[19 August] Things have a funny way of working out… and this whole journey so far has been about a collection of coincidences and events where I almost didn’t, but then did… and ended up meeting awesome people, getting to know their friends, and experiencing the unexpected kindness of strangers.
You’ll have to read the next few entries to see just how these little changes affected a potentially disastrous outcome. Follow the treasure trail of coincidences over the next few posts to see how lucky I ended up.
26th – 30th July 2013
So, with cash flying out my wallet at an insane rate (due to unexpected customs, parting with cash and port charges), I decide to move to a backpackers. Searching online I find a nice looking place nearby called Nirvana Backpackers (sounds tranquil enough) and enquired online. I also check the Lonely Planet which alternatively and rather cheerfully suggested Mombasa Backpackers…
“If you thought backpacker hostels had to be cramped and grimy places be prepared for a surprise. This is a huge white mansion surrounded by lush, coconut gardens (with camping areas). The spacious rooms and dorms are well maintained and there’s a decent swimming pool. Note that there have been some muggings in the vicinity of the hostel.”
[Lonely Planet East Africa July 2012]
Muggings in the area? Hey ho, that’s standard in Kenyan cities right? So I gave the owner David a call and he had space in a single room. Got back from the port office that afternoon and hadn’t heard from Nirvana so taxied over to Mombasa Backpackers and wandered into the reception area, laden with bags (still bearing my folding shovel, step stool, four large unnecessarily weighty padlocks). As always, when arriving at a new backpacking joint, I tend to do a quick recce and mentally assess the situation. Everyone always looks like they belong, morphed into the lounging chairs, sipping beers at the bar, wandering around barefoot, and you’re the spare kid who’s just arrived, with no friends, looking like you might need to be picked for one of the many gangs gathered in various hot spots… feeders at the dinner table, actives at the table tennis table, readers on the cushions, peace corps world changers in circles on the lawn, loungers lazing pool side or Chinese-eyes in stoner’s corner near the bottom of the garden.
Liz showed me to my single room. She unlocked the door and as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light I saw a horde of disturbed mozzies rise up from the darkness. Liz made a swift exit back to her post behind the reception desk / bar, leaving me to wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. David is going to kill me for this, but the room is below par on all standards. The mattress was stained, the painted walls bubbling and peeling, the hole in the wall with mesh (window?) had some heavy material nailed across it. Judging by the dust settled on the curtain creases, it hadn’t been cleaned or moved for months, the top section between the door and ceiling was missing, and the room itself was as big as a postage stamp. The bathroom next door was covered in muddy footprints, the shower curtain was missing and the plumping had seen better days decades ago. The mozzie net, patched up in places with material plasters, was insufficient and didn’t quite stretch over all corners of the bed and so hung low leaving very little space in the middle for a person.
Something I hadn’t considered was the lack of bedding… my sleeping bag (as you may recall from the customs strip search) was folded away in my roof tent in the container. So, out came the sarong placed over the sheets, and over me, two towels beneath which I curled. I read for a bit before trying to get some shut eye, but sleep came in fits and starts due to the missing section of wall above the door. I woke every time someone slip-slopped their way down the corridor or slammed the bathroom door, then at some ungodly hour the backpackers started playing beer pong on the table outside and I was subjected to a running commentary, laughter and shrieks as the games came down to the wire. I later found out who to blame for this… Dan Sorrell.
I woke early and headed back to port for the day with Paul from Multiple Solutions. Being a Saturday, there wasn’t much to be done and so I was back by midday. Having decided there was no way I was spending another night at this backpackers, I sat outside and tried to get onto the elusive wifi (we had been given the password to hack into the wifi from a neighbouring resort and the only one bar ‘hot spot’ was on the driveway).
Whilst searching for alternative accommodation options for that night, and just about to tall a taxi, who should walk out of the backpackers front door but Boris frikkin Polo. He and Bruce Cattermole were up from Diani for the weekend for a friend’s party. I had met Boris and Bruce amongst other local wazungus (cue Dan “Swindian” Floren) at Forty Thieves (where else?) in Diani the week before.
After a few cold Tuskers at the in the bar it didn’t take much persuasion to stay at the backpackers, and as Boris and Bruce knew David the owner, it didn’t take much more to sort out a sweet upgraded room to myself outside the main house – mozi net intact, freshly painted walls and a shower with a shower curtain – amazing!
Boris and Bruce invited me to join them and so off I went, to the birthday bash of people I didn’t know. Now, partying with wazungu Kenyans is an event only attempted by the audacious. Thought I’d had plenty practise leading up to my London departure but these guys take things to a new level. The party was hosted by Mike K at his stunning home in Nyali. Complete with fairy lights along the drive, open entertainment area, free bar, poolside buffet and headgear theme, it rendered itself open to a bender of note. It wasn’t long before I was being introduced to high society Mombasa and up-country locals alike; the uncle of this one, second husband of so-and-so, and the cousin of that. I did my best to keep up but the dawas (Swahili for muti/medicine – a lovely concoction of vodka, sugar and lime) were slowly working their way through my bloodstream and, like with all parties with free booze, things started getting a little hazy.
