East Africa Day 21+22 – Uganda and Kenya (Jinja – Mombasa)

Breakfast, then feeling restless.  Must be time to leave Jinja then.  I thought about Abama Coach.  Already left.  I thought about flying there.  Too expensive and inconvenient.  I got a boda-boda into town to the Flavour coffee shop to think about my options.  Luckily, we drove past the coffee shop, so I got the driver to stop on the other side of the road – right outside a Kampala Coach office.  It was Sunday, but still open.  A notice on the window read: ‘New service – Kampala / Jinja – Mombasa.  Ahh…Mombasa.  I really wanted to try this crazy, colourful city.  How convenient, what a stroke of luck!  The coach left in an hour.  I booked a ticket, bought some postcards, and went back to Triangle to pack and check out.

For the next 26 hours, I was stuck on the coach.  The longest journey of my life.  Fortunately I caught the eye of a Ugandan girl dressed like a rap star, called Winnie.  She invited me to sit next to her at the front of the bus.  And so I got to know my bus friend very well – as one would do after 26 hours sat next to them!  I watched a load of Nigerian movies featuring 2 midget brothers who are stars in Africa.  The sound quality was terrible, yet it was still played at a high volume, late into the night.  Apart from that, it was quite a pleasant journey, though painful at times as you had to wait long periods between stops, so I learnt not to drink so much water.

Got to Mombasa after a day on the bus.  Didn’t like the feel of the place initially.  No beaches (but I found some great ones later on).  A chaotic, messy city with a slightly crazy and menacing edge.  Well, it is a port city I suppose.  I got a matatu (minivan bus) to Moi Avenue, where I was dropped off at Castle Royal Hotel.  It looked nice.  Colonial.  Outside was a popular coffee house / restaurant / meeting spot, and the place was white, big ceiling fans, exotic plants in baskets….a real old-time colonial feel about it.  The room was nice, on the third floor, with 2 balconies overlooking the street, and all for only 4,000 Kenyan shillings, about $70 Singapore dollars.  About 30 quid.

I had a most welcome shower after my day on the bus, cold and refreshing, then headed to the coffee shop for a very tasty cappuccino.  At around 4:30, I decided to try and find Fort Jesus.  I began walking, but really had no idea where I was going, and was thwarted by the desperate attempts of some young thugs to get some money from me.  I turned back and got a taxi instead.

I had a tour around Fort Jesus, an imposing place built on coral – which is an unbelievably hard substance.  It was an interesting tour.  The fort was built in 1593 by the Portuguese, but it changed hands loads of times following bloody sieges until it fell under British control.  The walls are made of coral a metre thick, and one area at the eastern wall is cut through the coral to give access to the sea, and it’s called the Passage of the Arches.  Really interesting.  Outside the fort I got talking to a slender and beautiful student in her early 20s called Shadia – whose family live in Mombasa but she studies in Nairobi.  We walked and talked, and the guide led us through Mombasa Old Town.  It’s a fascinating place, quite like Stone Town in Zanzibar.  Narrow, cobbled streets, ancient Arabic doors and shophouses with intricately carved shutters and window frames.  Women in full veil swept past gracefully, only their eyes a key to the mysteries beneath.  Kids were playing football in one of the courtyards, and the place felt like it hadn’t changed forever.  There’s a medieval charm about the place, and I enjoyed the peaceful stroll through in the dwindling evening light.

After paying the guide for his excellent services, Shadia took it upon herself to give me a guided tour of her own.  We took a long and lovely walk down some sweeping leafy boulevards and to the sea.  The seafront was a hive of activity, locals milling around, couples hand-in-hand whispering sweet nothings to each other, handcarts full of corn, drinks and other snacks.  Shadia bought some roasted muhogo, a delicious vegetable with chilli.  We sat down and watched the sky darken, and the waves crash against the rocks below.  My perception of Mombasa had changed pretty quickly.  I now saw its pleasant, peaceful, and, dare I say, romantic side.  I felt liberated.  We walked on, strangers yet speaking as though we’d known each other for years, past the Likoni ferry terminal and all the way back to my hotel.  Shadia pointed out her old school along the way.  A long and very enjoyable walk.

By way of thanks, I tool Shadia out for dinner in the evening.  We went to a Chinese restaurant.  We ate sweet and sour pork, which tasted like old leather shoes, a ‘birds nest special’ which had too many contrasting ingredients, and some wanton soup, which was pitifully small, with limp wantons.  I like Chinese food, but this was pretty crap.  Shadia had never tried Chinese food before, and the meal will have successfully put her off for life.  I could see her struggling, drinking water after every mouthful to get the food down and be polite to me.  She rushed to the toilet twice, and I knew then she wasn’t overly-keen on the food.  After this disaster of a meal, we went to Bella Vista to try and wash away the taste of leather and old socks from our mouths.  My first day in Kenya, and a great one!

Author: Neil

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