Entry #013: Saturday, May 18, 2013 (Mombasa, Kenya)

So, today is the last day of the Kenyan leg of my journey, a bus ride tomorrow notwithstanding. On the whole, has this second half of my trip made up for the first half which got me so agitated? Um...kind of? It's definitely been the better of the two weeks, but it hasn't gotten me to a point where I can actually recommend traveling through the country with anything less than a baked-out plan. But let's not delve straight into my musings - it's too early to get too deep, and there's plenty to discuss regardless.

First off, let's start where we last left off, with the train ride over. Upon entering in the train, I was brought to my cabin, which was exactly what one might expect it could have been. An old train cabin. Admittedly, I was a tad disappointed. I was looking for something old, and I didn't feel it was old enough. I think I was looking for a Murder on the Orient Express-style experience (indeed, I had gone on record saying I would have relished a murder mystery to have occurred (budding entrepreneurs: Murder Theater Train Rides. You're welcome). Anyway, I was hoping it would be a pre-WWII-era train, but it turned out to be something that was from the 60's or so. Even the engine was uninteresting. Despite Kenya having the oldest still-operational steam engines in use today, we were using an engine so mundane that doesn't even merit description. As for my cabin, it had two bunks, a wardrobe too small to even fit my backpack into, a non-operational electric fan, completely slathered in a beige, likely leaden paint, a "drinking water" faucet that could barely muster up a trickle (which was good - any more than that and I might have been tempted to drink from it), a sink with a paper towel dispenser and no paper towels, and two differently hued fluorescent lights, only one of which could be on at a time (unless it didn't want to work at all). It seemed less an old train and more of a modern train that people stopped caring for. Cue McKayla Maroney.

Still, that's not to say it was uncomfortable - I was perfectly fine having this two-person cabin all to myself. I noticed there was a door on the wall opposite my bed (I write as though it were more than a yard away). My curiosity causes me to open it, and I see it just connects my cabin to the one next door. I decide to close and bolt it and none too soon. Shortly afterward, while I was reading, I hear a set of bags landing heavily next door. I hear an attendant's voice, "So, do you have any questions?" Two middle-aged female voices, Australian and inebriated (but I repeat myself) answered almost simultaneously. "Where is the bar?" "Can I smoke?" I silently groaned. One of them then started furiously pulling on the connecting door. "The loo door isn't opening!" After correcting her about the door, the attendant left, and the two women began talking...loudly.
"F***, this thing is disgusting!"
"Oh, shut up, I see it as hilarious how backwards it all is."
"I can do rustic, but this is f***** rustic."
"Well, it's your f***** fault. You didn't want to take the plane."
"Look at this s*** bed. You're taking the top one."
"F*** you. You wanted the train, you take top bunk. I'm going to step outside for a bit."
"Stay on the f***** train. It's going to leave soon."
"It's not going to leave at a hundred kilometers an hour, you f***** idiot. I'll be able to get back on. Have another drink."
"I think I will. ...B****."
I'll admit, it was a little funny to hear these two hens bickering back and forth - especially since their issues with the train seemed to be exactly the opposite of my own. But they did become quite grating after some time (in particular, their singing of the soccer "Ole, ole ole ole" song after a couple beers), and that connecting door did not provide much protection from smoke once they lit up. Still, I managed to ignore them until dinnertime. At that point, an attendant walked down the narrow car corridor  ringing a bell. Seeing as our cabin doors had no locks, we were told to bring our most valuable stuff with us. So I grabbed my day pack that had all my electronics, and put on my hat. As I leaving my cabin, I noticed that the Australian women's door was open. And they saw me. I was making my war to the dining car - no small feet when the corridor is hardly eighteen inches wide and the train keeps rocking back and forth, when I heard one of their voices yelling "Hey, hey!" I turn and see one of them (no younger than 45) motioning, and dreadfully confirm that she's talking to me. I walk over, for once cursing my Aussie outback hat, and she puts her hand on my chest. "Where are you from?" she asks, literally sliding her tongue across her upper lip. I tell her. "Well, whydoncha come into our room, have a drink, get comfortable?" "I think they're calling us for dinner right now." "Ohhhhh, is that what that bell was for?" "Yeah, so I should go." "Well, well see you in there." She closes this off with a wink, and a slight push to my sternum with her index finger.

