Unfortunately for those keen to follow this trip, I don’t write very well and have no copywriter to help make my entries more embellished or intelligible. I will struggle to keep up with my fellow trans African bloggers who so effortlessly weave wit and humour into their notes. There is no magic instagram filter to enhance my ramblings, so you will have to put up with undisguised and ordinary accounts of daily life on the road.
Packing my bag for the final time a few days before leaving (I had packed it many times over in the months leading up to this moment), I realised I had completely misjudged the situation. Undoing the stacks of neatly folded items, I found (amongst other completely unsuitable garments) a skin hugging heavy long sleeved top and a woolly beanie! I had packed this bag in April when the temperatures were only just nibbling at 15 degrees or so. It was a stiflingly humid and sticky night in London, not dissimilar to a typical night in Africa, so I used the heat simulation situation to try to salvage my packing debacle fast! Frantically, I started trying on each piece… Like a Primark changing room on payday, I soon found myself with a heap of unsuitable clothing at my feet.
Atop the folding shovel, collapsible step stool, four large padlocks and 180 malaria tablets (all the important items that didn’t make it into the Beast in time), I started repacking more suitable African attire. My tiny expedition bag weighed a ton.
Whisked to the airport by Lizzy, I said my goodbyes and proceeded with the usual process of checking in and boarding. Following a 6 hour stopover in Frankfurt, I boarded Condor air, forecast by Gemma as the type of low cost flight that would lend itself to non-reclinable seats, no food and certainly no individual seat-back screens. Fearful that I should miss a meal (and not wanting to mission about sorting myself out for food), I had booked and paid and additional 15 euro for a special meal, and eagerly awaited my treat.
As a solo traveler with a seat next to me, my unelected neighbour for the duration of the flight was an elderly gentleman by the name of Klaus, from Frankfurt of course, who mistakenly ended up eating my special meal (I was too embarrassed to tell him that I had been given his ordinary meal). He filled the next 2-3 hours with chat about Africa and his involvement in helping companies get their auditing on track. I was just about to tell him that I desperately needed some sleep (it was near midnight) when he dropped this on me; “How long would you like to live for?”. Deep. My answers were becoming short and sharp and this definitely wasn’t a topic I wished to engage in at this time of night. He proceeded to tell me that he believed we were born into bodies that were not meant to die, God had made us perfect, and that it was Adam and Eve’s fault for making the wrong decision in the garden of Eden that had doomed us all to certain death. That was just the start of it. I’m not kidding, by now I’d worked out that Klaus was a Jehova’s witness and I was subjected to a further hour and a half of quotes from the bible and justifications at to how these were relevant today. Eventually he must have grown weary of his own monologue and finally stopped talking. I tried in vain to sleep and couldn’t, but pretended to be deeply unconscious, missing my breakfast on purpose, until we touched down in Mombasa and the seat belt signs had been switched off. He left me with a hearty handshake, told me what a brave young lady I was, and slipped me a little piece of yellow paper (the type they try to hand you at your front door) with a little handwritten note guiding me towards the Jehova’s witness website if I did ever want to find out more…
Waiting for my baggage, I couldn’t help but wonder what a fully loaded plane of white westerners was doing here – why Mombasa? I spotted one African family and the rest of the ‘arivees’ were all Caucasian. Some traveling I expect, but there was a real mix of old and young, and some families. Just shows how little I actually know about Kenya – clearly Mombasa is the place to be! I exchanged a bit of money at Mombasa airport and took strode out to greet my pre-arranged taxi driver. “Jumbo! It’s good to be back in Africa.”
Driving from Mombasa to Diani Beach, we passed the hustle and bustle of daily life along the East Coast. For most of the journey out of Mombasa we hooted our way through the traffic, bobbing and weaving past dosey pedestrians, cart-dragging traders, clapped out taxis, noisy tuk-tuks, slow cyclists, reckless motorbikes, smelly busses and straying livestock. The streets were lined with shacks and stalls, most ramshackled, made from corrugated iron with black plastic roofs held down by tyres, or basic wooden lean-to’s adorned with tomatoes, kale and bananas. ‘Come in for a Cold Tusker’ one bar beckoned, ‘Welcome to the Lion Eye and Blood Centre’ announced a clinic. Passing the ‘Nice and Lovely Hair Salon’ I noted a neatly formed crocodile rank of school-bound girls in their proud grey uniforms. There are a lot of clinics and academies along the way. Healthcare and schooling seem to be a priority which is good. Nearing Diani Beach, things start to thin out a bit and you really get a feeling you’re nearing the coast. Tall palm trees line the road and the dwellings become more farm-like. At Ukunda we hung a left and headed further south along the Diani Beach road. Resorts line almost every inch of the way through Diani and beyond. Diani is a tourist hot spot – beautiful beaches and cobalt blue seas make it a desirable destination for backpackers and resort dwellers alike.
My home for the next 5 days was South Coast Backpackers, a melting pot of travelers and volunteers. It’s run by three young French chaps who enjoy a good party and is the place to be if you’re young and hip (I did well to fit in). This is the type of place where people dip in and out so much, you end up calling eachother by the country from which you hail. “Hey, South Africa, come and have a shot with me” yelled Canada from the pool-side thatch bar. “Ok, cool, let me go and get Austria and Ireland, I’m sure they’ll want one too” I yell back.
I quickly come to appreciate that my ‘adventure in a nice big 4×4 with all the mod cons’ pales in comparison to some stories. David, a 20 year old Austrian kid is volunteering for months at a time in small remote villages playing football with the street kids and giving adults English lessons – that, my friends is incredible.
The backpackers did stuff together. We sat around talking about our journeys, caught motorbikes up and down the coast multiple times a day, hired a dhow once to to swim and snorkel off the coast, crossed rivers to get to remote beaches, partied at Forty Thieves Beach Bar. I didn’t play cards ONCE which is quite something!
Ireland one & two (Amy and Tonia), and I spent a day at Swahili Beach Resort. At a cool £300 plus per night, this was a little out of the price range, so we opted for the day trip option and had a coke and pizza pool side.
For my final night, we arranged to go up to Shimba Hills for sunset which was just breath-taking. The land just dips away and you can see for miles across the escarpment. Envisage newly-born Lion King Simba, being dangled over pride rock by Rafiki, and you’ve just about captured the moment. Denmark played the Cirlce of Life soundtrack whilst we all sipped on Tuskers and watched the sun set over Kilimanjaro in the distance.
Back to Mombasa
The Beast was due to dock in Mombasa on the 22nd July and did so (horray for smooth sailing), and I am currently awaiting instructions from customs to come in and drive it out of there. I can’t wait to hit the road.
Next stop – Tsavo and Amboseli game reserves – life is good!