Friday, June 23, 2006

From Nairobi to Mombasa to Lamu and back again, Kenya . . . "Come back tomorrow"

Nairobi (nicknamed ‘Nairobbery’) is, according to our guidebook, “commonly regarded as the most dangerous city in Africa.” A bold and an unlikely claim, given what is going on in parts of the rest of the continent.

We suspected that it could be a bit of an exaggeration and discovered that Nairobi was not nearly as bad as anticipated. Yes, we did get chased for a few minutes by a homeless street kid of questionable sanity. However, this was more my fault than the boy’s.

In a country where the average daily wage is under US$2, I had unknowingly left a 500 Ksh note (approx. US$7) hanging out of my back pocket. Clever. As soon as the cash was out of sight back in my bag, the kid was gone. Making a conscious attempt to be a bit more 'street smart' we walked around the city without any hassles.

We left Nairobi after a few days to head, once again, for the coast of East Africa. This time our destination was Lamu in the north eastern corner of Kenya, via Mombasa. It took us 2 days to get to Lamu. Some stats for you:

Distance from Nairobi to Mombasa = 425 km
Scheduled hours of travelling time on the train = 14 hours
Time it actually took us to get there =21 hours
Average speed = approx. 20 km per hour

Distance from Mombasa to Lamu by road = 320 km
Scheduled hours of traveling time: Bus = 6 hours, Ferrry = 30 mins
Time it actually took us to get there = 9.5 hours

By the time we got on the bus that would take us from Mombasa to Lamu I was pretty tired and dozed off only to wake up next to two men in camouflage clothing - each with their own automatic rifle. These were our armed escorts. You may be wondering, as I was, why we needed armed escorts. Apparently, “years ago” it was not uncommon for Somali bandits to attack the buses heading to Lamu.

I quizzed a few Lamu locals and found out that “years ago” really was years ago. The last attack was in 1999. While I was stressing out about what in the world to do for millennium New Year’s Eve, war and famine in Somalia caused some Somalis to walk several hundred kilometers to rob their wealthier Kenyan neighbours. Still “one of the world’s most dangerous destinations”, Lonely Planet comments that the “traveller to Somalia is spoilt for choice in the number of things that can go wrong.”

Chances that we will add Somalia to our itinerary = 0

Curious as to how the other tourists found the long journey from Nairobi to Lamu I conducted a bit of a survey. Interestingly, I received several different responses. For example: “We flew.” “We took the plane.” “We came by air.” “By bus and train, are you joking?”

Number of tourists stupid enough to spend 2 days getting to Lamu overland instead of 90 minutes in the air = 2

Once we arrived we spent our time in Lamu recovering from the journey. Lamu, a Swahili town on an island off the Kenyan coast is a bit like Zanzibar in both architecture and feel. Although, thankfully unlike Zanzibar, Lamu’s residents are not as keen to make a few dollars from tourists and their friendliness never became harassment. Also, unlike Zanzibar, Lamu has no cars. The space between houses is so narrow that only donkeys or people can travel though the town. Fantastic - no polution - Phil thought until he stepped in a pile of donkey manure.

We spent most of our time wandering around, eating, fishing (I caught two, Phil one), sleeping, dodging donkey excrement and attempting to bond with the locals over World Cup games. Phil was exceptionally good at the latter:

Phil: What was the score in the Togo game?
Local: Two - One
Phil: Togo – One?
Local: No, Togo lost, the other team won.
Phil: So, Togo - one
Local (with some agitation): No, the other team won.

I was forced to intervene before it got nasty.

After a few days there we made the bus and train trip in reverse, this time spending a few nights in Mombasa. With such a cool name, I was anticipating great things from Mombasa. I was let down, not by the city but by the weather. It rained almost constantly and we spent a lot of time inside debating about whether to go out. Eventually we did get out to see the Fort and buy a few masks before we got on the train for Nairobi.

Back in Nairobi I realized that I had left my black jumper on the train and went to the station to get it back. I was told: “Your jumper is not here . . . You should come back tomorrow . . . Your jumper might still be on the train . . . The train on its way to Mombasa . . .Yes, the train steward does have a phone . . . No, we can’t call him. . . We don’t have his number. . . You should come back tomorrow . . . Yes, the station can communicate with the train through the control centre . . . No, we can’t call the train from the control centre. We don’t know the number. . . The Station Master can call . . . The Station Master is not here . . . The Station Master will be here soon. . . The Station Master will be here in 10 minutes . . . The Station Master will be here just now . . . The Station Master will be here in 15 minutes . . . The Station Master will be here very soon . . . The Station Master will be here tomorrow. . . Yes, you should come back tomorrow.”

Probability that I will go back to the train station tomorrow = 100%
Probability that I will find the Station Master = 25%
Probability that I will ever see my jumper again= 1%

Fed up with people, we visted the baby animals in Nairobi National Park. Who would have thought baby elephants wallowing in mud and a baby rhino could be so cute.

Did I or didn’t I get my jumper back? The exciting answer will be revealed in the next entry – probably in a couple of weeks. We have had enough of the coast for a while and will be heading into the interior in the next few days.

Phil is posting some more photos today, probably of our Kili attempt. Click on the 'Cape Town to Cairo Photos' link or here for the latest shots.


Blogger clare said...

GREAT blog........ nice writing and i came across it by chance with a google search. nice.... hope you have continued to travel well :)

1:14 AM  
Blogger clare said...

GREAT blog........ nice writing and i came across it by chance with a google search. nice.... hope you have continued to travel well :)

1:14 AM  
Blogger steve said...

enjoy kenya,

i would reduce the probability of finding the jamper to 0.02%

it would be peaceful to consider that you helped some1 else with it

gr8 time

from; resident

7:32 AM  
Blogger cleyenne said...

Excellent blog! please keep up! I actually found this post as I am going back to Lamu for NYE this year - Last time I was there I flew commercial, then went back in a charter.

This year I was musing re taking a train - a romantic idea, I guess - the beautiful scenery of Africa - BUt after reading your post I DEF changed my mind -
And remembered that my friends from Nairoberry told me about the trains! Something around the lines : "very bad idea"

best, C

4:48 AM  
Blogger Sirlim said...

Nice piece of a story!As am writting this am heading home in Mombasa from Little sweet Lamu!...i loved the experience i know i will be back!ombasa from Little sweet Lamu!...i loved the experience i know i will be back!

1:57 AM  
Blogger Sirlim said...

Nice blog here you got!Am typing this comment heading back home in Ukunda the south of Kenya Coast from sweet little Lamu!I loved the experience there and i know i will be back!....."LAMU TAMU"(sweet lamu in Swahili)

2:01 AM  
Blogger Henry Thomas said...

Hi! I am henry thomas Nice post. I read your post. It’s very simple and informatics. Thank you for sharing......

2:41 AM  

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