I make my way to the dining car, and am told to sit down at a table. To my relief, three other people sit down with me, with the Aussies nowhere to be seen. One of my tablemates was a Scottish fellow named Shash, who, when I asked him what his plans were, trumped my year-long world trip by explaining his 18-month adventure, including a month-long overland drive from Mombasa to Johannesburg. As it turned out, we were going to a number of the same places, and even our times matched up for a few of them. Who knows, this may not be the last time you hear about him. Small world and all that. The other two were a French couple who were very nice but demure, and a bit intimidated by how quickly the two native English speakers were talking. On the whole, it was a very nice dinner experience, though the "gourmet" dinner featured two slices of white Wonder bread as a course. Eventually, the two Aussies came into the dining car, though I genuinely don't know if they could recognize me without the hat. They sat down at some unoccupied table and immediately asked for some scotch.

Not much happened the rest of the night. When the Aussies got back to their cabin, I think they were so wasted that they had forgotten all about me. It was a cloudy new moon night, so I could see pretty much nothing outside my window, and though I tried reading,  the back and forth motions of the train seemed to want to rock me to sleep. Deciding not to fight the will of the universe, I hitched up my blankets and fell asleep. I woke up early the next morning (well, early for me), and looked out my window to see if I could see any wildlife. After all, the trains on this line used to have a bench on the front of the engine, so that distinguished guests (such as Teddy Roosevelt) could have a good view of the animals (and presumably, lose all hearing when the whistle blew). But I saw nothing but farms and a highway about a hundred meters away. I used the time to read and do some of the writing of my last entry. Breakfast was a fairly muted affair, with myself meeting back up with the French couple, who complained that it was an English-style breakfast, with baked beans and everything (I am finding the imperialist influences demonstrated in the breakfasts of the places I visit quite cute). A couple more hours, and we arrived in the Mombasa train station.

When we arrived,  realized that I had again made a mistake that kept haunting me on this trip, which was to not get a bearing of where I wanted to go on my map. When I had Internet connection, I had downloaded an offline map of the area, but I didn't note where my hotel was, so I didn't know if it was within walking distance, or if public transit could take me there, or what-have-you. After a little internal resistance, I eventually let a taxi pick me up. "Nightingale Apartments," I said, "Do you know where it is?" "Yes, she said. 1,500 shillings." I didn't have enough information to argue with the price, but it seemed reasonable enough. "Are you a backpacker?" the driver asked. I told her yes, and after about a 15-20 minute drive, we got to a hostel. "This is backpackers hotel," she told me. I stared at the place for a second. "I don't think this is where I am supposed to be." "You said you're a backpacker." "I said I was going to the Nightingale Apartments." I show her the name and address of the place on my phone. "Oh, that's very far, I'll need an extra 500 shillings." This woman seemed borderline senile, so I figured this wasn't a scam and let her go. And to be fair, it did take a full half-hour to get to my place, which was well out of the city proper.

But man, was this place worth it. A complete 180-degrees from my Nairobi hotel room, this place was cheaper, and was a legit apartment. A huge living area (20"x20", with a full kitchen area and minifridge), a balcony, a separate bedroom, and nice bathroom. And the place had a restaraunt and a pool. Were teleportation to ever become a thing, this place could be a realistic place to live full-time. On the flip side, aside from the coastline, it was not close to anything, at least not within walking distance. But the thing that stood out most to me about this new place was the humidity. While not as bad as, I'd say, Florida, this was an equatorial beach area, so the air was quite damp. My first actions in my new place were to close the windows (to keep the bugs out), turn on the fans, and take a nice shower (and it was a nice shower).

