And for once I was SuperMom

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mombasa Christmas Vacation -- Part 3

While in Mombasa we were excited that our friends from Tanari, Steve and his wife Lizzie, could come spend a day with us. They had heard about the sand island a short distance off shore from our hotel and thought it would be fun to come down to join us on an excursion. One of the side benefits of having them visit us was street cred. Kind of. Steve and Lizzie are Kenyans. Before they arrived the beach boys wouldn’t believe that we actually live in Nairobi. Even when we spoke to them in Swahili. But when our black Kenyan friends came to the beach with us we were suddenly more accepted.
The idea behind the visit out to the sand island was to not only to enjoy a nice ride in a sail boat but to also snorkel over the live coral reef which the island was a part of. Before Steve and Lizzie arrived Scott had bargained long and hard to get us a package that included the boat ride and masks and snorkels for the four of us. So, when our friends arrived we showed them around and then took them to the beach for our pre-arranged trip. The boat boy, Hassan, assured us that everything was set. Steve talked with him in Swahili and confirmed that we were in agreement. So we wade out to the boat and hop in for the ten minute ride to the reef. Once we get there we asked Hassan for the masks and snorkels so that we could go check out the reef and the fish. He runs to the boat and pulls out one grimy mask. Scott asks him where the other three are so that we can all go. He scrambles for an answer and then comes up with the solution that he will go borrow them from a group of Europeans in an expensive charter boat. Hassan’s efforts are valiant, but he comes back empty handed. We had fun hanging out on the island/reef and searching for shells in the dead coral. But were sad to miss out on the snorkeling and seeing schools of fish. Moral of the story: you get what you pay for and don’t assume things will be taken care of, double check.
For our trip back we took the night bus home. We boarded at 10:30, left at 10:37 and arrived back at our own door at 5:45am. There was nothing eventful about this ride except for the entertainment. We had the DVD coach on the way back, again. So the tout had put a Jackie Chan movie in to start. Innocuous, largely appropriate for children, right? Good choice. The movie runs until about 11:30, I think, okay, sleep time. Oh no, there is more entertainment. The tout puts in another movie, it’s called ‘Prey’ and is about a white family getting systematically eaten by lions while stuck in their broken down safari vehicle. We’re watching this move while driving across Tsavo, the setting for the true story of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ in which lions systematically ate train workers until they were shot. Who made this choice? So I try to sleep through this. One of the main characters is a fifteen year old girl. What do fifteen year old girls do best? Scream. At the top of their lungs, every five minutes. So the movie finishes, I think, okay, sleep time. Wrong, the radio gets turned on. Loud enough that I can hear it through my ear plugs. After about fifteen minutes of anger and the same high-pitched song being looped again and again I get up and walk to the front of the bus.
“Do you think that you could turn that off so that people can sleep?” The tout fiddles with the radio and keeps covering it up with a sheet of paper in between pretending to fiddle with a knob as he realizes that I am not moving. He turns it down, fine, okay, I give him a dirty look that he probably couldn’t see in the dark and sit back down. We didn’t really sleep on the bus that night.
I got a tan, I read five books. We had a nice Christmas dinner of sushi and splurged on a beautiful six course New Year’s/2nd Anniversary dinner in a restaurant that is built inside a coral cave (with actual gourmet food, not fake gourmet, or African ‘I think this is gourmet, but really it’s not,’ food). So our time in Mombasa was overall successful. I realized that I had really wanted a break from Kenya, I had wanted to go to a place where the shower works all the time (our shower did not work regularly and one day stopped working altogether), no one tries to sell me anything or treat me differently because of my skin (where have I heard that before?), where the epic traffic is only an hour delay rather than a six hour difference. I didn’t get my break from Kenya, but I got my bikini tan back, remembered how much I love my husband, and was just thankful that we can afford to take a vacation.

Mombasa Christmas Vacation -- Part 2

The beach at Mombasa was gorgeous. And full of young persistent men trying to sell you anything. We would go for a walk and like Jaws you could see them coming out of the corner of your eye, “Jambo, brotha,’
Scott is not your brother, I am not your sister. And no one says, ‘Jambo.’ At least not in Nairobi. Not since last time I watched the Lion King have I heard “Hakuna Matata” said so many times. In our five previous months in Kenya I don’t think I heard it once. But suddenly in Mombasa, every other word is “Jambo” or “Hakuna Matata.” And having white skin not only means we get assaulted with tourist Swahili, it means we must have a burning desire to buy anything from marijuana to shells to a ride on a camel. Even when Scott assured them that we live in Nairobi and can buy the trinkets at a better price there, they wouldn’t believe him.

