KENYA - Part 6

By muriel bartol

continued from Part 5

we woke up to an early morning overcast sky to find ourselves in an empty field on a hilltop with a view of the surrounding area, the sounds of birds and insects filling the air.

soon we heard a motorcycle in the distance. we were a little worried that we had camped on someone's land without permission, so when it got closer and came over, we were a tad apprehensive. but, of course, he just wanted to ask if everything was well. we thanked him for his concern and took the opportunity to inquire how to get to the sanctuary. he told us to keep following the road we had taken and said we would soon be there.

we prepared for the day and folded our rooftop tent away

Matt took the opportunity to use The Beast's electrically powered shower head (!) to rinse off

we had some breakfast, and headed off.

and stopped a few seconds later when muriel realized she didn't have her cell phone with her. 

found it!

we drove approximately 3 minutes down the road and there was the sanctuary! ha! we had practically made it! but the field we had slept in had been perfect (and free!) and we were glad we had had that experience.

at the camp gate word had preceded us of our impending arrival. the attendant asked us how our night on the field had been, and laughed that she had been expecting us. we paid our entrance fee and drove in.

we were very excited to explore Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, a community-run conservation effort. It was opened in 1995 to create a corridor along an elephant migration route. Lonely Planet highlighted as a "don't miss" destination, but the place had deteriorated in the intervening 20-odd years. The same rains that had washed out the main road had washed out the road in the sanctuary.

This was the main road of the sanctuary and only about 2 or 3 clicks in, so we were unable to explore the majority of the area.

We knew to expect a different experience than we had had in the Masai Mara. The bushes here were very tall, so even if there were elephants, they would be hard to spot. And the keeper at the entrance said it was not the right time to see them because most of them were elsewhere now. They would be coming back along the now-open migration corridor in a few months. There may be some pachyderms on the grounds now, she said, but not many.

Still hopeful that we could spot something, we climbed on top of The Beast to see what we could see. A lovely green valley spread out in front of us, the air now buzzing intensely with insect and bird calls once the engine was off. We wished we knew more about the birds around us, certain that we were spotting rare animals prized by any bird spotter. 

We noticed a building on the next hillock further down the road we drove a bit further to explore. We found what had once been a luxury safari camp, according to our guide book, but was now basically a ruin. 

As we stood at the edge, searching in the distance, we saw some movement in the next hill over. The keeper suddenly appeared and looked through her binoculars, and excitedly exclaimed that yes! there were some elephants there! We looked but apart from some moving shadows in the tall bushes, it was hard to tell what exactly we were seeing. 

Time to head to the coast!!

We were excited about Mombasa. We read the descriptions of the various restaurants with much anticipation, looking forward in particular to a fresh fish lunch. 

We headed back on the red clay road which soon turned into pavement. As we descended the mountain the humidity and temperature started to rise. We passed a few charming towns tucked into the lush landscape and soon we were on the coast.

On the map it showed the city of Mombasa at the tip of a peninsula with a bay on either side, but with no seeming connection to the coast. We weren't sure if there was a bridge or what, but we soon found how we would get across: a ferry!

When we got our ticket, the agent saw our camera ready to capture the ride and said there were no photos allowed! It seemed that it was frowned upon when we tried to take photos of any infrastructure at all. But remembering the terrorist incident 5 years prior at the Westgate Mall and others it began to make sense. Somalia was just across the border to the north and a lot of terrorists set their sights on Kenya for maximum media effect.

Once we were across the narrow waterway, we were in the scrum of the passenger port of Mombasa. People pushed their way in opposing directions, burdened down by giant bags and parcels. Vendors were hawking their wares on the side of the road. And the cars and tuk tuks on the road were fighting each other to move forward. But all in opposing directions. We dove into the chaos and made our way to Mombasa's old city.

Mombasa is the oldest city in Kenya, founded around 900. It has the deepest port on the East African coast, so it has been a cosmopolitan trading post for centuries. The mixture of Arabs, local Africans and Persians traders gave birth to the Swahili culture and language that now dominates Kenya. There is evidence that there was even trade with China before 1500.

Once in old town we found a lovely place by the bay where we had a delicious meal. Fresh fish and vegetables were a treat, but we particularly enjoyed the drinks: fresh fruit concoctions whose flavors were completely new to us.

Our bellies full we then headed out to explore

it was a quiet Sunday afternoon

and the town was pretty sleepy

the ancient narrow alleys of the old town were filled with rancid garbage which did not combine well with the heat and humidity. But the old town was charming and we enjoyed getting lost in the labyrinthine alleys, kids running around, cats everywhere, and unexpected sights around every corner.

we stopped by antique shop, where the proprietor had a huge collection of curiosities from his travels all around the world. we could have spent the entire day there going through his vast and fascinating collection. he was charming and personable and had a intriguing story for every object in the shop.

we then headed to the market. it was bustling with activity as we plunged into the chaos. piles of colorful fruits, vegetables and a myriad of spices were on display. further along we found the clothing area, where we found stacks of kitenge and kanga fabrics used in the colorful clothing we had admired on the streets. we drove a soft bargain and got ourselves a few meters of various colors and patterns. we thought it would make some unique cycling caps (available now!!) and were giddy with anticipation to get back to make them.

soon it was time to head back. we had a plane to catch in Nairobi the next day and still had 300 miles to drive, but this distance would take us at least 8 hours on the highway.

we caught a tuk tuk back to the car

and started on our drive

matt by now drove like a local. used to driving from the right side of the vehicle and on the left side of the road, but more importantly, without any fear whatsoever.

we arrived in Nairobi late that night. in the morning we returned the car, stopped by the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage once again where we saw this amazing little guy crossing a footpath,

had the best Indian meal anywhere outside of London (haven't been to India yet!) and headed to the airport for our evening flight. 

we flew to Zurich where it was winter and snowing, with a midnight stop in Dar es Salaam, and then on to Los Angeles.

 

It was a 30-hour journey across 11 time zones and 3 continents, but we were finally HOME!

 

 

what an adventure! it had been everything we wished for and so much more. this had been our first real foray into Africa and we could not wait to go back and explore more of the continent.