I spent some time researching Mombasa, seeing what the prime things to do were. And I decided that my first goal would be to see the beach. I specifically remember one thing I enjoyed about my brief stint in Mozambique was the Indian Ocean. Also having established some important locations for getting supplies, I decided to go to the city mall (conveniently named the "City Mall" [using a modified Circuit City logo for some reason]). I had read online that I should use the local three-wheeled mini-taxi-motor-rickshaw-things, called tuk-tuks, since they were cheaper than taxis proper. I walked from the hotel to the main road, and before I knew it, a guy on a motorcycle came up to me, offering me a ride. I didn't really want to do motorcycle, so I tried to talk my way out of it. Then another one came up to me, offering me pretty much the same deal. Then a tuk-tuk came up, offering the ride for 50 shillings more, which I took to have the comfort of not being on a motorcycle, and to get out of that situation. I bought some groceries at the mall, looked around the sports stores for waterproof clothes for my Kilimanjaro climb (no luck - all they had were golf and swimming equipment), had a small, late lunch, got some US dollars that I knew I'd need for my Tanzania visa, and generally just enjoyed the air conditioned environment.

On the way back, I was met up by two tuk-tuks. When I told them my destination and asked the price, one said "300". I told him I would only pay 200. The other guy said "250" but the first guy stopped him and said again, "300." I told him no, and opened the door to get out. He pushed it back closed and said "300". "I'm not paying you 300, not now, not ever." I pushed the door open and got out. The other guy repeated his offer for 250 shillings, which I nodded at. The first guy then put his fist in front of my face. I thought he was threatening me at first, but he just said, "Five bucks." "What about it?" "You can pay me five bucks. It's a good deal." (Note: $5 is about 425 shillings.) I was becoming annoyed. "I'm not stupid," I told him, and got in the other guy's tuk-tuk. We again agreed on 250, and were on our way. As we got closer and closer to our destination, he said, "Oh, this is very far. This is worth 400 shillings." "Well," I replied, "you're getting 250, because that's what we agreed." "But it's far." "Then drop me off here and I'll walk the rest of the way." He took me all the way to the front gate of the complex. "C'mon, I took you all the way, maybe 300." I got out of the vehicle. "I don't care, I said you could have let me out, this was your own choice." I stuffed the money in his hand and went back to my room, where I read, ate an overpriced soup at the apartment restaurant  got some more future planning done, an had an excellent night sleep.

The next morning, I got up, had a decent breakfast (including a burned "Spanish omelette" egg dish - I think that burning eggs is the normal practice here), which was accompanied by a small cat. I tried giving it a piece of fruit, which it promptly ignored. I dubbed the cat "Ingrate". I then got my stuff prepare to go to the beach. I put a couple of towels in my newly-acquired duffel bag, along with my Kindle, some sunscreen, and about 1,000 shillings of spending money. I put on my trunks and flip-flops, and ask the staff which way to the beach. They take me to a small path and give me the most confusing directions ever. "Go down the path, keep staying to the left until you go right, and you'll be there." Well, without fail, I get lost, as there are numerous places where I could "go right". But I mean, the ocean was right there, so it can't be that bad. No, but what got to me were the people. I literally could not got 20 feet - this is not an exaggeration - without hearing, "Jambo!" or "Hello, my friend!" The latter really dug under my skin. And every single one was of someone trying to sell me something or give me a ride. When I tried to tell them I didn't want anything, they always asked the same question: "Where are you from?" The only people I found myself actively approaching were security guards for hotels, who I asked for directions.

At one hotel in particular (the Flamingo, I think), I asked the guard how to get to the beach. "Are you a guest at this hotel?" "No, I'm just trying to go to the beach, and maybe a restaurant for lunch." "Okay, well, you go through the reception, and you'll find a bar." I waited for a second before asking, "And the beach is back there?" He nodded, so I go in and walk through this enormous complex, past their terribly impressive swimming pool, and to the beach area. I can't tell if it's a private beach for the hotel, but from what I could see, none of the hotel guests were there - they were all in the pool. Instead, all I could see on the stand was a vendor stand on one end, and a group of about 4 or 5 guy sitting on the other end. I go down the stairs. "Hello, my friend!" cries the vendor. I convince him that I don't want to buy anything, and then sit down by a tree, looking out at the water. It was beautiful, and at low tide, you could easily see the black sand beneath the water. I take off my shirt and begin applying sunscreen. I notice out of the corner of my eye that one of the guys in that group had begun walking over, and before long, he was standing bout six feet in front of me. I glanced to my side to confirm that none of the others had moved. "Hello, my friend," he said with an accent that sounded more Jamaican than anything else. I greeted him. "Where are you from?" I told him, and mentioned about my travel plans, that I've been to many places, and planned to visit many more. "Are you with a group, or are you alone?" Now, Nairobi is supposed to be considered one of the least-safe places in the country (hence the nickname Nairobbery), but I never really felt threatened there. But the moments after hearing this one question were the least safe I felt on this trip. I really didn't like this guy, just standing over my sitting self, asking these questions. "It depends," I finally replied, "But I have friends with me here." I then zipped up my bag, sat up straight, and interlaced my fingers, mimicking a Japanese meditative pose. After waiting some time, not saying anything, I slightly open one of my eyes, and see that the guy hasn't moved. "I'm sorry for not speaking," I say, "I'm just trying to meditate." "Noooo problem, my friend," he replies. But he still doesn't move. And he doesn't move for minutes more. My muscles are tensing.