I made the mistake of laying out for an hour by myself (on my stomach with my nose planted in a book), Scott was burned and wanted to stay in the shade. I had worn sunscreen, I still needed a tan. I was approached by three different men, one of them told me I was a beautiful lady (he wasn’t even looking at me when he said this, I do have peripheral vision) and that he wanted to tell me a story. All I could think was, ‘I am not a doughy English girl with low self-esteem, go tell them your story.’

I hate monkeys. If you have never lived in Africa you probably think they’re cute. You’ve probably never had them break into your hotel room and steal your food. We have. One morning we get up and go have our coffee on the beach, when we were coming back up to our hotel’s lawn to drop our belongings and take a walk the guard stops us and tells us there are monkeys in our room. I thought he was mistaken, Scott believed him. We went to our room and there were monkeys in our room. They had opened the doors (which we hadn’t locked properly, still that’s no excuse) They had stolen our fruit, our home made granola, and the tortellini that we bought, because it’s my favorite food and I hadn’t eaten in six months because we hadn’t seen it in Nairobi. (Nakumatt is hit and miss) I hope it gave them indigestion. Although a bit miffed, we were thankful that at least they hadn’t strewn our food and their own excrement around our room.
I have always dreamed of swimming with dolphins. One of the excursions that they advertise in Diani Beach is a boat trip to swim with dolphins. We decided to do it, because we had saved money on our accommodations and you only live once. They pick you up from your hotel on a nice bus and drive you south about an hour to a Marine Park off the coast. Decent bus, nice ride, we check out the other white people on this excursion with us, Germans, English and us. So far things are looking enjoyable and safe, then we pop a tire. The bus driver spends about a half hour trying to get the tire off, he keeps trying to take off the lug nuts in the other direction. All the western tourists start up, ‘Nonononono, turn it the other way.’ We would look away for a moment and then turn back and he would be jumping up and down on it in the wrong direction. ‘Nonononono, turn it the other way.’ He’d move to the next one and start turning it the other way, ‘Nonononononono, turn it the other way!’ Another bus picked us up and took us to the dock, without any flat tires.
I love boats and I love dolphins, something that I am in denial about is that I get seasick. Like really seasick, not just a little nauseous, but violently ill. Especially if I eat on the boat. This excursion included breakfast on the boat. It was a choppy day. I didn’t last twenty minutes before I was laying on my back and wishing I hadn’t eaten that mandazi. We spotted dolphins very quickly. Well, everyone else did. I held on to the gunnels and told myself it was okay, I see them at ‘home’ all the time. (Never mind I haven’t lived at ‘home’ in about four years) So everyone else on the boat jumped in the water and began to swim with the dolphins. At the last minute I woozily rose to my feet and over to the edge of the boat because I have literally dreamt about swimming with dolphins and threw myself in the water without mask and snorkel. Okay, on an American ship, they never would they have allowed me to do that, but I’m in Africa. Right as I did it two dolphins swam right by me. Victory.
So our guide was leading people on a mad hatter swim around choppy ocean water and I soon realized that I was in no shape to do this. During this Scott gets to see a whole pod swimming up towards him from under the ocean. I am actually truly happy that he got to see this. One of us should enjoy themselves. They put us in a speed boat so we could chase the dolphins and swim with them. I immediately start giving my mandazi back to the ocean, as I am doing this our guide yells, ‘Dolphins!’ and leaps over my head into the ocean. People start leaping over me. I realize what I am doing into the water that people are jumping right into. I switch sides. They put me back on the big boat. I hang onto the gunnels and try not to think about it. Everyone else goes snorkeling. They put me back in a speed boat to take me to a sand bar to rest. More mandazis. I rest on the sand bar with my husband, in about two minutes I feel fine. The sand bar goes away, back on the boat. More holding of gunnels. The whole time our boat is surging up and down and dropping and pitching and each time it does and my stomach lurches up into my lungs and back down into pelvis I think that this is so antithetical to my personality. I love rollercoasters, boats, the ocean, adventure, so unfair. I will be writing a strongly worded letter to my stomach.
Eventually we drop anchor to eat lunch and I see that the German girl who was also sick, as she told me on the sand bar in cute English, was sitting in the speed boat with her brand new doting husband. One of the German tourists motions that they are taking her to the shore to eat lunch and get off the boat. Scott and I ask to go as well. Scott admits to feeling queasy as well. Within two minutes of sitting on the shore I feel fine and am devouring my fish lunch. Luckily they took us to our docking place, so as my other sick friend said, ‘No more to go to boat.’ I think I shall invest in Dramamine…I hear the Canadian version is better.