Mikey Diesbecq hopped behind the bar to give the overworked barman a hand, and things started going off-piste something chronic. We had a great night, saw too many shenanigans and decided to leave at 4am once people started getting thrown into the pool. We got back to the backpackers to find Rasta Dave and a few other guys in a similar state on the foosball table. Too much excitement for one night, I turned in. Two hours later I get a knock on my door, it’s Bruce looking to come cuddle. Too funny, we had a little chat and I gave him a high five through my mozi net before sending him packing.
I awoke just after 9am and hand on head, walked into the bar area to purchase some much needed H2O, only to find Bruce with a Tusker in hand and blood shot eyes… still awake, still drinking. Worst still was the shriek that came from the bar. On swift investigation I found a young brunette on the bar stool doubled over with laughter and a pretty blond girl, beer in one hand and needle in the next, piercing a bearded guy’s left ear. I repeat, it’s 9am in the morning… Enter Emily, Izzie and Dan Sorrell. They hadn’t gone to bed either and were still hammered… Anyhow, long story short, Dan ended up sporting a new surfboard earring and we all went to the beach for the day where they continued to drink and soak up the sun. Sea urchins in feet and unsuccessful attempts at trying to persuade the local beach hotels to sell Dan bottles of rum saw us through to the afternoon. The young bloods continued their drinking marathon into the night with rounds of beer pong on the table tennis table. The following day I found Dan asleep on the concrete floor underneath the wicker sofa.
The Diani crowd departed taking Izzie and Emily with them, and leaving me to fend for myself fighting the customs officials in port.
30th – 31st July 2013
Tuesday came around and once I got the Land Cruiser out of the container I headed back to Mombasa to get a few things (before heading off to the parks for a week). Once in Mombasa I realised that it would be foolish to put foot flat and race up to Tsavo and so I decided to drive back to Diani and sort some kit out. I arrived at Kenyaways Kite Village where Boris has his H2O Kitesurfing school and called him and Bruce to tell them I was there – Izzie and Emily were on the loungers and we all ended up having great chow at Bruce’s Madafoos Beach Bistro.
I stayed with Boris over the next few days. He has the most incredible spot on the beach down the coast – a little slice of heaven. Although Boris won’t admit it, I do think his dogs, Pluto, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Scooby, a big-boned “shhh don’t hurt her feelings”, Jack Russell started to love me more than him, and so I had to go before it became to obvious that his pets had switched allegiance.
I got all the recovery gear onto a bag and taupe on the roof and cargo netted it all down. Final placing of goods in their rightful boxes and the raiding of Nakumatt for the stocking of fridge perishables and Captain Morgan was high on the list of priorities. Boris was a complete legend and kindly donated two pairs of Havaiana flip flops, the largest sticker ever displayed for the back window of my LC, and an awesome black 50l bucket which he ratcheted to the roof for showers after those hot and dusty days!
I met a great friend and business partner of Boris’ at lunch called Alex, and raided Boris’ contacts for useful people, campsites and places for the journey ahead; including names and numbers for Lovat and Chrissy Carnelley, and Mikey Diesbecq (party barman) who both live in Naivasha; “These guys will take you in”, he assured me.
Another thing Boris gave me good advice on, was the flamingo situation. I had planned on going to Lake Nakuru to see flamingos but with the rising water levels, the salinity in the water is diluted, resulting in a reduced availability of algae and so the birds have flown to other smaller lakes to source this. Due to the lack of flamingos, Boris persuaded me not to go to Nakuru but to go to Naivasha instead to see his friends and said I should try the small lake next to Naivasha for flamingos.
And so, on Thursday 1st August, headed for Tsavo, I waved goodbye to Boris and the dogs and headed off into the Shimba Hills and beyond.
My drive had begun!
TTC 1: How I know Boris and Bruce is by pure chance… My last night at South Coast Backpackers (Diani) I wasn’t going out at all and was in my pyjamas. But as the taxis arrived to take my Irish friends down the road to 40 Thieves, I had a sudden surge of FOMO, changed quickly and went with them. I met Boris & Bruce that night through Dan Floren who I’d met the night before.
TTC 2: Nirvana Backpackers didn’t get back to me so ended up at Mombasa Backpackers, my second choice.
TTC 3: Minutes away from leaving Mombasa Backpackers and booking another place to stay, Boris and Bruce appear at the backpackers I wasn’t supposed to be at in the first place.
TTC 4: Boris persuades me to go to make last minute changes to go to Naivasha instead of Nakuru.