When I hear footsteps behind me, I see that it's one of the hotel guards. He tells me I was supposed to check in at the reception. I apologize, secretly thankful that he's come around. He asks to check my bag (maybe he thought I was dealing drugs?), and then tells me to come with him. He follow, again apologizing, and he leads me to the hotel bar, where he drops me off and leaves. Seeing as I still hadn't checked in with the reception, I'm confused, but I make the most of it and order a Shirley Temple. The bartender just tries to get me to order more and more, so I leave and sit in one of the chairs circling the pool, reading for a bit before the bartender walks up to me, "Are you sure you don't want another drink, my friend?" I politely refuse and walk back to my hotel.

On the way back, I again run the gauntlet of everyone trying to get my attention. One of the same people I ran into earlier crosses me again. "Hello, my friend!" he says. I tell him I don't need or want anything. "It's okay, my friend. Maybe you want to go on safari, or a boat ride." I politely refuse him again, and continue walking. He speeds up and gets ahead of me. "My friend, maybe you want a haircut."

And then I snapped.

My polite demeanor was broken, and I got up, bug-eyed and incensed, into his face. "Look. I'm not your friend! Go away, and leave me alone!" He stopped in his tracks, with a slightly confused, and likely somewhat worried, expression. I didn't care. I just kept walking until I got back to my hotel. And thus began some serious soul-searching. For days after this moment, I was trying to figure out why I was getting so infuriated by all this. Because I was. Even now, every time someone says "Hello, my friend!" I have the very real urge to punch them in the throat. It's become another trigger phrase that just makes my blood boil. And it's weird, because I'm normally fairly sympathetic to people in developing nations. But while sympathy is supposed to be strengthened by proximity, it seems to have the opposite effect on me. I didn't feel closer to people as I got closer. In fact, I was growing to despise them, their words, their actions, their very presence. But when I met travelers from other countries, I got along with them perfectly fine. Why? Could I be some sort of terrible first-world chauvinist? I mean, I definitely have a greater respect for everything about the US and general western world now than I did two months ago. Could I even have some dormant racism inside me? (The thought vexed me quite a bit.)

Now, I'm not going to say I've cracked this nut, but I do think I may have shaved away at its shell a bit. And I have to admit, I am still going back and forth on the "Am I terrible for thinking this?" pendulum, for reasons I'll explain in a second. But basically, I feel, in an admittedly manner, dehumanized. I do, in fact, feel, like what the Dafam hotel manager said, that people just see the dollar signs showing through my skin. And I'm sure there are genuinely friendly people. Remember Mustafa from Morocco? That experience was great. But people like that seem to be the exception, not the rule. 19 times of 20, when someone says, "Hello, my friend," there is a good chance that the encounter will result in them wanting you to give them money. It feels like they're not talking to me, it's just to my wallet. I'm just a vessel. Not a human, not someone with feelings and opinions and the like. I'm just an opportunity to get some of that white cash. This is a sensation I don't get in Western countries. In Spain, or Italy, or most anywhere in the US, you can be a tourist/traveler and still be a human. You can ask someone for directions freely, without concern of someone having an ulterior motive (at least, I can). I've never been agitated when I've heard "Excuse me, sir!" It's the same with other travelers - I could talk to them because they are not trying to get something out of me; if they wanted to talk, they just wanted to talk. I still felt like I was a person, which is missing here, except with the people who are already on my "payroll" (that is to say, people working at a hotel I'm staying at). It's a feeling I've heard some people enjoy (as they liken it to rockstar status), but it just...gets to me. Now, here's the other side of that pendulum I was mentioning earlier. I can leave here whenever I want, and return to my developed world, and have all my creature comforts, and enjoy what money I have. But each of those people who says the things that makes me want to punch them - they're stuck. If they don't like where they are, tough luck. The world doesn't make it easy to escape that lot in life. So when the privileged white guy shows up by the local guy's stomping ground, what is a few moments of bugging him compared to the lifetime of wealth and luxury he is used to? Oh, trust me, I understand that there's a flip side to this coin, which makes my complaints seem petty. Hence, my inner struggle. But still, I can't deny my own feelings, and I definitely don't feel human in those situations. Take that as you will.

