Beach

Myself, Nanami, Rebecca, Ciara and Ciao at Diani Beach

We were approached intermittently by vendors and salesmen along the beach, but nowhere near to the extent at Mombasa. Again, we ended up breaking into the two groups, the five of us girls desperate to get some lunch and the others seeking some boat adventures. We were approached many times on the walk down by mostly salespeople, but some curious locals. ‘What cunt are you from’ one asked walking beside me, ‘Excuse me?’ I exclaimed as one of the girls, Ciao, giggled quietly behind us, ‘what country are you from’ he repeated… ‘ah…' I answered politely and continued walking. They desperately tried to continue the conversation, but we were all getting very short with them after the previous day. ‘How long you here for? Maybe you come on dolphin tour’, ‘No sorry we go home today, goodbye’, ‘Oh okay, well you have a nice giney’, again I was stumped as Ciao pissed herself laughing this time, he’d meant journey, but their English pronunciation was horribly hilarious, and provided us with endless laughs when reminiscing for the rest of the day.

Fish kebabs for lunch at Diani Beach

Fish kebabs for lunch at Diani Beach

True to Kenyan form, our meal took an hour an half to come out after ordering. We joked about running down for a swim in the meantime, knowing that the food would take ages, but didn’t want to chance missing our meal either. The seafood was such a treat, costing only $10 per head. As soon as the last girl had taken the last bite we gathered our belongings and sprinted down to the beach. 

 

Beautiful Diani Beach as the clouds rolled in

Beautiful Diani Beach as the clouds rolled in

Baby crab

Baby crab

 

As soon as we had picked the perfect spot, the clouds rolled over and consumed the sunshine, just our luck! We should’ve gone for a swim during the long wait. Rebecca and I broke off for a massage while the others went for a swim. I was wrong in thinking that the massage would be on the beach when the two girls led us way up the sand to huts. It was probably the most effortless massage I’d ever had, with the girl barely rubbing oil into my back and taking breaks every 2 minutes to get more oil. It’s hard to complain though for a $10 1-hour massage and it was indeed relaxing. Just as I had probably been asleep for about 2 minutes, I was startled awake by a noise. As I quickly darted my eyes to the top of the tent, I saw a tail swing down on the opposite side of the fly wire window, and then the silhouette of little paws run atop the canvas. I watched the silhouette apprehensively, recalling stories on A Current Affair of monkeys that were trained to steal belonging when tourists were distracted, however it became clear after shouts from the locals that this was just a curious wild monkey. It later jumped back down to the edge and stared at me through the fly-wire window, it was unnerving. Then with a dangle of its tail and a quick manoeuvre it was gone. After our 45-minute-should’ve been an hour-massage, the cloud coverage was still just as bad so I didn’t end up braving the waters, knowing that it would’ve been a very damp drive home with no sun to dry me off. Again, the grandmas ended up staying in at the house, this time with chicken and chips and I didn’t even bother cracking open one cider, but just opted straight for the cup of a tea on a raving Saturday night. 

On Sunday morning the 9 of us demolished a 2L tub of strawberry ice cream for breakfast and got a much earlier start, so that we could get the bulk of the driving out of the way in daylight. It was sweltering hot, and for the most part we all napped and kept quiet for the long drive. It was honestly an exhausting vacation from our vacation, and I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry (which some of us had originally been contemplating for next weekend). So TOP TIP for anyone planning a Kenyan beach getaway, avoid Mombasa all together, and spend at least 5 days to a week on Diani beach to fully enjoy what it has to offer, relax and indulge in fresh seafood! And for the love of god if you can afford it, just fly, it was not a pleasant drive at all if you couldn't tell!

I liked the camels, can you tell?

I liked the camels, can you tell?