Kenya Travel Story - "A week at Tiwi Beach" (page 3)

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During the days we relaxed, swam in the sea, or went to the neighboring villages. For 3000 shillings, about 45 dollars, we hired a taxi for the whole day to visit Mombasa. When we arrived in the old city centre, and got out of the car, a guide already stood next to us and assigned himself as our guide. The taxi driver had already told us that taking a guide is more or less obliged here.

I was annoyed at first, but the guide knew a lot, so the heck with it. We first walked around in the pretty old town of Mombasa. The mixture between African and Arabic architecture is really nice. About a third of the population here is Muslim, but of a rather liberal type.

The guide knew some good tourist shops run by Indians. The Kenyan shops ask high prices and then you are supposed to bargain. You never know this way what a good price is – a fair price which is not too high but which gives the shop owner a decent income. The Indian shops have normal prices, and don’t bargain (well, a little). We bought a beautiful soap stone chess set there, a Tusker t-shirt and some jewelry. Then we went to see Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The fort has remained largely intact. When at the end of the day we wanted to drive back to our resort, the ferry had broken down, with a traffic jam of several miles in front of it. So we turned around and bought our taxi driver dinner. An hour later, the traffic jam was gone.

We also went several times by matatu bus – private minibuses that leave as soon as they are full, meaning eleven people cramped into a small van. They stop everywhere you raise your hand. Matatu means ‘for three’ – originally the fare was 3 shillings per person. Meanwhile it’s 25 shillings. Although they sometimes wanted more from us because we were the wealthy tourists. We agreed among each other that we would pay 50 shillings per person maximum.

One matatu was always run by 2 people. One driver, and one guy who would jump out of the van when it was still riding, yell and push in waiting passangers, and then he would smash his hand on the side of the van so the driver knew he could start riding again, and the second guy would run with the driving van, jump in and close the door. The matatus usually play ultraloud benga or rap music, are painted in all colors of the rainbow and are usually totally battered after all the accidents they’ve been in. They drive like crazy, Kenyans call this ‘matatu madness’. We saw several matatus involved in accidents during our stay there.

Sometimes, if we walked to a matatu stop, guys would grab us and push us into the matatus. The atmosphere wasn’t always friendly. Matatus pass for safe during the day, but unsafe after dark, because sometimes they are abducted. A couple of men get in, and after the doors close it becomes clear that they work together. They pull a weapon and tell the driver to go to some remote area, and then the passengers are robbed, or worse.

On the way back to the Netherlands, we had to take the plane to Nairobi and the connecting flight to Amsterdam on the same day. The flight to Nairobi went at 6 AM, and as we had some bad experiences with taxi drivers showing up late or being unable to find our resort, we decided to spend the last night in a Mombasa hotel. Before going to bed, I made an agreement with a taxi driver to bring us to the airport at 4 AM. I told the driver he could go home, but the poor guy decided to stay in the hotel lobby until 4 AM in the morning… In the evening, we went into a café to have some Tusker beers. People were watching an international soccer game on TV, and after mentioning some famous Dutch soccer players we were close friends.

The following day we’re flying home and at home I’m homesick for Africa. I didn’t expect it – I was mainly curious to what it would be like there – but I really loved it there. I have a principle – at least in principle  - to never visit the same place twice as it’s often hard to repeat the magic of a first trip. But for Kenya I’ll happily make an exception…

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