Aaaanyway...after getting back to the hotel, I decided to use the pool there to sunbathe and swim a bit. True, it was no Indian Ocean beach, but not being approached by anyone during this time was a welcome reprieve after the preceding encounters. I was out for a maybe an hour and a half, and I have to say, it is a very nice area, weather-wise. (Unfortunately, despite the sunny, fairly clear weather, I was visiting during the so-called "rainy season", which unfortunately mean that a couple of the tours I was hoping to take - in particular, a kayaking tour to a nearby island - were closed until September.) I then wanted to get some fruit, so I decided to walk to the nearby roadside stands. I use the word "nearby" relatively loosely, as it was at least one-point-five kilometers. Which isn't so bad normally, but in high humidity, seems like a lot longer. Still, I needed the walk, so I went out. And again, I couldn't go 20 feet without someone trying to give me a ride. Tuk-tuks, motorcycles, bicycles - everyone was willing to offer me a seat. Some seemed surprised when I told them I wanted to walk. I eventually found a place and for a mere hundred shillings ($1.20), got a few bananas, a few mangoes, and a coconut. (Tangentially, I really need to stop buying coconuts. It doesn't matter what country I'm in, I buy them without any consideration as to opening them. Once I got back to the hotel, I realized I had no appropriate tool, and that the nut would probably go to waste. Ah, well.) That night, I had a surprisingly tasty and cost-efficient dinner at the hotel restaurant (a half-chicken, fries, and a salad for $9), and just relaxed that evening.

The next day, I decided to go into town proper, I managed to hire a taxi for a half-day, for only 3,500KSH (considering the one-way rides were 1,500KSH each, I felt like I made out like a bandit). The taxi picked me up, and my first stop was an old historic site called Fort Jesus. It was a late 16th-century fort built by the Portuguese. The name comes from the fact that it was built in the shape of Jesus (were Jesus a horribly malformed dwarf). Upon arriving and paying the the 1,200KSH entrance fee (which I thought was a bit steep), I was greeted by a man who told me he was an official Old Town guide. He showed me his badge, and then led me through the area. When he asked me where I was from, I told him, "It doesn't matter where I'm from." I was tired of telling people. If I'm going to talk, it's going to be on my own terms. And nobody really cared anyway, so it didn't matter. Anyhoo, I think at first I was assuming that his tour was part of the entrance fee, but at some point during the tour, I said to myself, Why the hell would that be the case? So, I ask him, and sure enough, it's 2,000KSH for a tour through Fort Jesus and Old Town. Considering that his tour so far wasn't very riveting, I told him I didn't want a guide for Old Town, and we agreed at 1,000KSH for the fort. Now that I knew that this place was costing me $27 dollars, I walked as slowly as possible, taking in every single detail I could. (I could tell the guide was getting annoyed with the speed.) Even when we were done, I stayed around, trying to make the most of my money. Even with several good views of thee town and coast, there was no way that this place was worth even the normal entry fee (because without a guide, there was no context to anything). Even the history behind it didn't seem terribly interesting compared to many other historical sites I've been to.

