The Waiting Game and Unleashing of the Beast – Mombasa, Kenya

[17th August] I must apologise for the lack of blogging, but life on the road is hard work. I didn’t quite realise just how much time driving, sightseeing and daily camping routines would consume. But I have time now, and so with diary open, my fingers should fly over the keyboard.

26th – 30th July 2013

The past few days have been frustrating, but this is Africa, and it has it’s own time. The ship docked in Mombasa Port on Tuesday and the container unloaded on Wednesday. My fixers are doing their thing, lodging this and submitting that, but haven’t been able to give me a firm date for collection, and so I wait. Saturday seems like something may happen. I just want to get into the bush!

I’ve been staying in a nice hotel in the Bamburi area just North of Mombasa, with all the food and drink I could ask for. It was my treat for finally getting here after two years of planning and prep! Without sounding like a spoiled child, the days have all become a blur as the daily cycle of living in an all-inclusive resort repeats itself; eat breakfast, laze by the pool, read, eat lunch, play some volleyball or water polo with the hotel activity hosts, check emails, eat cake, drink coffee, laze some more, eat dinner. Three square meals a day (plus afternoon cake). Another week and I might have rolled out of the hotel lobby.

Neptune Beach Resort

Neptune Beach Resort, Mombasa

The hotel is so quiet and the staff have been super friendly, always a handshake, greetings and pleasantries before asking me if there’s anything I need. After just 5 days, I feel like a part of the furniture. I even got chatted up by the chef who wanted to take me up to Malindi for a good time and please could he have my email address.  I told him that the snapper was terrific but that I wouldn’t be taking him up on the kind offer. After lengthy discussions with a few of the other staff, I am a little more clued up on Kenyan tribes (there are around 42 of them), and have mastered a basic greeting conversation in Swahili (no prizes for this piece of linguist genius). The outlandish decadence could not continue any longer, it’s wasted on me, I feel awful when the staff trip over themselves to help me carry my bags or pull back my chair at dinner, and so I will move to a Backpackers today until the Beast has muscled it’s way out of customs.

I’m sitting in an office downtown Mombasa, opposite the Railway Station. After being driven here by my enthusiastic driver Peter, I am relieved to be here with life and limb intact. The roads are crazy and it almost feels like the drivers are playing a computer game, foot flat on the pedal.

No space to overtake? Sawa, no worries, we’ll overtake anyway, blind rises, solid lines, AND make the car on the opposite side veer off-road for good measure. No one gives and inch, no tapering of speed to let someone in, no slowing down when you see a taxi careering towards you on your side of the road – a game of chance (or chicken), except if it’s “Game Over” there is no option to “Start Again” – shucks man, is it really worth it?

Getting my car out of customs was a process I hope never to repeat. Tedious bureaucracy and manual paperwork makes for long hours in the shipping yard office. Multiple Solutions were handling everything for me. Reasons behind why my presence was needed (at times) still elude me. Not once did I sign anything, not once was I asked any questions. Finally, on day 6, a breakthrough! I followed my fixer Paul out in amongst all the stacked containers and found mine unloaded and on the ground.

Customs Port, Mombasa

We opened it up and were told to unpack everything and sprawl my neatly arranged contents onto the ground for inspection. A chap arrived after about an hour of my sitting in the sun. Frowning he snatched the list of declared goods from my hand. I will admit that, in my frayed state days before leaving London, I hadn’t taken too much time to consider the repercussions of not carefully considering the importance of this itemised account and I now stood wishing the list was a little less threadbare. To me, my entry called ‘personal effects’ covered clothing, toiletries and a host of other non-descript items which were clearly meant to be marked separately.  This did not please customs.

As the very official acting man called out each item on the list, I politely pointed out the seemingly obvious bits and pieces. Not satisfied that my sleeping bag was indeed inside the roof top tent, I was ordered to unfold the tent to prove this to him. If you have ever owned a roof top tent, you will be fully aware of the hassle required folding it away again. After half an hour, now ignoring me and seemingly satisfied with the contents, he thrust my list of declared goods back at Paul and walked off. Great, can we go now? Not so quick. Turns out this guy was just flexing his bureaucratic muscles and had nothing whatsoever to do with the signing off of my vehicle…

Mombasa Port Customs

A while later, flies buzzing around my beading forehead, a well-fed lady appears from behind a stack of crates. Approaching with well manicured toe nails in her smart black shoes, she wouldn’t look at me.  Her face resembling one which might have just sucked on a lemon, I got the distinct feeling that I may have interrupted her day by with my customs requirements, forcing her leave her air conditioned unit to join us out in the sun in the yard. We repeated the entire process all over again. By this time, I had been standing in the sun for well over 2 hours, all my traveling possessions splayed out on the concrete, I was quickly losing my sense of humour. Eventually it transpires that my spares, amongst other things, require ‘extra duty’ and the process will take a further week and a completely new application. Paul pulls me aside, “If you want this car out, you may have to part with some cash”. This is Africa. It took a small fortune of ‘parted cash’, additional taxes and fees for 2 extra days in port, and another full day of waiting in the CFS before customs they were satisfied.

