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Are You Sure We're Still in Africa?


View The African journey on Ofelia's travel map.

Going to Kenya was so efficient and easy that I seriously doubted if we'd accidentally changed continents.
A quick swing of a rubber stamp, the jolly immigration officer relieved us of our dollars, stamped us in, and off we went on a rickety bus to Mombasa, bouncing along yet another pot-holed dirt road (well, some things never change). Mombasa is a big city, and although a fan of big cities, I immediately disliked it; it's not that it's crowded (after all, London is crowded and I still love it), but it's just tight. Every imaginable surface of the city is covered; every inch of the pavement is full of people selling socks, belts, rubic's cubes and axes. Shops are narrow, tiny affairs, designed impossible to enter, and if you do so, all the paraphernalia confuse you so much that you end up buying a string of beads instead of bread. There are people everywhere, cars which all drive to their own rules, and nothing green or leafy. And all the streets look identical. I wasn't impressed.

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But then I found an ice-cream parlour and it was all ok.

The next day, we stumbled into the old town after I'd battled with the post office (again) and Kenyan Airways (I now have an extra 10 days to see Uganda), and it was wonderful. The old town is a bit like Stonetown in Zanzibar, but it looks more real, more practical and lived-in, so I immediately warmed up to it. I'm not a big fan of overly pretty cities; something like Prague has always been a bit too prissy, too Disney-like to feel real. I like cities where I can imagine actual people living in, where real dramas take place; and Mombasa is just that, not a sealed and polished Unesco-heritage -city. I happily snapped away with my camera, trying to shake off a wanna-be tour guide.

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Another thing I'd been obsessed about were the white beaches of Mombasa. All Finnish kids are. It's in our genetic pop-culture make-up. So I convinced Rich, who is, by all accounts, not a beach person, to come along for a night. In the end, I picked a beach almost in random; they all seemed to have big hotels lining the beach, and so I went with Tiwi, the least developed one in the south. Unfortunately, the lovely owners (yes, I'm being sarky) did not believe in keeping the beach clean, and anyway, it was seaweed season, and so, despite about 3 attempts, I didn't manage to swim. I was left with a bikini full of tagliatelle-like seaweed, which I can tell you is not pleasant.

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A taxi, minibus, ferry and a tuk-tuk later, we were at the railway station in Mombasa, getting ready to leave for Nairobi- this is the second train in Africa I've taken, and it also left on time- what is up with the universe? Usually, people are segregated in second class, which we were travelling in, but as the train is hardly ever full, Rich and I managed to share a compartment in the nearly-empty train. Rich had made queries about the train a few days ago- we took a while to decide if we wanted 1st, 2nd or 3rd class- and the lovely lady in the sales office very nearly refused to sell us tickets to the 3rd class- apparently, it's no place for white people. There are 120 seats, but they sell 300 tickets to each train. You do the maths.

Having our own compartment was lucky, as during the journey we both started feeling a bit queasy. Especially Rich, who suddenly went very white, and spent a restless night going between dozing and the toilet.

The train arrived 3,5 hours late, and as far as two cynical and fairly experienced travellers were concerned, it was pretty damn good. For once, neither of us felt like haggling (a true testament that neither of us was well) and gladly paid for a taxi to the hostel.

The next few days were a bit of a nothingness. After resting a day, I felt much better, whereas Rich commenced a long-standing relationship with the Nairobi hospital. Hostel is nice, though. It's ran by 2 very cheery girls, who do my laundry and refuse payment; I have to insist they take a small fee. "but please don't pay too much", said Sara, and took a tiny bundle of cash for doing all my dusty clothes. In the evening I resist a temptation to check the map to make sure we are still in Africa. It is a bit of a different Africa, that's all.

Posted by Ofelia 02:22 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking

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