Feeling a little disenchanted by this, I decide to forgo walking through Old Town. Even as I step out of the fort, a number of would-be guides gathered around me, calling me friend and asking to lead me through. I push through them and get in my taxi. I tell him to take me through the area. As I was somewhat expecting, it was similar to a Moroccan medina. Old and relatively poor, with narrow streets and lots of Muslim influence. If I hadn't been to Morocco, it may have been interesting. However, I had been to Morocco, and it wasn't. We finish with that fairly quickly, and I look on my list of things to see. I notice there is a park on the coastline, so I ask to go there, hoping to see a nice, empty space with a good view. Well, there is a good view, but the place is overflowing with vendors and matatus, as it's near the ferry port. Not a place to just go for a nice stroll or picnic. Having checked off another item on my list in short order, I ask to see the fairly famous Mombasa tusks, which arch over one of the roads. We go through them, I take a picture...and that's that. This day was really going by quickly, as none of these attractions had much staying power. I asked the driver if he knew of anything interesting, and he took me to a nearby Hindu temple, which was actually fairly interesting, with a lot of cool artwork, much of which was depicting holy stories that seemed relatively mundane the way they were described in English. ("The lord asked this person to fetch water. They did, so the lord blessed them.") I gave a small donation to the place, as I actually got more enjoyment out of it than any of the others, and then asked the driver to take me to that City Mall, where I did some more shopping. I was hoping to buy myself a pocket knife (as that's something I've been meaning to get since the beginning of my trip), but all I could find were machetes (which, even in a hardware store, are super scary) and Leatherman multi-tools (which I only found in a stationary store, for some reason). I looked into getting a Leatherman, except that even the smallest of them, which would be $20 in the US (I checked), was $60 here. Considering I'd be losing these every time I went on a plane, I felt it wasn't worth the cost.

I then stopped in front of a gaming store, and looked in the windows. This is a habit I probably can't give up, looking to see how things are arranged, and what the major sellers are. While it was clear that the PS3 was the major console in Kenya, I was surprised to see so many Wii-U accessories in the window. I looked at one - a Wii-mote billiard cue extension peripheral, when someone came up behind me and said, "Oh, that's a very good one." I turn and see a girl there, dressed fairly fashionably. I figure she works at the store. "Why do you say that?" "Because it's just like that one," she says, pointing to a third-party PS3 controller, "But better, because you can do more things with it." She has no idea what she's talking about, and I realize she's a prostitute. Now, to be fair, you don't need to know much about games to work in a gaming retail store (and many don't), but she wasn't dressed like an retail employee, and she was moving closer to me with each step, and I had read that prostitution is still a big thing in Kenya. Just my luck. She asks for my name. "Danny," I say. "Say that again." "Charles." I decided to go full-bore with my not giving out information plan, because I wanted her to go away without out-and-out saying, "I don't do prostitutes " Because, y'know, there's always some chance she was just a normal, overly friendly girl. But this is how the scene ended up playing out:
Her: Where are you coming from?
Me: It doesn't matter where I'm from. The past is a sinking ship. If you dwell on it, you drown.
Her: I mean in Mombasa. Where are you staying?
Me: Everywhere and nowhere. I don't stop moving.
Her: But where are you staying tonight?
Me: Where I can't be found.
Her: Look, how about I just walk around with you right now? We talk. We laugh. Everyone needs a friend.
Me: I don't want any more friends.
Her: Oh, why would you say something sad like that?
Me: Because all my friends are dead?
Her: What do you mean they're dead?
Me: I mean they're not alive. They're six feet below the ground.
Her: ...That's not true, honey. I'm with you, I'm your friend, and I'm alive!
Me: You don't want to be my friend.
Her: Of course I do. Now, just take my hand and we walk.
Me: Listen to me, little one. I'm not being cute. There are bad men who want to do bad things to me. They've done bad things to me. Everyone I know, everyone I care about...is dead. They will find this place. If they can trace you back to me, you will die. If someone says they saw us walking hand-in-hand, you will die. The only way you can can save yourself - because I can't save you - is by forgetting that I ever existed.
Her: I don't understand.
Me: Pray that you'll never have to. Now walk away.
Her: Okay, I'm going.