Over the 6 days, spending hours in the waiting room in the CFS offices, I noticed a particular port official wait until I looked up and over towards his corner, before waving at me enthusiastically from behind the counter window at the port office.  Late on my final day, just as everyone was packing up to leave (I was still waiting for my truck with my container to depart), he finally emerges from behind the office area and comes to talk to me in the waiting room.  After a long discussion about my make-believe boyfriend and our plans for a great future together, he asks me if I want to live with him in Mombasa, or at least, please can we be Facebook friends so that he can poke me all the time.  I had to laugh.

Mombasa Port Chaos

My container was finally loaded onto a Multiple Solutions truck that afternoon and was to be moved to their handling yard 20kms outside of Mombasa at Miritini. At 5:30pm, just as we’re watching the trucks leave the CFS, one breaks down and another runs out of fuel right near the exit gate. Twenty local guys standing around, each one of them giving the trucks and cars different instructions.  Taxis pushing in and around trying to get through just made the situation even worse and eventually everything was in gridlock, with my truck still inside the yard. After half an hour of standstill, the truck hanging out the gate gets backed up.  They close the massive black gates to the CFS.  Paul is inside, I am outside, it’s getting dark, we’re at the port and there is nowhere to go.  At this point, the traffic clears and 5 minutes later the road is clear.  I look through the keyhole of the iron gates to let the port people know it’s ok to bring the trucks out again, but through the gap I can see the area beyond is empty and devoid of life.  Another half an hour passes, when suddenly the entrance gates, 200m down the road in the other direction open up and trucks start to exit via the entrance.  What a drama.  Finally my truck is out, my container is on it’s way to Miritini where we’d unload it the next day. I say again, this is Africa.

Handling Yard outside Mombasa

The following day I went with Paul to Miritini – the 20km journey takes around 45 minutes. The handling yard is in the middle of nowhere, and this is where the containers are stored and transported to their final destination by Multiple Solutions. After hanging about for almost an hour, they finally bring my container down off it’s truck and open it up. We drive it out and the guys very kindly start helping me get the roof tent onto the roof rack clamped down and spannered tight. We’re just about done when Paul says “I need to go back to the office to get your foreign permit for the car”. “Cool, I’ll follow you back into town”, I say. Not so fast, Paul informs me that I can’t drive on the roads without it. So I sit, for a further hour and a half whilst he goes back into town to collect this small piece of paper for my windscreen, leaving me to make small talk with the workers in the yard. Following this little hiccup, we say our goodbyes and he heads off back to Mombasa before I realise he still has my bags and my GPS in the boot of his car. I head back into Mombasa, GPS blind. Lucky I love maps and had a pretty good idea of where things were in Mombasa so found the office fairly easily and got my stuff off him.

I popped in to get a sim card, my Safaricard (necessary for topping up with cash before you go to the KWS parks) and petrol before deciding that it was a little bit late to rush through to Tsavo. Instead, I decided to go back to the coast, that little spot I had enjoyed so much the week before.  Back to the little haven of Diani, back to friends and their splendid spots where I was to spend the next two days sorting the car and myself out before hitting the road.

Leaving Mombasa by the Likoni Ferry was interesting…

Likoni Ferry, Mombasa – the ONLY route from Mombasa to Diani

3 Comments on “The Waiting Game and Unleashing of the Beast – Mombasa, Kenya

  1. Oh Shara, you write so beautifully and dealt with unbelievable frustration good-naturedly and with humour. I was so very sorry to hear of the damage to your vehicle but glad the axle is not damaged. I hear you are touring a little while the vehicle is being quoted on and hopefully repaired. I am kept up to date by your mom and think of you every day. I hope all your hassles have happened in the first couple of weeks, and that it will be smooth sailing (haha) and all you dreamt of from now on. Much much love, May

  2. It’s a shame we didn’t get to meet, I really like the way you write your blog 🙂
    Lesley (backpackers nirvana)

    • Hi Lesley – I think your place may have been more my scene but just as well I stayed at Mombasa Backpackers as my friends coincidentally ended up there and now I’m staying with one of them whilst my Land Cruiser is being repaired! Best of luck with the business!

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