And for once I was SuperMom

Monday, February 16, 2009

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.

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