...And she left. I have no idea if she believed me, or thought I was a weird liar, or just a complete nutjob, and frankly, I didn't care.

After a brief stop at a go-kart racing place (mainly to confirm what I suspected, that that prices would be too high), I went back to the apartments. I had yet another excellent dinner (a good pepper steak, even cheaper than the chicken), caught up on some stuff - for example, I've confirmed that I will be going to the Everest base camp, and there is also the possibility I may go to China and meet up with my father there for a couple days, as he's visiting. Who knows!

This seems as good a time as any to bring up a topic I've been completely ignoring so far, because I haven't found a good segue - matatu stickers. In case you've forgotten since the last entry and haven't bothered Googling it, matatus are overcrowded minibuses that drive on paths throughout the city, and are typically the cheapest way to get anywhere. Now, what I have yet to mention about them is that every single one of them has stickers/decals on them. I don't know where they obtain them, and I don't know what purpose they serve, save from easily identifying your matatu from the numerous others (actually, that's probably a really good purpose). However, what these say is usually somewhat nonsequitorial. Some are religious affirmations, some sound like rock bands, some are just celebrity names. Here is a list of some of what I've seen, in no particular order:

  • All Power in God
  • Mo Money Mo Problems
  • Glory to God
  • Glory 2 Glory
  • Too Sick
  • Mariah Carrey 
  • Venom
  • Judge Dread
  • Juice
  • Queen Latifa
  • Forty Thieves
  • Jesus Saves
  • Lord Almighty
  • High Rollers
  • Brangelina
  • Ssssmokin'
Anyway, I had a chance to see some of these the next afternoon, because my activity for the day was to go to Haller Park, which was a wildlife refuge, built upon the barren remains of a quarry forty-some-odd years ago. I took a tuk-tuk to get there - it was about the same distance as to the City Mall, and I was able to convince the driver down from 300 shillings to 200. He took me and dropped me off. I got to the entrance, paid my $15, and upon reaching the reception, was asked if I'd been here before, and needed a guide. "No guide," I said, determined not to pay any more for guides and such. And I was, in fact, perfectly willing to find my own way around.

As it turned out, though, the guides were just part of the experience, and aside from a tip, I don't think you had to pay them. At least, this is what I gathered when a guide was bringing a group of unaffiliated people around, and was perfectly fine with me hopping in and out of the group. I tended to go off on my own a bit, going a bit further into the overgrowth than the group he was with. For the second time in Kenya, I felt like I was in Jurrasic Park. The first time was in the Nairobi National Park, when we were driving for some time without seeing anything - I was reminded of the scene in which Jeff Goldblum's character quips, "So, your dinosaur park is supposed to have dinosaurs in it, right." This time, though, it was more reminiscent of the scenes in the actual tropical forestry, with enormous palm fronds, and the sounds of movement all around you, coming from creatures unknown (although you were usually safe betting that it was a monkey).

I really enjoyed this place, because it was an actual place where, barring some fences, the animals got to roam around where they pleased. As such, there were monkeys everywhere. I'm no fan of monkeys, but seeing them go where they pleased, instead of being locked in cages like in the Nairobi animal orphanage, really made this place seem a lot more legit. There were even giant tortoises roaming around, so free that they were forced to put up the sign as hilarious as it was sad: "Please do not sit on the tortoises." I got there shortly before their daily "feeding times" (quotes used because these weren't really how these animals got fed, or else they'd be horribly malnourished). First were giraffes, whom you could feed from your hand with a 50-shilling bag of pellets (best-spent 50 shillings ever). Seeing and feeding these giraffes made me feel much better about skipping the giraffe center in Nairobi, and also re-established that giraffes are one of the most awesome animals, period. They're just so cool in almost every way! I was also lucky to get my shot at them before a sudden downpour started, scaring the giraffes off. (Luckily, it was short-lived.) Later, we saw the feeding of the hippos, which was significantly less interactive (and probably for the best, considering how dangerous hippos are). They basically just got close and ate mounds of pellets, not unlike their plastic, hungry-hungry counterparts. Meanwhile, some monkeys tried to steal pellets from them, and then urinate on some customers (I was spared this, thankfully). Finally, we saw the Nile crocodiles being fed, which was just a few chunks of meat being dangled above their pond for the dozen of them to jump up to and fight over. It was quite neat, but you could tell everyone was disappointed that the crocodile which easily outsized all the rest by at least 60% - everyone nicknamed him "Big Daddy" - didn't really anything.

