Mombasssssa, Mombasa, baby. Where coconuts wash up on the shore and there are three different kinds of arrowroot on the breakfast buffet. The very name of this city conjures up white sand and tropical rhythms.
It’s only when you leave the game parks and return to Kenya’s cities that you realise how poor this country is. Sandals made from used car tyres are standard, houses are cobbled together with timber, iron sheets, mudbrick with thatch roofs and occasionally a few sturdy homes made of local stone.
Our entire trip saw us coasting along the southernmost border of Kenya and Tanzania down from Nairobi to Mombasa. Driving from the last national park, Tsavo East to Mombasa on the south coast, we started to see coconut palms and mango trees, and the air distinctly more humid with a taste of salt.
Mombasa is where much of Kenya’s Muslim population lives, influenced by the Arabian Gulf across the Indian Ocean. Traders from Oman have plied these waters with their dhows for centuries – brought in and out of the deep harbour by the trade winds that dictated their lives. Men wander around in dishdashas (the long white robes) wearing Omani-style embroidered caps and mosques, woman covering their heads with scarves and goat and camel meat are sold in the pungent open-air meat markets alongside massive hands of bananas and great tins full of colourful spices.
It’s the second biggest port in Africa after Durban, and this afternoon, Mombasa was besieged by steamy rains. Most tourists use it as a launching pad over to Zanzibar, though savvy Kenyans said the north coast of Kenya has better beaches and better prices.
Mombasa was the end of my Kenyan trip and the beginning of my journey home to Cairo, flying Mombasa-Nairobi-Khartoum-Cairo. I drank wine on the second leg and slept on the last, sprawled across three seats, only to be woken up by us hitting the tarmac! No ‘seats upright, belts on’ crap on Kenyan Air, Pride of Africa! No siree! The two large, jovial Kenyan women opposite laughed their heads as they watched me jerk bolt upright as the plane screeched to a stop: I’m pleased I could give something back to Kenya.