Christmas Vacation in Mombasa -- Part 1 the epic journey

It has taken me this long to take time to write about our Christmas vacation to the coast of Kenya, the last few weeks have been incredibly busy, and I have no excuse. So here I am writing….
So we live in the southern hemisphere, just on the other side, in fact, which means that our seasons are switched. January and February are the warmest and most delightful weather months in Kenya. Which makes the Kenyan adherence to western Christmas traditions really strange, Santa just looks woefully overheated and decorated pine trees just look out of place. Kenyans have created some of their own traditions and seem to not have totally bought into the gift giving insanity of Americans, most of their traditions include visiting family members, buying new ‘Christmas clothes’ and eating a lot. One tradition of Nairobians is to go to the coast, and as the beach is like water to my thirsty soul we decided to take part in that tradition.
Since we have yet to purchase a car we got ourselves a ride on the Kenyan version of Greyhound. So on Christmas Eve we arose bright and early and took an hour taxi ride into the heart of the city. There was traffic so in the interest of being on time for our 8am ‘check in’ time we jumped out of our cab and walked a quarter mile to our ‘bus station.’ The bus station was a downtown store front with a bus parked in front of it. So I straddled our luggage and Scott dove through the luggage and people into the office to ask about ‘checking in.’ The lady told him to wait outside someone would be along in a minute. About a half an hour later a man came by with luggage tags and tagged our luggage. Another half an hour later the bus that we were standing in front of and which I had foolishly assumed was the bus we would be boarding began to drive away, with no one in it. I turned to the man next to me and asked,
“Is that our bus?”
He said “No, ours is over there,” and pointed in the opposite direction into the crush of traffic. How he knew this I don’t know, I think Kenyans absorb information through osmosis. About twenty minutes later all of the people I had assumed where fellow passengers (I think I am developing osmosis) picked up their luggage and began to walk in the direction the man had pointed. I grabbed my suitcase and said to my husband,
“I think we just go that way.” He grabbed his much larger suitcase and followed. My osmosis had soaked up some proper information. They were shoving luggage and people into another bus that was stuck in traffic on a hill. We shoved ourselves and our luggage into said bus and thankfully settled into cushy seats. The other passengers who were not as fast as us were loaded while the bus was moving. We inched along and in about twenty minutes passed our ‘bus station.’ At this point I turned off my emotions. I have developed a switch on the back of my neck, and didn’t think about it. Scott took pictures of the epic traffic and we inched our way along, I pulled out a book and tried to ignore the B movie Jean-Claude Van Damme flick that was playing. I think he was a hardened cop in New Mexico, probably broke up a drug ring….
I finished that book by the time we reached Mombasa. A ride that should have taken us eight hours took us twelve. This was due to the epic traffic and road repairs. I remember looking at another passenger a well-dressed mid-thirties woman with two pretty children and thinking, ‘No wonder you’re fatalistic, there’s nothing you can do but sit on your numb behind and wait until you get to Mombasa.’ We did not eat lunch until 4:30, because I had been too frosted by the preparations for our Christmas party I did not pack snacks like a good wifey. We were starving. When we did stop for food, we stopped first at a Kenyan version of a rest stop the tout from the bus rounded us up and said there was no food at this stop. We got back in the bus in numb disbelief and went to a second rest stop. Scott and I inhaled the worst kebabs we have ever eaten and the best chapattis we have ever eaten. After our rest stop the tout turned on another video for us, it was a loop of about five different pixar type scenes of dancing; there was a dancing transformer, a dancing hippo in a sumo thong, a dancing dog, and the dancing baby from Ali MacBeal. It had music. It looped for twenty minutes. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The transformer had some moves, I thought about taking mental notes. The sumo hippo was kind of violating, I felt a little dirty, yet still I couldn’t look away.
Before we reached Mombasa Scott had called a taxi driver to pick us up at the ‘bus station,’ intentionally so he would have time to get to town. He called him again when we got off the bus. Our hotel was in Diani Beach, which is an hour away, the taxi driver was in Diani Beach. We waited an hour, with another taxi driver becoming our ‘friend’ for that whole hour. At about 55 minutes we began to give up, three taxi drivers sensed this (like dogs smell fear) and surrounded us and began arguing over us. I was fading; my switch was threatening to override my ‘off’ status. We went with our ‘friend,’ Abdul, he did loyally wait with us for an hour, I felt he deserved it. Our taxi driver swore he knew where our hotel was, even though I had to repeat the name three times, and really wasn’t assured that we would end up where we were supposed to. He stopped and asked for directions.
We got there an hour later. He tried to get more money out of us. He didn’t.
That journey took us 14 hours from door to door.