Shortly after this, I determined that I had seen most that the park had to offer, so I decided to head out. There were a couple of tuk-tuks at the gate, but unfortunately, they were all occupied and drove away. I decided to walk out onto the main street - I'd find something eventually. Well, there was something I hadn't counted on, and it was that there was a big...ish street before the big street. So I turned on this wrong street, and was going the wrong way. No worries, I think to myself, According to this map I have, if I make the correct turn at this upcoming juncture, I'll make my way back onto the main road. But I don't. I keep choosing the wrong path, for one reason or another (mainly because I wasn't looking at my map when I was choosing the path, only after I was well down it). Somehow, instead of walking, maybe a tenth of a kilometer east to get to the main road, I walk three-point-five kilometers west. And part of me is too proud to turn around. So I decide to continue along this path, ignoring literally everyone who was trying to approach me (which I genuinely disliked resorting to, but hey, it took me out of situations I didn't want to be in [though, to be fair, this back-road had a lot fewer touts than the main road]). How long could it possibly take? Well, after having walked well over an additional hour and without even reaching the halfway point of where I needed to be to get back, I was getting a bit unsure. Not because I couldn't walk, but rather because I had a half-hour, tops, before sunset, and considering the lack of electric lights in the area, this wasn't going to get any easier. So I did a quick route check on my map, and hailed the next matatu I saw. I got inside, paid the 20-shilling fee, and went doubled my distance in a matter of minutes (the sad truth about walking...). I then hopped off at a point where I needed to go east, and found a number of motorcyclists. I stuffed all of my loose items into my vests pockets, hopped on, and was driven to the main road, where I grabbed a tuk-tuk that brought me back to the apartments just as the sun was setting. Excellent timing!

And that was the last major thing that happened in for me in Mombasa. Today was mostly spent doing laundry (that is, trying to convince the cleaning people not to do my laundry for me), and writing this entry. I have an early start tomorrow, as I need to be at the bus station by 6:30 in the morning for my bus to Arusha, Tanzania.

Overall, between Nairobi and Mombasa, Mombasa was the more enjoyable experience. It's a nicer area, with better weather, better landscapes, and hey, it's a beach town, and you can't go wrong with those. It also seemed cheaper overall. And like I previously mentioned, the place I stayed in particular wouldn't be bad as a place to live, if that was your goal in life. That said, the only thing I could really recommend visiting - of the things I visited - was Haller Park (and I would really recommend visiting there if you are in the area). All the other stuff was...not that interesting. And remember, it's the "rainy season", so some of the cooler-looking activities were not available. I could have done some water-sports stuff, but my budget was a bit too restricting. And yeah, overall on Kenya...eh. I probably should have planned it better. It's not as good for spontaneous activity as, say, Morocco is. If you had a specific plan to go on a safari, with all your hotels booked, and something planned for each day, go for it. But just visiting...it's not worth "just visiting" in my opinion. But speaking of opinions, this is the second time I've visited an East African country and not really been a fan during my stay. Is it possible I just don't really jive with the area? Well, I wouldn't go that far - at least, not without having stayed my time in Tanzania - because after all, those two trips were separated by a decade and my issues were different each time. I'd say it's likely just a coincidence, and still just part of the "breaking process".

But we'll see! So goodbye, Kenya, hello Tanzania!

1 comment:

  1. Your frustration sounds understandable - no one wants to deal with pushy merchants while abroad. It's a shame really - it seems like the more a culture orients itself around tourist traps and exploiting travelers, the culture loses a bit of itself. Couple that with many of these cities being the only major population centers in some of these countries, and it seems like these places adopt a monoculture - one oriented around tourist traps. I wonder what the experience would be like without the shysters around.

    Sounds though that the vast majority of your travels has been great. And in the end, that's all that matters. Can't wait to see some more pictures. Safe travels!